Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Common Sense Diet December 18, 2013

Filed under: cooking,family,simplicity,Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 8:19 am
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It seems lately that I keep seeing posts on the social networks about one diet or another.  Fad diets have always been around.  I have found though that if you follow common sense, many diet issues can be avoided.

I come from a family with a history of health problems.  My mother’s parents were both diabetic.  Common sense would dictate that I limit sweets and the foods that cause diabetics’ blood sugar levels to rise too much.  On both sides of the family there are problems with high blood pressure and high cholesterol.   Just as with the diabetic history, it is wise to moderate the amount of food that I eat that is known to affect blood pressure and cholesterol.

I began to really pay closer attention to the foods that I ate back in 2007.  Little Miss was approaching her first birthday and I was having a lot of chronic pain and mobility problems.  In fact, I was using a walker and when away from home used a wheelchair.  I did a lot of reading online to find natural means to address the problems.  I found that by eliminating processed foods, I was able to be pain-free and regain my mobility.  Fast forward a couple of years and I was dealing with high blood pressure.

Since that time, I have continued to make adjustments to my diet that has had great affect on my health.  My family has benefitted as well.  The first change was to eliminate as much processed and refined foods as possible.  the hardest to eliminate was foods containing high fructose corn syrup.  I was dismayed at how many foods contain it.  I remember hearing as a teen the idea that if you cannot pronounce or recognize the name of the ingredients in a food, then you probably shouldn’t be eating it.

Next step was to identify the foods that contribute to high cholesterol.  In the simplest of terms, animal products are the culprits.  If I stayed away from the animal products, then I wouldn’t have to be quite as concerned about my cholesterol levels getting too high.  I found that it also had an affect on my blood pressure as well.

Today, my blood pressure has been under control and within the normal range for just over 3 years without taking any prescription medications.  For a time, I was taking garlic capsules as a natural cure for high blood pressure.  I also took cinnamon capsules to help control my blood sugar levels.  Though not diabetic, I do have problems with low blood sugar from time to time.

Overall, our family eats whole foods, cooked from scratch, and eat lean meats sparingly.  My husband, son, and I each have lactose intolerance in varying levels.  We avoid milk most of the time.  We use almond milk or a low-fat powdered milk to help reduce the lactose problems.  I also cook eggs only when necessary.  Instead of using eggs in my recipes, I substitute them with flax seed meal mixed in water.  A tablespoon of the ground flax seed meal mixed with 3 tablespoons of warm water equals one egg.

When using white potatoes, I peel, cut, and soak the potatoes in water overnight before using them.  The potato water is cloudy and often thickened from the starch in the potatoes soaking out of the potatoes.  This cuts done considerably on the amount of starch you eat.  The starch turns to sugar in your body.  For those with diabetes, this can cause a lot of problems.  We also use sweet potatoes in place of white potatoes quite often.  They are far better for you and do not have the starches that russet potatoes contain.

Our diet is based on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.  For us, this is simply common sense.  I buy the basic ingredients and cook as much from scratch as possible.  We eat very little of the heavy sauces such as gravies.  I keep healthy snacks on hand.  We typically eat 5-6 times a day, including 3 light meals and 2-3 snacks.

For us, the way we eat make sense.  It isn’t following any specific diet but it works for us.  I am slowly losing weight.  Yes, I would love to lose it faster, but a slow weight loss will last longer.  The healthy eating habits we are developing will stick with us.  They will become a habit.  They will be a part of our daily lifestyle.  Eating smaller more frequent meals/snacks each day will help maintain energy levels throughout the entire day.  Come summer, when our garden is producing, the daily meals will include pickings from the garden each day.

Now, we eat very few packaged foods.  I find us eating them less and less as time goes by.  I also find that our grocery bill each month lowers even further with the whole food approach.

 

Hot Cocoa Mix Recipe December 9, 2013

Filed under: cooking,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 1:32 am
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When winter storms hit, it is time to make up a batch of hot cocoa mix.  I’ve made this recipe for several years. It is not too sweet and using the non-fat dry milk makes it a recipe even those in our family with lactose intolerance able to drink it.  The recipe is as follows.

Hot Cocoa Mix

25.8 ounces dry non-fat milk
4 cups powdered sugar
2 cups cocoa powder
8 ounces powdered chocolate flavored creamer

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl or stockpot.  Place into an airtight container.

To use:  Add 3 Tbsp of mix per 1 cup of hot water.

Variation: if I have some on hand, I often add 1 large box of chocolate pudding mix to the recipe. The result is a cocoa that is a bit creamier.

 

Pantry Building October 20, 2013

Filed under: cooking,home canning,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 1:22 am
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This week, I have made serious dent in my pantry building efforts.   I gave myself budget of $70  to spend on the pantry. Here is the results.

First stop was to a store called Warehouse Market. I love buying canned veggies there because they always have the lowest prices.  I loaded up the cart with 6 flats of vegetables.  These included 2 flays each of whole kernel corn, green beans, and green peas.  A single flat holds 12 cans.  In other words, I bought 72 cans of vegetables at 58 cents each, totaling $41.76 for the veggies.  Next, I went to the produce area and bought a 50# sack of russet potatoes for $11.99.  The temperature is cold enough now in our unheated pantry that the potatoes will last the winter without sprouting or going bad.  Total cost at Warehouse Market was $53.75.

On the way home, I had an idea. Since I was under budget, I stopped at the Dollar General store and bought 8 bottles of tomato juice for a total cost of $14.80. 

Once I got home, I used the bottles of juice to make a doubled size batch of my homemade tomato soup.  Once put into jars for canning, I had 8 pints for my husband to take on the truck for meals on the road and 8 quarts for the pantry.

After all the food was purchased, the ending total was $68.55.  I was $1.45 under budget. Just the vegetable purchases alone gives me several months of meals for my family of four. The point that I am trying to make is that anyone, even those on a meager budget, can afford to stock their pantry.  Add to this a supply of pasta, rice, dried lentils and beans to really expands your pantry storage.

There is only one downside to having this type of pantry…..you have to be willing to actually cook and not simply heat up convenience foods. 

 

Winterizing October 7, 2013

Filed under: cooking,family,homesteading,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 9:31 pm
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This week, my beloved husband is taking his vacation.  We are spending it winterizing the home and fixing his pickup truck.

First up is getting the new propane line put in. We had copper lines but they needed replaced due to damage. Instead of using copper again, we are installing black pipe.  It goes in so much easier and the cost of the pipe is less than half what we paid a year ago for the copper. 

Next comes covering windows with plastic. This works great, especially on the older windows of the homestead.  I am adding a little more insulation as well to the bathroom. It is one of the rooms set to be remodeled. I am adding insulation around the old window where cold air can seep in.

Another winterizing project is preparing a firewood crate on the porch so I will have a ready supply of dry, seasoned firewood for the wood burning cookstove. We took the chainsaw to be sharpened this morning so that we will be able to tackle cutting the wood later this week.

Fixing the pickup is going to possibly be an all day job.  We bought it from a neighbor and our needs a could of minor things done. One being to put on a new steering column and wheel.  That will take the longest. The rest is simple stuff like checking it over well and possibly giving it a tune-up.  We want to get out working to be used as a second vehicle. He is trying to get a local truck driving job and will need the truck.

Ongoing winterizing projects that I have include crocheting winter gear. Hats, mittens, slippers, shawls, etc. all need to be made. The nights are getting cool enough that crocheting is being done more often.

I found on a free setting pattern website the instructions and patterns for making a fleece cape with hood in both a child and adult size. It has the option for no hood as well. I am considering making the cape for both my daughter and I using fleece on the outside and a different fabric inside. Made to be waist length, it would be warmer than a shawl when on outings.

In the upcoming week, I am going to be canning winesap apples from our tree. I plan to make pie filling as well as apple butter.  Might even use a few apples to make stewed apples to go with dinner one night while Joe is still home.

Of all the seasons, autumn has always been my favorite. I enjoy the winter preparations. I always look forward to that first day when I can use the wood cookstove to make our meals. I love having a stock pot of a soup or stew simmering on the stove all day. With a simmer plate under the stock pot or dutch oven, I use it just like a slow cooker.

I guess the nostalgia never wears off.  This is definitely one of my favorite parts of our lifestyle.

 

Oatmeal-Raisin Griddle Cakes July 18, 2013

Filed under: cooking,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 6:48 pm
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This morning, the kids were preparing to spend the day with their Grandparents.  Usually on these mornings, they are too wound up to sit and eat a hearty breakfast.  So, I tried something to get them to stop long enough to eat.  I made a batch of griddle cakes.  What are griddle cakes?  Well, put simply they are a cross between a cookie and a small pancake.

I have a basic pancake recipe that I have made for many years.  When we began eating a vegan diet, I converted the recipe to be vegan instead of using animal products.  The end result is very good.  You don’t even miss the eggs and cow’s milk from the original pancake recipe.  I will share the pancake recipe below along with the additions that I made to turn it into an Oatmeal-Raisin Cake.

Basic Homemade Vegan Pancakes

1.5 cups flour

2 Tbsp. sugar

2 teas. baking powder

1/2 teas. baking soda

2 Tbsp. flax seed meal + 6 Tbsp. warm water  (this replaces 2 eggs)

1.5 cups almond milk  (or use your favorite milk variation)

1 teas. vanilla

2 Tbsp. olive oil

Mix the flax seed meal and water into a small dish and let set.

In a bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda.  Form a well in the middle.  Add the flax seed mixture, almond milk, vanilla, and olive oil.  Using a wire wisp, mix the batter until smooth.

This recipe will make about 8 pancakes.

Oatmeal-Raisin Griddle Cakes

To the above recipe, add the following:

1 cup of oatmeal

handful of raisins

1 Tbsp. of Pumpkin Pie Spice

Mix the batter well.  It will be somewhat thick.  You can thin it with a bit more milk if desired.

Drop by spoonsful onto a hot griddle and flatten the batter to no more than about 1/4 inch thick.  Cook exactly as you would pancakes.

Makes about 16 cakes approximately 3″ diameter.

 

The kids loved these!  I had no problem getting them to eat breakfast while waiting for Grandma to pick them up.  You can easily adjust the spice amount to suit your own tastes.  Another option is to finely dice dried fruits to add to the recipe in place of the raisins.  If you use a tropical mixture of fruit with shredded coconut, omit the spice and add cinnamon instead.

Enjoy!

 

 

Solar Oven Experiment July 11, 2013

Filed under: cooking,green living,off grid — ourprairiehome @ 5:12 pm
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My blog posts have been sporadic due to lack of reliable Internet.  I am working at getting that improved soon.

Last week, I decided to take the plunge and do a little experiment with solar cooking.  I had purchased one of those foil sun shades for the Jeep’s windshield.  I got to thinking about how reflective it is.  Wouldn’t it make a good “in a pinch” solar cooker?

In the yard, we have a black metal trailer for the small lawn tractor.  I set up a metal wash tub in the trailer with a small block under one end to place it on an angle towards the west.  I then formed the foil windshield shade into a cone shape.  This was placed into the washtub.

I wasn’t feeling horribly brave, so got out a small roasting pan and filled the bottom with chopped up potatoes, bell peppers, onions, and squash.  I tossed the veggies with a drizzle of olive oil to coat them and sprinkled on some sea salt.  The pan was covered with clear plastic wrap and set into the center of the foil cone.

I left the veggies roasting until they had only a slight crunch left to them.  It took about 2 hours due to the size of the veggies.  Chopped smaller, they would obviously have cooked faster.  When I removed the pan, I learned rather quickly that an oven mitt would be helpful.  Thankfully, I always have aloe vera on hand!

The results of the little experiment was that the make-shift solar cooker worked just fine.  It would be an easy option in an emergency situation.  We did have to accept that the roasted veggies do not get browned like they would in a standard oven.  That was the only real difference that we noticed.

My darling husband is planning to build a solar cooker for me when we get a chance.  He is planning to make it a combination solar oven and solar dehydrator.    When we look at plans for each, we find that it will be fairly easy to make a combination oven/dehydrator.

 

 

Starting the Garden April 30, 2013

Filed under: cooking,gardening,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 5:15 am
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Filling up the recycled containers with potting mix in the morning. Frost danger has now passed us by. I have very few above ground plants to put in this year. We are barely out of the drought stage, so I am planting a drought tolerant garden instead. Of the above ground plants, I am only planting a few summer squash, but will be planting plenty of winter squash. The rest of the plants will be root crops.

Little Miss has some pumpkin seeds starting. They should be popping up in about a week. Once they are a good size, they will be transplanted along the edge of the yard. I am considering how we will plant them. If I can find a few old tires, I will use those as planters. I used tires to grow watermelons when I lived in an upper desert region and they did great. The sidewalls of the tires helped to hold the water near the plant.

As I previously mentioned, there is a really good produce farm not far from our homestead. I will be buying from them any crops that I don’t grow at home. I will be talking to them in the near future about buying things like green beans by the bushel for home canning. Hopefully, I will get a good price for the bulk purchases.

Our family has become hooked on a new snack. I bought some vegetable chips at Whole Foods in Tulsa on my last trip there. The chips are thinly sliced veggies and whole green beans that are dried or baked. A small amount of sea salt is added to them, but it is a very small amount. I looked online and found various recipes on how to make them yourself through dehydrating, baking, or frying. As soon as I see the fresh produce hitting the produce farm’s shop, I will be trying the recipes out to find our favorite. They are a wonderful healthy alternative to eating regular potato chips!

I have started my summer meal preparations. In warm months, we eat very few cooked meals during the day. Instead, we have lighter, raw or chilled meals. A variety of salads make up a large portion of our diet. I add cooked quinoa to nearly every salad that we eat. This helps to make sure we get enough protein each day. Cooked meals that we do eat are ones that can be prepared very quickly. A favorite is making a stir-fry with teriyaki sauce served over cooked quinoa in place of rice. Ever since we started eating quinoa, we have given up rice almost completely. Compared to rice, there is far more nutrients in quinoa.

By making the meals fast to prepare, I don’t have to worry about heating up the kitchen too much through cooking. We have a large griddle, like the type that you see for outdoor kitchens. On that griddle, I am able to make a large amount of flat bread at once time. During summer, that bread is the only type that I make. If you allow the dough to rise before you start forming the rounds for dry frying, the bread becomes thicker & lighter during the cooking process. I roll out the dough slightly thicker than you normally might do. The flat bread then will puff a bit like a pita bread when you dry fry it. Once cooked, you can then cut a slit into the bread to use as a pita.

The lighter meals also provide us with a great opportunity to take full advantage of the fresh produce in season. We are so blessed to have kids who love to eat this way.

Once I see how this year’s plantings do, I will decide what to plan for next season. As long as my husband is still away so much with his trucking job, I am limited on how much garden we plant. Throughout the season. We will be gradually adding more raised beds to plant our garden in. That will also determine the amount we plant.

By and by, the garden area will be completely moved to it’s new location and we will be able to grow more. Just having to use patience for now.

 

Choices in Off-Grid Cooking April 9, 2013

Filed under: cooking,family,homesteading,off grid,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 3:46 am
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Each year, we set up what we refer to as our summer kitchen. A portion of the porch is converted into a sheltered cooking area. Having this allows us to cook without heating up the home. We spend a lot of time outdoors and this seems a natural extension of that.

This year, we have added to the usual outdoor grilling. We bought a propane griddle that is 4-burner and large enough to cook up enough food for an outdoor gathering. This works in great with our love of stir-fry in the summer when produce is fresh. I can also fry up flat breads and tortillas on the griddle to take the place of bread loaves.

One thing that I am wanting to try and do this year is get my solar oven made. Having an outdoor dog and cat, the foil lined box style of solar over would not be a good idea. I am going to have to actually build something that is critter-proof. I have seen some really neat plans for building solar food dehydrators and got to thinking. What would be so hard as to use that basic plan but make an oven out of it instead of a dehydrator. There is very little difference in the basic construction. If I could fine a way to make 1 solar unit that could do both, that would be ideal.

A rocket stove made from cinder blocks would be a nice option for the summer kitchen. We have a dirt area near the house that would be safe for that purpose. It would be an option for the times when we don’t want to use the propane burner that we have. I like the propane option, but want alternatives that will allow us to not depend on any refined fuels. Wood, we have in plenty on our homestead. Sunlight is another plentiful resource. Those are our summer mainstays.

I am looking forward to the outdoor cooking. It is always a fun time for us. With each passing year, we add another facet to the kitchen to make it even more convenient. Now if we could get rid of the wasps that like to partake in our porch’s shade….

 

High Protein Salmon Cakes March 25, 2013

Filed under: cooking,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 4:22 am
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Our family loves salmon. Amazingly, it is one of the very few meat items that our son will eat. One day when visiting my in-laws, we were treated to some salmon cakes made with quinoa. We loved them! So, I began making them at home. I wanted to expand on the recipe and after finding several online, I tweaked the recipes until I got the taste I was looking for.

Quinoa-Salmon Cakes

2 large pouches of deboned salmon
1 large egg, beaten
1 sm. bunch of green onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon plain yogurt
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs (optional)
Olive oil & butter, for frying

Mix all of the ingredients, except panko bread crumbs, in a bowl. If the mixture is a little too dry, simple add a bit more yogurt until the mixture holds together.

If using the panko bread crumbs, place them into a pie plate. Form the salmon cakes into patties and coat in the panko bread crumbs before frying.

Some recipes call for frying the salmon cakes in oil, butter, or a mixture of the two. I prefer mix the olive oil and butter in a 50/50 ratio.

I make about 10-12 salmon cakes from this recipe. The amount you get will depend on the size and thickness you prefer. I have stretched this recipe out more by adding more quinoa and yogurt.

This recipe also works well with tuna.

Enjoy!

 

Quinoa Cereal Recipe March 12, 2013

Filed under: cooking,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 12:38 am
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this past week, our family tried a new way of using Quinoa. We made hot cereal with it. It is not a really difficult thing. Quinoa is cooked exactly as you would rice, but unlike rice it is packed with protein.

To make the cereal, we cook the quinoa with 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water. We set the water to boil, adding an extra 1/4 cup to the measurement, and toss in a handfull or two of finely diced dried fruits or raisins. When the water starts to boil, stir in the quinoa, remove from heat and cover. The quinoa will continue to cook just as rice does, absorbing all the liquid.

To serve, we add a bit of honey or you can use pure maple syrup for sweetening and a bit of milk. To make it vegan, simply use almond milk or your favorite alternative milk. The kids loved it! The cereal is equally good as a cold cereal. We made a large batch and refrigerated the extra for the next morning.

Next time, I will try teh same thing using only brown rice. In our efforts to find alternatives to gluten foods, these seem like a God-send.