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I’d like to think that I’m the opposite of a snob.

I’m not ashamed to only own one pair of jeans- my “going out” pants. The rest of the time you can find me in comfy stuff.

I have no idea what is in style.

My favorite shoes are my duct taped camouflage Muck boots that I’ve owned for years.

I drive an old truck that is alllllways dirty.

You will see my hair done up usually in one of two ways because, let’s be honest, I’m not out there winning any fashion shows.

Or hearts (I’ve already got the ones that matter).

I turn up my nose at modern interiors, high heels, and girly drinks (unless, of course, the beer runs out).

But when it comes to our food, I cannot deny.

I’ve been known to be, at times, a bit of a snob.

Yet, not in the Mean Girls snob sort of way.

My convictions in the kitchen have ebbed and flowed through the years, and I’ve finally found myself settling into what feels right for my family.

And today, I’d like to share those with you.

I’d also like to help you in your journey in deciding on your own food-related convictions, because we all have them whether we realize it or not.

 

What is a conviction?

You’ve probably heard the term “conviction” before. Perhaps you’ve heard it on your favorite law & order-type show when criminals get convicted of crimes.

You’ve also likely heard of religious convictions. Our belief system that we hold close and that we stand up for.

Whether we realize it or not, we all have convictions in many areas of our life.

Including what we eat.

It may be your conviction that you don’t care about where your food comes from, as long as it’s cheap.

It may be your conviction that we are all going to die anyways, so bring on the Diet Coke.

It may be that you will only buy grass-fed, or organic, or non-GMO.

But one thing is for certain: when it comes to food, there’s a multitude of options, information, studies, and opinions out there.

It can be difficult to navigate what’s truth, what’s not, and ultimately where we draw the line in our own life with regard to what we overlook and what we can’t.

My deal breakers.

For me, there are a few things that I absolutely will not bend on:

Raw or grassfed/organic milk.

We are absolutely blessed to be able to purchase raw milk from our one and only local dairy. To be honest, raw milk isn’t even technically legal in Minnesota. But this local dairy farm who has served our county for over 100 years has been fighting the system while providing this amazing product to people like us. And we will definitely support them as long as we can.

When we first switched over to raw milk several years ago now, the change was difficult. I remember thinking that raw milk literally tasted like cow. But now, it is the most delicious stuff on the planet, and if I have the unfortunate experience of tasting store-bought milk , it tastes like aluminum. The only exception I will make for raw milk- in the event that they are sold out for the day at the farm- is I will buy organic grassfed milk from our local co-op. And as good as that second option is, the kids immediately taste the difference and will moan and groan about the terrible “store milk”.

So why raw/organic/grassfed only? There are several reasons, beyond the benefits of drinking raw milk. Conventional milk cows are often subjected to hormone injections to increase milk production (hormones that are illegal in dozens of countries due to evidence that they may lead to an increase in IGF-1, a cancer causing hormone), which then lead to more frequent cases of mastitis, which then leads to treatment with antibiotics. We are then, in turn, exposed to these hormones and antibiotic residue in the milk we drink. Which, in itself, lends to our increase in antibiotic resistance. Not only that, but conventional milk cows are also fed a diet consisting of crops that have been exposed to herbicides & pesticides, which are then transmitted into the milk that they produce.

There’s just too many reasons not to drink conventional milk, and they are enough for me. Therefore, they are one of my personal food convictions.

Organic cane sugar & flour.

I ditched white sugar and bleached flour long ago.

Let’s start with sugar. Now, to be honest- sugar is sugar, and nutritionally, it just plain isn’t good for you and should be used in moderation.[This, by the way, is where you might part ways with me on this conviction- you might decide that you don’t want to use any sugar at all in your home, and that is just fine. Own that. But for me and my family…we will consume sugar in moderation].

But if you must use it (and I get it, I like me some sugar too), then you need to decide which form you are going to settle for. Conventional white sugar or table sugar goes through an extra refining process and is grown using conventional farming methods which include the use of herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, etc.

Raw organic evaporated cane juice or sugar is still sugar- it still undergoes some refinement, less than that of white sugar, but is not exposed to the levels of chemical treatment that you find in conventional sugar. I use both this type of sugar, as well as turbinado sugar in my baking. And of course I opt for natural sweeteners like maple syrup and honey. Once again, moderation.

The use of organic flours in my home is another of my personal food convictions. Conventional wheat is treated with herbicides that feature glyphosate, the deadly ingredient at the heart of the $289 million dollar Monsanto lawsuit. Residues of these herbicides & pesticides (15+ different ones in fact) then show up in the flour that is milled from these crops.

In addition, conventional bleached flour has undergone a chemical bleaching process to expedite whitening in flour that otherwise occurs naturally (albeit slowly) This bleaching process strips the flour of the majority of its nutrients, and produces a byproduct that is known to produce diabetes in lab rats.

Chocolate.

As much as I love me some chocolate chip cookies, I must admit- paying the high price of organic, fair trade chocolate can sting a bit.

But I do it.

There’s more than one reason to buy fair trade chocolate, including supporting sustainable farming practices which benefit the environment. But for me, the change came when I learned of the child labor, slavery, and trafficking involved in the chocolate industry. The majority of our cocoa beans come from Ivory Coast and Ghana in West Africa, where children are bought, sold, and trafficked (often by their own family members), but also voluntarily go to work on cocoa farms at a very young age. Just a little bit of research will reveal the horror behind cocoa farming and be enough to scar you for life. The BBC documentary “Chocolate the Bitter Truth” which can be found in parts 1-5 starting here delves into this topic, and explains why buying Fair Trade is the only way you can even get close to (and this still is not foolproof) consuming chocolate that was not harvested by the hands of trafficked and enslaved children.

Potatoes & apples.

You are likely familiar with the dirty dozen– a list of produce with the highest pesticide load (as well as the clean fifteen– those with the lowest). Apples and potatoes have long been prominent members of that dirty dozen list. Conventional potatoes “have more pesticide residue by weight than any other crop”, and almost all conventional apples were found to contain “diphenylamine, a pesticide banned in Europe” and has notoriously been at the top of the dirty dozen list for years. Other chart toppers? Strawberries, spinach, grapes, tomatoes, peppers, and more.

What this means for us is we typically only eat apples seasonally- when we get loads of them during apple harvest time, and in the couple months that follow when they are priced affordably at the co-op. But when they are $10/pound out of season, we go to our canned apples and applesauce until the season comes back around.

This is also why we grew 600 pounds of our own potatoes this year. They store for many months in our crawl space, and when they are too long gone, we have our canned potatoes to get us through for the short couple of months before the garden is giving them up once again.

Meat, especially chicken and pork.

We raise and harvest all of our own meat- with the exception of treating ourselves to the occasional organic grass-fed ribeye steak once a year, as well as grassfed beef, mainly when our venison runs out.

But it has been years since we’ve purchased chicken or pork at the store. Enter super snob mode right here.

There are few things more repulsive to me than 6 pound slimy conventional chicken breasts.

They are so unnatural it makes me crazy.

I don’t even want to get into ruthless conventional chicken farming (and really all conventional meat production) practices because I can’t stomach the lengths that the industry has gone to to produce cheap meat. (Have you watched Food, Inc.? No? Do it).

Not only that, but since switching over to eating our own meat, many of my former stomach issues have completely disappeared. I actually used to think I had a problem with cheese or dairy. It wasn’t until we eliminated conventionally produced meats from our diet that I realized that they were to blame. Now, if I go to a restaurant and have chicken on my Caesar salad, I’m sick within the hour.

But stomach ailments aside, it’s the cruel conditions and treatments of those animals that does it for me. Raising your own or buying from a small farmer whose practices you can witness for yourself, whose motives are not driven purely by greed or by supplying the demand for more at less cost, will always get my vote. I will willingly pay more to those who are doing it a better way.

Coffee.

This one is admittedly new for me. Like, a month ago new. Not only is conventional coffee known to expose its consumers to pesticide residue, but the coffee farmers are subjected first hand to those pesticides used on those farms. Not to mention the hybrid coffee plants that are now designed to grow in full sun, leading to mass deforestation.

Coffee beans raised on sustainable coffee farms grow their coffee in the shade, providing habitat for the creatures who live there. They are also given a fair price for their coffee, so that they don’t get undercut by the big conventional companies. And while organic does not mean fair trade, or vice versa, you will often find that the two go hand-in-hand and is what I try to reach for now when making my coffee purchases.

Real maple syrup & honey.

My good friend Becky and I started tapping maple trees a few years ago and have not looked back. We tap about 80 trees which give us several gallons of pure maple syrup. While table syrup is little more than high fructose corn syrup and caramel coloring, real maple syrup is made from just one, good, natural ingredient- maple sap that has been boiled down. When you think of it in those terms, what do you want poured onto your morning pancakes?

Honey is another sweetener where I opt for raw and organic over the stuff in the squeezable bear container. It’s no secret that raw honey has like a zillion health benefits and that the fake stuff has none. This one is an easy choice for me and my family. And while it’s next to impossible to raise bees where I’m at, I’m happy to pay the price tag for the good stuff instead. If we are going to be using something, why shouldn’t it be in the natural, original form created by God before humans got a hold of it and turned it into something so far from what it was?

Eggs.

I have been raising my own laying hens for so many years that I almost forgot this one. But it’s such a good one. I cannot tell you the last time I have purchased eggs from the store, but I tell you what- it is such a treat when I hear from someone who has bought eggs from myself or from my 8-year old (who has his own egg business) how vastly different they are from what they are used to. From the color to the flavor to the shells themselves- it’s no secret that good eggs just make people feel…good. There’s something about homegrown eggs from happy, free-ranging chickens that makes breakfast extra special.

The health benefits of eggs grown in this way were outlined in a super old article I wrote almost five years ago, which quoted a study published in Mother Earth News. This study revealed that free range chicken eggs vs. commercial eggs resulted in a nutritional profile that revealed the following:

1/3 less cholesterol
1/4 less saturated fat
2/3 more Vitamin A
3x more Vitamin E
2x more Omega 3 fatty acids
7x more beta-carotene

But even putting these things aside, by boycotting commercial chicken eggs, we are not having a part in supporting battery hen operations. Even the so-called “free range” label on commercial chicken eggs cannot offer peace of mind. Often, “free range” means they are not locked up in cages, yet they are still stuffed by the thousands into dark chicken barns.

How to decide on your own convictions.

So where does one even begin with this process of deciding where you draw your own line, in your own life?

My number one tip would be to start slow. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Pick one area at a time, and go with that. Do your research. Find what moves you. Where does your conscience guide you?

For me, I first started with raw milk. And then I started making my own bread and buying only organic flours for doing so. Along the way, we eliminated more and more store bought meat from our lives as we built up the livestock that we chose to raise on our homestead. This meant ducks one year, then meat rabbits, then turkeys and pigs and sheep- but all over time. Do both you and me the favor of not overwhelming yourself with radical changes all at one time. Because you will burn out and give up.

Sit down and put some things to paper:

  1. What am I eating right now that makes me feel just gross, both physically and mentally?
  2. What am I consuming that I know is bad for me (ex./pop, candy, and other processed/packaged foods)?
  3. What kind of foods make me feel good when I eat them?
  4. What things do I enjoy making from scratch? What are the ingredients in those foods? Are they made from a lot of prepackaged things that I could be making myself (ex./cream soups, canned biscuits, packaged gravy, etc.)?
  5. What kinds of fruits and vegetables do we eat most often- and where do they sit in either the dirty dozen or the clean fifteen lists? If they’re in the dirty dozen, start buying organic- one at a time, starting with the one you eat most often.
  6. What can I be growing myself?
  7. What could I be sourcing locally?

And as you make this list, break each individual piece down further:

Take, for example, those things you are eating that you know are bad for you. Maybe there are several things on that list. Pick one. Maybe it’s drinking pop- because, come on- we know pop is so not good for you. Can you go without it for a day? Can you go without it for a couple of days? And so on. Believe it or not, I used to be a Diet Coke freak. Something happened during my pregnancy with my middle child- the day he was born, I ordered a Diet Coke on my very first meal tray. I had never been a pop drinker. But after that, I couldn’t put it down. It took a couple of years of frustration and substitutions- from super syrupy fizzy drinks to cappuccino to everything in between. Until I discovered that what I was really actually craving was the carbonation. Which in turn led me to sparkling water every day to now the occasional one.

Sometimes these processes take a long time to see completion. You might not be able to give something up overnight. And that’s okay. It’s also okay if you don’t always stick to your own rules, too. I’ve bought a cheap steak here and there. I have a hard time resisting potato chips that my husband brings home. Don’t let these parameters become chains of guilt. We already have enough of those in life.

For those who would really like to start putting their thoughts into action today, I’m including some worksheets for you. Print them off, do a bit of journaling, and put these worksheets on your refrigerator where you can be reminded.

In closing, I just want to say that ones’ journey with food can be very personal, and while I may food snob at times, it’s not directed at those people who eat differently from me, but rather at the goings on behind the foods I’ve banned from my home. My own convictions have taken years to develop, and I still feel that I have so much further to go.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these thoughts today, and that you are excited to start on your own journey.

Until next time,

don’t be a snob, my friends.

Unless it’s about foods you believe in, of course.

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You need a bigger house.

Whether well-intentioned or otherwise, just about every person who has stepped foot in my home has managed to remark on its size.

Or lack thereof.

Yes, by today’s standards, we live in a small house. A family of 5 dwelling in about 1000 square feet split between two levels can at times feel a bit cramped. Especially when we have company.

The size of our home is consistent with that of those of the 1920’s, not the 2020’s.

But you know what? I love my small house.

In fact, when we purchased our home nearly 6 years ago, it felt as if I were moving into a mansion. You see, we had spent the previous 2 1/2 years in a cabin without running water. We had no toilet, no shower, and we hauled water daily. Water had to be heated up for dishes, sponge baths, and for cleaning up after sick kids in the middle of the night. My daughter was born while living in this cabin, just 13 months after my 2nd born. I raised 3 children ages 0-4 in that home. The cabin was half the size of my house now.

And so, when we moved in, I felt so freaking fancy.

Look at me and my fancy running water. And my fancy bedroom with a real door. And fancy cupboards for all my fancy kitchen stuff.

And yet, to the average person, we were not fancy at all.

We were moving into what was, at the time, a one bedroom home. For a family of five. The upstairs was at first separated into bedrooms by hanging blankets for walls.

To the average person, we were just some poor people who didn’t know any better.

And yet, in my past life there was a time when I had a very large home. I’ve known what it’s like to clean 5 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and 2 living rooms. I know what it’s like to have a whole bunch of space that I felt needed filling. I’ve had an outrageous mortgage payment and all the stress that goes along with that burden.

So I do know better.

I know that the home is shelter from the elements.

This structure that keeps us warm at night and dry and protected from the weather is not life itself or what defines us as people.

The real home is in our family. It’s in the outdoors. It’s in the incredible bountiful forest that surrounds us. It’s in our hands and their ability to work. It’s in our thoughts and actions and interactions.

Our home is small, but it is cozy and keeps us close wherever we are. Whether it’s crowded around our small table in our much too small kitchen or piled on the couch in our narrow living room the size of a hallway.

It means we are forced to be intentional about what we bring into our home because it means sharing what little space we have with it.

Would I hate to do an expansion on my kitchen or my living room? No. I would love it. Someday.

But that does not mean that I’m not content with what I have today.

I am blessed, man. So blessed. I have a home and land and my own sliver of happiness on this great earth.

So please, don’t feel pity for me and my small home.

Because I have a home.

And I’m dang proud of it.

I’m proud that I don’t have to feel that my worth is tied up in the stature of my dwelling place.

I’m grateful that I don’t have to compete with anyone else in order to feel self worth.

I’m thankful to know and understand what Jesus said when he advised that our life does not result from the things that we possess (Luke 12:15).

I hope you know and feel this too, wherever you are, whatever you have.

You are alive.

You are a living, breathing, functioning human being.

You are so much more than the size or contents of your home.

Until next time,

Just be content, my friends. And I will too.

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Winter canning is probably my favorite canning because it is in the off season.

It means I have more time.

It means I have a cold house that needs heating up (totally the opposite case during peak canning season, amiright?).

It means I am choosing a canning project not based on the prevention of overripe green beans in my garden or rotting tomatoes sitting in a corner of my kitchen, but rather on my terms. What I want to do. What I feel like doing. What I’m craving.

And, best yet, it means I get to feed my canning addiction year-round.

If you’re like me and mason jars are right up in there in your favorite things department alongside your husband, your kids, and your cat, then I feel you.

But what is there to be canning in the off season? When the garden lies dormant and not a green plant is to be found?

Here are my top seven canning projects to tackle during the winter months.

1. Beef Stew

Stew tends to be one of the earliest off-season canning projects for me because it coincides with both bear and deer hunting season. I have actually never made beef stew because we don’t raise cows. Instead our red meat sources are bear, deer, and lamb. But whatever red meat you prefer, this recipe works for them all. Additionally, the vegetables in beef stew can all come from the garden- and if we get bear meat in September, many of these ingredients are still actively growing in the garden (carrots, onions, celery, etc.) and I just have to run outside to gather my ingredients. This is one of those recipes where I don’t have to buy a single thing from the grocery store to produce it. It doesn’t get much better than that.

The greatest thing about canning your own stew (as well as a few of the other upcoming winter canning suggestions) is that it is heat-and-eat. Meaning, the finished product is completely cooked. All you have to do is dump it in a bowl, heat it up, and eat it. Talk about fast food. The only difference is this fast food tastes like something you took all day to cook.

2. Beans

Canning your own beans takes inexpensive dried beans and turns them into their more expensive canned counterpart. Not only that, but you can do so in large quantities and without the fear of BPA exposure as can be found in store bought canned goods. This is a project that I like to tackle early in the winter season as well, as that is when I used canned beans the most. Winter weather means chili season has come to town.

3. Chili

Speaking of chili season, home canned chili is another perfect cold weather product that you can make in the dark days of winter. For me, chili making follows tomato caning season as the recipe calls for canned whole or crushed tomatoes. This is another great heat-and-eat option for a quick lunch that will warm you right up.

4. Stock or Broth

For starters, there is a difference between stock and broth: Stock is a product that is the result of taking animal bones, vegetables and other aromatics, covering them with water, and simmering them over the course of a long period of time (anywhere from 6 to 24 hours or longer). Broth is most often made from meat (sometimes with the addition of bones) and vegetables that have been cooked in water for a shorter time and is often seasoned.

Whatever your preference, both are excellent winter canning projects to tackle. I always keep a healthy supply of stock on hand to be used for making soups, stews, gravy, cream soups, and so much more- I often replace water with stock in many of my recipes. The health benefits of stock are numerous.

5. Meat

This is another hunting season favorite: canned meat. Canning meat is not only easy, but the resulting product is simply awesome. Canned bear meat or venison is hard to beat. It seriously takes 5 minutes to turn canned meat into what tastes like an elaborate meal.

It’s also a great way to make room in your freezer. You can can any meat you want: chicken, pork, beef, rabbit, venison, bear etc. The process for canning chicken, rabbit, and other white meats are the same. Red meats are also canned the same, therefore you can follow my venison canning post to can your beef, bear, lamb, or other red meat of choice. (Pork falls into the red meat category).

6. Jam and Jelly

If you’re a berry picker like I am, you probably have loads of berries in your freezer. While I love making that very first batch of strawberry jam in early summer, or wild raspberry jam later on, I do the majority of my actual jam making in the off season. Berries (as well as fruits) are super easy to freeze, and lend beautifully to homemade jams and jellies. Waiting until the winter to make these sweet spreads also means you have more variety to pick from for mixed berry/fruit recipes.

7. Sauces

Most of my sauces are created from peak fall harvest produce: tomatoes, pumpkins/squash, and apples. These all seem to come on at the same time in mass quantities. The most simple way to deal with them is to get them in the freezer and make your sauce in the winter when you can do so at a comfortable pace. While I must admit, I have a huge aversion to frozen tomatoes. They freak me out. So I often will get my tomatoes sauced and canned- and from there use my tomato sauce to make other tomato products like spaghetti or pizza sauce. But apples and pumpkin or squash can be frozen and then later mashed/pureed and turned into applesauce, apple or pumpkin butter, etc.

And there you have it, my favorite canning projects to tackle in the off season. I’d love it if you would share with me your own personal favorites.

Until next time, keep feeding that canning addiction, my friends.

And homestead on.

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You do not need a massive garden to grow a lot of food.

Probably the #1 thing I hear from people when they visit my gardens is they cannot believe how much I’m able to grow in the space that I use. Not to say I have a tiny garden. Mine sees expansion with every year. But it’s not acres big. Not even one acre big. I could not tell you what a “100 foot row” looks like. I could not tell you how many square feet of space I use. I have no idea.

Why?

Because I don’t garden in the “usual” calculated, measured, and lined up sort of way.

What I DO do is maximize my surface growing area. I plant intensively. I employ the “edge effect” to often double the available accessible planting space without compromising soil health and while eliminating soil compaction.

All of these things together mean more food in a smaller space, grown more effectively and environmentally responsibly.

Sound like something you’d like to do too?

Then I’m glad you’re still here. Let’s talk about how you too can maximize your garden space by employing permaculture methods.

First, forget everything you know or have been taught about gardening.

Well, not really.

But forget the idea of tilling up a space of ground year after year, planting your straight rows spaced 3 feet apart with no mulch to protect the soil.

Forget about weeding.

Forget about single file rows of like vegetables.

Forget about watering every single day.

And pretty please, forget about Miracle-Gro, would ya?

Just erase it all from your mind for just a few minutes. Long enough to approach this idea head-on without any preconceived ideas about what works.

Because you’re here for a reason, and it’s probably because there’s this curious little bugger at the back of your brain that wishes you could do things a little bit better. Wishes you could work a little less harder (I know it should technically say “a little less hard” but it doesn’t rhyme with my last sentence so “harder” it is. Hey, I don’t always rhyme, but when I do I break grammatical rules).

So approach the bench with an open mind and I promise you will take SOMETHING away with you from this post.

#1 Think more growing space and less walkway.

I know that your seed packets instruct you to plant things ____inches apart in rows ____feet apart. The simple, innocent act of following those directions immediately sets you up for a ton of wasted space. Not to mention a massive amount of ground that will be compacted by your walking on it. {Not-so-fun fact: the soil beneath your feet- when wet such as after some rain- can become 75% compacted after stepping on it just ONE time. This robs the roots of your plants of much-needed oxygen and destroys the fragile soil structure that allows for nutrient-delivering highways and home to countless beneficial microorganisms.}

So what to do? You don’t need to put in permanent raised beds (although you certainly can).

But you do need to at least designate a permanent growing space. There needs to be a clear distinction between where you grow your plants and where you walk. You can do this by raising up your beds, framing them in, lining them with logs or rocks, staking them off, using twine to distinguish the borders, etc.

You want to avoid ever walking where you intend to plant or planting where you walk.

When determining this space, make your beds (or designated growing area that we will just refer to as a bed) wide enough that you can reach the middle of it from both sides. This allows you to use more surface area while greatly decreasing the necessary walkways. This way, when planting your crops, you no longer need to leave ___feet of space between rows. Instead, you can plant ___inches apart in all directions because you no longer need to leave space in which to walk.

#2 Feed the soil, not the plants.

If you wish to maximize your growing space by planting intensively, you need the soil to support it.

So often, we hear about fertilizing and what fertilizers best benefit which plants. Many think that just dumping a bunch of Miracle-Gro on their gardens will produce what they want. But this practice is not a sustainable one. If you want a long-lasting, fruitful garden space that gets BETTER with each passing year (not worse, as is typically the case), you need to concentrate on feeding your soil, not your plants.

You can pour on the fertilizer all day, every day. But most of it will wash away with the rain or with your hose.

If you do not have soil that is high in organic matter, it cannot hold on to the food you are trying to feed it.

But if you do have lots of organic matter, those particles will cling to and store nutrients to feed your plants over an extended period of time.

Additionally, soil that is high in organic materials provides a welcoming environment for important little critters such as earthworms, microorganisms, and fungi. These work together to transform the nutrients that are fed to your plants into a form your plants can actually use.

Therefore, if you are not feeding organic materials to your soil to support microbial life and a nutrient storehouse necessary for a sustainable and thriving intensively planted garden space, you will not have the results you wish.

And then you will go back to Miracle-Gro, which I’m trying to stop you from doing.

So just how do you increase the organic matter in your soil?

The simplest way is by applying plenty of good organic compost. This is something that should be done every single year, preferably throughout the entire growing season.

If you are just starting to build your garden, mix the compost with your soil. But if you already have an established garden space, we want to imitate nature by applying compost to the surface layer and allowing for the creation of the biological framework necessary for a properly functioning ecosystem. This obviously takes time. But, how does that saying go?

Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.

Or vegetable.

Whatever.

#3 Increase your edges.

The “Edge Effect” is a pretty deep and lengthy permaculture principal, worthy of its own post entirely. But for today’s discussion, I want you to consider ways you can increase the amount of edges in your garden space. And to do this, we want to look at the natural designs we find in nature.

For example, think about the intestines inside of our body. Just our small intestine alone is approx. 20 feet long! Now, imagine if that same intestine was pulled into a straight line. How much shorter would it be? How much surface area would decrease?

I want you to apply that same thought to your garden. If you can create a meandering bed that mimics that design in nature, whether it be our intestines or a winding river as opposed to a straight line, you drastically increase your growing area, as well as your edges. Edges are important for several reasons. If we look at nature, think about an open field skirted by a forest. The area where the field meets the forest is the space that benefits from both environments, and is as a result the most fertile and diverse.

Winding edges also trap heat and moisture, offer shade or provide sunlight, and it slows down the distribution of water and nutrients. If you are planting in straight rows and it rains, that water has a much faster escape when it is able to travel in a straight line. Put that same rain storm over a winding pathway, and the water not only has to travel at a drastically reduced rate, but it has to cover a much larger surface area. This gives your garden the opportunity to more efficiently draw up water and nutrients it needs.

“We only invented the word organic because we made things inorganic.
We only invented the word natural because we made things unnatural.
We only invented the word permaculture because we made agriculture.”
― Khang Kijarro Nguyen

#4 Stagger your plantings.

I want you to apply the same principal of edges to your actual planting.

By staggering your plants rather than planting them in a straight line, we again are able to increase the number of plants in our garden without increasing the garden space. In essence, you will be planting in a zigzag. This is especially helpful for those of us who love to reap the benefits of companion planting.

Additionally, you can intercrop fast growing plants with slow growing ones. That way, the fast plants will be done before the slow ones, giving them the room they need. And then consider succession planting. Follow up your summer beans with fall kale. Always having a plan for your space.

#5 For the love of God, cover up!

Repeat after me: Mulch…mulch…MULCH!

If there’s anything that makes me cringe, it’s looking at a garden with its naked soil exposed to the elements. Seriously. Stahp. It’s so unnatural it makes me crazy. And I’m already crazy enough, thank-you.

Covering up your soil is one of the most beneficial things you can do for any garden. Why put all of this work in to the thought, design, and construction of this amazing permaculture intensively planted and edged-out garden space if you’re not going to properly maintain it?

Mulching protects your soil, its delicate structure, and all of its precious inhabitants from sun, rain, compaction, wind, and erosion. It also retains water, greatly decreasing the amount of water needed to maintain your garden through the growing season. It moderates your soil temperature. On top of that, it aids in the control of weeds, provides happy habitats for beneficial organisms, and feeds your soil. A good mulching system is one that uses biodegradable materials (think straw or leaves) that can be layered, breaks down on its own, and that is added to each season. This, in turn, aids in the building of the organic matter needed to support this intensive model.

#6 Get creative.

Now, let’s talk about design. I’ve already discussed with you in the past the keyhole garden. This is a very small scale example of how you can maximize your growing space, and a great place to start if you’re just getting your feet wet with this concept.

A mandala style garden is another excellent way to put these principles to work. The idea behind the mandala is to have a continuous growing space with multiple inlets that allow you access to all areas of the bed. Mandalas are usually fashioned into a circle or partial circle. Sometimes there are concentric circles involved. A simple Google search of “mandala garden” will give you endless design concepts.

My market garden last year was fashioned after the mandala approach. It consisted of an inner keyhole style garden bed with almost a dozen access inlets.

This garden is also a hugelkultur garden, with the bottom of the bed being constructed of branches, sticks, twigs, and other woody debris, topped with manure, and then covered with topsoil. I like my beds to be plantable on both the tops and sides, to fully take advantage of my growing space.

(In the center of the keyhole, I planted a dwarf cherry tree).

The outside bed that surrounds the inner keyhole bed runs the entire perimeter of the garden fence in another continual bed. That means there is one continuous path that runs between these two beds, all the way around. And one that enters the center of the keyhole. That’s it. A ton of growing space with minimal walkway.

So what do you say? Are you ready to start maximizing your growing space by applying permaculture methods and concepts?

To start looking at how you can not only grow more food in a smaller space, but do it in a way that is environmentally friendly, effective, and abundant?

I hope I’ve piqued your interest. And made you look at your own garden plot with fresh eyes.

Perhaps you’ve even resolved that you, too, can set aside the Miracle-Gro and get to focusing on building healthy soil that can retain the nutrients you feed it, and in turn feeds you.

I will leave you with one final thought today, from the late, great, founding father of permaculture, Bill Mollison:

“Permaculture principles focus on thoughtful designs for small-scale intensive systems which are labor efficient and which use biological resources instead of fossil fuels. Designs stress ecological connections and closed energy and material loops. The core of permaculture is design and the working relationships and connections between all things.”

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If you are or have been a parent of school-age children, you know well the last minute scramble to find the missing gloves moments before the bus arrives.

And, quite likely, this is an event that takes place not just once or twice a year….but once or twice a week, am I right?

No matter how well you try to prepare, no matter how many times you ask your kids to gather their stuff together the night before, this nerve-raking event resurrects itself over and over again. It’s inevitable. And infuriating.

But…inevitable.

Well, just the other morning, it was the scramble to find my daughter’s snow pants. I searched the closet, high and low, five times over. Behind the couch, under the couch, in the bedrooms. Nowhere to be found. I was certain she must have left them on the bus or at school. So I dug out her old pair (and by old, I mean the first pair of the year, with ratty holes in the knees that prompted the need for a new pair, given to me by my thrifty sister who is great at raiding the recylcing center shop). She frowned at them and I shrugged my shoulders.

“They will have to do for today. Surely there are other kids at school who have worn out the knees of their snow pants, right?”

I was not for a moment expecting the response I got.

“No.”

I looked at her brothers.

“There’s other kids in school who have snow pants that look like these. There has to be!”

My oldest shakes his head, “No, not really Mom.”

Cue the surge of motherly guilt. My middle child had gone through not one, not two, but three pairs of snow pants this year already, including a pair of Carhartt knockoffs. And each time, he probably wore them in their decrepit state for a good few weeks before I gave in and scrounged up a new pair (one being handed down to him, the next a begrudgingly made purchase online). I had sent him off to school with his knees puking out their white stuffing, assuming that it wouldn’t be a big deal to wait because SURELY he wasn’t the ONLY one on the playground looking like Oliver Twist in the wintertime.

Apparently, I was mistaken.

I further investigated this by talking to my brother’s family.

“Nope, kids just don’t wear out their snow pants anymore” was their conclusion.

When I was a kid in school, everyone had holes in their snow pants. And our parents absolutely did not get us a new pair. They were patched or duct taped. As were our already stylish moon boots. Wrapped in duct tape with our feet protected inside by plastic bags cinched tightly around our ankles.

We wore through our winter clothes.

We crawled and dug tunnels, built snow sculptures and skated down hills on our knees.

We earned the holes burned through our snow gear.

And we never thought once about the state of our apparel, because we all looked like rag dolls. We just loved having fun! We loved playing, using our imaginations, getting outside for the next adventure. The holes in our knees were the expected casualties of childhood.

Why would I assume anything less of my children’s generation?

So it was one of those moments of recognizing how my generation and the way we knew how to be kids is fading fast behind the curtain of a new generation.

A generation that does not blow out the knees of their snow pants.

And boy, if that doesn’t make me sad!

I know there are many, many kids out there who still love to play outside. And thank goodness for that. My kids are certainly not the only ones.

But today, many kids have a divide in their interests. Their time is no longer go-go-go-all-day-outside-sunup-to-sundown. Instead, it’s a micromanaged schedule of TV, electronic devices, and phones with physical activities sprinkled throughout. Parents use these devices as bribes, as rewards, for dutifully going out to play for the requested 30 minutes.

Play itself is no longer the reward.

I remember being told “Do your chores, then you can go out and play”. Yes, PLAY was the reward! That is what we looked forward to more than anything else.

And now, going outside is the chore while coming back inside is the reward.

When and where did this happen?

Am I the only one who is just completely dumbfounded? Or perhaps I’m just way late for the reality train.

Or am I simply hanging on to the past? Much like our parents and our grandparents before us? Is this what they were feeling too?

Is it crazy to want kids to be kids?

Is it ignorant to resist the flow?

Is it overly nostalgic of me to want for my own children a childhood that mirrored my own? One that involves such a love for playing outside that you didn’t even take the time to go inside to use the bathroom?

Yes, I peed my pants on our front steps when I too late took a break from making mud pies.

My sister did the same in her snow pants one fun winter’s day.

It was THAT hard to tear us away from our outdoor fun.

Not that I wish wet pants for your kids. Furreal. Because now being a parent, I’d yell at my kids to whip their pants down in the driveway before creating any unnecessary laundry.

And they do.

But I do wish for kids to have more time to just be kids.

I tell my kids they have their whole lives ahead of them to use the computer. The phones. The gadgets.

But they have only a few short years of childhood. SO few. And they go SO, so fast.

I won’t let a screen steal away their creativity.

Their imaginations.

Their grubby hands and dirty faces and torn up snow pants.

And, most importantly, their desire to get outside.

Outdoor playtime will always be the reward, never the chore.

And while I may not use duct tape patches and I will continue to replace the tattered winter gear out of straight-up mom pride, I will also try to not feel guilt over those days that my kids went to school looking like the poor kids.

Because I know those tattered clothes are not the result of neglect, but rather the expected casualty of my kids just being what they should be.

Kids.

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I find that the coldest, darkest time of the year (ahem, as in right now) is when I find myself the most inspired in the kitchen.

Every day is a new adventure. A new recipe. A new plan.

What can I cook today that will heat up the house this frosty morning?

What can I serve my family that will warm their bodies and fill up their souls?

Yes, food is that for us.

It is comfort.

It is happiness.

It is necessary (isn’t that great?!).

And it just so happens that our freezers are stocked after a long harvest, butchering, and hunting season. So it’s easy to get inspired when you have so much at hand.

And while I have many favorite recipes to choose from, I know well that the only way those favored recipes are found is by trying something new. Yet the more I cook, the pickier I have become about the quality of the recipes I use and try out.

I think back to my college days when my best meal was pan fried pork chops (dry and overdone, of course), Rice-a-Roni, and a can of corn. I’m relieved to say that my cooking abilities have grown beyond that. {Not to discourage ANY young fledgling just flown the nest from doing their best to prepare themselves a meal. Or anyone, any age, for that matter. Do it to it}.

But now, when I take on a new recipe, there are just certain standards that I live by.

  1. Nothing prepackaged (think: biscuits in a can and premade pie crust) or overly processed (I say overly, because basically anything you buy in a store that is in a box, can, bag, jar, or has a label is processed in some way, but not necessarily one of the “evil” processed foods like chicken nuggets, microwave popcorn, or pop). No canned cream soups. No boxed anything. Just real, raw ingredients.
  2. How much of that recipe can I procure myself? Does it require that I purchase extensively outside of what I raise or grow?

Thankfully I have found some really great cookbooks this year that cater to my personal guidelines and encourage me to be creative along the way. It’s like finding a kindred spirit in the form of a book. Authors who grasp the importance of homegrown food and real ingredients. Those who understand eating with the seasons, rather than against them. Those who get the sheer and utter joy of something we must all do, every day: eating.

And today I wanted to share them with you should you be finding yourself hungry (yes, pun intended) for recipes that inspire and nourish your culinary demands.

This post contains affiliate links.

Gather” by Gill Meller

If you love pretty cookbooks just because they are pretty, then get this book. Because the photography is absolutely stunning.

But if you love a pretty cookbook that serves awesome recipes too, then also get this book. Gill Meller not only encourages you to eat with the seasons, but to take a second look at what grows around you and take advantage. Nature provides what we need, and he takes it to an upscale yet simple level. He allows the ingredients to both shine and compliment one another.

The recipes are broken down into categories: Farm, Seashore, Garden, Orchard, Field, Woodland, Moor, and Harbor. And although Gill features his native British landscape and its bounty, almost everything can be found here too, or a reasonable substitute. In addition, I love that he provides recipes for using the not-so-common things such as pig cheek and lamb kidneys. Things that many might not have on hand, but I happen to have in my freezer and am always looking for inspiring ways to honor the less appreciated parts. You can find everything from squirrel to hedgehog, oxtail to mutton, partridge to trout, and everything in between. Herbs galore and plenty of raw vegetables. Pork rinds and fresh fruit. This book has it all, and shows it off in a remarkably beautiful, delicious way.

Homestead Kitchen” by Eve and Eivin Kilcher

If you watch Alaska the Last Frontier, you are probably familiar with Eve and Eivin Kilcher. A great family show that features homestead life and the importance of growing, hunting, and harvesting your own food. Being from NE Minnesota, we live in a climate that is nearly identical to many parts of Alaska. It is not uncommon for people who live here to move to Alaska, or vice versa. I myself lived in Alaska for a short time when I was a little girl. We have short growing seasons and long, hard winters. But we also enjoy the woods, wild game, and an abundance of berries and other wild edibles. So when Homestead Kitchen came out, I knew I just had to have it as quite likely the ingredients list would be readily available in my neck of the woods. And I was right.

Like Gather, Homestead Kitchen is also broken down into categories. From the: Garden, Berry Patch & Orchard, Henhouse, Sea, Forest, Milking Shed, Root Cellar, Hunt, Pantry, Family Favorites Recipe Box.

I knew that I would find recipes for northern climate fruits such as crab apples, rhubarb, blueberries, and currants.

And I would find dishes that feature cold climate-friendly vegetables like kale & greens, root veggies, and brassicas.

And that wild game like venison would be featured over beef.

Check, check, and check.

Not only do you get all that, but you get beautifully written personal stories and snippets along the way. If you don’t know the show, you will come to know these two, and love them. I know I do.

What to make first? The Bone Marrow Soup got five stars and two thumbs up from my kale-hating husband. And the Mountain Stew was scarfed down by my daughter like nobody’s business. Me? The Garden of Eden salad is as pretty and tasty as a salad can get. Try them all, and more.

Family Table” by Shaye Elliott

Of all the homestead bloggers out there, there’s nobody I love more than Shaye. She’s real, honest, funny, and- most importantly- understands the importance of food and how to honor it. She cooks with all the things I do, which is convenient. But she doesn’t make food complicated. Even if you are an inexperienced cook, you can follow her recipes and make something awesome. And she will probably make you laugh along the way with her witty taglines and raw sense of humor. (Who doesn’t need some of that?).

I can honestly say that I have yet to try a recipe of hers that isn’t good. Seriously. Every single one I’ve tried has been delicious. And I think that really speaks for her style of cooking. It’s simple. It doesn’t use crazy ingredients that overpowers or distracts from what you are cooking.

And on top of all that, she gets that every meal should be a celebration. This is something that I’ve wrapped my arms around and embraced. Every meal. Every day. It should be produced and served and enjoyed with so much love. It means we don’t set aside one day on one month in one year to feast. It means we do it without provocation, without a date on a calendar telling us to do so. We do it as God intended. He created an endless variety of foods for our enjoyment. And so, we enjoy.

Shaye gets that. And if you do, too, then you need to get this book.

So where to start? How about some Killer Pork Tacos. Or Chop Salad with Chive Cream. Or Easy Chocolate Mousse. But no matter what, try the Creamy Carrot Cake. I can’t even count how many times I’ve made and enjoyed that cake.

The Farm” by Ian Knauer

This one got a lot of use during the gardening season. And it’s easy to see why. “The Farm” takes you through the earliest of crops like arugula, baby carrots, spinach, baby turnips, and baby lettuce. And progresses through the season, featuring recipes that use what’s available at that time so you can make the most out of what’s in season without (1) having it go to waste, or (2) feeling like you have to go out and buy half of the ingredients. I often referenced this book when putting together recipe ideas for my CSA members. So if you are a regular at the farmers market, a member of a CSA, or grow your own garden, you will get a lot of mileage out of this cookbook.

Favorites? Mustard-Garlic Venison Roast and the Kale and Toasted Walnut Salad.

Bread Illustrated” from America’s Test Kitchen

This has been my most favorite winter time baking book yet. Because this is the only time that I can spend hours indoors without feeling guilty about it. And because nothing warms the house like a day of bread baking.

If you love the science behind cooking and baking, you are probably familiar with America’s Test Kitchen or Cook’s Country or any of the affiliates. I love that each recipe has been tested over and over again until that perfect result is found. Good news for people like you and I who don’t have the time to spend hours baking something, only to have it flop. Or taste like crap. Or turn out dry. Or any combination thereof.

This book offers recipes for a range of levels of ability. From easy quick sandwich breads to daunting baguettes. From basic cinnamon rolls to more advanced braided and styled pastries. Wherever your confidence level lies, “Bread Illustrated” will help give you the courage to make advancement in your bread baking abilities.

I love that each recipe gives a list of the needed tools, so you are not caught off guard when you are asked to “mist the dough” or use a pizza peel. Many recipes also include troubleshooting tips. On top of that, this is another book that has yet to give me a failed recipe. Every single one has been good. So buy this one with confidence!

No matter your cooking style, preference, or ability, I hope you come to love and enjoy food as it should be. I hope that it is not merely a chore for you. I hope that it is thoughtful and created with intention.

But if it isn’t, and you would like it to be, then get inspired.

Dig up some new recipes.

Find that cookbook that inspires you.

All of these books I’ve shared today do that for me. Perhaps they will do the same for you.

Happy cooking, my friends.

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