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

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!


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. 😉


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!


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 

Day 14
Grilled steak, sweet potatoes and kale salad

Day 15
Chicken soup with fresh bread

Have a great week!


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.


  • 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


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.

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.


It’s about to get really tasty….

Ladle the curds into a cheesecloth lined colander or bowl.

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


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!


Dinner Menu ~ Weeks 7 & 8

Happy Snow Day Middle Tennessee!


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

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

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

Day 28
Dining Out!


Have a cozy day!











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

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

Day 14
BBQ brisket and coleslaw

Have a wonderful week!



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




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:

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


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!