December 31, 2015

No Recipe Family Meals

No Recipe Family Meals

Sometimes you or your hubby just can't think of what to make for dinner. and following a recipe is too much for weekday evenings.  Here's some meal ideas that don't need recipes and that my family enjoys.

Try to make double batches every time you cook and put the leftovers in the fridge for dinner the next night or in the freezer, or for lunch at work tomorrow. This avoids junk-food, take-out and saves money!

These meals are all corn free, nut free and gluten free (choose GF pasta, GF bread etc)!

SC       = slow cooker friendly
FAST  = ready in 15 minutes
ZERO = no thinking ahead required
THAW= must thaw meat first

1.  SC  Pork Tenderloin in pineapple juice, mashed potato & steamed vegetable
2.  SC Pork Pot Roast with steamed carrots and second vegetable
3.  SC Lamb Roast with Homemade Cranberry Sauce
4.  SC Whole Chicken with toaster oven potato slices (sprinkle olive oil & thyme)
5.  SC Homemade baked beans and hotdog slices
6.  FAST Leftover roast with steamed kale and instant brown rice
7.  FAST Burger patties with melted cheese and fruit salad
8.  FAST Grilled Cheese with Apple Slices
9.  FAST Scrambled Eggs with Mushrooms
10. ZERO Spaghetti with Mushrooms and Parmesan Cheese
11. ZERO  Macaroni with Cheese & Broccoli (boil frozen broccoli with pasta)
12. ZERO Pan Fry Fresh Fish, Steamed Baby Carrots and instant Brown Rice
13. ZERO Salmon Patties (tinned salmon) with frozen peas, homemade mayo
14. THAW Spaghetti with ground beef and can of tomato sauce
15. THAW Chicken Breast with curry powder & toaster oven sweet potato slices 
16. THAW Ground Fried Pork with homemade apple sauce and steamed carrots

November 11, 2015

Gluten Free Banana Muffins

I've been baking gluten free for a couple years now.  Here's a gluten free, corn free, banana  muffin recipe that I use all the time.  The basic recipe includes 1 1/2 cups gluten free flour.

When I first started baking gluten free, I would use a mixture of 1/2 brown rice flour with 1/2 white rice flour.  But I'm moving towards something a little more healthy.   I keep this 1/2 brown rice and 1/2 white rice flour mixture all ready mixed together in a big bin with a lid with my usual baking ingredients.  For this muffin recipe I typically take 1 cup of my pre-mixed rice flour and add 1/2 cup of an alternate flour.  The alternate flours I use include: millet flour, chickpea flour and coconut flour.

One other tip is to use baking soda only, not baking powder.  Baking powder has corn starch.  If you are avoiding GMO then avoid using baking powder.  I find that using guar gum with baking soda gives a good rise in gluten free baking.

1 1/2 cup gluten free flour (1 cup 50/50 white rice to brown rice mix plus 1/2 cup alternate flour)
1 cup sugar when using chocolate chips OR 1 1/2 cups sugar if no chocolate chips
1 tsp guar gum
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips (optional)
1 egg
1/4 cup olive oil or yogurt
1 egg
4-5 mashed banana

Mix all dry ingredients in medium size bowl.
Mix all wet ingredients in large bowl.
All dry ingredients to wet and mix.
Line muffin tray with muffin cups.  Bake at 350F for 20 minutes.

October 1, 2015

Queen of the Roost

Shelley at 9 months old in the nesting box.
She's the Queen of the Roost.

Our three hens are making good progress.  That is two of the three hens are now laying eggs.  And about once a week the leader of the hens has double yolkers. 

Shelley has always been at the top of the pecking order and was the first to lay eggs starting around 8 months old near the end of our winter.  And now a second hen is laying too.  It was so awesome to check the nesting boxes and find two eggs one morning.  It's amazing how something so simple made me so happy and proud. 

September 5, 2015

How to save money on groceries AND eat organic

Organic Dinner
Organic Dinner, Home grown, Home Raised
With today's food choices in the grocery store, it's hard to eat healthy.  If you want to avoid GMO foods and eat vegetables without herbicides and pesticides and grown with synthetic fertilizers it seems you need to shop organic and buy many things in specialized health food stores.  This is definitely not a thrifty approach to grocery shopping.  But I know how you can make at least one third of your diet non-GMO and organic for less than you pay in the grocery store.

Grow your own vegetables and raise chickens for eggs.  This summer my vegetable garden is finally large enough that I haven't bought vegetables from the grocery store for two months.  And I haven't bought eggs in about six months.  This significantly lowers my grocery bill.  It's expensive to buy organic eggs and organic vegetables.

heirloom tomatoes
Heirloom Tomatoes
You can have a pretty big variety of vegetables to eat from your own garden and can even eat a little bit of a many kinds of vegetables in one meal.  You don't have to eat a huge head of broccoli, you can eat broccoli side sprouts, a couple of beets, a small salad of lettuce, tomato and cucumber, potato salad, mashed potatoes.  Another day you can steam kale and carrots.  These are all vegetables that I grow without any herbicides, pesticides or store bought fertilizers.

If you're wondering how this is possible here's what I've been doing.  I feed the chickens loads of kitchen scraps which then turns into nice chicken coop deposits.  I then compost these directly over the garden in winter and in a compost bin during the summer.  I don't till the garden beds so all the micro organisms in the soil remain healthy.  I do a bug check on the garden every day or so and pick off any leaves where bugs are laying eggs and pick off any caterpillars and give them to the chickens.

For fruit in early summer we pick wild strawberries and wild raspberries.  I have planted some berry plants in the garden but these aren't mature enough to produce very much fruit yet.

September 1, 2015

Price Matching Demysified to Save Money On Your Groceries

Price Matching

Price matching is a great way to save time and money.  When I started living on a tighter budget, the first thing I thought of was to save money on groceries.  I picked up the local paper with all the new grocery flyers for the week and started circling good deals at all the stores that sell groceries in my small town.  But I quickly realized I wouldn't have the time to drive to each store individually.

For a few weeks I narrowed my shopping down to two stores, I'd go to the cheaper one first and then the more expensive one every weekend.  But that became a bit too much leg work and I was still missing out on great bargains.  So I decided to take the plunge and start price matching.

The only reason I hadn't done it before was that I was scared.  I thought it would be embarrassing to do at the cash register with all the other customers lined up behind me.  So I decided to take a baby step first.  I circled one great deal in a flyer and shopped for the item at Walmart and then price matched just one item.  This ended up being quite painless.

The next weekend I went all out and circled at least 10 good sales and found most of them at Walmart and price matched them.  This was a little more painful because I had to separate out the price matching items from the rest of my shopping and then flip through various flyers to show the cashier.  But when I walked away with saving $20, I thought the pain was definitely worth it.

You can use a smartphone and show the ads on your phone, but of course I cut my internet usage plan on my phone, so old fashioned free newspaper is the way for me.  Below are my top three tips on how to make price matching easy.

Tips on how to make price matching easy:

Tip 1.  Get a thick bright marker to circle the sales you want in each flyer.  Write on the front of each flyer the type of food that is in it.  ie.  If toilet paper is on sale at Loblaws then I circle the picture of the toilet paper and then flip to the front page and write toilet paper on the front of the Loblaws flyer.

Tip 2.  When you shop, keep all your price matching items in the front child seat area so you they don't get mixed up with regular priced items.

Tip 3.  Put all your regular priced items on the conveyor belt at the cash register first and then your price matched items.  This gives you a chance to get your flyers straightened out before the price matching items make their way up to the cashier.

Note that all stores have different or no price matching policies. These are posted usually on their website or in tiny print somewhere on the flyer.

May 2015

Save your vegetable steaming water

One thrifty tip that has saved me from buying stock at the grocery store or helped me out when I slow cook without planning ahead is to save the water from the pot after you've steamed some veggies.  

Pour the water, once cooled into a freezer bag and freeze until use.  When you're ready to use it, you can thaw it out in a bowl of hot water (keep the stock in the bag zipped up), or just toss it in the pot with your roast.  This adds lots of flavour and you only have to spend less than a minute to save the veggie water.

August 8, 2015

Garden Bounty

Bee pollinates sunflower
Bee Pollinates Sunflower
The garden is doing great.  The bees are pollinating the sunflowers.  We're planning on giving the sunflower seeds to the chickens for treats.

All those challenges at the beginning of the gardening season are long gone.  I have not bought vegetables from the grocery store in a couple of weeks and it looks like I won't need to for awhile.

I've had a lot of beans, more than we can eat.  I've blanched and frozen about four meals worth and the rest we've been eating fresh.

We've had a few artichokes, carrots, lettuce and beets that we've been eating as we harvest.  I made one batch of salsa.  But most of the tomatoes are still green.

Here's some beets and the broccoli has been great.  We picked off the main head and we have lots of little sprouts growing that we pick regularly.
Heirloom beets
Heirloom Beets

August 1, 2015

Don't Mow Your Lawn and Support Nature

No Mow Lawn
I leave a wide strip of unmowed
lawn in the front yard.
I've been living in a country subdivision for the past 10 years.  We all have 2 acre lots and they are mostly lawns.   I hear the sound of lawn mowers all summer. Between all the neighbors mowing, I can't hear the birds most of the weekend.  The ride-on lawnmowers are so loud.

I want to see the wildflowers and encourage the bees and butterflies to visit.  I saved a lot of milkweed plants for the monarch butterflies.  However I didn't see any monarchs this year.

Why do people burn gasoline in their mowers for hours on end?
Wildflowers growing on the unmowed lawn.

Mowing by-laws

Since I live in a residential community I do have to follow some by-laws.  The by-law related to mowing the lawn states that the ditch must be mowed.  I mow our ditch about once a month and this is actually a lot to mow across the whole front of our property.

I also like to have some walking room around the gardens and a path around the house to keep the critters away.  I mow a small patch in the backyard too so the kids can access the play structure and the camper trailer and badminton.  I spend about 2 hours mowing a month.  This still seems high to me but if my neighbors could also cut down their weekly mowing of 2 acres, as a community we could make a real difference.

It still seems that the majority think a mowed lawn is necessary.  Only a couple of weeks ago, a neighbor with a ride-on lawn mower came to visit and offered to mow my front lawn for me.  I replied that it is my meadow and I was purposefully not mowing it.

When I come out the front door of my house and look at the front yard, I see humming birds, bees, crickets, frogs, birds nests and bright pretty flowers.

July 12, 2015

Vegetable Gardening Progress - Early Summer

I posted recently about the three different types of garden beds that I have on the homestead.  All the vegetables have grown quite a bit in the last two weeks.

The raised bed garden, with rotting wood as the inside base, is doing well, especially the tomatoes.  These tomato plants have the largest green tomatoes of all my tomato plants.
Ground cherries.  Note the green paper lantern shapes, each will have a little round fruit inside.
The ground cherries are also doing well, with several lantern shaped pods on each plant.


We've just finished our second annual staycation.  For one week starting on Canada Day, July 1st, we camped in our backyard and explored Eastern Ontario and Quebec on day outings.  Our staycation includes camping in the backyard.  We pop up our camper trailer in the backyard, get our fire pit going, clean up our small pool, and lay out a nice country table cloth over the picnic table.  Here's the activities that we did during the days.

June 21, 2015

Best Type of Vegetable Garden Bed? No Dig, Lasagna or Hugel

This year I have planted vegetables in three different types of garden beds.  Two gardens are new to my homestead.  Even though we're only a month into the growing season there is a definite difference between the gardens in terms of plant growth and plant healthiness.

First Garden Method: Rototill then no till

My first garden bed I made last year, so this is it's second season.  This bed performed very well for me last year.


To make the garden we rented a rototiller and tilled up a big rectangle of sod.  The location was chosen only because it was the only spot in the backyard that was flat, ie. not on the septic bed.  I had bought one of those little soil testing kits and ended up mixing in some bone meal.  We add a few bags of topsoil and bags of compost.  It took forever to clear out the clumps of sod.

June 4, 2015

Wild plants and animals in Lanark on my Homestead

There's lots of spring activity on the homestead.  I was trimming some bushes along the front of the house because I saw some wild blackberry brambles growing  and I'd rather have berries growing than landscape bushes.  Unfortunately I uncovered a birds next with tiny tiny birds in it.  So I put back all the branches I cut off and luckily momma bird returned and kept returning, thank goodness.

I'm starting to get interested in learning about mushrooms.  But of course I assume that they are all poisonous.  These are two kinds of mushrooms that I found on our property.  I have no idea what kind they are.  If anyone knows, please send me a comment.
I'm going to keep my eyes open looking for mushrooms in nature this year to see if i can recognize any.

May 25, 2015

Spring Beginning for Vegetable Gardens in Ontario

Artichoke, 2nd year in zone 4.  Three others
didn't make it through the winter.
Here's an end of May update on the vegetable gardens so far.  I'm located in Ontario and it's been a topsy turvy start to spring planting.

In early May we had a couple of weeks of much warmer than seasonal temperatures and it looked like the risk of frost was gone.  Being the eager gardener and not always wise and patient, I went ahead and planted all my seedlings on the Victoria Day weekend.  All was good for a few days and then wham one cold night was predicted.

May 3, 2015

No Dig Vegetable Garden, Seedlings and a Naughty Kitten

I've been busy preparing gardens and seedlings the last week or two.  Spring has finally sprung in the Ottawa area and it's predicting to stay in the low to mid-twenties (Celsius) and lows around ten for the next two weeks.  Makes me wonder if the last chance of frost is over this early.  Normally I wouldn't dream of planting seeds until at least the third week in May.  Also it's been much drier than usual, which is good because our property has a lot of low lying land.  So this past weekend I wrapped up establishing another vegetable garden on the homestead.  This is a no-dig, no rototiller garden and I made the garden itself for less than $20, which is pretty much impossible in my experience.

April 12, 2015

Maple Syrup Making

Last fall I scoped out the only large sized maple tree on our property.  It's actually quite big, at least 1 foot in diameter.  Somebody must have left that tree to grow when they clear cut the area as most of the other trees are quite young, about half a foot in diameter.  So I've been planning for this homestead project all winter.  We picked up a maple syrup bucket and a spout from a local farm supply store.

April 5, 2015

Seeding Heritage Vegetable Seeds - No More GMO

This year I'm planting a heritage vegetable garden.  Last year was the year of my first garden bed and I bought seeds at the local garden center.  But this year my family is getting more sensitive to allergies, we're thinking GMO is not good for us, so I thought I'd go way way back to the basics.  Most of the seeds I purchased on-line and are from the 1800's or early 1900's,

Seed starting March 29,2015.
 With sustainability in mind, we've looked around the house and the recycling bin and found enough containers to plant the tomato seeds.  For our area (near Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) from my experience you don't want to plant in the garden until the very end of May or beginning of June.  Before then, the ground is too damp and cold and the seeds get eaten by little worms before they start growing.

Pots on dining room table.
Tomato sprouting.
 Here's the tomato seeds sprouting just one week after planting.  I've kept them for most of the week indoors on our dining room table and they've spend two days out in the sunroom once the sun starts warming the room up.  It looks like in about a week the temperatures will stop dropping below 0 degrees Celsius at night and then I can keep the seeds in the sunroom.

March 28, 2015

Simple Foods for the Homestead Family

Healthy food makes a happy homestead family.  It makes me feel good to feed them healthy foods, it's also saves money and avoids food allergies.  I have to avoid corn, gluten, peanuts, nuts and sesame because of allergies in the family.  So here's a list of homemade, simple foods that should keep the snackers in the family away from store bought cookies and chips...Read More

March 22, 2015

Homestead Plans for 2015

Two new additions to the
homestead.  Opus and
Teddy bonding.  
I always have ideas running around in my mind for homesteading. There is a lot that I want to do, and we only have the weekends to get the big stuff done.

I started writing down a list of the things we accomplished last year and we actually accomplished a ton more than I had realized.  Here's a list of six key things we did to start weekend homesteading in 2014.



 Plans for 2015, our second year of Homesteading: 

I have lots of ideas and  I am just waiting for some warmer weather to start making them happen.  We still have at least a foot of snow on the ground.

1.  Make wooden shutters for the front of the house to give a more country feel.  Will need to buy wood and have hubby do some cutting and then the kids and I will do the painting and hang them up.

Will add more soon, off to do groceries....

2.  Build chicken tractor using existing supplies.  I'm planning to use the coop I bought for their temporary winter home and setting it on top of our old dog crate and adding wheels.  I've already spent so much on getting the hens set up (buying the food bowl, heated water bowl, chicken coop, bedding and laying mash) that I'd like to minimize any further costs for the hens.

3.  Intensify vegetable garden planting and grow heritage vegetables. I've ordered heritage seeds and I plan on growing more vegetables vertically to save space.

4.  Start composting.  I've recently started making a big pile of chicken poop, wood chips and kitchen scraps.  I want to keep this up throughout the summer.  We'll see how it goes with the racoons.

5.  Build dog run.  Looked into wireless collars, fences etc, but going to dry an ariel dog run first.  Our Australian Shepherd needs lots of exercise to stay out of trouble inside.

6.  Continue home baking, canning and making double batch meals.

March 6, 2015

Planning for summer gardens

It's the time of year where I'm constantly thinking of all the outdoor projects I want to do once the snow melts. We have at least 3 feet of snow out there but it can't stop me from planning my gardens.

Early Summer 2014

Our First Vegetable Garden

The first couple of years in this house I just grew a few tomatos and beans in barrels, but last year I finally had to have a proper big veggie garden. Luckily my husband was willing to rent a rototiller and he tilled a good size patch of grass up for me. Then I enlisted the kids to help me pull out the clumps and rake bags of compost and manure. Then I was ready to go.

February 8, 2015

Kitten and Puppy friends

Every country home needs a dog and a cat.

Our beloved Bichon Frise passed away a few months ago, she lived to 14 years. We got her before the kids, she was our first baby. We thought we wouldn't get another dog, but it didn't take long before we couldn't wait to get another dog or kitten.

I think it is really great for kids to have pets to cuddle and take care of and bond with. I also was missing a furry body to cuddle with on the couch and keep me company when working from home.

The challenge was allergies. My daughter and I are allergic to cats so we decided we could either get a Siberian cat or another dog. I read up a lot about Siberian cats and found a couple of good breeders near us and was very close to putting down a deposit. But my husband and I were not sure if maybe a dog would be better, more interactive and we could take the dog on hikes which we take a lot. So thinking there would be less allergies with a dog we opted to look for a dog.

We ended up getting a mini Australian Shepherd. He's so sweet. The breeder said he'd get up to around 35-40lbs and we got to see the mom and the dad and I thought they were both a good size for what we were looking for. I wanted a dog that was not too small so that my son could wrestle with him a bit and yet not huge either.

Here's our sweet Teddy with his naughty sheep.

At first my daughter did have some allergies to Teddy but in a couple days she seemed used to him and we haven't had an more allergies to him.

Now thinking ahead we were concerned about him when we have to be out for the day and we really thought he should have a companion and since I really still wanted a cat we started searching again for a hypoallergenic cat. The thing was we wanted the kitten quickly so that the puppy would get used to having a kitten right away so that they would become best friends. The Siberians that we wanted all had a waiting list of at least 3 months, not to mentioned they wanted like $1200 for a kitten. We cruised around the on-line adds and didn't find anything suitable, we also looked at Russian Blues as some say they are hypoallergenic, but no luck. We visited the local shelter and visited a kitten but he was too wild and we didn't think it would be a good fit for the family. Then we did the unthinkable and started looking for a kitten at pet stores. And we really lucked out here! We visited a local pet store and they had two persian mix kittens. We decided to throw caution to the wind and hope we'd get used to a cat in a few weeks even if we were initially allergic. We held both kitties and the boy kitty was definitely very aware and interactive and we brought him home! So super cute.

Here is Opus:

Introducing Opus.
More to come on Teddy's and Opus's budding friendship....

February 1, 2015

Simple Snacks

Simple Foods

Chickpeas roasted in the toaster oven with a bit of curry powder and salt for flavour.

Many of us are trying to get away from buying pre-packaged cookies, snack foods etc.  Also my family has varying degrees of sensitivity and severe food allergies to corn, gluten, peanuts, nuts and sesame.  Here's some simple food ideas that I posted on my fridge to remind me of simple foods to make for the kids and me when we're feeling nibbly.  

Quick Foods
Roasted Chick Peas
Can Chick Peas and Flavours
Toaster Roast
Roasted Lentils
Dry Lentils and Flavours
Boil and Roast
Banana Chip Muffins
GF Flours, Bananas, Chips
Scrambled Eggs
Fresh Eggs
Fry or Microwave
Grilled Cheese
Bread, Cheese
Toaster Toast
Oatmeal, milk, sugar
Ice cream – vanilla, chocolate
Cream, sugar, cocoa
Blend, Freeze
Popcorn, butter, salt
Popper or Microwave
Carrots with mayo
Carrots, mayo
Peel and Chop
Banana with brown sugar
Banana, sugar
Baked apple
Apple, butter, sugar, oats
Cranberry sauce
Cranberries, sugar
Hardboiled Egg
Fresh Egg
Strawberry Milkshake
Strawberries, Cream, Sugar
I'd love to hear more ideas too.