October 2011

Until it does. The October snow storm has left 600,000 people in Massachusetts without power. A lot of these people are still in recovery from Irene. The odd thing is that the power is not out up here in the hilltowns. It’s down in the cities, Northampton, Westfield, Springfield, along with the small, bedroom communities. We got a lot of snow, over 24 inches in my backyard, but I think we were in better shape because our leaves had already fallen so we didn’t have the branches down that the valley saw.

The news show pictures of people waiting in long lines to get gas at the few open station. Interviews with people who are stranded in homes with no heat, no water and no food have a common theme. “We didn’t expect it to happen here. Who knew? We just weren’t prepared because these things just don’t happen here.” Until they do. Fortunately, Nate and Amanda and their kids made it through the canopy of downed power lines and broken branches and are here for the duration.

I got a lot of the carrots, all the cabbage and the broccoli harvested before the storm hit but I still have more carrots and beets and all the turnips still in the ground. I hope the snow insulates the ground from the frigid temperatures.

I had a very nice incident yesterday. Last week, when we cleaned out the Community House basement in preparation for the move of the sewing center, I put a bag of charcoal in my car. Now I didn’t need the charcoal but I couldn’t see throwing it in the dumpster and nobody else would take it. So yesterday, I took Karen to the Creamery for work and there was man there looking for charcoal as he had no way to cook but a Hibachi. I was able to give him the charcoal, saving him some money and putting the fuel to good use. I did not point out that HE SHOULD HAVE THOUGHT OF THIS WHEN HE SAW THE FORECAST!!!! There. Rant over.

One of the good things that happened with having my kids here as a captive audience is that I had an opportunity to talk with them about what the future may look like and what steps they could take to insulate themselves from the worst dislocation. It’s a conversation we’ve had before but it has more impact when you can’t be home because you can’t heat it and can’t cook.

Hope you all stayed safe and warm. Let us know how you fared.

I missed a day of prepping as Phoebe, Ben and Karen were all under the weather. But then I never said that the days had to be continuous. I just plan to get them in before winter’s end. We have a couple of inches of snow on the ground this AM and it’s only 28 degrees so it certainly feels as though winter is beginning. that means I need to get up to the big closet and finish pulling out the winter outerwear. I’ll do an inventory of what needs to be replaced and make a trip to the thrift and second-hand shops before buying new. I don’t now about anybody else but the thrift shops around here have raised their prices so much that they aren’t the bargain they used to be. I guess the days of $2.00 woll sweaters are over.

I have to get a schedule going today if I want to get everything done that needs doing. I need to get the rest of the apples in the dehydrators. My plan is to soak them in pineapple juice rather than lemon juice and dry the pineapple chunks at the same time. We all love dried fruit and I go through a lot of it. While the fruit is drying I’ll get started on the winter clothes. Then I need to get out to the garden and see what I can salvage. I still have to pull the carrots and beets and get the cabbage in. I have friends coming over this afternoon to press some cider and I may get some more done too.

I made a pretty good vegetable beef soup with home canned beef and dried vegetable last night. It was tasty but I don’t think anybody will be thrilled to see soup on the menu again tonight. I’m thinking I could make a pot pie with it if I just thicken the broth. That will taste good after a day outside.

I know I’ve been promising more pictures but Maggie lost the cable that goes to her camera. I think she bought a new one and I hope to get some more pictures downloaded soon. We will be working on the sewing center over the next several weeks and it would be fun to have a photo journal of the process of setting it up. I also have a lot of pictures taken of the summer kitchen. I still need to get the stove to the refurb shop but then it will be ready to go.

A trip to the restaurant supply store is on the agenda for tomorrow morning. Here’s the shopping list.
Heavy duty glasses.
cutting boards
microfiber cloths
two aprons
If they have bulk food, I’ll probably stock up on a few things. Now that I’ve canned beans I know how easy it is and I want to do more of that. It’s also a good way to store jars and Tattler lids. Otherwise I just look nuts for having so many. As I count calories and people and multiply by weeks I realize just how fast food would go around here. I could easily go through e quart jars each day. That’s a lot of jars. I wonder if I can get those at the supply shop.
If they have b

My 100 days of prepping is well underway and I have the sore muscles to prove it. I spent yesterday at my Servsafe class and was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed it. I also learned a lot. Now what I really want to do is get to a restaurant supply store and completely revamp the way I have my kitchen organized. I’m going to wait a day or two before buying anything. Crazies like this come and go. Most of the changes I want to make don’t actually require my to buy anything. They just need me to be a lot more mindful of how I do things. I do have a lot of cutting boards that should be replaced. I also wat to look closely at how refrigerator is arranged. It’s always so cluttered and now I can see how it could also be a bit more sanitary.

Our pig was ready to be picked up this morning. Unfortunately, Bruce was helping Maggie mind poor Henry as he can’t go to preschool with his leg in the cast and Maggie can’t lift him for the bathroom. That left me to empty and defrost the freezer, pick up the pork, get it home and in the basement and refill the freezer. I followed up with a canner full of applesauce and getting my ironing done. (I do the ironing about twice a year, I hate it.) My back hurts, my shoulders hurt and my mood could be a tad more chipper. I did have a good dinner. I had some corn and leftover chicken to use up. I tossed in a couple of cups of home canned black beans and diced tomatoes with a lot of southwestern spices and called it dinner. Of course I added some taco chips and sour cream. I could serve shoelaces with sour cream and my kids would eat it.

I have to go to work tomorrow but when I get home I’ll be getting in a fourth day of prepping with canning more beans. I use a lot of garbanzos so that will be on the agenda. The one bean I don’t use much is Lima. But on Sunday night we went to a Polish pot luck and I had the most fabulous Polish dish. It was a pretty simple mixture of keilbasa, lima beans and tomato sauce with some onions and green peppers.

I still have new readers popping over from the Coldantler blog (Jenna Wogonrich). Welcome. A friend of Jenna’s is a friend of mine. She’s young enough to be my daughter. If I could have had just one more girl I would have wanted her to be Jenna.

I’m heading out in the morning (early!) to take a servsafe class. I’m trying to work up some enthusiasm but it isn’t easy. I just returned from a very cool slide show given by a local artist who has just gotten home form a trip to Poland. The show was followed by a Polish pot luck feast and I’m so stuffed I can hardly breath. I’m intrigued by polish peasant food as it comes from a region that so closely resembles my own in terms of climate. We too raise cabbage and potatoes, beets and carrots. Onions and pork, dill and sour cream feature heavily in our dishes. The good thing about these foods is that they are also the things that are the easiest to preserve. Most require nothing more than a basket and a root cellar. I would think that all of us could find preserving food easier if we went back to the roots of our cultures.

We managed to have enough sun today to make it possible to get the garlic and the multiplier onions in the ground. I had saved the best of the garlic for seed and, if I do say so myself, it was the best garlic ever. The heads were huge with thick, meaty cloves. This is my third year with this particular stock and it’s finally adapting. I did add some greensand to the soil but it looks so healthy, teaming with earthworms and such, that I don’t see it needing much else.

The sewing center has a new home. I’ve had some questions about it so I want to give some background. It began as an attempt to make our little store single use bag free. We got donated fabric and sewing machines, put them in some space that our church had available and the sewing center was born. The bag share took off as an independent project that spread far and wide and donations continued to pour in. We held some clothing repair clinics and some general sewing lessons but what we really needed was space where we could spread out and display our awesome collection of fabric and notions. The machines have multiplied too. We have two serge machines, two commercial models that will sew vinyl, canvas and leather, a treadle machine and loads of others. This weekend out community house held a huge clean out and let us have the now empty space in the basement. It’s perfect. I can’t wait to get it set up and ready to sew. It even has space for the GIANT quilting frame I inherited from Bruce’s aunt. My good friends, Leni and Barbara, have been the heart of the sewing center. It was really born from their committment to keep as much stuff out of landfills as possible. We honestly never buy anything. It’s all stuff we are reusing.

First and foremost, welcome to all our new readers. I know a lot of you came here by way of Mother Earth and more through some of my classes. However you came here and wherever you are on your journey, you are welcome here.

I have to post this evening as I’m heading off to Boston in the morning to chaperone my daughter’s field trip to the Boston Science Museum. Six hours on a bus with 50 third, fourth and fifth graders. Yeah!

I’m a subscriber to Susco, a sustainable living forum. I love that place, particularly the threads on canning and food preservation. One of my favorites is called 100 days of canning. The idea was to can for 100 of the 150 days of your heating season. I want to do the challenge but with a bit of a twist. I know I’m more likely to do marathon canning days and then take a long break so I was thinking ao=bout how I could attack this. Here’s what I came up with. I want to do 100 days of sustainable living. That opens the door for any number of projects that aren’t about food. For instance, one day could be devoted to making laundry soap and another to making wine. Buying bulk beans would be one day and organizing my seed bank another. Each time I take a knitting lesson I can mark off a day. You get the picture. The goal is to keep on keeping on.

I have to head over to our Community House in a few minutes to meet with the board of selectmen. We are requesting space in the basement for our sewing center as we have run out of space in the church. I hope this works. With this added space we could include a clothing exchange and hold more frequent clothing repair clinics. The best part would be the added ability to organize our supplies. People have been so generous with donations but finding what you need can be a challenge. And if we get the space, each day I spend on cleaning it up and setting up the center will count toward my 100 days.

Last year I was interviewed by Janai Donaldson for PeakMomentTV. I just heard that she posted it on YouTube. I guess you just search PeakMomentTV. I was pleased with the program. Peak Moment has a ton of great guests and I’m proud to have been part of it.

The next few days may be spotty posting. My dear little grandson, Henry, was here today for our Tuesday together and he and my son, Ben, were playing outside. Long story short, Henry has a broken leg, Ben feels terrible and Nate and Amanda will have a long six weeks with Henry in a cast, a new baby and two demanding jobs. I’ll be helping all I can. Thank goodness for good health insurance and easy access to medical care.

It’s been a long day.

This is the part where I should tell you about all of my successes like how great the ginger ale is and how the blueberry soda is to die for. Well….not so much.

The directions said that The ginger ale should be fizzy by day four. I checked on day four and saw a few little bubbles but not much activity so I waited. Same on day six and day eight. On day ten I figured the stuff just wasn’t going to ferment and I would be drinking flat soda. I opened the first bail-top bottled and KABOOM!!!! The soda shot all the way to the ceiling. Bruce and I quickly pulled all the bottles and began popping the tops. I had to wash the windows and the cabinets and the floor by the time I was finished. I guess I should have followed the directions.

Now the blueberry soda on the other hand is in no danger of exploding as it has no fermentation at all. It tastes just fine. It just has no fizz. I’m thinking I may add some yeast and see what we get.

My DH spent yesterday peeling potatoes. We just couldn’t see tossing all of the scabby spuds so he peeled and I cut, boiled and mashed them, then filled freezer bags and froze them flat. It was a whole day project but we ended up with 20 meals of mashed potatoes rather than a compost heap of rejects.

We’re still working on the dried apples. I picked up 25 pounds of Cape Cod cranberries too so I’ve been making cranberry relish, cranberry sauce and jelly and a wonderful cran-apple sauce. I’ve been using the steam juicer which not only takes care of cooking the cran-apple mix but leaves me with 2 quarts of juice for each batch. It requires some sweetening but it’s very good. I just canned the juice along with the sauce for a full canner load.

A friend of mine lives off-grid and found that she rarely has enough power in her batteries to justify using her Excalibur. Bruce repaired the roof on her shed yesterday and came home with the dehydrator. I can borrow it long enough to get the rest of the apples dried. I’ll buy it if she decides to sell. Running two would save a lot of time and I could pass it around the neighborhood.

In the midst of all the work, we still found time to play. We brough the cider press over to our neighbors so they could press. It seemed like half the neighborhood showed up last night to sample wine made last fall and fresh cider. The difference in apple taste is remarkable. I spent some time washing milk bottles at Taproot Commons in the morning. This is the home of our raw milk CSA. There is something very Zen about that kind of repetitive work that appeals to me.

I’ll be speaking at Wild Oats in Williamstown on Wednesday evening if any of you are in the area. I like the speaking but small venues are rarely well-attended. I don’t mind for myself but I do feel bad for the planners.

I managed to find a few racks of seeds at Greenfield Farmer’s Co-op and filled a small bag. I was disappointed that the price had not dropped. Generally, seeds are 1/2 price by now but I paid the full freight on everything. I found 9 varieties of tomatoes and 4 different peppers, eggplant, summer squash, pumpkins (but no winter squash) several types of peas, horticultural beans, lots of herbs, quinoa, buckwheat, lots of brassicas, beets, carrots and 10 packages of mixed greens. Most were heirloom seeds. It was quite a haul. I plan to vacuum seal them in a 1/2 gallon Mason Jar and keep them in the freezer until spring. The rest of my multiplier onions arrived yesterday too. I have to wait until January to order the seeds for the Oregon Sweet Meat squash. I’m just glad I found a source.

My permanent food group is reading The Resilient Gardner for our winter book choice. I love the book and think it’s a good choice. Our next project is to assign each of us different one variety of squash to raise from each of the three families so we can save the seed. I’m the only group member with neighbors and all of them garden so saving seed is a bit harder because of the cross-pollination issue but it’s doable. At end of the year, we’ll have a party and swap squash. We have enough people participating to ensure lots of redundancy. None of us will be the only source.

I’m reading two books. The first is Carol Ekairus’s Illustrated Guide To Poultry Breeds (Storey) and Jenna Wogonrich’s Chick Days. I’m having to buy eggs as our chickens are really slowing down in production. I would love to expand next year and maybe experiment with some of the rare breeds. I also want to have enough poultry to have some winter production. We have Rhode Island Reds now. They’re hardy and a good dual purpose birds but I sure do love Buff Orpingtons. My chicken books will have to feed my poultry addiction until spring.

My backyard has become the place to be to watch our new neighbors. They are, we think, a young couple, no kids and very quiet, keeping to themselves and not going out of their way to make friends. The folks around here are not shy about their interest, using binoculars to spy on these newcomers and speculating on them incessantly. How did they get here and what attracted them? Will they stay? Raise a family?

The new neighbors are a pair of bald eagles. They have been here for a week, staying even through the noisy dumping of several tons of huge slabs of rock being placed along the riverbank in an effort to protect it from erosion. To say we are delighted is an understatement.

In spite of the breaks for eagle watching, in a bit more than 5 hours yesterday, a group of us pressed more than 30 gallons of cider. Most will be frozen and some hardened but a lot will be consumed fresh. Fresh pressed cider is one of life’s pleasures. I have another 300 pounds of apples coming today. Some will be pressed but most will be dried or sauced.

I’m heading off to the Greenfield Farmer’s Co-op this morning. My quest is for seeds, anything with a shelf life that I can put away for next year. I am particularly interested in dried beans, French horticultural beans and winter squash. Also on the list will be herbs. I have a patch of grass that I’m going to cover with cardboard and mulch and use to expand my herb garden.

My summer kitchen is coming along. It’s completely roofed and sheathed and the subfloor is down. It has already come in handy as it started to rain in the middle of the pressing party and we moved into the kitchen and kept on pressing.

FYI-I got a couple of emails today warning of big price increases coming for peanut butter, as much as 40% for some brands. If you have been thinking about stocking up it might be prudent to do it now rather than later.

When I first started filling a pantry I stocked up on Tang. No offense to our astronauts but Tang isn’t really food. It certainly isn’t orange juice. Now water should be our drink of choice but I do like something tasty to drink; sometimes hot and sometimes cold. I also like the occasional drink with a kick. This week seems to have turned into the week of drinks. I have a lot put up, a lot more in process and still more planned for later this week.

I started with cider. I usually just freeze it. It’s by far the easiest way and the results are terrific. The down side is that cider fills up a freezer pretty fast. I decided to try canning my cider this year and I’m quite happy with the process and the results. I started by bringing quart jars and lids to a boil while I heated the cider to 160 degrees. I held the cider at that heat for 15 seconds to pasteurize it. The cider is then poured into the hot jars and sealed. I broke one jar open to taste it and found it a whole lot better than apple juice.

I put up some of the cider as hard cider. I’ve tried this before with mixed results. This year I decided to follow the directions. What a concept. I filled a one gallon container with cider then added a dissolved Campden tablet to kill of any wild yeast. The next day I added a packet of wine yeast and a 1/2 cup of sugar and put on an air lock. It’s bubbling like crazy today.

I found myself with about a quart of gorgeous beet juice after pickling my beets. Rather than tossing it, I treated it with a Campden tablet, some sugar and yeast and now have beet wine fermenting alongside the cherry and elderberry/grape wine I already had working.

Now for making water a bit more festive. I have a bunch of great herbs for making teas and flavored water. Lemon Balm, lemon verbena and all the mints make terrific flavored ice water. Chamomile and clover, sage and ginger root make better hot tea.

My last experiment has been with fermented soda culture. We aren’t usually soda drinkers but I do have a fondness for Maine Blueberry Soda and I wanted to recreate it. I found a recipe that calls for an easy culture. This is a long-term project, just so you know.

Fill a quart Mason jar 3/4 full of water (without chlorine). Add a tablespoon of grated ginger and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Cover it with cheesecloth and let it sit for 24 hours. Every day for the next week, add another teaspoon of grated ginger and another teaspoon sugar and give it a good stir. It will ferment and be ready to use in a week. If you don’t use it all right away you will need to refrigerate it now. To make soda add 6 cups blueberries to 1/2 gallon water and 1 1/2 cups sugar. You can use other fruit if you like. Bring it to a boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes. Now pour all of this into a gallon jar and add water almost to the top with cool water and top off with 1 cup of your strained culture. Cover this with cheesecloth and let it sit for 3-7 days, stirring it once or twice a day. Bottle it when it’s as fuzzy as you like it. I use bail top bottles when I have them. Now chill it and enjoy. Don’t leave the unopened bottles at room temperature because they could explode.

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