Friday Favorites

It’s Friday! I mean, late Friday, so almost Saturday, but still.

So. September’s almost gone. Can we all agree that it flew by? This week’s highlights include Buster’s induction into the 100th percentile club, our curtains all getting put up (!!!), Wacey’s vocabulary continuing to astonish us, and my very late-to-the-game obsession with Vikings. I am in the process of growing out my hair and I have such braid envy.

This Friday Favorites’ theme is Octobery Things. I’m a little bit at a loss about what to do with myself now that we don’t wean calves all of October, but this is the first year that Wace can get into Halloween so I’m sure we’ll make it work.

Favorite I Think I Can Actually Attain This: Bathroom Storage. You know how it is–you’re moving or remodeling, you jump on the interwebs and have all.the.ideas and then realize, one month in, that you’re sick of unpacking, building, and spending money, and promptly get real about your expectations. I like this. It’s simple, it’s pretty, and a variation would work nicely in both of the bathrooms. I already have two of these metal baskets, which I really like and are so affordable I’ll be ordering a couple more.

baskets
Favorite Yes-I’ll-Jump-On-This-Bandwagon-Thank-You-Very-Much: BeautyCounter cleanser. Hi, the new house has harder water and I need to change up my skincare routine. This has everything I’m looking for–gentle, not drying, affordable–with excellent reviews and clean ingredients to boot.
BC CleanserFavorite Sweets: Brookies. My mom got us some killer monster-esque bars from Costco right before we moved and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them. Since the closest Costco is 160 miles away (womp womp), we’ll have to make these at home which I totally don’t mind because hi, it’s fall, so it’s time to bake. I think this recipe topped with M&Ms might do the trick. I shall report back.
brookies
Favorite Get-In-My-Yeti: Sparkling Hard Apple Cider SangriaSparkling Hard Apple Cider Sangria. I am not a big drinker at all. But can you tell me anything more festive than strolling through the crisp fall air sipping on something light and cidery? Yep it doesn’t exist.

cider sangria
Favorite Mama+Mini Festive Treat: Rice Krispie Treat Pumpkins. I am SO excited to make these with Wacey. They’re so cute and a perfect treat to make with little hands. Also: Rice Krispie Treats are deeeeeelish.
krispies
Favorite OMG THE ANTICIPATION: Mini Pumpkins. I can’t wait can’t wait to take the boys to pick out pumpkins next week. I make myself wait until October to get pumpkins and it’s herrreeeeeee. Next year, I think I’m going to grow them at home and have a mini pumpkin patch because I love little pumpkins that much.

mini pumpkins
little white pumpkins
Favorite I Ought To Wait Till Christmas But I Don’t Know If I Can: Mini Mocs. Wacey’s feet are always cold at home, but he hates wearing shoes and socks inside. He’s always wanting to wear “Dad shoooooooz”  so I think he’d love having a little pair of his own.
toddler mocs

K that about wraps it up kids. This weekend, I’m doing real big exciting things like organizing the storage container and finally mucking out the mud room since it’s supposed to stop raining for a day or two. Although, dull as it is, if that actually gets done, I’ll be one happy gal because that’s one giant leap closer to us being 100% moved in.

Oh and I’ll be watching waaaaay too much Vikings because I can’t stop.

let's visit

Upcycling: Bovine Edition

Last week, in our Wednesday “Let’s Visit” series, we talked about what kind of beef options are available for you to eat, based upon certain criteria you may have. This week we’re going to visit about what cows eat.

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I mean, cows eat grass, right? Totally. But cows also eat lots of other things. Pastures are not like your lawn (unless your lawn is like my lawn, which is literally just a fenced-off, irrigated chunk of pasture). They are filled with grass, yes, but also with other plants like legumes, weeds, flowers, and brush. On pasture, cows will eat seemingly strange things, like beans from mesquite trees, willow bushes, flowers, and even thistle. Bert claims he saw a cow eat a rock once, so there’s that. Cattle can also graze on corn and wheat pastures after the crops have been harvested, too. Cattle really are talented upcyclers–they take things that we consider “junk” or that we can’t eat, and convert it to things that we can. This is handy since 85% of the land that cattle graze in the United States is not suitable for human food production.

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cornstalks.jpgsource

But, a cow’s affinity for upcycling doesn’t stop in the pasture. We talk a lot about “grain-finished” beef, which can paint the picture that cattle in feedlots are fed grain of the “amber waves” variety that you’d imagine could be used to make bread and cereal and such for human consumption. In reality, 86% (over 90% in the United States) of the total food that cows eat is not edible by humans. Some of this is the “1.9 billion metric tons of leftovers from human food, fiber, and biofuel production” like wheat stalks, cottonseed, and distillers grains that would otherwise potentially become an environmental burden. They can also eat cast-offs and extras of human foods that might be thrown away and wasted like dropped pickles and rejected skittles.

feedlot cattlesource

And, beef is an important part of the global diet. I’m not just saying that because I’m a rancher, the FAO is saying that, too. Livestock in general and cows specifically have an integral place in the global food system, and it’s not as a “stealer” of human food.

The very best part is that we’re getting better. We’re learning how to do more with less, how to use genetics and science to help us make our herds and feed more efficient, and how to lessen our impact on the environment every step of the way. I really recommend checking out the articles I’ve linked to here (FAO, Upcyclers) because they both talk about brand-new research about beef and its impact on global food security.

Basically, we need to give cows more credit, because if they were on Iron Chef and you were like “Uhhhhhhhh that’s not food,” they’d be like “Au contraire, mon frère,” even if y’all aren’t brothers, or French, and then they’d proceed to make a masterpiece out of skittles and wheat midds and you’d be sunk.

Until Friday, kids, unless of course my computer actually kicks it.  I thought it was dead, but turns out the old dinosaur just needed an extended break, which is happy mistake on my part. 2018 will likely be the Year of the New Laptop, however, because this old girl is on her last legs.

(Open to recommendations! I need something not too expensive that will do Word, Excel, and photo editing that isn’t a beast to carry around.)

Anyways.

We’ll get down on Friday.

let's visit

There’s A Beef For That

Last week, I talked about some common misconceptions I hear all the time regarding beef and beef production. This week, we’re going to visit about something that gets equal time in the social media sphere: what kind of beef you should be eating.

I’m not going to tell you what kind of beef you should eat, or what kind of beef you shouldn’t eat. I will tell you, though that the standards for beef quality and safety in the United States are very high, so no matter what you’re getting a top-notch product.

However, if you’re wanting something specific, I can help you with how to find beef that suits what you’re looking for. This is not an exhaustive list, but includes some of the more mainstream, easy-to-find certifications. Remember those “There’s an app for that!” commercials? Well, there’s a beef for that!

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If you’re looking for beef that was never given antibiotics, look for:
USDA Certified Organic
— “Raised/Grown Without Antibiotics” “No Antibiotics Administered” or similar, look for USDA seal
—  
Never Ever 3
Global Animal Partnership
American Grassfed Association
Things to remember: “Antibiotic-Free” has no legal meaning with the USDA. “Natural” doesn’t mean anything other than “minimally-processed” with no added colors or artificial ingredients–this is true of all fresh meat. “No Antibiotic Residues” means that the meat has no residues, but no meat does, so again, meaningless. Also, please remember what I wrote last week: no matter what, the meat you eat has been tested for antibiotic residues. You are not eating antibiotics even if these labels are not on the meat that you purchased. When animals are sick, treating them is the right thing to do.

If you’re looking no growth hormones:
USDA Certified Organic
NHTC
Never Ever 3
Global Animal Partnership
Animal Welfare Approved
American Humane Certified
American Grassfed Association
— “No Hormones Administered” plus a USDA seal
Things to remember: “Hormone-Free” is not a thing, since all meat has hormones in it.

If you’re looking for beef from cattle that were fed no animal byproducts:
USDA Certified Organic
Never Ever 3
Global Animal Partnership
Animal Welfare Approved
Certified Humane
American Humane Certified (specifies “no ruminant-derived protein sources with the exception of milk and milk products)
American Grassfed Association

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If you’re looking for a certification for humane treatment or animal welfare:
Global Animal Partnership
Animal Welfare Approved
Certified Humane
American Humane Certified
Things to remember: I say “a certification for humane treatment” because humane treatment truly is the standard in the United States. Some producers pay to have a third-party verification service come in to review and verify their claims or their participation in animal welfare programs. I would encourage you to look into these individually, as their standards vary quite a bit since this category is subjective. Don’t worry, I plan on doing a whole post about this one. Also, a claim of “Humanely Raised and Handled,” even with a USDA seal, doesn’t mean much, since companies make their own standards.

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If you’re looking for beef that comes from cows that were only fed grass:
American Grassfed Association (no confinement)
–the USDA also offers a grassfed certification, but their standards do not address confinement, hormones, or antibiotics.
Food Alliance grass-fed program
Things to remember: uncertified “grass-fed” labels can mean that the animal did, in fact, eat only grass for most of its life (like all cattle)–but could have been finished on grain. Also, read up on the organization doing the certifying and their standards since they all have differences regarding antibiotics, hormones, confinement, etc. You might also find a lot of grass-fed beef from Australia, since grassfed is the status quo there. If country of origin is important to you, take this into account.

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If you’re looking for beef that comes from cows that were always on pasture:
Global Animal Partnership Step 5-5+
American Grassfed Association
Animal Welfare Approved
Things to remember: just having “pasture-raised” isn’t enough if you’re wanting no confinement at all, since all beef is raised on pasture (but could be finished elsewhere).

If you’re looking for American-raised beef:
American Grassfed Association requires all of its beef to come from family-owned American farms.
— Farmer’s Markets or meat co-ops. Lots of ranches and farms will sell meat to you by the quarter, half, or whole animal and it will be processed locally. If you need help finding someone near you, poke around on Google or Facebook, contact your local cattleman’s association, or shoot me an email!
Things to remember: because the country-of-origin labeling for beef is no longer required, you might feel uncertain. But, more than 90% of the beef consumed in the US was produced by American farms and ranches.

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Some retailers, like Whole Foods, have their own standards, so feel free to ask your retailer about their store’s requirements for the beef they sell. There are also now meat subscription boxes, like Butcher Box, that curate their meat based upon certain standards.

I get asked a lot what kind of beef we eat. Because we’re ranchers, we eat beef that we raise. We have two deep-freezers that we fill with meat every year, and have gotten half a pig the last couple of years too. Some of the animals we’ve eaten have been conventionally-raised and given antibiotics. Some have been mostly grass-fed. Last year we ate a bull that got culled later on because his scrotum was too small. Last year’s pig wasn’t big enough to show, so they sent it to be processed. We’ve had pretty much every variety on this list!

And lastly: I’m so into you meeting your farmer. This doesn’t mean I think you should only eat locally-raised meat because, like I said, I’m not here to tell you what you should eat. But, go visit a farm or ranch! Actually, visit both. Talk to the people who do this for their life’s work. Ask them your questions, visit awhile. See how your food is grown and cared for. It will give you more tools to decide what criteria is important to you. Like I said last week, if you’re needing help finding a ranch to visit, holler!

Celebrate

Currently 9.15.17

I couldn’t get myself together for a Friday Favorites post today, so instead I’m doing a Currently.

Time and place: 3:32 pm, my living room. Wacey decided he wasn’t down for a nap today, so he’s (sort of) quietly watching Alice in Wonderland (the live-action because I love it), and I’m feeling quiet and a little lazy myself.

write the word

Loving: my new devotional. Guys, these things have my heart. I grounds me to take a little time (or snatches of time) to do a page every day. I’ve talked about my love of these devotionals before, but I was without one for a few weeks because I finished my last one right before they restocked the shop, and I missed it so much! I ordered this one the very minute they were back in stock, but of course put the wrong shipping address in (we don’t get USPS to our house, so we have a PO box in town and I entered our home address) so I had to wait extra long for it to arrive. Shout out to their customer service for helping me fix my error!

Craving: My favorite restaurants. We haven’t done much restaurant exploring yet (maybe due to the fact that the nearest town with a decent amount of restaurants is 50 miles away) and I’ve got a hankering for Chinese and Italian–Hoong’s Palace and the Saucy Noodle, specifically, if you’re near Denver! Our anniversary is next week, maybe I can convince Bert that a little restaurant reconnoitering is in order.

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Repeating: my love for grey paint. I know I’ve harped on and on about it here and on IG, but when something is life-changing, I get obsessed and I can’t shut up about it. I finished the Revere Pewter and y’all, it’s transformative. It feels like home.

folding nook

Planning: next week’s assault on the laundry room. It’s getting a fresh coat of paint (obviously, since I can’t stop), and I’m really excited to add some things to make it more functional. There’s a weird recess in the wall that’s entirely wasted space, and in a house this small, that’s almost a sin. It’s going to get two big shelves and a tension rod (the above picture has the right idea) so I finally have a place to put laundry and hang up Bert’s clean shirts without having to schlep piles of clothes all over the house. It’s funny, even though this house is a lot smaller than our last one, it has things I’ve always wanted, like a giant, actually functional mudroom, and space in the laundry room for folding, full baskets, and hanging clothes.

Seeking: Organizational solutions. I feel like we need a few more helps to make this house really tick, but I’m unsure about what they are or where to find them. I think my main issue is the absence of a junk drawer! I don’t have anywhere for pens or notepads or odds and ends like baby nail clippers and phone cords to live and I’m paralyzed.

Cherishing: Wacey’s word rush! All of a sudden he has all these words, and it’s amazing. He’ll just look at something and call it what it is, having never said the word before, and each time it’s a celebration. Watching kids learn is great.

Missing: home, just a little bit. I see pictures of the ranch and the calves and it’s still surreal that we’re here and not there. That place will always have a little piece of my heart. But you know, that’s how it’s supposed to be.

sweatshirt

Awaiting: Guys, I have a problem. It’s called Fall/Winter clothing, and I can’t help myself. I’m all about clothes that are comfortable but not always leggings that I can wear anywhere, play in, and still feel like an adult human. I also love crew neck sweatshirts, and was recently bemoaning the fact that one of my favorites is almost worn out, so this beauty is on its way to me to replace it. I’m officially put myself on a clothing-purchase moratorium until my birthday because a) we have a budget and b) control yourself, Johnston. Seriously.

Cooking: we have a few uneaten meals on the calendar from the past two weeks due to leftovers and impromptu fried-rice-making nights so I have a few choices for this evening: Lemon Brown Sugar Chicken, chicken cutlets, or burgers. And I really can’t decide! Because what I really want is takeout. #ranchgalproblems

Happy Friday! I hope your weekend is full of whatever you need most.

let's visit

Myth vs. Fact: FAQ Edition

Every Wednesday, I’d like to visit with you about beef. This week’s post is a general myth vs. fact sort of affair, addressing things either I or Bert hear often, or see on social media regularly. I won’t lie to you and say that some of these don’t really grind my gears, because they do. But it’s no use fussing about it, let’s get right to it.

Calves are born in feedlots where they live on corn until we eat them. All calves are born on ranches and farms. I’m not exaggerating–calving cows in confinement doesn’t work very well, so we tend not to do it. Calves stay with their mothers, on pasture, drinking milk and eating grass, until they are weaned at 6-8 months of age, then typically go to a stocker or a backgrounder and then on to a feedlot. Cattle spend 4-6 months in a feedlot, where they have plenty of room and top-notch care, and are fed a ration of various types of food, including hay. They don’t eat just straight corn!

Beef Lifecycle.jpgsource

Ranching takes land away from farming. Honestly, this one kind of kills me. 85% of land used for raising beef cattle is not suitable for farming. I’ve often heard that we should get rid of cow herds and farm the rangelands to support a global plant-based diet. While maybe it’s a nice idea in theory, it doesn’t work in reality because you literally can’t farm most of the places where cows graze. The soil isn’t good for growing crops like the Sandhills of Nebraska which are, you guessed it, very sandy hills; or the ground isn’t suitable for being farmed like mountains of the American West, or the swamps and everglades and bayous of southern coastal states, or the deserts of the southwestern part of the country. We’ve lived in places where the growing season is too short to support farming (North Park, Colorado), or where the soil is too poor and the climate too dry to support anything but native short grass (Capitan, New Mexico), or where it’s too rocky and steep for anything but non-native grasses to thrive (Cameron, Montana). The really neat thing about cattle is that they’re taking a resource that humans can’t use for food–grass–and making it in to something that we can.

Grass-finished beef is better for the environment and grass-finished cattle are better cared-for. The science says no. I’ve heard both ends on this one, but I’ll ask you to consider this: grass-finished cattle can take twice as long to reach a (lower) slaughter weight than conventionally-raised cattle. That’s a whole year longer to consume resources like grass and water, and produce waste. More space, more time, more resources, for less beef. In fact, if we consumed the same amount of beef but it was all grass-finished, we’d need over 60 million more animals, 131 million more acres of rangeland, and would produce 135 million tons more greenhouse gases. Article here! Also, grass-finished beef can still spend time in a feedlot eating a diet of grass, forage, hay, or silage, and can still be given antibiotics or hormones. They aren’t cared for any better or worse than any other cattle, either! We do our best to take care of all of our cattle, regardless of how they are finished or marketed. Someone might tell you that I’m just shining you on, but spend some time with any rancher (I can find you one near where you live!), or on this blog, or come on down and visit me, and you’ll see that we really do our best by every cow we raise.

Grass-finished beef is better for you. I see this often cited with Omega-3s in mind. It’s true that grass-finished beef has double the amount of Omega-3s than grain-finished beef but it’s still not a good source. A serving (3.5 oz) of grass-finished beef has about 80 mg of those good ole fatty acids, whereas the same size serving of salmon will have 1,000-2,000 mg. Another thing to note is that salmon contains the “better” fatty acids EPA and DHA, while beef contains mostly AHA.

Beef is a huge cause of global warming. There’s a lot of controversy about this since there are many different studies with many different approaches. I use the EPA’s numbers, which say that beef production accounts for 3.4% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Full stop. Things like transportation and wasting food (we waste 40% of our food in this country, guys!) have a much larger impact. Also, properly grazed rangeland environments can actually act as carbon sinks, so that’s pretty cool. Another thing that’s pretty cool? We keep getting better. We keep decreasing our impact and increasing our efficiency year after year.

Beef is bad for you. Again, nope. Beef is a great source of protein, especially for the calories, and provides nine vital vitamins and minerals. I’m not saying to go out and stuff your face with a 20 oz steak, because moderation in everything is key, but don’t feel like you’re killing yourself by eating beef, either. You’re fueling your body with some good stuff!

Beef Nutrition
source

All conventional meat has antibiotics in it. Even if an animal was treated with antibiotics, you aren’t “eating” those antibiotics when you consume that meat. All antibiotics have withdrawal periods before an animal can be slaughtered to prevent residues from ending up in meat. USDA inspectors then test the carcasses at the packing plants to ensure that residual guidelines are strictly followed. There’s literally a National Residue Program for this, and programs for continuing producer education like Beef Quality Assurance. There’s also a publicly available list of producers who have more than one residue violation. It’s updated weekly, and the USDA will use it to take extra care to inspect meat from those producers. Cattle buyers also use it to know if any of their suppliers have residue problems so they can be extra vigilant or choose not to work with that supplier. It’s a big deal, y’all, and we take it very seriously.

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All cattle in feedlots or not in an antibiotic-free program are given antibiotics. While sick animals or at-risk animals that need antibiotics will be doctored and cared for by an experienced professional–most feedlots have at least one veterinarian on staff–this doesn’t mean that all animals not in an “antibiotic-free” program are given antibiotics. From the ranch to the feedlot, beef producers are careful to use antibiotics only when they are needed for many reasons, but especially because it’s the right thing to do, but also antibiotics are expensive and take valuable time to administer so producers have no incentive to use them otherwise. That antibiotic pictured above, albeit one of the more expensive ones, costs nearly $5 a mL, and the dosage is 1.1mL/100 lbs. So, that $1200 bottle might treat about 35 weaned calves, or 25 yearlings. For a business with small profit margins–especially on the ranching side–that’s nothing to shake a stick at. It’s not like when you or your child is sick, and you go to the doctor and maybe only have to pay a copay, if anything. The producer is bearing the full weight of the cost of that drug, so you bet your hiney they’ll be using it judiciously. Lest you think that money is the only thing that matters in beef production: nope. The main thing here is that if an animal is sick, we are going to try and get it better. That might mean repeated treatment, or even a costly vet visit. We are not, however, going to throw away money by treating animals that don’t need it. Balance.

We’ll leave it there for now. I know it’s hard to navigate food. It’s hard to know what’s good and what’s not thanks to junk all over social media and regular media (hey Netflix, get you some better documentaries), and it’s hard not to worry because it’s food. It quite literally gives you life. You want the best for your family and for yourself. Oddly enough, so do we. On these Wednesday posts, I hope we can walk a little bit together and that I can help you know a little more truth about some of your food!

Up next week: beef choices, and how to find beef that fits what you’re looking for.

 

 

 

Family · On The Ranch

Salt and Mineral and Desolation (hey, hipsters, get your album titles here)

chollasalt and mineralchasing truck edit
dust cloud edit
heifers
hereford bull
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ranch rocks
salt block drinker
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It’s Monday! I’m proud I know what day of the week it is, and what day it is (never forget) because lately I’ve been in a time warp of gray paint, funny sleep schedules, and dusty pickup adventures with these boys of mine. Not having a schedule is doing a number on my brain.

Because I’m a nosy Nelson (but is it really nosy if you live here?), and because the ranch is (literally) 62 square miles, we gathered up the boys yesterday morning and went on a little ranch tour while putting out salt and mineral for the cattle.

(Salt blocks and tubs of mineral supplement the animals’ diet to make sure they’re getting, well, all their salt and minerals. They’re sort of like the bovine equivalent of a Flintstones vitamin to account for various deficiencies in the natural environment.)

We saw the bulls, the heifers, some of the older cows, and a whole lotta cactus. In these pictures, we’re on the side of the ranch that’s not gotten much rain this year, so that’s why it looks a little crispy. Also, we haven’t escaped the haze that’s fallen over the Western United states (Lord, send some rain up to those fires, please sir).

Loading the boys up and driving around is one of our favorite things to do. Often, we’ll bring some bottled “fancy” soda and a bag of chips along and make it a little date. Wacey gets a big kick out of sitting next to Buster in the back seat, and Buster gets a big kick out of Wacey so it’s a win-win-win-win.

Things I learned while driving around yesterday:

  1. There’s a lot of rocks. I knew this before, but golly, they weren’t kidding when they made this place and decided it would be rockier than all seven movies (yes, seven, I Googled it so it must be true) in the Rocky franchise
  2. In this part of the world, a water tank is something in which to store water in, and a drinker is what the cattle actually drink out of, which we (used to) call water tanks. So tank=storage, drinker=what we used to call a tank.
  3. I will never, ever get tired of watching cows chase a pickup because they think there’s cake. I had to do some pretty fancy finagling to get a gate shut before the girls got through because they’d crawl on the back of that flatbed if they could.
  4. Bring more beverages. It’s hot and dusty and it takes, like, three hours to put out eight blocks of salt. Also chapstick.
  5. Buster can sleep through anything in a truck. Like, we could be in a monster truck crawling over boulders and not a single hoot could be given by that fat ole baby.
  6. We live in the middle of nowhere. My parents called it desolate. They were right, but without all the sad/heebie-jeebie connotations of desolate. I prefer “remote,” “real, real ranchy” (although we live within 50 miles of a decent-sized town so we’re not super ranchy), or “secluded.”
  7. I laugh on a very regular basis about how I grew up in town, was in a sorority in college, thought I was going to be a lawyer, and now live in a little house on a ranch in a desert in New Mexico. Like, who would thunk? Also, who woulda thunk that I (mostly) love it? I mean, God, obviously, but who else? No one, y’all. No one.
  8. I love having an excuses to wear my big ole hat. The bigger the hat, the bigger the hair, the bigger the inseam on my high-waisted jeans, those closer to God, as far as I’m concerned.
  9. We have a little canyon on the ranch called the Arroyo del Macho and that’s pretty cool.

In summary: putting out salt and mineral is fun, I like my family, and everything is cooler if it has a name in a foreign language.

Happy Monday! Love, Me. PS try these cookies. Unless you’re participating in a fitness challenge in which one of the categories is to limit sugar. Then wait till next month. Trust me here. Trust fall into my open arms, which are beefy because Buster, and trust me.

 

 

Family · Food

September Meal Plan

I get asked a lot what I do for meals, particularly since we have to be pretty savvy about buying groceries since we live in a rural area, so I thought I’d share what works for us! Especially because this is the first time in TWO MONTHS I’ve actually sat down and meal-planned, since July and August were basically a wash what with all the traveling to interviews and moving and being packed and in between houses and such.

So, at the very end of each month I try to sit down and plan the next month’s meals. I don’t have a formula (“Taco Tuesday” or pizza every Friday) because I find we get sick of meals fairly easily so I try to mix it up a little. We don’t have the luxury of takeout or a quick dinner out if I don’t feel like cooking, so I try to avoid getting in a rut. That being said, I make pretty much the same set of meals each month with one or two new ones thrown in to try, and have a few easy go-tos if we’re home late or I don’t feel like spending a bunch of time in the kitchen.

With each meal, I try to serve a green vegetable–often roasted broccoli/asparagus, or sauteed green beans–alongside if there aren’t already vegetables included in the recipe. You’ll notice that we eat meat every night; I have a husband with a metabolism of a racehorse and a work ethic of, well, a cowboy, and an appetite to match, and going meatless doesn’t work for him at all. We also eat a lot of pasta–see previously cited husband. I firmly believe that everything is fine in moderation, so I try to have more vegetables and meat on my plate than pasta and keep the portions smaller for myself.

You’ll also notice we don’t have tons of beef on this month’s menu–our freezer is almost empty and I’m not sure when we’ll be processing our next cow! I think it’s soon but I’m not sure what schedule our new ranch is on. I’m also trying to conserve our pig a little bit, too, since I’m not sure when we’ll be getting another. A lot of these recipes are the same as the ones in my pre-Buster big batch post, too. We  know what we like, I guess. At least once a month I’ll get a wild hair and throw out the calendar in favor of something new, but that’s not always easy since the grocery store is real far. My wild hairs tend to occur in town in the middle of the grocery store with my Pinterest dinners board open!

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Pasta prima: pasta with whatever vegetables I have on hand plus chicken or sausage, topped with pesto. Sometimes I make homemade but I usually just use Kirkland’s jarred pesto from Costco. This is one of our favorite things and it’s really veggie-heavy and quick so we have it a lot.

Stir-fry: I use this recipe, but use a frozen stir-fry veggie blend and it works beautifully. This is also a go-to when we’re low on produce since we use frozen veggies! We also like this with cooked chow mein stir-fry noodles.

Roast chicken: I used Ina Garten’s recipe for the first time for this one, and it got rave reviews! I’ll definitely make it again.

French dip sandwiches: I use my mom’s recipe in the slow cooker. A roast (this time I used a maybe 4-5 lb chuck), a packet of Lipton’s French Onion Soup mix, a bottle of beer, and a cup of water. I’ve found that roasting on high for an hour and a half or two hours for a thinner/smaller roast or 2-3 hours on high for a bigger/thicker roast works for us. I think I have a slow cooker than runs a little hot, though! I serve on deli rolls with curly fries.

Spaghetti and meatballs: I make a big batch of freezer meatballs, and throw them in some sauce to cook. I’ve found success with lots of recipes, so pick our fave! Our favorites are ones with Italian sausage and ground beef.

Baked Cajun chicken: This is one of our very favorite recipes! I like to make it with halved or quartered baby reds and fingerling potatoes, and it’s also good with wingettes and drummies.

Tacos: ground beef, cheese, sometimes cilantro-lime rice, sauteed peppers and onions, and the fixins. I use either this taco seasoning or a packet of McCormick’s. We sometimes do fajitas on these days instead.

Potstickers: this is one of my favorite easy meals. I used to (and sometimes still do) make a big batch of homemade potstickers and freeze them, but more often than not I get a bag of frozen ones at Costco and serve with sesame noodles.

Pork chops and potatoes: thinly-sliced pork chops fried in a skillet with breakfast potatoes (diced potatoes, peppers, and onions).

Chicken cutlets and basil orzo: pounded-thin chicken cutlets breaded with panko, parm, basil, oregano, salt and pepper, sauteed in olive oil and served with orzo baked in chicken stock and then mixed with basil and parm. Loosely based on this recipe, which is one of my faves (sans olives) but Bert doesn’t really like lemon so I don’t make it much.

Short rib sandwiches

Italian sausage and pasta: sliced sauteed Italian sausage with marinara and sauteed red bell peppers served over penne, rigatoni, or something similar.

Lemon brown sugar chicken

Cajun chicken pasta: I use the PW’s recipe but with, like, a quarter of the cream. I can’t tell the difference! Our vegetables of choice are also peppers and mushrooms and red onions. After trying many different Cajun seasonings, this one is our favorite.

Breaded pork chops with wild rice

Ground Italian sausage (we use bucatini noodles)

Chicken Parm: sort of like this one. I use cutlets, bread them, bake them, and then add the sauce and parm about five minutes before taking out of the oven.

Beef with snow peas: I like, quadruple the amount of snow peas. You can use lots of different cuts for this one, I tend to use up round steaks with this recipe. I slice and marinate overnight and add a splash of apple cider vinegar to the marinate to help the tenderizing process.

Homemade pizza: I still haven’t found a crust I love love yet, I’ll let you know when I do. We like to do sausage and mushroom with caramelized onions and a little smoked gouda on a wheat crust.

Breakfast for dinner: biscuits and gravy, hashbrowns, breakfast potatoes, waffles, sausage patties…it’s whatever we feel like!

Chicken, Broccoli, and Sweet Potato Sheet Pan Dinner. This is new this month, so I’ll let you know!

Whew! That was long. If you’ve stuck to it this far, I’m impressed and thank you. Now, this is just dinner. For lunches, we do things like sandwiches, or Bert will make a frozen pizza or a burrito (I know). Lately, I’ve been really liking a sort of snack-lunch approach with crackers, sharp cheddar, a huge amount of fruit, and maybe some salami, with baby carrots or sliced cucumber for a snack later on. Neither one of us is big on breakfast, so I’ll have a bowl of cereal or peanut butter toast, and Bert has…black coffee.  Wacey has a Nutri-Grain for breakfast with a midmorning granola/peanut buttery/cheese stick snack, and likes to have a peanut butter sandwich or quesadilla and a pile of fruit for lunch. He usually eats some variation of what we’re having for dinner, often with extra fruit and some yogurt.

We are not perfect eaters, but I try to make sure we’re all getting lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains and good sources of protein. We also don’t eat a ton of sugar, and try to limit snack-y snacks (I see you, Cheez-its).

Happy Wednesday, I’m going to go eat.