Making Chicken Stock or Broth

I delight in making my own home made chicken stock because it’s really like making something from nothing. And you really won’t believe how easy it can be. Like I’m pretty sure you can’t screw this one up. If you could, I would have by now, trust me. The closest I’ve come to screwing it up is forgetting about my stock that was cooling on the counters and not realizing it until the morning when it was too late. Several quarts of beautiful stock down the drain.

Before I begin with the how-to portion of this post, let me persuade you to seek out a locally raised chicken. I know, shock and surprise since everything I post is about local foods. But hear me out. The difference between an okay stock and an amazing stock lies in the quality of chicken you start with. You wouldn’t think the bones of an animal would be any different, but really, truly, a healthier, well cared for animal is not only much healthier for you, it’s also much tastier. We have many options for our purchasing local chicken in West Michigan. (Or you can be all-in like us and raise your own. Raising your own animals can be fun but it’s also a lot of work, so do your research. I mean, I never thought I’d be inside a chicken tractor, in the pouring raining, face to face with 10 unhappy muddy chickens, laying down as much dry bedding as possible while my husband dug a moat around the chicken tractor to re-route the water. Yes, this happened. And it’s part of the reason we never waste a morsel of chicken in this house.)

Now back to making chicken stock or broth. First, the difference between the two. Stock is made from bones, simmered for a long time, resulting in a more robust flavor and having more of the good-for-you gelatin from the bones. Broth is made with meat and bones. Like you can dunk the whole chicken in water, simmer for a long time and boom, have broth. In my world, the difference is whether I have the patience to cook up a whole chicken or if I say,”Screw it!” And throw the whole bird in the water bath. Each way is easy and will result in something beautifully delicious.

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Making a whole chicken and broth in a slow cooker. Minus the carrots because I ran out.

Let’s start with the easiest, set-it-and-forget-it way. Get your slow cooker out. Add either your whole chicken or the chicken carcass. Add water to fill it up. Turn the slow cooker on low. And wait several hours (I’ve swiped some stock out of the slow cooker after 6-8 hours but the longer it cooks, the more it releases the good stuff in the bones). I generally get this started first thing in the morning and let it simmer in the slow cooker for around 10-12 hours.  It can be as easy as that. Just make sure if you’re using the whole bird, you use a meat thermometer and make sure it reads 165 degrees. And make sure if you’re using a new slow cooker, you don’t try to leave the slow cooker on for more than 12 hours because apparently some newer models turn themselves off after 12 hours, unbeknownst to the user resulting in a very sad and angry person in the morning. Not that that happened to me or anything.

But most people add some accompaniments for a tastier product. Throw in a few rinsed, roughly cut carrots, some celery stalks, garlic cloves and a quartered onions. Sometimes I add in a bunch of fresh parsley if I have it. But if you don’t, it won’t make or break the stock. You can add in salt at the beginning, but I like to add it in the end or not at all. I’d rather salt the dish I’m making with the stock. You can always add salt. You can’t take it away.

One tip I learned years back is to add some vinegar to the mix. Vinegar helps break down the bones. Don’t worry, your stock won’t taste like vinegar. I only add about 1 Tablespoon and it does the job. Just don’t be freaked out when your stock cools and it’s all wobbily like Jell-O. That’s a very good thing. That’s the gelatin from the bones and it’s very good for you.

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Frozen celery from the end of the season

Another super cheapo, corner cutting tip: You can freeze your kitchen scraps for making stock! After you rinse your veggies well, you can peel your carrots and freeze the peels to throw in your pot for stock. Sometimes I freeze the celery if it’s gone a little floppy (but obviously not moldy or anything). Make use of the leafy tops you don’t normally eat by freezing them. I froze a bunch of celery from our garden (see the photo above) when the stalks were too skinny for eating but the end of the growing season was near. You can even freeze your chicken carcass until you have time to make stock. Get this: you can even freeze that turkey carcass from Thanksgiving and make stock with that. Shut. The. Front. Door. There, I said it for you because that’s what you were thinking, right?

Moving right along. Now for the slightly more difficult version requiring a tad more of your attention. If you want to make a lot more stock at once, grab the biggest pot you have and get to work. We have a 5 gallon pot we use for everything from beer brewing to making pickles to boiling down maple syrup. You don’t need something that big but it helps when you want to make lots of stock at once. If you have a huge pot, you can add two bird carcasses and make some kick butt stock. The “recipe” is still the same: add carrots, onions, celery, garlic, and some fresh parsley if you have it.

Cooking the stock on the stove has it’s advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is you can make more at once than you can in a slow cooker. The biggest disadvantage is that you will need to keep an eye on the pot. First, you will need to bring the pot to a boil over high heat. Once it’s at a boil, lower the temperature to a simmer. You will need to simmer the pot on a low temperature for at least 4-6 hours, preferably more. I generally let it cook for anywhere from 8-12 hours. It’s not like you need to stand there watching the pot the entire time. But if you filled your pot pretty full with water, you will want to make sure it doesn’t get out of control and boil over. Just check it from time to time to make sure you have a nice slow simmer.

I’m purposely not making this into a recipe, saying exactly how much of each to add. I literally just throw in a couple of each. Once the hubs didn’t add any vegetables, only a chicken carcass, to the pot, and it was delicious. Once I had no carrots and it still worked out. Really truly, it’s pretty fool proof.

Now for the messiest part, pulling everything out of the pot. Take your pot off the heat and let it cool. Then, I take two grocery bags, one inside the other, and use tongs to get the biggest chunks out of the pot. Next I get the smaller stuff out with a fine mesh strainer. Last, I ladle the stock/broth over another mesh strainer into a container. We buy big two quart containers (I think they were from Tractor Supply. I’ve seen them lots of places with the canning supplies). I generally fill up a few smaller containers to use when making rice or recipes that only call for one or two cups of stock. I will cool these off in the refrigerator over night then put in the freezer to store. If I’m going to use it within the next few days, I will ladle it into quart canning jars and put them in the fridge. If you have a pressure canner and the know-how, you can most certainly pressure can the broth. I’ve yet to do this, simply because we tend to use the stock up pretty quickly, so I don’t want to take the time to pressure can it.

 

Once you have some beautiful, homemade stock or broth, the possibilities are endless! The most commonly made soup in our house is chicken noodle soup. But my new favorite is the Bearded Man’s ramen bowl. To. Die. For. Other favorites are broccoli cheddar soup, cauliflower white bean soup or an incredibly easy minestrone. All very easy to make if you keep some basic (and local!) ingredients on hand.

If you enjoyed this post, leave some love for me in the comments section below!

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Homemade Granola

Today I’m sharing with you my favorite granola recipe that I’ve been making for years. Did I create the recipe? Nope! Why don’t I try making my own recipe? Because why mess with perfection? I’m a busy mom and when I find a good recipe that my kids will actually eat, I stick with it!

100 DAYS OF REAL FOOD GRANOLA <—Click Here for the Recipe

What I like about this recipe is it’s versatile and works with whatever you have on hand. You can easily tweak it to fit whatever nuts and seeds you have in your pantry. In fact, I’ve made this recipe completely nut free, instead doubling the pumpkin and sunflower seeds. And there are times when I haven’t had the right amount of spices so I subbed in pumpkin pie spice with no problems. Best part is this recipe makes a LOT, so you can make it once and have it on hand for awhile (if it lasts). This granola is super filling, so you won’t need much to feel satisfied.

After I make this granola, I employ a super secret mom trick: I put it in a half gallon canning jars with an easy to open lid and set it in plain view on the counter. Then I wait and watch as little (and big hands) snack on it throughout the day, pouring milk over it for breakfast, adding it to trail mix, sprinkling it over a yogurt parfait, made with some local fruit, of course. (Another unrelated super secret mom trick- the bread box in the top photo, also serves as a hiding place for the things I DON’T want to share, like my dark chocolate bars).

What does this recipe have to do with local eating, you ask? Quite a few ingredients can be sourced locally! Here’s the rundown:

Honey- I bought mine from B&K Bees of Hesperia. I’ve also purchased some from Crisp Country Acres before. The fun thing about trying different local honey is the taste changes depending on the plants the bees were frequenting! How cool is that?! Click here for my (growing) list of where to buy local honey.

Butter- My family loves the butter from Country Dairy! I may have gotten a funny look when I bought like three pounds of butter and several pounds of cheese at once. But we just freeze what we won’t use right away.

Nuts and Seeds– I shop at Montague Foods for my nuts and seeds. I love that they have these available in bulk. Less packaging waste that way. The bulk nuts and seeds are sourced by a company out of Grand Rapids named Ferris. I do understand that they are not grown locally. However, when it comes to items that don’t grow in our climate or aren’t readily available from a local source,I choose to at least buy them from a local store.

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Oats- Oats are like nuts and seeds in that it’s pretty difficult these days to find a local source of oats. I like heading out to Whispering Pines Country Store in Fremont, Michigan to buy bulk oats. What I like is you can buy small bags of oats or 50lb bags. They generally have a variety to choose from. Again, if I can’t buy a locally grown product, I’d at least like to give a local store my business. One note about Whispering Pines: bring a check or cash. They don’t take credit cards.

Hope you enjoy this recipe! If there are any ingredients listed above that ARE available from a local source, please let me know in the comments. I will update this post to include those local sources.

 

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One Whole Chicken, Four Meals

Most of us have grown accustomed to purchasing our meats in the exact cuts and weights we desire from a chain grocery store, with the most popular cut of chicken being the ever-popular boneless, skinless chicken breast. Having chicken so readily available to us, pre-cut and pre-packaged, means many people have no idea how to a) cook a whole chicken, b) cut up a whole chicken c) or  what to do with a whole chicken once it’s cooked. Fear not, my chicken loving friends! Today I will show you how to make the most out of a chicken, even making that chicken last for four meals!

Before I go on though, allow me to make the case for buying a locally raised chicken. Some might see the cost per pound of a locally raised chicken and see that as too expensive for their budget. Around here, the going rate per pound for a whole chicken is $3.50/lb. You can expect the average size to be about 5.5 lbs. This makes the total cost of a chicken to be around $19.25. Now let’s crunch some numbers and see how that $19.25 chicken can be affordable for a family of four:

$19.25 divided by 4 meals = $4.81 per meal

Now let’s break it down by serving:

$4.81 per meal divided by 4 people = $1.20 per person, per meal! 

(Spoiler alert: One meal doesn’t include meat. But it does use the broth made from the chicken. This helps stretch out the cost of the chicken. Don’t know how to make your own broth? People, it’s sooo easy and foolproof. Click here and I will show you.)

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Speaking of the cost of broth, let’s include that in the cost of the chicken. If you go to the store and buy, let’s say, organic store brand chicken broth, you’d expect to pay about $2.50-$3.00 for a quart. I contend you can make at least 4 quarts of broth with one chicken. Allow me to do that math for you: $2.50 x 4 quarts= $10 in chicken broth. That’s more than HALF the cost of your chicken already! However, just the other day, I used ONE whole chicken, put it in a huge pot, and got a little over 7 quarts of broth.

Of course this doesn’t include the other ingredients in your recipe, but generally speaking, we pay the most money for the meat we put on the table. (And if you keep checking back with my blog, you will see how you can buy produce in bulk and make these meals even more inexpensive).

Cooking the Chicken:

Some people are intimidated by the idea of cooking a whole chicken. If this is you, check out my post about making chicken broth in a slow cooker, because you can literally cook the whole chicken in the slow cooker and get meat AND broth at the same time. It’s very easy!

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Making a whole chicken and broth in a slow cooker

You can roast the chicken in the oven, put it on the grill, or, if you’re pretty grill savvy, get yourself a rotisserie attachment for your charcoal grill and cook it that way. With the power of youtube and Pinterest, you can find lots of tutorials for cooking a whole bird. Orrrr……ask your grandma. Really. I just had a conversation with my grandma about how once a neighbor called her over to show her how to carve a chicken before her mother-in-law got there. I laughed. But to be honest, I had NO clue how to carve a chicken until a few years ago.

 

Meal Ideas:

Meal 1: Chicken Soup and/or Ramen Bowl- My kids aren’t a huge fan of the ramen bowl. Instead we make a little of each at the same time. Chicken soup for the boys. Ramen bowls for mom and dad. All using about 2-3 quarts of the broth we make from the whole chicken.

Meal 2: Chicken Tacos with rice, beans and corn- Take the leftover chicken, dice it up, throw it in a pan with some homemade taco seasoning (Click for the recipe I use). Add a side of beans made in the slow cooker (Click here for bean recipe), rice (recipe coming soon!) and some corn. I freeze corn during the summer to have on hand all winter. Check the “corn” section this summer for tips and tricks for freezing local corn.

Meal 3: Chicken with noodles– This recipe is a crowd pleaser! It calls for 1 pound of chicken, but I’ve found it’s just as pleasing with less chicken. What I love most about it is you can buy a LOT of the ingredients locally: carrots, onions, mushrooms,celery, onion, butter, corn and even the half and half! Use of quart of your homemade stock and it’s even more local!! If you already have the chicken cooked and diced, this recipes is really easy to whip up and get on the table.

Meal 4: Vegetable Minestrone (using the stock or broth from the chicken) with fresh homemade bread, and side salad with homemade vinaigrette. (RECIPE COMING SOON!)

Okay, I know, you’re thinking, hey, the last one is meatless. But, this meal uses the chicken for broth, not the meat, making that chicken last a little longer. Trust me, the minestrone is ridiculously easy to make and very filling.

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Yep. That’s ketchup. A universal dip to my son. But hey, he eats his broccoli. Keepin it real, people.

Sometimes in our house, mom and dad get a fancy meal and the kids get this. A small hunk of chicken, steamed broccoli (I blanch and freeze a bunch during the summer to use all winter), and quick and easy to make home fries. Of course, with ketchup. And the broccoli is topped with that “cheesy” popcorn topping that’s really not cheese. Just trying to be real people. If my kid will only eat chicken with store bought ketchup and his broccoli with “cheese” topping, so be it. I pick my battles.

Other Meal Suggestions: white chicken chili, chicken “fried” rice, chicken stir fry, taco soup, chicken gyros, Asian chicken salad. 

Of course these aren’t the ONLY meals you could make with one chicken. The possibilities are endless, especially in the Pinterest age where you search chicken recipes and get thousands of recipes at your fingertips. But do you see what I did with the recipe layout? I didn’t serve the chicken plain, as the star of the plate. This might take some getting used to if you usually plan your meal around the meat as the center piece. If you instead first consider it as an ingredient in the whole meal, you can make that one chicken last a lot longer. Throw in some things on the side like homemade bread with your soup. Or don’t be afraid to think a little outside of the box and eat carrot sticks and apple slices with your chicken tacos. My kids aren’t always sold on beans and rice, so they always have the option of a piece of fruit and something like celery with peanut butter.

If you’re now feeling super inspired and ready to break out your apron and get cooking, first, CLICK HERE and learn where you can buy a locally raised chicken. Even if you just started with ONE locally raised chicken and give these recipes a try, it’s a start and it WILL help out that farmer. Every time we buy local, we’re voting with our dollars for how we want our food to be raised. And we’re pumping money back into our local economy. Buying local is ALWAYS a win!

ENJOY! If you liked this post, be sure to leave me some love in the comments below!

This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase, at no extra cost to you. 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Choose Local Meats

Why Local meat?

Sometimes we associate eating local with eating out at a local restaurant or buying veggies from a vendor at the farmer’s market. But what about meat? It can be tough to find locally raised meats these days, especially since local butcher shops are not as common as they once were. With today’s post, I hope you feel a bit more informed about your options for purchasing local meat.

If you are from the West Michigan area, be sure to check out the local farmers list and contact them with questions and for purchasing information. If you have a recommendation for additions to my list, please feel free to contact me, and I will update my list.

  • Smaller carbon footprint. Meat you buy from a local farmer only “travels” as far as from the farm, to the processor and to your home. That’s a pretty small carbon footprint. But for commercially raised meats, in the case of beef, calves may be raised in one part of the country, then shipped off to another farm to be “finished off”, before heading to a processor, then a distribution center, then to a grocery store, and THEN to your home. That’s quite a large carbon footprint!
  • You know where your meat is coming from. You can actually meet the farmer and learn how they raise their animals: what the animals are fed, if they are able to forage, what breeds the farmer raises, if the animal was born on the farm or purchased from another farm, how the animals are treated, if they are ever given antibiotics, etc. You may even ask how they harvest their animals. Some small farms choose to have someone come to the farm so the animals are less stressed. Some processors require the animals to come to them live. Don’t hesitate to ask these questions. Most farmers will be happy to answer for you. They take pride in their animals and the work they put in to providing you the best quality meat they can.
  • You can order meat in much larger quantities to have on hand. This saves on last minute trips to the grocery store (if you’re like me, you go in for one thing and come out with ten things you didn’t need. Whoops!) I especially love this in the dead of winter when I really don’t want to go to the grocery store. I always have something in the freezer to cook up.
  • You can customize your order. Generally, when you order a side of beef or pork, you will work with a local butcher for the processing and you can customize your order. (Bonus: you’re giving that butcher business as well! Double local score!) So, for example, you aren’t really a steak eating family but would rather have all ground beef, you can order all ground beef. Or maybe you want some bones set aside to make some stock. You can request that as well. If you’re not sure how you want it processed (it can seem overwhelming the first time), most butchers shops are happy to help you out. Don’t hesitate to call up the farmers preferred butcher and ask up front about the packaging possibilities (vacuum sealed vs. butcher paper), processing fees, possible pick up date, etc.
  • You may be able to try bundles. Some farms offer smaller meat bundles if you are not sure if ordering a side of meat is right for you. Give a smaller bundle a try and see if you like it. You may even ask if the farmers supply meat to local butcher shops and you can check out the butcher shop. You could even decide to buy a side or a larger bundle and split with another family. Ask around and see what works for you and your family.
  • Superior quality and taste. When we first ordered broiler chickens from a local farm, I could not believe the difference in taste. The difference was clearly visible in the chicken stock it made. A healthier, well-raised animal produces better quality meat! It’s as simple as that!

If you are considering purchasing local meats and you live in the West Michigan area, check out these links to recommended local farmers. If you are visiting from another part of the country (or world!), start by asking around. See if any other friends have ordered from a local farmer and ask for recommendations. You may even be able to score a lower price if you can find someone to go in with you on the entire animal. Contacting a local butcher shop may also be a good lead. Be aware that there are some cases where local butcher shops may be offering a combinations of meats that are local and non-local. The best thing to do is simply ask where they source their meat.

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McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm

 

Last Saturday, my family decided to finally find Ryke’s bakery after our trip to the Muskegon Farmer’s Market. Driving down Laketon Avenue, we saw a bustling neighborhood with cars turning left and right, family homes, businesses, a hospital. Then, wait! Is that a greenhouse? It sure is! There, seemingly in the hospital parking lot, sits a small urban farm, right smack dab in the middle of all of this urban hustle and bustle. That urban farm is McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm, situated in the McLaughlin neighborhood of Muskegon.

After driving past this curious little farm, I couldn’t wait to meet farm manager Laurie Wieschowski and see what was growing at “McGrows”. I wasn’t sure what to expect given I was visiting a farm in March. But, oh my, is that farm already well on it’s way to a glorious growing season. Laurie first showed me their hoop house, where garlic and collard greens happily thrived and others rows were being prepped for planting. There I met Gage, the assistant farm manager, and Brietta, a member of YEP, a local youth leadership program who were both setting up irrigation lines.

 

 

Next I toured the green house where trays of microgreens, onions and leeks were soaking in the warmth of the green house. There Laurie told me how the farm works for the community that surrounds them, providing a “food forest” in front where anyone can come pick and enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, and a children’s garden within the farm’s fences, with colorful raised beds that will soon be filled with fruit and vegetable plants kids can sample from. Laurie told me about how McGrows welcomes all, from preschool and school age children learning about growing a garden, to youth in the Youth Empowerment Project, learning the ins and outs of running an urban farm. Laurie also told stories of people who volunteer at the farm and keep coming back because they love it so much.

 

What captivated me the most about McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm was not just the plants growing in the hoop house and green house (although they were stunning), but more importantly, the stories. Brietta moved me with her story about starting at McGrows because she saw a flyer at school saying if she finished the program mentioned in the flyer, she would receive money. Very enticing, indeed. But she said she stayed because she loved seeing not just the plants growing around her but the relationships as well. How youth like her would start at the farm, unsure of getting their hands dirty. As the plants grew, so did their relationships with each other, their friendships, their confidence, their leadership skills, their connection to the plants they watched sprout up and produce healthy fruits and vegetables for the community around them.

Her story brought a tear to my eye because I could feel how important and powerful this farm was to many people in the community. Even though not much was in bloom at McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm during my visit, what’s always growing there year round is an honest, sincere and inspiring sense of a community coming together, getting their hands dirty and growing more than just food.

Next time you are at the Muskegon Farmer’s Market, stop at the McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm table and buy their greens and produce and herbs and whatever they have. (I’ve had their microgreens. Delicious!). When you invest in their food, you are investing in a community, in opportunities for our youth and the community to engage in growing high quality sustainable food.

And why stop at buying a bag of their delectable microgreens? Sign up for the CSA program and receive a weekly share of this urban farms harvest. Check out their website to see the variety of CSA programs McGrows offers.

Thank you, McLaughlin Grows Urban Farms for letting me visit! I cannot wait to come back and share your inspiring farm with my family.

Lundell Farms

One great pleasure in life is watching people talk about something they are passionate about. That thing that gets them out of bed in the morning, the thing that lights up their eyes, the thing that’s hard work but worth every moment spent on it. The thing that’s close to their hearts and they want to share with everyone around them.

That is exactly what I saw when my family and I visited Lundell Farms yesterday, which is just south of Whitehall in North Muskegon. Lori and John have such a passion and dedication for raising and growing the best quality foods they can, and proof of this is not just in their words but in their actions. We saw first hand how well they treat their animals, from the green house where they grow their own fodder to provide nutrient dense greens to their animals, to their awesome dog/farm hand Ranger who guards “his” animals with tremendous dedication (You can see his attentiveness in the photo below. He wasn’t taking his eyes off those small humans running around, just in case).

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Lundell Farms started with Lori and John wanting to grow and raise healthy, nutrient rich food for themselves. Slowly, they added on to their farm, clearing the woods to make way for a barn, pasture for their animals, and a garden for fruits and vegetables. John even planed some of the trees he cleared to use in the construction of their barn. In talking to Lori, I appreciated her honesty about how they care for their animals every step of the way to ensure not only the best quality meats for their customers, but also to ensure their animals live a healthy and happy life each day on the farm.

 

Lundell Farms believes in being good stewards to the land. For this reason, they grow their produce without using synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers, making certain they can offer their customers high quality foods that are not only good for your health, but also good for Mother Nature. (Read more below and at the Lundell Farms website).

All of our produce is raised organically.  We start the natural process by being stewards to the land.  We continually work to improve our soil with organic matter.  On all of our property we refrain from using any synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.  We spend plenty of hours weeding!  We compost the manure from our animals and use that as soil builder and fertilizer.  Our produce is started by using a majority of heirloom seeds from varieties that have been handed down for generations.  Heirloom varieties are never Genetically Modified and are known for their exceptional flavor.  They do not always look perfect like what you may be used to in the grocery store, but once you taste them, you will see why we believe heirloom is the way to go!
These are the practices that, we believe, gives our product a superior quality and flavor.

Before we left, Lori showed me the seedlings she is growing in their greenhouse, awaiting the arrival of spring and their new life in the garden. For customers who believe in what the Lundell’s do, Lundell Farms offers a CSA Program, which lasts 18 weeks and offers customers a portion of their wonderful produce each week for as little as around $20 a week for a family of four or $11 a week for a family of two. Read more about what they offer their CSA customers on their website. Lundell Farms also offers pork, lamb, turkey, chicken and eggs. Check out their website for more information on ordering meat from their farm.

My family and I enjoyed our visit to Lundell farms, so much so that my boys did not want to leave; they were having too much fun learning about the animals and stomping in the mud puddles. We look forward to returning this spring and summer to enjoy the delicious goodness available for purchase from Lundell Farms. Until then, thanks, Lundell’s for sharing your beautiful farm with us!

 

 

The Smoothie that Keeps on Giving

Last year I read a book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. In it, the author details the journey her family took in living a year of eating only locally grown and raised foods. Of course, each family member was allowed to pick a food item that would be their “exception food”. Mine would for sure be coffee! Being a mom of 2 boys, I cannot function without coffee. Reading this book made me wonder what changes my family could make to eat “closer to home”. I admit, the winters are difficult when we have a picky eater who actually likes raw, fresh veggies and turns his nose to steamed or canned veggies.

My husband and I decided we would stock up on whatever we could when things came into season, and stored these for the winter season. When I compared prices to what we could pay in the grocery store, I found the prices we paid at the grocery store were actually about the same as buying direct from the farmer.

 

We started with picking strawberries from Scholl farms in Montague. Since our boys tapped out early while strawberry picking, we ordered the rest through Stibitz farm. We ended up with 7 flats of strawberries in the freezer. The next fruit in season was cherries and we picked 60 lbs of cherries at Gavin Orchards in Coopersville. Last we picked blueberries at Palmer’s in Whitehall. Okay, the boys didn’t last long enough for us to pick a years supply, so we went back to purchase prepicked blueberries. I have to say, it’s March now and we still have a great supply of those fruits, plus the jams we made from them.

How does this make for a smoothie that keeps on giving? Because when we chose to buy all our fruit local, we helped the families who own these farms. When they make money, they have the opportunity to spend their money in our community as well. Buying from local sources also gives local farmers more money to possibly expand their operation, hire more employees, or update their equipment. The money stays here in our community, building up a healthy local economy. Everyone wins.

We didn’t stop with these fruits. We also stocked up on peaches, pears and apples, green beans, broccoli,corn, tomatoes and cabbage for sauerkraut, and even plums for a canned Asian plum sauce.

 

You might be thinking,”How much did that cost upfront?” Yes, buying 60 lbs of cherries at once isn’t cheap. But when my husband and I committed to buying this way early in the year, we also decided on ways we could cut back so we would have room in our budget for the bulk purchases. For example, not eating out as much, making more foods from scratch, eating simpler meals and learning to use what we already had in the pantry.

Even though we spent a lot of money up front on bulk fruits and veggies, we found our grocery bill during the winter went down considerably. We weren’t making as many trips to the grocery store which not only saved on gas, and time, but also meant we weren’t wandering around the grocery store,buying things we didn’t need. And you know what that means? We don’t have to cut back as much this year as we prepare to shop this way again! Now we have MORE money available to eat out at our favorite local restaurants! Which means an even bigger local win!

Come back throughout the year to follow my family as we once again buy as much local produce as we can, and share ways we put up the food for the winter when local food is hard to find.

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In the meantime, let me entice you with this “rainbow smoothie” using the cherries, strawberries, blueberries and spinach we have in our freezer from last year’s growing season. Even in writing this, I’ve decided to make changes. I’ve come across a great family farm called Small House Farm that makes their own ground flaxseed meal. I plan to swap out my store bought flaxseed with their ground flaxseed. Oh, and I should say, I say “recipe” but it’s very versatile, based on whatever fruit we have left. I do, however, stand firm in using a juice that’s acidic like orange juice for the base. Otherwise you get a smoothie that’s a little overwhelmingly sweet. I will let you know if I find a good substitute for orange juice. I also don’t skip the frozen banana. I’ve tried other foods, but the smoothie is much creamier in texture with the banana in it. Until then, for me it’s worth it to keep those non-local ingredients since my kids will actually drink it.

Rainbow Smoothie Recipe

(makes 3-4 servings)

Ingredients

  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup cherries
  • 1 cup strawberries
  • A handful of frozen spinach
  • 1 cup other liquid (water, coconut water, almond milk, or other juice)
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
  • 2 T. Ground flaxseed
  • 1-2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)

Blend until desired consistency.

Notes on kitchen products:

We love this blender. We tend to destroy our small appliances since we use them so frequently. I like that this one has a glass pitcher that won’t stain. And you can buy replacement pieces easily online. It made this blender a good economical purchase for us, especially compared to the much more expensive blenders you can find on the market these days. This one is awesome for the price. Best part is the “Frozen drink” setting. You know, just for the smoothies. (Wink wink, nudge nudge).

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I recently purchased these straws from Seraphina’s kitchen because I hate using disposable straws and it drives me batty when my kids chew on and ruin straws. These straws are awesome because if you’re kids do chew on the end, you can cut that part off! If you don’t like the bend in the straw,you can cut the bend off. They also come with little brushes to clean the inside of the straw!! Then you know the inside is actually getting clean.

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