Sunday, January 13, 2013

Righteousness, peace, and joy

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I'm different, to say the least.  I struggle with this sometimes.  This has been the case to some extent for most of my life.  Being a homeschooler was not exactly mainstream when I was growing up.  Being a Christian and really striving to live that out was not the most popular lifestyle choice in college.  Apparently people considered me "religious" back then.  I thought I was just a girl who loved Jesus.  More recently, I am different in that I "eat all healthy" to quote some comments I've gotten from some friends recently.  If only they knew that I voted for Gary Johnson in the 2012 election, haven't washed my hair with shampoo in over a year, don't get an annual flu shot, seek to avoid debt like the plague, and dream of owning several acres and living off-grid someday...I bet I'd really be an outcast then!  As different as I have always been, I always used to fit in pretty well with my close friends, family, and brothers and sisters at church, even if the rest of the world didn't quite get who I was.  When I first starting learning things about our food supply and the USDA dietary recommendations that turned everything I thought I knew my whole life upside down, I couldn't wait to go out and spread my newfound knowledge to anyone who would listen, especially those closest to me.  I realized pretty quickly that not everyone was ready or willing to hear or accept what I had found to be my new truth.  I realized I had to tone things down a couple notches.  I am sure I still overwhelm a few people with whom I come into contact, but I at least like to think that I have learned to live my life out in my own way a little more quietly and share my views when asked rather than beating people over the head with my philosophies unsolicited.

But I still struggle.  I have found that some of my family and friends are simply on their own journeys, and I think to some degree, we all know deep down that our modern industrialized way of life is not exactly in harmony with how God created this earth.  To some degree, I think we all realize something is not quite right.  I alternate between wondering if maybe there is no point to even trying.  Does what I am doing have any eternal significance?  Would I glorify God more if I invested more time and energy in more "spiritual" pursuits?  If the answer is that I am doing what God has called me to do, then what does that mean for other believers who aren't pursuing this same sort of lifestyle?  I believe God revealed the answers to these questions to me recently as I was reading through Romans 14:
"14 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister[a]? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
    every tongue will acknowledge God.’”[b]
12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.[c]"
I tried to choose just one or two key verses to demonstrate the point but realized all of it is key.  The point is that for me, pursuing a more natural, self-sufficient lifestyle is what God has called me to.  I am convinced in my own mind that in living this way, so long as God is first and He is my focus, I am glorifying Him and fulfilling His purpose for me.  He will equip me to continue on this path according to His will, and He has a purpose in it.  For me, it would be poor stewardship not to be doing some of the things I am currently doing.  But who am I to judge others who don't live my way?  I loved Jesus and walked with Him daily before I started drinking raw milk and shopping at the farmer's market.  I am not a "better Christian" now because I am doing these things.  God has provided me with knowledge, and He has provided the resources to apply that knowledge in ways that have greatly improved my health, my finances, and my quality of life.  I feel personally convicted and responsible to do what I can with this knowledge within the constraints of my own time, finances, and sanity.  But it's not my place to judge whether or not a brother or sister is stewarding their own knowledge and resources responsibly.  Who am I to judge someone else's servant (see verse 4)?  When God provides an opportunity to share what I have learned, I will continue to enthusiastically teach others.  But when God puts a person in my path who is at a different place in life, I will choose love and unity for that person, not judgement and condemnation.  And furthermore, I will seek to learn from those who are further along in other areas than myself, because I certainly still have plenty to learn.  As humans, we tend to judge others by their actions, because that's all we see.  But God sees the heart.  May I never forget that.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

13 Skills in 2013
The hubby and I really enjoy listening to The Survival Podcast with Jack Spirko.  Jack is truly a "jack of all trades."  You will sometimes hear him discuss disaster preparedness, hyperinflation, economics, libertarianism, self defense, firearms, food and water storage, alternative and back-up energy, homesteading, and permaculture design all in a single episode.  It's a great way to broaden our knowledge and make better use of time where we otherwise would not be learning anything such as while doing work around the house, while commuting, or while filing and doing other administrative tasks at work.  I will warn that Jack and some of his guests do use "colorful" language at times, so if that's a problem for you, you may not like his show.  But if you can get beyond that, you will learn a lot from the show.

Jack keeps talking about this new website he launched called "13 Skills."  Basically, it's a website where you create an account, choose 13 skill categories in which you want to become more proficient during 2013, and then further define your specific goals with a brief comment on each category.  You can use the website to track and document your progress as well as connect with others in the community who are pursuing similar goals.  It was very very easy for me to quickly choose 13 skills for myself for 2013.  I think it was harder narrowing it down to just 13!  I have come a long way in a short time, but I also tend to bite off more than I can chew and get overwhelmed at times.  I think this website is a great little tool to sit down and think about what I really want to accomplish this next year across multiple categories.  Most of the skills and goals I chose are things I was already planning in my head to do anyway.  By setting and quantifying each goal in writing, I can make sure that I spend enough time on each to accomplish that particular goal, yet also make sure I limit my time on any single goal to ensure that I meet the other 12 I have set by year's end.

So without further ado, here are my goals for 2013, in no particular order of importance.  You can also check out my profile on 13 Skills here.

1. Fermenting
To master sauerkraut and at least one other type of ferment this year. Bonus points if I can make something hubby will eat and enjoy.

2. Food Storage
To beef up our stores until I am confident we have at least a 6 month supply (or better yet, 1 year). To re-configure and reorganize our pantry to accommodate our stored food better.

3. Gardening
To have a successful spring, summer, and fall garden in our backyard which meets at least 25% of our produce consumption needs during harvest time.

4. Permaculture Design
To read Gaia's Garden and to integrate at least 3 basic permaculture design elements into our backyard.

5. Building a Solar Oven
To educate myself and select a method for building the oven, to gather the required materials, to build the oven, and to practice cooking at least 3 different food items in it.
6. Butchering
To butcher at least 1 chicken from start to finish.
7. Canning
To learn how and to obtain the required equipment to be able to put up at least 20 cans of tomatoes this year.
8. Composting
To obtain a proper bin and attempt composting (again) until I am more successful. To make further use of vermicomposting where appropriate.

9. Midwifery
To educate myself further on natural and home birthing options. To read at least 2 books on this subject this year.
10. Self Defense
To identify and learn skills and weapons which will help me to be more situationally aware and able to defend myself, particularly when I am alone after dark (i.e., leaving work and church in the evenings).
11. Sprouting
To sprout, dehydrate, and grind whole wheat berries and to make at least 2 recipes using sprouted grain.

12. Shooting
To go shooting at least 4 times this year and to feel comfortable shooting at least 2 of our guns.
13. Animal Husbandry
To obtain our first flock of laying hens as well as our starter rabbits for meat. 

So there you have it - those are my 13 Skills!  To keep the motivation going, I intend to document my progress on each goal on this blog.  At the end of 2013, I will have to a do follow-up post to see how far I have come on each.

What skills would you like to gain or refine during 2013?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Must Watch: Back to Eden

If you have any interest in gardening, or if you simply love natural beauty, I highly recommend you watch the film "Back to Eden."  I have plans to bring in a big load of mulch from a local tree trimmer for my spring garden.  I love how Paul relates gardening to his relationship with God.  Check it out!

Yogurt Bowls

Based on my own personal experience and also from talking to friends, boxed cereals from the store can be one of the most difficult "junk foods" for people to give up when they want to start eating more of a whole foods diet.  Perhaps it's all of their slick marketing and false health claims.  Perhaps it's the sheer convenience.  Perhaps it's the good memories of fishing all the marshmallows out of your Lucky Charms as a young child.  It's easy to see why Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs, and Fruit Loops are bad for your health, but I have also learned that even the so-called "heart healthy" brands like Cheerios are highly processed foods that are no good for your health, either (or your pocket book, might I add).

It's a lot easier to give up sugary, expensive boxed cereal when you are trading for eggs, bacon, and sourdough toast with lots of butter.  However, most mornings, my hubby and I are in a rush and need something we can easily grab and go.  Hard boiled eggs are wonderful but get old after a while.  Smoothies are great but do take about 10 minutes or so to throw together.  My latest obsession for breakfast has been what I call "yogurt bowls."


How to make a yogurt bowl:

There's really no recipe here, but this is what we do.

Pour about 1/2 to 1 cup of yogurt (see my post with my thoughts and recommendations on yogurt) in the bottom of a pint mason jar (great for on-the-go) or a bowl.  Add on top your choice of:
  • Nuts (it's usually truly raw almonds around here, which would ideally be made into crispy nuts).
  • Fruit (sliced bananas, sliced apples, frozen berries, sliced grapes, peaches, etc. - whatever is seasonal and available to you - I wouldn't do more than 3 different types of fruit, though, or it might get overwhelming).
  • Granola (optional - the nuts can fill in just fine if you don't have any on hand, but be sure to check out my recipe for easy, delicious soaked homemade granola)
  • Healthy sweetener of choice if desired (around here, it's usually raw honey, but you could also use sucanut or real maple syrup).
During the week, I will combine the yogurt, sweetener, and fruit, and then put the nuts or granola on the side the night before.  Then we just grab and go in the morning and finish assembling and mixing it up at our desks once we're at work.

You can be as creative or simple with these as you like.  These yogurt bowls will make you never want to eat a Yoplait or Dannon with way too much sugar (or aspartame or high fructose corn syrup, as the case may be) and mushy fruit in the bottom again!

Soaked Homemade Granola in the Dehydrator

Ever since I went to my church's women's retreat last September, I have been craving granola.  The retreat center makes a truly amazing homemade granola that was served on top of (sadly) Yoplait yogurt for breakfast the last day.  I have never been much of a yogurt person until I got into real foods, and now I've developed quite a taste for it.  I knew I had to take this concept home and do it real food style.  It wasn't until I've had time off from work for the holidays that I got up the nerve to try making my own granola, and boy, am I glad I did.  This is a great addition to our morning yogurt bowls.

First, let me give credit where credit is due.  I used this recipe from Kelly at The Nourishing Home as a base.  Kelly based her recipe off this recipe from Shannon at Cooking God's Way.  I broke a lot of rules and therefore my recipe deviated quite a bit from what these two ladies have done.  I thought it warranted its own blog post since several people in the comments over at The Nourishing Home seemed to be wondering if this could be done in a dehydrator.  I am happy to report that it turned out wonderful.  See my technique below.  If you would like to make this granola with an oven or just get a couple alternative perspectives on it, I highly recommend you check out what these two ladies have done.

Thoughts on soaking grains:

I recommend soaking grains where practical on this blog.  You can read more about it on the Weston A. Price Foundation website.  A lot of people debate the effectiveness of soaking versus sprouting versus fermenting (sourdough).  There is some question as to how effective soaking really is at removing phytic acid and anti-nutrients in grains.  Because of this, I am not religious about soaking grains.  However, I will say that I typically notice an improvement in my ability to digest grains when I soak them first.  It also often times improves the taste and texture as whole grains can be very tough, chewy, and nutty (not always in a good way).  A good long soak will usually soften them up a lot.  Another reason I like to soak my grains is because it allows me to split the preparation time up into manageable chunks.  Sure, it may take more total time than if you skipped the soaking step, but my life consists of small pockets of time here or there, so if I can get something started soaking and finish the prep up later, I am often far more likely to have time to do it at all.  I am happy to say that while plain oatmeal will often give me horrible heartburn, this granola causes me no issues at all whatsoever.

Step One: Soaking

  • 6 cups organic rolled oats and/or steel cut oats (I used 4 cups rolled oats, 2 cups steel-cut oats since I ran out of rolled oats - whoops!)
  • 2 cups hulled buckwheat (groats)
  • 1/2 cup butter (ideally from grass-fed cows)
  • 1/2 cup organic virgin coconut oil
  • 2 cups homemade kefir (buttermilk or yogurt would also probably work)
  • 2 cups filtered water
  1.  Melt butter and coconut oil in a double boiler or a small glass dish in your toaster oven on low heat.  Make sure you do not get it too hot, just slightly warmed and melted.  Pour into a large mixing bowl and add kefir and water.  Whisk to combine.
  2. Add oats and buckwheat; thoroughly combine using a large wooden spoon or rubber spatula
  3. Cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap and place it in a warm area of your kitchen for 24-48 hours.
  4. Once oat mixture is finished soaking, you're ready for Step Two: Dehydrating.
Step Two: Dehydrating

  • 3/4 cup raw honey
  • 3/4 cup pure maple syrup (not the fake stuff! you could use all honey and skip the maple syrup if you like)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 ½ tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
Yield: About 10-12 cups

  1. After soaking time is completed, place honey, maple syrup, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla in a glass measuring cup. Place measuring cup in a small pot of warm water on the stove. Bring water to a gentle simmer, stirring honey mixture until melted and all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Do not get it too hot.  Turn off heat and remove cup from pan carefully, using an oven mit. Pour honey mixture over oat mixture.
  2. Using a large rubber spatula, combine the honey and oat mixtures, folding everything in together until well combined.
  3. Spread the mixture out on dehydrator trays.  I have the Excalibur 9-tray dehydrator, and I used 4 of the trays. 
  4. Dehydrate on the highest setting (155 degrees on the Excalibur) for about 8 hours until dry and crispy.  Then, pop the granola loose, breaking it up, and pour into air-tight jars (I used two half-gallon jars.  The picture at the top of this post was after we had eaten about 1 or 2 cups of granola - they were almost completely full initially).
  5. Depending on how quickly you eat it, you may want to store half in a jar in the pantry and half in a freezer bag in the freezer to preserve freshness.
Tip: Next time I will try spreading the mixture onto a piece of parchment paper on the counter, then transferring to my Excalibur trays.  The first time I made this, I spread the mixture directly onto the mesh tray liners and had a difficult time breaking all of the granola free when it was done because it got smooshed through the mesh and then dried in.  I will update the recipe once I have a better method.  You could try lining each tray with parchment paper or using ParaFlexx sheets (I don't have them yet).  If you go this route, you'll probably want to flip your granola halfway through and dehydrate a little longer than 8 hours since the granola will get less air circulation.

My Thoughts and Recommendations on Yogurt

 So you may be wondering what kind of yogurt I use in the delicious yogurt bowl pictured above.

I have used this recipe to make homemade yogurt a few times.  Homemade yogurt tastes exactly like yogurt should taste, but it will be much thinner...almost a runny consistency.  You could probably strain off some of the whey using cheesecloth, and it would be absolutely perfect.  You would definitely save some money and have total control over what ingredients are used and how your yogurt is made.  You could even try making a raw milk yogurt (something I have not yet attempted).

While frugality and thrift are very important to me and I like to do everything homemade as much as possible, I am in a season where I just don't have time for everything.  Some trade-offs have to be made.  If I can buy a descent store-bought version of something without paying an exorbitant premium, I use that to my advantage so my time can be freed up for something else.

In order of priority, what I look for in a plain, store-bought yogurt is that it:
  • Is organic, or even better, from grass-fed cows
  • Is whole milk (not low-fat or non-fat)
  • Contains as few ingredients as possible (ideally only whole milk/cream and living cultures - many brands, even organic ones, contain powdered milk and various gums, thickeners, and stabilizers which I try to avoid).
Regarding pasteurization: you will find that, even in most homemade yogurt recipes, the milk is first heated up and then cooled down before inoculating with the yogurt culture.  The reason is that this ensures the yogurt culture can thrive with no competition.  When making raw milk yogurt, the milk is only heated to about 110 degrees, thereby leaving much of the good bacteria and enzymes in raw milk in tact, but it's a very temperamental process.  So for me personally, it makes most sense to use my raw milk that's past its prime for making homemade kefir and to find a good pasteurized milk for homemade yogurt or a good pasteurized store-bought yogurt instead.  The yogurt cultures actually bring "dead" milk back to life.  It is relatively safe and healthy to eat yogurt made from pasteurized milk versus drinking straight pasteurized milk because the cultures do so much work to undo a lot of the damage that has been done in the heating process.

So now that you know what to look for, you are probably wondering if I can make it easy on you and tell you what the heck I use!

The above yogurt on the left is available at Trader Joe's for $2.99 for 32 ounces (2 pounds).  The above yogurt on the right is available at my local health food store for $4.29 for the same amount.

Would you believe me if I told you these are the exact. same. thing.?!

It's true!

The above photo is the back label on the Trader Joe's brand.  You can see the plant # is 06-93.  Using, I traced that plant number back to - you guessed it - Straus Family Creamery!

Straus Family Creamery is an excellent company.  Their only drawback, in my mind, is that they pasteurize (but not ultra-pasteurize) their products.  However, their cows are treated well and are mostly grass-fed, they are certified organic, and they are a small, family-owned company that cares about its people, its products, and the environmental impact of its business practices.  I have bought their cream-top milk (also a bargain under the Trader Joe's label) and have used that when our raw milk is unavailable due to recalls, for example.

So in short, a good, happy compromise for me is to stock up on "Trader Joe's" (i.e. Straus) European Style whole milk yogurt every time I'm there.  It is absolutely delicious, a great price, and I have complete confidence in the quality.  I pretty much only use the yogurt for yogurt bowls since it is much thicker and milder than our kefir.  I use the homemade kefir in smoothies where I can better mask the very tart flavor.  Both are excellent foods to include in our diet which supply us with good healthy fats and a plethora of immune-boosting pro-biotic bacteria.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Thoughts on Prepping

Photo credit:
More than ever in my lifetime, these are uncertain times.  The news is full of talk of a "fiscal cliff."  Our economy has been struggling since the big 2008 collapse.  Our national debt is growing by the second. The price of gasoline keeps creeping up.  The integrity of the US dollar is being called into question.  As we learn more and more about where things "come from" and everything that has to happen for the industrial supply chain which enables our modern life to function, we realize we have been placing entirely too much faith in it, in our shaky economy, and in our often-times corrupt, not to mention inefficient, government.  This blind faith is perhaps due in large part to ignorance, and perhaps it is also due in part to this feeling of being completely and utterly overwhelmed, preferring to dig our heads in the sand than become one of those extreme, doomsday, hoarding, worry wart "preppers."  But, as anyone who has embarked down the path of real food, alternative health, and natural living will soon realize, the prepper community has a lot of overlap with these pursuits.  It just fits.  If you decide to take your food and health into your own hands, it doesn't take long to realize that, to the extent possible, you should take your self-sufficiency into your own hands as well.  My husband has hopped on board and really taken charge of this area of our life lately.  It has been a tremendous opportunity to bond and plan and dream together.  You know what they say, couples who prep together, stay together!  Okay, maybe I just made that up, but you get the idea...

We now find ourselves asking questions: what if the power goes out, even for just 2 or 3 days?  What if we go to turn on the faucet, and nothing comes out?  What if there's an earthquake?  What if one of us loses a job for an extended period of time (again)?  What if our nation goes through another Great Depression?  What if the rule of law fails?  What if life as we know it drastically changes?  As a believer in Christ, these thoughts are constantly tempered by knowledge of the Lord's grace and provision for us.  But just as I cannot expect a paycheck to come rolling in so I can keep the lights on and the fridge full unless I get up and head to work each day, I cannot expect that God will miraculously provide my needs in the event of a short-term or long-term disaster if I do not make use of the opportunities He has given me now to prepare.  God most certainly can miraculously provide, but His way of providing may be coming in the form of opening my eyes to the fragility of my everyday life and showing me how to prayerfully prepare for what may come.

We have realized that, whether things go south or not, a more self-sufficient lifestyle really appeals to us.  We are a ways off from owning 100 acres in the country and providing all of our own needs (though doesn't that sound nice?).  We are doing what we can within the constraints of our current time, money, and location available to us.  We are starting with the most basic and most likely "disasters": earthquake, short-term utility interruption (power, water, natural gas, sewer...), job loss, etc.  We are seeking to secure provisions to get us through 1 day, 3 days, 2 weeks, 1 month, 6 months, etc.  We are starting small and working our way up.  We are identifying holes in our plans and plugging them, one at a time.  I will be sharing some posts along our journey which may provide some inspiration to you on your own journey.  Maybe I can give you some things to think about.  Maybe I can present things in a way that is a lot less overwhelming.  I think prepping starts in the mind and manifests itself through small changes and choices as time and finances permit.  My desire is to help others make that transition in their mind and share some of the experiences I have which will enable them to make the changes and choices that go along with a new mindset.