January Snapshot: How much did it cost?

Our year unchained is already 1/12th complete! If you are just checking in, you can read the initial post  and guidelines for the challenge here:


The fruits of this endeavor can already be seen throughout our home. Our kids are happily devouring every meal that I serve them. We have always fed them whole and well, but they still have their favorites. I have been looking for pushback mostly from our youngest (8). Would she pick the collards out of her stew or choose to just eat around them? No. Every drop…then seconds. They happily declare where each ingredient came from…remembering when Aimee dropped off the sausage or the bitter cold day that we packed the refrigerator full of freshly harvested cabbage before the impending freeze. They remember. This commitment is changing them as much as it is stretching me.

We didn’t really know what this year would look like financially. We knew we would spend less…but quality, local, organic ingredients cost more and for good reason.

Here is our January breakdown:

Mennonite Farm = $49.00 (Milk & Butter)
No. 9 Farm = $17.00 (Greens, Squash, Herbs)
Charlotte Mennonite Market = $54.00 (Wheat Berries & Jam)
Country Pantry = $35.34 (Local Pecans, Honey, Eggs, Spices and Olive Oil <—although, not local…a predetermined concession)
Sweetwater Valley Farm Cheese = $37.33
Lasater’s Coffee = $28.90
Lewis Johnson = $60.00 (Amazing Smoked Sausage!)
Green Door Gourmet Farm = $17.40 (Collards and Habanero Ketchup made in Lebanon, TN)
Tennessee Grassfed = $265.00 (1/4 cow divided by 3 months)
Giving Thanks Farm = $194.00 (eggs, chicken, pork)
Grand Total for January: $757.97

You can find the information for each one of these sources under the Community Resource Guide.

We expect the first 3 months of the year to be the heaviest financially….until the weather warms and our own garden harvest begins.

Meet Duke. He is just as excited for green pastures….



Cold Frame Planting

Our hoophouse has been slowly deteriorating over the last year. The corners of the plastic were slowly pulling apart from the steel frame while the plastic surrounding the door ripped away completely a few months ago. Cliff replaced the plastic door with a heavy storm door but even the plastic surrounding that began to slowly unravel. We were obviously fighting the elements and losing.

Our home sits on a bluff with 4 acres of open pasture in the front of our home….so when the wind whips, it threatens everything that is not secured. We have learned to work with these issues, staking every plant that may succumb to high winds, taking down one side of the porch swing so it won’t crack our window and securing everything inside of the barn before an approaching storm.

However, the hoophouse wouldn’t last through another spring storm season. Cliff made the call and sold it to another local homesteading family that doesn’t have the same perilous winds. Instead of working against the wind, we would look for a solution to protect young vegetables from the frosty nights while working with our windy location.

A Cold Frame!

It is inexpensive ($3 Habitat for Humanity Restore windows) and quick to build….Our oldest son assisted Cliff and they were done with the project in just a few hours.


This small planting bed contained carrots last spring….I just added a bucket of compost to prepare the soil for planting….Remember those tiny seedlings 4 weeks ago?

Radishes & Turnips

Radishes & Turnips

I will have to keep a close eye on the temperature in this location. It is south-facing…so when the daytime temperature reaches 40 degrees, I’ll slide over the windows to allow plenty of air circulation. I’ll remove the bottom set of windows entirely at 50 degrees. It’s worth the extra effort….we’re all looking forward to a greater variety of vegetables and greens!


Lying in the Bed you Made

Garden beds are a hot topic!
On our little farm, it’s the foundation of food. Like all foundations it should be strong, functional and stand the test of time.
We are religious about the no-till farming method! Now am I saying we worship a planting style or even the earth or plants? Of course not! We worship their Creator, and by caring for what He has given us, we have another avenue of worship.
Green Pepper Seedlings (2014)

Green Pepper Seedlings (2014)

If you look around the world, there are many examples of the devastation we can cause by growing food irresponsibly.  Near where we grew up in Southern Maryland, there is town named Port Tobacco.  It’s on a small creek and most of the year it is nothing more than a swamp.  What’s interesting is that this used to be a bustling port that carried Maryland cash crops out onto the Potomac and into the Chesapeake Bay. However, because of erosion and the silting in of the river, nothing remains but a few historic buildings. The great dust bowl of the Midwest is another well-documented example of us squandering the rich and fertile ground that God has blessed us with.

While living in Hawaii, we loved visiting the North Shore of Oahu. The land was truly created with love and the community there is vibrant and alive with activity.  One of our favorite routes is locally known as “Snake Road.” It starts out in pineapple fields high in the valley, but as you wind down the twisty road you pass the experimental fields of Monsanto and Pioneer. Then, the Pacific opens in front of you in all it’s splendor.  During the rainy season, polluted agricultural run-off from excessive plowing often fills the crystal blue water, heeding warnings to surfers and swimmers to temporarily avoid the area. Even in paradise we have found a way to literally murky up the waters that we have been blessed with.

Having these experiences, I knew that we couldn’t ignore them and just do what’s always been done. We are called to do ALL things to the glory of God, certainly this would include the very foundation of our nutrient source. I searched, looking to find a way to care for the earth that God has given us as a foundation for our physical survival….something to express the love we have for our Savior.

Farming God’s Way.

In a gist, Farming God’s Way or what is now known as Foundations for Farming is the story of a man who was on a similar search for foundational farming but who had way more experience with farming than I did! Through the work of Foundations for Farming, the lost have been pointed toward Christ and whole African countries set free from food dependence. I would highly encourage you to read the Foundations for Farming Manual to learn more about farming and discipleship!

How do we do it?
Using the oak and hickory leaves native to our land here in Middle Tennessee, we lay down about 12-14 inches of leaves. This is placed directly on top of lawn, field, or old beds. Blood meal or other high-nitrogen manure can be spread before the leaves are placed to add nitrogen to the soil. This is especially important if your garden is now a lawn. On top of that we lay branches and twigs….similar to the forest floor, this alters the wind blowing across the bed and keeps the leaves in place.  When it’s time to plant in the spring, the soil underneath is rich and moist like the earth in the forest. We supplement the soil with organically prepared compost each subsequent season. Diligent care will ensure healthy plants and a bountiful harvest. God has given His creation as an example….we just need to look around and see Him in it.
Summer Beauty ~ No-Till (2014)

Morning Glory ~ No-Till (Summer 2014)


Learning to cook. Again.

I’ve been reading “An Everlasting Meal” by Tamar Adler…it is culinary brilliance with a back to basics approach to cooking. That’s just where I am once again…at the basics. I grew up in my grandparent’s home, in a household of 7, raised by a single Mom trying her best. Cheap food was a necessity. I remember spending hours wandering the isles of our local grocery store (it’s where my Mom worked) waiting for my sweet grandmother to shop. She would fill her buggy to the brim and get another…and like trains pulling into a station, she rolled to the checkout counter with a mountain of coupons, scoring an impressive amount of food for the money spent. She did her best to feed her demanding army. We lived on Kool-Aid, Wonder Bread and processed food.


Needless to say, I didn’t know how to cook anything. That translates to some shaky newlywed years….Cliff fondly remembers the runny eggs and undercooked chicken. Whoa. Luckily for my gracious husband….I was a fast learner! 😉  Taking inspiration from the fresh ingredients found at our local California Farmer’s Market, I continually tried new recipes with ingredients I had never tasted before. The more the Army moved us, 13 times to be exact, the more integrated we became into cooking locally, becoming CSA (community supported agriculture) members and regular market attenders wherever we lived.

However for the last two weeks, I’ve felt like a beginner cook all over again. Utterly failing at some recipes….undercooked beans and runny mayonnaise to name a few. There have been plenty of triumphs…but there is a push to learn quickly, an urgent pressure to persevere…to keep trying. One pizza night consists of homemade marinara, pizza dough, mozzarella and then ricotta from the whey, getting the most out of a gallon of milk as possible. Don’t get me wrong….this is delicious practice, but I didn’t know how to cook any of these things two weeks ago….well, not from scratch that is.

Today, I was reading from Tamar’s book where she describes a food writer having lunch with Julia Child, who orders oeufs mayonnaise off of the menu and “ate it with joy comparable to euphoria.” That’s what I’m talking about. Mayo is where it’s at…I can totally do this…no more ruined runny mayo. Well, it wasn’t quite that easy. I tried again….separating the yolks, adding the salt, vinegar and oil…wisking ferociously. Nope…still runny. UGH!

I was committed now and willing to roll through all the remaining eggs I had left. Two more yolks, salt and vinegar…this time dropping them into a mason jar…mixing them with an immersion blender then slowly tablespoon by tablespoon adding the oil. This kind of experience makes your heart race, maybe it was the coffee, but when that bright yellow liquid slowly began to turn white and thicken….I was over the moon!


It was all about the oil. I had been hasty and rushed the process. Today was full of lessons: Mayonnaise is about the pour….the slow, diligent pour. I’m learning to understand the basics.

Recipe from:

How To Make Mayonnaise with an Immersion Blender
Makes 1 cup
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard (optional)
1 cup canola oil, olive oil, or any other oil

Combine the yolks, lemon juice, salt, and mustard: Combine the yolks, lemon juice, salt, and mustard in the blender cup or canning jar. Pulse with the immersion blender a few times to break up the yolks. You may need to tilt the cup so the blender blade reaches the yolks.
Add 1/2 cup of the oil a little at a time: With the immersion blender running, add the first 1/2 cup of oil a few tablespoons at a time. Make sure each addition of oil is completely blended before adding the next. The mixture should start to thicken and lighten. (Once you’ve made this a few times and have a feel for it, you can try going more quickly, or even try pouring all the oil on top of the eggs and then blending all at once — going slowly at first is just an extra level of insurance.)
Add the remaining oil in a steady stream: Once the first half cup of oil has been added, you can add the rest more quickly. Add as much of the oil as needed to reach the consistency you prefer; the more oil you add, the thicker the mayo will become. You may not need to use all the oil. If the mayo becomes too thick and you’d like to thin it out, blend water, 1 teaspoon at a time, into the mayo until you reach your desired thickness.
Store the mayonnaise: Transfer any mayo not being used immediately to a storage container (or leave it in the canning jar and seal it with a lid). Homemade mayo will keep for about 1 week in the refrigerator.

Recipe Notes:
Use the best, freshest eggs you can find for homemade mayo. If you avoid raw eggs for health reasons, look for pasteurized egg yolks at the store.



What We’re Growing

I seed start almost every vegetable…even those that are typically direct sown. It is more time-consuming, but I can easily control watering needs and track germination rates this way. Plus, I can get a jump on the growing season. It just makes sense to me…so Cliff endures the mountain of plants that line the walls of our bedroom (it’s the brightest room in the house) before it is time to transfer them outside.  I love him! 🙂

This year, we’re making a bigger push for cool-season vegetables. We are trying a few new varieties of heirloom vegetables this year but most of these are tried and true. As you can see from the wide-variety of tomatoes. They are my favorite thing….there really is nothing better than a tomato warmed by the sun. Is it June yet?


Summer 2014 ~ Harvest

Spring-Planted, Cool-Season Vegetables:
Beets – Detroit Dark Red, Colorful Beet Mix
Broccoli – Calabrese, Early Green
Brussel Sprouts – Long Island Improved
Cabbage – Copenhagen Market Early, Early Jersey Wakefield
Celery – Tall Utah
Collards – Georgia Southern
Kale – Lacinato, Red Russian, Dwarf Blur Curled Scotch
Leek – Blue Solaise
Lettuce – Waldmanns Dark Green, Red Romaine, Forellenschluss
Mustard Greens – Mild Mustard Mix
Peas – Suttons Harbinger
Radish – Salad Rose
Spinach – America, Bloomsdale
Swiss Chard – Perpetual Spinach
Turnip – Purple Top White Globe

Warm Season:
Cantaloupe – Honey Rock, Delice De La Table
Cucumber –Boston Pickling, Marketmore
Okra – Clemson Spineless
Pepper – Poblano, Jalapeño, Bull Nose Bell
Spinach – New Zealand
Squash – Butternut, Pattypan, Long Island Cheese, Spaghetti Squash
Tomato – Black Krim, Amish Paste, Italian Heirloom, Fox Cherry, Purple Calabash, Costoluto Genovese, Matts Wild Cherry, Big Rainbow, Mortgage Lifter, San Marzano, Mountain Princess
Watermelon – Moon & Stars


Moon & Stars Watermelon

Moon & Stars Watermelon



Dinner Menu ~ Weeks 3 & 4

January is flying by!

Day 15
Bratwurst with sweet potato mash

Day 16

Day 17
Curried spaghetti squash with chicken

Day 18
Meatloaf with sweet potatoes

Day 19
Potato and ham chowder

Day 20
Sausage and cabbage stir-fry

Day 21
Crockpot chicken soup with winter vegetables

Day 22
White chicken chili

Day 23

Day 24
Shepherd’s pie

Day 25
Sausage, squash and apple stew

Day 26
Steak and arugula salad

Day 27
Butternut squash and bean soup

Day 28

Day 29
Beans and greens

Day 30

Day 31
OUT! = I’m thinking pasta and chocolate 😀

You should try this:

This was a standout recipe and could be easily adjusted as the seasons change.


I doubled the recipe but only added 8 eggs. I also used the rest of the herbs and mustard greens from No. 9 farms. Mustard greens may be our family’s new favorite green after this meal. It was perfectly peppery and bright, which complemented this dish well….along with sausage from Giving Thanks Farm, cheese from Sweetwater Valley Farm and our own sweet potatoes. Win!

Remember those tiny sprouts from only a few weeks ago?

Radish Seedlings

Radish Seedlings

I’ll keep seed starting the same combination of spinach, turnips and radishes every other week for the hoophouse and then for the spring garden bed. February will be much busier in this department…I’m sure looking forward to warmer weather!











Ketchup & Coffee

Since our condiments are just about gone (we still have mustard, fish sauce, soy sauce and hot sauce), it was time to try out a homemade ketchup recipe!



I adapted the recipe just a little:

2 quarts of diced tomatoes
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 cinnamon stick, crushed
1/2 teaspoon each: whole allspice, whole cloves, peppercorns, and celery seeds
1 bay leaf

Place tomatoes, vinegar, sugar and salt into a slow cooker and stir.
Place spices on a square of cheesecloth and tie into a bundle with kitchen twine. Add to the mixture.
Cook on low, with the lid removed, for approximately 12 hours.
Remove cheesecloth bundle and immersion blend.
Pour into glass jars for the fridge or freezer.

I look forward to being able to try this with the addition of onions, which we do not currently have.

This will be our master ketchup recipe, a definite keeper.


Now…onto coffee.

If you know me….you know that I LOVE coffee. I often think how easy this challenge would be if we still lived in Hawaii (the Army granted us that privilege for 3 years) where coffee, pineapples and bananas grow abundantly!  We visited Greenwell Farms, a Kona coffee plantation, while on a family vacation to the Big Island. Enter….the beginning of coffee snobbery. Nothing else will ever compare, but I press on. 😉  Since there are no coffee plantations in Middle Tennessee, we had a decision to make. It was really non-negotiable…we would support local roasters. We love the quality of Mugsy’s Coffee Co., as well as, Lasater’s Coffee. So that’s our happy, caffeinated compromise.

Have a great weekend!


First Week ~ Recap

It has been an incredible 8 days!

If I could sum it up in one word thus far….simplicity.

Yes, it takes a fair amount of planning to be prepared enough to conquer the days, but it is undeniably gratifying. A routine has taken shape, and the transition has been less daunting than I had previously imagined.

More importantly, our family is much more aware of the value of fresh vegetables. Those quarts of canned tomatoes that line my pantry shelves are worth gold until I pluck our next ripe tomato off of the vine during the heat of June. Also, there has been no waste this week….every parsnip, mustard green and cilantro sprig was utilized. In the past, I’ve been guilty of buying vegetables and forgetting about them until they are beyond their usability….opting instead to grab pizza on the busiest of days.

Obviously, I still have tremendously busy days and unexpected surprises that test the limits of this challenge. Planning out the next day’s meals and even prepping them ahead of time have been fundamental for success.

The best part? Our family has grown closer…spending less time hurriedly rushing from errand to errand and more time home, together.

Caelynn has eagerly flipped homemade tortillas, even operating two skillets simultaneously. Christian has diligently watched the thermometer for the curds and whey to reach 90 degrees to proceed to the next mozzarella step. Cliffy…well he tinkered with the ingredients in a bread recipe to fit our freshly ground wheat, which we now bake multiple times a week.

We are a team and it has been beautifully….simplistic.



The Big Freeze

Temperatures are plunging tomorrow evening…..to a frigid 3 degrees. YIKES! I held out hope that the forecast may edge warmer as we approached this week.

It is not.

So, the preparation begins:

Our cabbage has been thriving this winter, despite the erratic temperature changes. Even during our coldest nights, the temperature has not remained consistently low enough to damage the plants. Although, I risk frost damage pushing it below the mid-20’s…I’ve already nudged these boundaries down into the teens.

Cabbage: Winter 2014

Any plant exposed to single digits will likely not recover, so I pulled all the cabbage this afternoon, as well as, some remaining turnips. The chickens received the cabbage roots and some tough outer leaves as a snack….Thanks for the tip, Tiffany! We’re hoping to try our hand at sauerkraut with this harvest.

On to the hoophouse:

I am experimenting with overwintering some vegetables…so that when spring hits, I have a running head start toward harvest.

Collards have been the champions of this process.

Georgia Southern Heirloom Collard

Georgia Southern Heirloom Collard

I insulated a variety of lettuces, swiss chard and collards with breathable lightweight fabric as an extra layer of frost protection . We keep two 30-gallon black trash cans filled with water at each end of the hoophouse to help hold in heat from the sun’s rays. It typically hovers 30 degrees above outside temperatures with these techniques, but I still risk losing everything in the ground tomorrow evening, despite these efforts.



We’ll also secure a heat lamp to a barn stall, to ensure the chickens and our barn cat, Liberty, are comfortable tomorrow evening.

“While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” ~ Genesis 8:22

Stay warm!


And We’re Off!

The challenge began yesterday with a trip to the Mennonite farm for milk and then meeting Aimee (Giving Thanks Farm) for eggs. Ours hens are not laying quite enough to sustain us through the winter months.

Yesterday, my main objective was to conquer mozzarella for dinner tonight. You see, I tried making mozzarella last year, when we did not belong to a milk share….without success.

Not this time! I used the same rennet and citric acid from the previous attempt….Fresh raw milk was perfect for the task!


I followed this recipe from the Pioneer Woman:


I had to adapt the recipe since we don’t own a microwave.* It looked like mozzarella at this point, but would it stretch?

Cliff dunked the strainer into the hot whey for 1 minute, while I reached in and formed the white mass into a perfect glistening round ball, squeezing out as much whey as possible.

After a few more dunks into the whey…..IT STRETCHED! We have cheese, ladies and gentlemen!

* I was an impressionable young newlywed, 12 years ago, when we would visit our midwife’s home for prenatal visits. She felt that a microwave had only one good use: To store her loaves of bread….it just stuck. What about leftovers? In the rare case the we have leftovers, I use a pot on the stove….but let’s be real, Cliff usually just stands in front of the refrigerator and eats the rest cold. 😉

We had some free time this morning, so we drove to the Nashville Farmer’s Market to see if any farmers were selling locally grown vegetables on this dreary January day. It was disappointing. The parking lot was empty, and the few vendors that were present were selling produce grown in other states.

We sat in the parking lot, with empty bags, flipping through the Local Table magazine and called No. 9 Farms in Ashland City to see if they were selling any local winter greens.

No. 9 Farm

We stopped by Stephanie’s beautiful farm on the way home. She gave us a variety of greens, herbs and parsnips and even a few butternut squash out of her own cellar. Meeting different farmer’s with a passion for agriculture is always inspiring!Winter Vegetables

She’ll have pesticide-free you-pick strawberries and blackberries in the spring and summer. Like her farm for updates!


Local Table Magazine: Middle Tennessee’s Guide to Local Food & Farming