Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Integrating Organics

Studies show that people are increasingly interested in an organic diet. It seems that people everywhere are waking up to the fact that what we put in or on our food is eventually going to end up in our bodies and may be potentially harmful!
Our family thought for years that it would be too much work or too expensive to eat organically and so we dismissed the thought pretty quickly. However, after witnessing several young men and women battle cancers such as colon cancer, Jason and I became concerned! We talked alot about the common factor of diet that people share. In the name of convenience, people are eating more and more processed or "fast foods" and more and more we are hearing reports of cancer and other diseases that used to only be a concern for those in their older years.
We decided we needed to make changes and that cost was not going to be the issue! But the question was, "where do we start?"
Real quick, I'll share with you the changes we made and what we found out about cost and convenience.
* Organic Meat - Initially I thought this would be an area I just could not switch over in. Organic meat, I thought, was outrageously priced. However, a friend recommended a meat market in Winder called "Bentleys" and after visiting there, purchasing meat and loving it's flavor and texture, we were surprised to find that we were not spending that much more. (I have written an earlier post on our first trip there that you can read for all of the details and pricing.) Yes, it was a trip to Winder that we weren't used to making, but we found it an enjoyable drive and we always enjoy the sweet people at Bentley's. Being able to purchase quality meat in a package made it much more affordable!
* Fruits & Vegetables - I knew that it would be difficult to find the produce I needed each week in all organic, so I decided to do the best I could at the time. I researched the subject and found a study that listed fruits and veggies in order (based on testing) from those with the highest levels of pesticides to the fewest and I chose to focus on those more heavily contaminated. Here are the top ten: Peaches, Apples, Sweet Bell Peppers, Celery, Nectarines, Strawberries, Lettuce, Grapes, Carrots, and Pears. (I made a list of the top 20 and carried them in my purse.)
I try to buy as much as I can organically, but if I can't, then I try to buy it fresh at a Farmer's Market or from a friend. Sometimes I can also find frozen organic fruits at places such as Costco and that is a big help for things such as smoothies or baking. Another blessing has been a local produce store that agreed to order organic produce for a group of us if we could purchase whole crates and split it amongst ourselves. So perhaps finding some friends and approaching a produce manager is an option you may consider. It never hurts to ask, right?
The best option is when Spring comes and we grow our own tomatoes and peppers and herbs and then freeze the leftovers for using the rest of the year!
*Dairy Products - The first time I purchased a gallon of organic milk and it was over $2.50 more than regular milk, I knew for sure I was crazy! Considering that my family consumes around 5-7 gallons a week, I just cringed at the check-out. However, it was not long before my husband found a better way! He met the dairy manager at our local Kroger who informed him that if the milk was within a few days of the "sale by date" then she would be happy to mark it as a clearance item for him if she was around. So he made it his duty to stop by frequently, check the milk for reduced prices, and stock up on it every time he could. We would simply store it in our deep freezer until we needed it. That helped ALOT and brought our milk back down to regular milk prices. If we were in a pinch, we would also occasionally purchase Mayfield milk, which is hormone and RbST free. This is how we buy ice cream as well. It is not organic, but it is free of some of the things we were concerned about.
As far as cheese and yogurt products, I have bought yogurt the same way as milk - when reduced or with coupons and I purchase my cheese products from Costco because they offer bulk cheese that is also free from hormone, antibiotics, or RbST, though not organic.
*Canned Foods, Cereals, etc... - For these items I purchase things on sale at Kroger or Ingles or I buy in bulk at Costco. Our family has been buying in bulk for years, but we were members of Sam's Club. There were some items I could buy organically there (spinach and carrots are two) but not a whole lot! However, a friend recommended Costco and while it is a drive to get there, I am usually in that area at least twice a month, so I just fit that in. The first time I went there I was overjoyed at the amount of organic items they carry and the price! If you are able to buy in bulk and want to eat organically, I highly encourage you to check it out!

While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of the changes we made, I hope that perhaps this will help someone else make the change to organic eating. It is healthier for your family, the environment, and the people who handle your food. Not to mention the great feeling you have when you sit down to a meal with those you love and you know that what you are eating is good for you. It really does make it worth all of the effort!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Homemade Sausage Gravy

Very rarely do I post a recipe on my blog. There are two simple reasons for this:
1. There are plenty of other recipe sites and I'd rather read and cook theirs instead of posting my own.
2. All the food in my house is usually eaten before I can take a picture and I'm too busy cooking to post recipes anyways!

However, I wanted to share this recipe because of the personal experience I have had with sausage gravy! You see, I have only been making my own sausage gravy for the last 2 years or so. Before then, I would have to visit Alabama to get it or I would have to be at my mother-in-laws house for breakfast. Both of these are rare occurrences, so learning to make my own was a better option!
What surprises me the most (even today) is that in all of the years that Jason and I have been married, he has raved about, dreamed of, and begged for sausage gravy, but I just knew it was too hard to make or that it was impossible for me to get it right!
However, that is the furthest thing from the truth! Sausage gravy is quick and easy and requires very little ingredients!
So, please, try to make it yourself and find out that you can please your whole family for so little money and with such little effort! Your life will NEVER be the same!
(Disclaimer: You may need to join a gym once you learn how to cook this!)

Sausage Gravy:

1 pound of ground pork breakfast sausage (or about 6-8 patties, chopped up after cooking)
2 Tb all-purpose flour
half and half (optional)
milk (I use whole milk)
salt & black pepper, as desired

Brown sausage in a skillet (best not to use non-stick as you will be using a whisk)until done. Remove from pan, but leave the drippings and return the pan to med-high heat on the stove. Sprinkle the flour all over the drippings and allow that to turn nice and brown, using a spatula to scrape around in the pan. When nice and brown, but not burned (about 1 minute or so) pour in about 1 cup of half and half. I never measure this, but just enough to cover the bottom of your pan. You can also just use milk here, but I like the creaminess the half and half gives it. Whisk this around as it begins to become thick and bubbly. As it thickens, pour in more milk, about the same amount as the half and half. Whisk it a bit and allow it to thicken up nicely. Add your sausage back in, a little salt, and a good bit of black pepper. I use freshly ground black pepper, but use what you have. Keep whisking or stirring it and when it gets good and thick you can add more milk, depending on the amount you are making or you can use what is in the pan on your biscuits. I have to make ALOT, so I just keep on repeating the milk process until I get the amount I need. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper as needed.

That's it! That is all you have to do to have delicious gravy that your whole family will brag about and request on their birthday breakfast!
One note: If you use organic sausage, it will have less fat and therefore, less grease. If you see the pan is looking dry as you are cooking the sausage, simply add in a few tablespoons of oil to the sausage as it cooks. I have done this a few times using olive oil and it turns out fine.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How Can This Be?

"How can this be???" That is the question that runs through my mind as I sit here planning my oldest son's 16th birthday party!
How has this happened so fast? Why didn't someone tell me that the years would go by so quickly? Oh wait, they did! I was just too busy parenting to realize that what they were saying was TRUE!
In all honesty, though, I am so thankful to be enjoying this time of life with my son. When my children were young, I used to think with dread of the teenage years, but now that they are here, I do find myself relishing in the conversations, the laughs, the "hanging out", the late night chats and bowls of ice cream and so forth! The teenage years are like any other stage of life - there are challenges, sure, but there are also opportunities to strengthen your relationship and grow to love your child more and more! How fun it is to hear their thoughts, to challenge their opinions, and to spend time looking at the world through the eyes of a young person!
So, as I continue on with the planning, I have purposed in my heart to savor this moment. I never want to go through life with my eyes looking backwards. Instead, I want to learn to fully live in each season I am in, yet excited about what the next season will hold as well!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Boys Will Be Boys

Sunday afternoons are supposed to be peaceful, right?
Well, apparently the boys in my house didn't get the memo! Just as Jason was leaving to head to church Sun evening and I was mixing up a wonderful, homemade lasagna to have ready upon his return, our son, Luke (8) was carried into the house by his brothers and friends and his wrist looked like it belonged on some alien being! It was obvious that at the least, it was broken, and who knew what the worst case scenario would be!
Thankfully, Jason wasn't far from home and made it back in about 5 minutes and Luke was in shock, I'm guessing, because he sat there, not crying, but looking pale and sweaty instead. Immediately Jason loaded him in the car and headed towards the hospital for treatment. Meanwhile, the rest of us (friends & brothers) joined hands and said a sweet prayer for Luke and then spent some time assuring our neighbor friend (who had thrown him around on the trampoline) that we knew it was a complete accident and we still loved him and he was still welcome at our house.
Now the ironic thing about this whole situation is that we are currently in the middle of a change of insurance and March is the only month in the last decade or so that we have not had insurance coverage...of course! So, as our minds settled down from the initial shock of the accident, they began to race again from the realization of what an injury like this may cost! Emergency room visit, Orthopedic Dr., X-ray costs, and on and on and on! "Great!", was my thoughts! However, thankfully my husband had a better thought and remembered that he knows an orthopedic doctor and immediately called him on the way to the ER.
This is where my flesh was once again confronted with the reality that "My God shall supply all my needs..." and God in His sovereignty humbled me for the millionth time. Not only did the doctor meet us at the ER, but he offered to treat Luke FOR FREE and was gracious enough to add (as I thanked him profusely), "I would have been upset had you not called me".
Why do I worry when God has already promised that He will take care of His children? Why do I allow my mind to race and be filled with "worse-case scenarios" when instead I could turn to Him, trust in His words, and allow Him to work on my behalf? You would think that after being a believer for nearly 15 years that I would have this weakness conquered by now! Hopefully the next time I find myself in a situation (opportunity) where I must look to God instead of self, it is my prayer that I would remember John 16:33, "These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." ~ Jesus