Stir Fry Kind of Day

Today was a good frugal food day at the Balentine Cove household. MrBalentine usually doesn’t eat breakfast, but I had scrambled eggs (from a local roadside farm stand) and vegetarian sausage.

For lunch I had leftover black eyed peas with two small slices of homemade bread. MrBalentine took a PB&J sandwich and a banana. I had a couple of granola bars in the mid-afternoon for a snack. I didn’t make the granola bars, but I’m hoping to start making some soon.

Dinner was the highlight of the day. We had stir fry using a couple of things from our own little garden. From the garden we used cherry tomatoes and zucchini. MrBalentine is really good at chopping so he cut up peppers, onion, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower. I added garlic and olive oil to the skillet to go with the rest of the veggies. I prepared a mix of wild rice and quinoa. It’s been sitting in the pantry just waiting for a day like today. It didn’t disappoint! MrBalentine had a fresh from our garden cucumber to finish his meal. So far, so good with our budget challenge.

MrBalentine cuts up the veggies. He does such a good job!
MrBalentine cuts up the veggies. He does such a good job!
The finished product.
The finished product.
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Straw Bale Gardens

I have tried a variety of gardening methods over the years. My soil is full of rocks and clay dirt. I’ve never actually tilled the land to make a garden. It’s just more effective for me to do other methods. In the past I’ve used square-foot gardening, and last year I did container gardening. They both were relatively successful, but I wanted to spend less money on soil.

Square-foot gardening is very fun to do, but you have to have a lot of soil to fill the box. If you aren’t familiar with this method, you build a 4’x4′ square box out of wood, and create a grid making 16 squares in which you garden from. You can add trellises to the structure to control your vining plants. If you’d like to learn more about this method, you should check out Mel Bartholomew’s book here.

For my container gardening, I used 5-gallon food grade buckets. They required a lot of soil as well, so this year I discovered straw bale gardening, and I love it!

In straw bale gardening you get straw bales not hay bales. Hay bales can contain grass seeds, which would cause you trouble when trying to grow plants in your bale. You can get as few or as many bales as you want. This year I started with four bales lined end-to-end. You go thru a 12 days process at the beginning of spring by fertilizing the bales and watering them. As the fertilizer starts doing it’s job the internal temperature of the straw bales rise, causing some decomposition. If you notice mushrooms growing in the bale, that’s not a bad thing. It’s actually a great sign that you’re getting the proper decomposition of the straw. After 12 days, you can lay a soaker hose along the length of the bales, then you put a solid layer of potting mix that is about 3″ in thickness. Then you can plant your seeds or your seedlings. I bought a hose timer, so that my bales will be watered at 6am and 6pm. It has a rain delay feature on it. You can see the hose timer I bought here. We put fertilizer on it every few weeks. Some of the things we’re growing this year are: zucchini, butternut squash, cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, collard greens, and bell peppers. We’ve had some of the crops flourish, while a few have never picked up any steam.

To start the garden wasn’t especially cheap this year, but some of the items we bought this year will be good for the future. I have seeds left over that I will be storing in the fridge in a Mason jar. The hose, timer, and tomato cage are of course reusable. The only things I’ll have to buy next year are the straw bales (they have decomposed far too much to be used next year), potting mix, and fertilizer.

Also there is Joel Karstan’s book on Straw Bale Gardening, which can be found here.

Here are some pictures of the garden when it was first starting out. I’ll soon post some pictures of how it looks now, and some of our veggies.

Garden Set 2-1

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A New Day

In my efforts to live a more self-sufficient life I’ve got to face some cold, hard facts. The biggest fact is that the food budget for MrBalentine and I is totally out of control. We’ve been using the YNAB software for several months now, and taking a look at what we’ve been spending is sobering. It’s hard to admit, but we’ve been spending close to $700 a month in groceries and eating meals out. It’s counterintuitive to have budgeting software, yet not consciously setting ourselves an actual budget. Today it all changes.

I’m going to use this platform to keep us accountable, and just like any other habit it may be hard at first. I’m dedicated to lowering our expenses overall, but the food budget is the fist big step. For this first month we have set a budget of $350, with no more than one dining experience during that month. This will not only help our budget, but our waistlines. I can make much more progress with my weight loss if I’m controlling what foods and ingredients are going into my body.

We started the day with an expensive trip to the doctor. This doctor is no longer a participating member of my insurance provider, but I can file my own claim form to send in. We went out to eat breakfast, but that is when our real conversation about a food budget began. We realized we’ve been doing this for too long, and that this is where we stop. Our focus now is eating all meals that are made at home. So tonight’s dinner will be black eyed peas cooked in the homemade vegetable broth in the pressure cooker, and a slice of homemade bread.

Beans

42 Pounds Down

Starting mid-January I started Weight Watchers online. I’ve been using the app on my iPhone and occasionally use the website. There have been a few nice changes on the recent app update. My favorite thing is the Recipe Builder feature. Here you can add individual ingredients to any recipe you’re making. A key factor is putting in the serving size on the recipe. It will accurately give you the points per serving of whatever you are cooking. I’ve been using this for my bread, but also I’ve made quiet a few different recipes.

I’m proud to say that I’ve been making steady progress on my weight loss, even though I’ve been sidelined from physical activity by plantar fasciitis in my left foot that required surgery in June. As of this morning I’ve lost 42 pounds. It’s not been too difficult, because I know my limits each day. Almost every restaurant we eat at is either in the restaurant category on the Weight Watcher’s app or I can find the foods I’ve eaten in a generic food search.

I still have a long way to go, but I’m pretty excited about my current progress. I have no intentions of stopping, and I’m hoping as soon as my foot will allow that I can start doing some yoga and walking in my neighborhood.

Bread

Man Bread

This is a new bread recipe I tried yesterday. It made a huge football sized loaf that cut up into quiet a few sandwich slices. I was very pleased with how easy it was, and how quickly it made up. I am in love with my Kitchenaid stand mixer. With the dough hook, I didn’t have to do really any kneading. The dough was worked for 10 minutes with the hook, and then allowed to rise for 30 minutes. I then turned the dough ball out onto a piece of parchment paper. I kneaded it a couple times and shaped it into a loaf. Then I let it rise for another 30 minutes. Part of the way thru the second rise, I preheated the oven to 400 with a pizza stone in the oven. I transferred the dough onto the pizza stone by using the parchment paper to transfer it. After 25 minutes in the oven it was all ready. Boy did it ever smell divine. I couldn’t help but sample a small piece. It was just as yummy as it looked.

Making Broth

This is my first attempt at making my own homemade vegetable broth. MrBalentine and I are vegetarians and have been for about 3 years. I’ve been reading online about how to make your own so I decided to try my hand at it.

Homemade vegetable broth
Homemade vegetable broth

I’ve been collecting vegetable scraps in a bag in the freezer for a couple of months. Once I had a bag full of awesome veggie scraps, I decided it was time to try to make my own broth. We use vegetable broth a lot in our beans, soups, and a variety of other dishes.

I put all the frozen veggie scraps in the crockpot and filled it with water, salt, pepper, and a couple bay leaves. Mostly my scraps were onion ends, pieces of carrots, the ends of squash and zucchini. I set the timer for 8 hours, and walked away. After it finished heating up I decided to let it cool down some.

The result was three full quart size Mason jars full of rich-looking vegetable broth. I filled each one with about an inch of headspace to allow for expansion. I put two of the jars in the freezer for later use, and stuck one in the fridge to be used sometime this week. After I try it out I’ll give an update.

All about Joey

Joey1

Joey is our spoiled baby. He is 11 years old, and is a blond American cocker spaniel. MrBalentine got him for me as a surprise when I was in graduate school. I clearly remember the day MrBalentine brought him home. I was napping on the couch after an afternoon of studying. I heard him come in, and I couldn’t tell what he was holding because I didn’t have my glasses on. Once I saw that little bundle of fur, I was immediately in love. He’s been with us for pretty much his entire life. He’s a constant source of joy for me, and sometimes a source of frustration. I wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s a lovable dog, but fiercely independent. He’s definitely not a lap dog. In his older age he sleeps a lot, but to get him to perk up, you can start eating some food. I’ll be featuring him more on future posts.

 

joey

All About Denver

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Denver is our baby here at home. You’d never know he was the baby though, at 105 pounds. MrBalentine and I found him in a field along with another dog near our home one afternoon. It was the winter of 2013. Someone had dumped him and a female dog off near our home. We noticed them sitting there in the cold with not a soul around. MrBalentine turned around and stopped to see if he could help them. They were hesitant at first, but with a little incentive of food, Denver came up to us. We dubbed them Denver and Lucy. The temperatures were supposed to get well below freezing, and we were worried for their safety. We contacted the closest animal rescue we had volunteered with before. It turned out that they didn’t have room for two large dogs in their facility, so we brought Denver and Lucy home. We already had a very possessive dog that lives inside, so we decided that we would put them in the garage with a thick layer of blankets and old carpet padding to help insulate them from the cold. We slowly started trying to find homes for these deserving dogs, who where super well behaved. We took them to an adoption event in town, and a family took to Lucy right away.

We hated to break up the pair, but MrBalentine had already fallen in love with Denver, and he became a “foster failure”. Lucy was quickly adopted by a wonderful family in town, and Denver was adopted by us. He’s been a happy member of our family ever since. He is an outside dog, and has free roam of our fenced in back yard. He loves to give kisses, and he has a very happy attitude. He has definitely worked his way into our hearts, and I can’t imagine life without him. The funniest things he does is howl when there are sirens going off nearby. We live close to a volunteer fire department, an every time the sirens start up, Denver howls right along with the sirens.

Denver has turned into the best spur of the moment decision we have ever made. He’s a pure joy to own. He is a undetermined mix, but we’re pretty sure he has a lot of German shepherd in him.

Denver1

My beginning of the journey to self-sufficiency.

I’ve been wanting for a while now to write about my efforts to become self sufficient. I’ve been dreaming of becoming a domestic diva for longer than I can remember. This blog will be showing my slow, but steady journey to my goal. I became a stay-at-home wife in 2012 for good after dealing with several health conditions. I’m improving daily on my health, but my focus is now on taking care of our home. I invite you to join me on this journey, and add your thoughts and feelings. I’ll will be writing more a little later today.

The Eating Out Challenge

The biggest obstacle for MrBalentine and I becoming self sufficient is probably our bad habit of eating out. It occurs several times a week. My goal is to figure out a way to get this under control. Usually our eating out is simply convenience. The process of cooking all our meals at home in of the utmost importance. I will keep updating as I make efforts to cook as many meals from home as possible.