Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Art & Science of Meal Planning - Part One: Seasonality & Budget

Our family is just the four of us* - The Hubs, The Teens, and lil' ol' me. So you might be surprised how involved planning our meals and buying our food can get. When I actually took a minute to stop and think about all of the elements that go in to planning my family's meals and groceries I was kind of surprised by how many factors were involved.

The things that influence how I plan and how I shop for my family's food:

  • The Season
  • Our budget
  • Our schedules
  • Specific health/dietary needs of family members

Four items - that's not too much in the way of a list, is it? Well, each item contains complexities of it's own. For example - Seasonality. It not only influences what is available for purchase, but the quality and price of the item. It also greatly influences our family's tastes - Fall and Winter call for roasts, casseroles and soups, whereas Spring and Summer are barbecue, salads and stir-fries.

A few of the staple Fall & Winter menu items for our family are things like shepherd's pie, beans with ham hocks and cornbread, green chicken curry, tikka masala, pot roast and potato soup. Basically, hearty fare that is meat and root vegetable intensive.

The Spring and Summer would typically be lighter and fresher - garden salad with roasted salmon or grilled steak, chicken stir-fry with brown rice, baked bone-in chicken with pasta salad, fresh spring rolls, carne asada tacos.

Then you throw the budget in the mix.

As loyal adherents to organic and sustainable farming practices, both on our own farm and in the products that we purchase from other sources, we spend a fair chunk of change on groceries - especially meat and seafood - to support environmentally-friendly and sustainable ranches and fisheries. That translates to us eating less meat and seafood than a typical American family.

As such, I try to be very thoughtful in my meal planning, choosing quality over quantity, without forgoing taste or nutrition in my meals. It complicates my life a little, but I recognize that it is the best choice for all concerned in the equation.

So this means that while I plan my meals around the "protein" element, it doesn't represent the bulk of a given meal. I try to balance the relative expense of the piece of meat or fish with a lower cost, but still healthy and well balanced side dish/dishes. A small portion of steak with a lot of green salad, nuts and veggies on top, or a pound of ground beef with potatoes, carrots, celery, mushrooms and onions in a shepherd's pie. With ravenous teenagers in the mix, stretching a pound of hamburger to feed and satisfy a family of four can present a challenge. Buying meat in bulk from local buying clubs (mine sources its beef/pork/chicken & seafood from local sustainable ranches, farms & fisheries) or growing your own are both fair ways to trim the grocery budget, but both involve fairly substantial upfront costs. Below is the spreadsheet I made for tracking "Pig Expenses" last year.



Like a ding-dong, I didn't note anywhere on my spreadsheet what the final hanging and the cut/wrapped weights were for our pork, but suffice it to say that the take-home cut & wrapped weight was in the neighborhood of 150-200#. Based on that guesstimate, our homegrown pork cost us roughly $6 to $8 per pound, which is on par (and maybe a little cheaper, considering you get the full spectrum of cuts) with sustainably, non-medicated, non CAFO pork sold in farmers markets and butcher shops. It ends up being a fairly intense and expensive six months raising the pigs from weaners to the freezer, but the pork lasts our family of four for a year, eating it 3+ meals per week.

*At the time that I started this post, all four of us were still at home full-time. Now the big kiddo is away at college for 8ish months out of the year. When she is home though, she still eats like a viking. ;)

Friday, September 21, 2018

Changes

A week ago today, my husband and I dropped our firstborn off at college. He cried a little, I didn't. I figured that I would eventually cry, once it became real.

I still haven't cried.

Part of the reason that I haven't is because I know that she's ready for this. College has been one of the main focal points in our household for the past year and a half - researching, applying, PAPERWORK, orientation, supply shopping, dorm room shopping, last-minute helicopter-mom nagging (Have you refilled your prescriptions? Where's your inhaler?! Let's get you a flu shot!), et cetera, ad nauseum.

I also lived under the assumption that after the move was made, the household would settle into a new groove in the wake of the big shift. 

That hasn't happened yet either.

We theoretically have the household chores reshuffled and redistributed among we three remaining household members, although everyone is so exhausted by back-to-school, change of seasons, new job/activities and a gnarly chest cold bug, we haven't yet fallen into anything resembling a groove.

I'm sick, and I'm probably a little sad, and the longer this thing takes to hit me, the worse it's guaranteed to be. I'm worried. 

I'm also incredibly proud of how both of our kiddos are adapting. It hasn't been seamless, but our college girl is thriving in her new environment so far, and our high schooler is adjusting to being the lone chick in the nest pretty well. She is very active in her school's band, marching band, pep band, wind ensemble.... you get the idea. She keeps herself busy.

As for the hubs and I - we're trying to stay busy and upbeat. If we never stop moving, we can't very well crawl under the blankets and cry for days on end, can we? And so, we've both been working and volunteering our butts off to distract ourselves from the looming trough that inevitably follows the crest. Launch, successful. Life, altered. Mood, scrambled.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

For Jani

I still can't quite believe that I'm never going to see you again.

I worry that someday I'll have trouble recalling the sound of your throaty chuckle.

Your heart and your spirit and your capacity to love were so immense. Where does that all go?

I've cried a lot and I've been thinking a lot these past few days. And I've concluded that it doesn't go anywhere. It is refracted, reflected, redirected by the people that you shared yourself with. And there were so many!

 








Your girls carry your light so brightly! So does Chet - though in his own grumpy-old-man style ;) - and everyone else you loved and who loved you.

I will miss your wit, your humor, your great big hugs. But most of all, that laugh. I was damn lucky to have known you. Love you to the moon and back, mamacita.

xoxo
Chelle


Monday, April 9, 2018

Long Time, No Post

The Farmhouse, circa January

Life continues to chug along here in the Hollow, though a few things have changed since my last few posts. The kids have grown - a lot! The eldest will be off to college in just 6 months (!) and the youngest is now in high school and badgering us to sign her up for drivers ed. They always tell you that it will go by fast, but... DANG! It really does seem like it was just the other day that the girls were just starting kindergarten. It's been a whirlwind, but it's been pretty awesome - most of the time.

At any rate - it is my goal to try to post more often and more regularly. Things have changed in our family and on our farm since I last posted on a semi-regular basis, and I will try to catch everything up in due time.

Thanks for hanging in there with me!
Chelle




Under the Influence of Books

Is it just me, or do you find yourself in a different sort of headspace while reading (or in the immediate hangover after reading) a really good, really immersive book?

My family has commented on how my everyday language changes a bit when I'm eyeball-deep in a book series based in someplace like Scotland or England. I'll start using words like knackered or kebbie-lebbie. It isn't an affectation. In fact, it's not a conscious thing at all. I guess I really just climb inside those books! I can only hope that the people around me find it at least as amusing or charming as they do weird or annoying.

Anyway - lately I've been reading Alice Waters' autobiography about her life and experiences leading up to the founding of Chez Panisse. I've also just finished reading a novel, "The Maid", based on the life of Joan of Arc. In other words - I've been Frenching it up.

My immersion seems to have manifested itself in the following ways - more bread and seafood in my menu planning, more flowers on the table (which could just as easily be attributed to the arrival of Spring), and wine with dinner. No linguistic changes this time, at least not that anyone has mentioned.

This nutty little quirk of mine is a small thing, but even so, I think it has value. I can live 1000 tiny lives. I try on things without always realizing that that is what I'm doing. It's sort of amazing to me that at 43 years old, I can still grow and evolve in the direction of whatever has my interest on a given day.

My life and my heart are full.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Bird Sigthings...and Disappearings(?)

This morning, my eldest monkey, who is in charge of keeping care of our flock of ducks and quail, asked me if I would mind taking care of her ducks for her this morning, which is a rather unusual request. Our conversation:

Kid: "Mom, can you let my ducks out of their house later?"

Me: "Of course. Why don't you just let them out now though?"

Kid: "I want to wait because I saw and heard a spotted owl come out of the woods and fly over the bog. It was so cool, Mom!"

Indeed, that does sound cool. We often hear, if not actually see, barred owls calling back and forth in our woods, but a spotted owl is rare.

If you grew up in the Pacific Northwest, then you are probably very familiar with the spotted owl as an enormous thorn in the side of the local logging industry. The owls were driven to near endangered status as a result of habitat loss from massive clear-cuts and harvesting of old-growth forests. When the US Fish and Wildlife Service put extreme restrictions on logging in order to help restore the spotted owl population, the logging industry was hit hard. Displaced, laid-off loggers were infuriated, countering with a macabre campaign to kill the owls and have done with it.


These and other catchy slogans were the logging industry's reply to the USFWS's 1991 court order to prohibit logging in national forests.

I digress, but the point I'm trying to underscore here is how extremely rare and magnificent a sight that a spotted owl, swooping low over our mist-covered bog, must have been for my kiddo to have beheld.

The reason that I suspect that the owl chose our farm for his morning fly-by is slightly less magical - breakfast.

The night preceding, we had a quail jailbreak of epic proportions. Someone didn't latch the door on the hutch and our quail decided to go on a walkabout. By the time the breach was noted, approximately three quarters of our flock were out and about, well distributed throughout our acreage. We literally beat the bushes and climbed through thickets and brambles to try to recapture as many as we could before dusk fell. Upon final head count, we were still 15-20 birds short. Somewhere in the hay field and bog, the little rogues bedded down for the night.

Enter the owl.

The Boggy Hollow breakfast buffet was just too tasty for him to pass up.

At least our loss was a gain for a critter that really needed the help. Not to mention, my kid got what is very possibly a once-in-a-lifetime bird sighting, in her own backyard no less.

So thanks, Mr. Owl, for choosing us for your dining needs. May I recommend a hearty dessert of Norway rat and field mouse?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Autumn in the Hollow

Fall has very belated and abruptly, finally fallen on Boggy Hollow. The garden is very nearly wrapped up for the year, though not put to bed yet, that being a ginormous task unto itself. 

The temperature gauge on my car's dashboard read 39 degrees at 7:00 this morning, so I guess I'd better make it a priority to harvest the last of my hoop-house pimento and jalapeƱo peppers this afternoon before Jack Frost gets them. We also have a few scraggling pumpkins left out there, but - being volunteer mystery mixes - they're all destined to be chicken and turkey food anyway, so their cosmetic condition is not quite so important. To be honest, I'll be relieved when everything is buttoned up for the season.

I've been keeping fairly good track of our garden's productivity this year, but, as always tends to happen, I slacken off as the growing season progresses. Back in March/April, if we brought in a quarter pound of snap peas, it was written up in the log straight away. Now? We'll weigh one pumpkin and just assume the the rest of roughly the same size weigh roughly the same thing, and scratch it in the journal (maybe) when/if I remember to.

But anyway - I was talking of embracing the falling of Fall. Apparently a switch flipped and now I'm in hardcore Cozy Mode. In the past few days, I've suddenly rediscovered my love of knitting and have had my food dehydrator running 24/7, trying to put up one last jar/bag of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, calendula, spearmint, chamomile... etc. You name it, I'm drying it out and squirreling it away.

A new addition to my squirrelin' repertoire this year - wild mushrooms. Bill and I have always loved foraging, but were extremely intimidated about the idea of venturing into the world of mushrooms, as there is basically no room for error in identification. After reading half a dozen mushroom-specific guides and psyching ourselves up, a friend finally talked us into giving mushroom hunting a try by giving us the directions to his 'never fail' spot for lobster mushies. It was a bust for us. We've gone on hunts for morels, chanterelles, chicken of the woods and lobster mushrooms, all with ZERO luck. How bizarre it was then, to finally positively i.d. a much sought-after edible, the King Bolete (aka Porcino) mushroom growing in our very own yard!

Teeny-Weeny Porcini!
A very good day's haul
And to think that these have been growing there for years and we never realized - d'oh!

Apparently, they usually wrap up their Autumn flush in November, so I don't know how many more of these lovelies that I'll get before they're gone for the year, so I've been furiously hunting/cleaning/processing/drying them these past few weeks, trying to them all in while the gettin's still good.

Besides knitting and fiddling with mushrooms, I've finally got my baking groove back! Today's bake - a triple batch of Gingerbread biscotti. I've made this recipe several times and it always goes over big with anyone who has tried it. The smell of this in the oven will kick you into Cozy Mode lickity-split!


Lightly sweet and satisfyingly crunchy, Gingerbread Biscotti.

Gingerbread Biscotti 
Recipe courtesy of ShugarySweets.com
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Yield: 12 large biscotti
Crunchy Gingerbread Biscotti is easy to make and delicious too. Have your coffee ready!
Ingredients
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 Tbsp molasses
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 cube Dorot crushed ginger (or 1 tsp), thawed*
  • 2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup sparkling white sugar
  • 4 oz vanilla candy coating, melted
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with sugar until combined. Add in eggs and molasses. Beat in spices, flour, and baking powder.
  3. On a parchment paper lined baking sheet, shape dough into a 12x4 inch rectangle, patting evenly. Sprinkle with sparkling white sugar. Bake for 22-25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 5 minutes. Slice biscotti into 12, one inch wide slices. Arrange biscotti onto sides, separating them on the baking sheet. Return to oven and bake an additional 6 minutes. Remove and turn them to opposite side, bake another 6 minutes.
  4. Remove biscotti and cool completely.
  5. Once cooled, dip bottom of biscotti in melted vanilla candy coating. Set back on parchment paper until set, about 15 minutes. Store in airtight container. ENJOY.
Notes
For the crushed ginger, thaw on counter while getting ingredients and baking sheet ready. OR, place in a small glass bowl and microwave for 5-10 seconds.
*I (Michelle) actually used fresh grated ginger instead, as that is what I had on-hand.

Happy fall, y'all! :)