With the season of Lent only a week away, I have been thinking a lot about the changes we have made this last year.  Last year for Lent, we challenged ourselves to not buy any food from the grocery store containing more than 6 ingredients in order to cut down on processed foods.  We started making almost everything from scratch.  I expected that we would learn to eat healthier, but I certainly never expected to still be going at this rate almost a year later.  We do occasionally buy something processed, but it is pretty rare.  I look back at how busy our lives were at the time and I really am amazed we stuck to it.  I don’t say this to pat ourselves on the back, though I know that is what it sounds like!  I only say it because it shows how much the decision to make a change is half the battle.  Business of life can only be an excuse for so long.  When we started, I had a 4, 2, and 1 year old at the time on top of watching a newborn 3 days a week/a 2 year old and newborn most of the other workdays and working at night doing transcriptions.  Again, NOT a pat on my own back, just a statement of it CAN be done even with a busy life!  However, I will give a pat on the back to my very supportive and kitchen-capable husband!

Other changes have come since then.  We have expanded our awareness of where our food comes to include all meat (okay, except for pepperoni if you can call that a meat–for some reason, we just haven’t been able to give that up on our homemade pizzas!). We joined a CSA and shop farmer’s markets to try to get a a majority of our produce, at least in the summer and fall.  I personally have weaned of of psychotropic that were not working well for me and have found some more natural methods that do seem to be working.  We are more aware of how our overall health is affected by what we consume.

But all this has caused me more confusion in some ways.  The more I learn, the more I just don’t know how far to go in our changes.  I like to read “foodie” blogs, really for the ideas on homemade, healthier meals and snacks.  But you come across a lot more than that.  Vaccines, fluoride and other chemicals in the water, pharmaceutical drugs, politics, parenting, schooling and many other topics of debate are prevalent.  Some things I agree with wholeheartedly, others I would say I have not researched enough, and others I just am not there.  I am torn because I have come to realize that money is extremely powerful.  I truly believe that money and big business have far more to do with all these areas than I ever wanted to believe, often at the expense of what is healthy, moral, or good.  But at the same time, I am just not ready to say that it is ONLY about profit, that there aren’t companies (or health care professionals, or government agencies, etc) that really are trying to do what they feel is best for us.  I don’t want to be a paranoid and cynical; I don’t want to be unquestioning and naive.  Where do you draw the line?  I don’t know!  I’m certainly still learning.

I guess my point is that you don’t have to be a “crazy foodie” (I’m not even sure where we fall on that line!), and you don’t have to make all the changes at once.  Some of the blogs (including this one to some, I’m sure!) can be quite overwhelming and honestly a huge turnoff.  I find the foodie world at times can be a bit (or a lot!) judgmental.  Don’t let it discourage you!  Find the changes you would like to make and just start there.  Maybe a Lenten challenge of some sort is in store for you?  We’re still trying to figure out what to do this year.  A friend suggested this challenge of drinking only water and using the money saved to help bring clean water to needy places.  What a great concept!  I would miss my morning coffee (and a semi-regular evening glass of wine), but hey, it wouldn’t be a challenge if I didn’t!  We have also considered giving up all refined sugar.  We have cut down on this drastically in our diet, but is is still there.  Maybe something not related to food or drink!  Other ideas??  Please share!

Spaghetti Squash Bake

I was feeling a bit inventive today and came up with a new recipe!  We started our winter CSA share last week and were given a very large spaghetti squash.  Even with our new eating style, we had not made a spaghetti squash in years (and we didn’t make it very well last time–just ate it with marinara sauce), but I had high hopes of redeeming myself tonight.  I would say I succeeded in creating something enjoyable. 

Here is the recipe:

1 spaghetti squash

1 lb pork sausage (ours came from the hog we got from Coach Stop Farm-delicious!)

2 tbsp butter

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 quart of tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped

4 oz (ish?  I’m not sure exactly how much!) goat cheese, crumbled

fresh grated Parmesan to top

fresh chopped parsley to top

Preheat oven to 350.  Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.  Place cut side down in baking pan with about a cup of water.  Bake in oven for 30-45 minutes or until tender.  Remove and let cool for a few minutes.  Use a fork to scrape squash from skin (should come out stringy, somewhat like spaghetti noodles, hence the name!).  Set aside.

Cook sausage in skillet, drain if necessary, remove from skillet and set aside.

Melt butter in same skillet, add garlic, and saute for one minute.  Add tomatoes and sausage and let simmer for several minutes.

Place spaghetti squash in a 9×13 glass baking dish or casserole dish.  Cover with the sauce, then top with feta cheese and grated Parmesan.  Bake for 15 minutes or so to melt cheese (though goat cheese will still be clumpy).  Remove from oven and top with fresh chopped parsley.  Enjoy!

It would have been perfect with a fresh tossed salad, but I realized to late that I didn’t have much for a salad beyond the greens.  So the salad will be added to the next meal instead!



Real Food Alternatives

It has been a little while with the craziness of the holidays and all.  Hope everyone had/is having a wonderful holiday season.  We got back from Marco Island, Florida a few a days ago.  We had an amazing time, enjoying time with Josh’s family, on the beach, and just generally relaxing!

Family on the Beach!

Family on the Beach!

Now it is back to reality, which means back to real food.  We have been trying to be extra careful about processed foods since we got back in order to do a (mini) post holiday/vacation detox.  We have been drinking lots of bone-broth based foods, eating lots of greens (hurray for winter CSA starting up!),  and just generally being aware of what we eat.  I have a feeling we will probably cheat a bit today being New Years Eve, but even then, I’m trying to come up with some healthier alternatives.

Josh has really been wanting a cheesy potato casserole dish so I went on a hunt for one that at least did not involve processed foods.  I would still consider it a once in a while dish, but we are going to try out this recipe tonight.  Some friends are bringing a ham over and we got some Stone House Bread from Meijer–pretty much the only bread I buy anymore.  It is expensive, but since I make the majority of our bread now, I don’t feel so bad spending a little more once in a while.

Josh also wants to make a homemade eggnog.  He made it recently for a holiday party and it turned out delicious!  He used this recipe from Alton Brown.  By the way, one of the things that I love about raw milk (besides the health benefits and the fact that Grace doesn’t get sick from it!) is that I always have cream on hand.  I usually never had it on hand before and would come across a recipe needing it and would have to pack up all the kids for a special trip to the store.  Now it is just there.  Also, a word about using raw eggs–I would really try to get local farm-fresh eggs from pastured chickens if you use them.  We always get our from our CSA farm.  It is the same idea as with the milk; what the animals eat and how they are treated (and in the case of milk, especially the milking process and the meticulousness of the farmers) makes all the difference in how safe it is to consume raw.

I also just wanted to mention with the cold weather, the kids have been enjoying hot chocolate lately.  But instead of the packaged stuff, I simply heat the milk in a pan with a little unsweetened cocoa powder and a touch of maple syrup.  They don’t know the difference and I feel much better about them drinking it regularly.

Hope everyone has a wonderful New Year–stay safe! 

Vegetarian Dinner Ideas

I currently have a request out on Facebook for more vegetarian dinner ideas, so I figured I would make a go-to list of some of our favorites, and hopefully some people will add their own.  We have tried to cut down on meat consumption for cost, health, and sustainability reasons.  Here are a few ideas/recipes that we have enjoyed.  Some we will add meat to sometimes, but it is nice that meat does not need to the feature and it could go either way.  All of these are pretty kid-friendly.

  • Falafels:  I have used this recipe several times and love it. Edited to add:  as I am making these, I realized I did not put that we don’t generally deep fry the falafels.  We coat them in a little extra bread crumbs and fry up on the griddle with a little oil. 
  • Veggie stir-fry:  Pretty easy in the summer, but even in the winter, it is doable with frozen veggies.  Costco has a big bag of stir-fry veggies for cheap that is actually pretty good (except for the mushrooms; those are nasty so pick them out before you cook and then add your own mushrooms, in my opinion!).
  • Black bean tostadas (or tacos, quesadillas, etc).  I usually put either dried pinto beans or black beans in the crock pot in the morning on high and they are ready by dinner as “refried” beans.  Here is an easy recipe for this.  Black bean tostadas are great topped with a fried egg!
  • Spinach lasagna
  • Lentil stew:  I made the recipe from Simply in Season recently and it was wonderful (as are most things in there I have tried!).  The recipe can be found here.  I added a few cubes of chicken stock (I freeze homemade stock in ice cube trays, then put in freezer bags for easy thawing and use) for flavor and doubled the tomatoes (using tomatoes I had canned over the summer).  I also added polish sausage, but this certainly is not necessary, which is why I still include it here.  Edit:  use more stock than water.  It has so many added nutrients and when it is homemade, you don’t have to worry about all the salt.  Also, pearl barley makes a great addition!
  • Vegetarian Chili
  • Black bean burgers (I have a great recipe from a friend that I have passed on to many.  I will ask permission to put it up here.)  These are especially great in the summer with fresh tomato slices on top!
  • Sweet potato-quinoa burgers:  love this at Marie Catrib’s and have replicated it pretty well at home before.  If just Googled it and played around with a few recipes.
  • Grilled cheese (with good bread and good cheese) with tomato soup

Those are just a few of the ideas we use.  I would love to hear yours!

I have made this meal a couple of times in the last month or so and I wanted to share it because it is just so easy.  I used this as a base with a few changes.  The beauty of this recipe is you can just use whatever you have.  Last time I thew some kale in; this time I baked it with mushrooms and had broccoli on the side.

3-4 (ish) pounds of bone-in chicken (I just use a whole chicken cut up), seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic

1.5 cups brown rice (I used brown bismati), rinsed

3/4 cup wild rice

1 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp ground pepper

a couple of handfuls of spinach, kale, or other green of your choice

1/2 lb chopped mushrooms

3.5 cups of chicken stock (we make our own, or just use something with lower sodium), or water

1/2 cup milk

shredded Swiss cheese to top (2 cups-ish)

Preheat oven to 375.  Grease a 9×13 casserole dish (I spray with olive oil).  Put in rinsed rice, then sprinkle thyme, onion powder, salt (if using water), and pepper on top.  Add greens and/or mushrooms on top of rice.  Stir in the chicken stock, then add seasoned chicken on top of rice.  Cover with foil and bake for an hour.  Uncover and bake for another 30ish minutes until the rice is done and water is absorbed.  Add the shredded cheese for the last 10 minutes or so.

I didn’t get a picture taken tonight.  Sorry!  I will try to add one in the future.  I just love how easy this one is and we always have good leftovers with it.  We actually have a lot of leftovers from tonight and I am thinking of just doing a chicken and rice soup with it.

I have several blog posts that are whirling around in my head that I have just not had time to do!  Hopefully soon!

The Cost of Real Food

Like many others, we are on a particularly tight budget right now.  When I first started looking into eating “healthier” (I say that because I realize more an more that many things that are supposedly healthier really are not), I knew the cost was probably going to be too much for us.  Organic milk and dairy products, produce, meats, and processed foods are certainly more expensive.  But the more productive and creative we are in the kitchen and the more we shift our focus to “real food” as opposed to just looking for an organic/whole grain/whatever label, the more it has become doable on our budget.

We buy almost all of our meats locally from farms that we are aware of the practices that they use.  We have been doing this with beef for quite awhile and more recently added pork and chicken (well, the pig is just about ready for slaughter).  Josh has spent a lot of time researching farms to find something we can afford without compromising quality or sustainability.  Chicken, by the way, is by far the hardest to do this for.  There just does not seem to be a way to raise a chicken for the same price as a commercial farm.  So we eat less chicken.

As far as the processed foods, this probably has had the biggest positive impact on our budget simply because we don’t replace it with anything.  Many processed foods are not cheap, especially not “healthier” processed foods.  For the most part, we do not buy cookies, chips, crackers, breads, or  baked goods, mixes, boxed rices, all that kind of stuff.  If we have that stuff, we make it from scratch, which generally means we don’t have it nearly as often!

Some areas, we simply have to pay more than we would if we wanted to get it on sale at the grocery store.  I could usually get a gallon of milk for $2 before.  We now pay $6 a gallon for raw milk (sometimes less as we can get more when there is a surplus, but for an average week, this is what we pay).  But we don’t have to buy specialty dairy-replacement items for Grace anymore (those are not cheap!).  Today, I was particularly struck with a “getting our money’s worth” moment.  I used a gallon of milk to make the following:

  • 5 small balls of fresh mozzarella (I’m guessing about $10 worth by itself)
  • 1.5 cups of butter
  • 2 cups of butter milk
  • More than a half gallon of whey (which you cannot get in the store and I use all the time for baking)

This all took about a half hour of hands-on time, less than 2 hours total, to make.  Factor in what that would cost to get those products from grass-fed pastured cows, I would say we got our $6 worth out of that gallon!

All from one gallon of milk!



An abundance of zucchini means some yummy baking!  I made blueberry zucchini bread as well as some muffins tonight.  I used this recipe as my base with a few modifications.  This was enough to make one loaf of bread and 12 regular-sized muffins.

Blueberry zucchini bread

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup total of melted butter, oil, and/or applesauce (see note)
  • 4 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar (lightly packed)
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 cups grated zucchini (lightly packed)
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups blueberries
  1. Preheat oven to 350; lightly grease a loaf pan and/or muffin tins
  2. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, butter/oil, vanilla, and sugars.  Fold in zucchini.  Beat in flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon.  Fold in blueberries.  Transfer to baking pans.
  3. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  The muffins took about 20 minutes, the loaf almost an hour.
  4. Let cool for a few minutes in pans, then transfer to wire cooling rack to cool completely.


*We do not use much vegetable oil or other processed oils any more.  For baking, we use mostly (real) butter or coconut oil.  For this recipe, I used about 3/4 cup of melted butter and 1/4 cup of coconut oil.  Normally, I would have replaced a bit of the oil with applesauce, but I didn’t have any on hand. If you would like more information about why we use these types of fats, here are some websites I have found helpful


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