Friday, December 21, 2012

Quick--Order your free 2013 Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog today!



Last year I snoozed a bit too long in winter and waited too long to request my Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog and they were out in the very very early spring. I had to peruse the catalog online, alas. Not a bad thing altogether. I am glad they have that option for folks that know exactly what they want to jump on and just order.

But I like to write in catalogs, dog-ear the pages and mull over my choices before I place my order.

I really like Baker Creek because they are one of the few places these days to offer truly (tested!) non-GMO seeds (the corn selection is less every year due to their finding GMO genes in the corn they tested). The seeds are heirlooms, so you can grow next year's crop from this year's seed if you want to (can't do that with just any seeds).  And, the seeds are not big-company owned seeds like so many of the seeds in the stores are.

So, if you want to get a hard copy of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog for 2013, click here!

Happy planning, and a Merry Christmas to all of you! :)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A GF Aldi Lunch Salad


Thought I would share my GF lunch using Aldi ingredients.  I was tired of the same ol' leftovers and sandwiches and wanted something fresh to eat, so I made this up from my fridge ingredients from my last Aldi run. You can make it with ingredients from any ol' store (or your garden!).

For this salad, I used:

1 1/2 heads of the Artisan Lettuce. I picked one of the reddish heads and half of one of the green heads.
Chopped onion
Shredded Cheddar Cheese
12 or so Pepperoni slices (yep, these are GF!)
Some jarred Marinated Roasted Red Peppers with Garlic Cloves and Olive Oil
Olive oil from the jar of peppers
Pepper and salt ground from my pepper and salt mills

This made for a tasty, spicy lunch. I will probably having something a little more substantial later this afternoon, but this hit the spot for a light lunch!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Making GF Granola


Today I have been doing the Monday reset of the house (laundry, dishes, general pick-up after the weekend), and between that I have been making granola.  We've been out for a couple weeks and I've been missing the easy breakfast.  Sadly, if it's not easy, I often just do without. (I really hope my mom didn't just read that.)

Here is the Granola Recipe I posted awhile back.  This time around I ended up using brown sugar (out of honey, alas) and sunflower oil, since that's what I had on hand.  I also tossed in some dried cranberries after the baking was done.

I have found that putting a cup or so of the granola in a bowl, along with enough water to cover, and microwaving it for a minute or two makes a nice hot breakfast!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Finally--EGGS!

The day before yesterday, I found myself thinking about our chickens and wondering why in the world we hadn't had any eggs yet.  I even went so far as to pray for those chickens to start laying eggs.

Yesterday, my daughter was running late and didn't make it out to water the chickens, so I went out to water them later in the morning.

And I found 3 eggs in the corner of the chicken coop. Not in the nest boxes where the dummy egg and a couple golf balls have been gathering dust the last few months.

Maybe I should have started praying sooner, huh?


Worried that they'd been there for a long time and weren't any good, I put them in a pan and ran water into the pan. They stayed on the bottom of the pan, proof that these were fresh eggs.

Later in the day, my daughter and I went out to check on the chicken/egg status after school and we found one more in the same place!  Woo-hoo!

So, we have so far gotten 4 eggs from our chickens.  I'm not impressed yet, but if I don't have to buy eggs in the coming weeks I will be happier.  We got these chickens to be more than pets!

Hubby thinks that since these chickens are larger than our other chickens, maybe they are not comfortable in the nest boxes we have and that might be the reason for the laying on the floor in the corner.  We'll have to see what they decide to do in the coming days and weeks and see about coming up with a setup to make both us and the chickens happy.


Oh, and on the way out to the chickens, I happened to be walking alongside my garden and found a dead  mink!  No idea how or why it died (maybe a fox?), but this is sign that we do indeed have them around here, and to be extra vigilant about protecting the chickens.  We had suspected a few years back when a batch of our young chickens was murdered inside the coop, but now we have proof!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Homemade Elderberry Syrup

We've already had one round of sickness already this year, so I decided we need to start taking some elderberry syrup both as a preventative and during any illness we may have.

Purchasing name brand elderberry meds can get really expensive, especially for a family of 5. I am finding that making it myself is a much less expensive option!

Elderberry is rich in vitamin C, antioxidants, flavonoids, beta carotene, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and a whole host of good-for-you things. 

Elderberry has been used to help with flu, colds, sinus issues, and even as a hayfever remedy. (I just recently read about the hayfever usage and might need to consider that next fall!) 

For more detailed info as to how elderberry products work, check out Sambucol's FAQ page, for they say it more eloquently than I can this morning. :)

Elderberry syrup is not a new thing--it has been used for generations.



After all of that information, let's move on to the actual recipe!

I used the recipe at Mountain Rose Herbs for reference, leaving out the optional stuff. With my allergy/sensitivity issues, I figure the less ingredients the better.

Since our elderberries at the farm didn't produce well due to the drought this summer, and I used all of the ones I had in the freezer, I purchased a pound of Frontier Organic Dried Elderberries from the local health food store for $14.99. I wanted to order from Mountain Rose Herbs, but they were out and I wanted to get some ASAP.

I also purchased local(ish) honey from the local health food store for $2.99/lb.

Here's the recipe, the way I made it:

Elderberry Syrup

1/2 cup dried elderberries (or 1 cup fresh/frozen)
3 cups water

1 cup honey

sterilized jar with lid
Strainer
cheesecloth (optional)


1. Put the elderberries and water in a pan, bring to a boil and simmer 30 mins.
2. Mash your elderberries. I used a potato masher. You could use a spoon or carefully use an immersion blender or something similar. Be careful--the juice will stain!
3. Strain your elderberry water into your sterilized jar, pressing to get as much juice out as possible.
4. Pour out a small amount of hot/warm elderberry juice into a small bowl and mix with honey.
5. Pour honey mixture into jarred elderberry juice and stir until combined.
6. Refrigerate.

I ended up with a little over 3 cups of syrup. I expected closer to 4 cups, but I left the stove for a bit and came back to a non-simmering pot, then turned it up and it was boiling. Oops.

Dosage: For everyday maintenance, 1 TB daily. When you are fighting an illness, take 1tsp every 2 to 3 hours.

For ease of pouring, I am repurposing a smaller bottle.


Cost to make this batch came to $4.37. That is less than half what a little bottle of Sambucol would cost me!

I actually like this homemade version better than Sambucol!

Most of my family took to this syrup pretty well, but not my extra-picky middle child. *sigh*  He loves maple syrup, so maybe I will try making a small batch with maple syrup instead of honey.... more expensive, but if it means he will take it...


Obviously, if you have a little one under 2 years old, you may want to use a different syrup other than honey.

The (Wood) Heat is On as of October 27

Well, hubby decided to fire up the outdoor wood furnace this last weekend.  The weather has become decidedly chilly (nd windy!) and I guess the house needed a little bit more warmth than we were willing to crank up the propane.

Here's the hubs out tending the fire.



And.....we need more wood! Unfortunately, our usual backup wood supply does not have wood to offer the public this year. Apparently, they weren't able to get into the woods last winter due to the wet, non-freezing weather we had.  Bummer!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Honey Lemon - Good for What Ails Ya!


I saw this idea a few months ago on Pinterest and promptly forgot about it. I was reminded when at the local health food store talking with one of the ladies there and made it the next day!

Our household has been fighting a cold/cough virus, and I plan to be using this a lot!

It's incredibly easy to make this concoction. Some people add Ginger to the mix, but since I am not certain whether Ginger is in the mix of spices I have been having some problems with lately, I left it out.  I am told and have read that over time, the concoction turns into a gel-like consistency. For now, two days after making it, it's made a lovely lemon-infused honey to put into my tea!

How to Make Honey Lemon
Gather:
Raw honey
Lemons
Fresh ginger, sliced thin(optional)
Clean jar with lid

Slice your lemons as thin as you can and place in jar. If you're using ginger, place that in as well, mixing with lemons.

Pour honey over the top until covered. The honey will draw out the juices and help fill the jar, so pour slowly! (I kind of made a sticky mess when I poured too much in at a time...)

Place closed jar in fridge to do its thing. If you feel like it, you can turn the jar on its top to help the honey move around and through the whole lemon stack.

When you need some honey-lemon goodness, simply spoon out what you need and replace jar to fridge. I have been adding this to my daily tea regimen, adding it to my black or white tea(you can use green, if you want).  For kids(and adults) who may not want true tea, you can just put a dollop of honey lemon in a cup and pour hot water over it for a yummy drink.

Yummy and good for you!

This should keep for months, as honey doesn't go bad, and lemon has plenty of acid in it to help fend off ickies.  As an extra precaution, don't go dipping dirty spoons into your jar. ;)


Keepin' it Real!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

REVIEW: Mary's Gone Crackers! Customer Service

I recently picked up a bag of Mary's Gone Crackers! Sticks&Twigs Pretzels in the Curry Flavor. This was my first time to pick up a product by this company. I was on the lookout for some easy gluten-free snack food for a camping trip and this seemed like a good product to add interest to my repertoire.

Two bites into the pretzels, I started having a niggling feeling at the back of my throat. My allergy reactions generally begin with an itchy feeling in the soft palate, so this was a little weird.  I was unsure as to whether it was an allergic reaction, but assumed it was, considering it was the only thing I was eating at the time.  I took an antihistamine just in case, and a few minutes later my ears started itching inside, so that pretty much told me it was most likely a reaction that presented itself a little differently. I'm glad I took the antihistamine. I've never had an anaphlactic reaction, so don't know what exactly it feels like, but this niggling feeling at the back of my throat did give me cause for concern.

I have been doing quite well with foods lately.

I checked out the list of ingredients and found that the ingredients listed were mostly things I have been eating and doing fine with.   The only thing that I had questions on was the curry powder, as I know it can be made up of any number of different ingredients.  In order to narrow down what it was I reacted to, I decided to contact the company via email.

On first contact, the representative at Mary's Gone Crackers! was hesitant to give me the ingredient listing to their curry powder, instead inquiring as to what my allergies are and then they would tell me if any of them were on their list.

As my readers with multiple allergy experience know, there is no allergy test that tests for every food or substance on the planet. There are false positives and false negatives in the testing in any case.    Additionally, allergy testing only tests for what your body is likely to react to at the time of the testing; people can develop new allergies, and they can have reactions to things that do not show up on the tests.

The most foolproof way to know you are allergic to something is whether or not you have been exposed to it and reacted.  It is far easier to narrow down the cause of an allergic response based on what you have actually been exposed to. Giving my list from my allergy testing a few years ago would have gotten me nowhere, as my body has changed since then.

I explained to the rep my situation and how I really wanted to get to the cause of my reaction to their product so that I can pinpoint the culprit ingredient and know what to watch out for in the future. They consulted with Mary, and responded with a listing of the curry powder ingredients. This was quite helpful to me, as two of the ingredients are things that I don't consume on any sort of a regular basis: fenugreek and cardamom.  With a simple email, my possible reaction ingredients were narrowed substantially; something I greatly appreciate!

Thinking about cardamom and fenugreek, those ingredients are also often in Chai teas, which I have an aversion to. Maybe it's because I am allergic to something in it and is best avoided.  Funny how the pieces come together when a little more light is shed on the subject!

The bummer of the deal is that I should probably avoid most Indian food, or at least have a heightened awareness, should I have it.

The good part of the deal is that I won't have to avoid all of those other gluten-free grains and every other ingredient on the label in order to avoid the weird niggling throat reaction.  I am willing to bet that I would probably be ok with their non-curry products.


All this to say, Thank you, Mary, from Mary's Gone Crackers!, for understanding where I am coming from and being forthcoming with the specifics on your ingredient listing! You've made my life (and the lives of others with similar food issues) much easier!

And on a larger scale, thank you for your whole foods, organic, non-GMO commitment! I plan to give Mary's Gone Crackers! products another try! (non-curry, the next time around) :)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

It's That Time of Year Again....Firewood


The fall colors are brightening up my corner of the world and the temperature has dipped to freezing in the nighttime hours.  The farmers are out in their big combines harvesting the corn and soybeans, which means the ground is dry enough that we should be able to get into our woods and get firewood put up for the winter. We are going to need it, as our supplement source from previous years is not available this year.

So, you probably don't have to guess what we will be doing on our weekends...oh well, it's good exercise!

Heigh-ho!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Light Sussex Chicken Update

Our Light Sussex chickens, who started hatching on May 10, 2012, are 20 weeks old today.  They haven't laid any eggs yet, but every morning we hope to find the first egg.  I can't wait for them to start laying so we can have our own eggs from our own chickens again!

I've not been brave enough to let the chickens have free range of the property until just recently, because our garden is not fenced.  I also hesitate to let them truly free range when someone is not going to be home all day long, as the last batch of chickens we had (Delawares) was massacred by free-roaming dogs when we left for less than 2 hours. :( So, that limits the days I can let them out and feel good about it.

The first time I left the door open so the Light Sussex chickens could come outside, they didn't venture far from the door. In fact, they spent most of the time craning their necks out the door, inspecting the setup, I suppose.
 

Last weekend we let them out to run around, which they did freely, and the kids reported to me that they were having a bug party in the grass. Apparently they were frolicking. I was inside working on beets and didn't make it out to take pictures. (Sorry!)  Later in the day, I walked out of the house to hear the chickens carrying on as if they were being attacked. I hurried out to the coop, where they were all hiding, and on the way I saw a stray kitty's ears and the top of his head peering over the grass.

My chickens are.....well....chicken.


I guess they've got an excuse.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Gardening 2012: The First Fall Freeze

I woke up this morning to a good deal of frost out on the grass. The basil in the center of my garden was still ok, so it was either a light freeze or the basil was protected by the higher plants around it.

At any rate, today I went out and picked just about every pepper from my banana pepper plants. I set a few aside for the chickens, but here is a pic of my big ol' bowl of peppers!


I plan on chopping them up and putting them into the freezer for use through the coming months. This will mean fewer purchases of organic frozen peppers in my future!


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Garden Observations 2012

The garden is at its peak production, it seems. Maybe it's due to my avoiding it during the worst weeks of ragweed season...but I feel a need to get out there and harvest what is available. Especially since the weather is cooling off substantially--this makes it more pleasant to work outside, and also reminds me that soon the weather will be turning.

The Garden in September 2012


The green beans have long ago stopped producing.  I do, however, have some dry beans to harvest. Not a lot--we'll see how it goes. One of them is a variety that is hard to find locally and we wanted to just get enough to plant more next year and then hopefully be able to eat off of that crop.

The volunteer cherry tomatoes are proliferating, and I need to get the kids out to pick a bunch this afternoon. Same with banana peppers. I picked some of each this morning. I wonder if they would make a good mild salsa....


And a praying mantis that flew past me and onto the pepper plants.
Praying mantis on banana pepper plant.


I pulled what onions I could find. They didn't do very well. Maybe I was late in planting them (yeah, I was). Additionally, I didn't pay attention to what specific variety they were and if they are appropriate for our part of the country--I just picked up some sets from the grocery store. Maybe I'll rethink that for next year.

The pepper plants I purchased in July out of pity at the local nursery aren't doing anything worthy of note. Same with the melon plant. No point in purchasing plants at that point in the season...duly noted. (But I tried!)

I have beets I need to pull, but I am waiting until closer to dinner and on a night that I don't have running around to do....that way we can  have beet greens for dinner and then I can work on beets after dinner.
Yes, there are beets in there among the grass/weeds!
The okra is doing well this late in the season.  In fact, it's probably just getting going well and it will freeze in the next month.  I'm happy to have fresh okra I can fry up gluten-free and not have to rely on restaurants and frozen okra that is not gluten-free. :)   Next year, I need to plant it on either end of the garden, so that all of the plants can get consistent sun.  The lack of sun for the ones that get shaded by sunflowers really makes a negative difference in how well the okra has done.  We are still learning what size okra is best to pick--and to pick often! We are going to have a lot of seed for next year... People around here think I am weird for planting okra in Ohio--as if it's was unheard of and impossible! Maybe I will pass out seed and start a movement, hehe.
Burgundy Okra

Burgundy Okra Flower--Isn't it pretty?


The Job's Tears experiment is almost done. I am waiting for the little seeds to dry before I pick them and write an update on them.

Job's Tears plant

Sunflowers next year need to go along the back of the garden. I put them on the west side this year for some reason(oh, I remember--to give the cucumbers some shade), and let some volunteers stay in the middle of the garden, and I'm not sure that was a wise move. I will soon cut them down, tie them together, and put them somewhere to be a fall decoration/bird feeder.

Hubby has sorghum he needs to figure out what to do with. And we have corn(dry) to pick as well.
Sorghum, reaching for the sky!
The kids in front of the sorghum


The chard and kale should be tasty soon. It's been bitter, so I have been breaking leaves off and giving them to the chickens, who love them.

I need to harvest my huge basil plants before the weather gets too cold and make frozen pesto stuff to put in the freezer (it was yummy on pizza!).


Overgrown basil in need of plucking.



More basil-a ruffly purple type.


I have parsley (regular and flat leaf) that I have plucked leaves from and am drying in the dehydrator today.  I had to selectively pluck, because there were at least 6 of those caterpillars on the plants!


There is also a little arugula out there I need to incorporate into a salad or something.
Arugula--I cut it back when it started to bolt.

Wow--I didn't realize the variety of stuff we had out there! I better get to work!


 Here's a few flower pics from the garden for good measure. I plant them in with the veggies to encourage insects to come visit. :) I've got cosmos and marigolds as well, but they didn't make the cut.
Nasturtiums



Borage


I want to add Zinnias next year. :)
And potatoes and sweet potatoes and do better with beans and greens...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

It Wasn't Hiatal Hernia....My Health Cocktail

Well, I was wrong about the possible hiatal hernia. It was actually that I had ribs out of place on both sides of my sternum and that was what was causing such chest pain and inability to draw a full breath.

Plus, I have a virus, which I was beginning to suspect, because I ended up getting a fever one day last week, and I have a kid home today with a low grade fever.

And I do still have a little heartburn going on...

Add in my allergies this peak ragweed season and I have a "wonderful" health cocktail.

As you might guess, I went to the chiro this morning. I got all adjusted and now I can actually breathe! I do  have a little bit of residual soreness but hopefully that will go away in the next couple of days...much better though! I actually woke up this morning feeling almost as bad as last Monday when this all started. :(

I am going to keep up with my allergy regimen(Zyrtec+Homeopathic for pollen+avoidance), and add garlic in to help get rid of this virus.  I think I will add a TON of our homegrown garlic to our dinner tonite so that everyone will get a good dose!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Garden in Ragweed Season

I am feeling much better today, folks!

I stayed inside all day long yesterday, longing the whole time to run around outside and get some work done in my garden.

Since I was feeling so much better this morning, I decided to go outside and do what I could in the garden until my allergies drove me crazy again.

I went out and picked the okra (should  have gone out a couple days ago...alas, more waste!) and some of the volunteer cherry tomatoes nearby...as well as some basil and a few cosmos and marigolds for flair...

 
Then I went inside for a reprieve...and a tissue...achoo!
Then I went back outside and picked even more cherry tomatoes, more basil, and half the banana peppers from one plant. We have four banana pepper plants.

Can you guess what the kids are getting for snacks today?


Here's a pic, from last week or so, of some of our sunflowers.  Their heads are starting to bow, and I think I am going to gather them up and tie them to our maple tree to feed the birds this winter.


While I was picking tomatoes, I found this wee creature on my (mostly forgotten, yet flourishing) parsley plant:


I located my onions and started pulling some, while simultaneously cutting/pulling grass and weeds that had gone to seed. At that point, the sneezes started and the waters started flowing, so I retreated inside to take a shower and stay inside for awhile.

But, at least I got something done! And the kids should have plenty of snack for this afternoon. And we get to have fried okra tonight for dinner! Yum!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

August....aka "Hell Month" for this allergy sufferer

There, I said it. I have dubbed August "Hell Month" because it is by far the absolutely worst time of year for me as far as allergies go.

I began taking Zyrtec back in May or June, in an effort to get it good and set in my system to hopefully have no allergy symptoms this month. In addition, I have been using a homeopathic for weed pollen.

The Zyrtec/homeopathic have definitely helped as far as the sniffling, sneezing, itchy throat and ears problem. I've still had some of that here and there when I've gotten myself immersed in ragweed pollen...or eaten melons(hello Oral Allergy Syndrome...)..but it really does nothing to help my eyes. Oy, my eyes! Itching like mad for weeks now.  I've been staying inside for the most part, not enjoying the beautiful weather at all. :(

I actually double-dosed on Zyrtec one day last week in my desperation to feel better.

Sunday night, my digestive system started giving me fits...Monday morning, my chest hurt and I've got the acid thing going. At first I thought "oh no, I hope I'm not developing asthma!" because it hurt to breathe....but as I woke up and moved around, I remembered feeling this same way awhile back....

I think the hiatal hernia is back and/or I got into gluten this weekend and it's caught up with me...

...and I have itchy skin that tells me I've gotten into something I shouldn't have/my body is in react-to-everything, high-histamine mode.

Suspects:
  • Oatmeal cookies I made for the kids this weekend, made with regular (non-GF) oats...I had a few...
  • Non-GF oats I had in a meatloaf over the weekend (and I forgot to take my digestive enzyme)
  • Some other source of gluten/other food ingredient I have an issue with?
  • The double-dose of Zyrtec causing GERD
  • Eating Mexican food too close to bedtime on Sunday(though I had it before w/o issues)
  • My body has just been pushed to the limit with the allergies and decided to randomly go haywire?

Maybe oats should be cut out for awhile. And I need to pay better attention to my Zyrtec intake and not double it...no matter how desperate I am.

I do know that the bone broth chicken soup I made for myself yesterday did wonders in helping me to feel better.  Looking at the Mark's Daily Apple blog post, it looks like other people associate gluten/grains with acid issues. (it's not just me!) Looking at my past with my elimination diet...when I was off of all grains and trying to add in wheat, one of my warnings that this was a no-go was the sometimes rather intense acid reflux and chest/back pains, and when I took it back out, that would go away...

I find it interesting that, looking at my blog post history, the last two years I have blogged about having this issue around the Fall...August 2010 and October 2011...and one of them was definitely related to a gluten/wheat exposure.

My Plan:
1. I am going to resort back to GAPS-like eating for a bit, using bone broth at least once a day for myself and hope my gut/digestive system will heal up again. 

2. I plan to remember to take my probiotics and digestive enzymes!

3. I am going to avoid oats(and gluten) until this passes.

4. I am going to try this method of Hiatal Hernia Massage, and if this doesn't clear up within a week, I will go to the chiro and get it adjusted as I have in the past.  Usually, when I get into something that bothers me, it takes about 3 days to pass.  This is day 2.

 5.I am going to look into getting some eye drops for my itchy twitchy eyeballs!

Pray for me--this is a hard time of year for me! I kind of hope it freezes soon, but that wouldn't be fair to all you who are enjoying this weather, would it? ;)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Garden Pickings




I'm afraid I've been neglecting the blog lately, but I'm popping in here to update on the garden a bit. Here are the pickings I got from the garden this morning. The Royal Burgundy Bush Beans are about completely dead and defoliated from the bean beetles, and I got a meager handful of beans. I got enough okra to cook for myself and my hubby tonite for dinner, a couple tomatoes, and a ton of peppers that I just might turn into salsa(I have onions in the garden, too). Oh, and I do have some kale and chard that I am kind of waiting for cooler weather before I pick...the chard last time was bitter.

Many people in OH have never heard of growing Okra up here. But we've done it for a couple years now. Here's a pic of how it looks when it flowers (ours is a burgundy type).

And when it's cooked up the best way I know how (fried):
 
I love fried okra!





Might Sourdough Bread be an Option for those with Grain Issues?

I read an article in the September issue of Whole Living Magazine last night talking about the rising gluten free movement and whether gluten avoidance is what is really necessary for everyone with grain issues. Have we really found the culprit, or are there more culprits out there in our wheat supply?

One of the main focuses on the article was sourdough. Many people who were interviewed said that they were able to tolerate sourdough without problems(barring those with Celiac).  Interestingly enough, it is the refined flour sourdough bread that is getting the thumbs up. Commercial whole wheat flour is not the same as flour you would grind from whole grain at home, since it is ground/smashed, then the parts are separated, and divvied out to various sources, and then they are remixed when a whole grain order comes in. Manyy find that this is too hard on their digestive systems.  Before you reach for Organic refined flours, the article said that these do not have the fortifications added, and apparently to make a good sourdough with refined flour, you need to have those fortifications to feed the yeasts, otherwise they do not grow well.

Ancient (non-tinkered-with/non-GMO) grains were also given the nod and stronger approval than commercial refined flour.

I have been doing well with a once-a-week or so whole grain spelt pizza crust made at home.

So...I am thinking about branching out and trying to make sourdough from spelt and any other ancient grains I can find, and seeing how I do with it.  I would like to do it with whole grains, even if I have to finely grind them at home.

Hmmm...this is much like our ancestors made bread, isn't it? Getting back to basics...

Keepin' it Real!



Take a look at the article. I bet you will find it just as interesting as I did!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

I picked a bunch of cucumbers this week and decided to look for a dill pickle recipe, since I still have a bunch of Sweet Freezer Pickles in the freezer.  The kids are sweet pickled out, but I think they will go for dill pickles.

I came across this recipe from One Perfect Bite (who got it from Bobby Flay) and decided to give it a try.

Here's the recipe, with my substitutions:

Refrigerator Dill Pickles...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite courtesy of Bobby Flay

Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
(distilled white vinegar is most likely made from GMO's)
1/4 to 1/3 cup granulated sugar
(I used cane sugar)
4 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
3/4 teaspoon dill seeds
2 cups hot water
2 pounds pickling cucumbers, sliced or cut into spears
(you can pickle any cukes, but ones grown specifically for pickling tend to make more crisp pickles, from what I have read)

3/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh dill
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

Directions:

1) Combine vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, coriander seeds and dill seeds in a heatproof bowl(not plastic). Add hot water and stir until sugar dissolves and liquid is clear. Cool to room temperature.
2) Place cucumbers, garlic and dill in a large bowl. Toss to combine. Pour brine over all and turn to coat cucumbers. Cover with a plate to hold them down and keep them covered in brine. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a lid and refrigerate overnight, stirring once or twice. Transfer to an airtight container.


Keeps up to two weeks. 
Makes about 1 quart.

Here's how mine came out. This is only part of them, the others we ate already were good and crispy! Yum!


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Chick Update: 7 weeks old

Our Light Sussex chicks are 7 weeks old today.  They are really filling out, and I am impressed by the sturdiness of their legs and feet. To me, they are reminiscent of the Cornish Rock chickens that we raised for meat a couple years ago. I think this is a good thing, since one reason we are raising them is for a potential meat bird.

 We've had no casualties with the Light Sussex chickens since they were chicks, and the one surviving one that had a crooked neck has recovered and I'm not sure as to which one it even is.

It got really hot today (104 plus  humidity) and I put some ice cubes in their water.  I also gave them some weeds and some bug-chewed chard from the garden to give them something to do.

The camera is not working right....I hope to be back soon to post pics or video!


Thursday, June 28, 2012

June 2012: Groceries

Wow, guys, it's been almost 2 weeks since I have posted on the blog!

Since my last grocery post, I have gone through the food we have in the house and decided that milk was my priority. So, I went to Kroger since I was already in "big town" and purchased 3 half-gallons of organic, pastured milk to the tune of $10.14.

At last count, I had $10.46 left for the rest of the month.
$10.46-10.14= $.32 left!


I have stubbornly refused to go to the store and buy "snacks", because I really really want to not go over on the food budget of $450/month for our family of 5.

Admittedly, we have been eating "weird" snacks. One thing I have been doing is scrounging in the baking cabinet and making "trail mix" with odds and ends in there. Throw some chocolate chips in there with the marshmallows and nuts and you have trail mix, right?

I went through the freezer and I have at least 3 good meals (which will give leftovers for lunches), so I don't HAVE to go to the store, except to add variety to our diets. It's not a MUST, it's a Want To. ;)

I may go to the grocery on Friday, though, before the end of the month, because the kids are not home and I can shop smarter(and saner) without them.  But the food will be for next week, which is the start of a new month.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Gluten Challenge: Spelt

The more I read about Wheat being genetically engineered back in the 40s and 50s and the rise in Celiac and Gluten sensitivity, the more I am thinking the problem might not be in the presence of gluten and more in the change in genetic code in GM/GE foods.

So, working on this premise, I thought I would do a Gluten Challenge on myself, using Spelt.

Spelt is an ancient grain, a relative of wheat, but has not been genetically engineered like wheat has. 

Last night I made pizza for the whole family, using the spelt flour I had purchased at the local Food Store. The family ate it without complaint, and I had to tell them that it was different than their regular fare.

The last time I had regular commerial pizza ($5 Hot and Ready from Little Caesar's), I had such bad brain fog that I nearly drove away from the gas pump without paying for gas. Totally out of the loop. I was so embarrassed and thankful that the owner of the gas place didn't call the cops on me!

I digress...but had to share how things effect me when I don't pay attention to what I eat.  Now, I can't be certain it was the gluten and not something else in the processed pizza....but all in all it was not a good experience. :-/


Anyway, I had the pizza last night and so far have had no problems from it. No digestive distress. No brain fog.  I had leftovers for lunch today and am still not having issues.  I will give a report later if I do find I have something crop up.

If I find I do well, I think I might be buying spelt from now on for home baking. It will be easier than the struggle (for me, others may excel at this) of baking GF without using all the starches that I am generally opposed to for regular consumption. And, I may decide to add some more ancient grains that aren't gluten free into my/our diet.

Chick Update: 5 weeks old

I'm a bit late on the Chick Update--sorry!

They are now turning into chickens, and this week my daughter and I moved them out into the chicken coop. 

Here's a little video...it's really short due to the iPod being nearly full...sorry!


I very much like them out there better than in the porch at this point.  They are not roosting on the boards shown in the video yet. I went in last night to check on them around dusk and they were all huddled by the door in a pile. Hopefully they will soon learn to roost up where they should!

June 2012: Groceries

Oy vey.
I went to good ol' Walmart yesterday to pick up some things that have been building up on the list over the last few months. I try to avoid that place when I can. I finally had another excuse to go to that end of town (dentist, what an excuse, huh?) and there is no other bigger store on that end, so yeah, I went to Walmart.

Why is it so easy to spend a lot of money at that place when you go in for just a few things?  Ugh!

So, I've picked up some groceries here and there at various stores since my last grocery post...let's see how I did...

Food Store
Milk
Rice Pasta
Spelt
Total: $11.17

Dollar General
Trident(yeah, I guess gum's food...)
Chex
3 Mac 'n cheese
S 4 cans green chilies
2 pkg flour tortillas
Total: $14.21

Walmart

3 lbs Pink Lady apples
3 lbs Gala Apples
4 bags frozen broccoli
4 bags frozen cauliflower
4.5lbs sweet potatoes
3lb bag onions
2 big bags frozen peas (son #1's favorite snack!)

Daisy Sour Cream (the only brand I've found w/o a lot of junk in it)
1 big bag string cheese
large block sharp cheddar
large block mozzarella
2 large tubs Stonyfield yogurt
Gallon Organic Milk...not organic valley, so very likely  not pastured :(
4 boxes Hormel nitrate-free lunchmeat
4 loaves HFCS-free bread

Olive oil
Light Olive Oil

Celestial Seasonings tea
black tea

3 SnackPacks/pudding cup packages
3 boxes granola/cereal bars (because the kids were starving)
2 Honest Kids boxes of juice pouches (boo to Capri Sun now containing HFCS!!!)

2 packs of Trident(maybe this is subliminal....since I got these after going to the dentist, ha!)

Dark Chocolate M&M's (mommy's stash)

Total: $131.43

I think it's time to be a hermit and not go to the store: Total of these 3 places is: $156.81

What I had remaining of my $450/month budget as of last post: $167.27

$167.27-156.81= $10.46 left for the rest of the month!

Frankly, I am surprised I didn't go way over the budget already. Whew! 

Having the kids home all the time does cause a strain on the budget that is not there when they are in school. Either they are going through a growth spurt or are just hungry all the time, it means the same thing:  I need to either give in and make room in the budget, or find something cheap AND healthy for them to eat!

Suggestions, anyone?

Friday, June 8, 2012

June 2012 Menu Planning

As promised, here is my menu plan for the month of June. :)

Breakfasts will consist of the following: Purchased granola bars, homemade granola bars, homemade granola, bacon, eggs, oatmeal, cereal, Sausage sandwiches, fruit, yogurt, toast + nut butter, juice

Lunches will consist of: leftovers, sandwiches, veggies and fruit, the odd chip treat, homemade cookies

Snacks will be: smoothies/Morning Orange Drink(made w/kefir), Apples + nut butter or cheese, Tortilla chips + cheese, salsa, Popcorn, dried fruit/nuts/chocolate chips mix, carrot/celery and hummus, homemade granola bars, homemade cookies and the like

Here is the June 2012 Dinner Plan, by week:

Week 1:
Hamburgers, Green Salad with red peppers and onions
Boneless Pork Loin, Chard from the garden (boiled), potato cakes from freezer
Roasted Chicken, Green beans, Mashed Potatoes, Green salad with cucumbers, peppers, onion
Taco salad (pastured ground beef cooked with added mexican herbs and spices, onions, lettuce, salsa, Daisy sour cream, white corn chips)
Church party-

Week 2:
Hamburgers, Tailgate Salad, Green Salad w/veggies
Mac 'n cheese, hot dogs, red peppers, olives (someone's requested birthday meal, lol, will fill in with a big salad or leftover Tailgate Salad)
Chicken Thighs(what kind to be determined), Veggie to be determined, Rice and salad
Burritos/wraps, using leftover shredded chicken meat
Pizza from scratch, pepperoni and mushroom (this is where I use the spelt flour instead of wheat flour and test it on myself)

Week 3: VBS week--trying to keep it simple and minimal cleanup...
Hamburger Stroganoff, veggie, salad
Hot Dogs, tater tots, veggie tray
Chicken Thighs(crockpot?), veggie, salad
Leftovers? Wraps again? Sandwiches? Anything quick.
Pizza (yes, again! but I don't think there will be any complaints :))

Week 4:
Hamburgers, veggie tray, Pasta salad
??????????????
Roasted Chicken, Green Beans, Potatoes or Rice
Beef/Bean/Veggie Enchiladas
Nachos Grande (White corn chips, pastured ground beef with Mexican seasoning, cheddar, toppings), or maybe Taco Salad again....depends on the lettuce situation


Might be a bit boring and repetitive, but it gets the job done! :)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Chick Update: 4 weeks old

Our Light Sussex chicks are 4 weeks old today.
I am really wanting them out of the sunporch, as their dust is building up in there. I don't dare attempt cleaning it up until they're out, though.  So there it sits.

Life has kept us busy enough that we haven't gotten a new door made for the chicken coop yet. Hopefully this weekend will offer the time and inclination to get that done and move the chicks to their new home! (Please, Lord?)



This last pic is of a chick perched on the box the kids made for the chicks. I call it Webkinz for Chickens. :)

So far, only one of the chicks has a larger, redder comb that is one indicator of being a rooster. Ivy thinks all of the ones with black on them are roosters and the ones with gray on them are hens.  Odds are, she's right, because that's more like the 50% chance we have of getting boys/girls. But I like the one rooster idea better.
It's way to early to tell for sure, though! Just guessing at this point.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

June 2012: Groceries

I've gone grocery shopping locally and boy did I spend a lot of our $450 food(only) budget!
Before I went, I made a rough list/menu of what we had on hand and then looked at the sale flyer.
I made a list and pretty much stuck to it, filling in what we've run out of and what we need for the next few weeks.

After I went shopping, I sat down and made a June Menu based on what all I purchased the last couple days. I will need to fill in with fresh fruits and veggies, milk, eggs and some other staples later in the month, but for the most part I have the menu planned!

Local Grocery S=Sale
2 pkg flour tortilla
2 loaves bread
1 pkg hamburger buns
1 pkg hotdog buns
Cereal-honey nut toasted oats

Store brand spring water
Marshmallows

2 Tostitos White corn tortilla chips

S 3 small yogurts
block of cheddar
Cheese spread

S 2 pkg Ore Ida Tater Tots

S 2 pkg hot dogs
box of 100% ground beef patties
S 2 pkg boneless pork sirloin(I figure this will make 2 family meals/pkg)
S 2 pkg chicken thighs
Sausage "muffins"
Hormel Naturals lunchmeat
pepperoni

Celery heart
bag of Golden Delicious Apples
head of Iceberg lettuce
head of Romaine
S 2 boxes mushrooms
S 3 red peppers
S 3 cucumbers

S Honest Tea (Ok, this wasn't on the list....)
Total came to $98.48

Food Store
2 Organic Valley Milk
3 dozen local eggs
5 pkg local pastured ground beef
Udi's Gluten-Free Bread
Rice Tortillas
Frozen mushroom mix
Bulk yeast
Cinnamon
Turmeric
2 tubs local(ish) honey
4 boxes teabags
4 cups bulk Spelt(may try this later in the month to see if it bothers me--spelt is an old grain, and hasn't had the genes fiddled with as does regular wheat)
Pumpkin Seeds
Coconut flakes
non-GMO mayo 
Quinoa
 Total came to: $120.13

Food Store
Brown Rice
Sunflower oil
Tinkyada Rice Pasta
Total: $16.39


Discount Grocery Store
This receipt isn't itemized, but we got a cart full of granola bars, cheese, yogurts, frozen goods, tortilla chips, salsa con queso, jalapeno sauce, chocolate cream cheese spread,  ice cream (Ivy's birthday is coming soon!), a frozen pizza, box of 100% hamburgers, 2 cartons of orange juice, pasta sauce, canned beans, and soups.
Total came to: $52.73

$98.48 + $120.13 + $16.39 + $52.73 = $287.73 spent so far this month
$450 - 287.73 = $162.27 left for the rest of the month (eek!)

I will post the menu later this week! :)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chick Update: May 31, 2012 3 weeks old

Our Light Sussex Chick(en)s are 3 weeks old today (give or take a day).
They're very nearly feathered out. I'm thinking maybe in the next week or two we will put them out in the enclosed chicken coop, once we get that patched up a bit.  Caught another raccoon today, so we have to be sure the coop is varmint-proof before we put the little guys and gals out there or this will be all for nothing!

The weather will have to warm up a bit more before we put them out there as well. It has been a little bit chilly the last couple of days!

A little video, complete with my kids' comments:



Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May 2012: Groceries

I went shopping today to pick up some milk and some other little thing for the remainder of the month.

At the last grocery post, I had $8.22 left over to play with.


I went to the local Food Store and purchased a half-gallon of milk and some organic raisins(to try in water kefir) and the total came to $6.96.

So... $8.22 - $6.96 =$1.26 left.

I still have a day left of the month, but I think we're going to make it within our budget! Yippee!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pink Slime: My Take

Pink Slime has been on the news in the last few months, with some people falling on the side of avoidance and wanting to have it labeled, and others insisting it's fine to eat, because it's "just beef" (which is a lie, if I've ever heard one).

I am writing this post to give my take on the issue.

As my readers might guess, my preference is for all-natural foods. I like to know what's in my food, so that I can make an educated decision as to whether I want to take it into my body.

It hasn't always been this way. I used to just eat whatever I wanted and not think about consequences. After my allergies snowballed and I ended up with pretty extensive allergies (13+ diagnosed food allergies that came up with conventional allergy testing, most pollens, 2/3 of molds, and animal epithelials.....I won the prize that day as they hadn't seen anyone that bad for some time), I was forced to examine every bite that went into my mouth.

And I have come out the other end a person who wants to eat with eyes wide open.


As to the Pink Slime issue, I knew that I didn't want to be taking any more chemicals into my body than absolutely necessary. This was the main reason I was trying to avoid the stuff.

My reasons were not for avoiding direct allergies.....

...but then I read today that the method Cargill uses to make their Pink Slime uses citric acid. Given the business that Cargill does, (they are one of the major agricultural companies), I have to assume that the citric acid they are using is derived from (probably genetically modified-up to 85% of US corn is GMO) corn.

So, now I am back on my anti-GMO soapbox and have stronger reasons to avoid Pink Slime. Beef with Pink Slime is not *only* beef. It's had something added. Something that is part of production and doesn't legally have to be announced a label, but no less added.  As a person whose allergy diagnosis included Corn and Soy, I can't help but try to avoid them when I can, along with other GMO's(such as cottonseed). A hard feat when GMO foods are crammed into something like 70-85% of the US food supply.  I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle, but I'm not giving up!

When I look at a selection of conventional ground beef, it's not only likely that the cows have been fed GMO corn and soy, and that the packaging contains GMO corn, but the GMO corn is put directly into the meat (if it's from Cargill, but who knows that information in the meat section of the grocery store)!

Bad news for me and fellow Corn-Allergy people. I don't care that Big Government says it is safe.....I don't trust it.

And...I find it a bit ironic that, if they say it's safe to eat, ConAgra Foods and Kraft Foods claim that they pulled the Pink Slime out of their products. They're not standing behind their product with pride.  These companies all have ties in the GMO chain.....and I'm not sure they're not just blowing smoke and tickling our ears.

For the big companies, it's all about the money, folks. It's not about the health of the American people; it's about the money the American people are willing to put into their pockets.

The eyes of the American people are being opened as they become aware of what exactly goes into our food(or, at least, what's been divulged), and how our food in the US compares to other First World countries. I have seen a lot of change happening in the last couple years; I used to be one of a tiny minority, but more mainstream people are hopping on my boat (yeah!).

Educate Yourself. Vote with your Dollars.  I think that's one of the few ways that will be effective in positive change in the food industry in the coming years.


Updated to add links.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Adapting the 2012 May Menu Plan-Last Week of May!

As I was deciding what I needed to get on Friday for the remainder of the month, I altered the May Menu Plan for this last week.

Here is the plan:

  • Colorful Chicken Casserole from the freezer, Green Salad as a side
  • Chicken Tenderloins, Sauteed Green Beans, and Rice
  • Teriyaki Pork Roast in the crockpot(this has trace wheat in the sauce...will see how that goes...), Green Salad (some from the garden!), possibly a noodle salad or potato salad
  • Tacos or sandwiches from Teriyaki Pork Roast leftovers, with accoutrements


My plans for the June Menu Plan will require some more thought, as the kids will be home for lunches in the summertime. Time to get my thinking cap on...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

May 2012: Groceries

I went to the grocery store on Friday. Why did I do such a crazy thing as to bring 3 kids to the grocery store close to the dinner hour and on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend? Because I wanted to save gas and time. Not sure I saved my sanity, but we survived generally unscathed.

Before going, I checked out the status of what we still have in the house, and wrote a list of things we will need in the next week. While doing this, I remembered that I had about $47 left of the May food budget

I only went to the local grocery, not to the Food Store. I may go there next week when I am already in town if we actually do run out of milk and GF bread and eggs (the two things on my Food Store list--but we're not out yet) and if I feel the need for some Udi's bread.

Here's what I got:

Local Grocery S=Sale

Munster Cheese slices
2 pkg Hormel Naturals lunchmeat

2 loaves Aunt Millie's bread
Hellman's Mayo
S 2 bags chips

2 sweet potatoes

Breyer Ice Cream
2 frozen orange juice concentrate

Total came to: $38.57

$46.79 from last time - $38.57 = $8.22 left.

Which means I should probably make my bread from the GF flour I have on hand, rather than buy it. Given the choice, I'd rather have the Organic Valley Pastured milk than the store-bought Udi's bread. If we don't run out of milk, I might spring for the Udi's. I don't want to buy conventional milk if I have a choice.

The only thing On Sale was the chips. But I don't care, since I got only what I needed. I wasn't driven by the sales and I was "mean" and didn't let the kids talk me into getting extras. ;-) Which meant I stayed within the budget.

But...hubby wants us to go to the "cheap food store". We don't get to go very often, sans kids...and it's one of our Fun Things to Do Together...hmmm....should we go or not?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Protecting our Assets, aka Catching Pillagers and Thieves

Since planting my garden about 2 weeks ago, I've been dealing with a few issues.  One issue is that something has been digging around in the garden. Who knows where the zucchini seeds have ended up! At the same time, many of my flower pots were being upended and rummaged through. They even broke my favorite pot (wah!). Hubby thought it was the cats (he says he hates the cats, but I know he loves them deep down, hehe).

Another issue is that something has been nipping off my pepper plants and my beans that are sprouting and have their first leaves.

Then there is the mole, but that's another story...

Two nights ago, I set the live trap directly on the spot I planted the zucchini seeds in. This is what I caught:

Last night, hubby saw a groundhog run under the shop (where the stray cat had been living...come to think of it, I haven't seen him around for a week or so...) and this is who we caught:

These creatures are now Turkey Buzzard Cuisine. Relocation is illegal--and besides, moving critters to someone else's woods is just making the critter someone else's problem.  Even our local "nature preserve" backs onto people's backyards. This is just the way things go when raising food and dealing with "the competition".  Lowering the population of raccoons will lessen the chance that our chickens will be ravaged later in the season. Lowering both the coon and groundhog population will help us to get a better harvest this summer. And....as I hear my hubby quote Clint Eastwood: "Buzzards gotta eat, same as worms."

In case you are wondering, our kids know the reasons we catch and dispose of these animals. It's not because we enjoy doing it. It's because these animals are, or have great potential of, destroying our crops and the chickens. 

I'm wondering what we might catch next. The trap is now set by one of the far outbuildings, where hubby caught some 15 critters last year.

I'm betting on another coon. 





Thursday, May 24, 2012

Allergy Update

I recently went in for what I call an "Allergy Tune-up".  I've been taking Zyrtec due to some allergy issues. My allergies are not nearly as bad as in previous years, and they're not as bad as some of my friends' allergies, but there are just enough flare-ups to let me know I'm ailing.

I have been keeping a food/environmental diary for the last month, and a great many of my issues seem to lie with chemicals, mold and fungus. (Placing moldy straw with mushrooms on the garden, anyone?) Not all of them, but most of them. I expressed my desire to get a general scan, because at this point I feel a bit like I am chasing rabbits in having little things treated when I feel there is one underlying thing, but I am not entirely certain what it is.

The first thing that was checked was that my polarity was not blocked, as has happened in the past when things were "off". It was fine.

The Bax system was then used to scan and see where my problems lie, and the results were mainly in the area of molds and fungus.No surprise to me. A homeopathic treatment was suggested to me rather than a full BaxAura scan (which would have required 3 hours of fasting prior) and homeopathic sprays, in the interest of my budget.

So, I am trying a homeopathic remedy from Dynamic Nutritional Associates, called Mold Mix 1 (A-21). I will use 3 drops, 3 times/day for a week, then up the dosage to 4 drops, 3 times a day. I will continue to up the dosage by 1 drop/dose per week until I get to 10 drops, 3 times a day.

If needed, I will still be able to take a Zyrtec w/o causing any cross-reactions. It may take a week or two of dosages for it to build up in my system and my stem to behave itself more normally.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chick Update: May 23, 2012 ~12 days old


The chicks are about 12 days old now.  I am not sure which one is the crooked-necked one, so I guess that is a good thing s/he is doing well.  I will have to go in this evening when they are tired and see if I can tell which one it is.

I took about 2 minutes of video and uploaded it to YouTube to share with my readers.


And here are some pics of our daughter and the chick she was holding. She is the only one of the kids that really wants anything to do with them. She wants to hold them and play with them every day (so far). LOL





Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Main Garden: May 21, 2012

Some of the garden seeds I planted a week ago are coming up!
Royal Burgundy Bush Bean

Kale Mix

Burgundy Okra

Picklebush Cucumber

Jacob's Cattle Beans

There are moles that keep digging up and eating my onion sets. They don't particularly care for eating the red ones, but they dig them up anyway.  I put a live trap out there and haven't caught anything, which reinforces my thoughts that it's moles. I will have to figure out how to deal with them, as the vintage mole trap bit the dust last year...

I have seen a gigantic bunny outside on the property the last couple days. I am willing to bet that it's him or one of his buddies that have nipped off two of my banana pepper plants! I saw him this morning and ran out and scared him away, but I know that won't last for long!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Row-to-Row Carpeting in the Garden...aka Mulching

Since the garden was put in in the last week, today was dubbed Mulching Day.

Where we live, the soil around here is mainly clay. Not the best soil to grow things in, as it turns into a brick in the heat of the summer.  If the summer is particularly dry, the clay soil cracks. Picturesque, but not great for the plants.
 
Over the last 4(maybe 5) years, we have been mulching between our garden rows. This adds nutrients to the soil as it breaks down, makes pathways that we can walk on to get to our plants even if it's just rained heavily, helps keep the weeds down, and over time has made our garden less clay-like and more gardening friendly.

Our mulch of choice has often been grass clippings from mowing our acreage. It's work, but I'd rather be mulching than weeding, any day! 

Our second choice, and what I used today, is old straw. This year, we are using what was donated to us from the church's Live Nativity last December.  They didn't need it and were looking for someone to take it, so they brought it on over last winter. Win!

I do not recommend hay. Hay will have a lot of seed in it, and you don't want to be introducing that to your garden.  

Here's the straw I had to work with:



Here's the garden, with complete Row-to-Row Carpeting:

I think I ended up using 12 bales of straw. I need to water later tonite...those boards I think I will leave there so as to help the sprinkler head to sit level when I am watering.

Quite a change from 2 months ago, eh?