December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas Everyone!

DSC_4944 Today we celebrate Christ’s birth, and as part of doing so, I’m keenly aware of how blessed I am.  Thanks in part to coupons, we are able to eat well and have a full pantry—many will be hungry today.  We have a warm and loving family and sweet group of friends—many will be alone today.  We were able to talk to family as far away as India and the Czech Republic today because of technology—many do not have clean water, heat sources, or electricity.  We have a ridiculous amount of gifts that we have opened today—many will not be able to provide for their families.  We work in fields that matter, making a difference to those we serve, and are able to provide for our growing family as a result—many are homeless or without work…. I could go on and on with this list, reflecting on the many, many ways we are blessed.  Maybe even more than at Thanksgiving, Christmas always fills me with a feeling of overwhelming gratefulness.  It inspires me to do better, be better, help more, give more freely, love more deeply, and while I know this sounds cheesy to some who are reading this, it will hit home for others of you. If so, I hope you’ll join me in finding ways now and in the upcoming year to be a blessing in the lives of others, whether it be through couponing, volunteering, teaching, or in some other way.  

Merry Christmas to each of you, and many blessings now and always!

December 1, 2012

Homemade Gifts—Give them a try

DSC_6957 This year a few of my friends and I decided to make each other’s gifts instead of purchasing them at stores.  We’ve done this a few times through the years, and it is always fun to see what each of us decide to make.  The only downside is that I’m the least crafty of all of my friends.  Yes, I know that I talk a lot on this blog about gardening, baking and preserving, but when it comes to making crafts, I am afraid that I lack that gene.  I try—I really do.  I know how to quilt and sew, but my finished pieces aren’t as delicate as what others might make.  I know how to crochet, but I distinctly remembering the strong urge to throw the needles and thread across the room when I was learning.  And as for making jewelry, the tiny beads and needle nosed pliers always make my fingers feel like that of a giant—dumb, awkward, and way too big.

I guess it runs in my family.  Out of 8 sisters, my paternal grandmother was the only one who didn’t have sewing as a hobby.  She did sew throughout her life, but I wouldn’t say she really embraced it until she started doing some embroidery work later in her life.  Then, there is the famous story of my mother throwing away a perfectly good sewing machine because she was fed up with trying to sew.  Now, these women had many, many other talents and skills and taught me a great deal, but sewing wasn’t something that they passed down to me.

My aunts tried.  My friends have tried.  I’ve even taken a few classes, voluntarily picking Home Ec as a high school course because I knew that if I didn’t take it I would never know how to sew.  I took quilting with a friend, and I do enjoy it but again, my pieces aren’t what I would call heirloom quality.  Sigh…

Now at this point in the story, you are thinking two things (I can’t read your mind, but I’m taking a guess here).  You’re thinking, “She’s being too hard on herself” or “too modest”.  Yet, you would be wrong.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that these are skills that just don’t come naturally to me.  I’m capable at finishing projects, but I don’t excel. 

Then, I’m guessing the next thought is, “Why on earth is this lady writing a blog post to encourage us to craft when she is telling us clearly and plainly that she isn’t any good at it?”  Well, the answer to that is that even I can come up with homemade gifts for people I love that turn out great, even with all of my ineptitude for crafting, even with my lack of patience for needlework and knitting…even me. 

In what areas do you excel?

So, what do I do?  I decide what I can do well and go from there.  One thing that I do that  many of my friends do not is preserve foods at home.  Because they don’t, those little jars of goodies feel special to them (or at least they are good liars when they tell me as such).  Even with my friends who do preserve foods, when I offer them something different from what they normally put up, it makes them smile.  If home canning is one of your hobbies, why not try making a few extra jars and adding them to gift baskets this year?

Some of my favorite home canned foods to add to gift baskets are:

All of the ingredients for these three recipes can be found at the market right now (the wine you’ll have to pick up at a market that sells wine).  All are fairly easy to make if you have some basic understanding of canning (see my “food preservation” tab if you don’t).  The pomegranate jelly, for instance, takes only a few minutes to make once you have all of your ingredients and canning items out and ready to go. 

Giving the gift of time

DSC_5450 The next idea I have is to give others the gift of time this holiday season.  We’ve all seen the homemade certificates for free baby-sitting or a date night courtesy of a friend or family member.  Those ideas are great, but you don’t have to go that far if you don’t want to.  One year, I decided to make a few of my friends who had toddler aged and newborn children some meals that could easily be frozen and pulled out to use whenever they were having a hectic day.  You would have thought I was giving them gold bullion.  I didn’t fully understand the looks of appreciation on their faces until our daughter was that age and I realized how tired a momma can be by the end of the day. 

If cooking is a talent of yours, why not make up a few of your favorite recipes and bring them to friends a week or so before Christmas as a gift of time?  Present them in a nice basket or wrapped in a pretty kitchen towel with a note that tells them the purpose of your gift. 

Some of my favorite foods to make and give others are:

  • Whole Wheat Banana Bread
  • Quiche
  • Granola
  • Cream Cheese Pound Cake
  • Any soup recipe
  • Any cookie recipe
  • Vanilla sugar—take a quart jar and fill it with white sugar or “Sugar in the Raw”, take a vanilla bean and put in the jar (you can split it half way, but it isn’t necessary, and I find it neater if you do not), let it sit for a few weeks.  Give with some nice tea and pretty cookies.

Figure out what types of crafts you are better at making

DSC_6948 I’ve found that the best crafts for me to tackle are no brainers.  I’ll spend an hour or so with our daughter working on something she can give to grandparents, aunts and uncles.  Or I find an easy-to-do craft on Pinterest, and I give it a shot.  The ones that I have the most luck with involve some sort of cooking or art and don’t have anything to do with fine motor skills. 

Some of my favorite easy to make crafts are:

  • Christmas tree handprints
  • Christmas tree fingerprint lights
  • Paint swirl globe ornaments
  • Muffin tin crayons—take all of the broken crayons you can find in your house and clean the paper off of them.  Add a few of the same colors to an old muffin tin that you never want to use for food again.  I happened to have had one that had become a bit rusty, and it worked great.  Fill the crayons about half way full in each tin and place in a low oven (175-200F) until the crayons melt.  This will take about 10+ minutes.  Set on a trivet to cool and once they have solidified, dip the bottom of the tin in ice cold water.  They will pop out and are perfect gifts to add with colorful paper for the young artist in your family.  Last year we added these to an index card, drew around them to make them look like they were ornaments, and gave one to each person in our daughter’s class.

Want something a little more sophisticated?  This year I’m going to try these two crafts and see how they go.  Note that I haven’t yet made them to give any advice on them, but I have my fingers crossed that they will work out.

I hope you’ll carve out a little time this holiday season to make a few gifts for those you love.  Not only are they less expensive, they offer the recipient something more than just a gift.  You are giving them a part of you.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

October 24, 2012

Now's a great time to plant pansies!

The Knox Cash Mob is heading over to Stanley's Greenhouse this Saturday, October 27th from 3-6pm. I hope that while you are there you'll be sure to pick up some purple and orange pansies in support of The Alzheimer's Pansy Project!

October 6, 2012

The Alzheimer’s Pansy Project, in support of the Pat Summitt Foundation

This is a project near and dear to my heart.  I hope when you make your pansy purchases this year, you will consider going to Stanley’s and supporting The Alzheimer’s Pansy Project!  Happy Gardening!











Purchased in September, October and November at

Stanley’s Greenhouse and Plant Farm

3029 Davenport Road, Knoxville, TN 37920


Stanley’s Secret Garden

305 S. Northshore Drive




August 20, 2012

Money Saving Rules

BS01178_1 I thought that it was time for a money saving post.  Lately I’ve been really paying attention to the older people in my life and how they interact with the world around them.  In particular many of the lessons that I’ve been picking up have to do with money and being thrifty.  Older generations have experienced high and low points in our economy and have learned a thing or two about how to ride those waves.  I hope you’ll find the list below helpful in your household, and if you see tips that I’ve missed, I hope you’ll add them to the comments section so that all might benefit.

1.  Waste Not, Want Not—In my opinion, this is the most important rule in saving money.  I can tell you story after story of having observed this rule in action—from my grandfather building their house with reused materials from old job sites to cooking with older women who saved vegetable peels to later make stock. 

I find that I’m much worse about being wasteful when I have a lot going on—busy days, traveling, times of illness.  For me the goal is to be mindful of waste and to realize that it is a choice.  It isn’t just a choice that exists in the moment of throwing something away, though.  It begins when we make a purchase.  I choose to buy a big bag or jar of something instead of individually wrapped purchases because of the trash aspect.  I decide whether or not to purchase a larger amount of food at the grocery store based on whether or not I really think we will eat the leftovers. 

How does reducing waste help with your budget?  The answer is many, many ways.  Look at any area of your budget where you are struggling and make a point to be conscientious this week about what you use in that category.  If for example, your utility bill is high, watch how often you leave something electrical running when not in use, how much water you run when showering, etc.  If your grocery budget is a little on the high side, pay attention to how often you throw food away and what you are throwing away.  Make an effort to work on those areas first and then move on to another part of your budget.

2.  A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned—I remember cleaning out my room as a young child with my mother.  I was sweeping up and almost threw away a penny.  She said, “Granddaddy Clyde would have said that every penny you save you also earn”.  My granddaddy was a self made man who worked for the money he made in his life, and had he been alive at the time, she knew he would have told me to not squander what I have—whether it is a penny or a dollar. 

Couponers know this rule, and we live it each time we choose to use a coupon for a product that we are purchasing.  It is always amazing to me when I offer a coupon to someone in the aisle and they refuse it.  Really?  You don’t want to save 50cts even when I’m spoon feeding it to you?  Would you walk by two quarters on the ground and not pick them up? 

You can apply this to almost every area of purchase.  When we have a purchase planned, we’ll often take a little time to check prices at a few stores, look for coupons or sales, and ask for discounts.  This usually doesn’t take very long, and we have saved anywhere from just a few cents to hundreds of dollars by taking a minute to do so. 

3.  Look at the big picture—This is an area where I see older adults really shine.  Purchase quality that will last.  Think about your long term goals.  Consider how your life will be different in another 5 or 10 years. 

By thinking about your purchases, you are going to be more inclined to buy quality items that will last ten times longer than cheaper ones.  My dad talks about having shoes older than I am almost ever week, and he’s right.  When you buy good shoes that can be repaired and shined instead of needing to be thrown away when they tear apart, you have made an investment. 

When considering your long term goals, think about money.  Would I rather have a (fill in the blank) now or would I rather invest the money and have more financial security later? A lifetime of those decisions adds up.

Think ahead.  My grandmother, who was a real estate agent, encouraged us when we were looking for our home to watch for homes with 2 or more full baths and 3 or more bedrooms.  She said that even if we decided to move sooner than we thought, the resale value would be higher than if we bought a smaller house that just fit the two of us.  While we don’t have a grand estate by any means, we have a comfortable home that has fit our family nicely.  Other friends I know didn’t have the same advice and have either had to move or expand their homes when they had children. 

4.  Repair instead of purchase new--I have a friend whose family lives in one of the nicest neighborhoods in our town.  The kitchen while quite nice is a bit of a blast from the past.  The stove was probably purchased with the house, but I’ve eaten many a delicious meal at their table.  Her mom had an argument with a repair man a few years ago because he said that he couldn’t fix their washing machine because parts are no longer made and she would have to buy a new one.  With a little research, she found the parts and hired a different repairman to do the work—she showed him! 

This rule is a take off of rule number three because most of the items that can be repaired were ones that were made well in the first place.  Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case with products made today.  A few years ago, I watched the You Tube video called The Story of Stuff  that beautifully illustrated the why behind products not being made as well.  Do a little research, check Consumer Reports and other reviews, and ask friends what they think of products. 

Finding people who know how to make repairs is becoming more and more difficult, but it is worth the effort.  I find that word of mouth is the best way to make those connections.  My cousin first told me about the cobbler down the street, and I have referred countless people to him. 

5.  Share—You could replace the word share with barter, swap, or loan if you prefer, but I like the word share because it brings with it a sense of community.  Hubby has some power tools that he was given as gifts and hand me downs, and a few weekends ago he was outside making some cuts with the saw.  The college guys across the street came over and said that they had been working for a few hours to make some cuts with a hand saw and asked for his help.  He cut their work time dramatically and it only took him a minute or so to help them. 

When I came home to write this post, my neighbor was outside picking up crabapples off of the ground.  He said that his aunt had been making crabapple jelly and told me to hold on a moment.  I ran into the house and grabbed a pint of the applesauce I recently made, and we both smiled when we made the exchange. 

By getting to know your neighbors, participating in your house of worship, being friendly towards others, it makes your life richer.  Now don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not suggesting that you get to know someone with the underlying motive to get something out of them—that’s not what friendship or community is about.  It is about working together and giving a darn about your fellow man.  It is about helping someone else out or sharing your abundance with someone else who might enjoy it or need it.  And if you ask me, our world could use a little more of that these days.

I hope you’ll find these tips helpful.  I’m sure there are many more that could be included, and think of this as a good starting place.  Happy Saving!

July 22, 2012

Independence Days Update—Summer


Howdy folks!  It has been ages since I last posted, and all I can say for myself is that I’ve been enjoying the summer with my family.  Since the Independence Days Updates are my favorite types of posts, I thought I’d take a minute to type one up. 

April 29th was the last of these posts.  At that time I had been focused on planting the garden and enjoying the first of the harvests.  All I had preserved to that point was strawberry jam and dehydrated strawberries. 

Fast forward to today.  Our weather in East TN was very dry and hot earlier in June and then in the last couple of weeks we have received a number of rain showers and the world is turning green again.  We were away on vacation in late June and early July, and after I returned I have found myself less and less interested in the garden.  I could say that it is the abundance of weeds that multiplied like rabbits while we were gone, or perhaps blame it on the humidity, or  that our days are filled with other priorities, but the truth is that I’m just not a huge fan of hot weather.  I become lazier and lazier with my outdoor chores when the temperature peaks.  I try to go out in the early morning or later at night, but I find that it feels more like a chore and less like a form of recreation.  I yank a couple of weeds, force myself to not let the fruits and vegetables rot on the vine, and then I retreat to sit under a fan. 

Why do I mention this in a post about gardening?  Because I want y’all to understand that you do not have to be perfect to garden.   There are lots of ways to undertake having a garden, and I think many people hesitate to plant one because of this idea that they will do it wrong.  Home and garden magazines and shows depict photos of gorgeous landscapes without a weed or shriveled leaf in the shot, but that isn’t the reality for many of us.  Some gardeners I know just plant a few tomatoes each year or a handful of flower seeds, but they enjoy their garden just as much as those that spend hours and hours toiling away. 

The garden has always been a faithful friend to me.  Each year I find myself less and less interested in it when the weather turns hot, when by the way I probably “should” be spending more time in it.  As the fall nears, I return to the soil and spend hours of meditation there again.  Just like a friend who has been away, we become reacquainted with one another.  I give to it, and it gives to me.  While the harvest of fruits and vegetables isn’t as plentiful, the meditation and peace I receive in the fall and spring is much richer.  I suppose it might always be that way, and I’m sure I’ll have more zest for the garden as the weather cools.

Now for the Independence Days Update:

Plant something:  I planted another wave of Blue Lake Pole Beans and Marketmore cucumbers.  I added some watermelons, a couple more tomatoes, a couple more bell peppers, and a few more hills of crookneck squash.  I had seeded more melons and squash to go in the ground, but when we were away, those plants all died.  The eggplant that I had planted before we left isn’t looking too good.  It took a hard hit while we were away, and despite the fact that it is sprouting more leaves, I’m not convinced that it will flower and fruit in time for a harvest this year. 

I never planted the figs in the ground.  With the bathroom project taking up so much of our time this year, we didn’t have a good chance to make a front garden bed like I had envisioned.  I transplanted them to larger pots, and this will allow us to move them into shelter in the coldest days of winter. 

Harvest something: Possibly the biggest delight in this category have been the blueberry bushes.  I can’t recommend highly enough that you plant blueberries if you haven’t yet.  They have a sweet little flower, their leaves turn to red in the fall, and they take only a few years until they really start producing for you.  This year has been our best crop.  At first the berries were a little mealy but as we had more rain they have become sweeter and plumper.  This will be the first year that I won’t have to go picking at a farm.  We’ve frozen well over a gallon’s worth so far, I made jam, and we’ve had plenty to eat and bake into recipes.  Yum!

We picked radishes, asparagus, spinach, lettuce and peas until the weather turned warmer in May.  The cabbages and bok choy held off a little longer but started to bolt and wilt in early June.   We’ve had a good crop of onions this year, and they have been sweeter than previously.   I could yank them for storage, but I instead prefer to just pick them and use them as needed.  We had onions that we could harvest all throughout last winter, though it was a milder winter for us than usual. 

This summer we have been disappointed with our squash and beans.  I’m not sure if the neglect of our trip or the lack of rain or late planting or all of the above is to blame.  Others I know have had good yields on these crops, so I’ll blame it on the head gardener of our household.  The great thing about friends having abundance is that as they become sick of cooking them, they have been kind enough to pass their bounty on to us. 

The beet harvest was a good one this year.  The beets were plump and sweet, and I was pleased to have so many that I harvested. 

Other foods harvested—one Jenny Lind cantaloupe that was a volunteer from our compost bin.  What a nice surprise!  Tomatoes of all sorts, herbs, a few flower arrangements, a few puny cucumbers, and some bell and hot peppers. 

Preserve something: I learned about a farmer who had wild blackberries for sale through the local Weston A. Price Foundation group, and I jumped on the chance to buy some.  I made a couple of large batches of jam and froze a few pints.  (Can I take a moment to say how much I’m liking the Ball Flex Batch Pectin?  It is so nice to not have to have a full batch worth of fruit in order to make jam!  If I have a smaller amount, the recipe tells how much pectin, lemon juice, and sugar to add—perfect!)

A friend blessed us with more beets.  I had already made about 7 quarts worth of pickled beets but unfortunately had overcooked the beets.  They were not as crisp as I normally would like.  A friend from church called the very next week and said she had more than she could use.  I was tickled to can another 10 pints worth, and this time I did not overcook them! 

The same friend has shared squash and zucchini and corn with us.  I made a hot and mild batch of Frugally Farming Family’s recipe for Squash Pickles.  I add a couple of jalapenos in place of some of the bell peppers to give it a little kick.  We so enjoyed this on hot dogs and sausages last year!  After we gorged ourselves on the corn, I removed the kernels from the cob, blanched it, and froze it for later in the year. 

I mentioned making Blake Blueberry Jam and freezing blueberries—other than that, I can’t think of anything else I’ve preserved.

My goal this week is to work on peaches.

Waste not: A friend from church passed some winter clothes and jeans on to our daughter.  I passed the maternity clothes from when I was pregnant with our daughter to a sweet neighbor who is expecting in October.  I also gave a few hand-me-downs to a friend for her kiddos. 

I finally decided to let go of the many boxes of baby clothes that we had stored, and I was so pleased when Little Red Hen Consignment Tagging Service agreed to help me with tagging them.  Kristen has been so great to work with, and I look forward to seeing how my very first consignment sale goes! 

Want Not: The main areas where we have been building up our storage is in canning the harvest from our garden and the bounty from friends’ gardens. 

Eat the Food: I’ve really been enjoying squash casserole lately.  This recipe is one of my treasured ones because the card is written in my mother’s script.  It is her sister Hobby’s recipe.  I’ve tweaked it only slightly—you can see my revisions below. 

Squash Casserole

5-6 Yellow Squash, quartered and sliced, cooked in a bit of bacon grease with Nature’s Seasoning and a bit of onion if desired.  Since I don’t add water, there is very little liquid to drain and so I don’t usually bother to do so.  Transfer to a mixing bowl so that it cools slightly so as to not scramble the eggs when you add them.
1/2 stick butter
1-2 cups of grated cheese (I just add a couple of handfuls)
3 raw eggs, beaten

Stir and add bread crumbs on top.  I use Italian bread crumbs and add just a slight sprinkle to the top.  Cook for about 20 minutes at 300 or 400 degrees.

Build community food systems: I have worked in the church food pantry a number of times since my last update.  We try to support local farmers through our purchases.  I organized and worked the VBS for our church.  We fed about 100 people each night.  This year we only had the napkins as waste (tumblers, plates, and silverware were all washed and reused).  I had brought cloth napkins the first night, but we quickly learned that the benefit of using them was greatly outweighed by the cost and time put into cleaning them each night.  We also asked church members to bring cucumbers from their gardens to add as a veggie for the kiddos—they loved this!

Skill up:  I attended a few very interesting conferences—one on Hoarding and another on Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias.  Both were extremely helpful to me in my work as a social worker.  As for other day-to-day skills, I can’t think of any brand new ones. 

May 24, 2012

Stir Fried Bok Choy

The garden is FULL of bok choy right now, and this is one of my new favorite treats.  I even like it cold!

Note that this recipe is quite loose.  If it doesn’t look like it has enough sauce, add a little more.  If you don’t have as much bok choy, adjust the amount of sauce down or serve over rice to soak up the extra sauce.  Cooking doesn’t have to be tough—feel free to experiment, adding other seasonings if you like.  I think that this would be fantastic with some red hot peppers cooked into it.  Yummy to my tummy!

DSC_7659 Ingredients

Bok Choy (I used about 6 small heads thoroughly cleaned and pulled apart with just the bottoms trimmed off)
Soy Sauce (for that amount, I used 1/2 cup Kikkoman)
Ginger (I used 1/2 teaspoon dried, but fresh would be oh so good)
Garlic (I used a clove, optional)
Coconut Oil (I used a little under a tablespoon)
Toasted Sesame Seed garnish (optional)

1.  Heat coconut in a heavy pan or wok on high heat but don’t let it reach the smoking point. 
2.  Begin the very quick stir fry with the garlic followed almost immediately by the bok choy. 
3.  As you stir the vegetable, add the soy sauce that has already been mixed with the ginger powder or fresh ginger.
4.  Cook just until the leaves start to become tender but the ribs are still crisp. 
5.  Plate and garnish with the sesame seeds if desired.


May 23, 2012

Buttermilk Chess Pie

I made this for a sweet neighbor who helped us out with a part of our bathroom remodel.  It occurred to me that I hadn’t posted this recipe on the blog yet, and it is definitely one you’ll want to try if you haven’t yet.  It has a ton of sugar, a ton of butter, and a ton of love it in=don’t feed to diabetics, folks on a diet or people you don’t love.  It is a Southern staple that was found at almost every potluck I attended in my childhood.  Enjoy!

I *think* that this was my mother’s recipe.  It is in a file of family recipes but I can’t remember if it were hers or another relative—hate I can’t give proper credit where it is due.

DSC_7663 Buttermilk Chess Pie

2 regular depth pie crusts
2 c. white sugar
2 T. all purpose flour
2/3 cup buttermilk (I prefer Cruze Dairy Farm buttermilk)
5 eggs lightly beaten
2 t. vanilla extract (I just give it a big blop into the batter and don’t bother to measure it)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter melted but not super hot

1. Blind bake the pie crusts.  While preheating your oven to 350 degrees, heat the pie crusts in the oven (poke a few holes in the crust to let the steam escape if you choose).  By cooking the crusts for about 7 or 8 minutes, you’ll start the cooking process and prevent the crust from being mushy when the pies are finished.  Remove the pie crusts and set them on the counter while you mix the rest of your ingredients.

2.  Mix all other ingredients but note that if your butter is super hot, it is best to temper the eggs into the mixture to prevent them from scrambling.  I usually add the coldish buttermilk to the sugar, flour, and extract mixture, then add the butter, mix thoroughly and then add the eggs.  I don’t bother with an electric mixer and mostly use just a fork.  You could get fancy and use a whisk if you want to make yourself feel more like Julia Child.  It isn’t necessary though.  The main thing that you’ll want to do before adding the mixture to the pie crusts is to run a rubber spatula around the sides of the bowl and the bottom to make sure everything is incorporated. 

3.  Divide the mixture between the pie crusts fairly evenly and place them in the oven. 

4.  Bake about 35 minutes at 350 degrees.  It helps to rotate them at about 20 minutes if you can manage it without spilling the mixture.  The finished product will give a very slight jiggle in the middle.  Let cool on the counter.  Devour. 

Note that this is an especially good recipe.  OK, I was going to say for whom but when the list became too long, I decided to abbreviate it to that.  ;) 

April 29, 2012

Independence Days Update, A time to sow

DSC_7623 We had another cold spell just after my last Independence Days Update, and I was glad that I had delayed planting.  It was nice to have a few colder days to cool off the house.  Other than a short test after moving some duct work and one half of a day of AC when we were working and it was super hot, we haven’t needed to use it this season.  When things were so hot so early in the year we were afraid that we might be running it more often, but that just proves that you never know what will happen until it happens with East TN weather. 

I realized when buying plants this weekend that gardening is an easy way to use some energy to get our home in order.  With the bathroom remodel fully underway, the inside of the house is a little bit of organized semi-organized chaos.  By focusing some of my attention outdoors it makes me feel like I’m doing something to bring order to our home.  If the inside doesn’t feel as comfortable and relaxing, then at least I can get the outside closer to being that way. 

Above you can see a photo of the vegetable garden.  The peas are starting to flower, and we look forward to enjoying them straight from the vines.  The bok choy and Chinese cabbages are starting to fill out and they just might make it to eating size before the heat zaps them.  I planted them a lot later than I normally would have, and I’ll be pleased with whatever they yield.  I’ll pick the first of the spinach and lettuce later today, as it is starting to become bigger.  When looking at the garlic, I realize that I should have planted a lot more (I had it, just didn’t get it in the ground).  The asparagus bed (rear left in the photo) has yielded quite well this year and is just now starting to thin some.  The radishes (in the rear right bed on the photo) have been so abundant that I’ve been able to share some with neighbors.  Some of our broccoli overwintered, and I’ve been tickled to pick a little here and there to add to various dishes.  Unfortunately not a single carrot decided to pop out of the ground.  Maybe it is just as well, Hubby found rabbit burrows near one of our purple plums and anyone who has read the story of Peter Rabbit knows how that would have turned out. 

Lately I’ve been reflecting on the saying, “You reap what you sow” a lot.  I’m rereading the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People with Hubby, and in the chapter about proactive people this message rings true.  Then when reading a magazine talking about health, diet, and organic gardening, the phrase is again emphasized.  Looking at our own little garden plot and how I could have very easily planted more garlic and never did makes me think about how true the saying is in so many areas of life.  So (pun intended) I am trying to sow more—more love and friendship to those whom I care about, more seeds in the garden in looking towards the future, more healthy meals for our family, more exercise and sunshine for a healthy body and mind…  Sowing—tis the season!

Now for the Independence Days Update:

Plant something:  I planted the first round of beans (Blue Lake Pole Beans and Christmas Lima Beans).  I’ll add more in the next couple of weeks to fill in spots in the teepee areas.  A couple of tomatoes, 4 bell peppers, 2 jalapenos, some of the leftover cucumber seeds from last year (Marketmore from FedCo), and 3 hills of zucchini. I’m not even half way finished with the planting, but the beauty of the Independence Days Update is that if you plant a little here and a little there it seems less like a chore. 

Harvest something: Asparagus, radishes, green onions, flowers for arrangements, chives, parsley, and broccoli

Preserve something: I made the first trip to pick strawberries and have canned a couple of batches of jam, along with freezing and dehydrating some. 

Waste not: A friend at church passed some hand-me-downs to our daughter, and when we opened the bag to see the cutest cowgirl boots ever it was so exciting.  We shopped the church rummage sale, added to our children’s book library, and bought a few books for another friend.  Used bamboo for teepees in the garden instead of purchasing new cages.  Spurred by Money Saving Mom’s recent organization posts I’ve been cleaning out at least 7 things a day from our home.  Some go into the garage sale pile and some go to friends or relatives who could use them. 

Want Not: Nothing new in this category.

Eat the Food: STRAWBERRIES!  Lots and lots of strawberries.  Strawberry popsicles, strawberry and spinach salad, strawberries plain, strawberries in yogurt…  Our daughter said yesterday as I was putting some on the table for lunch, “Strawberries again??”  I remember somewhere in the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle book the author wrote about a similar experience with fruit—the luxury of eating as much as you want and almost reaching the point of tiring of them.  Then the season ends and as soon as they are gone you start to miss them. 

Build community food systems: I passed some radishes to our neighbor.  A church friend brought us about 30 or so small banty eggs.  They are so cute when served sunny side up.

Skill up:  Not much in this category.

April 15, 2012

Independence Days Update—Fig and Pomegranate Jellies

 DSC_7604 April arrived and with it a bit of cooler weather was present in East TN.  We even had a frost, something I hadn’t expected would happen after record days of heat.  We brought the flat of eggplant in but the frost was rather mild in our area and nothing else was hurt. 

Easter wasn’t as pretty this year.  Most of the spring flowers had finished blossoming, and I was scurrying around the yard on Easter morning to try and make a bouquet for the church hospitality table.  I improvised by adding a few small limbs from the plum and Japanese maple trees to help fill out the arrangement of yellow irises, clematis, and a few daffodils. 

April 15th is the day of the year that I affectionately call “Magic Planting Day”.  I’m looking forward to having my hands in the soil much of this week.

Now for the Independence Days Update:

Plant something:  I haven’t planted anything since my last update—that will change very soon.

Harvest something: Asparagus, radishes, green onions, flowers for arrangements, rosemary, chives, parsley, and broccoli

Preserve something: Asparagus has been blanched and then frozen.  Last year I was so glad that I did this because we enjoyed frittatas, omelets, and pasta dishes with asparagus well into the summer months. 

Yesterday I made both pomegranate and fig jellies.  I noticed that Three Rivers Market had both organic juices on sale, and since I received an additional 10% off because of my member discount this weekend, I was inspired to try it out.  For years I grew up enjoying fig preserves that my aunts from TX and LA would make for us.  My grandfather had fig trees in the back yard of his home in Memphis, and we would always try to eat them before the squirrels found the ripe ones.  It remains one of my favorite treats, and next weekend we plan to add a few fig trees/bushes to the yard.  I know we won’t be able to expect much of a  harvest for a few years, but I think talking to the farmer from whom we plan to buy the trees about the fruit, whet my appetite for them. 

This recipe was the only one that I found using juice to make fig jelly.  I didn’t have quite enough juice so I added 1/2 cup 100% grape juice that I had leftover from Wednesday night to the mix.  It was VERY loose when I made it, and after having cooled for a few hours it was still sloshing around in the jars like juice.  I placed it in the fridge and overnight it thickened but is still quite a loose jelly.  We’ll see how it tastes this morning.

I used this recipe for the pomegranate jelly, and I look forward to trying it with quail next time I roast some.

Waste not: I’ve updated here and there about efforts to reduce waste at our church when I feed the kiddos at the children’s program.  The first step was the addition of real plates over paper plates. Then we had some cups donated for them, and bowls trickled in here and there.  We had a large supply of forks, knives and spoons.  The last piece was napkins.  We had been using the recycled paper napkins for a long time, and I mentioned to a friend a church wanting to start collecting cloth napkins for them.  The next weekend she brought me a large bag that she had cleaned out of her home, and they have been perfect!  With additional efforts to recycle and compost at the church kitchen, we have reduced the waste significantly.  Love that!

Want Not: Nothing new in this category.

Eat the Food: Y’all saw the update on the rosemary quail recipe I posted to the blog.  Other than that and enjoying the traditional foods that we make for Easter, I can’t think of anything new in this category.

Build community food systems: I participated in the 10 Days of Real Food Knoxville Challenge.  I visited the opening day of the New Harvest Farmers Market—so happy to see the market open again!  I’m trying to expose the kids at church to a greater variety of foods and less junk, and I’ve been pleased with the response so far.

Skill up:  Most of the books I’ve been reading lately are on finance and leadership (and fairy books with our daughter—lots and lots of fairy books!), so I can’t really pinpoint any new skills I’ve developed from having read them.  While not really a skill, I gained a tremendous amount from a long discussion with a local farmer about the fig trees/bushes we plan to plant next week.  She was a wealth of information and so encouraging!  Talking with local experts is one of the many reasons I enjoy attending the farmers markets.

April 12, 2012

“Jesus Foods”


Last night at church, we had a special meal.  I thought it might be interesting to serve the kids the types of foods that Jesus might have eaten.  Now, I realize that not all of the foods are exactly historically accurate, but the point was to give them a feeling for what food might have been like in His time.  We served the meal in courses, a couple of bites of each food at a time, explaining the significance of the food and telling what Bible stories we knew that related. 

Fish—we were blessed to have a fisherman in the congregation donate some freshwater fish to the meal.  One child in the group volunteered and told the story of the Loaves and the Fishes.

Grape Juice—well, you didn’t think we were going to serve them wine did you???  We told the story of the water turned to wine.

Cucumbers—cucumbers are mentioned in the Bible (Numbers 11:5) as having been eaten in Egypt.  We reviewed the story of the Israelites being in slavery, the journey to the Promised Land, and Moses. 

Dates—Date Palms are mentioned multiple times throughout the Bible, and we talked about them perhaps being like a candy bar during those times.  They are packed full of natural sugars, which most of the kids really seemed to love.  I was surprised when I asked about the different foods and who had eaten them before.  Only our family had tried dates before, so it was a new food for almost everyone there.  Love that!

Olives—A child in the group volunteered to tell the story of Noah and the Arc and how the olive branch related. 

Hummus—This was the loosest connection to Biblical times.  I couldn’t find any specific historical reference to hummus, though it was reported to have been eaten in Egypt, is a Kosher food, and that chickpeas were abundant in the area. 

Bread—we used a flatbread, again discussing the miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes

Yogurt and honey—There are references to yogurt (not necessarily by that name, though) in documents from thousands of years ago.  We talked about how our ancestors used yogurt and cheese as a food preservation tool.  We talked about how honey is referenced in the Bible many times.  We discussed the antibacterial qualities, how it is the only food that does not spoil, and how ancient man would use it for cuts and scrapes. 

It was such a fun night, and the kids seemed to get a kick out of trying the different foods.  Not all of the kids liked everything on the plate, nor would we expect them to.  The point was for them to be exposed to the foods and better able to picture how life was different in those times.  We had a great time, and it was well worth the effort that went into preparing the meal!

April 10, 2012

New Harvest Park Farmers Market Opening Day

New Harvest Park Farmers Market Opening Day!!

Thursday - April 12 - 3:00 p.m. until 6 p.m.

Cooking Demo at 3:30 by PSCC Culinary Institute

Strawberry and Tomato Bruschetta

Arugula and Radish Salad with Blood Orange Vinaigrette

Grilled Asparagus and Benton's Bacon Quiche

Gardening With Neal and David at 4:30

Join UT Extension Agents Neal Denton and David Vandergriff at the demonstration garden for expert gardening tips


Clear Springs Farm

Colvin Family Farm

Eric Volkov

Gail's Soaps

Grassy Creek Soaps

Greenbriar Farm

Gregory's Greenhouse

Holden Nursery

Honeyberry Farm

Imagination Baby

Melanie Wheeler

Mitchell Family Farm

Mountain Meadows Farm

Scrumps Cupcakes

Seven Springs Farm

Shelton Farm

Sherie's Garden Style Salsa

Snow Creek Home

The Laughing Girl

VG's Bakery

Wisner Farm

As always, the playground and walking track will be available for your enjoyment!

For up-to-date information, "like" us on Facebook at:!/pages/New-Harvest-Park-Farmers-Market/133230580066187

or follow us on Twitter at:


Knoxville Real Food Challenge, What I’ve learned

Yesterday and today were busy days, and I’m just now getting to posting an update.  Since we have mostly eaten leftover cabbage rolls and eggs, there isn’t much to report for our meals.  I’m glad Hubby thought of the suggestion to bring the rest of the carrot cake to work for the folks there to enjoy.  It helped to have it out of sight and mind. 

What have I learned from the challenge?

In reflecting about these last ten days and the challenge, I again am reminded about how blessed I am.  Instead of worrying about if there will be food on the table, I have the abundance to instead be thinking about what kind of food will be on the table.  Instead of worrying if we have enough, I’m able to instead worry that we are eating out too much or wasting too much food.  Does this mean that the food revolution is an elitist movement?  I’m not entirely sure.  I think that it probably has started out that way, but most of the big thinkers and writers are working on ways to make real food accessible and affordable for more.  In the last 10 years we’ve seen a huge shift in the availability and affordability of organic and locally grown foods, and I suspect in the next 10 years we’ll continue to see a shift.  What kind of shift, I guess is left to be determined.


Probably the biggest area that I struggle with in feeding our family healthy, real food is the area of convenience.  This is more impactful even than the cost of the food because lately time has become a hot commodity in our lives.  Baking bread or making yogurt, while enjoyable activities for me that require little hands on time, do not happen very often anymore.  Instead I spend more of the time in the kitchen working on making suppers, preserving foods from the garden, or prepping for lunches. 

What does this convenience look like on a daily level?  On one side it means that we buy store bought whole grain bread made without HFCS and organic plain yogurt that we sweeten with local honey.  On the other it means that we eat out at restaurants and enjoy trips to Chick-fil-a.  It means that we have lunchmeat in the house for Hubby’s work lunches and Annie’s crackers for our daughter’s lunchbox.  It means that we don’t always buy local meats and that we have bananas (a food despised by locovores) in our home most weeks. 

Does this make me a bad person, mother or wife?  I don’t think so.  I kind of think that for the most part I’m pretty good at those roles. I think what it does make me is human.  I learned a long time ago that when we take anything to an extreme it can become dysfunctional.  For our family, we find some solace in moderation.  (Again, though, what is right for each of our families is not going to be the same—you must decide what is right for you.)

How this challenge helped me was by becoming a little wake-up call reminding me of how important food really is.  I want to feed our family healthy, homemade foods and want that to be the norm over trips to Chick-fil-a.  It gave me some practical tips and tools, often gleaned from posts that other local bloggers participating in this challenge were writing, to help me do so.

Children and Food

Another valuable lesson from this challenge came when feeding the kiddos at church.  I had worried about what would happen when I only offered them healthy foods—would they balk?  Would they whine?  Would they go home hungry?  None of the above.  I didn’t give them nearly enough credit, and for that I’m ashamed.  Each and every child found something on the salad bar that they liked, and many of them talked about liking the salad.

Later, I was reminded about Jamie Oliver’s show about revolutionizing school lunches in America.  I was reminded about the nay-sayers who were convinced that the kids would not drink milk unless it were flavored or eat healthy foods instead of French fries.  What he found was that much of the time what the kids actually did was more in response to how the adults in their lives approached the situation.  It is sort of like that Field of Dreams—if you provide it, they will eat it.  It may not happen right away, but over time, you might find that they are eating healthier and healthier.

As a result of the success that we’ve had recently with providing the kids real food, this week I’m making what I am calling “Jesus foods” for the supper.  I thought it might be fun for the kids to have an inkling of what types of foods Jesus might have eaten.  I didn’t do a lot of historical research, so please don’t beat me with a wet noodle about the foods not being 100% authentic.  I based the menu on what I know of that region’s foods—hummus, naan or another flatbread, plain  yogurt with honey, grapes and grape juice, dates or dried figs (depending on what I can find at the store), Egyptian cucumbers, and baked fish (freshwater fish with gills and scales, not catfish.  We were tickled when one of the fishermen in our church volunteered to provide the fish!)  How much of the food will they eat?  I’m not sure, but at least they will be introduced to these foods.  Part of the enjoyment of preparing these meals for the kids is to watch when they try something new to them and experience it for the first time. 

A line in the sand

The real food challenge rules for the original blogger seemed to be a sort of line in the sand.  From what I can gather from her writing, it served as a guide for them to help them make better food choices. 

One question this challenge made me reflect on is where is our family’s line in the sand?  Where does that line get a little fuzzier?  After spending almost 15 minutes trying to write out a few paragraphs on what I’ve come up with, it is clear to me that these questions aren’t really answered yet.  I suppose in some way they are a work in progress.  I aim for some semblance of balance but that goes a bit wonky when we have an illness in the family, vacation comes, a busier week hits…  Reading books about, watching documentaries that explore, and participating in challenges that encourage a deeper look at real food help to remind me of what I’m aiming for.  Like I said earlier in this challenge, they give me the swift kick in the pants that I sometimes need. 

I’ve always said that the fastest way for me to clean the house is to watch the first 5 minutes of one of those organizing shows.  I am up off my behind and have a broom in hand.  This challenge has done the same thing. When I go to the store next, I know I’ll see more fruits and vegetables and less boxes.  The trick is to remind myself of this often enough so that it becomes more the norm instead of the exception.

Thanks for walking alongside me on this journey.  It has been interesting!  I also offer thanks to Erica of Child Organics for encouraging me to participate and spearheading this local challenge!

April 8, 2012

Day 8—Knoxville Real Food Challenge

Today I fell off the wagon and indulged.  While our cabbage rolls were well in the boundaries of the experiment and many of the other foods were as well, I wouldn’t call it a successful day for the real food challenge.  (I had carrot cake as part of my breakfast if that tells you anything!)

This afternoon when we were relaxing, we watched the movie Fresh.  Not a bit of the information was news to me, but like I’ve said before, every so often I need a reminder of why it is important to buy, support, and eat real food.

Tomorrow we’ll start anew and see how it goes…

April 7, 2012

Day 7—Knoxville Real Food Challenge

The day before Easter almost always means a lot of cooking is going on in our family members’ kitchens.  Daughter and I started by making a carrot cake, per her request.  (If you haven’t yet tried this carrot cake recipe, it is the best I’ve ever eaten.  It is completely from scratch, but it does contain some sugar, which does not fit in the real food rules.)  We then boiled eggs because it has become a tradition to help the Easter Bunny out by dying the eggs for him and leaving them on the back porch for him to hide.  He always seems to bring some of his own eggs, too, but I’m sure he’s relieved that we keep his work load a little lighter.  Then after a trip to the church for the annual Easter egg hunt there, we started on the cabbage rolls

This year was the first year that our daughter showed any interest in rolling the cabbage rolls.  I held back tears of pride as I watched her follow my instructions and roll one after another.  I told her, as I will probably always tell her on Easter, the stories of rolling them with my father and grandparents and how their parents and grandparents before them rolled them.  I told her of the many recipes for this dish and how on some years we would have them rolled in grape leaves instead because of the novelty of having grapes in my grandfather’s backyard garden.  I thought of how one day she will probably do the same with her children. 

See, food is that way.  There is something about it that transcends all of us.  Because many kind hands took the time to teach me, I’m able to teach her.  It will be as if they are dining with us tomorrow because of the legacy that continues.  Food is important, and like I’ve said countless times, it nourishes our souls as well as our bodies.

Today’s update--

Breakfast—organic yogurt with local honey and blueberries from the freezer (picked locally and from our garden), cinnamon raisin bread/toast (locally made), and coffee with steamed, frothed milk (local milk)

Lunch—leftover grits, broccoli and cauliflower, gouda cheese, crackers (regionally made), carrot

Sample—because you have to sample when you are cooking!  The cabbage roll filling

Supper—Rosemary quail and brown rice

Rosemary Quail

I made up this recipe tonight, wanting to do something a little different with the quail.  It is similar to the recipe that I use for roasted pork, only I added some raisins and bacon to the dish.  We served it with brown rice and butter, and the sweetness of the raisins mixed well with the depth of flavor that the quail offers and nuttiness of the rice.  (Note that the photo is of a salad sized plate.  Quail is a relatively small bird).

DSC_7479 Ingredients

Quail breasts (by all means use whole quail instead if you have them)
Dijon Mustard
Chopped onions (green, red, or yellow)
Salt and fresh cracked pepper


1.  Butter your dish generously, mainly to add a bit of fat to the quail.  Many game birds are significantly dryer than their farm raised counterparts. 
2.  Clean the quail well, being sure to check for any shot that might have been missed when the birds were being processed
3.  Set the quail cavity side down in the baking dish, salt and pepper, and brush with Dijon mustard.  This isn’t an exact science—just brush them until the tops are well coated. 
4.  Top with a handful of raisins, and it is fine if they fall off of the birds.  They will plump as they cook and add a touch of sweetness to the dish. 
5.  Add the rosemary leaves or end pieces to the top.  Again, if some fall off, no big whoop.  I might have added a 10 inch stalk worth of rosemary for this amount of quail. 
6.  Add the chopped onions.  I probably used a half of a cup for this amount of quail.  If you like onion, add more.  If you don’t like it, feel free to omit. 
7.  Complete the dish by adding strips of bacon.  Again note that this addition of fat will help to keep the quail from drying out so much.  If you like, you can also add a dab of butter or olive oil to the tops of these, but it isn’t necessary.

Bake in a 350 degree oven, uncovered for approx 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and cover with foil.  Let the dish sit covered for another 5-10 minutes to complete cooking and let the juices reconstitute in the meat. 

Next time I think I’ll experiment by adding some pomegranate jelly or a chutney to the birds to see how it works. 

April 6, 2012

Day 6—Knoxville Real Food Challenge

For those of you who don’t know, I’m participating in the ten day Knoxville Real Food Challenge.  My update is below.

Now is when it gets interesting.  Easter is almost here, which means that Lent is almost over.  For Lent I focused on getting rid of some foods that had become stumbling blocks for me, and as a result I noticed a big change in myself.  I felt better, lost a little weight, and saved some cash.  There is a big part of me that sees Easter as a fork in the road.  Do I use it as a time to say that for the most part those things are behind me, I’m freed of them?  Do I enjoy them in moderation on special occasions but at the same time risk that becoming a habit again?  Or, do I just say that Lent is over and go back to old behaviors?    What to do, what to do? 

In reflecting on how as our pastor put it “God makes change in 40 days”, I think that Lent has given me an opportunity to conquer some unhealthy food habits.  Perhaps God put this Real Food Challenge in my life right at the time that Lent is ending is telling.  We’ll see…

Today’s update--

Breakfast—Farm fresh eggs over easy, selection of either cinnamon raisin or plain honey whole wheat toast, pineapple.  Today’s coffee was made using the steamed milk trick that Rebecca taught me and I tried yesterday.  This time I added a spoonful of cocoa.  It didn’t taste as good.  For the second cup I added the cocoa with a touch of vanilla which softened the flavor a bit.  Tomorrow I’ll go back to the steamed, frothed milk with a little vanilla and coffee. 

Lunch—Hubby and daughter enjoyed homemade applesauce per her suggestion and sandwiches.  I had some errands today and brought with me leftover sweet potatoes (I’m weird and like them cold the next day almost as much as I like them fresh), herbed crackers (regionally made), fruit leather (no sugar, organic).  Then I enjoyed a second nosh with Hubby and daughter of rosemary crackers (regional), gouda cheese, and apple slices. 

Last night I planned the meal for tonight’s supper—roasted quail with vegetables—but I failed to take the darn quail out of the freezer.  I checked it a while ago, and it was still rock solid.  Upon Hubby’s suggestion, we are going to enjoy some restaurant food tonight.  Some nights are just like that.  Doesn’t the quote go something like “The best laid plans of mice and men, oft do go awry”? 

April 5, 2012

Day 5—Knoxville Real Food Challenge

Last night’s food experiment with the kids far exceeded my expectations, which reminds me of an important life lesson—never underestimate people.  Those kids are great, and I shouldn’t have doubted their willingness to try something different. 

For those of you who haven’t read, Hubby and I set up a salad bar for the kids who attend the Wednesday night children ministry.  We always serve them a snack supper, and last night I tried the salad idea for the first time with them.  There were a few things that seemed to help with the success of last night. 

1.  I didn’t go too far out of the norm with the offerings.  I kept the ingredients for the salad fairly simple—lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower, green bell peppers, celery, tomatoes, dried cranberries, cheese, croutons, farm fresh eggs, chopped ham, cucumbers, and radishes. 

2.  I laid some ground work with the older kids reminding them that if they didn’t like something they could say, “No thank you” rather than negatively influencing the younger kids with “Eww” and “Gross”.  I don’t know that this was necessary, though.  They all seemed to find at least a couple of things on the salad bar that they liked.

3.  Rather than sending all of the kids through the line at once, we helped them 3 at a time.  This kept everyone from being overwhelmed.

4.  The element of choice is, in my experience, important to people of any age.  By allowing the kids to choose what went on their plate, I think they were more receptive to trying something different. Some of the kids who had never tried radishes before gave them a shot and said, “Not too bad.”  ;)

5.  In regards to the issue of money, I had been concerned about wasting food that wouldn’t be eaten.  The opposite effect seemed to happen. Kids didn’t pile food on their plates but did return for seconds if they wanted it.  Rather than placing an arbitrary amount on their plate and some of that going in the trash, by giving them the ability to decide what and how much went on their plates, they seemed more likely to eat what they had taken.  Also, I LOVED that they went back for seconds.  One sweet boy, whose mom I met in the Holistic Moms Network, sheepishly asked when he went back to the salad bar, “Can I have that whole egg for myself?”  Of course you can!  Farm fresh, good for you eggs, you bet you can have a whole one!

6.  We supervised the salad bar.  We helped to spoon things out for the kids but in the amounts that they desired.  This kept the spoons from being intermingled, hands being used to grab food, and other mishaps. 

Today’s update--

Breakfast—scrambled farm fresh eggs, cinnamon raisin bread (local), coffee. Today I tried Rebecca’s trick and used steamed, frothed milk instead of any sweetener.  I have no idea why, but it tasted sweeter.  What weird chemical reaction or placebo effect occurred, I don’t know, but I liked it!  I didn’t add any flavoring or sweetener of any kind and the frothed milk made it perfect. 

Lunch—I enjoyed a beautiful lunch at Three Rivers Market with a friend.  We ate off of the hot bar and the food was fantastic!  The co-op’s chefs do a great job of serving “real” food in a really appetizing way. 

Supper—Veggie Night—we’ll have roasted sweet potatoes, salad, grits (local grits, local milk, organic butter), roasted asparagus (from the garden), and steamed broccoli (half from the garden and half from the store)

Beverages—black unsweetened tea, coffee, water

April 4, 2012

Day 4—Knoxville Real Food Challenge

Four days into the ten day challenge and things are going pretty well.  I did slip up at Kroger and grabbed one of the samples while talking to the deli lady (she has become a shopping friend) and ate a slice of pickles and a couple of pieces of lunchmeat before I realized what I had done.  The lesson of this for me is not to worry about having eaten lunchmeat but rather to realize the importance of being mindful when and of what I am eating.  I was distracted and just grabbed the sample without thinking.  I wonder how much of my caloric intake for a day happens like that? 

Tonight I’ll make the meal for the children who come to the program at our church.  I remember listening to Chef Ann Cooper talk about school lunches and how she fought to get salad bars into each of her schools.  People kept trying to convince her to give up the idea because the kids would spit in the food, pick it up with their fingers, or not eat it.  However, she found the opposite was true.  Offering them some ownership and choice in what went on their plate seemed to lead to a greater appreciation for the food.  I decided that I wanted to have a similar experiment with the children at church. 

I purchased the following salad bar fixings that I’ll prep in small bowls for the kids to choose from for their salad—lettuce, peas, carrots, celery, bell pepper, cucumber, grape tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, croutons, dried cranberries and shredded cheese.  I bought a small boneless ham that I will chop, and I boiled 8 or so farm fresh eggs that I’ll quarter.  We have premade dressings at the church, and I’ll bring some olive oil and vinegar from the house.  Not all of the ingredients fit within the challenge rules, but I wanted to encourage more kids to at least try it.  I wanted to have some things that were familiar to them so that more of the kids will give it a shot.  (For the record, I’ll be refraining from eating the things off of the challenge rules list).  We’ll see how it goes, and I’ll be posting an update tomorrow.  Keep your fingers crossed for us! 

When shopping for tonight’s food, I had a couple of ah-ha moments.  First off, I had thought of serving bread with butter on the side for the kids.  I didn’t want to buy the white breads and wrestled with whether or not to shell out the money for the kids to have the high quality whole wheat breads.  I talked to our daughter about this:

Me—“I’m not really sure if we should buy bread.  Some of the kids might not eat it.”
Her—“Why wouldn’t they eat it?”
Me—“Because it is whole wheat bread and some of the kids aren’t used to that.”
Her—“Well, I like it, Momma, and if I like it, I think they would like it too.”

She was probably right.  Maybe I should give them more credit for their curiosity and willingness to try new things.  However, I was a little nervous about feeding them the salad to begin with, afraid I would get a backlash of groans from the big kids that would trickle down to the  younger ones.  I decided not to go out on a limb further. 

The second ah-ha came when I really asked myself to delve further into the source of the anxiety.  Why was I so worried if they would try it or not?  What did it ultimately matter?  The answer--money.  That’s what it all boils down to.  I didn’t want to waste money when I thought there was a chance that the food might go into the compost bin.  Logically I know that kids need to be exposed to foods a number of times before they are willing to try and even admit they like something new, but ultimately the price tag is what keeps many of us from buying the more expensive foods for our kids. 

When I talked to a relative about this aspect of food, she explained that she feeds her kids pizza and other premade, frozen foods because she was tired of working all day, coming home and making a meal, only for them to spend the entire supper time complaining and then not eating it.  It was easier to make something from a box that they would eat and that she had a coupon to save off of the purchase price.  I get that.  I can empathize with that, but as I asked her, where does it stop

So, in a few hours, I’ll experiment and see how it goes.  Since I have a very elaborate meal planned for next week that I’ll tell you about in another post, I’m hoping and praying for the best.  They are fantastic kids and I’m guessing that many of them will surprise me. 

What did I eat today? 

Breakfast—2 boiled farm fresh eggs, pineapple (not from a can), local bread with organic butter
Lunch—Plain organic yogurt and local honey, hummus with regionally made crackers, carrots and celery
Supper—Salad bar, as mentioned above
Snacks—Locally made raisin bread (no sugar added)
Beverages—Unsweetened tea, water (I’ve not been mentioning that I drink water because I thought it was a given), coffee with a bit of maple syrup, vanilla and milk.  Note—my friend Rebecca of Simply Natural Mom mentioned a trick that I’ll try with my coffee tomorrow

April 3, 2012

Day 3—Knoxville Real Food Challenge

Today I drank coffee.  Needless to say, the morning went a little better than it would have otherwise.  I looked for the cocoa but couldn’t find it this morning, and so I stuck with adding a bit of vanilla extract, a dab of maple syrup and a glop of whole milk.  The maple syrup added a very different flavor to the coffee—not bad, not delicious either, but it will do.  I’ll look forward to seeing how the cocoa works with the maple syrup when I find it in our pantry.  (I recently reorganized things, which also means that things are not always where I think that they should be). 

Yesterday I wrote about how dependent on packaged foods I have become when the days are busier.  With a little planning though a very busy day worked out.  Just to give you a snapshot--

7:30am—dropped daughter off at school
8:15am—made a visit to an assisted living
8:45am—went to see a friend who was having surgery this morning
9:30am—went to our church to introduce the speaker for the Young at Heart meeting and drop off some donations
10:30am—went into the office to take care of some paperwork
11:30am—met with a student for supervision
12:30pm—left to pick up our daughter
1:10pm—back at home
The afternoon continued by helping our daughter with homework, picking up eggs from our egg farmer, and doing housework and gardening.

Given that there wasn’t much time in between things, I planned a simple meal for lunch that I could nosh on when I had short breaks.  Pineapple, banana, crackers, hummus, and carrots and celery.  I also packed a couple of jugs of tea.  Moral of the story—you can have a busy day and still manage to eat healthy on the run.  The key is, and I would dare say will always be, preparation.  Had I not known that I was going to have a busy day, doubled the recipe for the hummus and cleaned more carrots and celery, I would have been out of luck for lunch. 

I told y’all that I’ve watched the TED Talks on Netflix that relate to food issues.  One of the speakers mentioned that a key element in looking at our food security and ability to eat well is to have one person in the family (more is always helpful) who gives food some thought.  Someone must ensure that food is purchased or grown so that there is enough to prepare, and then that the food is defrosted or prepped so that meals are able to be cooked in a timely manner.  Someone must take the job of budgeting so that there is enough food throughout the month, not only at payday.  Someone must pay attention to leftovers and reducing waste so as to not limit the family financially.  All of those steps were once taken by the mother of the household, but as we have become busier, as our families have shifted to less traditional roles, mealtime has become lost in the mix. 

The idea that we now live in a culture where people on TV shows have to offer public service announcements to remind us the importance of eating supper together as a family is a little absurd to me.  Yet at the same time, I am reminded that just the other night our daughter and I ate in the car as we were waiting for her dance class.  We still ate home cooked food, but we did it in a car for Pete’s sake!  I realize how easy it is to slip into a mode of running, running, running all of the time and forgetting to take time for important things. 

What is the solution?  I’m not sure.  I bet there are think tanks working on that solution and how to market and sell it to all of us, though!  I think that for our family there are a few things that help.  When I have a busier day (work, charity work, socially, whatever), my husband is really good about helping to make sure mealtime works.  He helps with preparation, sometimes will pull out something from the freezer to eat as a leftover, and works with me on the dishes and cleanup.  (Lesson—the entire family working together on the meal lightens the load).  I know that when I take the time to plan our meals and shopping trips, mealtime goes much more smoothly and we are less likely to fall back on prepackaged and prepared foods as a last resort.  (Lesson—Preparation and Planning)  Another important step is realizing that activities do not have to happen every single night for your child to be happy and healthy.  Right now our daughter has one activity outside of church and school (dance class), and she will soon be transitioning from that into swim lessons as a refresher for the summer.  If we went from ball practice to dance lessons to piano lessons each week, we really would eat in the car regularly!  What’s more, our family time would be lost.  Supper provides more than a time for nourishment.  It teaches your family that they are important and valued.  It gives you a chance to connect and communicate as a family.  (Lesson—you can’t have it all.  Decide what is important to you for your family.  All of our answers aren’t going to be the same.  What works for our family won’t for others).

Now for my update on food--

Breakfast—Baked oatmeal (basically the soaked oatmeal that was leftover from yesterday reheated for today) with real maple syrup and organic butter
Lunch—mentioned above
Supper—Egg Scramble (farm fresh eggs cooked with butter and a bit of olive oil, asparagus and onions from the garden, and zucchini that we froze last summer), Toast with organic butter (local bread), radishes fresh from the garden, and pineapple
Snacks—bread with organic butter (I’m really loving this fresh, local bread!)
Drinks—coffee (mentioned above), iced unsweetened tea, and milk

April 2, 2012

Day 2—Knoxville Real Food Challenge Update

Yesterday I joined the Knoxville Real Food Challenge, which will run for ten days and is based on the blog 100 Days of Real Food.  The basic idea is to go back to how we once ate—real food, no processed junk.

As I told you yesterday, I miss my coffee.  Because I didn’t want to take the time this morning to experiment with vanilla or mocha recipes, I decided to just stick with black tea.  The type I bought with dried blackberries added to the leaves helped to give it a sweet flavor while still giving me a bit of perk this morning.  Not a perfect fix, but it worked.

Today the challenge was a little more challenging for me because it was a busy day and I was running errands.  I spent some time last night planning our meals and doing some prep work, but if I had not had time to return home after picking up our daughter from school for lunch, I probably would have buckled and picked up something while out. 

I managed, but the experience taught me how reliant on convenience foods I have become.  Meat or peanut butter for sandwiches were both out because one isn’t local and one has sugar in it.    I’ll have to rethink the idea of what I add to my sandwiches or if I opt for them at all during this process. 

As for the 5 ingredient rule, I’m going to be breaking it very soon.  I have a feeling that the author meant to use this as a tool to guard against overly processed foods.  My homemade soup contains a lot more ingredients than 5, but given that almost all of them are veggies or herbs, I’m thinking that is just fine. Winking smile

So, what did I eat today?

Breakfast—Soaked oatmeal using local milk, organic maple syrup and organic butter

Lunch—Leftover chicken drumsticks, green beans, and peas with a slice of bread and butter

Supper—Homemade hummus (all organic—chickpeas, garlic, olive oil, non-organic tahini), carrots and celery, crackers (the regionally made ones I mentioned yesterday)

Snacks—Crackers, apple, banana, raisins

Tea and milk to drink

Onward and upward—we’ll see how tomorrow goes.  I know from other challenges I’ve tried that it tends to get a little easier with time.  One thing is for sure, the food I’m eating is delicious!

April 1, 2012

Day 1—Knoxville 10 Days of Real Food Challenge

As I posted this morning, I’ve joined the Knoxville Real Food Challenge, which will take place for the next 10 days.  Erica from Child Organics was inspired to create the challenge from the 100 Days of Real Food blog.  The rules are pretty simple…or so I thought—I’ll get to that in a minute.  With the exclusion of refined sugars and grains, you’re pretty much safe on this challenge if you are eating foods that your grandparents would have eaten.  Take away the junk food and processed stuff and enjoy the real stuff.

My update for day 1--

I miss my coffee.  Yep, I know that the challenge allows one to drink coffee, but I tend to add in all of the flavorings to make it taste more like a dessert than a cuppa Joe.  My grandmother started me on coffee when I was about 2 years old—milk coffee as we still call it (almost entirely milk before you think that she was trying to mess with my parents by hyping me up on caffeine).  As a result I’ve always liked my coffee light and sweet.  Since I’ve been without sugar in my diet for a little over a month now, I eventually reverted to those coffee sweeteners that use the artificial stuff.  Gasp, artificial sweetener…take a moment to judge me harshly if you like.  Since I’m also not drinking sodas and couldn’t find a spot of caffeinated tea in this dang house this morning, I went without my morning wakeup. 

Tomorrow I plan to experiment with milk and vanilla extract (real stuff) to see how that goes.  I’ll also give this recipe a whirl.  When at the grocery, I made a point to buy some caffeinated tea.  My preference is Earl Grey, but again I like it light and sweet.  Almost any other tea I can drink straight or with a bit of honey, and I opted for a black tea that has dried blackberries in the mix.  We’ll see if tomorrow morning is any peppier.

Real food is more expensive.  OK, let’s just get that out in the open.  I’m all for using coupons and saving money when you can, but when you look at an entire grocery trip, expect to pay more.  This challenge would be significantly easier and cost less if the farmers markets were open and the garden were in full bloom.  In season foods are less expensive and foods straight from your home “farm” are practically free.  I’ll pick what I can from our plots and use my savvy shopping skills to help with the grocery budget.  The amount that I spent today was a lot higher than it would normally be for just a couple of trips, but I’m not sure how that will even out over the month since I did a lot of stocking up today. 

As I told you, Easter is our big holiday.  My family is well known for making dishes and dishes of cabbage rolls with plates and plates of sausages to go with them.  Beautifully dyed eggs, a few desserts, and some relishes even out the meal.  For years, that was the entire menu—notice the absence of fruits and vegetables on the list.  I tried to convince my dad to not make so many sausages, but he is stuck on tradition.  I decided to take over the job of the cabbage rolls (so I would know exactly what went into them).  Normally we would buy regular cabbage, something like a Jimmy Dean sausage, use local beef (I almost never buy regular beef if I can manage it), white rice, and the rest of the vegetables would be from the garden with the exclusion of the celery.  They would be topped with store bought bacon.  This year the cabbage rolls are going to be “real” but also be “really” expensive.  In addition to the local beef (about $4/lb), I bought locally made breakfast sausage (right at $6 a pack), organic cabbage (99cts/lb), organic/nitrate free bacon ($3.99/12 oz), and organic brown rice ($1.49/lb).  I know they will be delicious and I also know that I won’t feel the least bit concerned about the ingredients I’m using to make them, but I will expect for no one to waste any part of it. ;) 

While shopping for the ingredients mentioned above at Three Rivers Market, I decided to look for a few other foods that would be easy enough for me to grab on the go and still “keep it real”.  I found some regionally made herbed crackers that have only a few ingredients, all of which I can pronounce and have in my home kitchen, and no sugar added.  They were $3.99, but they are so good.  I’m perfectly capable of making my own crackers, but with the bathroom remodel and a busy week ahead of me, I decided to pay a little more for the convenience.  The same idea went into my bread purchase.  I found a loaf of honey wheat bread, sliced for sandwiches, and right at $4.  No sugar, a few ingredients all of which I know and use—perfect!  Normally I would strive to pay less than half that price for a loaf of whole wheat bread, which may be enough to convince me to get my hands into some dough soon. 

What did I eat today?

I didn’t abide by all of the rules today.  I didn’t make it to the store last week at all and I did what I could with what I had on hand for breakfast.  I didn’t realize that all of the meat needed to be locally grown, not just organic.  Also, I must confess that I don’t really like locally grown chicken.  I’ve tried it from all of the local farmers that I know of in this area and it tastes a little dry to me.  I would have planned something else for supper if I had realized the local stipulation, but I already had the organic, free range chicken in the oven.  Oh well!


Local eggs, scrambled
Toast with organic butter (note that this was store bought whole wheat bread as I hadn’t yet made it to the store)
Herbal tea, no honey or sweetener


Daughter and I went to Three Rivers Market and enjoyed fresh brown rice sushi.  Technically this is “fast food” but I don’t think it is what she means by fast food.  Not sure how soy sauce fits in the real food diet, but since I know it has been around a lot longer than the modern diet, I am thinking we are in the clear.  We drank water and some unsweetened tea. 


Roasted chicken drumsticks (used organic olive oil on these)
Roasted asparagus from our garden (again, used olive oil)
Peas with butter (organic butter, non-organic peas)
Green beans with butter (organic butter, non-organic green beans)
Radishes with salt (from the garden)
Locally made bread toasted
Pineapple for dessert (not organic, but fresh/non-canned)
We drank unsweetened tea and daughter drank local milk.


A few of the herbed crackers I mentioned above
Apple (not organic)

The food was quite good and filling.  With the exclusion of the absence of coffee and local instead of store bought bread, it wasn’t far off of what we would normally make.  The next few days will be a bit more challenging as life tends to be busier during the school/work week.  I’m going to spend a little bit of time tonight planning so that I know how I’ll make it work for us. 

Anyone out there thinking of participating?  If so, I’d love to hear how it is going for you.