Better than Bullion

I’ve shared my bone broth recipe with you, but today I’m going to share something even better–my recipe for gelatin.

Gelatin is a wonderfully useful substance.  It is loaded with nutrients, it takes up little space, and you can use it in almost any recipe.  You can reconstitute it with water, in the same way you would use bullion cubes.  You can use it in its concentrated forms, to make some wonderful sauces.

I make gelatin at least once every other week, using whatever bones are on sale.  If I happen to cook something with bones–generally a chicken, in this area, then I use those bones.

Here is my gelatin recipe:

1.  Start with a good amount of bones.  Two trays full, from the grocery store (or one whole animal, such as a chicken) will do it.  Place them in a stockpot (or pressure cooker) and cover with water.

2.  Add a fair amount of an acidic medium.  I use apple cider vinegar and lime juice.  You may also use lemon juice, or wine.  Add some salt.  Cover and let soak overnight.

3.  Cook over low heat, at least 12 hours.

4.  To make gelatin, boil down as much as possible.  Remove the bones, then chill the liquid.  It should solidify in a couple of hours.

What can you do with gelatin?  You can mix it with vinegar and spices to make a delicious sauce.  You can reconstitute it and use it to cook rice or other grains.

Or you can try my lovely gluten-free French onion soup:

1.  Fry up 4 sliced onions.  Use animal fat, or at least a vegetable fat that does not contain omega 6’s or trans fats.  I recommend bacon fat, butter, or coconut oil.

2. Add 2 chopped garlic cloves, 2 bay leaves, 2 tsp thyme, sea salt, and pepper.  Cook until onions are soft.

3.  Meanwhile, toast gluten free bread slices in the oven.

4.  Add 1 cup red wine.  Cook until wine evaporates.

5.  Add 3 heaping tablespoons gluten free flour, and 1 heaping tablespoon flaxmeal.  Cook for 5 minutes.

6.  Add two quarts water and 1 cup gelatin (I use pork).  Cook 10 minutes.

7.  Place in individual bowls, and top with toasted bread and shredded cheese (I use pepper jack).  Bake in oven, until cheese is melted.


French Onion Soup -

A Simple, Predictable Weekly Menu

As one of my friends pointed out in my last post, moving somewhere new can be mentally overwhelming.  Everything is unfamiliar, so there are no set routines.  And my poor brain has been exhausted!

So, this past weekend, I have focused on setting up some routines.  I’ve gotten back into the habit of doing my morning routine, which I have simplified (I think morning routines are constant evolving anyway, or at least they should be, based on your needs at the time).  I’m working on finding a good rhythm for evenings, and my small wardrobe makes choosing outfits to wear, easy.

But my biggest project, in setting up routines, was in menu planning.  I’m still following a modified version of the Perfect Health Diet, but I haven’t been doing so well with it.

Because if there was ever a diet that was mentally involved, this is it.

Deciding what to eat each evening, involves counting out servings, planning when to eat meat, and making sure we have enough safe starches on hand.  And if my lunches were not already made up, I would end up going without.

My solution?  Have one set breakfast and lunch for the week, and have two different dinners.  And do as much prep as possible, on Sunday.

For breakfast, I cut a bunch of bananas in half, coated them in almond butter, rolled them in ground flaxseed, dipped them in maple syrup-sweetened yogurt, rolled them in flaxseed again, sprinkled walnuts on them and froze them.  This gives me lots of omega 3’s (which will help with the stress of being in a new place) and starch (which will help me once I start riding my bicycle to work).  I enjoy my breakfast bananas along with some iced or hot coffee from Dan’s site, at Healthy Food Matters.

For lunch, I make a week’s worth of Bonanza Bowls, from CJ and Tammy’s blog, The Great Jollyhoombah.  I soak the brown rice first, and I add avocado and nori.  Beans are technically not allowed on the Perfect Health diet, but I had a bunch of cans of organic beans, so I’m using them up.  Once they are gone, I will find more veggies to throw in, in their place.  When I get sick of these, I’ll try Sandra’s Buddha Bowls, at Living Lagom–they are a variation on this theme.

For a heavenly dinner, it’s Courtney’s tacos, from Be More With Less.  Since we eat meat, I seasoned some grass-fed ground beef.  Instead of corn tortillas, I found some delightful gluten-free flour ones.  They fry up quite nicely.  I seriously could eat these everyday.

For our other dinner, it’s stir fried veggies over wild rice and millet.  But another great simple dinner option is Diane’s simple chicken casserole, from Simple Living and Eating.  Serve it with a starch, and you’re good to go.

How do you simplify your meal-planning?

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March’s Project: Fix the Food Budget

I have a confession to make. Two confessions, actually.

First, I haven’t been doing so great with eating well and losing weight. Second, I’ve been doing even worse with money.

I’ve realized that these two things are somewhat related. By far, the biggest drain on my finances is the food budget. There are a number of reasons, that I’m overeating AND overspending on food:

1. Stress eating. Things have been hectic over here, and I already knew that I’m the queen of stress eating. After a rough day, I go out and buy comfort food.

2. Sloppiness. This comes back to stress as well. When things are crazy, I don’t make it out for my weekly shopping trip. We have grocery stores in our town, but they tend to be much more expensive, because our town in a resort area. I don’t want to buy a week’s worth of groceries in our town, so I just grab what I need for each night. And impulse buy some snacks. Everyday.

3. Quick fixes. When things are hectic and I don’t plan ahead, and I don’t feel like spending time cooking something.  So, when I do my daily run to the over-priced grocery store, I tend to buy prepared or processed foods. 

So, what can we do about this?  I think it all comes back to planning.  Planning ahead takes some time, but, ultimately it will cut down on stress.  At this point in our lives, we need to prioritize saving money, over nearly everything else.   So here are my goals, for fixing our food budget:

1.  Shop once, every other week.  The less I’m in the store, the less I will spend.

2.  Keep meals simple.  Single-dish meals, without processed carbs and sugar, with one source of meat per week (for example, I’ll buy a pack of chicken legs, and that will be our only meat for the two weeks), will save us time and money, and be healthy.

3.  Saving money (temporarily) comes first.  I love buying organic food–it’s better for the environment, it’s healthier, it’s more ethical.  But, right now, we need to focus on fixing the budget.  The time will come, when we go back to eating organic. 

4.  Focus on other means of stress relief.  This is a tricky one, because eating works so well!  But, I’m focusing on making time for writing and exercising, continuing to declutter and simplify, and taking an omega-3 supplement (omega 3’s lower production of cortisol, the main stress hormone).

I had my first shopping trip on this plan, over the weekend.  So far, so good!  For two weeks, I spent $91.  My goal, is to stay under $75 a week, and so far we’re making it. 


Minimalism Success: Food

So how does one eat minimalistically?

Well, let’s take a look at the ideas behind minimalism. Minimalism:
–Seeks to avoid commericial products and large corporations
–Seek to operate in a sustainable fashion
–Focuses on keeping things simple and easy (requiring you to make fewer decisions), unless you deliberately want it to be a big deal
–Seeks to make the most out of limited resources (specifically, time and money)
–Seeks to live mindfully, avoiding multi-tasking

With that in mind, this is how we eat minimalistically:
–We cook from scratch whenever possible, and practical.
–We eat at home most nights.
–We buy organic, when feasible.
–We keep our meals very simple, most of the time. We will have the same thing for breakfast and lunch most of the time. Our dinners are also simple, often vegetarian, with the protein and vegetables all in one dish.
–When we choose, we do go fancy. We will buy Sushi and sit down and enjoy it. On Fridays, we buy the fried fish from the corner store and make a night of it. On Friday mornings, Rob and Beanie go out for breakfast together, and take the time to eat.
–We eat at the table, without doing anything else at the same time.

When you eat minimalistically, you not only enjoy your meals more, but you also eat less, because you are not multi-tasking (and because real food is much more flavorful!). Special occasions are all the more special, because you aren’t eating a feast everyday.

One Grocery Shopping Rule You Should Break

We’re trying to be frugal. There are things we want to buy for the boat and house, and we want to pay down the mortgage. We’re still living paycheck to paycheck, and something has to give.

We’ve restarted Fly Lady’s “fly sense” and we’re baby-stepping our way along.

The biggest money-saver has been grocery shopping. I did well with this in the past, as I made a meal plan, based on the way we ate on the boat last summer.

Now I’m throwing a wrench into it. I’m no longer making a list.

I’ve started planning my meals around “manager’s specials” at Kroger. I have some different recipe options in mind, as I walk through the store, and I plan for two meatless dinners. Breakfast is eggs, oatmeal, or French toast. Lunch is sandwiches. Shopping this way, we spend about $50 a week on food.

This is what we bought this week:

Two packs of beef patties $8
Organic chicken thighs $5
Bacon $3
Three bags of salad greens $3.60
Broccoli Slaw $1.30
Green pepper .50
Onion $1
Three loaves of bread $3
Bologna $3
Salami $3
Three packs of cheese slices $6
Two cartons of free range eggs $4
Apple slices $1.30
Crystal Light $2
Stir fry sauce $3.60

The verdict: $48.30! Granted, we had some food on hand, so it can be a bit more. But still, that’s quite low.

I’ll have to admit that we’re not being crunchy. But, right now, not being broke is the best thing for our health. I’m starting with the way we ate on the boat, then each week I’ll tweak it to make it healthier, without being more expensive. Next week I might buy a chicken instead of lunch meat, or maybe have Buddha Bowls some of the days.

What shopping rules do you break?

Cravings for Less-Than-Perfect Flavors

Sometimes we crave things that have complex flavors that aren’t exactly pleasant. “It’s an acquired taste,” we say.

The problem is that the foods with these “acquired tastes” generally aren’t things we should eat a lot of. They include beer, wine, martinis and other such mixed drinks, and coffee. Simply giving up these things won’t satisfy the need for complex flavors. But we have found that there are healthy foods that don’t taste entirely good:

1. Tea. Drink it iced or hot. It has a very earthy flavor, unlike anything else. Chamomile tea is also very good iced.

2. Seltzer water. We like it flavored but not sweetened. It seems to meet the same flavor needs as beer.

3. Kombucha. This has a very different flavor, but it meets the same need for taste as wine. We’ll put some in wine glasses and drink a toast when we want something fancy and bubbly, but we want to keep our wits about us.

4. Apple cider vinegar mixed with water and a bit of sweetener. This tangy taste bud teaser will taste great on a hot summer’s day!


Myths About Organic Food

As part of our resolution to eat less poison, we have switched to organic foods. My research on this has shown me that a lot of common beliefs about organic food are just wrong.

Here are a few of them:

1. Organic food is grown in poop. This is definitely false! According to The Organic Cook’s Bible, organic produce is grown in compost, which is a lot different from straight-up manure.

2. Organic food is prohibitively expensive. I think I have proven this to be untrue. Here is my grocery budget, with all organic food, for less that $100 a week for a family of three. Conventionally produced foods, especially those containing corn and soy, are heavily subsidized, so their prices are artificially low. So, yes, you will pay more for organic, but it is manageable.

3. Organic farming can not feed the world. No, unsustainable farming practices can not feed the world forever. Conventionally farming destroys the soil and pollutes the water. A recent study done by Iowa State University shows that conventional and organic farms produce similar yields. For more information, click here.

4. Conventionally produced food is just as healthy as organic. This is not true. Organic beef and eggs contain more beneficial omega-3’s. Studies have found that organic produce contains more antioxidants.

5. Pesticides are not a problem anymore. Yes, they are! Pesticides have been tied to cognitive impairments and other health problems in children. Click on the link in #3 for more information.

And the most common myth–organic food tastes the same as conventionally grown. I’ll let you be the judge of that: try some raw milk cheese, organic chicken, or sustainably grown lettuce and decide for yourself!

Sunday Supper: Alphabet Sandwiches

One of the perks of having a child in Head Start are the inexpensive, healthy recipes that come home in her bag. Most of these are Nubites from Nutrition Matters, Inc. I have yet to try one that hasn’t been absolutely delicious. Of course, I do end up modifying many of them to include more home made ingredients, eliminate white flour, and eliminate sugar (although the recipes are very low in white flour and sugar). This is a fun recipe that kids can help you make!

1. Start with whole wheat bread, or my basic pancakes.

2. Cut the bread or pancakes into the shapes of letters. Sometimes, Beanie likes to do numbers too. I have her tell me the letter or number, then I do the cutting.

3. Cover the letters with cheese slices. Any cheese will work, but I really like colby.

4. Cover with any pizza toppings you have on hand: onions, peppers, olives, etc.

5. Bake at 350 degrees until the cheese melts.

6. Enjoy eating the alphabet!

Sunday Supper: Lasagna

This is a wonderful, special dinner. You need to start out by making these noodles, nice and wide. Then, grease a cast iron pan. Layer noodles, cottage cheese, chopped vegetables, meat (optional), shredded cheese (I like colby), and tomato sauce. Repeat 3-4 times. Cook 30 minutes. Yummy!

Sunday Supper: Ham Roll-Ups

This is an easy hor d’oeuvre, snack, or part of a meal. They look impressive, tast great, and are low-sugar and high-protein.

First, buy a package of nitrate-free ham lunch meat, cream cheese, and 3 bunches of green onions. Leave the cream cheese at room temperature so it softens.

Lay out the ham. Blot it with a towel. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese on it. Place a stalk of green onion (you can cut it apart–you just need one stalk on each piece of ham) on it, along the edge. Roll up, like a jelly roll. Then cut into 1/4 inch slices.

Elegant and yummy!