Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Planning Ahead for Next Canning Season December 12, 2013

It seems as though we just finished harvest and canning seasons.  Most families who utilize home canning and pantry building are now able to set back and able to take a breather….for a little while anyways.

Soon the garden seed catalogs will be arriving in the mail.  It will be time to start planning next spring’s garden.  While doing so, it is also a good time to take stock of your pantry.

I have been realizing over the past few years just how much preplanning the home canning allows me to become more efficient.  I found a printable Home Canning Inventory form on a blog called “My Pantry Shelf.”  If you scroll down the page you will find both a .docx file or a PDF option of the inventory sheet.  She also gives great ideas on things to consider when planning what to home can.

Each family has favorite home canned foods.  In our home, some of the favorites are Tomato Soup, Beef Stew, Meatballs, and a Vegetable Soup.  When I have these items home canned, we always seem to go through them quickly.  Taking time to record the canning inventory will aid me in better utilizing what I have stored.  I will be able to gauge what adjustments I need to make in the amount canned next time.  Did I can too little and run out too soon?  Did I can up too much and have a lot of jars left over at the end of a year?

I am working on customizing my household binder…again.  A master sheet of the pantry inventory will be kept in the binder.  On this, I am going to have the amounts of each item that I want to keep in the pantry will be listed on this form. I designed a set of forms that I am using for my binder.  You can find the forms in my Organization folder on Google Drive.

I have the pantry inventory forms in both .doc and PDF formats.  There is a Pantry Inventory sheet which has room for the items to be sorted by category, items, amount to store, and more. I based the general layout upon the Canning Inventory sheet.  There is also a pantry sheet that can be made up as a master pantry list of the items only.  In the column beside each item listed there is a space to tally the amounts used.  When it is time to write up your grocery shopping list, you have a quick reference of what needs to be replenished.  I would suggest either tucking the pages into sheet protectors or laminating the pages.  This will allow you to use a Vis-a-Vis marker.  You could use dry erase but they wipe off too easily.  For my shopping list, I am going to be putting together a page for each item category.  This will allow plenty of room to add new items over time.

When making up your list, don’t forget the non-food items such as canning jars & lids, paper supplies, First aid items, cleaning supplies (or ingredients to make your own), and emergency items such as batteries, matches, and lamp oil or lantern fuel.

 

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Spring Clean-up May 19, 2013

Filed under: family,homesteading,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 6:11 pm
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Well, it has been that time of year again. Now that the weather has settled down, we have been busy with spring clean-up. Our poor yards needed a major cleaning after all the rains. Unfortunately, the lawn tractor decided to break down at the wrong time. LOL So, part is now ordered but we had to purchase a push mower to get us through until then. Turns out good though in that we now have a full set-up of lawn care equipment.

Besides the yard clean-up, I have become very brutal with the spring cleaning. About 50% of the contents of our master bedroom as now been donated or put out for the trash pick-up. It is amazing how much deeper you will purge your stuff when a remodel is in the works.

I bagged up a LOT of fabric that will be donated to some ladies who do charity quilts. I loved the fabric, but the antique treadle machine just wasn’t designed to easily sew synthetic fabrics. They are too slippery for the machine to manage.

I have taken a new outlook on clothing. A 2-week supply is sufficient. More than that is excess for us. About 4 dressy outfits for church or special outings and the 2-weeks worth of clothes for everyday seems to be plenty. It makes no sense to have dressers and closets overflowing. So, bags of clothing were donated last week also.

This week, the weather is beautiful and I am going to be able to start doing laundry outdoors again. I love it! Getting to wash and hang the laundry while enjoying the sunshine and breeze is a blessing. the children play on their swingset or in their little kiddie-pool as I tend the laundry. It makes for a fun time.

The other project I took on is to get the children’s homeschool area reorganized. I am making them far more efficient for both of them. In turn, that will also make it easier on me as well.

The sun is shining and the day is calling to me to come and enjoy the outdoors. Time to go embrace it with the rest of the family.

 

Recycled Containers in the Pantry April 18, 2013

I wanted to share a simple and frugal idea. I saw a great idea on TV while spending a few days with a dear friend a couple of months ago. They showed a family who used 2-liter soda bottles for storing rice. That got me thinking.

With many grains or items like powdered milk, you have to watch out for pantry pests such as weevils. Those little buggers will eat their way through paper packaging to get to the dry goods. Many times I have opened a brand new package of saltine crackers and found that weevils had gotten to them. Same thing has happened with various grains, including rice, flour, and powdered milk. If you store these in bulk amounts, such as a large 4-gallon bucket, you can lose the entire bucket of food if weevils happen to have been in the smaller package purchased at the store. What happens is that the weevil can get into the food at the store or warehouse. When you empty it into a larger bulk container at home, yoou have just contaminated the entire supply. This is where creative storage comes in handy.

I don’t use much soda, but we do use a lot of juice. The juice bottles that we get are flat enough that when laying on their side, you can easily stack them. I am using these for rice, oatmeal, granulated sugar, and any other item small enough to easily pour from the bottle. Things like brown sugar are stored in wide mouth containers such as peanut butter jars. I love the fact that if something gets in one container, it won’t cross-contaminate into the entire supply. Case in point, I had a peanut butter container of grits. Weevils got into it and I was able to toss out that one container instead of all the supply. I purposely will buy the amount of an item needed to fill new containers. Unless it is something like sea salt, I typically won’t add new supply to the previously purchased supply. I am able to better rotate my stock this way as well as lessen the chance of contamination should I get a bad batch from the store. With the amount of juice that we drink, I easily have the ready supply of juice bottles ready to be used.

One new idea that I am going to start doing is to buy a pint container of dried herbs at a time. I have certain dried herbs that I use very often. By buying a pint container worth of the herbs at a time, I can fill a peanut butter jar with the herbs. I purchase my herbs in bulk from a health food store for far less than what a grocery store charges. Once I am able to get the herb garden fully established, I will dry my own herbs instead of buying them. Until then, this is my most economical way of getting the culinary herbs that I need.

What inventive ways do you have for storing your pantry supplies?

 

Emergency Ready?

Filed under: family,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 12:29 am
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Here in our region, the spring tornado season has arrived. It is an annual occurance that we take into stride. I am always surprised by the number of people however who never consider preparing for emergencies until it is upon them and too late. Whether it is a winter storm, tornado, or other situation, the best time to prepare is before the emergency happens.

How often have you had the power go out during a storm only to find that you don’t have extra flashlight batteries? Do you have a sufficient water supply? What about a basic first aid kit?

Many years ago, I was a member of a church that promoted emergency preparedness to it’s members. We were encouraged to stock our pantries, garden, learn first aid, have a well-stocked 1st aid kit, and other items that would be helpful during a natural disaster or other event. I grew up with that attitude even before my years in that church. It was a way of life. In my lifetime, I have seen those food stores in the pantry sustain our family during finacially hard times. Living so far from a good hospital, the first aid training and supplies are a blessing. It isn’t wasted expense or knowledge.

When I lived in Montana years ago, I saw first hand the value of having a grab-n-go bag. I often carried a small duffle bag in the back of my Geo Tracker that contained a change of clothes, granola bars, dried fruit, first aid kit, flashlight & batteries, emergency blanket, and bottled water. I have to admit that since moving to here, I have been a bit lacking in carrying a car emergency bag. I have emergency supplies at home, but what good are they if we are away from home when the emergency happens? I had grown complacent in the fact that I am a home-body at heart. I love being home more than going out. Now that the kids are getting older, I have been taking them out a lot more. Trips to the zoo and other outings take us a minimum of 45 miles from home. Trips to the zoo are about 85 miles from home. What if something takes place while we are that far from home or somewhere in between?

So, I am now putting together a basic bug-out style bag. Here are some of the items that I am including.

a change of clothing for each person
emergency blankets for each of us
dried fruits, veggie chips, and granola bars
bottled water
first aid kit
flash lights & batteries
glow sticks for the kids
a new package of disposible training pants for our son

An extra item that I am planning to order are dog tag ID necklaces for each of us with emergency contact info in case of an accident. My darling husband gave me this idea. He wears a dog tag style ID in case he gets into an accident while on the truck. It has my contact information so that emergency personnel can reach me if he were unable to do so. Our son already has one that identifies him as being autistic & non-verbal with my contact information on it in case he should wander off. It is a common thing with autistic kids to do, so we take that precaution even though I always keep close watch on him. Having an ID for our daughter and myself would be a good idea also. I am considering having 2 tags for the kids, one with my information and the other with their Daddy’s phone number. This way, the information for both parents is available. The ID dog tags unfortunately do not have room for both my husband’s and my information to be on 1 dog tag. The cost for the tags are really low if I order online. The peace of mind will be great if our kids are with a relative or at a church youth activity that has them away from us.

What do you carry in your emergency kit in your family vehicle?

 

Recycled Convenience March 26, 2013

Filed under: family,green living,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 9:11 pm
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I have been taking note of the prices of the serving size packages of yogurt and other foods that we enjoy. It is ridiculous to see how pricey most of these can be.

About 2 weeks ago, I stopped at a KFC to get some lunch for the kids and I. They have the small reuseable plastic containers for their individual orders of side dishes. We saved the containers to reuse when we got home.

I bought a quart size container of yogurt at the store for about $2.50. Using the containers from KFC, I filled up 4 of them to make the kids their own individual servings of yogurt. A 4-pack of yogurt, in the same measurement, costs $1.88 if you buy the Great Value brand from Walmart. The quart size yogurt container is still 3/4 full. This means that I should easily get 12 of those KFC containers worth of yogurt from that quart. If I bought 12 of the individual yogurts at a rate of $1.88 per 4-pack, that comes out to $5.64. By making up my own using recycled containers and buying a quart of the same brand of yogurt, I can get those 12 individual serving for $2.50 or a savings of $3.14. In other words, I can get double the amount (24 individual servings) and still be 64¢ under the price of buying 3 of the 4-packs of yogurt. If you make your own yogurts the savings are even better of course.

I do this same type of thing with jello and puddings. Instead of buying the snack containers, make a box of jello or pudding but divide it into individual serving containers before refrigerating. The convenience is still the same in that you have grab & go containers, but you are spending far less.

I look back at all the snack size packaging that we used to purchase and I cringe. We wasted so much money back then. Now, we are doing it a lot cheaper. The kids still have their snacks available, but we are smarter about the costs. Filling the containers takes only a couple of minutes of my time. Well worth the savings!

You can take this idea to other areas. One is to buy (or make your own) trail mix in large quantity. Using small containers, repackage the trail mix into serving size portions. This again will cut down the expense.

If you have access to a health food store that sells unflavored gelatin in bulk bins, buy it that way instead of buying boxes of jello or packets of knox gelatin. To make your own jello, mix 1 Tablespoon of unflavored gelatin to 2 cups of fruit juice. No sugar is used as the juice is already naturally sweet.

There are many homemade granola recipes available online. Add dried fruits and nuts of your choice to make your own healthy snacks or cereals. As with everything else, you can use recycled containers to make your own individual snack packets.

As you look around your kitchen or pantry, take note of the containers that you can reuse for other purposes. By contrast really noet how much trash you will be tossing out once the single use containers are emptied. It can be quite an education! I now look at most containers at the store. If I can get the same or similar product in a package that can be reused or better yet, composed or burned, then I will buy those before buying a container that is single use. This alone can save you money as well.

 

Spring Menu Changes March 7, 2013

Filed under: cooking,family,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 1:40 am
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I love the spring season. After a cold winter, it is so refreshing to have the warmer days. It also brings about changes in our diet. Throughout the winter we eat a lot of soups and stews. These not only are comfort foods but really seem to fit the season. As spring approaches however, I am planning out meals that are lighter. These meals will be a blessing come the hot days of summer!

We are also making a major dietary change for a month or so. Our autistic son is showing signs of having a sensitivity to gluten. Quite simply, everytime he eats foods containing gluten, he has gas issues that are far beyond the normal range. He gets cranky sometimes, especially if he has too many foods containing gluten in one day. Since there is no real test for sensitivity (other than the test for Celiac which is a much more severe reaction to gluten) I am taking the old fashioned approach. We will go without gluten for a month and see if anything changes. If his gas problems are solved, then I will gently start introducing gluten into his diet again. If the gas problems start back up, we know he is sensitive to it and will eliminate it from his diet.

Luckily, I have a lot of vegetarian & vegan recipes to choose from. I also have 2 books on gluten-free cooking. These are the resources I am using to revamp my family’s diet. It is taking me some time to put together a month’s worth of weekly menus, but will be posting them as soon as I am able. I will then give more detail on how to shop in bulk for the month. I had a wonderful response to the previous blog post about my monthly grocery shopping. I am hoping that the upcoming menu will help to explain it even more.

 

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