Food Pantry

We have an abundance of cucumbers this year. Last year, I had two plants that barely survived and didn’t have enough cucumbers to make pickles for the year or to eat every day. This year, cucumbers are everywhere! Charlie helped me plant them and we ended up with six plants. Knowing what I did from last year, I figured that we’d have enough with a few extras to give to others. Nope. Yesterday, after not picking for two days, I ended up bringing a bushel basket full of cucumbers home. This doesn’t include the ones I already had at home or the ones that I will have to pick tomorrow.

I’ve been trying to give them away. Although, apparently cucumbers are pretty expensive. At the grocery store yesterday, they were .50/cucumber. Anyway, I hate to see food go to waste so I took orders from my friends and family, but that didn’t even make a dent or take into consideration what I’d be getting again in a few days. So, we decided to take the entire basket to our local food pantry after confirming that they would take fresh produce.

It was my first time in the food pantry and I’m ashamed that it’s taken me that long. I always donate through the grocery store, but have never physically step foot there. The volunteers working were incredibly gracious for the donation of fresh produce and were unbelievably pleasant with my children. I even met the father of one of Steve’s high school friends. You have to love small town life!

The experience was a pretty powerful one for me. Even though we were only there for about ten minutes, I could see what it might be like for a family to have to rely on the pantry for their groceries and the minimal selection that is present. I will definitely be taking my extra veggies there again so these families have some fresh produce to choose from. I will also make sure that I’m purchasing/donating more healthier food options when I donate from other places. Volunteering there would be an amazing experience I think for the boys and I, but I need to look into if they can come with. Otherwise, it will have to wait until they are older, as the pantry is only open for a few hours during the day.


Breakfast Love

Pancakes on the griddle, the stickiness of maple syrup on the boys and the table, the smell of bacon hanging in the air is a pretty typical thing for our house on weekend mornings and many weeknights during a month as well.

The boys love everything about pancakes and the fluffier, the better. I feel very lucky that my boys are happy with just plain pancakes, nothing fancy is necessary. Sometimes, we’ll break out our zoo animal mold. Butter, real maple syrup, fresh fruit are always available for toppings, but many times, the boys just eat them plain. We’ve started using pancakes as bread for sandwiches and placing bacon, cream cheese & fruit or jam in the middle. Pancakes are a great snack to just have in the fridge as the boys will pull them out and eat them cold with nothing as well.

However, my boys love pancakes so much that I was pretty sure that buying Bisquick would break my budget in the future. And, then there’s that whole thing of not liking to buy boxed goods and the pancakes just never taste fantastic. A little over a year ago, I had found this Fluffy Pancake Recipe from It’s become a staple in our house. In a few extra minutes, we can have fluffy, delicious, homemade pancakes without all the junk in them.

The recipe is always doubled in my house. Always. There is no way around it. The boys will generally eat 3-4 adult size pancakes on their own. And I’ll remind you that they are three and five. As teenagers, I’m going to have to multiply my recipe by five! I always tell my husband it’s a good thing that I’d rather have an egg since there are never pancakes left for me.

Last night for dinner, the boys requested breakfast. It’s so easy and inexpensive and I know they’ll eat well then. I had finished up the last of the all-purpose white flour in my cabinet last week and was nervous about making the pancakes with whole wheat flour for the first time. I thought for sure the boys wouldn’t eat them and think they were gross. As I was flipping pancakes though, I remembered that they polished off a loaf of 12 grain bread last week on their own and loved it. With a stack of pancakes and a small amount of syrup on the side of the plates, I called the boys to dinner. I was already contemplating what I could whip up next if they refused to eat. I’m not sure what I was worried about! They devoured the batch of pancakes that I had made for them, told me they were delicious and never made a mention that they didn’t taste like normal. Phew! I’m sold on the wheat flour and introducing it to more foods for the boys. Next step….get a waffle iron.

It Smells Like Love

Yesterday, our house was filled with the overwhelming, amazing smell of baking apples, cinnamon and brown sugar. It wafted throughout our house and into our backyard. It was a reminder with the rainy weather that fall will soon be here.

Steve and I are pretty lucky, okay, extremely lucky, that we have family, friends,and neighbors who care about us. We received a call on Saturday morning that Steve’s dad’s neighbor, Don, had an early variety of apples for us. We stopped out there later that day and were handed a full bushel of tiny, tart, green apples. Don also let us know that we had another bushel if we wanted it. We decided one bushel should be plenty as Don had stated that these early variety apples were basically only good for applesauce.

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Being that I’ve never made my own applesauce, but love my grandma’s homemade applesauce, I figured I’d call her to see what she did. Yes, I have tons of applesauce recipes in a gazillion cookbooks that litter my house. However, my grandma makes a great applesauce, so why wouldn’t I use a recipe I already know that we all love?

Grandma and Don both suggested to me to just quarter the apples and cook them like that. Being that the apples were so tiny, it would have taken forever to peel, core & cut the apples. Don suggested baking the apples and my grandma suggested throwing them in a pot with just a little water. So, I decided that I’d do it both ways and see which way I preferred. If I had been smart, I would have thrown some in the crockpot to cook as well.I did set up my apple peeler, but it just broke my apples. Sad.

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I have to say, Don’s baking strategy was better for me. My house smelled amazing, clean up was easy, and the apples were much easier to push through the strainer. Now, to Grandma’s credit, I think I put too much water in my pot with the apples and didn’t let them cook long enough. These were a bit harder to push through the strainer and after the batch of those I was ready to never make applesauce again. Luckily, Don’s baked apples just fell through the strainer.

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Baked apples waiting to be put in the oven and canning jars being sterlized

After baking the apples and pushing them through the strainer, you have applesauce. Unsweetened, natural applesauce. It’s not a lot of work on your part, just time consuming as it really is quite a lengthy process to bake the apples so they fall through the strainer (about 40 minutes or so). I would have left my applesauce like this, but because of the tartness of the apples, I knew that the boys would never eat such a tart sauce on it’s own. Don suggested throwing the candy cinnamon red hots into the sauce to turn it a pink color and flavor it before freezing. Steve thought this was an ingenious idea. I thought it was disgusting. I didn’t want to wreck my natural applesauce by putting a processed candy in it. Grandma always flavors her with cinnamon and a bit of brown sugar. Since I adore Grandma’s sauce, that’s the way I went. Lots of cinnamon, a little bit of lemon juice, and about a quarter cup of brown sugar for five quarts of applesauce. I know, I know. I should have used agave nectar or maple syrup. But to be honest, with it being the first applesauce, I wanted to make it right once before messing with it. And, the little bit of sugar I used won’t hurt any of us.

My strainer set up

My strainer set up

After mixing my spices in, I ladled the warm, deliciousness into my quart-size canning jars. I processed them in a boiling hot water bath for about 30 minutes. Longer than I needed to, but I’m pretty sure I have air in a few of the jars and was hoping to kill the bacteria. We’ll see.

I did two batches of applesauce due to the constraints of size of bowls, room in the canning bath, and my oven space. I ended up with nine quarts of applesauce and one pint that I threw in the refrigerator.

During this whole process, okay at least the cutting and baking part, Steve had taken the boys to run an errand for us (actually to pick up a new ceiling fan for our bedroom since ours died and you’ll understand the importance of this if you read this post). When the boys returned, my second batch of apples were still baking and Charlie walked into the kitchen and told me that the whole house “smelled like love.” Nothing makes me smile more than when the boys appreciate the work I put into making their food and are genuine about it.

9 jars of delicious

9 jars of delicious

Garden Fresh

A whole lot of deliciousness came out of my garden yesterday. Apparently, this heat wave we’ve been having is helping to make an amazing harvest. Yes, that is an entire bushel basket of a variety of lettuce. I never thought I’d be tired of seeing it. It’s been this way for a month now. At least it’s forcing me to eat a salad every day.


This is the rest of my garden harvest from yesterday. Just a zucchini, some broccoli, cabbage, a few carrots, a pile of beans, parsley, basil, a purple kohlrabi, and a few cucumbers. Yum! Charlie has decided that he likes to try stuff right out of the garden and has decided his new favorite snack is cucumbers and carrots.


Now, I had to figured out what I was going to do with really my first real harvest of the season. We had taken steaks out for dinner so I decided that Pinterest was going to help me out on the rest. I had to take into consideration that I already had in the fridge: zucchini, cabbage, lettuce, beans, broccoli, and basil.

What we ended up with for dinner:

  • Grilled Rib Steaks (from the local fair cow we purchase every August)
  • Parmesan Green Beans (sauteed in Smoky Bacon Oil from Wildtree, with Garlic Galore seasonsing from Wildtree and fresh grated Parmesan Cheese)
  • Buttered Zucchini Noodles (I used a vegetable peeler on my zucchini to make the noodles, sauteed them in evoo for a few minutes and then added butter, a little lemon juice and small garlic)
  • Grilled Cabbage
  • Sauteed Mushrooms
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Peaches with vanilla ice cream for dessert

So delicious! The only thing missing was some homemade, grilled artisan bread. But, I totally spaced that I didn’t have any left. Grilled bread is one of our favorite sides ever. Next step is figuring out the next few days to make sure we use everything up or I need to start canning and freezing.

New Addictions

Imagine being at home and desperately wanting something to eat that you don’t have. Do you

  • A – Get up and head to the store for that one item immediately
  • B – Head to the store the following day or next time you run errands for the item
  • C – Make it from scratch
  • D – Forget about it?

I used to be one who would wait until going to the store the next time and if I still had that craving, I’d pick up whatever I had wanted previously. Lately, that’s changed. I just make it from scratch. Like the mayo I needed for tuna salad (normally not a fan, but had a weird craving last week for tuna). I broke out my Homemade Snacks and Staples book and found the mayo recipe. I had all the ingredients on hand: egg yolks, canola oil, water, dijon mustard. I whisked my egg yolks, water and mustard together. Ever so slowly, I whisked in my canola oil and marveled at the texture and smell of the mayo as I was whisking. Then, with my oil dissolved into the mixture, I tasted it. I fell in love. I will NEVER buy store bought mayo again. Not a chance. Five minutes to prepare one of the most delicious foods I’ve ever tasted. If it didn’t gross my husband out, I’d eat it by the spoonful and on everything else I eat as well.

Also, I may be more than a little concerned that it’s really only a few ingredients and that I’m supposed to eat it within a week and yet the stuff that sits on the shelves at the store lasts for months. Eww. Just eww. How many preservatives and other food additives are in it to keep it shelf stable that long when it’s egg yolks?

Please, I beg of you. Put away the Hellman’s. Throw it out. Try this. Just try it. Once. That’s all I’m asking.

On a side note: the basil jelly that I made the other week is absolutely wonderful over cream cheese on a piece of toast. This might be my new favorite jelly. Who would have thought that I would fall in love with both new food choices?

Homemade, Whole Foods, and Paleo

This summer has been the summer of learning for me. I’ve delved into cookbooks and non-fiction books about foods, whole foods, and paleo. If you’ve read any of my past posts, you’ll know that I swear by the Homemade Pantry, Taste of Home Farm Fresh Favorites, Homemade Snacks and Staples (blog: Badger Girl Learns to Cook) and Weelicious (blog: Weelicious). I’ve picked up more cookbooks and books from the library than I had realized until I was looking at my past month’s history.

Here are a list of the books that I’ve read relating to healthy eating this summer:

The basic premise of the majority of these books has been to eat clean. Keep your sugar intake to a minimum, use natural sweetners and whole wheat flours. Incorporate more vegetables and fruit into your diet. Basically, everything gets made from scratch. If you need to purchase something from a middle aisle in the grocery store, read your labels. Carefully. If you can’t pronounce a word in the ingredient list, it’s time to put the product down. If the list is longer than five ingredients, put the product down.

I’ve been a different grocery shopper. My carts have been stocked with fresh produce, full fat dairy products, and fish. I never purchase chicken or beef at the grocery store. We wait until fair time in Wisconsin (end of July/beginning of August) and purchase a cow from one of the butcher shops. The majority of the time, around our area, they are grass-fed animals. If not, at least I know they are local and that they are treated fairly. As for chickens, my uncle raised chickens this year and just butchered them. Again, grass/grain fed animals, treated humanely and I know where they are coming from. I have not dived into purchasing only organic fruits and vegetables though. I live in a small town. Our organic section is about three feet by three feet and that has ALL the organic produce in it. I ‘shop’ in my garden and from the local farmer’s markets more often than not for vegetables.

Dairy is a trouble spot for me. Diets all say to purchase low-fat dairy, not fat-free because of the added sugars, and never to eat full-fat dairy. However, when you start researching using whole foods to feed your family, you immediately notice, that every dairy product is full-fat or made from tofu or almonds. Our house is full-fat because Steve used to be a dairy farmer. We would have nothing less than the real thing before. When I’d diet, I’d buy some low-fat things for me, but none of the boys chose to eat this. If we hadn’t been a full-fat household already, we would be now. The amount of processing and other ingredients added to your dairy products to make them low-fat or fat-free is not acceptable for my family.

Now, please don’t think I’m 100% organic and wonderful. Do I buy the occasional loaf of bread? You bet – but I try to make sure I have baked enough for the week over the weekend. Do I occasionally purchase graham crackers or chips? Yep. I have a husband and a few little boys who adore potato chips. While I have started making my own, they aren’t sold on them yet. When they see a bag of potato chips (maybe once a month), they all get very excited. I would say that 95% of the food in our house is a whole food, good for you, food. A dessert once a week with refined sugar is not going to kill my family. A dessert riddled with refined sugar eaten daily – that’s another story.

I try to take into perspective. We make great choices at home. Next school year, Charlie and I will be packing our lunches together and keeping it healthy. Do we make the best choices when we eat out? No. Sometimes, you need to splurge on those not so great for you foods to understand that your body doesn’t care for them and neither does your wallet.

Whole foods and cooking from scratch will continue to run rampant in my house. Paleo will never exist here. My family adores grains and beans and the thought of eating sauerkraut for breakfast makes my stomach turn.


Food Adventures

One of my goals this summer was to be adventurous with my food and try to get my family to try some different things and expand their palates bit. I’m very proud of Charlie as he is probably making the most progress in eating new foods.

This past week, I made homemade basil jelly and canned quite a bit. I had cut the recipe in half and still ended up with more than I cared for. But, it’s one of my adventurous foods, so I’m just going to have to figure out a way to use it all up. This week, Charlie and I shared a steamed artichoke dipped in lemon butter. Super delicious!

Our fridge this week is stocked with ricotta cheese, avocados, nectarines, peaches and ginger. The cupboards have quinoa, flax seeds, and wild rice. I’m pretty sure that if I can’t find a recipe that I’ll like with any of those things, I can definitely throw something together.

Charlie and Adam are both excited about the flax and sunflower seeds that I had gotten at the Amish store over the weekend and are a bit irritated that I haven’t let them snack on them yet. Flax seeds will be new for them, but they adore sunflower seeds and peanuts (especially, shelling them!). I think they’ll adore the flax seeds.

Coming up yet this week, I will be canning radishes with some ginger and other goodies. Maybe then I’ll find them tolerable.