The Real Value of a Home Cooked Thanksgiving Dinner

Last night as I was driving to physical therapy I saw a sign at the Big Boy restaurant in town, it read, “Turkey dinners On Thanksgiving Day, $8.99 per person.” I thought to myself in my 5 p.m. tired fog, I am doing this wrong. Taking my son and family to dinner would cost us about $36.00, plus drinks.


A fun Thanksgiving game of dominoes with our grand daughter.

Today as I processed the idea overnight I began to realize that my special order organic 9lb. chicken at $4.00 a lb. that the chicken alone equals the monetary cost of the meal advertised on that restaurant sign. Add to that expense the cost of organic; potatoes, carrots, stuffing, Seven Superfoods Salad ingredients, corn bread, Jell-O w/ fruit (for my 6 yr. old granddaughter), two vegetables and dessert, cider, lemonade, cider and tea. And I quickly realized that for many cheap food is a real and deceptive lure.

Add to that my 2015 Thanksgiving Schedule:

Monday: Make the shopping list and grocery shop.

Tuesday: Make the Jell-O and Seven Superfoods salads and bake the pies.

Wednesday: Clean house, change tablecloth, makes the table arrangement and set the table.

Thursday: Get up early to cook the food and entertain the family.

And yet the flip side to this coin is the reality of what a home cooked meal prepared with love truly means. As life gets busier and busier, welcoming family and guests into the warmth and security of our homes for the day is becoming a lost art. But I feel it’s an art worth pursuing and keeping.

Because we use locally raised foods, we are not footing the bill for transporting ingredients across the country or around the globe. So it takes less fossil fuels (or energy) to cook a locally sourced meal at home. Studies show that it takes double the amount of energy to process, package and transport food than it does to grow it

Because we have control over what we are cooking and eating our meal will be more nutritious with less salt, additives and empty calories. Food we cook a home is just plain healthier and the cooking process itself empowers us to make heathier choices.

Cooking at home is also better for the environment as there is less food waste and fewer tossed out items like food wrappings and paper napkins and tinfoil cooking pans to enter the waste stream.

It’s a terrific way to teach introduce children to new dishes as well as about the taste, texture and pleasure of well-prepared food. This process turns the time spent together in the kitchen or dining room a family bonding experience.

The real truth is, the food I cook at home just tastes better. Once I began eating “real foods” I quickly recognized the difference between what I was now eating and the “dead food” taste of the foods in my past.

Their is also the pride I feel when I plan and cook a great meal at home and my family devours it. This is something I cannot put a price on. I know I am giving something of value to them and this is a way for me show my love for my son and granddaughter.

Because we will be using the whole chicken we have less waste. We will eat that chicken for our Thanksgiving dinner and then have leftovers to work with for the rest of the week. For us that means making a homemade chicken pot pie later on that same week, one of my husband’s all-time favorite meals

After that I will take the bones and skin and vegetable trimmings and boilthem into a rich chicken stock. This will be the perfect starting point for a pot of delicious homemade soup later on this winter.

Anything left over will end up in the compost bin and in a year or so it will be turned into wonderful soil and free fertilizer and the leftover bones and skin will be given to the chickens to peck over as a treat.

While we build the basics of a healthy from scratch meal we also build community and lifelong bonding with our loved ones. We make and keep traditions and create memories that are priceless.

The only real ingredients I need for my happy Thanksgiving are real food and my family. And I believe that cooking still matters.

Small House homesteader, Donna

The Small House in its Autumn Glory-Photo Diary

I apologize for being so out of touch lately. Fall is such a busy time of year for us at The Small House that the outdoor work just takes over our lives. Hopefully I can make up for fewer blog posts of late with some interesting and lively photographs sharing the beauty of our homestead in the autumn.

We’ve had a hard frost already here in SW Michigan. Hard enough that it froze my remaining potted annuals and tender hydrangeas but once again the weather has turned warm. In these parts we call these warm days, our Indian Summer. I am enjoying the warm sunshine as are our animals who love to lay in the warm dirt and dust or nap.

Small House under bog tree USE

Our small house under the big SW Michigan sky. 

The surrounding woods are taking on new shades of reds, yellow and amber thanks to the cooler nights. There is a vivid beauty about the countryside now that stirs my soul.

HORZ turn around coop in rear USE

This bed, with its ornamental grasses and mum’s really shines in the Autumn.

As those of you who homestead know; this time of is year we call “The Crunch Time” or “The Fall Rush.” I imagine that you are working as hard as we are to gather the last of the vegetable harvest, to close down the gardens and get the animals and their pens ready for winter. These seasonal chores plus my plantar fasciitis, physical therapy and various doctor’s appointments have kept me on the run.

While I honestly prefer a more home-center, slower-paced way of life, I know I must take care of my health right now and that means many appointments in town and twice-weekly working out.

Mums foreground trellis grasses USE VERT

The billowing and blowing grasses are among my favorite native perennials.

The fruits of our labor can be enjoyed in our perennial gardens right now. Native perennial plant, stones hauled home from farmers fields and roadside ditches, mingle with my carefully chosen plantings and projects all lovingly built and maintained, that shine during the Michigan fall. I enjoy every season here but if I had to choose my favorite, I think it would be autumn.

Fencegate raspberries USE

The fenced-in black raspberry patch is one of our chicken’s favorite runs.

Here is a peek at the Small House Homestead this week in all of our lovely fall glory.

Bird grden shrub and birdfeeder USE

Shrubs and feeders provide food and shelter for our beloved songbirds.

Fence and pool shack USE

Our non-working in-the-ground pool resides nestles up against the forest edge.

Gene cart Rhodies on straw USE

Bales of hay will block the winter winds to the chicken run and coop areas. Then next spring these bales will be broken down for mulch in the garden.

Pole barn under sky USEThe chicken condo complex is nestled under our majestic White Oak trees.

Meadow nice USE

The pool shack, meadow grasses and the wood lot in late October.  

North west side of house with hydragneas geen

Our 1950’s era ranch-style home. Yes, that is an old-fashioned TV antenna not a UFO!

Pool shack fall USE

The pool shack storage shed with our home in the distance.

Fence and pool shack USE

The pool complex, storage shack and garden.

I hope you enjoyed you enjoyed a taste of fall on our homestead.

Small House homesteader, Donna

Amish Chicken Thighs/Mushrooms/Green Beans Sautéed in Cast Iron Pan

I love cast iron pan cooking and am thrilled it is experiencing a true renaissance. I received several cast iron frying pans in 1970 for a wedding gift and have been cooking with them on and off ever since. There is something special about the way food tastes when cooked in these pans. And I know I am not ingesting any plastic coatings while using them.

Chickens musshroom in the pan USE

Home cooked food simmering in the pan on the stove top. YUM!

I added a Lodge cast iron dutch oven to my collection a few years ago and this had become my most used pan. I can cook anything in the deep bottom pan and I use the top as a griddle. I bought my two-piece set at Cracker Barrel and paid around $50.00. You can find out more about this company that works out of South Pittsburg, Tennessee by going to their website at It’s also fun to scout out old cast iron pans at sales and shops and bring them back to usable condition.

If you like the history of places and people the way I do you will find the history of the Lodge Company and foundry intriguing too. Find that here:

Our current favorite meal is Amish chicken thighs cooked in our deep cast iron pan. This is a recipe I have developed over the years through trial and error and I change it out depending on what fresh vegetables I have on hand in the fridge or growing in the garden.

Plated on white cutting board USE

Because we do not eat our own chickens (I can’t eat my pets!) I have been buying the Amish grown chickens in the grocery store. I vary between baking a whole chicken in the winter months, grilling chicken breasts or stove top simmering some tender dark meat thighs.

When I make the thighs on the stove top I start out by simmering onions, peppers, and fresh from the garden green snap beans. While those are simmering in the cast iron pan, I prepare the meat and make up some water and flour gravy. After the onions have turned translucent I lightly braised the meat. After the meat is lightly browned I add a small amount of organic chicken broth to keep the meat from sticking. Some days I add cut up carrots, grape tomatoes halves, zucchini slices or whatever vegetables I have on hand from the garden. I also added ground pepper, my home-grown dried and crushed basil, caraway seeds and a tiny sprinkle of pink mineral salt. This time I had some wonderful organic Portobello mushrooms buttons in the fridge so I added slices of them for the last 10-15 minutes of the cooking process.

Today I served this chicken dish with cooked potatoes (my husband loves his potatoes with butter!) and sliced and marinated fresh tomatoes. I passed on the potatoes and still I felt fully satisfied.

Amish chicken beand tomatoes potatoes

Chicken, beans and mushroom w/tomatoes and basil and potatoes with butter!

Enjoy this tasty meal on us!

Small House homesteader and amateur cook, Donna


Sautéed Amish Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms

  1. Brush on olive oil in cast iron pan.
  2. Add one small onions sliced into rings
  3. Add fresh sliced red peppers to taste
  4. Add one cup of fresh cut up green snap beans
  5. Cook the beans and onions until the onions are translucent.
  6. Add chicken thighs (fat cut off)
  7. Lightly sautee both sides of the thighs to brown them and seal in the juice
  8. Add fresh ground pepper, caraway seeds, crushed basil or any herbs of your choice.
  9. Feel free to add carrots, zucchini, summer squash or tomatoes if you like.
  10. Add 1/3 cup of chicken broth (or water) to keep chicken from sticking. Gently pry up chicken pieces as you turn them.
  11. Make up light gravy using water and flour and add to the pan.
  12. Continue to sauté for about 30 minutes or until both the chicken and vegetables are cooked through and tender.

Add the sliced mushrooms approximately 10 to 15 minutes before you plant to serve this dish.


The Heat is On: Photo Diary week of July 6 – July 13

The heat is on in SW Michigan and on the Small House homestead too.

House and barn under the Oak Trees USE

I’ve been hauling hoses to water the garden beds and the vegetables. I put down another truck load of bark chips this week though I am not sure how many more loads I’ll be doing this summer due to the rising heat and humidity…perhaps more come fall.  The mosquitoes have been very thick here on the homestead this summer from all the spring rains which means gearing up in mosquitoes mask, long sleeves and pants.

Herb garden studio in distance USE

I am still working every morning painting the chicken coop pieces and parts though the bulk of it is now painted. I have been teaching the three-month old RIR chicks to go up the ramp into their new coop.

IBarn front-side close view

The garden is growing slow this year due to the cool nights though I’ve started harvesting more lettuce greens, a few cherry tomatoes and a single yellow pepper. I did fertilize the tomatoes this week with my bath of comfrey tea I made a few weeks ago.

Vegetable garden  7 11 15

Album holder flower pot for 2015

July and August are lighter outdoor work months for us because it’s just too hot to take on new large projects and we are also pretty fried by July as well. I have a long list of projects I want to accomplish in the house during the hot months anyway. I need to file, find a replacement door handle for the three season porch and research a new pole barn door as our old one is showing signs of failing. And at some point this summer we have to have the river rock floor in our porch cleaned, repaired and resealed but that project has been waiting for real hot weather and no rain.

Garden view out backporch slider

We are hoping for rain and cooler days ahead.

Working area


Gene holding snowball USE

Small House homesteader, Donna

Our Homestead’s Photo Diary – July 1-8

It was an active July 4th holiday week at the Small House Homestead.

Little Miss Firecracker

Our granddaughter is all decked out for the family reunion.

This week’s highlights include; a little bit of fishing and swimming,  attending a family reunion, our first harvest of lettuce from our vegetable garden, a visit from our 6-year-old-granddaughter, three broody Cochin hens finally becoming un-broddy and more progress on the Rhode Island Reds chicken coop addition.

Brenna chicken with feather art USE

Art projects involving chicken feathers and tissue paper.

I am sharing some photographs from our home-centered homestead week with you. Enjoy!

Brenna cleaning chickne ladder USE

Brenna cleaning off the chicken ladder.

Girl Power 2015

Girl Power on the chicken coop extension.

Three Amigoes dusting eating

The broodie girls taking a break with watermelon.

Fishing Expedition 4 some

Gene and some friends went fishing.

Grandpa pounding in the shims

The covered run was opened and the new coop was slid in. The RIR pullets will soon be able to exit into the covered run or the open run.

Girls ready to jump USE

New friends came to play.

Happy Holidays!

Small House Homesteader, Donna