I can ~ Jen

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Not like “Yes I can!” Like can food. Jams and applesauce, mostly. Butters. Once, lemon curd.

It feels weird to admit this. Maybe because Dana and I have realized that with our recipes and our stories, we might be crossing over into crunchy granola SAHM mom-dom. There is nothing wrong with crunchy granola moms, but we don’t fit the mold. We’re more like cancer fighting sparkly Queens of the Castle moms.  And we’re taking urban homesteading mainstream, baby!

Anyhow, last Fall, I made a giant batch of organic Granny Smith applesauce with nothing in it but apples, water and cinnamon. It was tasty, but we didn’t eat it fast enough and some went to waste. I could have frozen it, but I have issues with freezing things. So instead  I started canning.

I bought the Ball canning kit, which comes with the Ball Recipe Book. There are plenty of websites that have tutorials about canning. I’ll put some at the bottom. Know that canning is science, in terms of recipes and measurements. Turns out, you can’t just make Aunt Sue’s famous pasta sauce and can it. Unless you want to die of botulism. You have to balance things like acids and sugars. Jams are a bit more forgiving, in the sense that if you screw up the ingredients, you only risk getting the consistency wrong, and not death. As long as you have correctly sanitized your jars, lids and tops, that is.

It scared me at first too. But it’s really just a process and once you get the process down, it’s easy. I make sure I use recipes which I know are tried and true.

The first time I canned jam, it took four hours to get three half-pints. I was nervous and kept checking and double-checking the process.

Last week I canned 4 half pints of blueberry jam and 3 pints of apricot jam in 90 minutes total. Six months of jam in an hour and a half.  That’s the kind of canning I am talking about!

I got the apricots at the store. But the kids and I picked the blueberries ourselves.

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I’ve never picked blueberries before. This farm was amazing—beautiful, green, clean. The kind of place where you let the kids run free and don’t worry about them.

We ended up with three pints for $14. Considering blueberries can run $4/half pint in the store when they’re not on sale, this was a pretty good price.

I make low sugar jam because I cannot bring myself to put 6 cups of sugar in anything.  We don’t notice any difference in taste.

In 45 minutes, I took blueberries from this…

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To this…

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To this…

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To this…

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I know, it’s not for everyone. But if you are curious about canning, then I’ll tell you  it’s not so hard once you get started. And there’s something so fulfilling about the fruits (ha!) of my labor all lined up there on the counter.

Resources:

www.freshpreserving.com

www.foodinjars.com

www.kraftbrands.com/surejell

www.pickyourown.org/jam

Food from Scratch

We are not conspiracy theorists. We believe that the food innovations of a generation ago were developed with good intentions.

But it didn’t work. For the last ten years or so, we’ve had evidence that this food is hurting us. Our weight. Our blood pressure. And cancer.

The food industry and big agriculture will be slow to change. Their businesses are profitable and their argument is twofold: It’s not broke (for them) so don’t fix it; and no one is forcing us to eat their food.

Ish. Read this NY Times article for more on that.

Cancer has walked into our lives, both of us. So we try to do what we can in our own kitchens.

Our motto is “No Fake Stuff”. We use butter, sugar, olive oil and coconut oil, but search for lower sugar and lower fat recipes. We do not do “Fat Free”, “Sugar Free” or even “Low Sugar” if that involves chemicals, like fake sugars. The kids drink 100% juice, watered way down, or water. We buy organic when we can afford it, and the closest thing to it when we can’t. We try to buy local. If we can’t get fresh, we buy frozen. And one of us (Jen) just started canning her own jam and baking her own bread.

It’s true: we can do this stuff because we stay home.

But it’s also true that we were doing some of it while we were still working.

Working moms take a lot of flak in the media and in the blogosphere. So do stay at home moms. We think that sucks.

Another thing that sucks is marketing aimed at working moms that says they are so busy and so worn out from being Supermoms that they don’t have time—to cook, to shop, to bake, to can. This marketing convinces moms that the only solution is some packaged, processed, shelf stable box of food.

The companies that pay for this marketing don’t want you to open a cookbook and see how easy and economical it is to make your own pancakes, bread, applesauce, jam and peanut butter.

And they surely don’t want you to know how much healthier it is.

So we had this idea: what if we did some marketing of our own?

What if we do the legwork? And put the recipes right here where you can find them?

What if we tell you exactly how much time you need to make them, how much it will cost you and how healthy it is? Like we did with the Lentil and Smoked Sausage Soup.

Will you consider that this:

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Is better than this:

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Not to make anyone feel guilty. We hate that. Moms should not feel guilty for doing the best they can.  And not to say “Look what we do!” We hate that more. We aren’t here to compete. We’re here to support and to share ways to be healthy, happy and frugal.

Let’s start with this:

Super Secret Saturday Pancakes (adapted from pg 72 of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book)

These take five minutes to whip up, which is only two minutes longer than adding the milk and eggs to the boxed versions.

1 cup flour

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon cooking oil (such as coconut)

Super secret ingredients: vanilla and cinnamon (we eyeball it)

Mix together and cook! Makes 14 3 inch pancakes (Jen doubles it for her family of five and has some left over)

Optional ingredients: chocolate chips, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc. We drop these in while the first side is cooking to ensure even distribution (in case you also have Chocolate Chip Equality Cops in your house…)

Nutritional Data: 58 calories; 1.7 grams fat; 13 mg cholesterol; 55 mg of sodium; 8.9 grams of carbs (1.8 sugar); 1.9 grams protein; Calcium 4%; Iron 3% 

Cost:

Ingredient Cost (bulk) Cost (per recipe)
1 cup flour $1.99/5 lbs $.19
1 tablespoon sugar $2.19/4 lbs $.02
2 teaspoons baking powder $2.19/10 oz $.03
¼ teaspoon salt $.99/16 oz Less than a penny
1 large egg $4.39/dozen $.37
1 tablespoon oil $3.29/48 oz $.03
Total Cost $15.04 $.68

Lentil and Smoked Sausage Soup

We’ll explain more about our approach to cooking homemade later, but it’s going to be chilly for the next few days* and we wanted to share a great, healthy, easy recipe that our families love—even the babies.

You need a pot, these things, and an hour and fifteen minutes. But you only spend 30 minutes actually standing over  it. That’s all. Then you walk away for 45 minutes and let the goodness happen.

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2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup dried lentils

1 onion, chopped

1 cup shredded cabbage (red or green; I buy a head, cut it in half and chop it up myself to save money)

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 smoked sausage, cut into pieces

1 16 oz can of diced tomatoes

2 cubes bullion (I have used veggie, chicken and beef, and they all do the same good work)

4 cups water

Bay leaves (we play a game at our house that whomever gets the bay leaf in their bowl gets good luck; this means I put three or four bay leaves into my pot)

1 tsp thyme (ground or leaves)

Salt and Pepper to taste—I always forget this step and never miss it

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Stir in lentils, cabbage, onion and garlic and cook until tender. Add sausage and tomatoes. Crumble bullion cubes over mixture and stir til dissolved. Add water, bay leaves, thyme; bring to a boil and simmer until lentils are tender (40 minutes). Serve.

This recipe feeds my family of five, with leftovers for lunch the next day. Here is a cost breakdown (since some things can be used for more than one recipe, I listed the real cost vs. the cost per recipe):

Ingredient Cost Cost/recipe
Bullion 1.25 .45
Lentils 1.89 .95
Cabbage .89 .45
Sausage 3.99 3.99
Garlic .50 .50
Onion 1.27 1.27
Diced tomatoes 1.99 1.99
Thyme 6.59 .55
Bay leaves 4.39 .36
Total $10.51

And the nutritional breakdown, thanks to Caloriecounter.com:

For eight servings:

139 calories/serving

4 grams fat

7 grams protein

18 grams carbs, of which 8 grams is fiber

Vitamin A: 10%

Vitamin C: 21%

Calcium: 3%

Iron: 12%

Recipe grade: A

Enjoy!

*By chilly, I mean it’s going to rain and get down into the 40s here in So Cal. But the rest of you are going to get some snow, so really, this works for everyone!