The Food Challenge

This title has come from a variety of recent ideas I’ve had!  I find that happens, a little ideas forms a bigger one which grows and adapts.  It started off as a freezer challenge eating what’s in the freezer as the freezer was fit to burst.  Given its bulging sides, apparently that will take months (which is a good thing, as that was and is the point of filling it!) and then it turned in to a pantry challenge of using up the tinned and dried goods that were bought and since sat there with just a partial amount used.  Finally it’s turned in to a use up the jars in the fridge challenge.  I think they are breeding in there!  There’s 2 shelves full of bits of mustard or pickle or cranberry sauce and other items I am not too sure as to what they even are!  So combined with my weight loss challenge I’ve set myself for this year, you can see the predicament that we have a bit of a mutation of challenges going on.

Essentially I find myself in a position where I want to step back and assess what we are trying to achieve before my head becomes too full and I give up on it all.  Do you ever get that feeling?  Sometimes it can manifest itself as feeling overwhelmed?  Life is so busy for us all and personally, I feel that without planning, things don’t always happen.

This whole Corona virus thing has got us all thinking too.  I don’t want to be in a position where we have eaten everything down to the bare minimum and end up self isolating for a period of time.  It seems there’s going to be a bit of scaremongering in the next few days, which naturally may result in people panic buying.  Given we are normally stocked up for 3 months plus with food etc, this is probably the worst time this could have happened.  We still have a good amount of food in though, so I am not worried, it’s just typical and shows it’s always good to be prepared, or have a plan A and B at least.  Anyway, I’m not spending time worrying about that until we know more.

Generally, even though we are working our way through what is in stock in the said areas, generally there’s left overs from those and I will reuse them in something else.  Eg if we roast a (raw) chicken for a Sunday lunch, I will reuse left overs in a pie and eat one for another meal, then freeze one, so the pie goes back in the freezer in a differed “state” (ie cooked chicken, not raw) to how it came out, which is fine.  

That takes me to the title of the post, The Food Challenge.  What are we trying to achieve? An organised, prepared, useable stock of short term and long term food items which are adaptable, healthy and budget friendly.  Easy right?  I will do a separate post on supermarkets and why I believe you should have a menu plan, shopping list and shop efficiently to help you lower your outgoings.  Given everything we have in stock, there’s absolutely no reason we should be maxing our grocery budget, or even coming close, for a month or two at least.  For the record, our budget it £300 a month, which is reduced from around £600 from when we first moved in 4 years ago. 

I didn’t choose my words without giving this a fair bit of thought.  

Organised:  this is a task that can be fairly quickly achieved and is tangible.  Physically organising the freezer, fridge and pantry which are they key elements in this challenge, is something I can be getting on with.  It doesn’t stop there though, once they are organised, how do they stay organised and how do we benefit from them being organised?  Keeping an inventory is key here.  That makes this task a little bit more time consuming and if you can get a helping hand to either write the list as you go through the items, or vice versa then that will save you a bit of time.  I’ll set myself aside some time to do this and report back.
Prepared:  this is a reference to a few different things.  I need to be prepared (and organised) with regards to menu planning, writing shopping lists, doing the weekly shop etc.  Also it means preparing ahead, getting up on a morning and taking tea out of the freezer, batch cooking, taking time to prepare meals ahead.
Useable stock:  what is the point of having a tub of quinoia, pearl barley, blue food colouring and eastern spices if I am never going to use them?  Over the years I have been pulled in to advertising, expensive recipes, following the ideal and impulse buying.  Not any more.  Everything we have in stock needs to be useable.  That may mean I have to be inventive with recipes, avoid others, think differently and so on.  That’s fine, bring it on.  I like the idea of having almost a capsule wardrobe pantry, does that make sense?
Short term and long term:  to me, there’s a obvious need to have fresh and non fresh items.  Dried, frozen, pickled, preserved, whatever it may be.  What is the ideal amount and what benefits can we get from both?  Time will tell.
Adaptable:  Something that will not work for us as a family is restrictions.  We eat at 6:30 on an evening, after we have done the jobs outside and caught up with each other.  Sometimes though, something happens, chickens escape, the wind has blown down a fence, the greenhouse takes longer to water and then everything gets shunted along time wise.  Tea needs to go from a 45 minute Aga time to 15 minutes.  Instead of making lasagne with the ragu, I’m going to heat the ragu and throw it on top of some quick cook spaghetti or penne with a garlic bread.  See what I mean?  I may have some dump bags (idea adapted per The Batch Lady slow cooker) that I can use as a stir fry, or to add to longer cook rice or short cook noodles.  So for my family, adaptability is key.  
Healthy:  I guess this speaks for itself.  One thing that was important to us when we moved here was moving to a more healthy lifestyle, food and drink included, where I cook as much as possible from scratch.  That doesn’t mean we won’t eat fatty food or drink red wine, far from it!  It about a balance and as long as the scales tip in favour of the healthy, I’m happy with that.
Budget friendly:  2020 is about minimising our outgoings and I can not see that ever changing.  Why would you want to spend more than you needed to?  For us, it’s to allow us to pay our mortgage off early, other people will have their reasons.  All to the same goal though. 

I told you I had given it some thought 😂.

So over the coming days and weeks I will add updates as to where I am in The Food Challenge journey.  I will share my inventories, subsequent menu plans and shopping lists, where I shop to get them and recipes for making the meals.  Please join us on this journey, we would love to hear how these things work for you guys and learn from how you do things too.  I’m planning on doing a YouTube video or two on this for anyone who is interested – I will let you know when it’s ready.

In the mean time, I’m off to start the inventory lists, which will inevitably result in a cleaning session too!  I’ll grab some pics of before and after.

What are we doing now?

I’m still figuring out what day of the week works best for blog updates.  I think Monday’s are a good starting place as we can wrap up what we’ve done over the weekend and previous week.  Let’s trial it and see.  At the moment I’m also finding our what structure I might have, so until then, it’s a bit of everything 🙂

What are we up to right now?

Well, it is well and truly back to work and school this week, so all routine’s are resumed (some in an improved fashion) and we can all go back to knowing what day of the week it is.  I remember many years ago when Steven and I were very happy to have no routine.  How things have changed!  In a good way that is.  The fact that living on a smallholding demands routine, and more so planning, is something that is all to obvious the longer you live on one.  I bet many other people and places can relate to that too, not just smallholdings.  Running a family, working full time, being a stay at home mum, caring for people, looking after animals – it’s all so much easier if you have a routine and a plan. 

Sunday night saw me updating my files with the design of the main veg plot, and using RHS’ 4 year veg crop rotation (legumes, brassicas, potatoes, onion/roots then back to start) to plan what can go in the beds this year.  Inevitably we have beds that it doesn’t make sense to grow “that many” of something, so these will become the beds where the crops that don’t need to follow rotation will go.  Squash, the prolific and much loved (a’hem hated) courgettes, cucumbers, French and runner beans, sweetcorn and salad).

Veg plot planning

We haven’t bought any seed potatoes, spring planting onions or garlic yet.  We will probably look to do it at the end of January.  Ideally this year, we will have early, salad, main crops & lates so that we have as much coverage through the year as possible.  To be fair, our main crop from last year are still going well, despite the mice’s best attempts.
Something that has become obvious over Christmas is that Jack too needs a plan.  We give our kids jobs to do around the smallholding.  Be it looking after animals (feed and water) or clearing the table to making your own packed lunch (as much as possible) and so on.  Annie, our bullmastiff, very much appreciates all we do for her and gives us lots of cuddles in return!

This weekend we decided to cut back the apple trees in what we call the orchard.  It’s not a huge orchard, a handful of old, established fruit trees which we have rather cautiously taken one or two branches off in the winter before.  However, last year they took over but bore no fruit, so we promised ourselves we would be ruthless when it came to cutting them back for 2020 fruit.  Below is one of the cooking apple trees that has been prolific in previous years.  Fingers crossed it comes back well this year. The photo is before and I don’t have an after shot, I daren’t show you! 😉

The mice I mentioned before, the ones who ate the potatoes in the shed.  Well, Steven built that shed and we knew there wasn’t a single crack or hole in it and we couldn’t figure out how they were getting in!  Well I think the mice are rats, as we found the hole when giving the shed a clean out this weekend.  You’d think it had been done by machine looking at it, but you can see the teeth mark on it.  Bloody things.  Rat trap going down and the hole will get covered.  They get everywhere!

Speaking of shed’s, this one we bought a while ago to house poultry.  I can’t remember what it was at the time, however now it’s for chickens.  It’s getting too small though, as we had a shift around this weekend after processing 10 cockerels.  That left us 4 hens from that hatch that could go in with the other hens.  More room was needed so Steven ingeniously cut some nest box size holes out of the wall of the shed and moved the nest box from inside to outside, giving them extra space.  They roam during the day and just us this space for laying eggs and perching at night.  A great idea!  We’re going to do the same on the other side too as there’s a fair few in there now and no doubt they will all want to lay glorious eggs at the same time come spring!
 
Adding the nest box
From the inside, we will see if they need bigger holes
Some hens couldn’t resist having a sneak preview
Happily perching on the night 🙂
Another job that got done was the cleaning out of the goose pond and IBC tank that feeds it.  Both in dire need.  Unfortunately, the pond water has since dropped, so there’s a hole in the liner.  We will have to get another one as the water will be used by the geese and ducks when we set up our new area.  This is on the jobs list but not an immediate issue as the geese have alternative options and we don’t have the ducks yet. 

A long pipe connected to the IBC tank, held on by yours truly, helps the water make its way to the pond
A fine specimen 😉
This post is turning in to “what has Ste done”  – I do more than just take photos honestly!  For Christmas, Ste got lots of tools that he’s now having a play about with to see what he can use them for, making lots of little things like this in the process!

 
So what have I been doing.  I managed to get a freezer inventory done of the big chest freezer and of course we had loads of things that I’d forgotten about and will shortly be making an appearance on the menu plan.  I’ve also draft menu planned a good few weeks ahead, easily once you get in to it as for example we had lasagne the other day and I won’t be adding it to the plan for another 4-6 weeks ish, as we will have other pasta dishes on “pasta day” in between, plus with it being SO calorific, it’s a once in a month or so treat.  We’re both cutting back, as is everyone no doubt, after Christmas, so this kind of rule setting helps with that too.
I’ve decided on a framework for the menu plans, which helped dramatically.  For example Monday’s is a curry night, Tuesday’s will be fish or stir fry (Sunday left overs?), Wednesday’s is pasta or rice based, Thursday’s casserole/stew, Friday is a bit of a free for all such as gammon, chops, steak (yeh right), burgers etc.  Saturday is always a fry up at lunch then family teas on knees, easy meal & Sunday for the most part it is roast at noon and soup/farmhouse bread for tea.
Thanks to my dear friend Lou (visit here), I’ve got myself a household notebook together and am getting myself in order with writing everything down.  The freezer inventory, menu plans, shopping lists, outgoings and expenses, to do lists, jobs lists, daily routine lists, veg plot planning and so on.  Just talking these things through helps.  So although there isn’t a lot to show outwardly, I’m busy busy.
This week, we have managed to save some extra pennies unexpectedly, only small amounts but every little helps, so they will be put to one side instead of being consumed in to the wider pot.  We have set ourselves a financial target of what we would like to save this year, starting from zero.  I won’t be sharing figures in that respect as it’s all relative.  %’s would be better I think.  So we are at, 0.01% 🙂 
I wanted to share with you the below picture which I stopped to take when I came in the other night, I’m so proud of the space we have created outside (Steven again!).  It looks cosy, is very practical and hopefully will add value to the smallholding if we ever move in to another chapter 😉

The dream is becoming the reality with each week that passes (including menu plan!)

I’ve been working on the menu plans now I am full steam ahead with the veg box and Tesco decision.  I will normally update this post type on a Thursday, but this week it’s Friday seen as though we’re just getting going.   Veg is delivered on a Wednesday, each week.  Items delivered will be seasonal and I’m working a menu plan based on the delivery contents instead of shopping to the menu plan. 

Wednesday veg box cost £26.27 and contained:

Veg box (£13.50) contents:  Milk, cheese, cream, salad bag, tomatoes, plums, oranges, bananas, sweet peppers, new potatoes, onions, broad beans, carrots.

In addition to the Standard Box I bought:

1 x RAW MILK 1ltr (Emma’s Dairy) £1.50

1 x SEMI-SKIMMED MILK 2ltr (Emma’s Dairy) £1.79

1 x SKIMMED MILK 2ltr (Emma’s Dairy) £1.79

1 x CREAM – DOUBLE 500ml Acorn £2.02

1 x RED LEICESTER CHEESE (Lye Cross Farm) 245gm £3.27

Plus delivery of £2.40.

The menu plan to use these lovely items is as follows:

Wednesday – Slow cooker beef with veg patch and veg box veg and mashed potato. Leftovers – make pie and freeze/use mash in potato cakes.

Thursday – 12 egg frittata with bacon tomato & cheese, potato cake, salad (veg box) and veg patch radish with salad cheese.  Leftovers – Lunch on Friday/after work snacks

Friday – Veg plot cauliflower cheese soup followed by veg box broad bean, Feta & Spinach Pie with veg box salad

Saturday – Bacon & Egg buns/Sausage buns, meal out (not takeaway and once in a blue moon!) with visiting family on night but home for pudding of strawberry shortcake with extra thick double cream.  Saturday extras – Make quiche/flapjacks/meringue/shortcake & sweet potato soup.

Sunday – Diced beef in gravy, veg patch peas if any, veg patch cauliflower, broccoli & cabbage with veg box carrots & new potatoes.  Use onions in gravy.  Strawberry shortcake if any left or strawberries with meringue (made Saturday) and cream.

Monday – Shakshuka with sausages served on plain flatbread or with pittas (never made this before, looks yum).

Tuesday – Slow cooker chicken curry with rice and naan

 

The plums will be eaten fresh and also used in a chicken, leek and plum pie for the freezer/coming meal.  The cheese, milk and cream will be used in some of the above meals, breakfast and in general everyday use.

In addition to the veg box, every Friday I will get my Tesco delivery of fresh items that The Organic Pantry don’t sell.  Each week I need food to cover the weekend’s guests that drop in (bacon, cakes to be made etc), my daughter’s packed lunch items for the coming week (son doesn’t have them), the weekly basics and top ups of items that have ran out such as flour, treacle, toilet roll etc.  Today’s Tesco shop includes:

6 small pork pies – £2

Deodorant £1.5

1kg Jam sugar * 2 £4.16

Sweet potatoes 5 –

Apple juice cartons * 2 packs £1.6 (check as coming up as £1.95)

Rolls * 12 £1

2.5kg potatoes £2

Oats 1kg £0.75

220g Cherry tomatoes £1.50

600ml dbl cream £1.5

30 pack shreadded wheat £2.18

Bananas £0.80

Bubble bath (Christmas hampers) £1 each * 2

Shortcrust pastry £1.50 (Yes, I know).

8 pack Blue ribands £1.69

Lunchbox malt loaf singles £1.35

Mixed fresh peppers £0.85

Mushrooms £0.90

Tuna 4 pack * 2 £4.98

Choco snaps * 3 for offer £3 check this too

More bananas £0.90

Mild cheddar stick £1

Baking butter £0.85

Carrots (horses) £0.45

Squeezy yoghurts * 2 pack £2

 

This allows me to put together 5 packed lunches for Grace, afterschool snacks (pork pies, yoghurts), breakfasts for all of us for the week, soup basics and some quiches for my lunch/teas.

If you’ve managed to get to the end of this post without falling asleep, I salute you.  I would like to say, to avoid any comments that may question it.  Yes the veg box scheme and milk is more expensive than going to Aldi or Tesco.  Yes I could save more money buying the same items in there.  No I don’t want to do that.  However we do have a budget and we stick to it.  We want to be able to eat locally and seasonally whilst supporting as many local businesses as possible.  This helps us and does my part for them too.  Ideally we want to be self-sufficient but know that we can’t be entirely due to our lifestyle of having to work (for now).  This is a big learning curve for us here on our smallholding and we are embracing every minute of it.  Happy Friday everyone 🙂 xx

PS some pics of how things are coming along.  I will post about them in another post but I don’t like non picture posts, especially on a Friday!

This is the muck heap I threw the old supermarket potatoes in that were destined for the bin/compost otherwise and they’re growing!!

Eating or cooking?  No idea.

More apples, eating or cooking I don’t know.

Plums?

More plums?
Definitely plums!
A redcurrant bush hiding at the back of the orchard which seems to be thriving well on its own!
Our first harvested onion 🙂 We also had potatoes but they went too quick to get a photo.

Aren’t they growing?  Adorable!

I was being spied on by the neighbouring cows when letting the ducks out this morning.

A new week

As much as I still get the Sunday night, work the next day feeling, I do enjoy the start of a new week. New plans, fresh ideas and a full week to fit it all in.
Tonight I have planted a few earlies in the ground after they have been chitting for a few weeks. I will do some more next week.
The tomatoes that were leggy are now planted up to their first true leaves. I hope this works. I am super pleased with how everything is doing so far. It’s really exciting!!
Still no goose eggs but we’re heading into March so fingers crossed for some soon. I near people saying they have had their first of the year already so we remain very hopeful.
The chicks are getting huge and already showing individual personalities. They make me laugh daily.
Food wise I have under ordered potatoes, that much I know already. I also forgot ripe banana and only ordered ‘keep me’ ones! All learning for the next order.
Happy days on our smallholding.

1 week and 2 sleeps!

Time is flying round now and thankful we are for that too!  I normally hate wishing my life away but Friday 15th January cannot come quick enough!

I have made a couple of little splurges cash wise.  We are lucky enough (some would not agree it was lucky!) to have inherited an Aga with the farmhouse.  It is a 2 oven, special edition one which I posted about here.  Therefore in anticipation of this, I have treat myself to an Aga gauntlet and some bake-o-glide.  The research I have done shows that both of these items are must have, lifelong companions when you have an Aga. 

Also my husband has bought an Aga toaster for the kitchen which is like a wire tennis racket that the toast goes inside and you ‘grill’ it on the hot plates.  According to Agaliving, there is no cooked breakfast or toast quite like an Aga one.  I shall keep you posted on whther or not I agree!

 
This week we have been moving items from my vacant Uncle’s house where we are currently staying, to my parents’ house.  We are going to make the final move from there as it makes more sense to have everything in one place.  They have kindly let us store lots and lots of things at their house whilst we’ve been waiting. 

The van is booked for moving day and we’re waiting to hear where we will collect the keys from.  No doubt we will be sat ready to go from 9am and the reality is it will be nearer 3pm before we get the keys!

I’ve also been in touch with the company who are delivering our stables and they are on track for delivery the Tuesday after we move in, as is the bedding for the horses.  The hay and straw has been requested for delivery but I am waiting to hear back from the farmer to see if he can deliver that week.  Once we move in and get to know the neighbours, we intend to see if there is a supplier from the immediate area but for now I have found someone who is recommended but slightly out of the area.

My brain is full of ideas that I can’t wait to put in to practice.  One idea that I’ve tried with intermittent success is menu planning, which I am in the process of doing.  I need to stock our new pantry up, over time, and this will begin with the first food shop.  I am getting it delivered to help myself but weekly shops after the initial one, will be done at Aldi.  All menu plans and shopping, including prices will be recorded. 

For the remainder of the ideas, I hope we don’t fall in to the trap of trying too much at once, but we’re just so excited!