Suburban Pioneers

The Adventures and Misadventures of Homesteading in 21st-Century America

Lauren: Top Eight Easy, Healthy, Less-Processed Substitutions Anyone Can Make December 18, 2012

1. Coconut Oil or Olive Oil instead of Canola or Vegetable Oil


According to, coconut oil’s health benefits include:  “hair care, skin care, stress relief, maintaining cholesterol levels, weight loss, increased immunity, proper digestion and metabolism, relief from kidney problems, heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV and cancer, dental care, and bone strength. These benefits of oil can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, and its properties such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial and soothing properties.”

Now that’s good stuff.

Tips: Coconut oil is usually solid unless it’s kept in a really warm place. Use as a solid to saute or place the jar in warm water to turn it into a liquid.

You can also massage the oil onto your body as a moisturizer or into your hair to help combat dandruff.

2. Whole Wheat Flour instead of regular white flour


Regular white flour is often bleached as well as highly refined (a.k.a. processed), which causes it to loose nutrients. I use regular whole wheat for breads, white whole wheat for muffins, roux, pancakes, etc, and whole wheat pastry flour for cookies and desserts (Seriously! You can’t even taste the difference!).

See this article for more information on whole wheat.

3. Honey, Molasses, or 100% Maple Syrup instead of white granulated sugar


I mostly use honey as my white or brown sugar substitute since molasses has a distinct taste and real maple syrup is pricey. Here’s more info on honey.

Tips: When using honey in baking, use 1/2 a cup of honey for each cup of sugar called for in a recipe, reduce the liquid in the recipe by 1/4 of a cup, and set your oven 25 degrees lower than the directions say.

4. Whole Grain Pasta


This is a super easy switch to make and you get used to the more wholesome taste.

Tips: Look for 100% whole grain.

5. Natural Peanut Butter


A lot of the peanut butter on the market has hydrogenated vegetable oils, sugar or dextrose, and salt. All you really need is peanuts!

Tips: Steer clear of ones that say “Natural” and then add more ingredients like palm oil, etc.

6. Recognizable-ingredient (five or less) snack foods


Let’s be honest. Sometimes you just need an easy go-to snack. The ingredients for Triscuit Thin Crisps are: whole grain soft white winter wheat, soybean oil, salt. And the Unique Pretzel Shells include: Unbleached Wheat Flour, Canola Oil, Salt, Yeast, and Soda. These break some rules (the oils) but are a lot healthier than most other snacks on the market.

7. Real Butter


Real butter doesn’t have all that hydrogenated fat. Go organic if you can. And if you’re able to find butter from grass-fed non-hormone-treated cows, that’s even better.

Here’s more on butter versus margarine.

8. Brown Rice in place of White Rice


White rice undergoes a process that removes most of its nutrients. Brown rice has only had the hull removed so most of the good stuff is still there. And we like the good stuff:)

Here’s some more info if you’re interested.

That’s it. Most of these substitutions don’t cost all that much more, if at all. And your body will thank you. It’ll be like getting a massage. . . on the inside. . . sort of. . .


Lauren: Chickens October 2, 2012

Filed under: Chickens — lkcook20 @ 3:42 pm
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I want chickens. Bad. I hear they make great entertainment–and need I even mention. . . Fresh eggs!

I would love to be able to walk into my backyard and pick up a freshly-laid egg. And clean it off, of course, because apparently they don’t come out looking like they do in the grocery store. I don’t want to get too graphic, but if you are unschooled in chicken anatomy (like I was), let me share what I learned: the great manure chickens produce doesn’t have a separate exit ramp. . .

A year ago backyard chickens weren’t a possibility for us since we live in a small city. But the urban farm movement is surging and seven hundred city residents signed a petition for bees and chickens in the city. The council people had to sit up and take note of that! Fast forward through paperwork, research, and bureaucracy stuff blah blah blah and the ordinance was up before council for a vote.

A couple of weeks before the meeting the city chickens and bees Facebook group  asked people to email their representative to express support. I wasn’t sure who my representative was so I emailed. . .  all of them. Can you tell how political I am? To their credit, they all emailed back asserting their support. The only details left to iron out were setback limits. This was an important factor since city lots tend to be small and deciding on something too high would make owning birds and bees an impossibility for most residents. After I emailed them all once, I wrote again to specify what setback number I thought was reasonable. But I gave myself away by telling them what street I lived on and they stopped emailing back since all but one weren’t responsible for fielding my fiery emails.

It felt so good to write to them. I gained a sense of pride in being passionate about an issue and doing something about it. I began to think, I could get into this local politics thing. I carried this buoyed feeling with me into the council chambers as I sat reverently on the hard wooden bench, hoping my mere presence showcased my zeal for the issue at hand.

But chickens and bees weren’t the first thing on the agenda that night. First the council had to listen to a traffic expert (who knew those even existed? He got my vote for having one of the most boring jobs on earth). He gave his findings on the traffic patterns of a particular street and what would happen if they added a turning lane here or there. The discussion droned on and on. I think my eyes started to water a little from boredom and probably sympathy for the guy’s wife for when she had to hear about his day at work. And then I knew–local politics weren’t for me. But I gave those six council people and the Mayor credit. They sat there and listened and even looked mildly interested. Not one of them (that I could see) pulled out a contraband book from their purse (or murse) and started reading it like I did, waiting for a more interesting topic to come up. (I recommend Major Pettigrew’s Last stand. It really kept me entertained).

Then I knew it was only the chickens and the bees that I cared about.

Long story short and a couple of weeks later, they passed the ordinance 6-0 so I’m on my way to owning backyard fowl.

Pickle is on the left, Turtle on the right

It’s too be determined how my rear neighbor (we’ll call her Wilma) will feel about them, if she will dislike them as much as she does Turtle and Pickle, our two bark-enthused pugs. I’ll keep you updated on my chicken endeavors (designing a coop, etc) as well as the Wilma drama sure to ensue.

Who knew dogs like to spoon?


Lauren: I’m Growing! September 18, 2012

Filed under: Beginnings — suburbanpioneers @ 6:22 pm
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If you would have told me when I was growing up that six years after I got married I would want backyard chickens, I would have said you were crazy. C-R-A-Z-Y, crazy.

I grew up in a typical suburban home in Cleveland, Ohio. There, my mother’s hobbies leaned more in the direction of Bingo rather than sewing or gardening, so I didn’t grow up knowing or seeing someone doing those things.  The first time I used an iron, the one that had idled in my mom’s linen closet for quite some time, was to straighten my hair in high school. In my defense, this was back in the day before flat irons became widely available. I got pretty good at not burning myself.

So what changed? It all started when I stumbled into the bottomless well I now know as the Netflix documentaries page. Growing up, I thought documentaries were a teacher’s way of torturing small children by making them sit through some old guy talking for an hour about the life cycle of the dung beetle. It turns out they aren’t boring like I thought they’d be and instead let me sit down and learn something new (in one hour!), a feature I especially enjoy since I have a toddler and infant at home. Oftentimes I only have one hour, if I’m lucky, when no one needs to be fed or held or changed, when no one (husband included) is asking “Want to play?” And there are only so many times I can read “In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon. . . ” before I start to crave some more challenging concepts. Not that I don’t love Margaret Wise Brown’s classic, but sometimes I need a little more.

Most people will never forget their first love, I’ll never forget my first documentary: Food Inc. 

 Food Inc. was the movie that planted a little seed in me to be more conscious about the things I am buying and what I am putting into my body and the bodies of my loved ones.  And that little seed has sprouted. Continuing on with the analogy. . . My frugality is the water that helps it grow. It’s cheaper in a lot of ways to make your own cleaning spray or new skirt or graham crackers (more on those later). I prefer the term thrifty rather than miserly.

In short, I am in love with becoming more and more self-sufficient. Then I can make things exactly the way I want them with the ingredients that I want. Hmm. I think am starting to sound like a control freak. I don’t think I really am. Let me explain. Sometimes I have this daydream about what would happen if there was an apocalypse and then I envision how I would handle it. My husband usually daydreams about being a hero and saving people and I daydream about being the last ones on earth. (I really am a happy person. See this? That’s me.) Anyway, then in the daydream I list off the things I could do/make myself and try to gauge how well I could take care of my family (we all survived the apocalypse, of course). So in trying to defend myself about being controlling, I’ve let my weirdness show. Oh well. It was bound to come out sometime.

Now I find myself dreaming (a happier dream) of a little farm with goats, chickens, a pot belly pig (as a pet; they’re so cute), a huge garden, and a root cellar full of food I’ve canned. But I am not sure when (or even if) that will happen. Right now I have to be content with turning my little bungalow in a small city into a little urban farm and teaching myself how to make things myself.

I wish my porch still looked this clean.


Sarah: It’s been a long road… September 17, 2012

Filed under: Beginnings — suburbanpioneers @ 4:29 am
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Colorado, the place I get to call “home” for now

…and it runs from the South where I grew up, across an ocean, halfway across another continent and back, and west across the States, finally ending in Colorado, where I have found a temporary home.  I’m referring to the road that brought me to Suburban Pioneering.

Here is what I considered healthy food growing up. Note the distinct lack of anything pre-processed.


Mine was not what you would call an auspicious beginning.  Though my mom could (and claims she liked) to cook, she could also recognize a losing battle when she saw one.  When it was clear that my dad and sisters and I preferred macaroni and cheese to anything leafy or green, she hoisted the white flag and confined family dinners to spaghetti night (noodles generously topped with Prego) and taco night (all toppings stuffed into a pre-made hard taco shell).  I don’t think I’d ever eaten a bell pepper until my husband, who’s from California and considers pepper de rigueur at every meal, forced the experience upon me.


If you’ve ever lived in the South, you know that we Southerners like our “bought air” (as my grandmother called air conditioning).  A lot.  Most restaurants make it their goal to freeze the sweet tea in everyone’s glasses (saves on making ice).  We also like to drive.  We like our indoor malls (Chattanooga, TN, my hometown, boasts one of the larger ones in the South).  And we like fried things.  Fried chicken.  Fried pickles.  Fried Coke.  Fried Oreos.  I’m serious.  This passes for food.  If this intrigues you, by the way, you can find the recipe here:  All things considered, the South isn’t really a breeding ground for Suburban Pioneers.


Then I got married and went to Europe.  My husband, Keith, and I have a penchant for combining stressful life events (see upcoming later post about buying and remodeling a house while having our first child).  So, 6 weeks into our fledgling marriage, full of boundless optimism and naivety, we went to Slovakia to teach English.


Slovakia is that country next to Austria.

We lived in Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital city.

“You mean like Czechoslovakia?” people ask.  Yes…sort of.  Only 20 years later than what they’re thinking, since the Czech Republic and Slovakia split amicably in the early ’90’s.  They are now two countries, though Slovakia’s more like the poor step-child, since the Czech Republic got more of the industry and commerce that had been built since the end of communism in 1989.


In any case, living in Slovakia helped us to make more sustainable lifestyle choices–namely because there weren’t any other choices.


We rode the bus everywhere.


There was no dryer in our apartment, so we hung all our wash to dry (see my upcoming post on the proper use of drying racks).


There was no air conditioning (we learned that, in Europe, when the temperature does happen to rise into the Fahrenheit 80’s or 90’s, people just strip down and loll about their apartments…or sunbathe nude, whichever strikes their fancy).


Our apartment also was only one room, so there was a lot less to heat.

our living room/bedroom/closet/study in the Bratislava apartment

our galley kitchen in the Bratislava apartment


And, though a tomato looks pretty much the same in any country, packaged goods do not.  For nine months of that year, I thought Slovaks made all their own soup because I couldn’t find any cans.  Turns out they just have packets of soup mix instead.  But I didn’t know that at the time, so I learned to cook from scratch.


It was easy to live making less of an impact.


And then we came back to the States.  It’s a lot more difficult to live as a Pioneer when you have a lot of choices.  And it takes a lot more self-discipline.  I’m not always good at it, I confess.  It’s easy to fall prey to the temptation to cut corners by buying paper plates for a cookout (though I draw the line at styrofoam!) or using saran wrap to cover those leftovers.


The one thing I can say is that my food choices, at least, fall more automatically into Pioneering ways.  Last time I tried to expedite the cooking process by buying some Campbell’s tomato soup, I couldn’t eat it.  No amount of spicing it up could conceal the sickly sweet taste of corn syrup.  There are some things that, once embraced, cannot be relinquished.


But overall, it’s a day-to-day challenge for me, in the midst of working and keeping the house (not very) clean and raising my daughter, to be as sustainable as I would like to be.  I don’t fool myself into thinking that I can save the world by washing out Ziplock bags or composting my kitchen waste.  But this is part of how I try to live faithfully and responsibly.  It’s about fostering an attitude of caring and attention.  It’s about at least noticing that there are choices out there.  This blog is one way of holding myself accountable to keep trying.  Keep trying, my friends, in spite of the mishaps…that’s all any of us—or many of us, for there are thousands of Suburban Pioneers out there trying to make more sustainable daily choices—can do.


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