A Year Unchained – COMPLETE!

A Year Unchained.

A passing idea, a fleeting thought…profoundly changes everything!

I was pretty naïve about what it truly meant to give up my dependence on the grocery store. Like many moms, I visited Kroger or Publix multiple times a week before the challenge began. I wasn’t thoroughly prepared to undertake a year without the grocery store. I didn’t plant a fall garden last year to pull us through the winter months, which seemed to never end, and I didn’t have a freezer stocked with an abundance of food. Those freezing months were by far the hardest. Finding local winter vegetables when farmers were enduring harsh growing conditions was tough…the learning curve was extremely steep. However, I had both feet in with fresh enthusiasm ushered in by a bright new year.

The lessons I’ve learned from gardening, cooking and most of all balancing are tremendous. Why didn’t I plant more onions…more jalapenos….succession plant more?! All invaluable lessons! This simple act of eating locally is now routine. I don’t think of making a heaping salad of crisp, buttery lettuce in summer….I live in Tennessee, where spring rain turns into scorching heat in a matter of weeks leaving lettuce wilted and bitter. I’ve learned to adapt well to this way of eating for my region. I savor the first shoots of asparagus that emerge in spring with unbelievable anticipation. That is how the food that we nourish our bodies with should be enjoyed…in it’s season, at the peak of its freshness…exactly how it was intended to be eaten.

A bright tomato plucked off the vine, still warm from the summer sun, which spills it’s smoky flavor onto fresh bread with homemade mayo is pretty much perfection to me. My mouth is watering, guys! This could never compare to a tomato grown in a greenhouse and harvested while stiff and green in January. There is joy in the anticipation….that concept I completely grasp now, like never before. How did that happen? How did we forget how to eat? How to truly enjoy fresh food? How to wait for the best things? Watching my kids taste the first perfectly ripe strawberry that they just pulled from its vine is one of those special memories I’ll cherish. I watched them savor it in a whole new way. They now know the effort it takes to grow them organically. They know you’ll need netting to keep away the birds. They know that hens LOVE over-ripe strawberries because they talked to the farmer…this was the best part of the journey..

We are driven to reach for easy…fast…efficient, but we bypass the beauty in the slow process. The smell of yeast rising a fresh loaf of bread, the sound that cream makes against a mason jar as it changes from a liquid to a creamy golden butter and cheese….Oh cheese…An undiscovered passion! I would have never uncovered the love of stretching warm cheese between my hands and the satisfaction of homemade mozzarella bubbling on fresh pizza.

So you may be wondering…where do we go from here?

Well, back to the grocery store…in moderation. My previously expansive grocery list won’t return, but there are specific items that we’ve desperately missed and will pick up regularly once again:

In order of importance:

1. Avocados – I’ve dreamed of you…I can’t wait!

2. Bananas – There are no words. I have lived where bananas are pulled off the tree in the hundreds. I miss them!

3. Wild caught Salmon – This was HARD. We used to eat salmon a few times a week. Our first dinner of the new year!

4. Coconut Milk – Nothing makes soup creamy and delicious like coconut milk. Vietnamese curry was a staple meal in our home.

5. Hot Sauce – We plowed through all the jalapenos that I grew with lightening speed. We like it spicy.

I still have a beautiful variety of food growing with our unseasonably warm weather. I’ll still focus on eating what I preserved and what is seasonally growing. I’ll continue to purchase produce/meat/dairy from the local farmers that I know and whose products I love. This has forever changed my view of food and what is necessary. What I didn’t miss this year, processed food…even homemade ketchup is better. Small changes, friends. Grow a few tomato plants this year…add a basil plant…your house will smell unbelievable as those flavors simmer together for sauce in your stockpot. Simple. Attend a farmer’s market during the summer months. Community. Sharing. There is beauty in simple.

I want to inspire you on the dawn of a new year.  I’ve placed my food dollars in the hands of those whose backs ache from cultivating, whose fingers are worn and rough…I want that. They deserve that. It is hard work to grow whole, real food. Why do we cheapen that? We should have more local markets, more farmers and more citizens standing up for what they nourish their family with. You should know who grows that unique watermelon that your kids adore. Who tends to the chickens whose eggs make your breakfast complete? Friends, let’s close the loop.

Please signup below to be included in our email distribution list for when we have extra vegetables available for purchase throughout the year.

Let’s make 2016 amazing. Support your local farmer’s. It will change your health and your life!

Please visit the Community Resource Guide for some of my favorite local businesses!

Happy New Year!

The Syner Family

The Unchained Gift Guide

Happy November!

I’m thoroughly enjoying these mild fall temperatures and cozy rainy days. It was this time last year that I was inspired to change how our family viewed the food that nourished our bodies. We are 11 months into the Unchained Challenge, a commitment to not shop at a grocery store for an entire year. I thought I’d share my favorite essential tools for the kitchen & garden. These items helped to bring the simple pleasures of homemade into reality for this busy Mom…


*”In the spirit of full disclosure, the icons below are Amazon affiliate links, which means that I may get a commission if you decide to purchase anything from Amazon.com. All of the opinions are my own, and I only recommend products that I use and love myself. I know you’ll be in good hands with any item you may purchase.”

1. WonderMill Grain Mill

It is intensely satisfying to pour wheat berries into the mill and feel fresh, warm flour between your fingertips just seconds later…ready for fluffy pancakes or soft bread. We buy whole wheat berries at our local Mennonite Farm Store and store in a 5 gallon food-grade bucket with an easy twist off lid.

2. BOGS Boots

If my house was burning down, I’d grab these boots. 😉  I’ve mucked out barn stalls, taken long hikes through shallow creeks, stood and kneeled for hours and hours planting, weeding and harvesting. They keep tired feet warm and dry. I even bought a pair for my Dad, who loves them just as much as me. You can’t go wrong with these boots!

3. John Boos RA03 24-by-18-by-2-1/4-Inch Reversible Maple Cutting Board

The large work surface of this cutting board is a dream….I use it for meal prep every single day. It’s also my primary workstation for marathon canning sessions.

4. Zojirushi BB-PAC20 Home Bakery Virtuoso Breadmaker

We go way back. Cliff actually took my original Zojirushi, one that we purchased as newlyweds, to Afghanistan to bake fresh bread in the clinic. He’s amazing like that. 🙂 However, he left it there so the next crew could enjoy freshly baked bread, even if it was just from a mix. We’ve put some serious miles on my replacement model this year….actually our oldest son (12) is our resident bread baker. It takes just minutes to put in the ingredients for the perfect sandwich bread.

5. Lodge Manufacturing Company EC6D13 Dutch Oven, 6 quart.

I have some hearty apetities to feed….A double batch of chili, a heaping pile of greens….this pot can handle it. I keep it on my stovetop, it’s beautiful and highly functional.

6. Ball 67000 Quart Wide Mouth Mason Jars, Silver Lids pack of 12 (32 OZ)

Lined in rows….jars and jars filled with colorful vegetables. We also use them as glasses and for storage. I prefer the wide-mouth model, it’s the perfect size for the immersion blender to mix quick tomato sauces.

7. KitchenAid KHB1231 2-Speed Hand Blender Empire Red Electric Mixer

I smile when I pull this from the drawer….We’ve had this for almost 13 years. It started out as the gadget I used to puree every ounce of food for all three of our children. Now, it makes quick work of mayo/soups/sauces. Love this!

8. Culina Space Saving Salad Spinner, 5-Quart

I take the colander directly to the garden to harvest, then plunge the greens right into water and spin to dry…Quickest way to thoroughly clean greens!

9. Gorilla Carts GOR108D-14 Poly Garden Dump Cart with 2-in-1 Convertible Handle, 1,000-Pound Capacity, 41.5-Inch by 22.5-Inch Bed, Black Finish

I can handle heavy tasks alone with this guy. We use it all over the farm but especially in the garden.

10. Taylor Stainless Steel Retro Kitchen Scale

I purchased this halfway into the canning season after my digital scale broke….I now prefer it!


Stocking Stuffers: It’s the little things…

AllyDrew All Natural Jute Twine 12ply 110 Yard

I use at least two large rolls a year. Support plants/wrap presents….it’s endless!

Taylor Classic Instant Read Pocket Thermometer

Cheese-making essential.

Fiskars Traditional Bypass Pruning Shears

You can never have too many…

So here’s to a new year of slow and homemade adventures and establishing fresh family traditions.


The Key to Finding Balance

Quit. All. The. Things.

Just kidding….sort of.

I’ve learned a lot about myself by not shopping at a grocery store for the past nine months…

1. Being HOME refuels.

The best days happen when I don’t have any place to be. My energy is focused right here…on this precious family and this dirt. That means I’ll often run a decision to commit to something by my husband. It gives me a moment to think without giving an immediate “YES!!!” He’s good at giving me a crooked smile with knowing eyes. Sigh…I know too.

2. Don’t make excuses….MAKE PRIORITIES.

Cooking this way demands it. How did we get so far off? How did we get too busy to cook?

This has been eye-opening. We’re tired. We have too much to do. We don’t have time. Some of my favorite memories as a child were around my grandmother’s table, whether an everyday dinner or an impressive Thanksgiving spread.

I want my children to remember these moments too. Will they remember rushing out to the chicken coop to collect one more egg for the soft and flaky dinner rolls that they love? Will they remember stretching warm mozzarella between their fingers? I hope so.



Before the end of the day, I mentally start making a plan for the next day. What am I cooking? Do I need to thaw anything? What time should I start? Sometimes this means I’ll pull double duty for lunch and go ahead and prepare dinner simultaneously….especially if we have an outside activity to attend. This is not ideal but the reality in some seasons. We still eat together, but I don’t have to worry about hungry, grumpy kids that have to wait for dinner at 8:30 p.m.


I still have pressure….a push to put one foot in front of the other in a hundred directions. There are constant needs and tasks to be accomplished. The garden needs weeded, there is a possum in the cat food container, and my son wants to recite his Latin exercises to me at 6 a.m.

So…I dropped the gym, at least temporarily. I was beating my body up trying to accomplish an intense early morning workout coupled with my gardening and preserving chores….and aching from it all. For now, I’m pounding out a few miles down our twisty country road and focusing on increasing my flexibility…maybe it will make me more efficient at weeding.

And…Less clutter – Less chaos – Less work


I slip away. An early morning tip-toe to the front porch.  I unzip my Bible and soak it in. My attention is about to be pulled away….breakfast, homeschooling, responsibilities, but this is a quiet moment, to completely inhale and give it away. More than anything, I want to keep Him FIRST.


July Snapshot: How much did it cost?

CRAZY. That pretty much sums up our summer break.

A massive kitchen painting project and a monster load of food to tend to and preserve….I haven’t sat down much. 😉

What makes it worth it?

As I plopped the 100th quart of diced tomatoes into a boiling water bath yesterday….I know that I have enough put up to last us until tomato season NEXT summer. Having started this challenge in January knowing we didn’t have enough to last us until harvest…this is HUGE. A handful of seeds have grown into an immense amount of nutrition for our family.

This is why I garden.





Here is our July breakdown:

Farmer’s Market = $12.00 (Garlic & Onions)
Tennessee GrassFed & Jolly Barnyard = $215.00 (Beef)
Trading Post = $212.23 (Onions, Eggs, Bulk Spices, Potatoes, Gouda Cheese, Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, Nude Dough Bread, Schlabach’s granola)
Lasaters = $28.31 (Coffee)
Country Pantry = 85.59 (Wheat Berries, Bulk Spices, Maple Syrup)
Giving Thanks Farm = $180.75 (Chicken, Pork, Eggs)
Milk Share = $41.00 (10 gallons, yogurt)
Crossed Hearts Homestead = $15.00 (Eggs)
Grand Total for July = $789.88

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


June Snapshot: How much did it cost?

We’re halfway through the Unchained Challenge!

I’ve waited all year for the ease of summer eating. We’re in the sweet spot of summer. We can consume what we pick each day….A basket of beans and cucumbers, a handful of tomatoes, an armload of kale.


I bring in two baskets of vegetables each morning. In a month….I’ll measure that in buckets per day. Nothing could have prepared me more for summer canning than a winter without a grocery store. I understand the value in putting aside the time to preserve.

FullSizeRender-19I love this Pickled Beet recipe from the Prairie Homestead.

Here is our June breakdown:

Farmer’s Market = $10.00 (Blueberries)
Bard-Roc Farm = $8.75 (Sweet Potatoes)
Tennessee GrassFed & Jolly Barnyard =  $215.00 (Beef) *      
Trading Post = $177.93 (Local Honey, Homemade jam, Oats, Bulk Spices, Potatoes, Gouda Cheese, Coconut & Olive Oil, Vinegar, Nude Dough Bread, Schlabach’s granola/cookies)
Lasaters = $28.31 (Coffee)
Giving Thanks Farm = $180.75 (Chicken, Pork, Eggs)
Dotson’s Produce (Cliff’s drill weekend in Tullahoma) = $100.96 (10 quarts of honey)
Country View Market = 49.02 (Wheat Berries)
Milk Share = $42.00 (12 gallons)
Grand Total for June = $812.72

*We ran out of beef as soon as June began waiting for our half beef share to be processed through Jolly Barnyard. So, we ordered a quarter beef share ($399) through Tennessee Grassfed to hold us until processing could happen. Cliff picked up our Jolly Barnyard share last night, which totaled $1534.00. Together, (1933.00) they should last our family about 9 months which breaks down to $215.00 per month for grass-fed beef.

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

Have a great week!


May Snapshot: How much did it cost?

Hey friends!

My garden is a little weedy and a few vegetables need to make it to my refrigerator after an intense week….Vacation Bible School and a home remodeling project happened simultaneously, but it is well.

Even when I’m exhausted from the busyness of life, a retreat outside usually gives me the perspective change that I need. There is serenity in tying up tomato plants covered in small green fruit while watching the bees flock to each bright yellow bloom, even pulling weeds is gratifying. I enjoy the business of food. 😉

There are new surprises everyday……some challenges, mostly joy:


This garlic flower is unique and dear to us.

My husband brought home a bulb from his grandmother’s garden a few years ago, long after she passed away. It had reseeded itself through the years in the rocky mountains of West Virginia. The beauty of this robust plant reminds me of her each time I pass by…..enduring and true.

Here is our May breakdown:

Nature’s Promise Farm = $23.50 (Asparagus, Mushrooms, Broccoli)
Bard-Roc Farm = $20.50 (Honey, Sweet Potatoes)
Country Pantry = $58.02 (Oats, Spices, Local Beef)
Trading Post = $187.26 (Local Honey, Homemade jam, Oats, Bulk Spices, Asparagus, Sweet Potatoes, Gouda Cheese, Coconut Oil, Beef)
Lasaters = $28.31 (Coffee)
Giving Thanks Farm = $325.77 (Chicken, Beef, Pork, Eggs)
Food Initiative = $12.00 (Strawberries)
No. 9 Farm = 106.50 (A whole lot of Strawberries!)
My Neighbor = $18.00 (Eggs)
Milk Share = $21.00 (6 gallons)
Grand Total for May = $800.86

This was our biggest month of the year thus far and for good reason – STRAWBERRIES! We’d been looking forward to this harvest for months. I froze a reasonable amount for the winter months and ate the rest leaning over the counter with 4 other happy faces nearby…May was sweet!

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

Have a great week!


April Snapshot: How much did it cost?

Hello friends!

Building relationships with local farmers has been a huge blessing of going Unchained. We are beginning to know their stories and learn of their triumphs and challenges by investing in a small piece of their lives….the struggle of unsuspecting temperatures with little rain, the perfect time to harvest bee pollen, or even walking through how to send a photo message on a new phone. I didn’t have those experiences in the Publix check-out lane. 😉  Investing into our local community has truly been a learning experience that we have treasured….a glimpse into a slower way of life that has been long forgotten in our fast-paced culture.

Mr. Don Walker ~ Bard-Roc Farm

Mr. Don Walker ~ Bard-Roc Farm

The Clarksville Downtown Market is kicking off this Saturday. I encourage you to visit your local farmers this weekend. Ask about their growing practices and their favorite way to cook the produce they offer. Pick up some bright asparagus, crisp greens and sweet strawberries while they are abundant!

Here is our April breakdown:

Nature’s Promise Farm = $28.00 (Asparagus, Mushrooms, Eggs)
Bard-Roc Farm = $48.00 (Honey, Cabbage, Sweet Potatoes, Carrots)
Country Pantry = $34.73 (Wheat Berries)
Trading Post = $109.00 (Local Honey, Homemade jam, Oats, Bulk Spices, Asparagus, Gouda Cheese, Coconut Oil)
Lasaters = $28.31 (Coffee)
Tennessee Grass-Fed = $265.00 (1/4 cow divided by 3 months)
Giving Thanks Farm = $173.90 (Chicken, Pork, Eggs)
My Neighbor = $18.00 (Eggs)
Milk Share = $42.00 (13 gallons)
Grand Total for April = $746.94

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

Have a great week!


Unchained Dinner Menu ~ April

Hey guys!

April has been an interesting month on the Unchained Journey. We’ve conquered the hardest few months of a harsh winter, but we haven’t quite reached the abundant variety of spring just yet, but almost!

I’ve been waiting patiently for my favorite spring vegetable to gain a footing and reach for the sun through the wet, dark earth, and it’s finally HERE!


These beautiful bundles were found at The Trading Post where they were cut from a local farm earlier that day. My heart rate increased as soon as I turned the corner….this is exciting news! Before this year, asparagus was a weekly staple in our diet, like apples and bananas. 😉 So, I’ve been waiting all year to eat this crisp vegetable again.

Did you know that once an asparagus bed is firmly established, it will produce for 25 YEARS?!  However, asparagus season is not lengthy….so we made contact with Farmer Steve at Nature’s Promise Farm to pick up as much as he can provide us with this week! We’ll be eating it in just about everything in the coming weeks!

Unchained Dinner Menu ~ April

Day 1
Beans & Cornbread

Day 2
Spaghetti & Tomato Sauce

Day 3
Good Friday! First Seder with the Perry Family!

Day 4
Meatloaf & Turnip Greens

Day 5
Roasted Chicken & Sauteed Greens

Day 6
Frankfurter & Potato Soup

Day 7
Sweet Potato & Egg Hash

Day 8
Chicken Tacos

Day 9
Chili & Cornbread

Day 10

Day 11
Chicken Soup

Day 12
Beef Stew

Day 13
Zuppa Toscana

Day 14
Spaghetti & Meatballs

Day 15
Chicken Pot Pie

Day 16
BBQ Chicken & Sweet Potato

Day 17
Shepherd’s Pie

Day 18
Beef Burgers & Coleslaw

Day 19
Chicken & Sweet Potato Stew

Day 20
Breakfast for Dinner – Pancakes!

Day 21
Asparagus & Wild Onion Soup w/Biscuits

Day 22
Chicken Taco Casserole

Day 23
Cornmeal Dumplings & Turnip Greens

Day 24
Wild Onion & Egg Pizza

Day 25
Beef Stew & Roasted Asparagus

Day 26
Spring Pot Pie

Day 27
Chicken & Spring Vegetable Soup

Day 28
Radish Green Pesto & Noodles

Day 29
Beef Tacos

Day 30
Sweet Potato Soup

“For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.” –Song of Solomon 2:11-12


March Snapshot: How much did it cost?

Happy Resurrection Day!!

This post is a little late…but the planting season is here! I’ve spent much less time indoors over the past few weeks tending to our bottle lamb, our new puppy Annie, as well as, planting for spring and tending to warm-weather vegetables indoors. It’s a dawn-to-dusk scramble….in an enjoyable kind of way!


We’re a few days into our 4th month without shopping at a grocery store for our Unchained Challenge. We’re harvesting greens from our own cold-frame and our hens are in full-swing after a winter of rest. However, I am struggling to find a balance between meal prep and outdoor responsibilities during such a busy season. I don’t see this easing much as planting moves to weeding/harvesting, but I am looking forward to expanding our menu options.

4-week-old heirloom tomato starts

Repotting a 4-week-old heirloom tomato start

Here is our March breakdown:

Nature’s Promise Farm = $40.00 (Baby Kale, Mushrooms, Eggs)
Country Pantry = $47.86 (Wheat Berries, Honey, Spices)
Trading Post = $102.73 (Local Honey, Homemade jam, Schlabach’s whole wheat noodles, Oats, Bulk Spices, Butternut Squash)
Lasaters = $22.08 (Coffee)
Tennessee Grass-Fed = $265.00 (1/4 cow divided by 3 months)
Giving Thanks Farm = $173.90 (Chicken, Pork, Eggs)
Tiffany, My Neighbor 🙂 = $6.00 (Eggs)
Milk Share = $47.50 (13 gallons, yogurt)
Grand Total for March = $705.07

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

Have a great week!


Dinner Menu ~ Weeks 11 & 12

We’re approaching 3 months without stepping foot in a grocery store.

3 months!!!

Information about the challenge here:

So, how do we feel about conquering winter?

Guys, this is the mack-daddy of unprocessed food challenges, and many people have voiced that this year would be completely unrealistic for themselves or their families. “My kids would never eat those vegetables!” It’s too much work!” I encourage you to take a baby step approach…start with locally sourcing only one weekly staple….then focus meals around what’s in season…..your tastebuds, wallet and health will be positively impacted! 🙂

I know it’s not easy. The planning and workload can be intense, but I’m learning the importance of diligence and determination….to keep going when it doesn’t feel all warm and fuzzy.

The best part: I absolutely love meeting the same farmers’ again and again….and knowing my husband’s hard-earned money is going to a local farmer clad in dirt-covered Muck Boots who just harvested the vibrant, crisp vegetables that I will use to nourish my family for a week….the beauty of farm-to-table.

All in all, I feel like the closing of the winter season puts the hardest part behind me. I’m looking forward to adding bright asparagus to our menu in the coming weeks and foraging for morel mushrooms on our family hikes!

Dinner Menu ~ Weeks 11 & 12

Day 1
Beans & greens

Day 2
Spaghetti with meat sauce

Day 3
Roasted chicken & collards

Day 4
Kale, bean and sausage on cornbread cakes

Day 5
Rabbit rillettes with roasted butternut squash

Day 6
Beef stew

Day 7
Burgers and kale salad

Day 8
Shepherd’s pie with butternut squash

Day 9
White chicken chili

Day 10
Radish leaf pesto with fettachini

Day 11
Chicken salad over greens

Day 12
Breakfast for dinner: Pancakes

Day 13
Chicken with turnips & shitakes

Day 14
Steak fajitas

Day 15 

Day 16
Spring vegetable pot pie

Day 17
Spaghetti and meatballs


Japanese sweet potato slips

  • Cut sweet potatoes in half and place in a shallow pan of water.
  • Place the pan in a sunny window and keep the water filled halfway up the cut potato.
  • Look for sprouts at about 4 weeks!