Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Our Home Pantry September 17, 2013

Filed under: home canning,homesteading,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 8:16 pm
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I have been receiving questions lately about the home pantry.  The main focus of the questions has been on what I stock up on and how much I store for our family.  First, let me state that we eat a predominately vegetarian diet.  Most of the time our diet resembles more of a vegan style, but we do use eggs, cheese and yogurt from time to time.  My husband is definitely a meat eater.  He eats meals containing meat when he is out on the truck away from home and sometimes here at home as well.  So, this brings it back around to what we store.  Most of the food stores are vegan in nature.  By not storing animal products, I eliminate the need for a freezer or refrigeration.  I am careful to not make extras of any meal unless it can be home canned into jars for another meal later on.  This also eliminates refrigeration.  In fact, on any given day, the only items we keep cold are drinks, opened jar of jam, salads in the summer and the rare times I buy eggs, cheese, or butter.  As I write this, my chilled items are eggs, jam, and a small container of milk.  For this reason, I am looking for a small propane refrigerator such as what you might find in an RV.  Using a large refrigerator is a waste of energy in our home.  The only time it is actually coming close to being full is during the holidays.

The following is a basic listing.  The amounts that I have beside each will last our family of 4 for about 8 months unless otherwise specified.

Baking Items:

White flour (30 lbs per month)

White sugar (10 lbs per month)

Dry Active Yeast (I buy a twin pack of 2 – 1 lb bags at Sam’s Club for $4.00 which lasts over a year)

Flax Seed Meal (2 quart jars will last nearly a year, use as egg substitute in baking)

Cornmeal (2 gallon size jars will last about 6 months)

Sea Salt (a quart jar will last about a year and costs only $1.65 at the health food store bulk bin)

Baking Powder, 60 oz tin

Baking Soda, 13.5 lb box (use for cooking and making cleaners)

Cornstarch, 35 oz. container

Brown sugar, 14 lbs. (nearly a year’s supply)

Powdered Sugar, 7 lb., (year’s supply)

Powdered Milk, 10 lbs.

 

Seasonings: I purchase all of the seasonings at Whole Foods health food store in their bulk bins.  The cost is far less than a grocery or other store.  I use the clear plastic deli containers to store the dried herbs in.  One reason for using the deli containers is due to the easy stacking for storage.   I have never had any problems regarding quality of the herb by storing them in this way.

 

Quart size containers:

Parsley

Cinnamon sticks

 

Pint size containers:

Oregano

Sage

Thyme

Rosemary

Sweet Basil

Herb de Province

Italian Seasoning

Ground allspice

Ground Nutmeg

Ground cinnamon

Ground cloves

Whole peppercorns

Cream of Tartar

 

There are other herbs and spices that I use less frequently, which I do buy in much smaller amounts, such as a baby food jar size container.  Some of the small jars also contain my own spice mixtures marked with an (*).

 

Red Pepper Flakes

Ground Cardamom

Cayenne

Pumpkin Pie Spice*

Taco Seasoning*

Onion Powder*

Onion Salt*

Garlic Powder*

Garlic Salt*

Vanilla* (this I am making in a larger bottle, but less than a pint)

 

Grains

This is the largest portion of my pantry.  We eat grains daily in one form or another.  Nearly every day, we eat some type of bean, lentil, or legume.  Note: a gallon jar (free from a sandwich shop) will hold 6 pounds of dried beans.

 

Pinto Beans, a 5 gallon bucket will last one year

Northern White Beans, 2 gallon jars

Black Beans, 1 gallon jar

Garbanzo Beans, 1 gallon

Lentils, 2 gallons

Dried Split Peas, 2 gallons

Kidney Beans, 2 gallons

Navy Beans, 2 gallons

Barley, 1 gallon

White Rice, 5 gallon bucket

Quinoa, 2 gallons

TVP (Textured vegetable Protein), 1 gallon

Egg Noodles, 14 pounds (2 lg bags from Sam’s Club)

 

Grain Mixes

Falafel Mix, 1 gallon

Hummus Mix, 1 gallon

Nature Burger mix, 2 gallons

Dried Soup Mix, 1 gallon

 

#10 cans of various items

Crushed Tomatoes, 4 cans

Tomato Sauce, 6 cans

Tomato Paste, 2 cans

Spaghetti Sauce, 4 cans (I use as a base, adding veggies to make my own)

Pizza Sauce, 2 cans

Apple sauce, 4 cans

 

14 oz cans of Vegetables

Whole Kernel Corn, 4 flats

Creamed Corn, 2 flats

Green Peas, 4 flats

Green beans, 4 flats

Waxed beans, 2 flats

 

Extra Food Items

Tahini, 2 jars

Peanut Butter, 12 jars

Jams of various flavors, 12 or more jars

Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 6 quarts

Butter flavor Crisco, 2 lg cans

Vegetable Oil, 1 gallon

White vinegar, 1 gallon

Apple Cider Vinegar, 2 bottles

White Wine vinegar, 1 bottle

Red Wine vinegar, 1 bottle

Farina Cereal, 4 lg boxes

Old Fashioned Rolled Oats, 5 gallon bucket

 

 

This is the bulk of what I am working towards. It does not include the home canned soups, stews, fruits and veggies that I put up in jars,  which are based upon cost and availability.  I home can items such as the following:

Ground beef – plain, as taco meat, in spaghetti sauce, and as sloppy joe mix

Meatballs – various types of meat, canned plain to be added to anything later

Chicken – boned and skinned, shredded in BBQ sauce, or in chunks with some broth for a soup base

Stew Meat – in beef broth, in a stew, in BBQ sauce, or in a soup

Turkey – done the same as chicken

Carrots – both as whole baby carrots or sliced

Potatoes – peeled and cut into chunks

Cabbage – cut into chunks or wedges

Various homemade soups and stews

Baked Beans with lil’ smokies or ground beef

Fruit if price is low enough to make it worth while

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Monthly Grocery Supply Runs February 28, 2013

I have written about this topic before but often have questions hitting my email over it. As food prices continue to rise faster than people’s incomes, the topic seems to be hitting a nerve with more people.

We are a single income family. In today’s financial times, it is not always an easy thing to accomplish. To make it work, we have chosen to scale back on excess. One huge area of excess is trips to the store. Each time that we go to the store, we are setting ourselves up for impulsive purchases. There is also the fuel and other costs associated with trips to the store. One way we reduced this was to do a monthly shopping trip as often as possible.

When I first began doing this, I felt overwhelmed. The very idea of buying a month’s supply of groceries all at once seemed like a horrendous task. I quickly found that I was wrong. While it does take more planning, the actual shopping was far easier than the weekly or bi-weekly shopping.

To make the shopping trip successful, it required that I plan out a month’s worth of meals. Like most families, we have certain foods that we eat on a regular basis. Using a sheet of paper, I brainstormed with my husband and listed all of our favorite meals. We even included a few that we enjoy, but do not make very often. Using this list, I made up weekly menus. I wrote out a list of 7 meals, with the grocery list for those meals included. To make up a monthly menu, I simply choose 4 weekly menus.

Compiling a list of groceries for the monthly menu is very easy. I transfer the grocery list for each weekly menu onto a sheet of paper. Often, I find that I can use the same ingredients for more than one meal, such as seasonings. The advantage to this type of shopping is that I am able to take advantage of bulk purchase discounts. Instead of buying 5 single pound packages of ground beef, I can buy the “family pack” size and break it down into portions needed for the month’s meals. If you have a freezer, the breaking down of bulk meat purchases is easy. Just have on hand a roll of freezer paper. I always pre-cook the meat until it is nearly done, then home can it into portions that will be used for each meal.

There are always a few items that you cannot purchase a month in advance. Fresh produce is a good example. This is where I either utilize what we grow or a local farmer’s market. Try to eat foods in season and you can buy it for less than the off season prices.

One issue that we found needed to be addressed rather quickly in our monthly shopping adventure is that you must be consistent. If you buy corn chips for use with a taco soup recipe, don’t use them for a snack prior to when you planned to have the meal. Intead, have a shelf or pantry area where the family can find their snacks or open use items. This will eliminate the frustration of having to replace items needed for upcoming meals. Remember, the idea is to limit the number of trips to the store!

In upcoming posts, I will share specific details on sample menus that I have done. Hopefully it will cut down on any confusion. Unfortunately, to explain it all in one blog post would take more space than what many want to read. LOL

 

Too Much Work? February 23, 2013

It seems strange to me to hear the opinions of others concerning our lifestyle. As early as in the book of Genesis in the Bible, Adam and Eve were instructed that their lives would require hard work. It was after they were taken out of the Garden of Eden. The Lord made it known to them that it would be by the sweat of their brow that their crops would grow. How often do we read in scripture about the hard work the people had to do in order to provide for their families? The stories of the women having to glean in the fields for grain to make their bread or the men who worked in the fields or fish with nets are abundant. The Apostle Paul even goes so far as to say in 1 Thessalonians 3:7-10 “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model to you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’”

In today’s society, we have drawn away from that attitude more and more. While there are many who are physically unable to do hard work, there is always something that can be done. Unfortunately, it is in our human nature to be lazy and complacent. It is much easier to be taken care of than to work. We all have those moments in our lives. In some areas it is far easier to take advantage of modern technology. The danger in this is that here we are today with a generation of young adults who haven’t a clue how to live without modern conveniences. Is it any wonder that when a storm knocks the power out, many families freak out? It was a shock to find out a couple of years ago that some people actually believe it is not legal to be off-grid. People are so accustomed to having electricity and all the modern conveniences that they find it too strange to think some would choose to live without it.

Suddenly, we find ourselves where we are today, a nation with serious economic issues. People are unemployed or under-employed. Record numbers of people are receiving government aid through food stamps of other means. The problem lies in the fact that there are many receiving these “entitlements” that feel it is their right to receive them. My question is this; what will happen when the nation runs out of tax money to pay for it? It has happened in other nations? What makes people believe it cannot happen here?

I have said it many times in the past, but I say it again. My husband and I do not feel that ALL people should live as off-grid as we choose to do. It really isn’t for everyone. If readers are honest however, they will admit that there are things that they can implement in their own homes to make their lives just a bit easier. Whether it be to plant a small garden in their yard or in containers on their balcony, work towards becoming debt-free, or simply being more cautious in their spending.

We often are asked how we manage on as little as we do financially. The answer is simple. We make it work. It doesn’t matter how much or little the pay is, we find a way to make the money stretch as far as possible. Being in the truck driving industry, the pay is dependent upon how many miles my husband drives. Some weeks the pay is much better than others. We have literally had a week when the truck broke down and our paycheck was in the negative due to the deductions being more than his pay that week. Then we have a paycheck come along that is very good. We learned to stock up when pay is good in preparation for the times when pay is low. It is a life of feast or famine. We are blessed in that my husband works for a company and not an owner/operator leasing to a company for his loads. A truck payment for the semi and all the permits, etc., would be hard financially devastating if we also had to make repairs to the truck as well as pay for fuel. As a company driver, the company takes care of all of those expenses.

The easy answer to how we make our income work is this. We have to work to save money. If I want to save money on the cost of doing laundry, I have to wash it by hand. This alone saves us $20 per week when compared to doing laundry at a Laundromat in town. In winter months, we use a Laundromat but in the warmer months, the laundry is done at home on a scrub board. I actually enjoy those times. I find it very peaceful and relaxing.

If we want to cut our food costs, we have to grow our own food. If unable to grow your own, you can cut costs by being less fancy in your cooking and using less processed foods. Using the raw or basic ingredients can save you a bundle in expenses. A loaf of bread that costs $2 at the store would only cost about 68 cents to make at home. On average, not including meat, you can cut your grocery expense down to about ¼ of your monthly bill if you stop buying the store versions of your favorite packaged foods. In spite of rising food costs, I am still managing to spend under $200 per month to feed our family of 4. We eat a well-balanced vegetarian diet most of the time, with a few meat meals scattered throughout the month.

For cutting costs in utilities, I am very frugal even with our water usage. Not only is this great for our environment, but it helps keep our monthly bills down. We live in a drought area. Last year, the gardens did very poorly due to the heat and drought. So, this year, I am planning a “drought garden” instead of a traditional one. A drought garden is one in which you plant vegetables and herbs that are drought resistant. Root crops are great for this! They require less water than things like green beans or tomatoes. There are varieties of fruit that are drought and heat resistant also. Many are heirloom varieties that are open pollinated (not GMO) and survive well in our region. I am planning 2 plantings of leafy greens. The first will be in early spring and the second will take place in late summer or early autumn. This will give us a nice supply of salads during the cooler months. Instead of growing celery, I am planting leaf celery. This herb tastes like celery but is far easier to grow and the leaves can be dried for winter use.

Canning may seem pricey when a person first starts, but when you remember that the jars are reusable, canning is far less expensive than buying the tins of vegetables & fruit at the store. Often, I find old canning jars at yard sales or secondhand shops. After the initial investment into buying jars, you only have to replace the flat lids that are used to seal the jars. There is a company called “Tattler” that makes the old fashioned resealable lids. These cost more than the single use lids, but are a onetime purchase. The time spent growing (or purchasing from a farmer’s market) and home canning your harvest can save your family $1,000s of dollars over a year’s time. It all depends on the amount of food you grow and preserve.

As with any other aspect of our lifestyle, the amount of work we are willing to do has a great influence in the amount of expense we have each month. The amount of work we choose to do allows us to live comfortably without the use of financial assistance or food stamps. It can be done. The question is whether others are willing to put forth the effort needed to do it. Whether it is just a little change here and a little change there, you can make a difference in your family’s spending. It is not something beyond anyone’s ability. The question comes down to how serious people are about wanting to change their spending habits and have the ability to live on less. It is only a nice idea that they would like to consider or is it something that they truly want to work towards?

 

Wood Stove Canning February 12, 2013

Today, I tried something new that I have avoided. I canned spaghetti sauce and peach jam on the wood stove. I don’t know why I avoided it as long as I have. I used the waterbath method since the sauce didn’t contain large chucks of veggies or meat. It is a basic sauce and I add the veggies & meat when I set it to simmer during meal preparation.

It was so easy to process the sauce. No different than canning on the modern stove. The only true difference is keeping the fire in the firebox hot enough to keep the kettle of water boiling.

I used a large stockpot that was deep enough for processing pint jars. That is the size jar that I use most often, so getting out the large canner made no sense. I placed a small round rack in the bottom of the stockpot to prevent the jars from resting on the bottom of the pot. The stockpot held 7 jars, which is similar to the large waterbath canner.

I set the filled jars into the canner and covered them with water so that the water level was about 2 inches above the jar tops. I used the stockpot lid throughout the processing to help keep the water boiling consistently. I allowed the water to boil for the recommended amount of time in my canning book. When they were done, I lifted the jars from the water to place onto a folded towel. As I lifted them out, I heard that wonderful noise that all home canners listen for – the popping of each jar’s lids as they sealed.

I tried a new idea as I did my canning. I had a large, tall jar of peach jam that was less than half full. It was becoming difficult for our young daughter to remove some jam out when making herself a sandwich. I took out a couple of 1/2 pint size canning jars and filled them with the jam. I had a small amount left over that was placed into another small jar for our daughter to use.

I placed these into the canner along with the 5 pints of spaghetti sauce. The jam sealed wonderfully. If this little experiment works, then I will have yet another way to break down large bulk size containers of food that I buy on sale. In retrospect, that size jar of jam that I had bought would easily have spoiled by the time it would have been used up had I not broke the amount down into smaller jars. We simply don’t go through jam that quickly. This jar was an exception as it was a new flavor for the kids.

If the jam turns out well, then I am going to start watching for the good sales on large containers of jam. It is far cheaper to buy it than to buy the fruit and make your own. I watch closely the ingredients and stay away from high fructose corn syrups and other questionable ingredients. To be able to save extra money this way will sure help the family grocery budget.

 

Canning Night September 15, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,off grid,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 4:08 am

Went shopping at the grocery store today and found they were having a truckload meat sale. Oh boy!!! I was needing to buy meat to can up for Joe to take on the truck so this was great timing.

I bought 4 large bags of boneless chicken breasts, a large package of ground beef, and a nice sized roast. The roast was cut up into small bite-size pieces to be used in beef stew. Cutting it up small allows more room in the jars for veggies. It also makes it easier to get out of the jar later on.

I precooked the stew meat in a little water to make a broth with. Then added it to the jars along with baby carrots. Joe adds potatoes when he cooks it. Broth added over the meat & carrots, then I processed the jars in the pressure canner.

I boiled the chicken breasts, again to make a broth to go with it. The chicken was then cut into chunks and placed in jars with it’s broth before processing in the pressure canner.

The ground beef is browned until nearly done. I then add a bit of chopped onion to it and finish browning. The meat is drained to remove as much fat as possible. I fill the jars loosely to about 3/4 full, then process in the pressure canner. Sometimes, I place the ground beef in a 1/2 pint sized jar mixed with a tomato sauce such as the type you would put over meatloaf, a sloppy joe mixture, make it as taco meat, or simply mix with a bit of spaghetti sauce before processing.

Overall, I am very pleased with the results. I did up part of the meat in pint jars for Joe to have on the truck and the rest is done up in quart jars to use in meals for the entire family. We have enough for 4 dozen meals all together. Not bad for an evening’s work.

 

Canning Tomato Soup & “Baked Beans” August 3, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 5:02 pm

Here are 2 of my husband’s favorite meals to take out on the truck. They are really easy to make. Enjoy!

Cream of Tomato Soup

1 cup butter
8 tsp. sea salt
1/2 of a small onion, finely minced
4 bottles or cans of Tomato juice
1-1/2 cups of flour
1-1/2 cups of sugar
1 tsp. ground black pepper

Saute’ onion in the butter until translucent. Combine flour, sugar, salt & pepper. Add to the butter mixture and cook gently until bubbly. Use a wire wisp to make sure there are no lumps. You may need to add a bit of the tomato juice to get a smooth mixture. Remove from heat and gradually mix in the remaining tomato juice. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute.

Ladle soup into pint jars, adding the lids and rings. Process by waterbath for 1 hour. NOTE: Be sure the temperature of the water is near that of the soup or the jars will shatter in your canner.

Yield: about 12 pints.

“Baked Beans”

2 pounds of dried navy beans, rinsed and sorted

In a dutch oven, cover beans with water and let boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let soak for an hour. Drain and rinse the beans. Cover with water again and bring to a boil. I then cook the beans until they are 3/4 way cooked. Drain and rinse. Fill pint jars about 2/3’s full of the beans. Set aside.

Sauce for the beans:

4 cups of water
1/2 cup molasses
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. dry mustard

Mix all ingredients into a saucepan and heat until brown sugar is dissolved. Ladle over the beans so that the sauce reaches the bottom of the jar neck (1/2 inch headspace). Wipe off rims and add the lid/ring assembly.

Process in a pressure canner 65 minutes for pints, and 75 minutes for quarts.

***I often will brown ground beef and add this to the jars for my husband. Another option is to add 2-3 of the “Lil Smokies” sausages to each pint jar.

Yields: 9 pints without meat, 11 pints with meat.

 

Today’s Canning July 27, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 6:30 pm
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Spent $50 at the grocery buying some chicken, ground beef, 2 lbs of dried navy beans, and 4 bottles of tomato juice.  Once finished, I have 8 pints of chicken in broth, 11 pints of baked beans with ground beef added, and 12 pints of tomato soup.  With ingredients from the pantry, such as seasonings, we now have 31 meals for the total cost of $52.00.  Not bad for a morning’s work.