January 2011


I got a couple of interesting emails over the weekend from people who had some concerns about their preps. One woman wrote that she had been snowed in for a couple of days. She found herself with a closet full of food and nothing to eat. Her husband, who has never been much on board, used this to point out how silly it is to stock up as it’s impossible to manage without access to a supermarket anyway. What he meant was that, without bread, the tuna is useless. Without milk or butter or cheese, many foods just don’t taste good.

This got me to thinking about staples. I can tell you what I do although my way is absolutely not the only way.

I store three cases of long-term storage milk. With a good quality powdered milk, I can make cheese, yogurt and, of course, have milk for drinking. I also store some chocolate milk powder as I consider some chocolate a staple.
I store some commercial canned butter but, as it is really expensive, I started canning my own. It’s easy to do. Now I’m not claiming that the texture is perfect but it’s not too bad. I plan to can some ghee to.
Bread can be a problem if you don’t routinely make it or if your power is out. But nothing is more flexible than bread. If it’s 11:00 and you need bread for lunch, try some flat bread. You don’t need yeast or an oven or much time. You can make biscuits or cornbread or dumplings or any number of other bread things that will do.
I like to make cheese but it’s not something that everybody wants to tackle. Hard cheese can be stored for a long time if dipped in cheese wax. You can also purchase canned cheese but, again, price is a problem for me. I can my own cheddar cheese and find it works really well. I use my canned cheese in omelets, sauces, in fact any place I would use block cheese. I have some dried cheese powder. Let’s just say I would have to be mighty hungry before I would ruin my delicious broccoli with it.
Eggs are no problem if you have chickens (do you store chicken feed?). But a lot pf people don’t know that eggs store at room temperature for many weeks. I would not store commercial eggs for as long.
Wheat is one of those things that lots of people store but they aren’t as useful if you don’t have a grain grinder. I store a lot of wheat. I grind about 12 cups at a time and store it in the freezer. That way I always have whole wheat flour without having to worry about grinding it at the last minute. I also store a lot of white flour.
Don’t forget sugar, salt, syrup, and some goodies like pudding mix. It’s easy to make the mixes and store in mason jars with an oxygen absorber packet. Of course, you should always check out local sources for staples if at all possible.
Thinking about meals rather than food really helps. So if supper is going to be spaghetti you need the pasta, some sauce, cheese and some kind of crunch. Carrots will do. If you want chicken and dumplings, you need canned chicken, a gravy, carrots and peas and the fixings for the dumplings. Macaroni and cheese, tuna casserole, omelets, chili, quesadillas, all can be made from storage food. Try them out with what you have on hand before the power is out.

I got a good deal on hamburger on Friday so I got 6 pounds and canned it up on Friday night. I started at 3:00 and planned to be done by 7:00. It was closer to 8:30. I forgot to add the time for letting the canner get to pressure and then to let it drop. Nothing is ever as easy as you think. I have a good canner but I sure do wish I had gotten the bigger one.

I’m listening to the coverage on Egypt. There are real problems with food delivery over there. Oil prices are up here. Things are getting ugly. If ever a reason to be prepared was needed, this kind of thing certainly provides it.

In going over my seed and food inventory, I also made a “gotta have it list”. I have only a couple of things but they’re important ones and, in some cases, exspensive.

Plans for making a still: This is an easy one. I just have to pull the info up and print it out. Now that I’ve put it up here, there are no more lazy excuses.

Big Berkey water filter: This is one of the expensive buys. I get complacent becasue of our water system being pretty good but I think everybody needs one of these.

Tattler Lids: I just made my count yesterday. I have friends who, I believe, want some too so we’ll be putting in a big order next week.

Solar shower: Again, no excuses. A quick stop at the sporting goods store. I’m giving myself until next week.

More canning jars: I finished my inventory. I don’t need many but I would like more wide mouth jars. It’s hard to believe right now as I have so many sitting empty but this is not the case in September when I could well be scrounging for them.

Cheese press: I got the information on making hard cheese but I need the press and more cheese wax. We have access to good milk around here and, during the spring glut, I need to be making cheese. I live about 10 minutes from the New England Cheesemaking Company. I’m giving them a call this AM and ordering the wax and the press.

Pump and Seal. I love my Food Saver but it relies on electricy. The Pump and Seal gets good reviews and it isn’t too expensive.

I had a very interesting conversation with my dear friend, Sheri, last week. Sheri is very smart and never fails to make me think. We talked about buying “stuff”, even stuff that “saves energy” or “preps for the future”. It all enters into this stream of comsumption and disposal. I must confess that my “gotta have it” list used to be a lot longer. After my talk with Sheri, I cut out several things that were really not necessary, just remarkably cool. In fact, looking at my list now makes me wonder about putting the word out on Craig’s list and Freecycle. Maybe somebody has a case of wide-mouth jars or a used solar shower just sitting around, looking for a home.

The heating contractor was here yesterday. He made it official. Our furnace has seen its last days. We knew we had some problems but they have now reached the critical state. Better to replace it now than wake up in the cold. Unfortunately, the hot water heater needs to be switched out as well. This is due to chimney problems rather than hot water problems but it to is also 25 years old and terribly inefficient. We hate to see them go, especially the hot water heater as it has a manual pilot and runs even in the absence of electricity. I sure we can find another model like that. As long as the contractor was here, he took a look at our gas parlor range and gave it dinosaur status. He says we can up the efficiency by 30% if switch it out. It’s a lot of money but I think we have to do it. In the spring, we’ll be getting the chimney rebuilt too. We want a wood back-up stove and that isn’t going to happen safely without the chimney repairs.

Just as I was feeling all gloomy about the huge expense, I checked the mail. My seeds have arrived!!! I spent a lovely 1/2 hour just sorting them out and reading the names, like a litany to good food and good weather. Spring will come again.

I’ve been reading some FEMA reports that states that they are looking to source 14 million meals in the event of the New Madrid fault letting go. It makes me very happy to know that in the event of a crisis, I will be eating my own home-canned chicken stew with home-made bread, pickles and applesauce rather than a cold MRE in a pouch.

In my case, it’s a basement, one that I let get out-of-control cluttered. I go through about 1 dozen canning jars a week. I stack them in a box and take them to the basement promising myself I will get them put away properly later. It’s a lie. The same goes for the cartons of canned fruit I bought on sale, and the baskets I got at the tag sale and the high chair my grandson outgrew. The candle making equipment? Oh Yeah. I put in the cabinet. But it was a mismash of molds and wicks and assorted tools and boxes of wax. So, as Friday was a snow day And I had nothing else pressing to do, I got myself dress in my grubbies and tackled the mess. Now I can pretend that the space looks great; it’s your basic 1860′s kind of cellar with stone walls and a compliment of spider webs and low ct hanging duct work but it looks pretty darn good. The jars are organized by size, the food all organized and rotated. I found a place for the high chair and even the candle making supplies are neat and tidy. It was good work. I like to accomplish something when the results are so obvious and make my life easier. To reward myself, I went shopping.

Gasp!!! Choke!!! You must be joking!!! But I’m not. I went shopping at our little, general store and bought, wait for it, books! Honestly. I’m an addict. I have had my eye on a couple of books for weeks now and, as I got paid for some workshops I presented, I bought all of them. I got:

Basic Butchering of Livestock and Small Game. We have only butchered chickens and it occurs to me that having information on other animals would be a very good thing.
Cider: Making, Using and Enjoying Sweet and Hard Cider. We make a lot of cider and I want to learn more about the process so I can expand what I do with it.
Preserving Food Without Canning or Freezing; Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage and Lactic Fermentation. This is what I’m reading now and it’s got me all jazzed up for spring.
Tending The Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources. I was not excited about this one. It was chosen as the read for my permaculture’s book group but it looked too academic and too West Coast centric for me to get excited about. I began it on Friday evening and was so engrossed, I finished the 60 assigned pages in just a couple of hours. The book now has highlighted sections, notes in the margin and sparked a conversation with Bruce about the role of religion in the destruction of the planet and feminism, two subjects not even talked about in this work but it’s that kind of book. I love it when a book raises questions and makes me dig deep for answers.

I also treated my family when I finished the basement. I wanted to use up some of the food I found lurking in forgotten corners so I mixed up a batch of quick bread. I rather made up the recipe so I can’t sure of exact measures but this is what I came up with.

Carrot/Pineapple Bread

1.5 cups of carrots ( used some carrots I had dehydrated so I rehydrated them. The were not shreds but small chunks. You could use shredded carrots.
1/2 can crushed pineapple with the juice
3 large eggs
a bit of lemon juice (a tablespoon or so)
1/2 cup applesauce
1/4 cup oil
Beat this together really well
In a separate bowl, sole stir together
1.5 cups of mixed flours. I used some whole wheat, white, oat, rice and soy. It was just bits and dabs of what was left in the bottoms of some jars in the pantry. Just make sure you have 1.5 cups.
1 teaspoon each baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and 1/2 teaspoon each cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. I added some crushed nuts and some raisins and some dried apples. Now mix everything together and bake for about 55 minutes in loaf pans. I ended up with two big loaf pans and two tiny loaves. The batter was pretty runny. I maybe should have added more dried apple to soak up some of the moisture. The loaves didn’t rise much and were quite dense but delicious. We gave away 1/2 a loaf and the rest is history.

The snow is beautiful, deep and pristine. My girls have another snow day which I don’t mind at all. I really want to give a shout out to all of the men and women who will drive out in this stuff to go to work in hospitals and police and fire stations and all who will work through nights and days to keep the streets plowed. If I were to call 911 right now, an ambulance would show up at my door. I should mention that, around here, the ambulance drivers are all volunteers. During the ice storm, the special needs son of a dear friend of mine needed to be transported to the hospital. The road crew made a special trip to plow and sand not just her road but also her long driveway so the ambulance could make it up.

We had our energy audit yesterday. The gentleman who did it was a real pro and gave us a great assessment. I wish I could say it was all good but we need some major work done around here. It’s nothing we weren’t aware of but the work is more pressing than we realized. We have some old wiring that needs to be replaced before more insulation can go in the attic, the chimney needs work and the furnace should be replaced. We also found a big leaks in a flat section of roof that has allowed the insulation to get very wet. The roof needs to be replaced and the insulation as well. These are big (and expensive) jobs but we are going to bite the bullet and get them done. The outdoor jobs will have to wait for spring but we’ve already made call to contractors for the other things. Bruce is mighty handy but some things are beyond the scope of his abilities. OUr goal is to get this place as tight as possible and to get all of the systems up to code. Then we can tackle the water issue. We have town water but we want to get our old well back in use as a back up. Again, not a cheap project but the security of having our own water, independent of the grid, is priceless.

I had a question about my favorite herbal books. I like Rosemary Gladstar’s book, The Family Herbal and Medicinal Plants Of North America. I hope to take some classes this year. We have a good herbal medicine school close by the the timing never works out for me. Maybe this year.

I just called about cheese making classes too. I am so lucky to live in a place where I have access to these classes. I want to learn about hard cheeses.

38 years ago today, I got married. It was a sit com of a wedding. The building my wedding dress was being altered in had a fire and I didn’t even know if I would have a dress or not. The band we hired broke up the weekend before the big day and they had to make do without a lead guitarist. The shoes that had been rented with the tuxes were wrong and the groomsmen wore hiking boots down the aisle. We had an ice storm and the photographer never showed. In spite of it all, the show went on.

Things were very different in those days. There were no destination weddings, no wedding planners. We got married in our church, had a meal catered by the Ladies Society and drove to Florida for our honeymoon. In keeping with the wedding theme, disaster 101, it was cold and rainy and I got stung by some noxious sea creature. I returned home with a delightful case of food poisoning and spent three days in the hospital, amassing a bill that seemed overwhelming at the time. Still, married we were and married we remain.

We have had ups and downs. They seemed unique to us but were in fact the normal ups and downs of most couples. We had 7 kids by birth and adoption, bought and sold a few houses. We buried our parents and saw our children married. We were present for the births of a few grandchildren and celebrated all of them. I can know about the problems of overpopulation and still anticipate the joy of holding my soon-to-be-born granddaughter.

In the midst of concern for our collective futures, I hope we can all remember to grab joy when it presents itself. I have much joy in my life and I get annoyed when it is assumed that I must be depressed or live in a constant state of fear. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love my home, drafty old barn of a place that it is, without granite countertops or crown molding. My little plot of land is precious to me. I love to plan for the location of each new tree or shrub I order. I enjoy my kids. I’m no Tiger Mama. My kids are never going to Harvard but they are kind and funny and happy. I have the best friends in the world. When I say they are like family, I really don’t do them justice. They are more than family. They’re my tribe. I’d trust them with my life.

And now I have to ask myself, how did I ever get so lucky in love. I married the nicest guy in the world. That may not seem like high praise but it really is. Bruce is honest and thoughtful and the best thing in my life. Not many woman can say that they are married to the cutest guy in the room but I can. Altogether, life is good and I’m blessed.

For a number of years, my life was devoted to caring for children who had victims of trauma and my bookshelf reflected that. I had dozens of books about parenting, trauma, mental health issues in children and autism. I had lots of early childhood ed stuff as well as general sociology and family books. But I’ve moved on and yesterday, with its snow, sleet and freezing rain was a good day for finding homes for the books I no longer use and making space for new acquisitions. I found a children’s mental health clinic that was happy to take my collection (yeah!!!) and got them boxed up. I then had the pleasure of shelving my new books. The next slow day, I want to work on system to better organize by subject. I’m reading John Micheal Greer’s The Ecotechnic Future right now. He’s a wonderful writer and I find his philosophy one I can relate too. His theory of homeostasis is very comforting.

Other new books are: The Rodale Book of Composting, Endgame, Jerry Baker’s Old-Time Gardening Wisdom, The Witch Of Hebron, Prelude, The Sheer Ecstasy Of Being A Lunatic Farmer, Home Brewer’s Garden, Tending The Wild, and a bunch of small permaculture books. This doesn’t count the cookbooks and food preservation books. I keep those in the kitchen.

Of all the things I have for preparation, my books are my most valuable. I have the self-reliant wisdom of centuries in two bookcases. If anything happens to me, my kids will have the information they need to make do. I do buy books new but I also borrow, swap, scavenge and buy second-hand. I borrow from the library if I’m not sure about a book. Reading the reviews on Amazon has saved me from many an unwise purchase. (There’s a reason a book only has one star).

One thing I have to do a better job with is keeping track of my books as I lend them out. Fortunately, most of my friends are reliable and return what they’re finished with.

The composting book was a good spend. I really need to refine my composting system. I need to add at least two more bins to the three I have so two are cooking and three being filled.

Are any of you reading anything excellent? I’m always interested in post-apocalyptic novels as well as how-to and gardening books.

There is a lot to catch up with today.
First, the Tattler Lids. I tried them out on a load of chicken last week. They’re very easy to use and sealed without a hitch. I know there are some concern about the safety of the lids (see comments from last week) but, for my money, they are still the best choice. I’m planning to buy a supply. I’ll keep the metal lids for use with dried foods and things I plan to give away. I need to try the Tattlers with my food saver and see if they work.

Next, the conference. It was very well done and my workshop had terrific attendance. I took an afternoon workshop on seed saving, something I know little about. Like most things, there is more to it than meets the eye. I save some seeds now but I want to get more proficient and I would love to noodle around with plant genetics and maybe cross some heirloom tomatoes and see what I get. I learned more about both process and theory and now need to get another book on the subject. The one recommended is Seed To Seed. My neighbor, Heather, offered me her copy as she doesn’t plan to use any time soon. Bruce took workshops on Colony Collapse Disorder and on harvesting and using beeswax.

The one thing that bothered me just a bit was the price of some things. There was lard for sale for $20.00 a quart and eggs were $6.00 a dozen. I don’t know if that is the going rate around there but I couldn’t afford it. I’m mighty glad for my little flock of layers.

I only came home with one thing. I got a copy of Make Your Place: affordable,sustainable nesting skills by Raleigh Briggs. It’s a sweet little hand-written book that’s self-published and had some great recipes in it. It was only $7.00. I could have spent more on books but I restrained myself.

The best part of the conference was meeting other people doing what I’m doing for all the reasons I’m doing it. Farmers on the outside, cheerful preppers on the inside.

I don’t usually do this but I feel compelled. I have been reading about Tattler reusable canning lids. I finally gave the company a call and they sent me a box of regular and wide mouth lids to try. There are about the coolest things ever. I thought the rubber ring needed to replace after use but not so. Both the lid and ring can be used for decades if reasonable care is used. Good thing number 1. I have lost the occasional jar of food to the rusting of the metal lid. High acid food is the worst offender. As there is no metal in the lids, there is no rust to worry about. Good thing number 2. This is a pretty small, American company and you get to talk to a real person when you call. Good thing number 3. I can buy the lids in bulk by mail order. They cost more than regular lids (about $20.00 for 3 dozen plus shipping) but as you never need to replace anything, the price is justified. There is also nothing to fill up the land fill. Good things 4 and 5.

Of course, I already have cases of regular lids in storage but I will still use them for food I plan to give as gifts and for use with my vacuum sealer. Actually, trying the Tattler lids with my food saver is on the agenda, right after I can up a load of chicken today. There is a learning curve with these lids and the sealing process is a bit different so I want to practice. The lovely young woman I spoke with suggested I can up a load of water to practice with but I’m feeling pretty confident. I’m going straight to chicken. I was offered several boxes of lids to give as freebies on this site but I don’t want to pursue that until I try them and can give an honest testimonial.

My next commercial break is for a Neti Pot. I never used one before. I thought they sounded creepy but I’ve had this nasty nose since the middle of December ( you wanted to read about that with breakfast now didn’t you). I finally decided to try the pot out of pure desperation. It worked great and I felt better after the first use. I will be sure to keep an extra one of these around.

One final thing. I’m doing my chicken differently today. I have had some trouble with the fat preventing a good seal a few times. I boiled my chicken last night and today I’ll skim off the congealed fat before canning. I also started wiping the rims of the jars with a mild vinegar/water mix to cut any fat that might be lurking. I want a good, tight seal that can’t be opened without using a can opener to break the seal.

I’m looking forward to the NOFA conference in Worcester tomorrow. I hope to learn lots that I can share here.

We are socked in today. I remember when a day like this gave me the willies as Bruce had to make the hour plus commute to his job, no matter what the weather. This is better. We’ll read ,play some board games and maybe watch a movie. It will be a good day and not too cold. We will probably even get the snowpeople repaired. They’re looking pitiful.

Bruce went to a local library to watch the documentary, The World According To Monsanto, last night. He returned pretty upset. We know that there is little we can do on the macro level but much we can do on the micro. We have a list of products and vendors that I need to post on the refrigerator and reference before I go shopping. I’m reading more about saving seeds. It isn’t easy, especially for biennials and plants in the squash and corn families. It’s easy to say that people have always saved seed but they did it at a time when they didn’t need to worry about what their neighbor was growing. It’s a whole lot harder now.

I have a dehydrator load going. The fruit leather I made in the fall is long gone and I miss it. There is actually a benefit to drying leather now. The heat is welcome and I’m not fighting the humidity. I’m not rushing around trying to get the garden to bed and the meat in the freezer. I have a couple of trays of squash drying too. I like dried squash. It takes up so little space and is a breeze to fix. I’m starting to lose some butternuts to decay now and drying is a good way to save it. I did put a few bags in the freezer too. If I could be sure the power would stay on I would cook up more now but we have a lot of heavy snow out there.

I just scheduled an energy audit. Our house is old and drafty and we can use all the help we can get.

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