October 2009


The Saudis have a saying about going from camel to car to jet to camel that has to do with the futility of an expectation of exponential growth. We have similar sayings but for most of us the myth is that continued, constant growth is both possible and necessary. My father walked 5 miles to school and it was uphill both ways. I went to school on a bus, my son drove his own car and his son will go by personal jet pack. My father never saw a doctor, I saw the first polio vaccines, my son has had the benefit of excellent medical care and his son will have  a health care plan designed around his DNA that will prevent all future illness and allow him to live well into his 100′s. My father knew real hunger during the depression, I ate Wonder Bread, my son has access to foods from around the world in all seasons for prices that in no way reflect their real costs and his son will eat a wide variety of enhanced foods that will be palate pleasing, nutritious and cheap enough to feed the masses. My father dropped out of high school to help feed his family. I went to community college after my children were born. My son went to a state college. His son will attend an Ivy League school. You get the picture here. We all want the best for our kids and the best is generally translated as more than what we had. Sorry friends, but I don’t think so. There is not enough stuff left to go around. A lucky few may well have all of the good stuff they want but the odds are that a whole of other people going to do without in order for that to happen.

I am planting trees that will not bear well in my lifetime but my kids will eat the fruit. I am beginning a honey business that has some significant start-up costs associated with it but may provide my kids with a way to earn a living. I am investing in my community so it will remain a good place to live. I am investing in my home so it will be available to provide free shelter for my kids and their kids. I am building permaculture gardens in order to assure a healthy, stable food supply for future generations. My library holds the wisdom of generations of gardening and animal husbandry experience. I am accumulating tools rather than hording cash, buying land rather than new cars, acquiring experience rather than enjoying leisure. I am writing all these things down so my great-grandchildren will know they were loved, even before they were born.

I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of our new readers from around the country and around the world. I say our readers because the pleasure of this blog is that is enriched by the experience of so many who write such useful comments. We are certainly a diverse bunch. I really appreciate the level of respect in your posts. I want all to feel welcome here, no matter what your belief system is.  As the old meditation goes, Dear Lord be good to me. The sea is so wide and my boat is so small. We share the boat and we need each other.

Rumor has it that today’s GDP numbers will show that we are out of recession. Say what? I fear that any recovery is based on cash for clunkers and the $8,000.00 housing gift. I also think any recovery will be short-lived as we run into energy problems. I hate to sound so negative but I still think we are in economic trouble in this country and it is not time to break out the credit cards and start spending just yet.

Financial preparedness is just as important as having food and water on hand. We all know the steps to getting out of debt. It is a no-brainer to keep track of your spending and pay off your high interest credit cards first. But real life does interfere and there are pitfalls everywhere. Let me share a personal story. My daughter asked me to pick her up a black cape for Halloween. I went to a couple of thrift shops and couldn’t find one long enough for her so I did something I nearly never do. I went to Wal-Mart and plunked down $10.00 for a made-in-China cape. Not only did I spend money on something evil but now it turns out Karen no longer needs the cape. Today is one of those days when I will be leaving here at 10:00 and not returning for more than an hour until 5:30 tonight. The pizza parlor looks mighty appealing on a night like this. I have to treat discretionary spending like an alcoholic has to treat a gin and tonic. I have to begin my day by making a committment to resist, at least for today and I will need to avoid the places that are just to tempting for me. Avoiding the pizza parlor will mean that I have to get a meal in the crockpot. I have leftover chicken and lots of frozen vegetables for a chicken stew. Remember those mixes I put up a few weeks ago> The biscuit mix is quite good and I can have biscuits in the oven in about 3 minutes. Not pizza but healthy, quick and cheap.

This is just an aside. I ran spell check before I posted this. I find it telling that canner is not in the computer dictionary but Wal-Mart is.

I went to my permaculture group last night. It is my new favorite thing. For one thing, it’s small. Only four of us attend every meeting. We are all already growing a lot of food and have the basics down. The thing which really appeals most to me is that this is a true working group. We are working on the specifics of our orchards right now. My job for the next meeting is to research which mushrooms species are the most beneficial to inoculate the soil with. Others are researching similar ideas like dear deterrents and insect control. All of the complementary plants come together to form guilds. A guild is like a plant community. I have already learned that I can plant daffodil bulbs around the base of my young trees. This will deter the critters that like to borrow down and girdle the trees in the winter.

I had a lovely thing happen last night. The young woman who hosts the group just sold a book store and she has a ton of wonderful books. She was planning on selling them on-line. Of course, I could not resist looking through the boxes and came up with three books I had to have. The first was Gaia’s Garden, the text our group is reading together. There was also a copy of Barnyard in the Backyard and the Backyard Beekeeper’s Honey Handbook. I went to give this girl the money and she asked if I would barter instead. I asked what she wanted in return and she asked for some lessons in kitchen organization and canning. She is young and her mom died several years ago. I was so moved to be asked. I would have done it for free, of course and I offered to do so but she seemed to be more comfortable with the barter arrangement. I will make sure she goes home from our lessons with some food and cider. One of the other women who attends is an herbalist. We are doing a field trip to her house to learn to make Echinacea tincture. The fourth woman worked for years in a green house and knows about pruning grapes.

The news is so grim right now. Every day brings more violence in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan. Every day more people are losing jobs and homes. I want to be informed but I also need to protect myself. I am starting my days with a few minutes of reading something beautiful before I face my day. I will write here and plan for something joyful everyday. Even something as small as walk around the perimeter of my land will bring some peace to my day. I make sure to talk with friends and family and play with my little girl. I made her Halloween costume yesterday. The fabric came from my dear friend, Barbara. It is sweet little fairy costume. I spent a few minutes in gratitude tha Phoebe is well enough to go trick or treating and would not consider dressing like a hooker. Every year I see little girls dressed  in costumes that curl my very straight hair. Small things. Big gratitude.

For a tiny town, we have a lot of classes to take advantage of. I have just signed up for 4 new ones and I am planning to put together another.

The first three are cooking classes. One is dedicated to making food gifts for the holidays and I am thinking it will a good one as I am spending less cash each year. The other two are more basic but totally useful. I have also located a full day class on herbal health. We will learn how to prepared tinctures and infusions and also to determine which herb to use in specific situations. This is a subject I know very little about. I just hope I am not too far down the learning curve to make good use of it. We have a lot of herbal experts around here.

Tonight is my permaculture class. We are working on plot plans. I have completed my plan and Bruce got the plot ready. I was surprised at how small the plot is. On paper it looked huge.

I am not sure if any adult education classes still exist in high schools. We used to have a series of classes in things like small engine repair and cake decorating. It is too expensive to keep the schools open for those things now but Bruce still takes a wood working class at a community center. The price is a deal. Only $53.00 for 12 classes and full use of the equipment. There are about 30 offerings of classes and they are always full.

Now might be a good time to think about what you want to learn and what you have to teach. Many of us could use some extra income and sharing skills might be a good way to pick some up. Many churches and community centers have space to offer for nominal fees. Sewing, cooking, home repair, gardening and food preservation are all popular subjects. Our church has offered space for a sewing center and I can picture any number of classes on everthing from clothing repair to making fleece mittens.

As the economy continues to deteriorate, we will be depending more on ourselves (and each other) for things we used to outsource. Acquiring skills is an investment in yourself that will always pay big dividends.

I know that not everybody buys climate change or the premise that CO2 is affecting our planet but whether or not we agree on the cause, I expect that we can all agree that our planet is in trouble. So days set aside for focusing on our climate, our soil, our food chain, our air, our flora and fauna matter to me. I love the energy that comes with combined action toward a common goal and I love the people who share my passion for protecting the planet. Saturday was a cold, wet, windy miserable day but the day was warmed by friends and neighbors spending time together with a shared agenda. We pressed cider, make applesauce, sang and danced (we have great musicians in this town), a watched a streaming slide show of nature photographs taken in our hilltowns. The barn felt bright and warm in spite of the rain. At the end of the day, we gathered in the Warner Farmhouse to share food and reflections.

Unfortunately, my youngest child, Phoebe, woke up with a fever and cough. I took her the pediatrician and, sure enough, she has H1N1 flu, along with, it now seems, many other kids in her school. The good news is that we treated her with Tamiflu and she bounced right back after only 24 miserable hours. I will be spending the next few days keeping a low profile as I try to keep Phoebe occupied and my contacts with the outside world limited. Not that it matters in a pandemic. It’s everywhere and unless you can stay at home for the next 2 months, you will probably be exposed.

I found a source for smaller storage buckets (4 gallon) that are square and have nifty lids. They are far less expensive than the gamma lids and take up less space, not to mention being easier for me to lift. A four gallon bucket will hold 28 pounds of wheat which is far easier to lift. The company is called FiveStar Preparedness.They don’t have a web site up yet but I have a number, 1-800-734-9596. I am going to order some today and I will give you an update on service and quality as soon as they arrive.

Last night, James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency and World Made By Hand, spoke at our church. A member of our sustainability group set up the lecture. It was a perfect night for me. First, we had a pot luck dinner, featuring local foods. I love to cook and eat, not necessarily in that order, and pot lucks are my favorite meals. People tend to bring their specialties and this time was no exceptions. I am definitely making baked squash and apple casserole tonight. My friend Sheri made a squash soup that was fabulous and Barbara made and apple cake that was amazing. At the end of the evening, I planned to snag a chuck to take home but somebody beat me to it. There were not a lot of leftovers.

Kunstler’s talk was sobering. He is an excellent speaker,  funny, clear, interesting and well prepared. He has a power point presentation but does not rely heavily on it. I did not so much learn from it (I have read his work and could guess what the message would be) but he was able to put things in context. One thing was abundantly clear. You are going to have to source your food close to where you live and you will need to do it soon. he was talking in terms of 36 months, not the 36 years I think many are hoping for. He had some statistics on oil field declines that were particularly disturbing. The Mexican depletion is well under way and this does not bode well for the US. They are our third largest supplier of oil. After the lecture, James joined a few of us at my home for tea and conversation. I was a really special night.

Now on to a few other items of interest. First-my mushroom logs. When it got so cold here, Bruce and I brought the logs into the root cellar.  They fruited like crazy. I am gong to harvest and dry a couple of batches today. I would suggest you get a Fungi Perfecti catalog if you have any interest in growing mushrooms. The kits are expensive but the spawn is cheap and inoculating logs is easy. A dozen logs could provide enough mushrooms for a small family to make it worth the effort. They dry really well if you can manage not to eat them all right away. Once rehydrated, they cook up like fresh. I am putting in another  large order soon.

Swine Flu update. There was a Halloween dance planned for our high school this weekend but it was cancelled because of the high  absenteeism. As there is not enough vaccine and will not be enough in the forseeable future, I am assuming it will come too late to be useful for most of us as the epidemic is in full swing. I have medicine, soup and juice in storage as well as some herbal remedies like elderberry syrup, garlic and coltsfoot. I have also got non-latex gloves and lots of tissues and hand sanitizer. The main thing I have is food. Staying home is the best defense. There will be no malls or markets for me. a big flu outbreak will keep a lot of people home which will hurt retail during the big shopping season. I do not think this is a bad thing.

One more important thing. Tommorrowis the 350 climate change action kick off day. In spite ot the forcasted dreadful weather, we are going ahead with our plans for a party. It will be a barn party now and the weed  walk and bon fire will not happen but the rest will go on. Check out 350.org for more information. This climate chage stuff is critical for our cildren and grandchildren. We have not done well by our planet and it’s time to make ammends.

Okay. That was pretty lame but it’s early and I haven’t had any coffee yet. But I did want to do a post on yeast. I love bread and rolls and wine and brandy all manner of leavened things. Yeast, therefor, matters to me. I store it in one pound blocks in the freezer. I have read that yeast stored this way has a shelf life of several years but, ever one to want to know how to make things myself, I went looking for some recipes for home made yeast. I found a few. The one that follows seems pretty easy. Strain out 1 quart of potato water. Add 1/2 tablespoon of dried yeast, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 coups of flour. Stir this really well and let it rise in a warm place for a few hours, then refrigerate. When you need yeast, you can take out some of this starter, let it rise and use as you would a sponge. When you need more, add back everything in the recipe except the yeast and let it rise again. Everlasting yeast.

Do you have some questions after reading this? I do. How much do you remove? Can it be frozen?  How long will it keep if you aren’t using it?

One aspect of preparedness that should be in front of your mind is that you should try your preps out. It is all well and good to have a water filter in storage but I hope you have run it a few times to make sure it works and that you know how to use it. You can’t call customer support if the phones aren’t working. All of that dehydrated food should be tried, at least once so you have a clue how it works in the real world. Stockpiling canning jars is a good idea if you try canning when the lights are on. It gives me a sinking feeling when I open a box and find a seventy-five page book of instructions and warnings, written by someone for whom english is second, if not third, language.

This happened with my solar oven. It was made in India. The instructions were funny but not very useful and none of the recipes were adapted to english measurements or ingredients. I am awfully glad I had time to play with it before I was depending on it for a meal.

I do want to share a recipe today. Out little deli makes a pannini called a BellaRella. It is made with marinated portabell amushrooms, sun dried cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. I wanted to recreate the sandwich at home. First, I had to make a foccacia. I found that recipe on line. It’s one of those easy breads that only take a few minutes if you use your Kitchen Aid mixer for the kneading. I sliced the mushrooms and marinated them in some cooking sherry, tamari, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I let the foccacia rise for about 20 minutes then rolled it our on a cookie sheet. It was about 1/3 inch thick. I baked the bread in 450 degree oven and slid the mushrooms in with the bread. I just left them in the marinade and they cooked up nicely. While the bread and mushrooms were cooking, I rehydrated the sun dried cherry tomatoes in some hot water. I put a couple of tablespoons of the marinade in with them as well. When the bread was cooked but not brown, I took it out of the oven. To assemble, I cut the bread in squares ,about 3×3. Then I layered bread, mushroom slices, a tablespoon of tomatoes and a slice of excellent mozzarella and another slice of bread. Now came the tricky part as I don’t have a pannini maker. But I do have a waffle maker so I used that and it worked like a charm. I just squeezed the sandwich in the waffle maker until the cheese melted a bit. I know this sounds tricky but It was actually pretty easy. I probably helped that I have eaten dozens of these and had an idea of what one should look like. A glass of wine while you’re making these might make you less anxious about the results too. What I love about this recipe is that it all could be done with storage food. I have made good mozzarella with powdered milk. I store a lot of dried mushrooms and dried tomatoes and I have all of the ingredients for the bread on hand. Tamari, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sherry are in my pantry too. This felt special and we all ate like pigs. I also liked that it was fun and I could put everybody to work so it turned into an event with all of us sampling and giving suggestions. Dang! I just thought of another,even lamer title. Mi casa et focaccia.

I am really good about rotating my stored food supplies with one notable exception. I don’t rotate my dried beans nearly enough. It is just so darn easy to grab a can of beans. We eat a lot of them in any case and on those nights when I am not in the mood to cook an elaborate meal, canned beans come to the rescue. Last night was one of those nights. I had spent the day cleaning the kitchen and washing down all of the cabinets and I was in no shape to even think about dinner. It was so easy to mix up a can of black beans, a can of corn and a can of diced tomatoes with some taco spices, layer it in flat bread with some cheese and green house  lettuce and call it a burrito. Everybody had seconds but I had a little lingering guilt. I could have easily put the beans on to soak the night before, cooked them while I cleaned and had plenty for dinner as well as beans to eat for the rest of the week. For whatever reason, I tend to not do it.

The thing is, in a crisis, I am going to want the canned beans. They take almost no energy to prepare and are so versatile. It makes sense to use up the dried beans for everyday use. There is also the money issue. Canned beans are about twice the cost of dried, even when I get the cans on sale. so what to do. The obvious answer is to can my dried beans.  I have done it before and it is just as easy as canning anything else. Soak the beans overnight in plenty of water. In the morning, drain the beans (save the water for your plants) cover with cold water by 2 inches and boil for 30 minutes. Pack hot beans in hot jars.  Ladle the cooking water over the beans in each jar. leaving an inch of head space. You can add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt if you want. Remove the air, adjust the caps and process pints for 1 hour and 15 minutes, quarts  for 1 hour and 30 minutes, at 10 pounds of pressure. I am going to do pints as I can fit 14 pints in my pressure canner. as I can do two canner loads at a time, I can have 28 pints finished in just a few hours. If I do this once a week, I can fill up my storage shelves with a years worth of canned beans in a few weeks. I have so many extra jars and this is a better use for them than just storing them empty.

Another positive here is that I can can beans in the late autumn and winter. The garden push is over and the heat is welcome addition to the kitchen. I can do a couple of batches of beans and a few of nuts on those days when I am looking for a project. What better way to spend a day?

This is just an aside. I was in the supermarket this week and found a big rack of marked down kitchen items. I got my 18-year-old foster daughter a set of dishes, complete with flat wear and glasses for under $7.00. I also picked up a lot of things like can openers and measuring spoons for $.50 each. These things are going in the nesting box she is getting for Christmas. Her large gift is nearly complete thanks to this sale and I only spent about $15.00. I know she is going to be delighted with this stuff as she is looking forward to living in her own apartment in another 18 months.

This is such a tough subject to tackle. I suppose that’s why I avoid it. How do you get your family on board with a preparedness program when they are really, REALLY not interested? I have a bit of experience here as my DH is nowhere near as concerned for the future as I am. I have to walk a very fine line if I want him to be part of the process and not turn him off to the whole thing.

I did not begin with my most dire predictions. Instead, I began with the most likely scenarios.

First:

You know I have been concerned about being without power for any length of time, especially for the kids. We live so far from town, I really hate to think we would be stuck here and not have something truly necessary like toilet paper or milk. I’m thinking I will get some things ahead and keep them in the spare room closet.

Next:

I am finding that I am saving quite a bit by buying so many things in bulk. Now that we have the membership to BJ’s, I’m going to look at my grocery list and see what else would work in bulk.

Then:

Dont’ the hurricane lamps look nice on the table? I got some extra fuel for them too. It’s up in that empty closet in the den. I hate relying on candles when the power is out. They really aren’t safe.

How about:

Can you believe what happened to that poor family who got stranded in the storm? I made a list of what they should have had with them. If I get one or two things a week, we could have the car outfitted in just a few weeks.

These might be good starting off points. I found that it helped to make sure my family knew that the meal they just raved about came from storage. For us, that’s often food we grew or foraged so it’s pretty easy. Think about a meal of crab cakes, peas, home made fries and home made rolls. The peas should be dehydrated rather than canned as canned peas are vile. Make the dessert something spectacular like apple pie.

Fortunately, a lot of our friends are on the same page as I am and Bruce was indoctrinated by osmosis. He isn’t the type to worry but he is now a least willing to admit that the economy probably won’t recover overnight and that having a deep pantry is a good inflation hedge. We also lived through the ice storm last year and I know that Bruce was pleased to be able to help neighbors who were not prepared. I think he was a bit surprised at just how well prepared we were.

The one thing that won’t help is to turn preparedness into a power struggle. When push comes to shove, your family is your best resource. Maybe you could tell your significant other just that. I’m worried about the future. There is so much that could happen that would leave us at the mercy of some government agency, one that may or may not arrive. But I don’t want you to be unhappy. Could we compromise on this? Could we get to a minimum level of preparedness and see how it feels? If it doesn’t really interfere with our regular life, maybe we could do more. This matters to me but you matter more. I can’t make any promises but it will certainly work better that fighting about it.

I have a busy week coming up. On Thursday, James Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency and World Made by Hand, is coming to speak at my church. A member of our sustainability group set this up. I am looking forward to hearing his thoughts on relocalization. Like many others, I was first introduced to Peak Oil by Jim. I am hoping for a full house to hear what he has to say.

Saturday is the kick off for the climate conference in Copenhagen. We have planned a big party with cider pressing, a pot luck dinner and a ton of activities to educate people on the impact of climate change on our planet. Again, I hope it is well attended.

I need to find some time to work on my plot plan before the next meeting of my permaculture group. This is going to be a really good group as the people coming are all workers rather than talkers. Our first goal is come up with plot plans so we can be working on garden design before it’s time to order seed in January. I have some ideas about what I want. Top on my list is a better mushroom patch. We are loving the shitakes and harvesting many dozens. I would like to increase that ten fold. We are also planning for what we will have to share. I am doing the research to find out how start asparagus from seed and will divide my rhubarb and have raspberries plants for all. Another member has strawberries for all of us and still another has blackberries. I dislike most meetings but this one is going to be worth the effort.

In addition, our little piggies must go to market. The freezer is ready and waiting.

My final thought is to invite my sister and brother to dinner, serving entirely food produced here at Barefoot Farm. I will use the dinner as my final stab at helping them see the wisdom in prepping some. Futile I suppose but one can always hope.

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