Monday, January 6, 2014

Feeding Our Families

Happy to be joining in with other mamas to talk about food at the beginning of each month for 2014.

This is such a huge topic for me and one that has been a work in progress over the past 10 years.   I would have to say about  25 - 50% of my time each day is spent in some aspect of food - production, preparation, planning, consuming, and clean-up.  We have eating with us nearly full-time an 18 year old boy, 15 1/2 year old boy, and then 13, 9, almost 6, and 2 year olds as well as Mike and myself.  There are also times when Thomas is home from college and of course visitors.

I am sure I have shared much of this here before, but I grew up eating quite conventionally for the most part.  Although, before my parents were divorced, my Mom did bake bread and cook from scratch and grew a small garden.    After she became a single mom much of that was left behind because of her lack of time.  However,  I also had the wonderful experience as a young girl visiting my aunt and uncle who were definitely earthy crunchy types where I was introduced to all kinds of new foods.  In addition, my mother and father both did instill the importance of a  somewhat healthy eating lifestyle in me as far as keeping junk foods and sugars to a minimum.

When I went to college, I found myself drawn to the natural food store and cafe at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.  I certainly didn't fit in appearance wise with the crowd that hung out there, but I would still go several days a week, buy a cinnamon raisin bagel and chocolate covered raisins and sometimes sit and study a bit with a cup of coffee while absorbing the atmosphere and conversations of those around me. 

Years later, about 8 years into our marriage, realizing ever so slowly that the mainstream, status-seeking lifestyle wasn't what we wanted for our family, Mike and I started reading more and more about homesteading.  I had always had small gardens even at our first home (the seed was planted from my own childhood I am sure) but I wanted to learn more about eating healthy, doing more for ourselves, relying less on the conventional food systems and supporting local economies.   
Thus we made our move finally to Vermont in 2005.  Since then there have been many challenges which is certainly a normal part of life but through it all our resolve to put food as our number one priority has remained.  Truly, without our health, really what do we have?

So, despite earning very little often, food has remained our largest expense.  It is that important.  
This past year our business took over too much of our time.  We realize this looking back now and are working to change our priorities for 2014.  Because of this we saved very little food from the growing season and didn't always take the time to prepare as healthy meals as I would like.
I am going to start off this series by sharing what we purchased at least week's food shopping.  There is so much room for improvement.

At the Natural Food Store - 
local organic tofu (made in Vermont), salad greens, bakers yeast, herbal mouthwash (I have battled tooth decay for years now), organic strawberry jam, organic veggie bouillon, 4 organic pounds of pasta, a dark chocolate bar, organic corn chips, honey sesame sticks, organic raisins, organic wheat bulger, vanilla extract, 10 lbs local organic w.w. bread flour
At a small Grocery store - 
2 organic wines (Cottonwood Creek is $6.99 a bottle), 2 Parmesan cheeses, 2 large spaghetti sauce, 1 box powdered sugar, 10 pounds King Arthur Unbleached Flour, 2 boxes Cheerios, Graham crackers, toilet paper (marcal), dental floss, cream cheese, Stonyfield Organic yogurt , 2 pounds Monterey cheese
At Shaws - 
2 organic grape juice, organic salad dressing, 2 organic salsa, 2 bags fair trade organic coffee

Recently I called our nearby organic farm and asked them if I could buy $100 worth of potatoes, carrots and onions and was excited they still had enough available.  So those are our vegetable staples right now.  Our own winter squash never matured this year because of the wet July I think.  Even though we grew 150 onions, they were gone by mid November.  

All of our eggs do come from our hens.

Today we are going to buy some organic pasture raised stew beef from our neighbor as well as raw milk (which we buy milk at least a couple times a week) to make a beef stew tomorrow morning.  One of my favorites - 

Here is how I make it (approximately)
Beef Stew
Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to the bottom of a large soup pot (cast iron would be wonderful).    Let the oil get hot and add the beef pieces (about 1 1/2 pounds) to brown each side.  When it is just about done add a lot of chopped garlic.   Add 1 quart canned chopped tomatoes with the juices, salt and pepper, various seasonings to your taste, 1/2 cup red wine and reduce heat to simmer.  Cut up 4 onions but in large slices/chunks.  Add to pot.  Add potatoes (cut in large chunks) and carrots.  I just leave all of this to simmer on the woodstove all day.  Be sure to check often and add liquid if necessary.  I put the pot on a rack on the wood stove so it stays at a low temperature.

As this series progresses, I plan to share more of our goals for this year's growing season, how we are progressing (or not) with milking our own goats, and more meal plans and recipes.  

Joining in with Feeding Our Families ~


  1. Tonya...I love reading about your journey to where you are today...and I can relate to the visits to my first health food store when I was in university (though, I was one of those "crunchy" types in a place not very crunchy). Thank you for your recipe, too. Stew is such a good wintry meal.
    xo Jules

    1. Oh, I forgot to mention that your photos are amazing!

  2. I grew up with everything "lite" in the pantry, and everything microwaved. I really appreciate you explaining your simple, healthy recipes and shopping list.

  3. I highly recommend this product for natural care of tooth decay. We have had great success with it and there are many who testify to the same. They are a small home school family business like your own family.

  4. Great post Tonya! Grocery shopping is such a big part of feeding our families and it is really helpful to learn how others do it. Thank you for sharing. I also love your food pictures. Everything looks delicious! You must be a great cook!

  5. Tonya, Today was one of those days I felt like I spent the whole day in the kitchen. It first started with homemade flavored coffee creamer so husband could get off to work, next pancakes for the children for breakfast before school, followed by pizza sauce, then I canned some apples from the freezer to make room for the beef later this week and finally two large pizza crusts for dinner. Knowing what we put in our bodies, saving money on groceries, spending less time in the car to go to the store makes it all worth the time and energy. Thank you for your post. Angie

  6. I couldn't agree with you more about how much time is spent in food preparation. What a timely post! Today was one of those days I felt I was in my kitchen all day. First, I made flavored coffee creamer for hubby so he could get off to work. Next, I made pancakes for the kids before school and then pizza sauce for dinner. After that, I canned up some apples from the freezer to make room for the beef I will pick up from the butcher at the end of the week. Finally, I made two large pizza crusts. Knowing what we are putting into our bodies, money and time saved at the grocery store make it all worth my while.

  7. Dear Tonya, I always enjoy reading your food and grocery thoughts and priorities. And the garden side of it! The past two years have had to be smaller garden years because of nauseous pregnancy baby but this year it needs to be taken much more seriously!!!
    Wonderful all the good food you are able to get locally! Raw milk is only available to us April through November, so now I am doing more cultured organic dairy, though we do have some jars of raw milk in the freezer…
    Our pastured beef comes from the same ranch as our milk, and this year we have hunted elk in the freezer! I am planning a stew soon too…
    I am so happy to have you joining us for this project!
    Love, Renee <3

  8. Your cooking looks delicious..I am getting hungry for potatoes and onions right about now! I would love to see more of your cooking...I'm sure it takes alot of organization to feed a large family, something that I always had a hard time doing as I could prepare and shop for meals, but actually doing it takes extra skill.

  9. Tonya, don't you want to get your own cow? That's not only milk but yogurt and butter too.

  10. Tonya, don't you want to get your own cow? That's not only milk but yogurt and butter too... it takes extra time though.

    1. We are hoping to have our goats bred this winter... we shall see:)

  11. I look forward to reading more of these posts. I always enjoy talking about food especially local, organic, homemade good quality food. Since becoming a stay-at-home mom, I have become much more hands on in the kitchen and make most of our food from scratch, though there is a lot more that I want to do. Food is our biggest expense even though there are only three of us - eating the way that we do, not junk processed food, isn't cheap. But you are what you eat, and I don't want my family to be chemical laden and highly processed! I am on a dairy kick right now and am dreaming of goats, but with only 1/2 an acre in suburbia, its not in the cards. I have to be content with my chickens (though not laying right anymore - have to get chicks in spring) and bees.

  12. Oh Tonya, you truly must be preparing, cooking and cleaning up dishes, pots and pans the better part of the day with such a big family to feed. On weeks when my daughter and I can stay home … when we are the real homebodies we're so inclined to be, the waves of kitchen/cleaning time seem to cycle round with only a few hours in between. All the same, cooking, eating and food (of course) are so worth the time and effort! have wonderful new year and stay warm!

  13. What a lovely series! I could talk about food all day long. :) btw, I love, love your ducks in the header. Don't tell me if you eat them :).

  14. This is a great post. I, too, spend so much of my day preparing foods. I had a similar college/growing up experience to you too. We live in CT - kind of on the dividing line of super rural and in about 40 minutes I can get to costco/whole foods so I do a little of both. I have found, that, while it's not local, I've been able to buy many organic products from Costco and stretch them so they last. We've trimmed our food budget by only eating meat a few times a week. Vermont is such a wonderful place - my husband went to UVM so we know some of the area very well. I think he would like to move back there someday. I spent more time in Southern VT - what region is your homestead? I'm planning to try your beef stew too - sounds delicious. I would really like to have goats too - they seem pretty friendly and easy. Growing up, we had sheep and cows and the sheep attracted mountain lions, but goats are really cool! If I had a homestead, I think I'd have chickens and goats :) Thanks for sharing!

  15. what a great post, thank you for sharing, I am looking forward to reading more on your food/cooking series as we too try to live and cook simply and healthily with what we have in our tiny little flat in the city. I have a daughter who is gluten intolerant so most of the time I bake our bread from scratch. We hope to one day own our own little house on a piece of land where we can grow our own food etc.