Garden Update and Questions Answered

After I posted my container garden walk-thru video, I got quite a few questions about the wooden boxes that the majority of my plants are in.  Since then I’ve acquired quite a few more veggie plants and the ones I’d shown in the prior video have definitely grown, so I answered those questions and did a quick updated walk-thru.  I uploaded it to the youtube channel yesterday.  You can view it HERE.

Toward the end I asked for any viewers with “vertical gardening” experience that would like to offer advice to please feel free to do so in the comments there, here, or on the facebook page.  I’ve never tried to grow anything UP, so I’m happy for any help that is offered.  My biggest concern is that the fruit will get too heavy and break off or break the vine.

It’s so rewarding to see my work and research paying off in big healthy vegetable plants.  I can’t wait to see how much money I can save when harvest time comes!!  I’d love to hear about your summer ventures and adventures.  Please feel free to share or even link your own blog in the comments.  I LOVE this wordpress community!

Heart Healthy and Delicious!

Last night I made one of our favorite salmon dishes.  I don’t know if it has a name, but I call it Honey Ginger Lime Baked Salmon.  I got a head of cauliflower for $2.50 on Sunday (not what I would have considered a good price before the gluten free cauliflower craze) so I made mashed cauliflower and steamed rainbow carrots to go with that.  I rounded it out with a salad featuring some mixed greens from our garden and some leftover radishes, baby carrots and yellow grape tomatoes from my sister’s baby shower.  I also made a video of myself, cooking this dinner.  I must say, this is not as simple as it sounds; not at all!  I have cooking and talking at the same time mastered just fine, it’s cooking, talking and manning the camera that is causing me some difficulties.  All in all, I had a good time and I’m not ashamed of my first attempt.  I am happy to keep making them as long as I am helping someone learn a new recipe, gain some inspiration to eat healthier, or even entertaining someone because I sound like a dork!  If you’d like to see the fruits of my first try, it’s on youtube and you can watch it HERE.

If you like my videos, don’t forget to give me a thumbs up, subscribe or leave a comment.  As always, I love to hear from the people who read what I write, and watch my videos.  Thank you all for your time and your feedback!

My Garden…A Video Walk-Thru

After a brief hiatus in which life happened, I am back!  Some of my local readers have asked me to teach live classes or just come and live with them and teach them to do what I do, but of course neither of those ideas were practical.  Instead, I’ve started a YouTube channel!  So far, I just have one video posted, but stay tuned for shopping planning and cooking tutorials that will be coming in the next few days!  In the meantime, won’t you take a few minutes and walk through my garden with me?

Click HERE to watch.

Feel free to give me a thumbs up, leave a comment and subscribe to my channel so you don’t miss anything!  Thank you for reading…and watching too!

The Price of a Tomato…Much More Than You Think

I’ll admit it…I’m a geek.  I don’t even have regular television at home, just Netflix and Hulu Plus; and I only have those so I can watch documentaries and shows about food.  Today I had a rare couple hours of downtime, so I watched one of the “new release” documentaries on Netflix called “Food Chains“.

It is fairly obvious in most of my posts that I have some pretty conservative political views, but this movie had this conservative girl not just shedding tears, but literally sobbing.  Without telling you about the entire movie, I will try to share what made me so emotional.  For starters, I lived in South Florida for the first half of my life; almost directly across the state from where this documentary was filmed.  I knew quite a few migrant workers, but on our side of the state, they worked in the citrus groves as opposed to the tomato fields.  Another reason this tore me up is because my great grandparents immigrated (legally) to this country because there was work in the Midwest picking sugar beets, so I cannot help but wonder if the conditions for them were the same as they are for these farm workers.  Along with these, the stories of modern day slavery and sexual harassment/abuse will make make me cry every time.

I have no idea if these people are legal to work in the U.S. or not, but while watching this movie, I didn’t care.  That’s saying something because I am almost always against illegals taking money from our economy.  I don’t think I really lost it until the end when I watched people who hadn’t eaten for 5 days, march 3 miles, carrying picket signs, pushing strollers and wheelchairs, to arrive at a Publix where they would simply ask that this corporation stop supporting farms that were exploiting them.  They were only asking for 1 penny per pound, protection from sexual harassment/abuse, and for an end to the slavery that is being overlooked as long as the tomatoes are being picked.

If you haven’t seen this movie, please watch it.  According to the website, it is available on DVD,  iTunes, a multitude of other media outlets, and obviously on Netflix.  If nothing else, please go to the website and “sign” the pledge to support Fair Food.  Together we can send a message to corporate America saying that we will not stand for the mistreatment of any human being in this country, no matter their origin!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this movie here or on the Facebook page.  As always, thanks for reading!!

Food: 5 Cents per Pound

Seriously.  Well, that is a conservative estimate.  If I don’t do anything other than water my tomato plants and use good compost to plant them in, I will likely get about 10 pounds of fruit from each plant.  I currently have 25 little seedlings that have sprouted in my spare bedroom that are doing rather well.  I also have about 10 pepper plant seedlings growing in there as well!  It’s hard to know exactly how much the seed cost because I didn’t count how many seeds were in each packet, but what I am pretty positive about is that by the time I harvest, I won’t have more than one nickel wrapped up in each pound of food that I grew.

20150314_111749If you google “how to start tomatoes from seed”  you will get an array of advice, but I noticed that everything I read/watched talked about using grow bulbs, one hot, one cool, a grow mat, fancy soil mix, etc.  Since I haven’t figured out how to grow a money tree yet, I had to get a little more creative.  I’ll tell you what I did.  I had a 1600 lumen Snap-on Work Light that I picked up for like $30 on Black Friday, an electric blanket, some of these little “green house” trays with clear lids that I found in the garage, some coconut husk “pots” (I actually bought those.  32 in a pack for $2.39), some compost and some seeds.

It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out what to do next.  Plant your seeds and water well.  Get your light source high enough to “shine down” upon your planter trays.  I used an electric blanket for the heat source, but put a trash bag between the planters and the blanket.  I only used the heat long enough for the seeds to sprout.  Once sprouted, I added a little more dirt to each cell to give the tiny stems more stability. Now I will just let them grow indoors for the next five weeks and then they’ll go outside in recycled buckets, bags, pots, and whatever else I can find to put them in.

The important stuff is to make sure you use plenty of water to begin with and use the lids to keep them nice and wet until the seeds sprout.  Something else that may not be obvious, my light source is at one end of the planters so I turn the planters every 48 hours since they have sprouted. I keep a spray bottle of water to “mist” these baby plants when the top soil gets dry.  They are fragile so they can’t tolerate any trauma.

25 tomato plants might seem like a bit much to grow in a “container garden”, but I plan to preserve much of what I grow to be used in the winter.  I love this “back to basics” lifestyle.  Won’t you join me in growing a bit of food this year?

As always, questions and comments are welcome here or on the Facebook page.  If you like money saving tips, be sure to click the like button and subscribe to this blog.  I post as often as I have something valuable to say!  Thanks for reading!

Free Fruits and Nuts Growing In Seattle

Okay, this is old news, but I just heard about it.  I have no idea why I’m hearing all about President Obama’s latest golfing excursion four or five times a week, but news like this just now made it to me.

Anyway, Seattle, Washington has dedicated a 7 acre space to grow fruit trees, nut trees and edible berries, called it Beacon Food Forest, and it is open to the public!  Anyone and everyone may come and pick the food here, anytime they would like.  This might be the most brilliant thing I have ever heard!

When we lived in Fort Wayne, Shane and I would take sandwiches down to Headwaters Park in the evening and pass them out to those who were planning to spend the night there.  What if there were apple and pear trees in the park?  Or even raspberries or blueberries growing there instead of just ornamental plants and trees!  I’m sure that there would be concern over safety and liability and blah blah blah, but the fact of the matter is that people in our own communities aren’t eating properly because they can’t afford to.  I would think that helping your fellow human beings by doing something as simple as planting a tree that grows food would be more important than these unlikely circumstances that might arise…sometime in the distant future.

Imagine not having access to a store that sold fresh food.  There are many neighborhoods in this country, the wealthiest country on the planet, without stores that offer fresh, unprocessed foods.  I guess it would be no big deal as long as you could drive to a nearby neighborhood that had one, or even had money to take the bus to a grocery store or farmer’s market, but what if you didn’t have the luxury of transportation?  What if the only place within walking distance of your home was a convenience store?  Your options would be pre-made microwaveable sandwiches, chips, snack cakes, and if you were lucky enough to have a store with a freezer section, you might be able to get a frozen pizza.  Of course all of these things cost twice as much as what you could buy at the grocery store, but how would you get there…and how would you carry a week’s worth of food home if you did?

I saw something promising this past year at one of the local farmer’s markets that open up in early summer.  They were sporting a “We Accept EBT” sign on the counter where you pay.  Not long ago, the only place you could use food stamps was at the grocery store.  Only recently have these grocery stores started carrying organic vegetables, but they are at least double the price of the vegetables found at farm stands!  I cannot tell you how happy I was to see that it is finally possible for those in need of assistance to acquire fresh, local, non-chemical-laden food!

Back to the Edible Forest that started this post.  What can we do in our own communities to either make something like this happen or to give away fresh vegetables and fruits in the parks?  Can we ask anyone with a garden to donate a bit of their food and then set up a little stand in a park on a nice day and give it away?  Can we grow food ourselves and “adopt a family” that might not have access to these kinds of foods in their neighborhood?  I know that there will be a little bit of cost involved in transportation of these goods, but it wouldn’t be much really and look how much you could help someone!

I think I will find a family in my little town and share my garden with them.  Maybe the children would come and help with pruning and watering and harvesting and then take some of what we’ve grown home with them.  Children are always more likely to eat fresh fruits and veggies when they’re involved in the growing process.  Now I’m even more excited about the snow finally melting!!!

I’d love to hear any ideas you may have for (personally or as a community) getting fresh grown produce to those who might not otherwise have access!  Please leave me a comment here or on the Facebook page, and as always, Thanks for reading!

Food Stamp Program Facing Possible Budget Cuts

On February 26, 2015 I read this article by Eric Pianin in “The Fiscal Times” portion of Yahoo News.  In it the writer cites quite a few facts about the food stamp program in America and how it’s grown 45% just during the Obama administration.  The recession that we’ve been slowly recovering from has really done a number on this country’s food security!

I am going to attempt to offer some ideas about how we could go about tightening this particular budget without letting my personal politics come into play.

I am a huge advocate of education.  To me, education doesn’t mean that thing you do that costs tons of money and they give you a piece of paper at the end, I mean common education for everyone.  Just two generations ago, nobody had the advantage of the internet, they could only talk on the telephone while standing in one spot and they could only get cash from the bank during business hours, but almost everyone in that generation either knew how to grow their own food or knew someone who did.  In this day and age, almost everyone knows how to operate a computer, a smart phone, an ATM, but how many know how to grow their own food?  Briefly we may have thought that we wouldn’t need to know how to feed ourselves because we would always have grocery stores, but what if we don’t always have money?  Unfortunately, food has become a luxury in these United States.  If you don’t have money, you can’t have food.

I truly believe that with proper education, those who have a need for the food stamp program could quite easily get by on less grocery dollars and that would help tighten the budget without kicking someone in need off the program and letting their children go hungry.

In my state the average food stamp benefit per family per month is $270.13 as of February. 6, 2015.  I am sitting here knowing that I could feed 4 people 3 meals a day on that $270.  It isn’t easy, but it can definitely be done.  We start by scouring the grocery ads and finding the best deals on fresh whole foods.  No pasta in a can, no frozen dinners, no snack cakes, no sodas, just real food that will nourish your body and keep your mind sharp!

Okay, if we buy groceries four times/month, that gives us $67.53 to spend each time.  Simple stuff as long as you take a little time to plan meals, make a grocery list and clip a few coupons.  Why spend more than you have to, no matter who’s paying the bill?  By learning to preserve food by canning, freezing and dehydrating it, you can seriously make it comfortably on that $67/week.

For instance, whole chickens are on sale this week for just 88 cents/lb.  2 will cost you about $6.50.  You can make 3 dinners from those two chickens and have some meat and broth leftover to can or put in the freezer.  Roast both chickens whole on the day you get them.  Pick off all of the meat and refrigerate to use later.  Throw the bones, skin and other “yuck” into the stock pot with a carrot, a stalk of celery and an onion (you know that you can just use the ends that you’ve cut off of these vegetables and save the good parts for something else if you are really good at being thrifty.  You’re going to strain it all out before you use it anyway).  Be sure to start with about 2 1/2 gallons of water and let it cook down for at least 8-10 hours.  From that meat and broth you can make chicken and noodles, chicken and rice, chicken pot pie (if you get a bag of mixed vegetables that’s on sale for 99 cents and a tube of crescent rolls that are on sale for $1.29 with a 40 cents off coupon), chicken anything really.

After the chickens for about $6.50 and the noodles or rice or veggies and biscuits we’ve probably spent about $10 of our $67, leaving $57 to cover 4 more dinners, breakfasts and lunches.  Another thing on sale this week is the store brand dried pasta, sauce and fresh Italian meatballs from the meat department.  (Not the name brand kind that come frozen in a bag, but fresh pork that they ground up in the back of the store and packaged in house.)  Pasta is $1, sauce is $1 and 12 meatballs are $2.99.

That takes us down to $52.  Maybe we should get some of these breakfasts and lunches out of the way.  Cereal is the best way to get breakfast on a budget.  There are some really inexpensive brands that come in bags and give a big bang for your grocery buck.  This week however, my favorite grocery store is offering select varieties of boxed cereal 4/$8 with a free gallon of milk when you purchase 4.  A bowl of cereal and a half banana is a great breakfast!  So after cereal and bananas we have about $43 left.

Here’s where we start to get creative.  A head of iceberg lettuce is usually 99 cents, store brand salsa is $1.50, ground turkey is $2.99/lb, a packet of taco seasoning is usually 50 cents, a can of refried beans is $1, shredded cheese is $1.99 and the store brand of crunchy taco shells are 99 cents.  If you buy two heads of lettuce and two boxes of taco shells, you can make tacos for dinner one night and have taco salads for lunch a few days too.  I think that leaves us with $31 to take care of 2 more dinners and a couple lunches.

Let’s spend most of that in the fresh produce  department!  Look for deals on whole fruits and vegetables.  Look for anything that is less than $1/lb first.  Often you can get “lunchbox” apples at 3/$1, pears are usually around $1/lb as well.  Cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, carrots and celery.  Get your onions in the 3 lb. bag when they’re on sale — often for $1.49 or less for the bag.  Another easy find is an 8 pound bag of store brand potatoes for just $2.50.  Cabbage is another great vegetable that is inexpensive, nutritious and filling.  Try chopping it and then baking it with sliced up smoked sausage mixed in.  The sweet smoky flavor is soaked up by the cabbage and makes a rather tasty dish that won’t break the bank.

Now for the “education” portion of our programming.  For the first couple months, buy as much food as you can afford.  Make sure that some of those food items are your staples or non-perishables that can be kept in the pantry for future use.  Make sure these non-perishables are as close to whole food as possible.  Avoid any “just add milk, water, butter” kits like boxed dehydrated potato dishes, boxed mac and cheese, hamburger helper, etc.  These items are so chemical and sodium laden that I’m surprised they are considered fit for human consumption.  If you pick up even two or three cans of vegetables, broth, canned meats (nothing in the can besides meat, salt and water) each week, you will quickly build a stock of items that didn’t cost much and will make your meals less and less expensive to prepare.  If you have freezer space, you can stock up on so much more!

Some items to look for when building your stockpile and the maximum price I am willing to pay for them (prices may vary in your area, but DO NOT buy stockpile items unless they are on a crazy good sale):

tuna   50 cents/can

canned veggies   33 cents/can

shredded or block cheese    $1.50 for 8 ounces (can be frozen)

whole pork loin    $1.19/lb (can be sliced into ‘chops’ and frozen in meal sized packages or cut into a few dinner sized pork roasts before being frozen.  It’s easy to get 4-5 meals from one whole loin which can be as inexpensive as $10)

10 lb bags of chicken leg quarters    79 cents/lb  (separate into meal sized portions before freezing or roast, take meat off and make broth like we did earlier with the whole chickens.  I actually can the meat and broth.  I put the meat in half pint jars and use one jar for soup or two jars for a chicken based meal.  The last bag I bought gave me 13 half pint jars of meat and 7 quart jars of broth.  Learning to can meat in a pressure canner has been a huge budget saver for me!)

half gallons of milk    $1 each (milk freezes quite well.  A half gallon will thaw in the sink overnight.  Be sure to pour about 1/4 cup out before freezing if the jug doesn’t have those dents in the side to allow for expansion.)

 pasta sauce    $1.50/jar  (I’m particular about the ingredients in my sauce.  I stay away from high fructose corn syrup because that is made from GMO corn.  That’s why I am willing to spend $1.50, but I’m sure you can find it cheaper if you look.)

dried pasta    $1/box  We use the Barilla brand because they have whole grain pasta and the kind enriched with protein that goes on sale for just $1 a box often.

dried beans    $1 to $2 depending on what kind of beans.  You can get the equivalent of 4 cans of beans for a fraction of the price!  I can my own chili beans and my own pork and beans for next to nothing as far as cost goes.  I  can easily get 6 pint jars of beans from one bag of dried.  Definitely worth it.

condiments-ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, hot sauce, salad dressing, etc.    If you find them on a good sale, buy one even if you aren’t running low so you don’t have to pay full price when you run out of the one that’s open in your fridge.

I want to tell you why I decided to write about this topic.  For starters, food security should not be something that is only afforded to those in the middle and upper classes.  Food should be a basic human right.  Now that our abilities (and rights) to grow our own have gone by the wayside, we absolutely must provide grocery store food for those who cannot afford to pay cash for these things.  But I also believe that these food dollars need to come with a general education in health and nutrition because a large number of these people are also covered by medicaid.  With a simple 1-2 hour class, we could cut necessary costs I’m sure.  I wish I could project by how much we could cut those costs, but I’m positive that over time the medical costs would go down if people understand that they can feed their families whole clean foods for the same price as processed.

I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen someone in the grocery line, piling the belt with sugary sodas and those “juice drink” pouches, complete dinners in a can, frozen entrees, boxed potatoes, overly processed lunch meats or hot dogs, rolled ground beef containing 25% fat, a vat of “butter” that is only one ingredient different than plastic, etc. and then when it’s time to pay, they use a SNAP or EBT card.  I can’t help but think that the reason they’re purchasing these things is because they think that this is all they can afford to get with what the state gives them.

We have a friend who uses an EBT card for his groceries.  He doesn’t get much each month because he works, just doesn’t earn enough to disqualify him for assistance.  He actually eats dinner at my house two nights per week.  I always put out a rather impressive spread every night as sort of a “thank you” to my sweetie for all he does to give me the freedom to be a part-time homemaker.  Our friend always comments on how much he loves to eat here because everything tastes so fresh and there is so much to choose from.  He said that he wishes he could afford to serve dinners like this at his house.  The night that he first said that, I started going around the table, pointing at food items and telling him how much money I had in each.  It was summertime so there was a sprawling crudites to adorn your lettuce salad if you chose, a slow grilled pork loin with various homemade and store-bought sauces available, thinly sliced potatoes and onions, grilled together in tin foil, grilled corn on the cob and zucchini planks as well.  I like to make bread with butter and a variety of homemade jellies available as well, so I’m sure that was there too.  I remember after walking him through my expense for that dinner, we didn’t even hit $8.  The only things that we could really attach a price to was the pork (which was 1/4 of a $12 whole loin) at $3, the corn on the cob was 25 cents/ear making that $1, 4 potatoes used about half of the 5 pound bag I’d picked up for 99 cents so that was 50 cents, and I think I had about $3 and some change in the rest of the veggies.  Most of them came from people who had gardens and wanted me to can their veggies for them, so we barter.  They bring me a load of veggies and I can up about 3/4 of it and send it back.  The other 25% is my pay.  I also get free veggies by offering to “clean out” people’s gardens at the end of the season.  Nobody wants to see that work and food go to waste, so they are more than willing to let me have what’s leftover after they’ve picked and preserved as much as they care to.

I realize that this all sounds wonderful and would work beautifully in a perfect world, but we do not live in a perfect world.  There are many people without access to a privately owned vehicle.  Trying to lug all these groceries, plus extra groceries to build a stockpile on the bus is very difficult I’m sure.  I am also aware that many people, because of this same lack of transportation, don’t have the option of going to a regular supermarket that accepts coupons and has a fancy app for your phone.  I’m not pretending that this is a great solution for everyone in the country that is using SNAP or EBT to pay for groceries, but I think it can help quite a few of the people who live here in Small Town, Indiana with me!

As always, I’d love to hear from you!  Please leave me a comment below or hit me up on the Facebook page.  Thanks for reading!

 

 

Coupons, Coupons, Coupons

Good news on the coupon front today.  Coupons.com has reset, therefore you may print those that you have printed in the past few weeks again!  They expire one month from the day you print, so if you haven’t used the ones you’ve printed recently, you might want to see if you can find a sale to couple them with this week.  If you have already used all you’ve printed (I’m careful to only print the ones I will use that week because ink is expensive.), print them again if there are good sales at your store to use them with!  For me, Sunday is that crazy day where two of the three grocery ads are ending but the other is in the middle of their “ad week”.  I rarely grocery shop on Sundays because of this.  It seems that all three stores are out of the best sale items.  Martin’s and New Market because their ad is ending and Kroger (Owen’s) because they get their big deliveries from Sunday evening through Monday morning.  This week I didn’t need much anyway, so I just stopped at a specialty market and picked up some produce and a couple gluten free items.

But in case you haven’t seen it, Kroger has whole chickens for $.88/lb, whole pineapples for $.99 (these are good for canning), Kroger brand butter for $1.99/lb, and there are all kinds of sales that match up with digital coupons as well!  You can find all of this information at Kroger.com.  If you have a Kroger (or Kroger affiliate) in your area, do yourself a favor and create an online account with them.  Not only can you save a lot of money by using their digital coupons, but they also mail you coupons.  A few weeks ago they sent me an $11 off my next grocery trip coupon and just this week I got an $8 off $40 worth of “store brand” items.  I will easily purchase $40 worth because Simple Truth Organic, Private Selection, anything in the Fresh Foods Market (the deli and ready to eat items), anything that the bakery makes in house, PeakFection produce, and even HemisFares foods from around the globe are part of their “family of brands”.  So between all those things and the regular “Kroger brand” things I buy…like most of the dairy products we eat, I can easily make that $40…then they’ll take off $8, then I’ll use my digital coupons that I have for store brands (they give you bonus coupons on things you buy often after you’ve been signed up on their website for awhile) and I’ll probably save around 40% of my grocery bill.

Well, that’s what I’m doing today; planning my grocery excursion for tomorrow.  What a beautiful snowy Sunday!  What are you up to today?

As always, questions and comments are welcome here and on the Facebook page.  Thanks for reading!

Food Insecurity In The U.S. — How Real Is It?

I have been writing about food insecurity in the United States in research papers for college classes, in blogs, on social media, in cooking forums, and anywhere else I could find an audience, for the past decade (at least).  Here in middle class America, it’s not extremely obvious when you encounter someone who doesn’t have food in their pantry.  People in general are proud and don’t want handouts, so they don’t exactly tell anyone that they are struggling.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad.  I have always been one of those people who has been blessed with plenty to eat and a family to help if I ever fell on hard times, so I can’t even relate to these people who have needs that I have never experienced; but I don’t think I need to be able to relate in order to help.

One of my favorite/least favorite (it’s a love/hate thing) places to visit on the web is feedingamerica.org.  They offer some of the statistics that keep me on my path to educating as many people as I possibly can about how to ensure your family’s food security.  I love to visit this site because I can find a wide range of ways to help as well as keep track of the numbers and the demographics that are in need of the most help.  I don’t know about you, but when I see that 49.1 MILLION people in the United States are hungry, I have to do something!  I can’t imagine not having enough food to eat.

While I do have enough food to feed my family and enough money to buy more when my supplies run low, I do not have enough food or money to share with 49.1 million people.  What I do have to share is knowledge.  I have been honing my grocery buying skills for over 25 years and at this point I am feeding my family (as well as dinner guests three to four nights/week) for about $50 each week.  I pride myself on only serving whole unprocessed foods at my table as well as the fact that no one goes away hungry.  I am able to achieve this by growing some of my own food, buying surplus produce in the summer at a huge discount and preserving it for later use, watching sale ads and coupling coupons with sale prices to bring home as much as I can for my $50.

I feel that education is key to bringing food security back into American homes.  Knowing when to buy what and how to maximize your grocery dollar is very important.  However, there are so many people who are without transportation, so shopping around isn’t as easy for them.  This is where we need to get back to knowing our neighbors and finding our sense of community!  When you’re waiting at the doctor’s office, at a bus stop, eating your lunch in a park, standing in line at the grocery store, etc., put your cell phone away and strike up a conversation with someone nearby.  The more people you know, the bigger your support system.

Just a quick “for instance”.  Recently a family of 7 that I know fell on hard times.  They were thriving in Northern California and then dad had 2 strokes in 3 months.  Mom tried to get extra hours at work and do all she could, but she just couldn’t make ends meet without dad’s income.  They broke down and went to ask for public assistance, and were approved pending dad’s disability coming through.  Now mind you, this man has lost the use of the entire left side of his body, so going back to his construction job was completely out of the question.  We all know that a family can starve to death waiting for disability to come through, so they had no choice but to come back to Indiana where they had a circle of family and friends.  They were unable to rent a trailer to bring their things, so they just brought pictures and a few clothes for each family member, some blankets and pillows.  Just as they got into the state of Indiana, still 3 hours from home, the back wheel just flew off the truck at 70 mph!  Somehow they didn’t roll over (imagine what could have happened if the would have been pulling that trailer that they were denied at the rental place) and everyone was safe!

As soon as I was given that information, I went on Facebook and asked my family and friends (many of which I’ve made simply by putting the cell phone away and starting a conversation) if they had anything they could give to help this family.  By the time they got to their new home in Indiana, I had quite an extensive list of things that people had donated for them.  My cousin got a truck and trailer from work and we went around collecting all we could and then some others met us at their house and we took them from completely empty to fully furnished (with food in the fridge) in about an hour!  This is just one of the advantages of talking to people and of being a good friend.  I have been fortunate enough to not have to ask my community for help in the past, so when I did ask them to come together, they did so very enthusiastically and we made some “better luck” for a family that had nothing but bad for almost a year!

Just think of how much good you could do by being a good friend to someone who needs one.  Have you ever considered asking an elderly neighbor if she needs anything when you’re heading out to the store?  Especially in the winter, something as simple as bringing back a loaf of bread and a dozen eggs could make all the difference in the world!  Simply offering to pick up someone who normally takes the bus while on your way to the grocery could make a huge difference for that person.  Do you know how hard it is to bring home a week’s worth of groceries on a bus?

One of my favorite ways to help out is to “clean out” people’s gardens at the end of the season.  Almost everyone I know who plants a garden gets to a point near the end of the season where they just don’t want to pick and preserve any more food.  I simply put on my social media that if anyone is in that situation and doesn’t want their hard work to go to waste, I will come and pick what’s left and promise to put it to good use.  From there, I clean it, can it or freeze it, and then when I feel someone could use something, I give it away.

Food insecurity is very very real here in the United States.  It is absolutely sickening to see how much food is wasted while there are so many who are hungry.  My call to action today is to meet your neighbors; make a friend in the grocery store line; find someone who might need something and see if you can formulate a plan to get it for them.  You don’t have to be wealthy to donate something to someone in need.  The reality is that typically we see more generosity from those who have little than from those who have much.  Maybe we can change that to make it typical to see everyone being generous no matter what they have to give!

As always, I welcome your questions and comments, below or on the Facebook page.  Thanks for reading!

 

Streeeeeeeetching Dinner

Due to the nature of Shane’s business, we often have an extra person at our dinner table.  When I say “often”, I mean no less than two nights per week in the winter and three to four nights per week during the summer months.  These are usually adult men and by the time they get home from work, they are famished!  So how do I feed an extra mouth or two without going over budget?  I learned to stretch.

When I was a kid, I can remember my mom stretching dinner with noodles or potatoes when we had unexpected guests.  She put macaroni in soups to make them “hardier”, mixed meat for three in with fried potatoes to make hash for 6, etc.  I am a little more adamant about putting nutrient dense foods on my table, so these options don’t usually work for me.  Instead, I had to get really creative!

Grilled chicken breast, asparagus and a tossed salad for two is easily transformed into dinner for 4, just by adding a little iceberg lettuce (usually around $1.50/head).  Simply add the extra lettuce to your existing salad, divide into 4 large bowls, chop grilled, cooled asparagus and chicken and sprinkle on top.  To add a little substance if you feel it isn’t enough dinner, you can toast slices of crusty bread under the broiler and rub with a cut clove of garlic to serve along side your salad.

Tacos for two = Nachos for four

Grilled Salmon for two = Salmon Tacos with Jalapeno Cream for four

Steak for two = Easy Philly Cheesesteaks for four

Meatball Hoagies for two = Spaghetti and Meatballs for four

Grilled Chicken Breast for two = Grilled Chicken Pasta in a Tomato Cream Sauce

There are so many possibilities without simply adding macaroni or potatoes.  My goal is to never let an unexpected guest feel like an imposition.  Along with this, as self employed artists, there have definitely been some lean times in our lives.  I found out quickly how to stretch a main course for one person into enough to feed two adults and a teenage boy.  The idea was to convert what we could afford into something that made my family feel like we weren’t in a minor family financial recession.

I’d love to hear how you have stretched your meals to accommodate unexpected guests at your table.  Please leave me a comment here or on the Facebook page.  I love new ideas!!  Thanks for reading!