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7 Tips for Stretching the Christmas Budget

October 15, 2014

Finances are tough for many people this year, and for some it’s always worse around the holidays. Here’s some tips for stretching your Christmas budget.

1.Start gathering supplies early. There are some things you can’t get until December but for others that you know that you’ll need start stocking up now. If you know early to mid December is your baking time the stores know it too as that’s when many push demand. Buy sugar and other baking supplies now when you find it on sale! Not only will you save money but you’ll have everything you need at the time you need it!

2.Shop for little things early. Stocking stuffers and smaller presents don’t take a lot of storage space in your home. Stock them up and wrap them as you find them – often on sale. Don’t shop for the Christmas sales only – there’s money to be saved all year if it’s something you plan to buy anyway.

3.Be a creative shopping expert! Look at your recipients’ interests. Someone likes grilling or summer entertaining hit the *summer* clearance sales for Christmas presents at sometimes 60-70% off. You have the ideal gift for them that you won’t find in November or December because it’s seasonal.

4.Do a little at a time. You have a couple hours of time there’s nothing that says you can’t bake a few dozen Christmas cookies and put them in the freezer! You’ll have that much less to do and save money on ingredients.

5.Shop at direct purchase outlets in season. When you’re passing that farm stand that advertises pecans or walnuts or maple syrup – stop and get some and set it aside for holiday treats. You help small business and give yourself a great “taste of the season” cheaper, or at the same money, as commercial stores vying for your Christmas budget dollar.

6.Recycle/reuse. There are thousands of ways to use every day items that most throw out to make things with them. Check out or even for how to videos and make things for Christmas!

7. Start now setting aside $10 or so per week for holiday meals. Watch for sales! If hams go on sale and you have $20-40 saved up you can get that and stick it in the freezer. Spreading out the work can make a big difference as well as the finances.

There are many ways to stretch the Christmas budget and when things are tight it can mean getting creative. It also helps to adjust your thinking. Planning for a Christmas budget isn’t about what you’re doing without it’s how much MORE you can do with what you have!

Fast Food in a Mug

October 14, 2014

Dried_chillyOK admit it – we all have times where it’s easier to grab fast food than cook something. Or we do without dinner because it’s just us and doing a big meal isn’t of interest. So make fast food – in a mug.

With “250 Best Meals in a Mug” you’ll have months worth of options without repeating the same thing. If you are looking to take something inexpensive and better for you than the vending machine to work, here are possibilities.

I admit to being a bit of a picky eater, but found many options in here. Breakfast, lunch, snacks – you have options! No more drive through windows on the way to work.

This is a book worth sharing not only for the great recipes and beautiful photos, but some great info about foods too. It doesn’t take loads of expensive special food, although it might introduce some to foods they don’t use currently. Instant brown rice, quick cooking barley, corn meal, oatmeal, pasta, marinara sauce, salsa, chopped vegetables…no mystery! Pretty basic actually. Metric measurements are included.

A pretty, personalized set of mugs might be needed! Christmas is coming! There are whole sections of 4 ingredients or less (how easy is that!), bread and muffins, soups and stews, meatless main dishes, meat main dishes, pasta and grains and desserts. Easy and filling for quick meals or snacks. Get you some 16 ounce mugs, and enjoy some variety!

Pepperoni Pizza Dip

1/2 cup thick and chunky marinara sauce

2 Tablespoons chopped turkey pepperoni

1/4 cup shredded mozzarella or Italian blend cheese

In 12-16 ounce mug microwave marinara sauce on High for 45-75 seconds or until beginning to bubble. Stir in pepperoni, sprinkle with cheese. Microwave on high 30-45 seconds or until cheese is bubbly. Let stand one minute. Serve with breadsticks, pita wedges or crusty French bread.

The book has a couple variations and another I’ll add – this is a great way to use up small amounts of leftovers. That little bit of burger or other that’s not a meal by itself – use in a mug meal!

Essential Omelet

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons milk or water

pinch of salt

pinch of pepper

add variations or use as above (see below).

In the mug, whisk all ingredients until well blended. Add other ingredients if using them. Microwave on high for 30 seconds, stir, microwave on high 30-45 seconds or until eggs are puffed and just barely set at center.

Options -

Cheese – add 2-3 tablespoons shredded cheese of choice or 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese to beaten eggs.

Denver – add 2 tablespoons chopped ham, 2 tablespoons shredded cheese and a tablespoon chopped pepper to the eggs.

Bacon Swiss – add 2 tablespoons shredded Swiss cheese and 1 1/2 tablespoons ready to eat bacon bits to eggs.

Herbed – add up to 2 teaspoons basil, cilantro, chives or choice of herbs to the egg mixture.

The book has some other options too!


Unstuffed Pepper mug

1/3 cup instant brown rice

2/3 cup water

1/2 cup coarsely chopped drained roasted bell pepper

1/2 cup rinsed drained canned black beans

1/2 cup diced tomatoes with juice

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

salt and pepper

1/3 cup shredded cheese.

In 16 ounce mug, combine rice and water. Cover with small plate and microwave for 5-6 minutes or until rice is tender. Remove from oven and let stand, covered, for 1 minute.

Stir in other ingredients except cheese. Microwave uncovered on high for 30 seconds or until heated through. Top with cheese and microwave 25-30 seconds, let stand 30 seconds before eating.

You can do lunch prep by putting rice in the mug, cheese in a small airtight container and other ingredients in a small airtight container. This can use the entire can of ingredients safely.


Venison Meals Make the Most of Your Deer

October 13, 2014

WhitetaildeerUSDApublicdomainMany people spend the time to get good equipment, get a clean shot, field dress the deer promptly, get it to the processor and then fail to get the maximum use of the meat!

Kentucky’s John’s Custom Meats processes deer for hunters, as do many other small processors in other states. Amy says “Most often, I see hunters opting to put the majority or all of the meats into ground venison burger.” While this is certainly a versatile way to use venison it can be so much more!

For some look to value added products like summer sausage, bologna and jerky. If you prefer to make jerky at home have it sliced to bacon thick strips to make it easier to handle at home.

Bratwurst and breakfast sausage are other ways to use venison. “We find that the very same seasonings that make your standard pork breakfast sausage work well with venison, however I do omit the sage with venison” Amy notes.

“The most underutilized cuts here would be the hams, shoulders, and neck. The average size doe or young buck can be made into ham steaks or ham roasts” Amy adds. Don’t overlook having the hams smoked or ‘home cured’ for a holiday meal that is unlike any other.

Make a wonderful pot roast with a 2-3 pound shoulder or rump roast. Brown in a couple tablespoons of oil in a Dutch oven then stir in 6 ounces tomato juice ½ cup each finely chopped onion and carrot and 2 teaspoons instant beef bouillon. Brig to boiling then reduce heat and simmer for 1 ½ to 2 hours or until tender. Remove the meat and add enough water to the juice to equal 2 cups, returning to pan. Sift 3 tablespoons all purpose flour into ½ cup dairy sour cream and add to the pan, cooking and stirring until thickened. Cook 1 minute more, seasoning to taste. Slice venison and spoon the sauce over it, serving with hot cooked noodles.

Larger deer the shoulder can be made into steaks. For much venison beef recipes work well except that deer are much leaner than cattle. Moist, slow cooked recipes maximize tenderness. “Even the neck can make a flavorful slow cooked roast. Both the shoulders make wonderful pulled venison for BBQ.” Amy suggests

Most hunters do use the backstrap or the loin which is very tender.

Making the maximum use of the meat from your deer just makes sense. It can make a lean, wonderful meal fixed a variety of ways. Marinade and grilled, BBQ sandwiches and venison chops are just a few other ways to enjoy venison. Make the most of your hunting efforts!

Stevia Sweet Stevia

October 10, 2014

imageMy introduction to stevia was many moons ago at a hostel in Santa Cruz California.

As happened often, gardening, agriculture, food came into the conversation and someone had gotten some dried stevia. I’d never heard of it before and was fascinated by the sweetness and the bit of a bite aftertaste – not bad but distinct.

Years later the idea of growing a sweetener – especially in addition to honey – still interested me. I read online but the information was vague at best. I got a few starts and dove in to find answers to the questions no one could answer.

Could it be grown in containers – yes. IF it’s not overwatered and allowed to sit in wet. Stevia is a little fussy in that way – it likes moisture regularly but not wet…let it dry out a little between waterings. One of the plants I lost was because it was too wet.

In other ways it’s very easy to grow. It doesn’t take special fertilizers – the initial bucket had some compost, and I add manure tea with rabbit manure every few months. It’s not cold hardy – it can take chills here in Alabama, but at freezing we bring the bucket in the house for the winter. Watch the spring regrowth – a couple times I thought it wasn’t going to come back when it turns out it was growing like crazy but the dogs were browsing on young shoots!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStevia is a native of Paraguay and Brazil and you’ll need to tinker with it to find ‘your zone’ for using. It’s not quite like sugar where you add a teaspoon and it’s all the same. I’ve found our main plant can vary with the season, and the size of the plant somewhat. Stevia doesn’t spike blood sugar levels and like using honey, maple syrup or other natural sweeteners, it takes some experimentation to find your level. For those wanting a specific plant name, look for Stevia rebaudiana. Stevia likes sun but will grow well in partial shade especially in hot weather like we have here in Alabama.

Seeds are tiny and sometimes fussy to germinate. I found better success putting in a tray with a lid, barely covering with soil, misting to moisten and covering to retain moisture. Use the black or dark seeds – take care when watering to not raise them out of the soil! You can even moisten the soil, plant the seeds and barely cover then cover the container. It will get wet on the lid with condensation and ‘rain’ to reuse moisture. I’ve found that works better than trying to water barely established seeds.

Of course the best part of stevia is eating it. There was some studies that hinted towards negative health effects, but it’s generally recognized as safe. Dried leaves can be crushed for tea, or grind thoroughly and top oatmeal with a teaspoon or so in the morning. Use in cocoa drinks or other drinks, both hot and cold. Sites like have products available but also recipes.

Hot Chocolate

  • 3 tbsp cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp powdered stevia
  • 4 to 5 cups whole milk
  • 2 tbsp honey or maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Warm the milk in a sauce pan. Keep just below boiling (scalding the milk can leave a ‘burnt’ taste for some folks). While heating, mix the cocoa and stevia together, and add to warming milk, mixing in thoroughly. Just before removing from heat add honey or maple syrup, according to taste. Heat through and divide into mugs. Enjoy!

Are Warnings Useful if Ignored? Here’s 5 to Heed

October 9, 2014

800px-Western-pack-butterBecause we deal directly with customers, I read quite a bit on food issues and go beyond that to comments from people out there, whether I agree or not. It helps me get in the frame of mind of what we can offer that others don’t – and sometimes, I’ve learned, what people say isn’t really what they want (will pay for).

If I came to you for an ad for a car you’re selling then expected a new straight from the lot upgrade, there’s an obvious difference in an older vehicle and a new one. There’s a value difference. So it is among food choices, only many of those are emotional personal choices. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are times that it comes to what is wanted just can’t happen. Millions of people have the luxury to not think about their food because others think for them.  If food is at the market, they have dinner; if not there needs to be another plan. Producing for themselves isn’t in that plan, and won’t be.

Recently my friend Emily from Zweber Farms in Minnesota posted a note on Facebook. Emily and her husband Tim are part of a family run organic farm with dairy as part of what they produce.

Farmer insider tips of the day: fill your LP tank now, stock up on butter now, don’t expect local wines to be cheap in 2015.
Now you know.

I would read that to be stock up on butter for Christmas baking as well as eating! Don’t hesitate. And yet many things I see over the last few years that I’ve tried to warn about go unheeded…until it comes true.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany in urban environments, it seems, thinks we’re being self serving when putting forth warnings – after all we’re selling food. It’s true, there is the potential for sales if someone is close enough and if there is action behind it…and if there is still room in our limited availability. It’s true when I said a year ago that pork and beef were going to go up and folks should buy in it could be perceived to be for profit. Unfortunately, it doesn’t change that pork and beef HAVE increased a great deal and surpassed what I was told was too much…less than the grocery store now!

Have you ever looked at a situation unfolding and you just KNEW what was going to happen next? Others who weren’t watching didn’t see it the same way, but you had more information and were right. Emily, like me, has that information not to alarm people with but prepare you. Sometimes there are things that would benefit us, but are dishonest or misleading, as another friend reported recently on a brand of kefir that is not honest about the farmers they use. Should we let you the consumer believe any marketing statements made?

There are issues coming and, directly or indirectly, it might have a say in your grocery bill and food choices. Here’s five tips to heed…in addition to those above!

1. As beef and pork increase, poultry will see increased demand and prices. If you plan on trying some specialty foods – rabbit, game meats, fish for example – plan now for supply. These things are specialty because they aren’t produced in volume, largely because they aren’t as big as pigs and cattle!

800px-Nuts_mixed2. Stock up on nuts – as a healthy snack alternative, nuts are valued, but production issues including the drought, are impacting supply. It takes time for new trees to come into production so if you’re looking at walnut goodies or pecan pie for the holidays, buy them now to insure you get what you want. Be smart, think ahead.

3. Contact a direct purchase farm to see what you can buy direct. For example, here at SlowMoneyFarm we have poultry, raised bed gardens, herbs and other goodies. The Zwebers in Minnesota have seasonal chicken, beef and other options also. Many farms do this as a way to have contact with customers, but also to keep more pennies from your grocery dollar. It helps farm growth and farm survival. You might be surprised that prices aren’t as high as “everyone knows” (incorrectly).

4. As the year’s production winds down in many areas, stock up on fruits and other items. Dehydrate, can and freeze so you have enough until the trees and bushes start producing next year.

5. Learn one kitchen skill per month. Practice it. Start where you are – if you can’t boil water, learn to make a mean pasta over the next month! Read, find some folks to commiserate with and practice. If you can’t find anyone come on over to SlowMoneyFarm’s Facebook page or – better – visit Foodchat on Twitter or Facebook. Get tips, read books from the library, learn new things. There is tons of information available to learn – use it!

None of these are earthshattering. Apart from paying more there may or may not be consequences from not heeding warnings. Doing without food choices is inconvenient – after all we all like to have that luxury. May we not have to do without food, and in some areas that may be a more grim future long term. Sometimes farmers need your help to keep everyone fed, thus trying to include y’all in the discussion.

After all, it’s your food choices.

Maximize Taste, Minimize Waste This Hunting Season

October 8, 2014

WhitetaildeerUSDApublicdomainVenison is a major benefit to hunting and with a variety of cuts available as well as ways to cook it making maximum use of it makes sense. Whether as a roast at Sunday dinner, or as a base for BBQ or chili during the game, venison is a tasty, nutritious meat if it is handled properly.

As a hunter much of the initial handling of this meat is in your hands. Additionally the kill makes a difference in the taste of the meat. Amy with John’s Custom Meats in Kentucky notes “the kill in my opinion is the most important factor in maximum taste and minimum waste – and it is controllable by the hunter. A quick kill and a clean shot increase the taste factors and minimizes waste.”

There are things that are perhaps out of the hunter’s control but a smart hunter will increase the odds by choosing the best deer. “Sex, age and the diet the deer has been feasting on will greatly affect the taste of the meats.” Like other meats those that are feeding on corn pastures and good grasses will have a somewhat less “gamey” taste than those on rough browse.

A clean shot is important and can’t be overstated. “Deer that are gut shot will not only contaminate the meat but also increase the likelihood of off and undesirable flavors. In addition, gut shot deer will have a great deal of meat trimmed away by the processor. That meat is contaminated and is best left on the kill floor. Gut shot deer is our number one meat waster in our area.”

Another advantage for a quick kill is there is less adrenaline pumping through the system. An animal that is wounded and running will get an adrenaline surge which pumps through the body and, with the blood, is carried to the muscles – the meat! The best way to avoid this – a direct hit that drops the deer and kills right away.

Amy adds “the quicker the deer can be field dressed the better for the meats. While deer are a lean meat they do have external fat, which will spoil and go rancid.” She adds that as a processor “a good processor will trim the meat cuts into retail type cuts and the fats will be removed” which also increases the amount of useful meat.

Other factors is not opening the hams or brisket if not necessary. “The hams can be spread out to increase cool down, in most instances, without removing the hide. The hide protects the meats and keeps the meat sanitary until you arrive to the processor.”

Sometimes there are tough choices to make. “If the temperature is warmer outside or if there is a long time frame from kill to field dress, then it is best to accept the meat loss and open the brisket and the hams to cool down the meat more rapidly.”

Some processors will add a bit of beef fat or mix pork or beef with venison that some hunters prefer, especially if they’ve had bad venison from doing the wrong things.

Maximize the meat from your deer. Kill quickly, field dress properly and cool as quickly as possible. The faster the time from kill to freezer the better your venison will be.

Is Your Food Old Fashioned? Is That Wrong?

October 7, 2014

800px-Fruit,_Vegetables_and_Grain_NCI_Visuals_OnlineDoes everything need to be improved? And how far does improvement go before it’s no longer what it was to begin with? If they make broccoli taste like chocolate covered peanuts more people would eat it – but is it still broccoli? Do you eat old fashioned food? Should you?

Some time ago there was a discussion on a Facebook forum about orange juice not being high fiber. Should it be? Why does everything have to be high fiber, and why can’t we just enjoy orange juice for what it does offer?

We grow a variety of things here, and with community raised beds on tap for the local foodie I expect we’ll see more. Or not, if there’s no demand for these unimproved foods. New and Improved may be perspective! I hear people don’t want additives. I hear legions of people following “Food Babe”, many have read “Food Rules” since it came out five years ago and yet – the wave is but a ripple.

I read, watch and work to stay competitive as we can. Ultimately it’s about consumer choices. So I get a magazine today and see Quest Nutrition is introducing the world’s first high protein snack potato chip. It’s a chip that is not less bad, but good for you, as it says, with 21g of whey and milk proteins used as protein powders on things like cheddar & Sour Cream, Sea Salt and Barbecue. Companies don’t do this without a very good indication it will sell.

Then there’s highly processed rice cakes, long held as cardboard tasteless snacks, now with chocolate, strawberry yogurt and vanilla orange courtesy of an Italian company, Element, that will be sold in the US. Not to be outdone, Johnsonville sausage has a sweet touch with maple syrup added to their sausage – pop them in the microwave.

RoastBeefProduceFarmersMktI learned of a survey of adults and kids about packing lunches – 71% of moms handle that duty and 4% of kids make their own lunch. “Our survey showed that parents love the convenience of pre-packed lunch kits, but not necessarily the ingredients,” said Neil Leinwand of Applegate Natural & Organic Meats. 88% liked convenience while 79% were concerned about preservatives, nitrates and artificial ingredients.

And yet they sell. The convenience sells while the concern over additives grows. Yes, we use some of the quick and easy products, so there isn’t a problem with their existence. At the same time, many bemoan ‘simpler times’ and say things aren’t the same as they used to be while demanding that everything fills every nutritional need. Can’t there be balance?

Can’t we appreciate calcium in milk and potato chips going with a burger that has protein rather than a meal in itself? I remember cartoons as a kid where you take this pill and drink that drink and that was a meal – some said it’d never come to that but we’re not far from it now. With the #FoodBabeArmy and others targeting foods it’s just a matter of time before “there’s nothing left to eat!

I like choices of oatmeal or bacon and eggs or French toast and sausage for breakfast both for taste and nutrition rather than a power bar covered in chocolate that has everything in it and tastes ok but lasts a short time. Many instruct drinking with a glass of water – which is good – but it’s not the food but the water that fills one up.

Of course it’s not a hard and fast rule either – we can enjoy both at certain circumstances and fully embrace food choices. When 84% of kids said they preferred lunch from home moms are doing something right.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAs some embrace cooking, baking, cookbooks as interests it seems old fashioned. Can we accept that “real food” has nutrition? Can we accept that not every food needs every nutrient? Can we sometimes get over the built and just enjoy a Snicker’s bar or bowl of ice cream because we want a comfort that tastes good without having to justify that it’s good for us? Can we accept our grandparents weren’t obese because they didn’t have an overabundance of food to choose from? Can we stop fearing food long enough to accept that many are overweight because we chose to love food more than ourselves?

That’s not the fault of farmers, food processors, McDonald’s or Monsanto. That responsibility rests on every one of us and every food choice we made over the last 10 years, 20 years, 30 years. It didn’t happen because we stopped at McDonald’s for lunch today or Monsanto altered a seed 20 years ago.

Past and present we choose. If making a pan of brownies is old fashioned, if making dinner at home is old fashioned, if forgoing the box and can is an option for two days per week what would it change? Those supporting #MeatlessMonday speak of how many gallons of water or other stats is changed by one day per week. Baking from a box is increasing – with more products being added.

When celebrities have ‘home baked goods’ or Whole Foods has artisan type displays do people really think it’s being packaged by hand? Is that better than the one actually making that reality?

Do we really want niche markets? Do we want the taste of cooking from scratch or the illusion of cooking from scratch? Or have we become so conditioned that it tastes funny and we sigh, say it was another time and buy another processed meal? Are you up for old fashioned eating?


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