July 30, 2012

What IS a Paleo Diet?

I am gearing up for another 30 Day Paleo Challenge (I've done a couple already, to various degrees).  Starting August 1st, I will be avoiding grains, dairy, legumes, refined sugars, and fake fats.  What will I be eating?  Meat, vegetables, good fats, nuts, and some fruits.  Sounds crazy, right?  That's what I thought at first too, but I tried it, and I loved it.  I love the way I feel when I'm eating really strict Paleo.  My skin clears up, my mood improves, and my energy is steady.  I actually start to crave meat and vegetables!  If you are thinking about trying Paleo, stop thinking about it and just try it!

Here are my favorite resources for all things Paleo:

Robb Wolf
Awesome blog with tons of amazing testimonials and an explanation of all the science behind the Paleo lifestyle.

Everyday Paleo
Great recipes! Sarah Fragoso is a busy mom of 3 who switched her whole family to the paleo diet.  I also love her podcasts, although she hasn't done one in awhile.

Mark's Daily Apple
This site has lots of interesting information for inquisitive, science-minded folks.  Every Friday he publishes a success story.  The recipes are a little too strange for my taste.

Nom Nom Paleo
She photographs all of her drool-worthy food and inspires me to eat more vegetables.

My Primal Passion
Although she has stopped posting anything new, the archives contain great meal ideas and lots of weight-loss inspiration.

Primal Kitchen
The best thing about this blog is the lunchbox ideas.  She has blogged a couple hundred lunches that she's packed for her husband and her preschooler.

Fast Paleo
Tons of recipes! 

Want to try it with me? 

July 28, 2012

Pantry Challenge: Week Four, Final Report

Whew!  What a busy week!  We have been scrambling like mad trying to get everything done before our summer intern leaves in two weeks.  We are really going to miss him.  It is so much fun to work with enthusiastic people.  We have several hours of work ahead of us this morning, and then tonight we are going into town to see The Dark Knight Rises.  I'm not sure what we'll eat yet, probably leftovers for lunch and fast food for dinner.  

This month I didn't meet my goal of staying under $300, but it will be under $400.  We ate well.  In fact, it really didn't hurt at all to see how little we could spend.  The sad thing is, we did not buy any meat, eggs, or cheese with that money.  If it costs that much to feed my family of four (okay, sometimes it's more like 6 when I feed our summer intern) without buying the essentials I just listed, how do poor people survive?  I guess the answer is really cheap, processed garbage.  

Two days ago my husband was looking through the fridge and he exclaimed, "We are out of everything!"  Although we still have quite a bit of food in our house, we are out of a lot of things that we use often: butter, coconut milk, liquid dish soap, tortillas, dried fruit, chocolate.  Amazingly, we still have paper towels!  I might have to pick up some butter, soap, tortillas, and chocolate tonight.  Those are essentials at our house!  It's also discomforting to see how little meat is in our freezer.  My hubby took out the last pack of hamburger (the last pack of steaks was hidden, fortunately) a couple of days ago.  We've decided to buy a pig to butcher ourselves.  I'm excited because we don't eat much pork, so this will be a treat!  And I'm excited to fill up the deep freeze again!

Here's what we ate this week:

July 22: lunch was grilled hot dogs, corn, fresh salad, and peaches; dinner was leftover hamburger macaroni and sauteed white asparagus
July 23: lunch was frozen meat and veggie stir-fry for me, leftovers for hubby and kids; dinner was another stir-fry for me, and turkey pot pie for hubby and kids
July 24: I think we ate leftovers for lunch; I think dinner was grilled round steak- it was a really busy day!

July 25: dinner was salmon patties and salad, not sure what we had for lunch

July 26: lunch was pork ribs with corn, salad, bread with butter, and green beans; dinner was zucchini stuffed with italian sausage and red sauce, corn, salad, bread with butter

July 27: lunch was tuna fish sandwiches for the family, leftover paleo stir-fry for me; dinner was crockpot roast with potatoes

What I've learned from this pantry challenge:

1) Potatoes rock your budget!  They are the cheapest food, per pound (when a 10 lb bag costs $3, that's $.30 a pound).  They are a versatile, gluten-free, whole food.

2) We have alot of food in this house.

3) I tend to buy too much, and to buy things I'll never use (none of us like garbanzo beans, so why did I have a can in my pantry?)

4) We spend alot in part because my husband insists on brand-name items, and that adds up quickly.

4) I'm really blessed to have my own meat and eggs.

5) Fresh produce is pricey in my area, even when it's in season.

6) Clean spaces in my house make me happy!  An awesome side effect of cleaning out my pantry and freezer has been the motivation to clean other areas of my house.  I have cleaned out our family closet, lots of drawers and several cabinets.  It's so nice to open a drawer or cabinet and actually be able to tell what's in there, instead of having to sort through junk to find what I'm looking for.

I continue to express gratitude to my dad for buying me a propane grill.  We have used it so much these past few weeks, since it has been so hot!  It's also a lifesaver when the power goes out, which happens quite frequently out here.

What next?
I'm definitely going to do another pantry challenge in January, and I'm going to continue tracking my grocery spending.  We will continue using cloth napkins.  I'm also going to ask my husband's grandma to get me a subscription to the Sunday paper for the coupons.  I will still feed my family mostly fresh produce and meat, and continue to slowly replace the gluten-containing junk for gluten free.  Also, I need to clean out the deep freezers in the bunkhouse and my mother-in-law's house before we buy that pork.

I am planning a 30 day Paleo Challenge starting August 1st.  I have been so lax about my nutrition during this pantry challenge and I'm just looking forward to getting back to feeling good.  This is also the perfect time because there is so much delicious produce in season.  I'll blog about it in hopes of inspiring others to try eating Paleo.

July 24, 2012

Fire Season

Many mornings, when the wind is just right, I've stepped outside into a hazy world.  I can smell smoke from a prairie fire hundreds of miles away.  It's a constant, not-so-subtle reminder of the danger we face every day.  A prairie fire could literally wipe us out.  It could destroy the grass, leaving nothing for the cows to eat.  Or worse, it could kill the cows.  It could burn up our haystacks, ruin our equipment, destroy our homes and other buildings, or even kill us. 

Summer on the prairie always brings the risk of fire, but this year the danger is the highest I've ever seen.  The lack of rain has turned the prairie into a brown box of kindling, and with high winds, a small spark could turn deadly.  Every thunderstorm warning is a mixed blessing.  We crave the rain, but any lightning means someone must stay awake and watch for fire.  Our eyes constantly scan the horizon for any sign of smoke or flame.  And it's not just fire on our own property.  If any neighboring lands catch fire we will respond, hopefully before it reaches us.

To fight fire, we use an implement we can hitch to the tractor called a disk.  It is used in farming to plow the earth.  In a fire it is used to create a fire break, to prevent the fire from spreading.  This is probably the most valuable tool we have to fire fight. 

My in-laws built a custom fire truck.  They put a huge 2,000 gallon tank on the back of a truck and mounted a sprayer on the roof.  I use it to water potatoes, but we've used it to put out a couple of fires as well.  They also installed an enormous overhead water tank near the well that can fill the fire truck in minutes, instead of waiting for a garden hose to do the job.  Time is precious, especially when your ranch is burning.

We also have an old pickup with a smaller, 50 gallon tank attached, which we call our sprayer pickup.  We use it to spray fly killer on the cows in summer.  We also take it to fires.  Most ranchers have something like that, and they have to fill it with a hose.

If the fire is 20 minutes away  from your water source (which is very possible when you have thousands of acres, especially since fires don't always stay on the roads and trails), and it takes 20 minutes for your tank to fill up, you would have to leave the fire for an hour at a time.  If you had to fight fire alone, I don't know how you would do it. 

I have seen three fires since I moved out here.  The last fire was a neighbor's tree that was smoldering after being struck by lightning.  My brother-in-law was still in high school, and on his way to school in the morning he noticed it.  We took our fire truck down there and were met by the neighbor on the other side, who brought his chainsaw.  The neighbor who owned the land never showed.  We were able to quickly put it out.

The fire before that happened during a thunderstorm.  By the time we got out there with our fire truck, it was raining, so it was mostly put out.

My first fire was quite dramatic.  My husband and I had been married about a month, and were living with my in-laws.  We had worked hard building our new house that day, and were very tired.  Around midnight the phone rang and we heard footsteps upstairs.  Lights came on and suddenly my mother-in-law was sticking her head in the room telling us there was a fire in a haystack.  A neighbor had been driving around looking for fires and had seen it from his place.   All at once we were in motion.  There was no time to think, let alone panic.  I didn't bring a hair tie, which proved to be really stupid, since the wind kept whipping my hair into my face.  I think the first thing we did was fill the fire truck.  The headlights were out, so I drove in front of it with a four-wheeler to light the way.  From far away we could see the huge, roaring flames.  We got to the haystack and my husband ran the sprayer while my mother-in-law drove.  If you stood in the wrong place for too long you couldn't breathe.  The smoke was thick and the fire burned hot.  At some point she and I went to get the disk together, and then she made the fire break.   My father-in-law used the loader to dig up dirt right around the haystack, while my brother-in-law used a tractor with graffle forks to move the bales that weren't burning out of the fire's path.  Toward the end, my father-in-law was turning over dirt and using it to smother the fire.   

I remember driving back and forth between the fire and the house.  I called neighbors and watched for other fires.  The only people who showed up were our neighbor to the north and the volunteer fire department from a town 70 miles north.  The fire department consisted of two men and a sprayer truck.  I assume they refilled out of our well.  It amazes me that more people did not show up.  In their defense, one of our neighbors was out of town, but the rest, well, how can they expect us to show up to their fires when they don't come to ours?  Don't they care if their places burn up?

After the sun came up, things were under control, and my mother-in-law and I went back to the house to make breakfast for everyone.  We made a whole bunch of breakfast burritos.  They tasted amazing.  

We started fighting fire around midnight, and we didn't come inside until about 3 in the afternoon.  When we got home we all sat around discussing it.  My father-in-law looked like a raccoon.  He had black all over his face, except for his eyes, where his glasses had been.  Everyone fell asleep about 5, but I couldn't sleep.  I ended up driving around a little more, looking for more fires.  It took a few more hours for the adrenaline to wear off so I could sleep. 

Last night I noticed the sun has started to set just a little bit earlier.  The days are getting shorter.  I am relieved.  Hopefully autumn will bring moisture.

July 22, 2012

Pantry Challenge, Week Three Report

We are still eating well.  This week we finished off the wheat pasta, which will be replaced with gluten free pasta after the pantry challenge.  Also I moved the remaining freezer items around and was able to defrost the freezer.  I love how clean and neat it looks now!  We are really running low on beef though.  We have a little cooked hamburger and onion, three packs of round steak, one pack of hamburger and one pack of good steaks in our freezer, and my in-laws might have a little more round steak, two packs of good steaks and 2 packs of burger.  For such big beef-eaters, that is very little!  We do have a little stew meat and a few roasts, but I hesitate to cook those because it's so hot, and those need long cooking times.  For the next two weeks, I need to plan carefully to stretch that beef.  We are looking at lots of chicken, canned salmon, sausage, and some ground pork.  We don't do meatless meals here.  That would be heresy :)

Here's what we ate this week:

July 16: lunch was leftover grilled chicken and fresh fruit; dinner was spaghetti with italian sausage, sauteed snow peas and leftover grilled corn (I ate my meat sauce over fresh spinach and it was paleo awesomeness!)
July 17: lunch was leftover grilled chicken; dinner was tamale pie and green beans with bacon, I ate leftover baked beans (gluten free)
July 18: lunch for hubby was a quesadilla and some leftover breakfast sausage; lunch and dinner for me was a paleo stir-fry of frozen pre-cooked hamburger and veggies; dinner was leftovers
July 19: lunch was bacon cheesburgers and corn the I froze in 2010.  Dinner was leftovers again.
July 20: lunch was hamburger macaroni (kind of a homemade Hamburger Helper) and leftover green beans with bacon; dinner was chicken fried steak for hubby, pan-fried round steak for me and the rest of the green beans
July 21: lunch was leftovers- chicken fried steak, pan-fried round steak, salad; dinner was fast food in town for the family, I ate a tuna and garbanzo bean salad that I had packed

On Friday, my father-in-law surprised me with some fresh veggies like white asparagus, salad mix, and brussels sprouts.  I estimate that was about $25.   Then yesterday I took the kids into town for a fun day a local craft festival.  We stopped at WalMart on the way home for some fresh fruit, milk, ice cream, pullups, and a loaf of bread.  I spent $50.  I think that brings my total to $315 for the month.  So I am a little over budget.  Hopefully I won't go into town until August!

July 20, 2012

Now You Can Email Me!

I know the comments sometimes don't work for some people, but I still want to hear from you!  Now you can email me at pleasuresofprairelife@yahoo.com.  I want to know what you want to know!  So ask away!

July 19, 2012

A Yummy Paleo Meal from the Pantry

It is possible to create delicious Paleo food from your pantry and freezer.  Yesterday for lunch/dinner (at 4 pm!) I made myself a stir-fry based off Everyday Paleo's Puerto Rican Beef.  I threw some pre-cooked, frozen hamburger and onion into a pan along with some frozen carrots and spinach.  Then I dumped olive oil over all and stirred.  When it was thawed I added cinnamon, ginger, garlic powder, oregano, salt and pepper.  I added a whole bunch of green olives at the end just to warm them.  Their saltiness is so good in this!  My daughter and I both had seconds.  Yum!

July 15, 2012

Pantry Challenge, Week Two: Meals Report

Yesterday I posted our Week Two grocery spending report.  To read it, click here.

This week we ate well.  Lots of grilling because it's been so hot!  Grilling lends itself well to my pantry challenge because I am clearing out lots of meat from the freezer.  It needs to be defrosted so badly, so the emptier I can get it, the better!  

We go through potatoes fast around here, so pasta will be back on the menu this week.  I'm hoping to get rid of the last of the wheat pasta so when I go shopping again I can replace it with the gluten free stuff.  We like the corn pasta best.  

A new dimension to the challenge is that we are running low on beef, which hubby demands requests at least once a day.  We won't be able to butcher again until at least September, so I am going to have to use more fish and chicken to make the beef last.  I'm also excited about buying some pork after the pantry challenge.  We don't eat it often (except as bacon) but I love it!

Here's what we ate this week:

July 9: lunch was leftover pulled pork (sandwich for the hubby, stir-fried with veggies for me); dinner was leftover pulled pork again
July 10: lunch was grilled steaks and broccoli, salad, watermelon; dinner was Crockpot Pork and Beans, cornbread, and salad
July 11: lunch (at 2 pm!) was more leftover pork and some baked beans; dinner was grilled salmon, Brussels Sprouts and Bacon, and fried potatoes
July 12: lunch was fast food (yuck) in town; I made Shepherd's Pie for my sister-in-law and her family for dinner; hubby made himself a pizza a home
July 13: lunch was late after getting home from town- I had a leftover piece of steak and some salad and hubby and the kids ate at his mom's house; dinner was mashed potatoes, tuna fish gravy, fresh strawberries, salad, and cooked carrots
July 14: lunch was grilled hot dogs, corn, watermelon, salad; dinner was grilled steaks, baked potatoes (I was already using the oven so I took advantage), salad, watermelon
July 15: lunch will be grilled chicken (freshly butchered this morning!) and corn, raw snow peas, salad, bread and butter; dinner will be leftover hot dogs and frozen broccoli

For more Pantry Challenge updates, visit Good Cheap Eats.

July 14, 2012

Pantry Challenge, Week Two: Grocery Report

This week I spent a night in town with my sister-in-law, who just had a baby.  I was actually kind of afraid to go to the grocery store, kind of like being on a diet and then going to a holiday party.  I was pretty sure I'd "blow it" and spend a lot.  But my husband called and asked me to pick up some things for some guests that are here for the weekend, so I knew I needed to face my fears!  First, I went to Sam's Club for the first time since I've moved here (5 years ago).  I finally got my Sam's Club card (my dad put me on his membership) and I checked out the rumors of the fantastic produce they carry.  It all looked beautiful.  Not as wide a variety as Safeway, but the "best" stuff was plentiful.  I bought peaches, plums, strawberries, potatoes, and organic spring salad mix.  None of it was under $2 a pound (except the potatoes, which were $.30 a lb).  I gave most of the peaches, a carton of strawberries, and a few plums to my sister-in-law.  I wasn't blown away by the taste, but it was all of good quality.  I figure I spent around $23 for the produce I took home.  I categorize the money I spent on groceries for others as "hospitality" instead of a part of our grocery budget.

On the way home I stopped at Safeway to see if produce prices were any better.  It was strange going to the grocery store and not buying as much as I could.  Normally my cart is completely loaded, so this was a nice change! I hated to go in because I was sure I would be tempted to spend, spend, spend.  And I was, but I still managed to stay around $30 for the groceries for our house.  I bought fresh corn, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, fresh and frozen spinach, a loaf of bread, hot dog buns, toilet cleaner, baby wipes, tortillas, and two dark chocolate candy bars.  Normally I would have bought several packs of wipes, multiple packs of toilet cleaners, 2 bags of tortillas, and 2 or 3 bags of frozen spinach, but since I'm trying to spend as little as possible this month, I only bought one of each.  If my math is right I have spent $240 for the month.  I'm really hoping to make it through the end of the month without spending much more!

At home, we have started using cloth napkins at mealtimes.  We have 3 1/2 rolls of paper towels left, and I'm pretty sure they will last through the end of the month.  I'm not sure why I never used cloth napkins before- they really do save money, especially with messy little eaters around!  I'm still not missing my coconut oil- I'm just using butter or beef tallow in its place, and we are surviving.  Last night I made tuna fish gravy for 4 grownups and 2 kids.  I wanted to use 4 (6 oz) cans of tuna for that many people, but we only had 3.  I thought about asking my mother-in-law for a can, but I decided to make more gravy with less meat.  So, I added more flour and milk, and we ended up with a little left over!  All that worry for nothing! 

I have also inventoried our personal care items.  We won't need to buy kids' toothpaste, lotion, or sunscreen for about 5 years!  I have started a list of items that we can stock up on and I can use coupons for.  I am planning a big shopping trip after the challenge is over! 

I am really thankful I did stockpile a few things, like butter, canned coconut milk, salsa, bacon, and sausage, before this pantry challenge.  I am more appreciative of what we do have around than before.  In the past two weeks I've often found myself thinking about people who have to live off their pantry by necessity, and  I feel so blessed.  Food for me isn't just a way to survive, it's a hobby.  I enjoy everything from menu planning, to purchasing (or butchering), to cooking, to eating.  I'm so grateful to have that luxury

July 10, 2012

Pantry Challenge: The Produce Inventory

10 days into our pantry challenge and we're low on fresh produce, including our daily staple, avocados.  We have exactly two bananas (not counting the frozen ones), alot of onions, 10 pounds of potatoes, 1 small head of broccoli, a handful of cherry tomatoes, some dried out carrots, a bunch of watermelon from Sunday's party, some romaine hearts leftover from Sunday's party, and a pound of brussels sprouts.  My plan for all this is: feed the bananas and watermelons to the kids as snacks, cook the broccoli for hubby at lunch today, tuck the tomatoes into hubby's breakfast burritos, eat a lot of salads, pan roast the carrots, and make Bacon and Brussels Sprouts sometime this week.  I want to stretch the potatoes as long as I can, so I will probably fry them a few at a time (hubby's favorite), and of course the onions will keep for a while in the fridge.  So, besides the potatoes and onions, we will be finished with all our fresh produce by the end of this week.  That is a little scary.  But, we've got alot of frozen goodies and few canned items to tide us over until, well, until I get sick of not having any fresh stuff around!

Here's what we have for frozen and canned produce (not counting tomato products):
- one open jar of applesauce in the fridge, plus another jar in the pantry
- 1 can of asparagus spears
- 1 8 oz can crushed pineapple
- 3 14 oz cans artichoke hearts
- a few snack sized boxes of raisins
- 1 1/2 6 oz bags dried apricots
- 6 oz bag of dried apples
- an open bag of dried dates
- 2 bags frozen peas
- 1/2 gallon frozen raspberries (a gift from a neighbor last summer)
- several frozen bananas
- big bag frozen blueberries
- small bag frozen mango
- 2 bags frozen strawberries
- 1 bag frozen carrot "coins"
- 1 32 oz bag frozen green beans
- 1 16 oz bag frozen collard greens
- 1/2 bag frozen broccoli
- 1 bag frozen cauliflower
- 2 cups cauliflower/ leek soup (frozen)

I didn't include the beans I have stored up, because I consider most beans (except green beans) to be very different nutritionally than other fruits and veggies.  I also left off the corn we have because that's a starch, not a veggie.

I see from this inventory that I'm just going to have to break down and buy some greens.  I consider dark green leafy vegetables to be a food group unto themselves and I try to eat some every single day.  I am not going to compromise my family's health to save some a few bucks this month.

I also see that I have a lot of frozen fruit.  I plan to serve more smoothies and make a gluten free fruit pie to take to a picnic this weekend (using up a box of gf pie crust I bought months ago).  The applesauce will be served as a dessert or snack (along with some protein of course) and made into muffins.  This would also be a great time to make Bacon Wrapped Sausage Stuffed Dates (from the Everyday Paleo cookbook), since we have plenty of bacon and sausage in the freezer.  The dried apples will be made into Stewed Apples (an experiment!) since we don't really care for them plain.

Taking inventory of what you have is essential to a successful pantry challenge.  For more tips, visit Good Cheap Eats all month long.

July 9, 2012

The Verdict: Gluten Free Yellow Cake

Yesterday I promised to write about how the gluten free yellow cake went over.  Answer?  Great!  I used the recipe found in Elizabeth Hasselbeck's Deliciously G-Free (a gift from my husband's grandma).   I used the kid's choice chocolate icing recipe found in the same book.  The icing was really chocolatey, which I love!  The cake itself was a big surprise.  Based on brown rice flour, I was sure it would taste strange.  It was a little heavier than a regular wheat-based cake, but it tasted delicious.  My nephew had helped me make it, and when he tasted the raw dough he said it was "weird".  Yesterday though, he asked for seconds!  Speaking of seconds, there weren't any!  Next time around I would make two cakes, since this was pretty small.  It would serve 12 normal size slices or 20 teeny tiny slices, which is what we did.

The Birthday Girl liked it!

July 8, 2012

Pantry Challenge Week 1 Report

This week I have learned a little bit about my grocery habits.  For one thing, I have tons of food in my house!  Grocery shopping is my favorite hobby, so any time I ran out of things in the past I would instantly put it on my list, instead of seeing if I could make do without it.  Now, I am really scrutinizing my grocery list.  For example, I have been out of coconut oil for 3 weeks already, but I am not going to order more until next month.  I have some beef tallow in the freezer I can render, and we have plenty of olive oil and butter.  Also, we're out of regular mustard, so I am using dijon instead.  I think that's the key to success- looking at what you have versus what you need (or want) to buy.

I've also realized how many convenience items we really consume, and I'm okay with it, since I don't eat most of them.  Since I don't eat flour tortillas, I don't see why I should slave away to make them.  My husband and son want them for breakfast, so I buy them.  I am totally fine with using boxed mixes to make a nice dessert for company, since I won't eat it anyway.  Why would I spend my time making something so unhealthy from scratch when I could be outside making money instead?  Plus, I already have to make all my own food from scratch.  Eating Paleo means you have to cook it yourself.  I am not going to make 2 meals completely from scratch so that I can meet my own health goals and please my husband.

So, why doesn't the rest of my family eat Paleo and save me the trouble of cooking separate meals?  My husband doesn't think he needs to, and I am not going to force my kids to eat Paleo if Daddy doesn't.  We don't have serious diseases or behavioral issues, so I don't stress about it.  Also, I look at the progress we've already made.  My family eats alot more vegetables than they used to since I've started the Paleo journey.  I have healthier snacks for my kids, such as nuts and seeds, dried fruit, and hard boiled eggs.  And at least 50% of their meals are gluten free. I've recently discovered potatoes are the cheapest food to feed your family, in terms of dollars per pound.  And when you grow them yourself you save even more money!

I think I can reduce our spending on these convenience items by spending more time looking for coupons.  My husband is a creature of habit and he likes what he likes.  I am making a list of the convenience items we use and I plan to spend a few minutes each week looking for coupons for those items. 

Here's what we've eaten since I last updated:

July 6: lunch was a Crockpot Mexican Stew, dinner was leftovers for me and Chicken Fried Steak for hubby plus some fresh fruit
July 7: lunch was Grilled Steak and Broccoli; dinner was leftovers and fresh fruit
July 8: lunch today was bacon cheeseburgers (no cheese or bun for me) and fruit.  Tonight, for a birthday dinner, we're having pulled pork sandwiches (no bun for me) using some frozen pulled pork, a fresh lettuce salad, watermelon, and gluten free yellow cake.  I have never made it before, but the raw dough tasted great to me. I will let you know how it goes over with the rest of the group.

Spending update:
I have asked my husband's grandmother to get ice cream, fresh lettuce, and hamburger buns for our party tonight.  I estimate it will be around $15.  Also yesterday I realized I am going to have to order vitamins.  I only have enough to last another week.  Since Vitacost gives you free shipping on orders over $49 I am ordering a 5 month supply of multivitamins for myself and a few other things for my husband.  Multivitamins are a necessity for my family, especially in this season of life.  So that will bring our monthly total to about $190.  I am hoping to keep it under $300 for the month.

Be sure to visit Good Cheap Eats for more Pantry Challenge reports!

July 7, 2012

Texas Caviar

I love corn and black beans together.  They are an eye-catching combination, and when you add some colorful tomatoes and avocados, you have a fiesta on your plate!  I have made many variations of this recipe over the years.  I love adding some finely diced red onion or fresh cilantro.  This is a frugal, simple side dish that's perfect for potlucks since it can be served at room temperature.  It also tastes good in an omelette.  Obviously corn and beans are not paleo, but they are naturally gluten free so I have no problem eating this as a treat during the summer.

2 ears fresh corn, boiled or grilled, kernels cut off
2 cups cooked black beans
1 cup diced tomatoes (I used cherry)
1 avocado, diced

 Dressing ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil (I used regular, not extra virgin, because it has a milder taste)
1 TBSP lime juice
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp minced garlic

Gently combine corn, black beans, tomatoes, avocados.  Whisk dressing ingredients together.  Drizzle dressing over corn and bean mixture.  Stir gently.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Serve chilled or room temperature.

July 6, 2012

July Pantry Challenge is On!

Hey folks, I am back!  I have been too busy living life to write about it.  But I decided to do a Pantry Challenge with Jessica from Good Cheap Eats, and I thought I'd document my progress here.  I started keeping track of my spending two months ago, and I was shocked at how much I spend.  Since we don't have to buy meat and eggs, it should not be that high.  If you want an idea of how much we spent, go find the USDA chart that shows the average amounts spent on food.  We are a family of 4, with 2 little kids, and we spent more than the "liberal" plan.  That's without buying beef and eggs.  Yikes!

There are several reasons I believe we spent so much.  First, I had gotten in the mindset that I needed to buy as much as I could because I never knew when I would be able to get to town.  However, looking at the dates on my receipts, I have spent money on groceries every week for the past two months, between having people pick up stuff for me and running into town myself.  So, I really don't need to stockpile every time I'm at the store!  Second, my husband likes brand name items.  He thinks most generic items aren't as good as the brand-names.  That's just something we're going to have to work on over time I guess.  Third, I don't plan my grocery trips around the sales.  I go to the store whenever I'm in town, so if I need (or want, let's be honest here) something, I just buy it.  Since I'm usually in a hurry to be done and I've got the kids with me, I don't do a lot of price comparison.  That's something I am actively trying to change.  Fourth, I don't use coupons.  But now I know how to load the online coupons on my Safeway card, so I can take the 5 minutes before going to town to do it!  Finally, I have been eating Paleo on and off for the past few months, which usually makes your grocery bill go up.  Wheat is super cheap, but fresh produce, especially in our area, is pricier.  My solution for that is to pay more attention to what's on sale, what's in season, and buy more frozen veggies.  My hubby and kids still eat "regular" food, so you'll still see plenty of non-Paleo items in our menu plans.  I do plan to eat up the beans in our pantry, and fresh corn since it's only in season a little while.

My goal with this pantry challenge is to save as much money as possible, by spending as little as possible.  I am sure we will buy milk, some fresh produce (since it is July!), and possibly paper towels, but that's it for me.  I am not setting any limits on my husband's spending, since he only goes to the store about once every two months and he mainly buys treats for himself.  I am also looking forward to getting rid of some pantry items that have languished far too long.  I don't think I'll have to get too creative since we have such a large stockpile already.  

What we've spent so far:
I asked my parents to pick up diapers, 4 gallons of milk, and fresh produce for me.  Those along with a couple other extras were about $85 (spread out over two trips).  The good news is we are stocked with diapers for a couple of months!  Then my dad gave me a $10 register coupon for Safeway.  I bought 10 lbs of potatoes, 2 small bags of chocolate chips, and 6 ears of corn.  I paid $.16!  That was such a thrill!  Then, my hubby spent $60 on bananas, sour cream, cottage cheese, prepared orange juice, two packs of bacon (it was a pretty good price so I was okay with it), and a huge pack of sausage links, which I divided into smaller bags and froze.  So, we have already spent about $125, but I think we should be good for the rest of the month.  

Here's what we've been eating:
July 1: leftover shepherd's pie (used canned green beans and asparagus from the pantry); don't remember lunch
July 2: had company over and served hamburgers, Texas Caviar (using up black beans from the pantry), fried potatoes, Paleo Cobbler (used peaches from the freezer instead of berries!); don't remember lunch
July 3: both meals in town with family
July 4: lunch: family get-together in town; dinner: Hamburgers, leftover Texas Caviar
July 5: lunch: leftover shepherd's pie for hubby, leftover hamburger and sauteed bok choy for me; dinner: steaks, corn on the cob, fresh Texas Caviar with extended family visiting

Breakfast ideas:
I always serve some kind of protein, usually bacon and eggs, sometimes leftover steak or even pork chops.  After reading Nina Plank's Real Food for Mother and Child, I have come to believe eggs are almost the perfect human food (unless you have allergies of course).  

- potato patties
- hash browns
- bacon, egg sandwiches on bagels
- breakfast burritos
- scrambled eggs with salsa and frozen veggies (this is what I eat every day)
- pancakes from a mix (hubby's request)
- biscuits and sausage gravy (hubby's request)
- oatmeal chocolate chip muffins
- Coconut Flour Apple Cinnamon Muffins

I promise to post at least once a week as our challenge continues.  You can find more great info about the July Pantry Challenge at Good Cheap Eats.  You can check out this post from Denver Bargains for tips on eating from your pantry.  Also, visit The Haven of Home and scroll down to the bottom of the page to read about her Pantry Challenge from the beginning.  I found it really interesting!