Monday, January 31, 2011

Green Acres Weekend Update

Apologies for last week's lack of Weekend Update.  I'm sure I had a good excuse planned but like so many things in the past six-and-a-half years since my daughter was born, it's flown the coop of my brain.

Speaking of coops, Byron and I have plans to build a much larger portable hen house soon.  The old girls have been giving us about an egg a day (we suspect only one is laying but aren't sure), so we're going to try to get some pullets (young birds) and then chicks later in the spring.  Chickens recognize each other, so we're not sure how introducing new hens to the old is going to work.  If they start pecking each other's eyes out, we'll have to move on to soon-to-be-devised Plan B.

Our friend, Melvin, who is a long-time farmer, has given us an old trailer to use as a base for the hen house!  I sadly missed the photo op of Byron coming down the driveway hanging onto the back of Melvin's tractor; supposedly it had to do with making sure the trailer behaved itself on the short trip from Melvin's farm.  Nonetheless, I snapped this one:

The base of the hen house.  Thanks, Melvin!
Next up: how to build said hen house?  Byron and I have been throwing ideas around, but we did make a trip to a big box hardware store to check on lumber/metal sheathing prices.  Our small coop we managed to make out of materials we had around here, so we weren't too keen on spending a bunch, and we like to re-use what we have as much as possible.  Well, let's just say the Lord provides.

About half a mile away, we have neighbors who are building a home...and tearing down an old barn.  Since they didn't have a place to store their horses' hay this winter, we're letting them store it in our barn.  When Byron saw them yesterday, they told him he was welcome to salvage whatever wood he wanted from the old barn!  He spent the afternoon picking out 1x6s for the hen house and locust posts, which we'll use when we build a fence.  And our neighbors didn't want this old table:

Friskies stares me down.  I'm not sure what her plans are for the table, but I'm thinking a refinished top and a fun color painted on the bottom will make it a great place to homeschool.
We'll only have to spend a minimal amount now at the big box lumber store, thanks to our neighbors and God's provision!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Product Review: Back to Basics Grain Mill

I'm very excited to post another baking product review for you, this time from my friend, Katey.  Katey has recently plunged whole-heatedly into the world of whole wheat baking, and recently received a Back to Basics Grain Mill as a gift.  Note that this mill is manual, and besides being able to mill excellent bread flour, is very handy in case of a power outage, cost effective, and great if you're a fan of cracked grains.  From reading Katey's review, it seems to be very similar to my first mill, which was a Family Living Grain Mill (sans the plastic exterior).  And by the way, while you're here, take a minute to check out Katey's awesome photography website, Front Porch Photography.

Back to Basics Grain Mill
I have used this mill three times now, and as you can see from the photo below, the construction is solid. It is very easy to take apart and very easy to clean. There is one small place on the interior where the burrs touch another piece; some of the flour got stuck there, and I had to use a toothpick to get it out because I didn't see that when I washed it.
Solid construction...
The Back to Basics Mill does mill flour, though not as finely as an electric mill. The two piles of flour in the photo below somewhat show this. The pile on the right is from the Back to Basics Mill; the pile on the left is from an electric mill.
Note the coarser flaking in the right-hand pile.
Below is a video of the milling process itself.  It took me ten minutes to grind two cups of wheat berries on the finest setting, which made three cups of flour. I ground this as quickly as I could with two arms.  Also note that you have to crank the mill down really well onto your countertop, otherwise it moves all over the place. Be aware that it will marr your countertop! Place some paper or cardboard on the top of the counter before clamping down.

For a manual or electric mill, flour output is about 1.5 times the amount of wheat berries (e.g., 2 cups wheat berries yields 3 cups flour).

Note the cardboard protecting the countertop.

I'm glad to have this for use in case the electricity goes out or the end of the world comes! It is a great arm workout and I think I can handle that once a week or so.  And as you can see, it makes excellent bread!

The hopper is smaller than that of an electric mill, but a cinch to refill.

Manual grain mill = fresh flour + arm muscles!

Another benefit of a manual mill is the quiet operation...a consideration if you have small children.
Worth the effort?  Absolutely!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

To Coupon or Not to Coupon?

That is the question for me these days.  I recently started reading the Money Saving Mom blog and let's just say Money Saving Mom puts Greenacresmama to shame in the money saving department.  Though I tend to be extremely thrifty, I cannot say that I feed my family for $35 per week.  I don't work CVS or Rite Aid that often.  I just don't have time, between homeschooling and teaching at Classical Conversations and making food from scratch.  And that's what saves us the most money, since many of the coupons out there are for processed foods.  But it is tempting to buy (or better yet, scavenge) ten Sunday papers next week, scour the Internet, and work the drug stores so I can stockpile 100 tubes of toothpaste.  Especially when you hear of other people getting amazing deals like that...and then being able to bless others by giving away the excess.

So here are some ways I save money on food and necessities:
1. We don't eat meat every day.  I cook a whole chicken once a week because it's cheaper than just buying breast meat, and use the leftovers in fajitas, soups, or a pasta dish. 
2. I sometimes substitute venison (which is free) or ground turkey for grass-fed ground beef.  Beef is more expensive and I've recently become allergic to it.
3. When I do need a specific item from the store, I look online for a printable coupon.  This generally includes toiletry items, pasta (until I begin making my own), and baking items such as yeast.  If I can't find a coupon, I buy the store brand or look for a sale.
4.  I don't buy many "extras," such as chocolate milk, chips, ice cream, and processed snacks.  This means that sometimes my kids get boring snacks, but I think they'll survive.
5. I buy fruit in bulk.  Even if you pay $30 for a bushel of apples, if the bushel is anywhere from 40-55 pounds (be sure to ask), that's still less than $1.00/lb for apples.  Another tip is to get a variety that's a good keeper, such as granny smith.
6.  I buy grains, beans, and rice in bulk.  There's more of an upfront cost, but I challenge you to begin reading what you pay per pound for a small package versus a large one.
6. Beans and lentils are cheap.  Use them to make lots of soup from the leftover chicken broth.
7. I've been very concerned lately with the milk used in conventional cheese, especially since I have a daughter who does not need to develop breasts at age six.  So I've been buying hormone-free cheese, and it is NOT cheap.  So cheese consumption has gone down, which isn't a bad thing because now it's a treat if I can serve it as a snack.  Sometimes when we do with less, we appreciate it more.
8. I make my own bread and yogurt, and this saves us a lot.  Yes, it's a time commitment, and I've written about it before, but the health benefits are so worth it.
9. Ah, organics.  That's a pricey little word.  But here is a list of what you should buy organic, and what isn't as necessary to spend the extra bucks on.  It's helped us save.
10.  We're eating more and more seasonally, and I shop at farmers markets and pick my own whenever I can.  Keep in mind that local growers don't usually use all the harsh pesticides the commercial growers use, and I've found they're often cheaper and decidedly fresher than the produce in the grocery store.
11.  We have a garden every year, and this year will be planting the biggest one we've ever had.  As many of you know, we also have plans to get younger laying hens (the old girls started giving us an egg every other day or so, but they're not exactly spring chickens), meat birds, and plant more fruiting trees.
12.  I've become a bit of a forager.

So will I coupon?  I don't know yet.  I'd probably prefer to make my own everything if I could, but the modified couponing is helping us out a bit right now, and I'm thankful that Money Saving Mom is doing some of the work for me.  Her website is a blessing, even to a couple of granolas like us.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Dirty Dozen

Winter. Not the best time for fresh fruits and vegetables.  Farmers markets are shut for the season, and much of the produce lining the grocery store aisles have been imported from the nether regions of the earth, where they were picked unripened, zapped with radiation, and shipped to a dinner table near you.  Not to mention pesticides used.  According to the USDA, you expose yourself to more than twenty different pesticides daily if you eat the following foods on a regular basis. And kids, with their smaller bodies, are even more susceptible.

And then there's the organic section, which - let's face it - has the potential to zero all but the stoutest of bank accounts.  So what to do?  Following are two lists, the first of which contains produce which absorb greater amounts of pesticides, and should be purchased organic whenever possible.  They are listed from most to least contaminated:

• peaches, strawberries, apples, spinach, nectarines, celery, pears, cherries, potatoes, sweet bell peppers, raspberries, imported grapes

But there’s good news, too: Here are the twelve least contaminated foods, meaning you’re exposed to about two different pesticides. They are listed from least to most contaminated:

• sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, cauliflower, mangoes, sweet peas, asparagus, onions, broccoli, bananas, kiwis, papayas

adapted from The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Green Acres Weekend Update

For the past couple weeks, the chickens have been feeling more at home here.  They've been spending more time outside, they haven't scuttled into the corner of the coop to cower whenever a human appears, and they even seem to enjoy scratching around in their little winter yard.  We'd heard that when chickens are moved, they take a bit of time to adjust; in this case, it's taken them about six weeks or so. 

Consequently, the more Byron has seen of the chickens, the more he's wanted to make friends with them.  I think they're cute, too, but I had it in mind that one day we'd probably have to butcher them.  Hmmm.  Even though they've all gotten so fat (or maybe just feathery) that we can't really tell who is who now, I honestly think we might have a hard time eating even Big Dummy for dinner.  Make no mistake, we are planning on getting meat birds and don't exactly consider these hens pets. But since they've been kind enough to take a bit of our cluelessnes in stride, we'll probably let them live their days out here. 

And in that spirit, Byron's goal this weekend was to get one of them to eat out of his hand:

Armed with wheat berries (yes, my wheat berries), Byron approaches the hens.

The chickens are too greedy not to check this out.

But first they have to make sure he hasn't dropped anything accidentally.

The hesitation continues until...

Ouch!  Byron befriends a chicken.
And to top that, let's just say nature is a funny thing.  Thus far, all the old girls have laid is a whole lot of you-know-what.  But today Byron and the kids discovered this in one of the nesting boxes:

Charlie and Akea are the proud owners of three eggs.  Congratulations, kids!
Okay, I'm excited.  It's neat to get something in return for your efforts.

In other news, I painted the bedroom the kids are sharing right now.  Our goal is that it will be Charlie's room by the end of the summer, but I hope to get it decorated long before that time.  I'll post pictures when it's a bit further along, so thanks for being patient with me!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ready, Set, Garden!

Well, maybe not quite yet, but it is time to start thinking about what you'll be planting this spring.  To that end, click here for a link to a post from Homestead Revival, which in turn has a link to a very handy, downloadable seed starting chart.  Just plug in your last frost date and there you have it - a list of dates for planting a variety of vegetables and herbs.

And courtesy of my brother, click here for a link to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, a seed company that carries many non-gmo (genetically modified) and heirloom varieties.  I just sent away for a free catalog because I like to have something real that I can flip through and highlight, but orders can also be placed online.

Finally, a while back I made a list of vegetables we most commonly eat, and am planning on planting those this year...and a lot of them.  Varieties we don't eat a whole lot of (e.g., eggplant, because I'm the only one around here who will eat it) I'll probably buy at the farmer's market.  For now.  Since this will be the first year we have a rather large garden, I don't want to overwhelm myself.  Some of the veggies on our list include lettuce, potatoes, peas, tomatoes, basil, beans, cucumbers, peppers, garlic, and broccoli.  And I'd like to try planting some asparagus, which is a perennial.

With frigid temperatures outside, it seems like a strange time to be thinking about gardening, but it will be spring before we know it!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Green Acres Weekend Update

Although the bulk of our renovations have been put on hold until Other House sells, there comes a time when staring at dingy, trimless, off-white walls begins to tamper with one's sanity.  So even though there's a possibility that our plumbing supply lines will need to be replaced, I threw caution to the termites this week and began to paint.  At this point, patching a hole or two that the plumber leaves is about as frightening as a housecat.  I just want a home, and winter is the perfect time to paint.

Prior to moving to Green Acres, Byron and I had renovated and decorated two houses...though not quite to this extreme.  We've (I've) chosen some, um, interesting colors, and we've both gone from a very modern taste in furniture and decor to appreciating a more eclectic mix of antiques, original photography, and a touch of modern.  Both time and experience have guided us in choosing colors and making renovation decisions much more carefully this time around than we have in the past, so that in the end, we hopefully won't be paying for our mistakes...aestetically or fianancially.

As of this morning, the parlor is almost compeletely painted.  We chose a shade of deep red, and happened to have an extra can each of both red paint and gray primer that we'd bought last year for a project that didn't happen.  I took the paint back to its place of purchase and had them shake it up for me, and was told that it should be fine as long as it hadn't been frozen.  Since we've always kept our paint indoors, that wasn't a problem.  The problem with red, however, is that the primer needs to be either pink or gray, and it takes about two applications of the final coat to achieve appropriate coverage.  True, there are paints out there now that combine paint and primer into one with the promise of one application...even for red.  My brother and sister-in-law were sucessful with this.  But since we had the paint on hand already, it semed wasteful not to use what we had.
This area was gutted a few moths ago due to extensive termite damage.

The benefit to having ripped up your trim in order to remove and re-install your floors: little to no edging!
We also made another big decisioin this week.  Remember the photo of the dining room I posted before Christmas?  We're going to make that room the study and use the sunroom - which is now our study, playroom, and homeschool room - the dining room.  Both are right off the kitchen, and we've congragated to the sunroom because it was virtiually the only living space in the house that hadn't somehow been damaged and because it has wonderful views of the orginal farm.  I'll post a photo when it's a bit less cluttered.

Decisions, decisions...more to come on color choices and I'll also be researching environmentally friendly paint!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Healthy Red Lentil Soup

Lately I've been trying out some new recipes on my dear family, both to add a bit of variety to our meals and save money, and the bean recipe exchange on Homestead Revival has motivated me to post one of my favorites.  Beans are winners for both nutrition and cost, and I recently served my Healthy Red Lentil Soup for a big Sunday lunch with extended family.  This recipe is easy, cheap, and healthy, and with bread and salad you have a filling and complete meal!

Healthy Red Lentil Soup
adapted from a recipe I got from a Middle Eastern market

1 cup red lentils
1 onion
1 potato
1 carrot (I sometimes use two)
7 cups chicken or vegetable broth (more as needed, and you can use just water)
1 1/2 tsp salt
parsley (for garnish)

Dice vegetables and put in a large soup pot with broth, lentils, and salt.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 30-35 minutes until everything is softened.  Let cool slightly and puree everything together in a blender or food processor for a smooth consistency.  Garnish with parsley, if you'd like.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Product Review: The Nutrimill Untangled

A while ago a friend of mine (check out her blog here) suggested I do some product reviews for some of the appliances I use for baking, and it's been in the back of my mind ever since.  The other night the gust of wind that brought on a cold front must have blown this notion out of the cobwebs, since here I am, ready to blog in full about my Nutrimill.  I'd briefly addressed a couple different grain mills here, but thinking back to when I was researching my grain mill, I'm going to try to provide more information and photos that I would have appreciated seeing pre-purchase.  Not that I'm dissatisfied at all, but the more information you have before dropping over $200 on a small kitchen appliance, the better.

So get ready to see the fastest, coolest-running electric mill on the market:

My Nutrimill's home is next to my Kitchenaid Pro mixer, which gives you a visual as to its size.  It's shown here with the hopper extension in place (the hopper is the top section where you put to-be-milled grain).

A more compact option: the Nutrimill's hopper extension is stored inside the flour bin (you'll see a photo of that in a second).  Dimensions are 11.5" high; footprint is 11" x 13".

These knobs control how fast your grain is milled and how coarse the flour.  The top knob controls speed; consequently, turning it to "low" gives you coarser flour, as well.  The bottom knob controls how coarse or fine your flour will be; however, if you are milling larger beans (such as kidney), you will need to turn it more toward the "coarse" setting.  Otherwise the beans won't move into the milling chamber at all.  For something like corn meal, I turn the top knob to "low" and the bottom to "coarse," and for pastry flour I keep the top knob on "high" and the bottom knob at the 11:00 on "fine."

Flour bin on left, with lid on, and hopper extension on right.

Lid of flour bin, with filter in place.

Flour bin untangled from left to right: bin, filter, reservoir cup, white-thing-that-seals-the-bin-to-the-milling-chamber, lid.

Reservoir cup in place.  This receives some powdery excess from milling, which can be mixed in with the rest of the flour.

Hopper (lid not pictured for obvious reasons).  You can put grain in the hopper before you turn it on, which you can't do with other electric mills.  With the extension, it holds up to 13 cups of grain.

Flour bin getting ready to be put in place.

The Nutrimill is self-cleaning; after milling you run it ten extra seconds so any flour residue will filter out.  But occasionally you'll want to take the mill apart and dust it off with a dry cloth.  I also try to either wash out or dust out the flour bin after each use.  Never wash the milling chamber!

And the Nutrimill wouldn't be complete without some handy-dandy cord retract-o-rama action.
More information:
Output: 20 cups of flour
Technical: 12-amp, 1 3/4 hp motor
Noise level: loud but not ear-shattering.  Think vacuum cleaner.
Grinds: hard and soft wheat, dehulled oat groats, rice, triticale, kamut, spelt, dry beans, lentils, popcorn, dried sweet corn, split peas, buckwheat, barley, rye, millet, teff, quinoa, amaranth, sorghum, dried beans, chopped chestnuts and soybeans.
Does not grind: herbs, spices, oilseeds like flax, or fibrous materials

I know a couple people who have WonderMills and am going to bribe one of them with the fame and fortune that are sure to come with being a guest writer on my blog.  I'm also planning on reviewing our Kitchenaid and blender, as well as getting a product review to you on an Electrolux mixer.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year from Green Acres

Instead of my Weekend Update (which I admittedly skipped last week because of the holidays and a general sense of ennui), I'm going to look forward today to 2011.  We had a pretty uneventful Christmas, though we somehow managed to keep busy and my need for order (those of you who know me personally, don't laugh!) kicked into high gear this week and manifested in the form of a paintbrush, a dropcloth, and a drywall sponge.  Photos to come.

Though I'm not someone to make New Years resolutions, in reflecting on 2010 I do have a few personal goals in mind for the coming year(s).  2010 was a blessed year in that we realized our dream of buying land, and on top of that, land and a house that once belonged to Byron's great-grandparents.  But it also brought trial after trail, and I'm beginning to grasp the Biblical concept of refinement.  Psalm 66:10 says, "For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined.  You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; But you brought us out to rich fulfillment."  That last phrase gives me hope, hope which I sometimes grasp with only a thread, but hope nonetheless.

So one goal is that I would be open to the ways the Lord wants to refine me.  I'd like to be more patient with the kids, a better mother and teacher.  I'd like to be a better and more selfless wife.  I'd also like to be even more content in serving my family in the home.  This is a big one for the once career-driven architect-to-be, and I've been struck in recent years about how much our society frowns upon the stay-at-home wife and mother.  There is honor in this 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week job, but we rarely see this position glorified in the media.  Unless one is of the "desperate housewife" persuasion, which I am most decidedly not.

So there you have it, out of the ashes of 2010.  And as a last shout-out to said year, I baked another batch of pumpkin chocolate chip cookies last night.  Happy 2011!