Easy Homemade Vanilla Extract

I love making thinkg from scratch. There is just something so satisfying to me about providing something to my family from start to finish. I love knowing that even if I buy the highest quality ingredients, I am still saving more money doing it myself rather than buying a premade lower quality item. That is definitely the case with making your own homemade vanilla extract.

"There's no such thing as too much vanilla." That is a saying my girls and I have whenever we need to measure out vanilla for a recipe and inevitably add more. We love to just open the bottle of vanilla extract and take a big whiff. It's amazing.

What isn't amazing is the price of vanilla extract lately. It has skyrocketed over the last couple of years. Last year, I went to Costco to buy my usual bottle of vanilla, only to discover that what used to cost me around $14 was $20. It's up to $25 now. That is a huge increase and unfortunately it's not going to change any time soon. I decided to do something about that and made my own vanilla extract and thought I'd share the recipe with you today.

Unlike most commodity crops, vanilla has no price regulations, which means that it is susceptible to dramatic price fluctuations due to supply and demand. For almost 10 years there was an abundance of vanilla on the market. That drove the prices down to the point where farmers couldn't make a living wage. So what did they do? They burned all their vanilla bean vines and decided to grow a different crop that would make them money.

Who can blame them?

But what that did is make an incredible shortage of vanilla beans for the next few years and prices skyrocketed. And this is where we find ourselves now.

Luckily, we don't have to be slaves to whatever price vanilla is currently selling at. We can make our own vanilla extract with just 2 ingredients. And what's best about it is that it will last forever.

INGREDIENTS   __________________________________________________________________ 
This is seriously the easiest 'recipe' in the world. All you need is Vodka and Vanilla Beans


Make sure to get grade B vanilla beans. Grade A are meant to be cooked with but grade B are meant for infusing and will give you a better flavor.  These look great or you can use Tahitian vanilla beans for a different flavor.  This is essentially a one time purchase. So while it might be a bit of money up front (about the same as buying a bottle of extract at Costco), you can continue to use these same vanilla beans indefinitely.

The good news is that even though the vanilla beans are pricey, you can buy the cheapest kind of vodka you can find. All you need is 80 proof, but the vodka itself doesn't matter. I like to buy vodka in a glass bottle so I can just use that for storing my vanilla extract too. If you buy vodka in plastic you should use a mason jar or other glass jar to store it in. Make sure it is tall enough to fit the beans standing up.

DIRECTIONS  ___________________________________________________________________
The usual recipe for vanilla extract that you would buy at the store is about 2-3 beans per cup of alcohol and is called single fold vanilla. The super fancy, extremely flavorful vanilla chefs use to create their dishes with a vanilla flavor that can't be matched by just doubling the amount of single fold vanilla is called double fold vanilla. Double fold vanilla calls for 5 vanilla beans per cup of alcohol.

Chose whichever you prefer. Just know that this vanilla extract can last forever. You can just top off the bottle with new vodka as you use it.


  • Drop the vanilla beans in the vodka whole. Don't slice them open. Some people like to slice the beans open so you can see the little seeds but it doesn't make the flavor any stronger to do it that way. If you leave your beans whole, you can pull them out one at a time for recipes that call for vanilla bean seeds. Just snip off the end and squeeze out the seeds to use in your recipe. Then just throw the shells back into the extract. It's like you are getting vanilla bean paste for free. 
  • Place your vodka in a cool, dark place and give it a shake every now and then. 
Your vanilla extract will be ready to use in 8 weeks, but will be best if you can wait at least 6 months. 

P.S. this makes a great, inexpensive gift to give to family and friends for Christmas. Just repackage it into smaller jars. These 4 oz ones are super cute and the perfect size. Make sure to get a funnel if you don't have one. You don't want to waste a drop of this delicious extract. 

Enjoy!

PP





Healthy Food on a Budget part 3


In an ideal world, all our food would be grown locally and organically. Instead, most of our conventionally grown food is drenched in toxic pesticides, fungicides and poisonous gases originally developed for chemical warfare and banned in most developed countries, including the European Union.

For example, lets take the worst offender: strawberries. The USDA is responsible for making sure our food is safe. It washes the produce like a normal consumer would and in some cases peels it, then tests it to see if there are any remaining substances. In 2014 and 2015, 99% of all strawberries had pesticide residues with almost a third having 10 or more pesticides per strawberry! The dirtiest had over 21. On. one. strawberry.

How can I as a mother feel good about feeding my little babies that? These hazardous chemicals are linked to cancer, developmental damage, reproductive disorders or sterility, hormone disruption and neurological problems.

I wish the United States had tougher regulations on what could be added to or used on our foods. Unfortunately it's not the case so we have to rely on optional labeling guidlines like Non-GMO project verified, USDA Organic and others to try to keep our families safe.

But, having those extra companies or programs checking and verifying our food adds to the cost and most of us can't afford to buy everything we eat grass-fed or pasture-raised, organic, local and humane certified.

So what can we do to keep the budget down but still afford healthy food? Here is the last list of ways I keep our food costs down while ensuring I am providing my family with healthy, safe food to eat. You can find part 1 and part 2 here and here.

BE FLEXIBLE  ___________________________________________________________________
If you can't afford buying everything organic then prioritize what would make the biggest impact on reducing your family's pesticide exposure. I love the Environmental Working Group. They do all the hard work for us. They analyze all the USDA testing results and rank our produce from those containing the highest pesticide residues to the lowest. If you can buy organic items of the top 12 foods with the most pesticide residues, you can reduce your family's pesticide exposure dramatically.
You can find the new 2018 Dirty Dozen list here. If you have a recipe that calls for an item that is really expensive to buy organic, substitute with a more budget friendly option.  Also, a great tip I have found it to buy from local farmers in my area. Many times they have great organic practices but they haven't gotten the 'organic' certification because it is so costly.
dirty dozen list, switch ingredients. local might actually be better but just not have the label.

MEAL PLAN  ____________________________________________________________________
 Do you know that the average family of 4 throws away almost $2,200 of food every year! That is a vacation somewhere every year you could be paying for instead. One way to avoid throwing so much money away is by meal planning. I am the worst at meal planning. I am used to just having a stocked fridge and pantry and 'shopping' from that when I want to make something. But I am trying to be better this year and plan out our meals. If every item you buy has a plan and a purpose, there will be very little waste left over.

BUY IN BULK   __________________________________________________________________ 
If you were to choose just one of my previous tips for saving money while still buying healthy, organic food; the one that would make the biggest impact is to cook all your food at home. It saves so much money. But, if you are cooking a lot, you will start going through ingredients a lot quicker so it's a great idea to buy food in bulk. Especially your cooking staples. Usually it seems you can save at least half by buying in bulk vs smaller packages. Costco is the best. Or Sprouts Farmers Market if you have one. That is my favorite store for getting great quality produce at a fraction of it's normal price. You can even buy their bulk bin items in bulk if you ask. I bought a 25kg  bag of quinoa for $1.99 a lb. If you wonder how to store all of your bulk item, stay tuned. I have a post about that coming up.

PLANT-BASED DIET  _____________________________________________________________
You probably knew this one was coming up but it really is such a money saver. We aren't vegans but I love to make a lot of vegan meals. 1- because they are super healthy and full of essential vitamins and minerals our Standard American Diet sorely lacks. 2- because they are so inexpensive. We love eating quinoa tacos, even my husband who is leery of my plant-based aspirations for our family. Just think about how much a pound of grass-fed ground beef costs ($6.99/lb). Now think about how much a pound of quinoa costs and how much more food that actually is volume-wise. Just in case you don't know off the top of your head. A pound of quinoa is about 2 cups dry. When it cooks, it turns to about 4 cups! So that is 8 cups of cooked quinoa per pound. Even if you are paying $3.99/lb for a tiny bag of organic quinoa you are still way ahead of the game over buying meat. When I make our quinoa tacos, the recipe calls for 2 cups cooked. So I could make the same meal 4 times for almost half what it would cost to make the grass-fed meat version once. If you are not sure how your family would view meatless meals, start slowly, maybe mixing half and half.

Last night I made grass-fed ground beef mixed with an even volume of cooked wheat berries. I just browned them up together so the wheat berries pick up the beef flavor and no one could tell the difference. This was for chili, but I made a similar thing a few days earlier and I just mixed it with taco seasoning and refried beans to help it all stick together in the taco. And they were delicious. Meatless meals really aren't as intimidating as they seem.

My oldest asked me the other day if she could have fruit if she were a vegetarian or just vegetables. I then told her of course she could have fruit and explained everything else she could have as a vegetarian then surprised her by saying, "everything you have eaten for the past 3 days has been vegetarian." She had no idea we eat vegetarian or vegan so often. I just don't make a big deal of it and avoid labels. I just talk about eating a rainbow of food because our body needs all the nutrients that come from all the different colors.

FREEZER SOUP  _________________________________________________________________
The last tip I have is related to not wasting any food. Many times I have little odds and ends of food that aren't enough for a meal. Extra noodles, beans, grains or meat and left-over veggies. The best thing to do with that is to throw it in the freezer bag and keep adding to it til you have enough to make a soup out of it. You could make an Italian soup with noodles, Mexican with beans, or countless ones depending on the meat you have let over. I love throwing extra gravy in with the broth to make it extra flavorful or mashed potatoes really help thicken a soup without needing cream. That is a trick I use often when making a chowder or other creamy soup.

I would love to know what tricks you like or use to help keep your family on budget while still being able to eat healthfully. Leave me a comment below.

PP

Guide to Maui, Hawaii

Hawaii- A place that captures our imagination with images of ultimate relaxation and breathtaking tropical beauty. It is really the ideal vacation in so many ways: no passports necessary but still feels like an entirely new cultural experience. No foreign language skills needed. I love trying to learn new languages, probably more than most, but sometimes its nice not worrying about being able to communicate. Gorgeous, other worldly scenery. Perfect weather and hardly any bugs. 
Now that we've established it's a must go, which Hawaiian island is best? For me, Maui takes the cake. It is the island that has it all.  I like to think of it as having two sides. There's adventure and exploration on the 'wild' side in rain forests and volcanic craters. On the 'developed' side, you will find ultimate convenience with entertainment, delicious food and 30 miles of beaches for snorkeling and sunbathing on the days you just want to veg out. 
      LAHAINA vs WAILEA
STAY    __________________________________________________________________________

Use either Lahaina or Wailea as your main hub. The best resorts (Four Seasons, Grand Wailea and Kea Lani ) are in quiet Wailea. Wailea also usually has better weather and the best swimming and snorkeling beaches. If you are looking for a busy night-life, art galleries, shopping and hustle and bustle, then Lahaina is the one for you.
Frugal Tip-You don't have to stay at one of the first class resorts to enjoy the incredible, less crowded beaches in Wailea. We stayed at the Hotel Wailea which is a lot less expensive but shares the same property as the Grand Wailea. Or look for a condo on VRBO.

ENTERTAINMENT _______________________________________________________________


Warren and Annabelle's-I don't think I have ever laughed as hard or for as long as the night we went to Warren and Annabelle's magic show. It is a mix of sleight-of hand magic and the funniest comedy you will ever hear. It is a little pricey, but worth the 4 hours of fun. First, you start out in a parlor enjoying appetizers, cocktails and dessert, then the party moves into the theater for the show. We volunteered for one of his tricks and were a constant fixture in that night's show with many good-hearted jokes at our expense. I love when comedians can be funny without resorting to shocking and off-color jokes.
KAPALUA
ADVENTURE  ____________________________________________________________________

Kapalua Golf Course- There aren't many golf courses played on the pro tour that normal people are able to get into and play. Kapalua is one of them and definitely worth taking advantage of the opportunity. Even for a non-golfer like myself, the course was amazing just to spend time at. The mix of....
Frugal Tip- afternoon tee times are discounted because the wind starts to kick up a little.

EAT ____________________________________________________________________________

Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar-a few minutes down the road, near the Ritz, is the most amazing sushi bar. Everything was incredible and so fresh! Try the Ahi Sashimi Roll, the mango sauce is to die for. Seriously the best sushi we have ever had.
Frugal Tip- get there early, any order placed before 6pm Tuesday-Saturday is 25% off. 
HANA TOWN
ADVENTURE ____________________________________________________________________


The Road to Hana- Even if you don't actually stay overnight in Hana, (you should), the Road to Hana is a must do. The famous Hāna Highway is a 68-mile long stretch of highway which connects Kahului with the town of Hāna in east Maui. Although Hāna is only about 52 miles from Kahului, it took us over 4 hours to drive as the highway is very winding and narrow and passes over 59 bridges, 46 of which are only one lane wide. It is virtually all through lush, tropical rain forest with stops all along the highway to see waterfalls or other points of interest. 
Tip- don't try to do every stop, choose a few highlights or you will get burned out halfway and miss a lot of the great stuff towards the end. Here is a great list of sights to choose from.

Seven Sacred Pools- a magical way to spend an afternoon. The Ohe'o Gulch or Seven Sacred Pools, are about 15 minutes past Hana town. There are actually dozens of pools and waterfalls which flow through the 'Ohe'o Gulch into the ocean nearby, but these ones are the biggest and most beautiful.

Pipiwai Trail and Waimoku Falls-This is supposed to be one of the best hikes on Maui and I would have to say it was otherworldly. Pipiwai is 4 miles round trip with a gain in elevation of 650 feet and several great waterfalls along the route. After hiking past several great waterfalls, the trail turns into this beautiful boardwalk through a 40 ft high bamboo forest. It was so amazing listening to the wind would blow through the bamboo making the bamboo stalks hit against each other. At the end of the hike you are rewarded with Waimoku Falls  flowing down a 400-foot sheer lava rock wall. It is absolutely incredible.
Read about about all our Hana adventures here.
HALEAKALA CRATER
ADVENTURE    ___________________________________________________________________
Haleakala- is a massive shield volcano that forms more than 75% of Maui. The other 25% to the west is formed by the West Maui Mountains. Inside the heart of Haleakala National Park is Pu'u 'Ula'ula (Red Hill). Here, on the tallest peak of Haleakala Crater, 10,023 feet above sea level you can have the most transformation experience watching the sun rise. As the sun begins to pierce through the fog and cracks in the crater a park ranger begins a quiet Hawaiian chant that gets louder and louder until it climaxes as the sun peaks over the mountain. There are no words to describe it but I thought it deserved its own blog post with more pictures which you can see here.
Tip-There is a really fun sunrise bike tour you can buy from several tour companies. They bus you to the top of the crater to watch the sunrise and bring up bikes that you can ride all the way down the mountain. P.S. It gets COLD on the top of a mountain covered in freezing cold mist. Pack accordingly.

Maui is one of those places where there is always more to discover. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

PP



Easy Windowsill Herb Garden


One of the little luxuries I love having in my kitchen is fresh herbs. It really make such a difference in giving your meals that little fragrant pop they need. But buying fresh herbs from the store is so expensive. And you only ever need a little bit for a recipe, so the rest just languish in the fridge until finally getting thrown away. Or is that just me? I hate wasting money on things like that.

Growing your own herbs is a no brainer that solves both these problems. Having inexpensive fresh herbs available and in only the amount you need.  I've been wanting a windowsill herb garden for awhile but hadn't gotten around to it. I saw these super cute herb planters at Crate & Barrel the other day and felt inspired. But not $30 inspired, no matter how cute it was.

The point to having fresh, organic herbs at my fingertips is to save money. So I searched around and found this one at Ikea for $9.99. I like it so much better. The added wooden base makes it more interesting. And, it was on sale! There is also a really similar one here if you don't have an Ikea near you.

If you've never grown plants before, don't be nervous. Herbs are the easiest thing ever. All you have to do is find a sunny windowsill. I give you a few more tips in helping keep them alive below.


But first, we need to assemble the garden. I don't sow my seeds directly in the planter. They need drainage. You can find these plastic seedling planters and saucers at any garden center or nursery for less than a dollar each. This was the smallest set I could find on Amazon (10). Maybe make a couple extra to give as Mother's Day presents!

They have drainage holes in the bottom and the saucer to catch anything that drips. And they are pretty nifty for letting you know how much water your plant needs. I just pour water til I see it start leaking into the saucer.

You can buy your herbs already started from a nursery but that will run you about $1.50-3.50 per herb depending on what size you get. A packet of seeds is about a dollar but you can usually find them Buy 1 Get 1 Free and grow them yourself. (Just stick the rest of the packet in the freezer until you need to grow some more.) You will definitely need patience but it is so fun to grow them all yourself.

I would pick 3 herbs that you use a lot and start there. Parsley, Basil, Cilantro, Chives, Mint, Dill, Thyme, Rosemary, Sage, there are so many options to choose from.

I chose Flat Leaf Parsley, Dill and Basil. Cilantro would have been on the list because I use it all the time, but I have a plant out in my garden that survived the winter that I can use. Yea! So when my dill gets too big, I will try to transplant it outside and trade it out for a pot of cilantro to last for next fall/winter.

If you are growing your herbs from seeds you will also need to buy a good organic potting mix. No use trying to grow organic herbs in Miraclegro. I really like this BlackGold brand and you can find it in most stores.


Follow the directions on your packet. You won't want more than 2-3 plants growing in your pot or they will get too crowded and not grow well. I would start with 5 seeds and then thin to the best 2 or 3 when the first true leaves appear by snipping the stem down to the soil.


If you bought your herbs from a nursery, just transfer them over and add more soil if needed. Place saucer underneath and give it a good drink til you can start to see water come out the drainage holes.



Place pots in the planter and put in a sunny window to enjoy! I love how it really brightens up my kitchen counter and instantly brings color to any dish. Just snip some off next time you need something and enjoy your super flavorful and hyper fresh herbs. We loved our parsley on Jambalaya Pasta last night.

Jambalaya Pasta
If you feel like you are not getting through your herbs fast enough before they need to be trimmed again then check out my post on preserving parsley here. I also love making pesto when I need to use up a bunch of basil. Stay tuned for the recipe.

Plant Care Tips-
Water- 2-3 times a week. I usually do Mondays and Thursdays. Stick your finger in the potting mix, if it is damp 2 inches down, it doesn't need any more water. If you accidentally pour too much water in, relax. The saucer will just keep the excess until the plant wants to suck it up. If you are growing from seeds, you will need to water every day until the shoot appears and the roots grow longer. Keep the soil moist.

Dirt- I know it might sound like a good idea to use dirt from your yard to fill the pots. It's free and easy but dirt is alive. There are many different ecosystems living in there. If you remove it from its natural environment you are also removing it from its natural predators and some bacteria or diseases could spread and get into your food or your house plants. A good, organic potting mix is worth the splurge.

Proper Pruning
It may seem counter intuitive, but pruning actually promotes growth.

Basil- After the seedlings have their first 6 true leaves, prune to above the second set. From then on, every time it has 6-8 leaves again, prune back to the 1st set of leaves. Pinch off any stems that look like it is going to flower. That will make your basil bitter if allowed to flower.

Chives-  To harvest, just cut straight across. Like you are cutting grass. They probably won't grow out of control like some herbs. Pairs so well with eggs, using in compound butter or tossing raw on soups salads or potatoes.

Cilantro/ Parsley- Once the plant is 6 inches high, begin pruning by trimming the outer leaves down to the bottom of the stem. Don't cut the inner leaves. These will continue growing and producing more stems. You can eat the stems. They carry so much flavor, making them perfect for flavoring soups/ broths or sauces you will blend. I use mine all the time in guacamole and eggs, I just mince very small.

Dill- I love dill. My favorite is to use it to garnish Borscht. It tastes so good with beets, fish (especially salmon), yogurt sauces and of course pickles. I've got a killer pickle recipe I will be posting this summer so stay tuned!

Mint- Young leaves have more flavor so the key to keeping mint at its best is frequent harvesting. I love to use mint leaves in my ice water. It is so refreshing. Just make sure when you trim to make sure there is still at least 1 set of leaves on the stem.

Oregano- This herb does better outside because it likes to sprawl. If you are dead set on it, just make sure you trim it back often so it doesn't have a chance to get woody.

Rosemary- Rosemary is a beautiful plant and grows straight up so it's perfect for an indoor garden. Just cut a couple inches off from the top leaving leaves below to keep growing.

Thyme- Thyme is such a hardy plant. Both for cooking in high heat and for staying alive. Basically make sure you never cut below the first leaves and you'll be fine.

Last but not least. Never trim more than 1/3 of a plant at any given time or it will go into shock and may not recover.

I hope you feel inspired to make yourself an herb garden to enjoy fresh herbs at your fingertips any time you need. Leave a comment below and let me know which herb you find yourself using the most.


PP

Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs


Those of you who have been following me for a while know that I am not a fan of all the dyes, fillers and engineered ingredients that are allowed in our food these days. For that reason, I am so excited to share with you a few ways you can dye food cheaply and naturally.

There are a lot of recipes of different ways to naturally dye eggs but some of them are ridiculously expensive. One recipe calls for 3 cups of blueberries! Even if I got the blueberries on sale for $1.50 for 6 oz, there is no way I am going to spend $4.50 to for just one color of dye. Or using half a cabbage. I don't like wasting things either. Although that does make an amazing deep blue color...

So I rummaged around in my cupboards and found a few things that are inexpensive and all natural.


Obviously you want to start with boiled, then cooled eggs. My mom swears that her 5-5-5 recipe results in perfect eggs every time. Place eggs in pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a low boil and boil for 5 minutes. Take off heat and let sit in hot water for 5 minutes. Dump out hot water and fill pan with ice/ very cold water for 5 minutes. Perfect color of yellow with no gray line. And easy to remove shells. You're welcome.

I wanted to try all kinds of colors. There were some I knew would work, but others were experiments. Green is a hard color. You can make green using spinach but I didn't want to use 2 cups of chopped spinach or boil it for 20 minutes. So I thought maybe I would try cucumber peel. It didn't work. My recipes are the easiest and fastest. I just put all my ingredients in canning jars and pour boiling water on top and let them steep until they cool (30-40 minutes). I strain them, add 1 Tbls of white vinegar and plop in a hard-boiled egg.

Blueberries, Tumeric, Cucumber Skins, Beets, Hibiscus Tea, Paprika, Onion Skins and Nettle Leaf Tea
Colors
Pink- Luckily, I had some roasted beets in the fridge to make Borscht with. So I used one of those. After it had colored the water and strained it, I stuck the chopped pieces back in the fridge for my Borscht. They were still tasty and had plenty of flavor. That's also why I wait to put the vinegar in until after it is strained.
Yellow- 1 Tbsp Turmeric
Green- I used a yellow turmeric egg then put in the blueberry mixture for 1 hour. It might not look green when you pull it out but wait for it to dry. It's a pretty sea foam green color. Or for a bright green, steep 2 cups chopped spinach in boiling water.
Blue- So I had smaller glass cups and thought it would be fun to try the blueberries. I just grabbed 1/4 c frozen blue and blackberries from a Costco fruit medley bag so it turned out to be pretty inexpensive.
Black- 3 bags of Hibiscus Tea. This one was surprising, I was thinking it would turn red like the tea but the eggs actually turned black.
Tan- 1 Tbsp Smoked Paprika. This one was fainter than I hoped. But it still worked ok.
Orange- Onion skins from 3 onions. Just crunch them up and put in the canning jar with boiled water
Brown- 3 bags of Nettle Leaf Tea. I was hoping this might turn green too but it turned more brown.
Purple- Dye one egg in the beets first, then switch to blueberry color for 30 minutes.


Designs-  House plants are perfect for using for making designes. I just used leaves from Piece Ivy, some blades of my Cordyline Indivisa, rubber bands, and the top of a strawberry. You can also use a white crayon to draw patterns with as well. I used some scrap pieces of cheesecloth to hold the leaves tight against the eggs and secured with twist ties.


I did these late at night. I tried 1 egg in the beets and 1 in the turmeric for about 30 minutes. They are the 2 on the bottom left. You can see the turmeric worked really well in that length of time and the beets turned it a light pink. I was tired so I filled the rest of my jars with eggs and stuck them outside. You can stick them in the fridge overnight but mine was full and luckily temps were like 36F. I like to use the egg carton to rest the drying eggs on.

L to R- Paprika, Beet (30min), Turmeric (30min), Turmeric (all night), Blueberry, Beets (all night), Beet and Blueberry mix, Hibiscus Tea, Nettle Leaf Tea, Onion Skins.

It's so fun to see how they all turned out. Didn't those designs turn out so fun? I love the strawberry top. The kids loved waking up and pulling the eggs out of the solutions to see how they changed. I love that this is a fun, inexpensive and all natural way to dye eggs. Let me know in the comments which ones are your favorites and if you plan to naturally dye your Easter Eggs too.

PP

How to Make Beef Bone Broth

So we all know by now how nutritious and good for us bone broth is. Even the major food brands all have their own cartons of bone broth on the shelves. I'm glad that more healthful options are being offered these days and buy a few cartons here and there for convenience. But, when I have the option, I love to make my easy homemade bone broth in a crock-pot.

Grocery store bone broth can't hold a candle to it in the health department. Do you know how I know? A good bone broth will turn into almost a jelly when it cools. That's how you know it is full of collagen. Collagen is a power house in the health department. It helps reduce joint pain and strengthen bones, improves and strengthens hair and nails, helps improve liver and gut health including detoxification among so many other things.

My sister-in-law and I went in on part of a grass-fed cow together from a local farmer here in Utah. Best way to save on grass-fed/pasture-raised meat by the way. I've been loving all the different cuts of meat that I don't usually buy from the store since they are usually way more expensive than just grass-fed ground beef. But one of the things I was most excited about was having a bunch of soup bones to make bone broth with. When you buy a cow, they ask if you want the bones. Say "YES!" The broth you get from bones is rich, velvety and chock full of the most essential vitamins and minerals that are so lacking in our diets. I just throw my soup bones in my deep freeze and take out a package or two at a time when I want to make some broth.

And making homemade bone broth couldn't be easier. You can obviously use a stock pot on the stove with this recipe too. I just love the easiness and worry free setting and leaving of crock-pots.



Start with about 2 pounds of soup bones. Ideally, half should be joint bones because they will contribute the most collagen to your broth.  Lay them out on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper. Anything to make clean up shorter, right? Now salt and pepper them really well. I like to use my kosher salt for things like this.


Next, you'll want to brown the bones in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, turning at the half way mark. This really helps develop the flavor of the broth so much.


While your bones are browning, it's time to assemble the rest of the ingredients. I love using the inside stalks of my celery for stock. The leaves actually have so much flavor and they are a part of the plant that we don't usually eat, so I love to make sure I use them all up. When I am buying organic produce, I like to make sure I use the whole plant. You can read more about how I save money on our organic and grass-fed foods here and here.  Another thing I like about making stock is that you it helps to clean out the fridge and use up anything that is getting a little old and maybe isn't in its prime texture wise. You can see my carrots are on their last leg too. They were still perfectly crunchy but starting to sprout. Just wash your veggies, you don't need to work about peeling or chopping.

Dehydrated Onions
Start to put your veggies in the crock-pot. You make have to break your carrots in half to get them to fit. Now I'm going to share one of my favorite things to use in my broths. Dehydrated onions. If you don't have any then by all means just halve an onion and throw that in. But, once a year I get a 25 pound bag of onions for about 3 dollars! Obviously we can't get through that many onions before they would go bad so I dehydrate them.


I love them! Once, I also saw organic celery for .50 a bunch so I bought a ton of them and dehydrated them too. I love to throw them in my soups, chilis and bone broths.

Ok, so back to the broth.


Add a bay leaf or two. You can also put in a few black peppercorns. No more than 5.


Once your bones are browned, take them out of the oven and nestle into your veggies and cover with water. You want your bones covered at all time. Pour in 2 Tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar and turn on the crock-pot for at least 8 hours but preferably 24. It takes a while to get all the goodness out of the bones. You can leave it to simmer for up to 72 hours but I find 24 is just fine. That way I can start it in the morning and by the next morning it is ready to use to make something for dinner that day. You'll want to cook it on high until it starts to simmer then turn it to low for the rest of the time. You don't want it boiling. It will destroy the collagen if it is cooked too high. A nice simmer is just right.


When it's done, strain it over a bowl so you can catch every. last. drop. I like to keep mine in mason jars. See that white layer on top? That is called tallow. You can cook with it, especially if you want a healthy, pasture-raised fat. Or in the olden days, because the fat was so hard, it takes a long time to melt, making it ideal for candle making.


If your broth looks like this when it is cooled, you did it just right. Look how jiggly it is. Perfect. Don't worry, it will liquefy when you warm it up again.

Now it's time to enjoy in all your favorite recipes. Stay tuned for my French Onion Soup recipe. And if you would like to learn how to make Turkey Bone Broth you can find the recipe here.

How to Afford Healthy Food on a Budget Part 2



I had so much to say on my last post about how to afford healthy food on a budget that I had to split it into 2 posts. There are just so many ideas to help you save money but still be able to eat the kind of food we want too.

Homemade vs. Packaged
This one is huge. I think the biggest way to save money is to cook at home. It is also the healthiest because we can control what goes into our food so there isn't all the added salt, sugar, fat and preservatives that come in restaurant and prepackaged foods.

There are so many things that I could go into for this but lets just use one example. We love bread. My favorite bread is made by a company here in Utah called Prairie Grain Bread. The only ingredients are fresh stone ground wheat, water, salt, yeast and raisin juice concentrate. No preservatives, oil, eggs or dairy. It is delicious but it also costs $4.79 a loaf. I can make a loaf of organic bread for around $1 so that would save 3.80 a loaf. The average person eats 80 loafs a year x that by my family of 5 (not including the baby) and if I made my own bread all year I would save $1,520! That is a chunk of change that could really be spent on so many other things. Baking bread might not be your thing right now, but there are many things like that in your diet that you could make the switch from store-bought to homemade. Organic yogurt and bone broth, prepackaged salad or pancake mixes just to name a few.

Grow and Preserve Your Own Food
A subcategory of the homemade vs packaged cost savings is to actually grow and preserve your own food. You know I love preserving my own food. It is so satisfying to me and everything tastes so much better when you grow it in your own backyard. I can by a jar of organic spaghetti sauce for about 2 dollars. I can buy a whole organic tomato plant for about the same and over the course of the summer it would give me enough tomatoes to make at least 20 jars of tomato sauce! And let me put in a little plug for tomatoes being so easy to can. You could also freeze the jars if you don't want to can just yet. It is all about baby steps and slowly incorporating these cost saving things into your life.

Potatoes are pretty expensive if you want to buy them organic. But they are so easy to grow. You really don't even need a garden to grow them. You could grow them on a balcony or patio. I am going to be doing a post on that later in the spring to show you how easy it is so stay tuned. Once you have the potatoes, those are great things to shred and freeze to use later as hash browns. I love to put them in breakfast burritos to give a little more substance than just eggs.

Bulk up or Substitute Meat and Dairy
If you are trying to stay away from factory raised meat and dairy then pasture raised meat and dairy is going to be a huge expense in your food budget. One way I do this is by not using meat as a main dish. Very rarely do we every have chicken breasts or steak accompanied by sides. Instead, I try to use meat as a flavoring or accent to the main dish. Think chicken fajitas. There is definitely chicken in there but it is also surrounded by tons of onions, peppers, tomatoes, guacamole and beans and anything else I can think of to bulk it out and make them feel filling. The most common way I buy grass-fed beef is ground. That way I can put some in with chili made mostly with beans. Or use for tacos, but I will mix it half and half at least with refried beans. (that also makes it stick better to the taco shells while my kids are eating them). I like to add potatoes or other veggies to curry so it is not just chicken. This way we can still get the meat taste in our meals which is especially important to my husband, but it also makes the meals cost about 1/4 of what they would if we used meat in bigger portions. And it makes them more nutritious since we are getting more fiber and a variety of minerals and vitamins.

With dairy, it's kind of the same idea. I use it when we will taste it. Like drinking a glass of milk plain. But if I am cooking and it calls for milk, butter or eggs, there is no way I'm going to 'waste' my organic or pasture raised dairy in a recipe. I will use a plant-based milk and either chia or flax seed 'eggs'. These egg substitutes are awesome and so cheap compared to organic or pasture raised eggs.

I love having these little tricks to help keep our grocery budget down. That makes me feel more able to afford the more expensive items I like to include in our diet.

I hope these tips are helping and stay tuned for part 3. And here is part 1 if you missed it.

Provident Princess





Guide to Vicksburg, Mississippi

Our day trip to Vicksburg, Mississippi was so fun! I really wanted to go somewhere with some Civil War history while I was in Louisiana because we just don't have that history in Utah. Utah wasn't even a state in the union yet. The Mormon Pioneers first made it to Utah or Deseret as they called it in 1847 and were busy settling the territory while the tensions back east raged into civil war. Of all the places we could have visited, I was so happy that a city with such historical significance was nearby. 

Vicksburg was in a key strategic position high a top a 200ft cliff overlooking the Mississippi. President Lincoln said that they would never win the war unless Vicksburg was in their pocket. 
while Jefferson Davis knew it was the "nailhead that held the South's two halves together." Sever that, and the Confederacy would effectively be cut in half and the Union would control the entire length of the Mississippi which was a huge military advantage for keeping supply lines strong.

There were many unsuccessful attempts by the Union to take Vicksburg and led to Vicksburg being nicknamed "The Gibraltar of the West". Finally, General Grant gambled by taking his troops deep into enemy territory and attacking Vicksburg from the South. 70,000 Union troops lay siege to Vicksburg with a plan that is still studied today as a classic example of how to conduct siege warfare. 47 days later, on July 4th, Vicksburg surrendered. It took over a hundred years for the city to celebrate the 4th of July as a holiday again. 

Where to Eat

There were a few must-see items on our list for that day and we definitely made use of all the time we had while still enjoying ourselves. Originally, we were going to grab lunch and take it over to the Vicksburg National Military Park because along with a visitor and civil war era war ship, the tour is mostly a driving tour with optional stops to get out and look around. However, we also wanted to see an antebellum home. Most of these required appointments and we didn't have enough time to do the driving tour of the military park before our scheduled appointment at the Bazsinsky House so we decided to have a sit down lunch and hit the park later.

The Tomato Place
I never feel like I can really experience a culture or location unless I can try its food and there is no better way to do that than by finding a local 'hole in the wall' in the most obscure place. I really wanted to try The Tomato Place and it did not disappoint! 

It is really unassuming and could easily by missed. It isn't near any other commercial buildings and just looks like a fruit stand off to the side of a back road. 


Actually, it is a fruit stand off to the side of a back road. They sell the most delicious seasonal produce. I bought some grapefruit and some oranges to take home for the next morning and couldn't believe how good it tasted. Those oranges were soooo juicy. Oh, and they make their own orangeade and lemonade at the Tomato Place. It was to die for! 

Not only do they sell mouthwateringly good fruit, but they also have a large selection of pre-assembled smoothies that you can pick from in a wall of freezers and have them blend it up fresh for you when you pay. 


If you keep walking through the fruitstand part, there are two more rooms behind it. I would have never guessed looking from the road. In the back is the restaurant. Everything is fresh and local. With a name like theirs I just had to try their BLT. It's what they are famous for. I got the Fried Green Tomato BLT for a little southern twist. I also got their housemade baked beans and fried okra. Everything was great. In retrospect, I should've only gotten one fried thing (probably the okra) to switch up the flavors a bit, but I really wanted both. And the fried green tomato BLT was such a cool idea. So yummy! 

I love that they make so many things in-house. They had the most amazing condiments and sauces. There was one spicy/tangy sauce they named the Mississippi Fever that I am just kicking myself for not buying and bringing home with me. But, while writing this post I found out that they have an online store! Now I don't feel so bad. 


I felt so at home among the canned veggies and preserved fruits and jellies. They had so many interesting things to choose from. I wanted it all. I did manage to buy the Pecan Soppin' Syrup. Pecans are such a traditional ingredient in the south and thought my girls would love a little southern infused syrup for their pancakes. 


The Tomato Place might be the thing I liked most about Vicksburg. It had so much personality. I loved the laid back, eclectic vibe and decor. We spent way more time there than we were originally planning. Every time one of us would buy something, someone else would go back in to look around some more. Oh, the loaves of bread they sell are amazing too!


I was like a kid in a candy store and lost all track of time. We finally had to drag ourselves out of there 1 1/2 hrs later and were actually late for our appointment...oops. Luckily our host Andrew was very gracious about the whole thing.

What to See


Bazsinsky House
There are antebellum houses spread all over the south and Vicksburg had quite a few to choose from. I really wanted to see the Martha Vick Home (as in Vicksburg) or The McRaven House but they were closed for President's Day. We ended up going with the Bazsinsky House which is conveniently located across the street from our next stop, The Old Courthouse just up the street from the river. 

The Bazsinsky house has a very interesting family history and the architecture inside and out is beautiful. It is so interesting to think about what life and the town would have been like before, during and after the war. Everything changed so much.

The house itself didn't have any period furniture which was disappointing and not what I was expecting. I wish there had been more information available on the website. Some of the other houses function more as a museum and have artifacts from the era. The Bazsinsky house is available as a B&B which is a fun idea I would love to try if I had enough time. But it didn't offer quite the view I was hoping for into everyday life. It has been recently restored by the new owners and you can check out some interesting pictures of the restoration here. 

The Old Courthouse Museum
This museum boasts the largest collection of Civil War artifacts in America: confederate flags, including one that was never surrendered, the tie worn by Jefferson Davis at his inauguration as Confederate President, fine portraits, china and silver, exquisite antique furniture, the trophy antlers won by the steamboat Robert E Lee in an 1870 race, antebellum clothing, toys, Indian and pioneer implements.

It was fascinating and I would highly recommend making the stop to see it. I only wish we had had more time.  

Vicksburg National Military Park

Vicksburg National Military Park is really interesting because it is not just a visitor center with exhibits. The Park is reconstructed on the actual battle site with 20 miles of historic trenches and earthworks to give a feel for what it was really like during the siege. It also includes 1,325 historic monuments and markers,  a 16-mile road tour, a 12.5-mile walking trail, two antebellum homes, 144 cannon, and the Grant's Canal site, where the Union Army attempted to build a canal to let their ships bypass Confederate artillery fire during one of their other unsuccessful attacks.


The first thing I like to do at any national park is to watch their orientation video which is usually about 20 minutes long. I feel like it helps give a very solid understanding of the background to everything else you will see later. They are really well done and so worth the time.

You need at least 1 1/2 hours here but really 3 hours would be best. There is just so much to see and do. We decided to buy the 1 hour audio tour they have available at the bookstore, there is a 2 hour one too but we didn't have time for it. Getting the tour was great, as we drove around the 16 mile tour road, the guide would point out the things we were seeing and give interesting facts about them.

USS CAIRO


Another very interesting housed in the military park is this war boat. The USS CAIRO was one of the first ironclad warships built at the beginning of the Civil War. This ship was the first to be sunk by a torpedo. It took 12 minutes and luckily no loss of life.


So many artifacts were recovered from the ship when it was raised over a hundred years later in 1964. The craftsmanship of everyday items seems so much better than now.


The last stop was the cemetary. Vicksburg National Cemetery is made up of 116 acres, and holds the remains of 17,000 Civil War Union soldiers, more than any other national cemetery. Almost 13,000 of them unknown. When the National Cemeteries were created, only Union soldiers were allowed to be interred there. Most of the Confederate dead were buried behind Southern lines in the "Soldiers' Rest area of Cedar Hill Cemetery.

It's a sobering sight to see all those white markers stretching as far as the eye could see. What a sad time in the history of our country. The ride back to Louisiana was a quite one where we were all lost in our individual thoughts. There are so many who have fought to make America what it is today. I am so grateful for all of their sacrifices and hope we as a country can make it worth the cost.

Well I hope you all liked this historical peak into the Civil War past. Where else are good locations to learn about the Civil War?

Guide to Northern Louisiana

Andrew and I just went to Louisiana to visit my sister. She lives just outside of Shreveport (near the top of the boot). It was so great to see her.  Can I also say it was so nice to only have 1 kid for a few days!

This was Andrew's first flight and he was great. I took a late flight hoping it would help him get some rest but he didn't sleep a wink. Luckily he was more than happy to explore and eat. Just like his mom.




DAY ONE
I've been to Louisiana a couple times now and I am always surprised at how much there is to do there. I took my 2 oldest girls during Mardi Gras a few years ago and we had a blast. This time we came to meet my newest nephew and just explore locally a little more. 

EXPLORE  _______________________________________________________________


Moray Eel
Shreveport Aquarium - It was so fun! They had a lot of fish I hadn't seen before. My favorite was that they had an exhibit of just local/ native fish and amphibians. That is such a great STEM idea. The kids who visit will now know the different species if they come across them in the wild. I think that helps build a desire in the younger generation to help preserve and respect wildlife and the outdoors.


This aquarium had so many touch and feel pool areas. I love that! It really helps the kids have a 'hands on' experience. And realize these are real living things. The first area was star fish and it was definitely a hit with the kids. 


Don't you just love this lionfish? His fins are poisonous though so I wouldn't want to meet him in the wild.


Next up was the quintessential ray pool. Andrew was fascinated watching them whiz by. He could never quite reach down and touch one fast enough. 

 Then came something that I've never seen at an aquarium touch pool before. Jellyfish!



At first I wouldn't let Andrew put his hands in the water because I was afraid he would get stung. The employee told us just to touch the top of the jellyfish but I was wondering how they thought all kids would obey that directive. You know there is always at least one who has to push the boundaries. I was afraid someone would get hurt. Well, turns out I didn't know as much as I thought about jellyfish. Some of them are quite harmless. Especially the ones that don't have long tentacles. Phew! 



Andrew loved the jellyfish. I had a hard time keeping him from crawling right into the tank with them!

I love STEM activities that also nurture a learning and love of nature and the environment. Playing outdoors is one of the best ways to make sure kids will be active and healthy. It also keeps them away from electronics. I have always tried to start introducing my kids to nature, animals and the outdoors from a young age so that they will feel comfortable and enjoy being outdoors as they grow.

If you are ever in the Shreveport area, I would definitely recommend stopping by the Aquarium.

EAT  _____________________________________________________________________

Frank's Louisiana Kitchen - Later that day my parents and little brother came into town as well as my aunt and her grandson. We left the kids at home with a babysitter and went out for some traditional Louisiana Cajun cuisine.

Love spending time with my beautiful sister
I love that Louisiana has been able to retain its rich, french culture. Louisiana was settled by Acadian French refugees from Canada who were expelled by the British during the French and Indian War. One thing I find so interesting is that Louisiana French is barely recognizable to the rest of present day, french speaking people. They were so far removed from France's influence that their language didn't keep up with the frequent updates from other french speaking colonies, and consequently still uses many 17th century words that have become obsolete in modern day french. The word Cajun comes from the french word Acadian. 

Well Frank's Louisiana Kitchen did not disappoint. We must've ordered half the menu and every. single. dish. was. absolutely. delicious! 

We started with:
*Baked Cajun Spinach & Artichoke Dip with Lump Crabmeat- this was voted the favorite
*Blackened Crab Cakes which had a delightful zing due to added jalapenos- these were my favorite
*Crawfish & Scallop Beignets- nothing is more Cajun than crawfish and beignets so it was fun to try them together in a savory beignet. 

Next came 
*Shrimp Remoulade Salad- lettuce was tossed with remoulade sauce which is a very traditional, creamy, red, New Orleans sauce that has quite a kick from tons of horseradish and cayenne pepper. It was absolutely divine. Everything should be served with a side of remoulade. 
*Creamy Acorn Squash and Leek Soup- delicious

Crawfish Étouffée
For my entree I just had to get CRAWFISH ÉTOUFFEÉ- this is a must-try dish if you really want to get a feeling for Cajun food. Étouffée is a dish of seafood (most popularly with crawfish) served with rice. I love that it reflects the Cajuns in the bayous and backwaters of Louisiana just making use of what they had nearby all while infusing it with their traditional french sauce techniques. The base of Étouffée is a roux. 

Me and my mom 
One of the things I loved most about Frank's is that every single side dish was incredible too. Some restaurants just rely on their main dishes and just offer basic sides. I loved that all these dishes were very traditional Louisiana ingredients. 

*Hazelnut Green Beans * Roasted Cauliflower with Basalmic Vinegar Glaze * Purple Hull Peas Cassoulet * Dauphinouse Potatoes and Asiago Stone Ground Grits

I wasn't kidding when I said we'd ordered half the menu. I could have had a meal of just sides they were that good. 

We were so full from our amazing dinner but couldn't leave without sampling a few desserts. 

I don't think my sister was too keen on me stealing her Lemon Spongecake. But she did share a bite. mmm mmm!
*Housemade Honeydew Sorbet- perfect for ending the meal on a light note
*Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie a la Mode- how could you go wrong with that?
*Lemon Spongecake with Berry Mousse and Lemon Curd- very southern
*Chef Van's Banana Pudding- with bananas foster sauce and whipped cream
I don't think my sister relished the thought of me having her Lemon

I don't think I have been to a restaurant where every single dish was so good. I can't wait to go back again!

Luckily the next day was a relaxing, family day. I definitely needed time to recover from my food comma. 

Stay tuned for our visit to Vicksburg, Mississippi.