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.

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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

Dinner Menu ~ Weeks 11 & 12

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

3 months!!!

Information about the challenge here:
http://www.libertystarfarms.com/unchained/a-year-unchained/

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 
Out!

Day 16
Spring vegetable pot pie

Day 17
Spaghetti and meatballs

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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!

Lisa 

Dinner Menu ~ Weeks 9 & 10

After a dreary few weeks, we carved out some time to visit the Franklin Farmer’s Market last weekend. To be honest…I was resisting the trip on Saturday morning; I had been awake for 24 hours celebrating our son’s 10th birthday and then to the hospital to support a sweet friend while she welcomed a precious new baby into the world! However, I’m glad Cliff made the call for us to go then and sleep later….he knows me well. 😉

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Photo credit: http://franklinfarmersmarket.com

The Franklin Farmer’s Market is one of the only markets open year-round in our area.

We saw many vendors selling homemade goat’s milk soap, cheese and other impressive handmade items, but I only wanted one thing….GREENS!

Only one farmer had a variety of local vegetables that morning: Kirkview Farm.

We picked up bunches of kale and collards, turnips, red potatoes and the most colorful, delicious carrots. I knew the work that went into this harvest during such harsh winter conditions, and I appreciated the nutritious addition to our meals. Thank you, Jesus!

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This abundance was exactly what I needed to power through the final few weeks of winter!

Dinner Menu  ~ Weeks 9 & 10

Day 1
Roasted winter squash & sausage

Day 2
Sweet potato, egg & kale hash

Day 3
Pancotta (Tuscan bread soup)

Day 4
Chicken tamale pie

Day 5
Meatballs and twice baked sweet potatoes with kale

Day 6
Spaghetti with tomato sauce

Day 7
Gnocchi with mushroom ragu

Day 8
Butternut bean soup & cornbread

Day 9
Kale, cheese and bacon quiche

Day 10
Homemade sloppy joes & collards

Day 11
Butternut squash, kale and sausage bake

Day 12
Breakfast for dinner: Waffles

Day 13 
Pizza

Day 14
Grilled steak, sweet potatoes and kale salad

Day 15
Chicken soup with fresh bread

Have a great week!

Lisa

Make it at Home: Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Hey guys….let’s talk about cheese!

Discovering a love for cheese making has been a huge benefit of this unchained journey. At this point in the challenge, I have made mozzarella about 7 times with delicious success. It was time to bring another cheese into our family’s rotation: Ricotta.

This is a very simple cheese to begin with, and once you taste it….you’ll never go back to the bland, plastic tub.

Tools:

  • One Gallon Whole Milk – I use fresh raw milk
  • 2 tsp of Citric Acid – Can be purchased here.
  • Large Pot
  • Slotted Spoon
  • Thermometer
  • Cheesecloth
  • Colander or Bowl

Directions: Adapted from www.cheesemaking.com

Pour a gallon of whole milk into a large pot.

Prepare a Citric Acid solution…Add 2 tsp of citric acid and dissolve this in 1 cup cool water.
Add 1/2 of this Citric Acid solution to the milk (save the rest of the citric acid).
Stir briskly for 5-10 seconds.
Add 1 tsp salt to the milk

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Heat the milk slowly on low to medium stirring well to prevent scorching
At 165-170F watch for small flakes forming in the milk and the separation into small flaky curds.

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If you do not see flakes forming, add more of the Citric acid mixture (1 tablespoon at a time) until they form. At this point, when you see the curds, a slower stirring is essential to avoid breaking up the small bits of curd that have formed. Excess stirring will cause smaller and very granular curds to form.
Continue heating to 190-195F then turn the heat off.

As the curds rise, use a slotted spoon to gently move them from the sides to the center of the pot. These clumps of curd will begin to consolidate floating on top of the liquid.
Let the curds rest for 10-15 min.

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It’s about to get really tasty….

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Ladle the curds into a cheesecloth lined colander or bowl.

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Tie up the ends of the cheesecloth around the ricotta. We used a rolling pin suspended above a large pot for the draining process.

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Let the curds drain for 15 min up to several hours.

For a fresh light ricotta, drain it for a short while (until the free whey drainage slows) and chill to below 50F. For a rich, dense and buttery texture allow it to drain for an extended period of time (several hours) before chilling overnight
Consume within 10 days.

This resulted in about 3.5 cups of creamy ricotta. Hands-on time for this cheese is minimal, especially considering the quality of the finished product.

Try it, friends!

Lisa

Dinner Menu ~ Weeks 7 & 8

Happy Snow Day Middle Tennessee!

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The push for spring is in full swing….10 more weeks until our last frost date! Hundreds of plants have been started awaiting the warmer days and cool nights. I couldn’t be more ready for this change, but there is always lots to do!

Pressing Farm Tasks:

  • Start sweet potato slips (tutorial to come).
  • Start another flat of cabbage, kale and collards.
  • Repot the Onions of Parma that I started in January.
  • As soon as the snow melts, Cliff will construct a pea trellis from bamboo stakes.
  • Sheep Fencing Project.
  • Raken (Rabbit-Chicken House) We have them in separate barn stalls now but are working to combine them.

Dinner Menu ~ Weeks 7 & 8

Day 15
Chili

Day 16
Roasted chicken with potatoes and sage

Day 17
Roasted sweet potato huevos rancheros

Day 18
Potato, sausage and kale soup

Day 19
Baked chicken taco casserole

Day 20
Pizza

Day 21
Shepherd’s pie

Day 22
Zuppa Toscana

Day 23
Frankfurter, green pepper (frozen from summer’s harvest!) and potato hash

Day 24
Chicken and sweet potato stew

Day 25
Beans and greens

Day 26
Burgers and sweet potatoes

Day 27
Pizza

Day 28
Dining Out!

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Have a cozy day!

Lisa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner Menu ~ Weeks 5 & 6

The challenge began with our pantry shelves lined with jars full of preserved tomatoes, pickles and applesauce. They are slowly being replaced with empty jars ready to be filled once again. It’s gratifying to crack open a can of tomatoes that remind me of the vibrancy of summer and add that bright flavor to soups, stews and sauces. Although, I’m also keenly aware that tomato season doesn’t begin again until June…..and it’s a long while until June!

Discovering the first ripe tomato of the year is always full of anticipation! ~ June 2014

Discovering the first ripe tomato of the year is always full of anticipation! ~ June 2014

We’re already down a bushel of sweet potatoes as well. We have just under two bushels remaining but plenty of fall squash that are waiting to be roasted.

Dinner Menu ~ Weeks 5 & 6

Day 1
Chicken Fajita Soup

Day 2
Sausage with kale and turnips

Day 3
Beans and cornbread

Day 4
Spaghetti squash & marinara

Day 5
Braised chicken with tarragon and cream

Day 6
Pizza

Day 7
Meatloaf with collards

Day 8
Potato soup

Day 9
Burgers with sweet potato fries

Day 10
Slow cooker ham hock with collards and greens

Day 11
Curried chicken with acorn squash and arugula

Day 12
Chicken Pot Pie

Day 13
Pizza

Day 14
BBQ brisket and coleslaw

Have a wonderful week!
 Lisa

 

 

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.

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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!

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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:
http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-mayonnaise-with-an-immersion-blender-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-206496

How To Make Mayonnaise with an Immersion Blender
Makes 1 cup
Ingredients:
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

Instructions:
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.

Lisa

 

Dinner Menu ~ Weeks 3 & 4

January is flying by!

Day 15
Bratwurst with sweet potato mash

Day 16
Pizza

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
Pizza

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
Chili

Day 29
Beans and greens

Day 30
Pizza

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.

http://pinchofyum.com/six-ingredient-sausage-potato-pie

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!

Lisa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

http://www.simplebites.net/how-to-make-slow-cooker-ketchup/

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I adapted the recipe just a little:

Ingredients:
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

Instructions:
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.

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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!

Lisa

Dinner Menu ~ Weeks 1 & 2

What do you eat in January?

Day 1:
Sausage, bean and cabbage stew

Day 2:
Pizza w/homemade mozzarella ← crosses fingers.

Day 3:
Spaghetti squash and meat sauce

Day 4:
Chicken and dumplings (I’ll make a double batch of dinner on Sunday, so we’ll have lunch for our homeschool co-op each Tuesday).

Day 5:
Squash and bean tacos

Day 6:
Chicken and collard stuffed sweet potatoes

Day 7:
Chili

Day 8:
Steak and sweet potato fries

Day 9:
Pizza (I hope the mozzarella worked!)

Day 10:
Sausage, sweet potato and kale pie

Day 11:
Beef, squash and collard lasagna.

Day 12:
Beans and cornbread

Day 13:
Sweet potato soup and french bread

Day 14:
Chicken stew with turnips

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This isn’t a far stretch from how we normally eat on a weekly basis, although I don’t have the convenience of many items like bread, pasta and the hardest yet…..cheese. I love cheese you guys….like go on dates to the Whole Foods stinky cheese section kinda love. I’m on the search for local cheese artisans…I’ll keep you posted on that!

We’ll also pick up at least 2 additional gallons of milk this week compared to normal. This will serve as butter, yogurt, mozzarella and to add creaminess to winter soups and stews. Preparation will be key! I swing back into a full homeschool schedule next week along with church and ballet activities.

Here’s to a promising new year!

Lisa