A writer's tale of living and working in the country.

Month: July 2014

A Tale of Two Menu Planning Services

If homeschooling has taught me anything it’s that saving money is great as long as it doesn’t devour your time. Every financial guru from the east to the west coast will tell you that cooking at home is always a money saver over eating out.

For the last three years, I have worked to maintain a weekly menu and make only one trip weekly to the grocery store. I have the budget sheets to prove that this system is working for our family. What doesn’t work? Spending three hours a week making a menu and a grocery list. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have an extra three hours lying around.

Eighteen months ago, I started using Emeals. It’s a menu service that gives you seven days of meals, recipes, and grocery lists. The user can tailor plans to every sort of diet restriction known to man. Our favorite plan was the clean eating plan. I highly recommend Emeals to anyone who wants to shop and cook without having to think. The biggest problem for us was the one thing that makes it great for most people: the recipes are not ours.


We entertain a lot and we have tons of well-loved family recipes. I needed to find a way to incorporate our recipes into the weekly menu but I didn’t want to give up the ease and  time savings that menu planners offer. That is when I found Plan to Eat.  This service allows you to add your own recipes to a database and then simply drag and drop to the menu calendar. The program notes which recipes have been used within the last month so there aren’t any repeats and it generates a grocery list from your recipes. The program also offers a browser toolbar button that grabs recipes from blogs and websites and adds to your account.  After you take the time to set up the recipe box, your weekly or monthly menu plan is just a drag and a drop away.


I highly recommend both services. Each are easy to use and inexpensive time savers. How inexpensive you say? Emeals charges $5 per month and Plan to Eat is $3.25 per month. Emeals is more expensive since they provide the menus and recipes while Plan to Eat gives you a way to make a menu from your own recipes. Happy menu planning!

Pioneerification: Grinding Wheat

“You got me a what?”

Hubs beams. “A manual wheat grinder.”

“To grind … wheat?”

He stares at me like I’m stupid. “Yeah.”

I watch as he hoists the contraption out of the cardboard box which is no easy task given its weight. Hubs attaches the grinding wheel and demonstrates. “See, you just put wheat berries in here and turn this, then flour comes out.”

Now I look at him like he’s stupid. “Why can’t we just buy flour like normal people?”

“Because it’s bleached, and GMO, and they use pesticides. This way, we can buy it from the co-op and we know it’s safe. Plus it has way more nutrients this way.”

Now I’m pouting. “I don’t have time to grind wheat.”

A smile spreads across Hub’s face. “I could hook it up to a recumbent bike and you could grind while you exercise.”

I know him well enough to know he’s not joking.

“This will be fine.”

wheat grinder

Crazy as it sounds, he was right. The flour I get from grinding the wheat is softer and fluffier than what I get in the store. Did you even know there are different kinds of wheat? All purpose bleached flour is a combination of berries. But here’s the thing, each variety has unique characteristics. Soft white berries, otherwise known as spring wheat, are best for cookies, muffins, cakes and such. Hard white berries, or winter wheat, is best suited for bread. Mix the winter wheat with red berries and you get the perfect loaf of sandwich bread.


Store bought flour on top. From left to right: soft white wheat, hard white wheat, and red wheat.

I’m happy to report that we no longer buy flour from the store. We grind every bit of wheat used under our roof. The boys don’t even question that one of the steps when making cookies involves pulverizing the berries. Baking with freshly ground flour is, admittedly, different. I endured a lot of trial and error until I found my favorite cookbook for whole grain baking, Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book . The book even has gluten-free recipes. That handy dandy grinder can make a fine powder out of rice, beans, corn and oat groats.

I must confess, I broke down and got an electric grinder. Shh! Don’t tell the wheat-grinding-purists. The heat generated while grinding the berries with an electric grinder destroys a small amount of the nutrients, but I’m realistic. I’m not going to use the manual grinder unless the power goes out.

I guess Hubs was on to something. Or maybe he just wanted cookies.








Storm Cleanup

“Honey, where’s the hay ring?”

“Probably where ever the stock tank is.”

Add that to the growing list of conversations I never thought I’d have.


Something’s missing …

We found both items across the pasture from where they started after a freak storm yesterday.


Hay ring to the left and stock tank to the right. Thankfully neither ran into the greenhouse.

The problem with having enormous hundred-year-plus pecan trees is that their fallen branches are the size of most trees sitting in suburban yards. Our largest pecan tree, over 150 years old, is now half as tall as it was two days ago. She seems to have put up a fight, seeing as how she snapped the barbed wire fence in half on her way down.


Oh no.

Unfortunately we didn’t see the fence until dusk which left Hubs and I racing to find, unearth, then patch the fence before the neighbor’s livestock realized they had just gained an entire pasture to graze. We only got two strands up before the darkness swallowed our ability to work.


You’re really going to need some perspective to understand the extent of the damage.


Better perspective. Oldest is 30 feet from the tree. He’s 5’10 with his boots on.

The high temperatures ensure we can only work in the late evenings. So we’ll be clearing the debris for the next week. More woodpiling. Can you feel my excitement?


Fence patching tools.

Although, there is a silver lining in those storm clouds. Hubs has been trying to figure out how to fell a dead pecan tree in the pasture without the danger of rotted branches falling on him. The storm blew those pesky branches right off the tree and even put them in a neat little pile for us. Problem solved.


Perfect little pile on right.


And this folks, is why you anchor your deer blind to the ground in Texas.

Mutual Destruction

We are under attack. Therefore, the only option we have is to defend ourselves and our property. The enemy?


I’m not talking about the cute 1/4 inch bright green darlings that sweetly hop from leaf to leaf quietly munching. I’m talking about the terrors that fill Texas fields in the summer. Taking a stroll in the pasture is like falling into an air-pop popcorn machine  and being pelted with three-inch-long grasshoppers instead of fluffy popcorn kernels.

They eat everything. EVERYTHING. Even fiberglass window screens … which is why my house is screen-less from June to September.


Operation Screen Removal.

After two years of replacing them we learned our lesson. Fool me once …

Texas grasshoppers are like ninja assassins. They wait patiently by your doors, waiting for any opening and then BAM! you stumble backwards after the thing hits you in the face and flies, yes flies – they have giant wings- and makes a break for the air conditioning. The bigger they get, the smarter they become.


This one made it into the bathroom undetected. He was only 2-inches-long. A mere babe by Texas standards.

Even the dog is afraid of them. How humiliating. Our mighty dog, who protects us from all sorts of wild animals and ill-meaning people, curls into a ball and whimpers when a kamikaze grasshopper breaches the household defenses and makes it inside.

I am scouring the internet for ways to destroy the virtual colony of grasshoppers that have claimed my farm as their home. The quickest and pesticide-free way to kill them? Squish them. So if you see me jumping around in the pasture with my head back laughing like a mad git? I’m just claiming my place at the top of the food chain.