February 2011


There are many pictures of small-scale farmers out there. They generally show things like baskets of perfectly ripe produce, sweet chickens foraging around the feet of smiling woman holding bowls of pristine brown eggs and delightful children swooning over a jar of just bottled honey. You are far less likely to show a farmer beating her head against the barn because a late frost carried off the string beans, the same farmer trudging through 3 feet of snow to collect the eggs in the middle of yet another blizzard or the very un-delightful children complaining that all of their friends are going to Disney over April vacation but they have to stay home because the new bees are being delivered. All of this is leading up to the way I spent my weekend which was scooping up a mass of rotted potatoes that had frozen in the root cellar due to a defect in the air exchange system. Air exchange system is a pretty fancy term for a length of scavenged drier hose. There a probably some things that smell worse than rotted potatoes but I can’t think what they are just now. After tackling that nasty job, I figured I better write a post on the importance of spuds in your garden.

As far as bang for your buck, potatoes are as good as it gets. You can plant one potato in the earth, keep it supplied with some water and mound up the soil to keep the new tubers well covered and, in mid-fall, harvest several pounds of nutrient rich, calorie dense food. Nothing is more versatile than the lowly potato. They can eaten fried with onions for breakfast, stirred into some stock for soup at lunch, or mashed at dinner. They are also the basis for breads, pancakes, casseroles and even wine. As long as they remain disease free, you can save your seed potatoes and swap varieties with friends. I buy certified, organic seed potatoes each spring but I will admit that I’ve grown terrific crops with potatoes I got at the market up the road and even from potatoes I got from the supermarket. That was some years ago and I would not chance that now. I think they’re sometimes sprayed with something to prevent sprouting.

I used some of my potatoes to make perogies on Saturday. I want to tell you how easy they are to make from scratch but that would be a lie. Perogies are actually quite a bit of work. However, the batch I made was enough for dinner on Saturday night, lunch for Phoebe on Sunday and I froze enough for 3 more meals. I had enough leftover mashed potatoes to have fried potatoes with breakfast today and I’m making potato soup for dinner on Monday night.

The recipe is a hybrid. My friend, Heather, is a great Polish cook. I took her instructions and added a few things so they little pies are a lot less healthy but who can argue with sour cream.

For the dough.
4 cups flour
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 tbls soft butter
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sour cream

I mix the water, sour cream, and beaten eggs and butter in 1 one bowl and the flour and salt in another. Pour the liquid into a well in the middle of the salt and flour, then incorporate with your hand until the dough starts to hold together. Now knead for about 7 minutes and let the dough chill for an hour. While the dough chills, make up a batch of mashed potatoes. I didn’t weigh the potatoes but I’m guessing I used about 3 pounds. I added quite a bit of cheddar cheese and mashed it really well. You don’t want a chunky mash. You want a very smooth mixture that will roll into a ball. Now I used my pasta maker to roll out the dough into thin sheets. I went as far as #5 on my Atlas. You can roll the dough out by hand but it’s a job for sure and you might want some help. I used a water glass to cut the dough. You’re supposed to put a marble-sized piece of mashed potato in one half of the circle, then fold over but I made round perogies and just lay one circle on top of the other and pressed the edges with a fork. Children come in very handy for this part. When I was finished we dropped the perogies into boiling water until they floated (about 6 minutes) then fried them in bacon fat and served them with applesauce and garden peas, the last of the spring’s harvest. They were really good and worth the trouble but I was glad to sit down at the end of the day.

Lots of folks have jumped on the preparedness bandwagon lately. The first step for many is to stockpile food. They will run out to the nearest big box store and come home with giant bags of rice, number 10 cans of pickles and cases of canned peas. I fear that much of the money spent will be wasted, especially if they don’t know how to store the rice, have no way to use up all those pickles and really hate canned peas. This is not the time to panic buy. It’s the time to make a food plan, stick to the plan and watch those pennies. I want to outline some of the mistakes we make when beginning a food storage plan and talk a bit about how to avoid them.

1. Know how you are going to store whatever you buy. Get the buckets before you get the 50 pound sack of wheat. Have the storage space before you buy the case lot.
2. Watch your unit price. The old adage of bigger being cheaper is no longer always true. Marketers are pulling out all the stops to get you to spend more money. Packages are smaller, pricing is all over the map, specials are not always the bargain they appear and coupons are a waste of money if they make you buy something you don’t want.
3. Don’t store what you can’t eat. Gluten intolerant people should not store wheat.
4. Don’t store what you won’t eat. I know you think that you’ll eat the canned string beans during the apocalypse but why not store something you actually like. I gave my canned green beans to the food pantry where someone who likes them can use them. I now only store those canned things I really like and use. I have lots of canned pineapple and mandarin oranges and very few canned vegetables except for corn and peas as my family will eat those in soups and chowders. I dry or home can or freeze the veges my family likes.
5. Make a price book. You don’t know a good buy unless you know the best price. It’s just too hard to keep track of the prices in all the places we can purchase food without a price book. I keep the prices for staples like peanut butter, concentrated juices and rice in my little book. When a true deal is out there I know it.
6. Eat the food. You may eat the 20-year-old can of salmon if you find yourself living the live from Earth Abides but otherwise, I don’t think so. Make salmon cakes a few times a month now. They’re easy and tasty and they’ll be familiar if you have to make them more often.
7. Keep an inventory. This is not always my strong suit. But without an inventory you may find yourself lacking some crucial ingredient. You need to know when to buy another sack of baking soda.
8. Get the right cookbooks. All of those glitzy cookbooks from the south of France are lots of fun but you need to know how to cook from storage. A basic cookbook and one devoted to storage food is a good spend.
8. Don’t be the only cook in the house. Take-out pizza is expensive. Teach your children and your spouse how to prepare simple meals from the pantry. Ten recipe cards with good step-by-step instructions should be on hand. Don’t forget breakfast and lunch and a few snack items.
9. Check out multiple sources for good deals. It takes a bit more time but you will probably have to shop at multiple locations. I use a co-op, farmer’s markets, our local grocery, a natural foods store and a big box store although I rarely go to a supermarket.
10. When you shop, keep a list. It’s so easy to get off track. I shop with a list to avoid the impulse buys. I never shop hungry and I leave younger kids at home. I try to shop when I’m not in a rush and I try to shop when I’m not exhausted.

Our dollars are getting harder to come by and it’s important to think of food buying as a part-time job. If you can save $20.00 a week, that;s like earning $30.00 dollars in tax-free income. Okay. I made that number up. I have no idea how much it really translates into but I do it’s tax-free earnings. One side note is that the price of energy is already making it harder to make ends meet. I talked to a friend and we’re going to start combining our shopping trips to cut down on our gas usage. The more I can purchase at my co=op, the fewer on-the-road miles my food will cost. The more I grow, the less I buy. The less I waste, the less I buy. The more I make from scratch, the less I spend. All of this also means less waste in the landfill.

PS. I will get to the comments later today. I read of them but sometimes the answers from other readers are better than what I can come up with. A big welcome to our new readers. We have lots. I hope you chime in often. I have so much to learn.

I usually post very early in the morning but I have found myself spending my morning catching up on the news. If what’s happening isn’t enough to convince people to prepared for an uncertain future, I’m not sure what will.

I made a big batch of applesauce/strawberry fruit leather yesterday. Applesauce makes a great base for leather. The flavor goes well with most things and the texture means that much less time is spent cooking a fruit down to the right consistency for drying. I still didn’t cook it long enough and it took almost 24 hours to completely dry. The flavor is amazing. I had a couple of extra trays left so I cut up some canned pineapple and dried that at the same time. It’s fabulous! I think I’ll do another batch and try some mandarin orange slice too. I’m thinking about how good some of this fruit would taste dipped in chocolate. It has real gift-giving potential.

I did end up going shopping on Monday. I only hit the 3rd and final markdown racks and got some tremendous deals. Phoebe has all of her school clothes for next year, Karen got some basics like t-shirts and sweaters. The mall was pretty empty. A lot of elderly people were there to walk and some teens were hanging around but there seemed to be few shoppers and the ones I saw were hitting the same sales racks that I was.

The sun looks very different. You can tell that spring is out there, buried under deep snow and ice. I’m getting itchy to get to work outside. For now, I have to be satisfied with getting some inside projects done. I see we have a few potatoes that need to come out of the root cellar. I can think of about 25 jobs I would rather do than clean out the potato bin but it has to be done. I’m treating myself to popovers for breakfast, served with raspberry jam. It makes up for a lot of nasty in the basement.

First, I want to extend a hearty welcome to all of our new readers. We have many from around the country and around the world. I spent a good deal of time yesterday surfing around the various blogs that so many of you have and adding many to my favorites. I wish I had time to read them all each day but I have been limiting my computer time which means that two or three are all I can manage.

In my surfing yesterday, I did come across a couple of interesting things. One was a recipe for pressure canning butter to eliminate tha botulism risk. Apparently, the results are a bit grainy but perfectly usable for cooking. I also found the directions for canning dried beans that involves nothing more than using 1/3 a cup of dried bean covered with boiling water, then pressure canning for 75 minutes. This makes sense to me and I plan to give it a try ASAP.

I also found a few new videos at dehydrate2store. I love that site. She really inspires me to dry and use many new foods that I would not have considered. I found the directions for drying canned fruit which seemed silly until I remembered that my kids rarely eat commercially canned fruit but adore any fruit I dry. I was pretty excited to find the new Paraflex sheets I ordered from the Excalibur store sitting on my front step on Saturday. I got enough to be able to dry a full load of fruit or vegetable leather without fumbling around with sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper. I wanted something that was reusable and these are great.

I did a bit of research on meals in a jar and found a lot of websites dedicated to that. Putting together meal kits appeals to my OCD tendencies. I also did some research on local sources for 6 gallon buckets. The gamma lids are so expensive that I seldom get them. I find that I put them on the things I open the most often and use regular lids for the ling-term stuff. If, for example, I keep one gamma lid on the bucket of flour I’m using then move it to the next bucket when the first is empty. As I rotate regularly, this is not a problem.

What did you do to prep today? I got another 100 pounds of sugar (very expensive) and I’m putting in an order for wheat. I want another 200 pounds. I also stocked up on spices. I had stopped into our local natural foods store. It’s place to go for bulk spices at a fraction of supermarket prices. I had planned to hit the mall today to get the sale price on wool socks and long-sleeved shirts but the weather is iffy and I think I’ll just stay home and clean the spare/sewing room. Never let it be said that I don’t know how to have a good time.

I wanted to make mention of something. There are so many skills that we need to learn and I know that there are many things I don’t think I will ever master. But I have learned a valuable lesson from my youngest daughter. As most of you know, Phoebe has syndrome that is accompanied by mild retardation but she NEVER lets that slow her down. She is determined to learn to read and practices every day. Last night she read a whole Little Bear book to me. Einstein said that genius is 99% perspiration. If that’s true, and I believe it is, then my Phoebe is a genius. She inspires me with her whole-hearted approach to life.

According to my checkbook, my last trip to an actual supermarket took place on December 22. I went yesterday because I had used up all my stored juice. I have a couple of quarts of cider left in the freezer but that’s it. I was struck by a couple of things.

1. Prices are a LOT higher than a few months ago. Sugar was $7.69 for a ten pound sack. Packaged cereal was in the neighborhood of $5.00 for a name brand box and many packages were noticeably smaller. If you shop each week the prices may creep up on you but when you only shop 6 times a year, it really shows up.
2. It is not possible to shop in a supermarket and avoid plastic or GMO’s.
3. A lot of people were using WIC checks and credit, debit or SNAP card. Cash and checks are pretty rare.
4. A lot of the staff was middle-aged. I wonder how many were checking out groceries because they needed that extra cash to pay for their own groceries.

I’m not making an editorial here. Just observing.

The news has been really bad of late. The austerity budgets are coming out and I think it’s just the beginning. Our school district announced last night that the stimulus money is gone, the state has reduced aid to municipalities and next year will certainly see budget cuts and staff reductions. Climate instability has impacted the price of food with poor people being hit hard enough to topple governments. People seem to be going crazy in larger numbers with violent events dominating the news. We have huge, macro problems with solutions seemingly beyond the scope of anyone to solve. While the problems are big, for many of us, the solutions need to be small.

Figure out your food. Joining a food co-op may seem like too much work but the benefits are huge. Good food without all the packaging at better prices along with a food community is just the beginning. Look at your diet. What can be changed? What can be sourced differently? I took a long look at juice yesterday. I’ll certainly be canning more apple juice this year and just drinking less juice overall. Herbal teas can fill in for some and plain water too. I give up coffee from time to time but I always fall off the coffee wagon come winter. I need to discipline myself to give it up for good. We eat very little dried cereal and we all like oatmeal and cooked wheat. My kids actually like plain rice with milk and sugar for breakfast. I can knock boxed cereal right off the shopping list and never miss it.

Really look at your energy usage. We’re pulling the second television out of the den. The girls often turn it on just for the music station when they have lots of other music sources that use much less energy. Weather stripping, and window coverings are a better investment than a new, $ 6000.00 furnace in many cases.

Buy used.
Don’t buy.
Stay home.
Turn it off. (It doesn’t matter what it is. You’re better off if it is.)
Grow something.
Store something.

Don’t wait.

Posting is late today as we spent the morning learning about medicare coverage. The best insurance is healthy living.

I am planning to can baked beans today, providing I don’t get sidetracked. Dried beans are about the easiest thing in the world to store. They’re about the least expensive thing as well and loaded with all kinds of good things. But why bother with canning them? In an emergency, the thing likely to be in the shortest supply is energy, both the heat energy needed to prepare food and the emotional energy needed to get started. Since so many preparedness dinners can be made from a base of beans, it makes sense to have them on hand rather than in a state that needs presoaking and long cooking before you can even think about the rest of the meal. A 1 pound bag also makes way more than you are likely to need for a meal and getting stuck with a lot of leftovers is something to avoid if refrigeration is iffy. Canning my beans now, while the stove is working and I have lots of time works for me. I could, of course, just buy canned beans but that means putting my money into the commercial food system with the attendent packaging and consuming food with added salt, something I try to avoid. I wish I could say that canning beans is easy but it actually takes a bit of time and preparation. I still think the results are worth it. Here’s the recipe I use.

Begin by sorting and soaking your beans as you would for cooking. I usually forget to soak overnight so I cover with water and bring to boil for 2 minutes, turn off the heat and soak for an hour, then drain. Next, I fill hot, clean jars (1 pint) leaving 1 inch of headspace. I pressure can at 11 pounds of pressure for 75 minutes. The beans can also be canned in a tomato or molasses sauce. You can even add a small cube of pork. If I can in a sauce, I only fill jars 3/4 fill. The tomato sauce beans are good for things like tacos or burritos while the molasses beans are great as a baked bean. For tomato sauce I just put the soaked beans in a quart of home canned, rather thin tomato sauce and bring sauce and beans to a boil, then add to hot jars. For a molasses sauce I use 1 quart water, 3 tablespoons dark molasses, 1 tablespoon vinegar and some dry mustard. These are pretty standard recipes and very similar to the ones found in So Easy To Preserve.

Are the rest of you getting faked out by the coming warmer temperatures? I do this every year, then suffer through the disappointment of remembering that winter isn’t over in the Northeast until the end of April. Any tender plant put in the garden before the first day of June is just looking to perish in a late frost.

I was noticing the candles in church today. The process is that the one on the right is lighted first, then the one on the left. The metal wand is laid to the side. After the service, the candle on the left is extinguished, then the one on the right. This goes on every week. I realized that the candle on the left is noticeable longer than the right hand candle. One would not think that the 10-15 seconds of extra time would make much of a difference but it clearly does.

Little and often. There is so much to do to get a store of food in place. Then there’s the extras, the lighting and the clothing and the toiletries. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and just not do anything. It’s also easy to say that, just this week, you won’t bother. Maybe funds are running low or time is short. I think it’s important to make the committment to do at least one thing each week. Maybe you can’t buy a case of beans but can you get a box of wooden matches. If you really don’t have the extra money, can you clean out that drawer or closet to make room for something next week? Can you check a book out from the library to peruse before deciding if it’s worth the spend? Maybe all you can do this week is refill the windshield washer fluid in your car before you run out or call to make that dentist appointment you’ve been putting off. You can always cook a meal from your stored food or teach your kid a skill. There is something that you can do. Preparedness is habit like any other and you have to practice it.

My new Tattler lids came in on Saturday. My goal next week is to can up a bunch of dried beans. I also got the So Easy To Preserve DVD’s and companion book form the University of Georgia and I need to finish watching those as well as finish reading the book. I ordered 8 new sheets of Paraflex for my Excalibur and I will use it as soon as it arrives to make a big batch of raspberry/applesauce fruit leather. I can’t believe it’s all gone. The dried apples are running low too. I need to double the amount I make next year. On the other hand, the vegetables are holding up really well. I don’t think I will run out before the first harvest of summer. That’s a first for us and one I’m pretty proud of. This post is going to be short tonight. I just returned from a Valentine’s Day chocolate tasting at our little grocery. It was fun but I totally overdid the chocolate and I’m feeling a bit sick. Moderation in all things. Words to live by.

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