Natural Living Des Moines

Freezer Meal Groups by sarahtar
October 17, 2011, 12:26 pm
Filed under: Food

Good heavens, this one has been in Drafts for 2 years!!

Putting together your own freezer meal group is not difficult. I’m not going to pretend that I had anything to do with our group – I just show up and cook! But the steps to forming a group are fairly straightforward.

– Decide whether you want to cook together (which my group does, because we enjoy the fellowship) or just meet to exchange already-prepared meals. Cooking together requires at least one member to have a large kitchen and plenty of cooking stuff.

– Decide how many families you think is manageable. Our group has found five families to be just about right – it’s enough to get a nice variety of meals for the group, but not so many that we each end up cooking for an army every month.

– Decide if you want guidelines on what is and is not OK for your group. Our group encourages local and organic, but does not require it. We have certain convenience foods forbidden (“cream of” soups, for example).

– Decide how you want to handle food issues. Our group doesn’t include anyone who’s completely gluten-free, for example, because gluten-free cooking can be a challenge (and icky-tasting) for those not choosing/required to cook that way. When my son was having dairy sensitivities, I didn’t ask anyone to change anything for us, but leave out cheese toppings if possible, and to just let me know if a recipe had dairy in it so I could fix him something else on the night we ate that meal.

– Decide who you want to invite!

Of course, if you’re cooking at someone’s house, everyone should be sensitive to the chaos that brings to that person’s home. We’ve had varying levels of willingness to help clean up afterwards over the years, but I always try to make sure that all dishes are washed, all ingredients put away, etc. before I leave the hostess’s house. Also, each member is encouraged to remember their own freezer bags or casserole dishes, but of course there are times we have all forgotten, so we tend to take turns restocking our hostess’s supplies of these items.

And another point that should be obvious but I’ll point it out anyway – watch how you handle food! Assuming everyone in your group has at least rudimentary food handling skills, the main risk with a group that gathers to cook together is handling the completed meals after they are finished but before they hit the freezer at your house. Throwing warm meals into a cooler that won’t make it to your freezer for another several hours isn’t going to cut it! Either bring a boatload of ice or stop on the way home and get some!

The second point of risk comes when you’re reheating. Set your food in the fridge to defrost (not the counter) and make sure you reheat thoroughly.


Not sure what to cook for your freezer meal group? Do an internet search for Once a Month Cooking, Freezer Cooking, or similar. Most recipes for casseroles will lend themselves nicely to the freezer, but pasta and rice both need to be handled slightly differently if you’re cooking for the freezer vs cooking for eating right away. (undercook pasta, and undercook rice but add extra liquid.) Soups always make good freezer meals, and things like pot pies, hand pies, etc. are also delicious out of the freezer.


I love my freezer meal group! No, our family hasn’t loved every meal from the group, and we’ve eaten a few bits of some meals and thrown them away, but by and large, the meals are good, they’re a nice change from what we eat regularly, and it’s LOVELY to have a variety of dinners, pre-prepared, in my freezer for busy nights.


Respect those who make choices different from you! by sarahtar
October 4, 2010, 10:45 pm
Filed under: Food

I had been working (mentally) on a post about respecting the choices of others, particularly with regard to farming practices. Between The Big Show (on WHO Radio, which I do listen to on occasion), green bloggers, a few farming/ranching blogs, and a lot of foodie blogs, I’m starting to get very, very tired of all of the bashing going on. Conventional farmers feel they have to put down natural/organic farmers to stay competitive. Natural/organic farmers feel they have to put down conventional farmers as part of their marketing to promote their own product. Foodies inevitably prefer the natural/green products and end up criticizing the conventional farmers.

The question I’ve wanted to ask many of these people, particularly the natural/green folks (of which I am one) has been “Have you ever met a conventional farmer and discussed farming with them?” Because, if not, then maybe you ought not be sitting there saying “conventional farmers this” and “conventional farmers that.” Conventional farmers are not evil incarnate. Most conventional farmers are doing the very best they can to produce a high quality product – and they succeed. They are hard working men and women trying to earn a living and support their families. They are, in fact, my two uncles, my grandfather before he died a few years ago, several of my cousins, my great-uncles, my second cousins, my aunt’s in-laws, and the entire community in which I spent my summers as a child.

As I was working on this, Shanen Ebersole over at Ebersole Cattle Co posted a very excellent article titled Rancher Respect.

Go read her post, and then I don’t have to finish mine!

Can foods help increase your protection from the sun? by sarahtar
August 30, 2010, 12:33 am
Filed under: Food

I found this article interesting, particularly in light of a conversation I had with a friend towards the beginning of the summer. Despite the fact that we rarely put sunscreen on our fair-skinned children, they don’t tend to get sunburns.

Sun Protection Through Your Food.

Nutrition experts believe that foods like olive oil, fish, yogurt, and fresh fruits and vegetables, especially colorful ones, might be a good way to complement other important methods of sun protection, including the use of sunscreen and wearing properly protective clothing.

The Iowa State Fair by sarahtar
August 13, 2010, 8:37 am
Filed under: Events, Food

It’s Fair time! (This is an update/edit of an article I wrote in 2008)

I’m not going to pretend to know everything about this subject. I spend very little time at the Fair. Usually one day each year.

I’ll be honest…part of it is that the State Fair kind of disgusts me these days. The freakishly giant animals. Those poor pregnant and laboring mamas locked up for noisy onlookers to stare at in the Animal Learning Center. The fried food. I the year I turned 30 was the turning point on that one. Suddenly, the idea of eating hot fried food when it’s hot and I’m walking around in the heat just didn’t seem to make any sense. I just wanted something HEALTHY!!


There are healthy food choices at the fair, but they are of course still the more mainstream ideas of healthy. (In other words, not organic, possibly not local.)

  • Salad on a Stick. However, I have heard more people criticizing how difficult this is to eat than commenting on its taste.
  • Regular salad in a bowl is available various places. The Iowa State Fair website has a list.
  • The Salad Bowl, which is in the agricultural building and also the cultural center, has salads, wraps, and other non-fried foods.
  • Many places have fresh fruit. Again, the Iowa State Fair website has a list. Applelicious is one of our family’s favorites. They have several stands, including one outside the Varied Industries building. They have cut up apples with caramel, and they’ll omit the caramel if you wish.
  • Vegan fairgoers likely already know about the veggie corn dogs from the Veggie Table, north of the varied industries building, close to the KIOA beer tent. (Unless it’s moved in the 10 years since I brought out of state vegan friends to the fair…)
  • Omnivores can find healthy meat choices at the various Producer tents. (Pork, beef, lamb etc.)

Non Food

But the fair isn’t just about food. What else can you do to make your State Fair a little more natural-minded? Here are some ideas. Our family doesn’t follow all of these, just so you know.

  • Park at one of the handy Park and Ride locations and take the shuttle in to the fair. (personally, we still drive in and park in the parking lot, as we need ready access to the car. we always perform at the fair, and then need to change our clothes and stash our performance-related things in the car so we don’t have to haul three heavy bags around with us while we stroll the fair.)
  • Bring your own reusable water bottles, filled with water. Depending on how many people you have with you, think about bringing a hydration pack (one of those nifty backpacks with a giant water bladder inside).
  • (not related to natural living, but a good tip nonetheless: pack a cooler with ice and bottles of water. Leave it in your car. When you’re all hot and exhausted, you’ll have nice cold drinks waiting for you for the drive home.)
  • Be mindful of the amount of waste you create, and for goodness’ sake, put your garbage in the plentiful garbage cans.

Please feel free to post your favorite natural living at the fair tips in the comments!

Here’s a great idea for someone to run with by sarahtar
April 19, 2010, 7:44 pm
Filed under: Food, Related Websites, Think About It

Not me. I have too many ideas I’m running with already, lol.

Apparently, in some counties and cities in the US, local governments are turning over abandoned lots for urban farming. Particularly in communities where there are numerous vacant properties that revert to city or county ownership, this seems like a great use of otherwise wasted urban space. Many of these vacant properties are located in neighborhoods where the local population may lack good transportation and yet they might live a fair distance from grocery stores. Establishing small urban farms in these neighborhoods solves several problems – the neighborhood doesn’t have eyesore properties, the locals learn good skills, and they also obtain a good food source.

Example: Genesee County Land Bank in Flint MI.

Makes me wonder if Des Moines could start some sort of program like this. I know funding’s tight right now, but I bet that this could be done very inexpensively, and it would save costs in the long run, potentially. (though with the city’s stellar record of late with responsible use of taxpayer money, I guess it’s hard to say.)

Farm City by sarahtar
April 19, 2010, 4:29 pm
Filed under: Books, Food, Home and Garden, Urban Homesteading

Last month, on a road trip with my extended family (more accurately, my husband’s extended family), I had a chance to read Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. It’s available at the Des Moines Public Library.

I will say, once I got past the first chapter, I really, really enjoyed the book. It’s a light narrative that talks you through the joys, frustrations, learning experiences, and successes of a busy urban farm in California. It was like sitting down to a long chat with the author.

In addition to chickens, the author kept ducks, turkeys, pigs, bees, and I think possibly a few other animals, as well. She killed and processed the fowl herself, which impressed me quite a bit. She fed the livestock largely on scraps (or at least that’s the impression I walked away with). Many of these scraps came from refuse bins at local restaurants – and her descriptions of their foraging trips have inspired me to find a dumpster or two to dive into myself for my own chickens.

I will say, though, her descriptions of keeping the bees made me rather less eager to give beekeeping a try. They got stung. A lot. And not while tending to the bees – just while living. Apparently, the bees liked it inside their apartment. Hm, no, thanks.

Novella, during the time of the book, was able to farm on a deserted lot that bordered her apartment’s lot. She was a squatter, but she also had permission from the landowner. I did end up wishing that I lived next to an empty, sunny lot whose owner would allow me to garden there! The trick in Novella’s case, though, was that she was living/farming in a rather impoverished part of town, and so the lot’s owner had a fairly difficult time finding anyone who wanted to build anything on the lot. I’m not likely to have that issue in my neighborhood.

One item that continually irked me throughout the book was the author’s mentioning of people’s political leanings – most particularly, anyone who somehow didn’t live up to her standards and who also happened to be (or was presumed by the author to be) a conservative. It was interesting – I’m not sure, for example, how one’s political identification affects one’s willingness to return phone calls in a timely fashion.

Regardless, this is a pretty good read that I’d recommend to anyone. I picked it up after what seemed to me to be a rather lukewarm mention in the Urban Chickens Network blog, expecting something completely different. I was pleasantly surprised. AND this made for a perfect read on our trip.

Local Meat – it’s so important. by sarahtar
February 10, 2010, 8:40 am
Filed under: Food

A repost from the Love made the Radish Grow blog. (with a few edits to make it more relevant to this blog)

What the real focus of that discussion should be…

By Abby

There has been a lot of hubbub here lately in several of the Real Food Media blogs I read about a slight scandalous moment for a producer/sponsor of theirs: US Wellness Meats. I haven’t taken any side on anything, but after reading several blog posts both for and against the purported issue at hand (lactic acid spray used in the processing of the meats) I think there is a more important issue at hand, one that we hope to really push home with our own real food challenge (in the works-keep watching for more details). That is, yes you should eat meat. Yes it should be grass fed or pastured, at least for the bulk of its life.

But even more important: you should buy locally and from a farmer you know and trust. I think that relationship is what gets left so, so, so often in these discussions. Yay US Wellness uses a lot of small farmers to provide their meats. Yay they’re grassfed. But, unless I can talk straight with that farmer and go visit, and it doesn’t take me more than an hour, hour and a half to get there, I am failing.

Real food should be in season. Real food should be something as local as possible to you as you can bear. I admit, we use things like coconut oil and chocolate in our household. If push came to shove, we could cut them out. But they aren’t causing as much of the food related problems in this country as big ag is. US Wellness (or at least their supporters) push that they are not big ag. My beef producer breeds, raises, hauls and has witnessed the processing of my beef. My beef gets processed by mom and pop lockers where they depend on loyal customers and word of mouth to continue in their business. Oftentimes you run into a whole family working in one part or another when you walk in. I can ask any question about the processing of my animals and get straightforward answers.

Can you follow your beef from birth to your table in person? What is the name of the farmer who raised your beef (or any meat for that matter)? Where are they located? What breed of beef are you eating? What happened to all the parts you didn’t care to purchase from that animal? What is the name of the locker/plant it was processed at? Did you pick it up, or the farmer, or did a third party get involved?

Real food should focus on locality as much as it focuses on tradition. Tradition was based on what was local and in season.