Scratch Cooking

If you’re not sure what day it is, let me be the first to say TGIF! I know, I know, one day is the same as another in quarantine. Here in Minnesota our “shelter at home” rule kicks in tonight.

As we face shortages at the store, and maybe because we have time on our hands, more and more people are turning to scratch cooking. So I thought this week I’d share with you some of my favorite made-from-scratch options.

Baked Beans
1 package dry navy beans, covered in water and soaked overnight
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup ketchup or tomato sauce
onions and/or bacon as desired
12 oz tomato juice

Soak beans overnight. In the morning, cook beans and water with a pinch of baking soda on the stovetop for 15 minutes. Rinse and drain.

Place drained beans in a slow cooker, and add the other ingredients. Cook on high at least 6 hours, or low for at least 10. Add water as needed to keep moist.

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Soft White Sandwich Bread (based off a recipe from eHow) – Makes 2 loaves

2 cups warm water (about 110 degrees)
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp dry, active yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup oil
6 cups flour (bread flour is best, but I’ve also made it with all-purpose, whole-wheat pastry flour, or a mixture of half whole wheat and half white flour)

Put the water in your mixer’s bowl and add the sugar and yeast. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then let sit for about ten minutes until there’s a bubbly foam on top of the liquid.

Add the salt and oil to the yeast mixture, then slowly stir in the flour, one cup at a time. When the dough is well-blended, knead it for a few minutes, then place it in a greased bowl and cover with a clean cloth. Allow the dough to rest and rise for about an hour, or until it doubles in size.

Punch down the risen dough, knead for a few minutes, and divide the dough into two portions. Form each into a loaf, and place in greased loaf pans. Cover loaves with clean cloths, and allow to rest and rise for another 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake loaves, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

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Beer Bread (Missing something for sandwich bread? Maybe you have what you need to make beer bread)

3 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 can beer (12 oz)

Preheat oven to 420 degrees. Quickly mix all ingredients together, and spoon into a greased loaf pan. Top with shredded cheese if desired. Bake for 40-60 minutes, depending on the loaf size.

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Pancakes from Scratch

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. white sugar
1 1/4 cups milk
1 egg
3 Tbsp. melted butter

Sift together dry ingredients and place in a bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in milk, egg, and melted butter. Mix until smooth. Scoop onto a heated griddle. Turn to cook both sides until golden.

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Scalloped Potatoes

8 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
4 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
1 1/2 cups milk, gently warmed

Melt butter. Add milk and flour. Stir and cook until thick. Add potatoes and pour into a greased baking dish. You can add cheese, ham, bacon, diced onions, etc. Bake at 350 for one hour.

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I hope this is a valuable resource for you! Stay well!

Fresh Eyes: Another Lesson from Puzzles

I hope you are all healthy, calm, and have plenty of toilet paper. What a surreal couple of weeks we’ve had.

Like many of you, my workplace is closed. I’m staying home, working on things I can do from a distance, and keeping myself busy around the house. My husband is moving our son home from college, so for a few days I’m social distancing with just the dog and the internet for company. Naturally, I decided to pull out a puzzle – the wide, rectangular puzzle that doesn’t fit on my card table.

You know about my puzzle habit; I’ve written about it before. I like the quiet, orderly, accomplishment of a jigsaw puzzle. You can work on them while doing other things, like watching television or talking. You can spend five minutes at the table, or lose hours.

Yesterday I was working on my difficult new puzzle, and the later it got, the harder it was to find the pieces that fit. I thought it was because I did the easier part first. There are a lot of tiny details in this puzzle. I eventually called it a night.

This morning I wandered up to the kitchen and sat down with my coffee. Immediately, I started to see pieces that filled the holes in my puzzle. Pieces were flying into place. I was baffled – I hadn’t even finished my coffee yet!

In that moment I felt like God was speaking to me. “Sometimes you need to step back and take a break to see things clearly.”

In light of current events, that resonated with me deeply!

We suddenly have time on our hands, and we’re inundated with information and misinformation about this virus. People’s lives and livelihoods are in danger. Supplies are hard to find. The future is uncertain. How do we sort through it all, find the truth, and act on it? How do we find peace in the chaos?

The answer is right there in my puzzle lesson – step back, take a break.

Rest on these words:
Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God”

Exodus 14:14 “The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.”

1 Peter 5:17 “Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you.”

John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Stay healthy and sane, everyone!

My Review of Imperfect Foods

Guess what? Welcome to a tiny sliver of the internet NOT talking about coronavirus. I trust you to go get necessary information from reliable sources, and that’s just not me. Stay safe and healthy. If I learn of things we can do to help, I’ll put it on the Food Shelf Friday Facebook page.

A couple weeks ago I decided to try Imperfect Foods. You’ve heard of them, I’m sure. They have ads on social media with the funny looking twisted carrots. The concept of Imperfect is that they take the foods (originally just produce) that are rejected by grocery stores, and they home deliver it to consumers at a discount, thus reducing food waste. I finally decided to try it because I hoped that it would also encourage us to eat more vegetables and fruits.

Here’s how it works: you sign up for a weekly delivery, with the package size based on how many people you plan to feed. Since there are just two of us living at home now, we ordered the smallest package. You can choose from conventional or organic produce, then add eggs and dairy, meat and seafood, snacks, or grains. You will be assigned a weekly delivery day, and if you do nothing else, you will get a box of those items every week.

If you prefer to customize (and who doesn’t?!), you’ll be given a window of time each week in which to do that. You log in to your account where you can remove the items you don’t like. You’ll also have a chance to add items.

So what does Imperfect offer?
The produce packages contain in-season fruits and vegetables. Some of them are simply overstock. Other items are off-size or funny looking. If you’ve ever had a garden, you know that fruits and vegetables don’t grow in perfect, uniform shapes and sizes. Both of my first boxes have contained undersized citrus fruits (among many other things). This week I got carrots, and one was oddly lumpy. Guess what happened when I peeled and chopped the carrot? Nothing! It was just a normal carrot. That’s why Imperfect exists!

This week I got some shrimp pieces in my my meat and seafood box. It’s high-quality, wild-caught shrimp that would normally cost a lot more than what I paid. According to the packaging, the larger whole shrimp are in demand, but the broken pieces and undersized shrimp are often wasted. This week my husband and I will get to enjoy them at a bargain price, and the fishermen who harvested them got paid!

So far everything we’ve eaten has been just as good as the prettier produce from the grocery store. And not everything from Imperfect is imperfect. Many of the products are simple overstocks. Others are basics that Imperfect offers for your convenience.

On your designated weekly delivery day, a driver brings the box to your front door. Your package arrives in an insulated cardboard box, with the meat items kept separate from the produce. An ice pack has been in both of my boxes to keep things fresh.

After my first delivery, I asked my contact (they assign you someone who texts you when your package is out for delivery) if I could give them back the ice pack or if I would just keep getting a new one each week. He told me that I can just leave my box and ice pack on the front step on delivery day, and they’ll take them back to reuse or recycle.

My first two boxes (produce, meat items, grains, and snacks for two people) ran me $40 – $50 (including the small delivery fee) after I added and subtracted things. In the meantime I have also had to pick up a few things like butter (what Imperfect had last week was too small), milk (what they had last week was too big), and tomato juice. Overall, I’d say that I’m spending about the same amount on groceries as usual, but getting more. I will definitely need a week off soon because we had a lot on hand and aren’t eating things fast enough (though I’m sure we’ll be eating out less now that everyone is social distancing because of the virus).

Overall, subscribing to Imperfect Foods has been a convenient and healthy option that hasn’t wrecked my grocery budget.

 

No one pays me for my opinions. No one asks me to do reviews. I wanted to try Imperfect, so I did. I thought it was a good fit for the Food Shelf Friday crowd because it’s all about saving food from being wasted, so I blogged about it. If you want to give it a try, use this referral link for $10 off your first order, and I’ll get $10 off my next order, too.

Broken Stones

Wow, wow, wow! The second half of February involved about three million things, and it lasted about thirty seconds. Crazy. But I’m here now – thanks for sticking with me!

 

We sang a new song in church recently. It’s called Hallelujah Here Below by Elevation Worship, and the first verse goes like this.

We are an altar of broken stones
But You delight in the offering
You have the heavens to call Your home
But You abide in the song we sing
Ten thousand angels surround Your throne
To bring You praise that will never cease
But hallelujah from here below
Is still Your favorite melody
My first thought when we sang that song was that it reminded me of one of my most prized possessions. Not jewelry, or money, or my favorite shoes, but a drawing my son made when he was about five or six years old. It features his then-favorite football player, LaDainian Tomlinson, and the words “Go LT!”
When Jacob drew that for me, I was impressed, though the drawing itself is not what one would call “impressive.” But it was the first time he put words and pictures together in a drawing. The figure is human-looking, and the colors were chosen to match reality. Jacob knew that I loved football, just as he did, and he chose the subject of his picture thoughtfully. (For some interesting reading about child development as seen through artistic development, click here)
The drawing will never hang in a museum, but it hung on my fridge for a while, and has hung inside one of my kitchen cabinets for over a decade (even through a remodel). Every time I see it, I think of the round-faced little boy who so proudly drew it for me. I remember how he went through a phase where he called me “Honey.” I remember the way he smelled as a baby, and how he would smile at me with his whole chubby face. Now that he’s in college on the other side of the country, those memories are more valuable than ever.
I love that drawing because it was a sincere gift and a sign of development from someone I love.
God feels the same way about us.
God owns everything. He created the universe. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere at once. He is far beyond what we can even understand. Yet He chooses to inhabit the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3). He chooses to use us even though we are weak, fragile, and imperfect (1 Cor. 1:18-31).
The song above says “We are an altar of broken stones.” That comes from a passage in Exodus 20, where God is instructing the Israelites about building the altar. Verses 24 and 25 read:
“An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you. And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it.”
What the Lord is saying to Israel is that He isn’t looking for perfect. He’s satisfied to have us use earth and raw stone as the tools we use to worship Him. He’s looking for willing. He’s looking for that sincere gift that shows our development, and our love for Him.
Rest in that today. You don’t have to have it all figured out. God isn’t keeping His distance until you’re good enough. He delights in you, His child. (Psalm 149:4)

Hunger History Lesson: Victory Gardens

“Food will win the war.” – President Woodrow Wilson

It’s bitterly cold here this week. And I don’t know about you, but that makes me dream of spring. Or vacation, but I digress…

Thoughts of spring lead naturally to thoughts of gardening. I can’t start seeds indoors for at least another month or plant outdoors for at least two months, but I’ve started thinking about what I’ll plant this year, and from there my mind wandered to Victory Gardens.

During the First World War, food production dropped as young men volunteered or were drafted to serve in the military. At the same time, the armed services’ need for food skyrocketed. To combat this, people were encouraged to plant gardens, which reduced the domestic demand for produce. Reduced demand led to lower prices for the government buyers.

In addition to the practical benefits, gardening also gave citizens an outlet. As they tilled soil and pulled weeds, the families left at home could feel like they were participating in the war effort. In the United States, the War Garden Commission was formed, and some really interesting propaganda was published. Expressions like “Dig on for Victory!” or “Food Will Win the War and Write the Peace!” encouraged the belief that gardening was a valuable way to make a difference.

When the world found itself embroiled in another war just twenty years later, war gardens took the spotlight again. Certain foods and supplies were rationed during the war, but growing one’s own produce ensured that it would be available. Agribusinesses, government agencies like the Department of Agriculture, and county agencies published pamphlets and created educational short films and held classes to teach gardening basics.

Victory gardens can inspire us today.
– Gardening is good for the environment. Plants produce oxygen, and flowering plants support valuable pollinator species.
– Gardening saves money. A packet of seeds can produce a whole basketful of fresh produce, and saving seeds from veggies that you grow or buy is free.
– You don’t have to be a farmer to grow a garden. A suburban backyard or even planters on an apartment patio can produce a crop.
– Gardening allows you to control the fertilizers and pesticides in your food.
– If you want to start gardening, the old victory garden educational films are on YouTube. Just be careful taking 1940s advice about pesticides…

You too can “sow the seeds of victory!”