Friday, January 31, 2014

Transitioning From Menu Planning to a *Peaceful* Daily Rhythm of Kitchen Creativity

For years now, our weekly menu plans have been shared in this space.  I relied on them, enjoyed making them, and discovered many new recipes that became family favorites when searching to fill them.  I still frequently look through the archives for ideas.  Menu planning is a great thing to do when transitioning to traditional/real/clean eating and cooking from scratch.  Having a plan is crucial or else it's too easy to slip back into old eating habits.  Once the pantry and fridge's contents have successfully transitioned to one-ingredient items and cooking from scratch has become old hat, menu planning isn't always necessary.  If you feel ready to step away from weekly menu plans, here are some ideas to help in allowing more creativity and flexibility in the kitchen before mealtime:

Julia's Kitchen Wisdom is a must-have.  Who better to get the basics of cooking from than the legendary Julia Child?  This is a little, very un-intimidating paperback that teaches "essential techniques and recipes from a lifetime of cooking."  Learn bases for soups, salads, dressings, meat dishes and more and how to vary them in multiple ways.  Discover what flavors -- some surprising -- pair well together.  Learn easy substitutes for when you run out of a certain spice or other ingredient.  Soon, the boldness that comes from knowledge washes over you and sky is the limit!

Stock the fridge and pantry for success.  Learning your family's favorite healthy staples (and adding some newness in for fun and discovery) and stocking the kitchen with the necessary ingredients is crucial for cooking on the fly, unless you enjoy grocery shopping on a daily basis.  Here are some must-haves for our kitchen:
  • Produce.  Ours now mostly comes from the garden, but if you are unable to grow most/all your fruits and veggies, subscribing to a Community-Supported Agriculture box will ensure eating local and in-season with ease.
  • Dairy.  Keeping a steady supply of dairy products on hand (if you eat diary, that is) is a big deal: cheese, cream cheese, creme fraiche, buttermilk, and milk are items our family can't seem to live without.  If you are looking to find a good source of local dairy, check here.
  • Meat and eggs.  Keeping options diverse promotes health and broadens palettes.  Each week, try making one dish with beef, chicken/turkey, fish, eggs, and maybe one night branch out and try something new (venison or other game, duck, goose...).  Try creating a meatless dinner at least once a week.  This is a big relief for the old grocery budget.  If you are looking for a good source of local meat and eggs, here is a good resource.
  • Grains, starches, and/or grain-free flours.  Keep a good amount of these dry staples.  We eat about 90% gluten-free and the cheapest way to do this is skipping all the gluten-free products out there and making meals with rice, beans, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.  In doing so, the dishes you create will be so much less processed.  Using coconut and almond flours sparingly (about twice a week) is a good way to bring variety and boost fiber and protein intake.
  • Constantly expose yourself to inspiration.  Be ever on the lookout for an intriguing recipe.  Subscribe to a few food blogs.  Create a Pinterest board to organize yummy finds.  Splurge on a new cookbook or magazine every now and then.  Even if you don't follow the recipes you find to a T, they can spark new ideas for old, familiar dishes.
If learning to cook on the fly is a new thing, be sure to lavish yourself with lots of grace.  Every new change involves a huge learning curve.  Allow it to run it's course and glean every bit of wisdom along the way.  Above all, make room for enjoyment and experiment.  Don't let the flops get you down; they happen to everyone.  Keep on keeping on, and before you know it, kitchen wizard status will be attained.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Settling In

Four years ago to this very month, we made the choice that changed our lives.  It was very intentionally called an adventure, because it was.  Because we needed it to be.  Dreams hung on this adventure.  Dreams of land, gardens, animals, grubby children coming to dinner from a full afternoon of work and play outdoors.  Time would only tell if it would ever happen, but if the dream had a chance, debt needed to get out of the way.  So we lived in a trailer, the six of us, for almost a year.

When the time came and debt was all but gone, we found a two-car garage that was converted into a home in 1960.  It sat on five acres, had two barns and a view that we couldn't get enough of.  Everything was in ruin, but we saw it for what it could be and we fell in love.  It was three times bigger than the trailer and didn't wobble when we walked in it.  We gutted it and painted it and it was home for almost three years, all 950 square-feet of it.  The plan was to only be in it for a year before expanding, but it didn't work out that way, as plans sometimes go.
We got our sheep, our chickens, our barn cats and our dogs.  We even had our fifth baby in it.  It was our home, our school, our labor and delivery room.  It was very cozy.  After we became a family of seven, it got a little too cozy.  Enough funds came in and we worked with a blueprint.  I held my breath.

One day last May, we moved out and the little Christmas Cabin was gutted.  It was exciting and also a bit uneasy for this mama.

Fast-forward seven months later and our home finished growing.  It has been six weeks and I still walk around in a daze.  It actually happened.  I don't share all this to brag.  Not in the least.  I want to share hope and encouragement for those considering that thrilling jump into the unknown, closer to their dreams.  The past four years haven't been glamorous.  There have been incredibly sweet moments, profound moments, and very hard moments.  There has been unexpected provision and so much supernatural grace.  If there is anyone out there itching to be free of debt and ready begin their journey that leads to adventure, I hope you find our story encouraging.  

The new shower, complete with rocks collected from our land.
I believed in what we were going after so much, but I also lived under a chronic state of embarrassment.  Not many people do what we did.  Not everyone understood why we would "put our family through" that.  It was nearly impossible to keep such a small place clean with so many people living in it.

The new kitchen, complete with floors made from century-old barn wood and trip from our own old barn wood (which has since been re-faced with much-needed fresh lumber).
Moving six times over the summer while the house was expanding was no cake walk either, but the provision that sheltered our big family was miraculous, and we were so very grateful.

The new kitchen table made out of our old, dilapidated deck.
Then, one surprisingly snowy day, it happened.  We moved into our new/old home.

Sunset in the living room.
Our barns needed new facing so we used it's old lumber as trim around the new doors and windows.  All the rock work in and around the house was with boulders we collected from our land.  Our living room table (pictured above) was made using lumber from our dilapidated deck outside our old bedroom.  It's true that we like to use restored lumber and things, but for us it was so much more.  It's a remembrance of what was and now is.  Our ugly, eye-sore of an aqua blue-painted deck that was once an embarrassment became our table; the crowning jewel of our living room.  I am humbled and so thankful as I go about my days and look at these reminders of our journey to dreams fulfilled.  What a journey.  What an adventure.

As we settle in, we feel our bodies allow themselves to let down.  We have been very tired, and in turn seemed to have caught every bug out there this season.  So much beauty and wonder, not without some mess.  We don't regret it though.  Not for a second.

Now, for the first time in what feels like half of eternity, we get to establish routines, host family and friends, set up new chore charts, and feel something close to normal.  Needless to say, we are very much embracing this new season and I can't wait to share it with you: stories of family, gardens, animals, new recipes, and all.

Are you ready for an adventure?  What does yours look like this year?  
Whatever you do,  align yourself with the One of unending strength, love, and guidance and just do it.
You won't regret it.


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