Get canning!

By Rachel, Contributing Writer

Alright gals…whether you are an avid canner, have never canned before, or just need a little encouragement to get back into this amazing homemaking art, this post is for you!

I am slightly biased…I love canning.  It is a wonderful way to make the most of produce when it is in season and put it up for enjoying later in the year…when local produce may not be available and/or you’d have to pay a lot more for lovely, organic fruits and vegetables which helps you save money.

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It also is a great way to use up all of your garden’s produce should you have a bumper crop of, say, green beans.  Not that I’ve ever been inundated with them before…  Canned goods make wonderful gifts (who doesn’t like a jar of homemade jam?!?) and they encourage you to eat whole/real foods throughout the year.

That said…how about some encouragement to get back in the swing of this resurging art or help light the fire to get you started?

5 Steps to Help You Get [Back] Into Canning

Find someone to can with

Canning is way more fun if you do it in community.  Yes, I just canned 20+ pounds of raspberries (jam, syrup, preserves, sauce, etc) on my own and loved every minute of it but it’s definitely more fun when you have someone to share it with.  My husband kept me company – and kept our 11 month old distracted – during part of the time but for the most part, I did this round of canning by myself during baby girl’s naps over a few days.  Check out this post on canning peaches for an example of canning with friends…

Gather up “new” mason jars

Mason jars are all the rage on Pinterest and in crafty gals’ blogs which is all well and good but they’re really in their element when used for their original purpose.  Have a little fun checking out local garage sales and thrift stores for some new jars.  You’ll probably find cute/short/square-ish ones, tall/skinny/quilted ones, or, if you’re really lucky, some old blue ones.  They actually revived the blue jar for the Perfect Mason Jar’s 100th anniversary so right now you can buy a 6 pack of pint size blue mason jars for around $10.00.  My hubby picked up a pack as my Mother’s Day present. :)  Anyways, even a few new jars will be a fun motivator to get going on a few preservation projects.

Put it on the calendar

Yes, canning takes a little time.  But not too much!  Regardless, if you’re reading this blog, you have lots of things to do to take care of your husband, home, family, job, etc.  You’re busy gals!  So put it in your phone/on your calendar/in your planner.  You just need an hour to tackle a small project.  Like homemade raspberry syrup.  You’ll be glad you set the time aside.

Choose some great produce to preserve

This is up to you!  I would choose something fruity, like raspberries.  I just finished making chocolate raspberry sauce, raspberry syrup, raspberry wine jelly, raspberry jam, and raspberry preserves.  My husband, though he does like raspberries, is a huge fan of dilly beans.  And remember that bumper crop of green beans?  They’re comin’ in again…which means I’ll be making dilly beans even though I can’t stand them.  But my hubby loves ‘em so that’s my next project!

Anyways, the point is that you need to choose something you’ll love to open in a few months.  Whether it’s something to preserve the goodness of the present (it’s raspberry season here in the Pacific Northwest!) or something that hits your tongue just right (oh dilly beans…), choose something you can get excited about!

Put yourself in the story

Mason jars have been around for a long time.  The side of the box of the 100 year commemorative blue jars speaks to the hard work that goes into the products in a canning jar as well as speaks to the “spirit of building, craftsmanship, and innovation of past generations.”

I reflected on what I consider Mason Jar Values as

an act of thankfulness for the harvest at hand, an act of diligence to make use of the time and talents bestowed upon me to take care of my family, an act of living out heritage by looking to the past as a means of thriving in the future, and an act of trusting that hard work now will lead to a reward later.”

They’re not just a kitchen preservation tool…they are much, much more than that.  Whenever you take the time and put in the effort to can something, you insert yourself into a great and meaningful story.

So get canning, gals!  If you want/need further encouragement, please please PLEASE contact me.  I will so very happily email you back!  My husband will be even happier because then I won’t keep gushing to him about my latest canning exploits…

Tangy Summer Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

By Rachel, Contributing Writer

Hello again!  Stuck in a meal rut or just had one too many big meals with friends and family? Don’t get me wrong, summer barbeques are both tons of fun and quite delicious.  But if you’re anything like me, you go back for one too many servings of whatever your vice is (your aunt’s potato salad, perhaps?).  How does a fresh, crisp, summer salad sound?  Here’s a recipe that would make a great pairing for a simple piece of grilled chicken or wonderful on it’s own on those hot nights when you don’t want anything to do with a stove, barbeque, or oven.

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What would you serve with this salad?

Leave a comment or fill out this form!

The Truth About Sugar: Why We Need to Cut Back

A discussion of whole foods doesn’t get very far without first addressing grains, and then sugar. Yes, sugar is a “natural” food but our white sugar we eat is highly processed and refined just like white flour.

Just like the refining process for wheat, when sugar is refined from sugar cane and sugar beet, 99.9% of it’s nutritional value is destroyed (source). Of course, what you are left with is empty nutrition-less calories. But we already know that right? No one eats sugar thinking that it’s healthy. It’s a splurge item, so what’s the big deal?

To read the rest of this article, head over to Homemaking from Scratch.

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The Truth About Grains: White vs. Whole Wheat

During my Real foods Explained series, I have shared my journey to whole foods, what a whole/real foods diet is, and 4 benefits to eating whole foods. Now I would like to transition into some more practical topics of what it means to be a whole foods diet.

Before starting on my whole foods journey I didn’t know very much about grains. I knew the basics: white bread doesn’t contain very many nutrients; eat whole grains. So I bought my family a mid line (not too expensive but not the cheapest) whole wheat bread. Basically whatever whole wheat was on sale that week is what I got. But I didn’t really understand the basics of grains, carbs, and what we were eating as “healthy” bread. Here are the basics of grains.

This whole discussion can also be applied to corn, rice, pasta and more but for this post we will focus on bread.

What is “White” Flour

White flour is highly refined. Meaning, it has gone through an extensive process of making it shelf stable. Real pure whole wheat spoils very quickly. If left in the heat or in a pantry too long, pure whole wheat spoils! So back before refrigerators, or the ability to transport food across the country in refrigerated trains, an alternative to whole wheat was sought. They wanted flour that they could transport for weeks without it spoiling. Thus they started stripping whole wheat of all the things that cause it to spoil quickly.

Unfortunately, what makes flour spoil fast is all the good and healthy nutrients in it. See Understanding Grains to get a better picture of this. So in being able to store flour for a lot longer and being able to transport it across the country, we lost the nutrients in flour and are left with simple carbs instead of healthy and much needed complex carbs.

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How Your Body Digests Grains (Carbs)

To understand what the difference between white and whole grains are, we must first understand how the body digests carbs. I didn’t fully understand this until last year, and suddenly whole grains made so much sense!

There are two types of carbs: Simple and Complex. I’m sure you have heard this before but if you are like me, never fully understood what it means.

Simple Carbs: are simple sugars. Simple sugars are things like table sugar, candy, refined flour (white flour), and soda. Simple carbs are absorbed into your blood steam very quickly as sugar. When you eat a piece of white bread, your body doesn’t think it’s getting nutritious wheat, it sees it purely as sugar entering your blood stream. Not only are the good qualities and nutrients of wheat taken out of white flour, it is basically sugar entering your body.

Complex Carbs: are still technically sugars but they are different. Complex carbs are made up of 3 or 4 sugar molecules linked in a chain. Because they are complex, it takes the body much longer to break them down. Because they take longer, not as much sugar enters the blood stream and these complex carbs contain all the nutrients of whole wheat. You may still get a little bit of sugar, but you are also reaping all vitamins, minerals and nutrients of the bread! You still don’t want a diet composed entirely of complex carbs, but they certainly have a place in a balanced diet. Read Simple vs Complex Carbohydrates for a more in depth look at carbs. See also, Nutrients in Refined vs. Whole Grains for a comparison.

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Whole Grains Defined

So knowing now that white flour and breads are not healthy, how do you go about finding a healthy whole wheat flour or bread?

The first thing you want to look for is the label and how the bread is described. Stay away from products that are labeled “multi-grain”. This just means there are multiple grains involved, not if they are whole or refined.

You want to look for “100% whole grain”. This claims that the grains involved are 100% whole and not refined. Next, take a look at the label. Check how much sugar is in it. We find that even the healthiest whole wheat breads can contain a lot of unnecessary sugar. Check how much sodium is in it (especially if you are on a low sodium diet).

Then wonder down to the ingredients. Real, fresh bread only needs a handful of ingredients: whole wheat flour, water, yeast, maybe a bit of salt (although I leave salt out of my homemade bread), sometimes some honey or other additional items like nuts. If your bread contains 30-40 ingredients, there is something wrong!

Shop around and check stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joes, health food sections of your normal grocery store or make your own bread! I got a bread machine at a thrift store for $10! 3 years later and it still makes amazing bread, all I have to do is throw the ingredients into the machine and turn it on. One of our favorite recipes is Honey Whole-Wheat Sandwich Bread.

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Some argue that grains should be cut out of our diets completely. Some people may not be able to digest grains properly so maybe they should cut out grain from their diet. However others argue,

Some nutritional scholars believe that grains should be avoided completely, arguing that our bodies did not evolve to digest grains and they cause a downward spiral in many facets of your internal health. Source

Did you catch that? Some argue that our bodies did not evolve to digest grains. Well I have a problem with that right there. I do not believe in evolution. And in fact, when I study the Bible I see many instances of man eating bread and grains as a staple of their diet since the days of Adam. I think that grains can be a healthy and natural part of your diet as long as you are eating good, complex, whole grains that are as close to how God designed them to be as possible. And not pigging out on carbs alone.

Grains and what type of bread to buy can seem so daunting at first! But you really just have to remember a couple of things: Don’t buy white bread or flour, look for “whole grains” not “multi-grain”, and read the label and ingredients list! You will quickly get the hang of it and buying good nutritious bread will become second nature (or you will fall in love with making homemade bread like I did)!

Read more in the series {here} and come back all month long for more information, great recipes, tips, and a few awesome giveaways!

 

 

4 Benefits of Eating Real Foods

My husband and I are committed to eating healthy this year. My hubby has high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which left unchecked could cause life threatening problems in 15-20 years. We have to make major changes now to make sure that he is healthy, or at least doing all that he can to eat healthy.

Because I am a Christian, and my faith rests firmly in the Lord, I have to point out that ultimately, my husband’s life rests in God’s hand. At the end of the day, it’s God’s will, not my husband’s eating habits, that matter. That is a topic for another day, but I want to make it clear that I do not think that by eating whole foods my husband (or any of us) will be able to extend our lives beyond what God has pre-determined. Moving on…

We have a Responsibility to Care for our Bodies

While I firmly believe that God directs all things in life and that he is ultimately in control, he does call us to some level of  responsibility.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. ~1 Corinthians 10:31

Paul  specifically points out that in whatever we do with our time and our lives, even our eating and drinking, we are to glorify God in it. Is it necessarily evil to eat junk food? No I think there is a time and a place for cake and ice cream.

At the same time, how well do you function when all you eat is junk food? When you eat processed junk with little natural foods you  have health problems, trouble sleeping, low energy, and more. You can’t cope with your job as well, you don’t have the energy to play with your children, your relationship with your spouse suffers.

This isn’t glorifying God. If we have some measure of control over these things then it doesn’t glorify God to waste our time, resources, and energy on junk food instead of investing in high quality food that can yield a healthier life, more energy, and more stamina.

You cannot fully serve the Lord with the gifts he has given you if you are sick, tired, and run down from eating nutrient deficient foods all the time.

John Piper speaks of this same principle when he describes his motivation for excercising,

So, in short, I have one life to live for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:15). I don’t want to waste it. My approach is not mainly to lengthen it, but to maximize purity and productivity now. I want to show as much gospel truth and publish as much gospel truth as I can. I have found, for 43 years, that exercise helps. I think God set it up that way.

God calls us to take care of ourselves. He has given us this time on Earth and given us a family to take care of and earthly ministry to preform. We can serve the Lord better when we physically take care of ourselves, all the while realizing that it is God that sustains us and gives us this body in the first place.

When speaking about sexual immorality (but it applies here too), Paul describes our body as a temple,

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,  for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. ~1 Corinthians 6:19-20

The Benefits of Eating Right

Now that we see God charges us to care for our bodies, we must find out how to best do that. The real foods diet is the best way to do that. Why? Because God created the earth and everything in it.

In the Garden of Eden God created fruits and vegetables and Adam and Eve ate the perfect meals of the Garden, nothing was lacking. God knew what he was doing when he created food for man to eat and nourish his body. Specifically, eating a real foods diet can help in these ways.

1) Improve energy and over all feeling of “health”‘

Even among doctors and research that don’t follow a whole foods diet, whole foods are given as the way to achieve more energy. You are told to ditch things like soda and energy drinks and instead reach for protein and nutrient rich whole foods to help you boost energy naturally.

One study shows that eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean-protein rich foods (such as chicken), and nuts and seeds boost energy. Why is this? Because these complex nutrient dense foods are packed full of the good things your body needs and take the body longer to break them down, thus providing a longer and stronger source of energy.

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2) Lower and maintain high blood pressure and high cholesterol

The number one thing your doctor tells you to do in order to reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol is to reduce your sodium intake. Avoiding unnecessary sodium is impossible by eating fast food and today’s convenience foods.

For example, my husband loves lasagna. When you walk into a store and buy a frozen or pre-made lasagna you are walking away with loads of unwanted sodium and probably too many chemicals that you can’t pronounce. On the other hand, by making a homemade lasagna with all fresh ingredients and real whole wheat pasta, we just transformed this dinner into a healthy alternative.

Sugar is also an important thing to stay away from if you can when trying to keep blood pressure and cholesterol under control. Did you know that sugar is a preserver? I never knew that! When I started making my own frosting for cakes I was amazed to find out that even cakes and frosting loaded with milk and butter can sit out at room temperature if it has enough sugar in it.

We used to buy a “healthy whole wheat” bread that we thought was good for us. Little did we know that it had 21 grams of sugar lurking in this healthy food!! The sodium level was okay, but the sugar was outrageous for a loaf of bread. But now we can make our own homemade bread (best thing ever!) or purchase actually healthy bread by reading labels correctly.

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3) Help you to Lose Weight

There are so many fad diets out there, and the problem with most (or all) of them is that they are too difficult to maintain! We have tried many diets in our marriage and all last for a couple of weeks (at the most) before regular life creeps back in and we are back to eating junk. I know you have been there too.

Eating real foods isn’t like that. It isn’t some program with a specific number of calories or carbs you can have each day. It’s a life style that you live each day by. It’s easy to remember and follow!

This means we are eating a ton of fresh fruits and vegetables, complex nutritious whole wheats, and lean healthy meats. That is the perfect description of a weight losing diet!

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4) Reduce your risk of cancer

I was never one of those that followed the latest cancer scandal. It’s true, it seems like EVERYTHING in our society is causing cancer now. One of my friends recently brought to my attention that our light bulbs might be exposing us to carcinogens (cancer causing agents). But I don’t think we should run into the woods and live in a tree to avoid all possibilities of cancer. Again, the Lord directs our lives and our paths. We will die when he says we will.

But we can avoid needless carcinogens in our food without too much extra effort. And unfortunately, many of the chemicals and additives in our foods, PASSED by the FDA, are known to cause cancer. I used to think, how could they sell it if it caused cancer? Sweet and Low can’t really be all that bad if everyone eats it and endorses it, right?

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But the thing is, these chemicals are know to cause cancer. There is study after study published proving this and yet the general public isn’t listening. I know I wasn’t a year ago. But I will go more in depth into this at a later time.

 

The bottom line is that eating a whole foods diet has no draw backs (except maybe on your wallet and we will talk about that later). It improves your general health and well being, improves energy, helps you to sleep better, and helps you to stay healthy and live a healthy life!

Why is it that if someone smokes for 40 years and develops lung cancer, we are not surprised. But then someone else lives a fairly normal life but indulges on sweets every chance he can, gets diabetes, and we don’t think anything of it. Now, please hear me, I am not suggesting that all diseases and cancers are the persons fault. Sometimes the Lord has a plan that we cannot see and sometimes people are irresponsible and reap the consequences of their sins (i.e gluttony, alcoholism).

Read more in the series {here} and come back all month long for more information, great recipes, tips, and a few awesome giveaways!