November 2011


It’s preparedness day number ?????? I think it’s 19 and 20. Remember that I don’t do something every day. There are many skips. I did get some deals recently and I made some necessary purchases.

My first deal was in outerwear. I made a stop at the thrift store this week and came away with a Rugged Bear, size four winter coat. It was only $3.00 because it was in terrible shape and looked as though it had never seen a washing machine. I also found LL Bean mittens in the same condition. Now I’m going to share a secret for getting old, good quality winter coats looking almost new. Bleach. I know. It sounds crazy but I put a small amount of bleach in the washing machine with some detergent and washing soda and the results are amazing. You can’t do this with a cheaply made coat but the Rugged Bear looks terrific as do the mittens. I’ll put this coat away and either my granddaughter or some other little girl will get a coat when she really needs one. I found Bean boots too and put those away. I never get through the winter without a call for help from some family and it is a pure pleasure to go to my store in the attic and pull out what’s needed.

As for purchases, I picked up 6 boxes of stick matches and some canned goods. I don’t use much commercially canned food but when I found a sale on diced tomatoes, seasoned with garlic and basil I got 10 cans. If I have diced tomatoes, rice and red beans, I can make a pretty good meal. I will say that I’m sorry I put up so much tomato sauce this year and wish I can canned some diced as well. Now that we’re back to just the four of us, we don’t eat as much sauce as I counted on.

It was 59 degrees when I went to bed last night. I’m worried about my garlic. It’s sprouting like crazy and I’m afraid we’ll get some really cold weather without any snow and next year’s crop will be affected. I’ll pile on more mulch and hope for the best.

I find I have a full day ahead of me with no place to go and nothing I have to do. Bruce is taking a friend to town for some dental work and he’ll be gone all day. I want to do something fun but I know I should do something productive. If I don’t come up with a plan I fear I will lose the day in a reading haze. I just got a copy of The Forgotten Garden from the library and it’s so good, I hate to put it down to eat or sleep.

No. I don’t have pictures yet. We still don’t have the camera cable. However, I can give an update as this thing is morphing (as things are wont to do around here) into something more than expected.

Bruce has pretty much finished it. The sheetrock can go in now that the wiring is done. I will be able to run the Excalibur out there which will take the heat out of the house. I run it on the deck a lot but that means being around to get it inside if it starts to rain. Now I won’t need to do that. Bruce built a very large hood to cover the fan. It will do double duty as way to let the huge volume of steam generated by canning and boiling sap to escape and also provide a place to hang utensils. I don’t have a ton of space and I’ll need to make every inch count. We are still waiting on the piece for the gas stove. The stainless steel wall is up and the windows are in. Bruce had to build the doors but they’re finished now too.

I plan to offer the space and equipment to folks who may want to try some preservation but don’t want to make a big investment until they see if it works for them. I’ll also be holding some classes and demonstrations there. I’m thinking about some sort of co-op or preservation CSA. This is still in the early thinking stage. I’m not sure how it would work or whether it would produce enough income to make it worth the effort. I have this vision of 4 people doing some marathon sessions, using the propane and gas stoves, the steam juicer and the Squeezo to put up a few hundred jars of applesauce in a weekend. It might be too confusing but I think it’s worth the brain cells to consider.

I had such an interesting and disheartening experience this weekend. I went to Different Drummer, a very high-end kitchen supply store to pick up a birthday gift for my sister. I walked out with a terrible case of the “dissatisfieds”. I wanted new pots and pans and new mixer and new knives and new bakeware. The thing is that I have plenty of stuff now. my kitchen is really well-equipped. My Kitchen-Aid mixer works just fine and , while I could use some cake pans, mine are still fine. Just seeing all of the great alternatives made me want things that I didn’t even know about and certainly can’t afford. A $600.00 comercial Viking Mixer? Really? I don’t even have room for it but that didn’t stop me from craving it and coming home to see my perfectly good mixer as not good enough.

The Dow futures are way up today, based in part on much better than expected Black Friday sales. I can’t help but wonder how much of this stuff was just buying for the sake of it. How much is replacing perfectly good stuff that will now be tossed in a landfill somewhere? How much will be broken and discarded before it sees the new year? How much will have seemed necessary at the time and by January will be just another item on a credit card bill, providing neither pleasure or fulfillment? How often do we seek to fill empty spaces in our spirits and souls by buying?

My daughter, Karen, got a Seventeen Magazine subscription for her birthday from a friend. First of all, the thing was vulgar and I’m not a prude. The sexual content was appalling for magazine aimed at teenage girls. Second, it was primarily a large advertisement, designed to make girls buy things they didn’t know they wanted. Karen has not looked at the magazine even once. She picks it up and puts it directly into the recycle bin. I asked her why and she said that she had seen a copy and thought they should rename it, the How to feel Terrible About Yourself”, magazine and,while she felt bad about the waste, she wasn’t going to torture herself by reading it. She was never going to be that skinny or that pretty or that happy. Karen’s wrong, of course. She’s way prettier than those girls and, in spite of dealing with significant challenges, is a pretty happy kid. I’m so proud of her. I need to follow her example and stay the heck out of kitchen stores.

I know I need to catch up on responding to all of your comments. I read them all and I always plan to get back to them but I do get sidetracked I’m afraid.

I hope all of my readers had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I think that Thanksgiving is the one holiday that has not been co-opted by commercialism. It’s still all about good food and family. We spent the day doing a jigsaw puzzle and playing Settlers Of Cattan (our favorite board game) in between preparing and consuming some great food.

I know I will seem a bit nuts but I actually got some canning done too. Here’s the thing. I get my turkeys from Diemand Farm. It’s not a cheap bird. A fifteen pound turkey was almost &50.00. That is a lot of money but the birds are free-range and the money goes to support a local farmer. I order mine from The Creamery so they get a cut and some needed support as well. I can certainly get a much cheaper turkey at the supermarket but the money goes into the industrial ag system and I just can’t make myself do it. Nine of ate together and the five guests are serious eaters. For just Myself, Bruce and the girls, this would have been two full meals. I have enough turkey left over for dinner this evening. I also found myself with a big carcass and a lot more meat. Turkey doesn’t hold that well and there isn’t a lot of room in the fridge so I decided that, as we were in the kitchen playing Settlers anyway, I would run the 5 quarts of broth and meat through the AA and be done with it. I had already simmered up the stock with the carcass, the water left from cooking the vegetables, an onion, a few stalks of celery and a carrot. It was no trouble to fill the jars and let them do their thing and the result were cooling on the counter when we went to bed. Altogether, I will get 7 meals from this turkey. Let us not forget that I cooked the giblets and made a wonderful, meaty gravy from them and I have a quart of that left for another meal. In fact, my family’s favorite meal is the strata I make tomorrow with layered mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy. So that makes 8 meals or 32 servings. $50.00 for 32 serving sound like quite a bargain to me. The trick is to let nothing go to waste. I even pulled the meat off the neck.

The rest of meal was home-grown. I did have to buy celery, shipping cream, pecans and corn syrup for my pie but very little else. We drank cider and herb tea. I must say the meal was excellent. I bought an extra turkey that I put in the freezer. I’ll thaw it one day next week and can the whole thing.

While the rest of the world is shopping I will be helping Ben and Maggie load up the wheat they have been storing here and get it moved to their new home which boasts and very dry basement. I’m also taking the girls for flu shoots and ordering butter from the Creamery. I get a price cut if I order case lots. I use a fair amount of butter and I want the good stuff but butter is one of the things I notice a significant price increase on. I will put the case in my freezer.

We are all pet sitting this weekend. We’re minding cats, dogs and chickens. The chickens are best because we get to keep all the eggs. I’m going to make popovers again. They take minutes and are probably Phoebe’s favorite food. Topped with some raspberry jelly they’re fantastic.

I did want to mention that the cranberry sauce was a hit. It was fairly easy to make with the steam juicer. It’s less sweet than Ocean Spray and lighter in color. Nobody complained and we polished off a good deal of it.

Some days are a lot better than others. I had the opportunity to visit one of my long-time readers yesterday. I met with gardengirl (aka Michelle) at her home near UMass. It was a quite amazing to see just how much diversity in food production one can achieve in a fairly small, urban lot. Chickens (lots of chickens) and rabbits (lots of rabbits) goats and gardens; it was really inspiring. I drank home-dried peppermint tea while warming my buns by the heat of her Glenwood stove and enjoyed GG’s general business and enthusiasm. She’s smart and beautiful and just fun to be with.

This would have been good enough but there was much more to come. Sharon Astyk came by to drop of some buck goats. Fences were moved, dogs were corralled, children were tied up (not by us but by each other) and pizza was consumed while non-stop talk about gardens and goats, rabbits and religion kept us all entertained. Sharon is also beautiful and generous, brilliant and kind. With women like this to inspire and educate, we all have a much better chance at creating the world we need to live in.

I feel like an infomercial. But wait! There’s more! After lunch we hopped on over to a sustainable agriculture class at Umass and spent two hours talking about our lives and visions and listening to the questions and concerns of these young adults. I sometimes worry about our young people. So many seem so disconnected from the world outside of tech land and celebrity world. They too often appear to be consumed with consuming and live to be entertained. Not so in this group. They were bright and articulate and ready to walk the walk.

For a change, I rode home without the chatter from NPR or Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits keeping me company. I spent the time making plans and dreaming dreams. Rabbits and hutches are high on my list of “gotta gets”. Goats-not so much.

Because one should always have dessert, I returned home to two beautiful seed catalogs, the first of the season. The forecast was gloomy but the fire was warm, the days lessons still fresh. I didn’t do any prepping today. I accomplished nothing and everything. On the list of must-have items, friends are number 1.

Thanks for the input. As markets tank this AM, they are something to ponder.

My squash was in sorry shape this year. Between hail and high water it was pummeled and water-logged but it persevered and we are enjoying in mightily. The problem is that I don’t think it will hold so I spent yesterday baking much of it, then freezing it in flat packages. I know I should be drying it but the frozen is so convenient to do. I do it two cup batches. This is just right for a meal or a batch of bread. I finished the clean out of the upstairs pantry. After Ben and Maggie moved, I found myself with enough space so do a rearrange and update my inventory.

Bruce is nearly finished with the summer canning kitchen. I hope to get pictures posted today. It looks great. He put in a huge fan so we can boil sap in there. It will be nice to do that under cover. We have a small bos stove we will use outside, then switch to the propane cooker for finishing. Worst case scenario, we would put another larger wood stove out there and do all the processing without using any fuel but wood.

I spent a few minutes and updated my medicine chest. I noted in my appointed book the earliest days I can refill prescriptions. You can pick up another 4 days a month is you plan it right. That will matter if another whopper storm cuts us off from picking up refills.

I’m going to a lecture at UMass tomorrow, given by two readers here. I’ll give a synopsis (with their permission) on Wednesday. I feel as though I need all the direction and motivation I can get.

One the subject of books: Summer Of The Apocalypse was very good. I really couldn’t put it down and I’m pretty fussy. I don’t have time to waste on something I don’t love.

I don’t usually post on Friday afternoon but I did want to thank everyone for their support during my blues fest. I’m feeling much better. The sun is shining and I got a lot accomplished today.

The book I complained about is Shut Down by W.R Flynn. Why is the picture of any new world so violent and cold? Is it possible to envision something else? Sharon Astyk has written an Ark piece that was more in line with what I’m looking for in a novel. What do you envision? How do you see the world changing and what would be your hope? You can’t create it until you imagine it. I’m putting on my thinking cap and to see what I come up with. I would love to hear from you all. I need ideas and inspiration.

Fondly,

Kathy

Guilty as charged. I can’t remember where I am which is better than the days I can’t remember who I am. Let’s call it 13 and 14 and realize that I can’t do this every day. So what’s up for this week.

I need to get busy on the greenhouse. Some evil little green wormy thing got in and ate everything. I don’t mean almost everything; I mean every green growing salad kind of vegetable is history. I’m going to start some quick growing things inside and hope for a bit of a warm spell when I can get them in the ground and hope for early greens if nothing else. I also need to rack some of the wine and hard cider.

I brought all of the roots into the root cellar. I suppose I will make some kraut out of some of the cabbage and turnips. I don’t have many beets left; not enough anyway. I’m going to end up buying some and this weekend is as good a time as any to get them from the farm stand.

I realize that this post sounds a bit grumpy. It is. I’m not good in Late November. It’s cold and grey and gloomy. There’s no snow to brighten things up. I’m irritated at the relentless Christmas hawking going on before the turkey is even cooked. I got some post apocalyptic novel on my kindle and it’s so stupid and silly I can barely stand to finish it. I wasted $8.00 on this drivel and now I don’t have anything good to read. Uggh. I’ll try again on Monday. At least then I’ll be gearing up with Thanksgiving cooking and maybe I’ll even remember what day I’m prepping.

Now that Ben and Maggie have moved on, I have been cleaning, decluttering and organizing the upstairs. How does all this relate to preparedness? Well, when I was putting together a sleeping plan during the snow storm I realized that I had misplaced the bin with the wool blankets and a second bin with extra pillows. I found them but I wasted a lot of time. This time I had it to spare but another time I might be scrambling.

I consider getting my home in order the first rule of preparedness. Not being able to find something is the same as not having it. The winds of change are in the air again. I try not to fall into worry mode but as things in Europe don’t seem to get any better and unrest in the ME has escalated I find myself running scenarios in my head. What if I had to provide shelter for more family members? Who would sleep where? How long would the food stores last? How much area could I plant with seeds on hand? How long would the wood last? What about the lamp oil?

These aren’t idle questions. Our history, both as a nation and as a species, has been defined by crisis. We are coming out of an age of stability and entering an age of instability. It’s a new normal in economics, climate and energy. Any one of a number of wiggly dominoes could topple any time. I have no idea which is going down first but I find it hard to believe that my life will just keep rolling on without being affected by job loss or food insecurity or weather crisis or energy constraints. Whether the impact will be a solvable problem or an intractable predicament is largely up to me.

I love the food of autumn. All the root vegetables, the pork and the fabulous soups and stews almost make up for the lack of ripe tomatoes and basil. Last night I made a terrific meal that came mostly from my land (with a little help from a fairly local kielbasa maker. I started the night before, soaking white beans in some of the water I froze when I juiced the tomatoes in August. I used Lima beans but any white bean would do. I then sauteed the usual suspects; onions, garlic, celery, carrots, potatoes and peppers in some olive oil. The recipe called for a lot of vegetables. I used two onions, two peppers, a pound of carrots, three potatoes, two cloves of garlic and a cup of celery. When the onions were translucent, I added a six-ounce can of tomato paste. This is something I never have the patience to make myself so I do buy canned paste. While the vegetables where cooing I brought the beans to a boil in 4 cups of vegetable stock. It all cooked together in a crock pot for a good five hours. In the last hour of cooking I added two pounds of kielbasa, cut in chunks. The result was a really hearty stew. I served it with a mess of pickles and peasant bread. I made a very easy pumpkin cheesecake for dessert.

I find it so helpful that meals like this bring together all of the pieces of my life that matter. All of the components of this meal were things I have in my pantry or root cellar. The celery was the last of the local but I have a lot that I dried last summer. Even the kielbasa was locally made. It would cook in a dutch oven on the wood stove. The food had no GMO’s, no corn or soy. I can’t say it was inexpensive as the kielbasa was a lot more costly than one of commercial brands but the stew would feed the four of us for three meals so, spread out like that, it wasn’t outrageous. I supported some local farmers. The only big ag thing was the can of tomato paste and, in the future, I’ll buy a case of an organic brand from my co-op.

I did struggle a bit with serving the meal to guests. We had two other couples here for dinner. Usually, the meals we eat at each other’s houses are pretty elaborate and elegant. This wasn’t, but we all laughed and talked just the same. We cleaned out plates and bowls and had an altogether lovely evening.

Some weeks are like this. I turn on my computer and I’m faced with those little AOL news (sort of) sound bites. They cover everything from torture and sexual abuse to a new little Duggar. I try to avoid them but there they are, like air pollution or modified corn starch, just about impossible to avoid. On those days, when I feel the poison seep into my spirit, I go my dank and damp basement. It’s not a pretty place. The ceiling is low, the walls just stone. There is a maze of pipes and duct work overhead and if you’re spider phobic, you might want to give it a miss. Still, being here gives me a sense of peace and place. What’s there is there because of my labor. I own it in a way I don’t own much else. My jars of sauce are beautiful. The baskets of potatoes solid and satisfying. The neat rows of wine bottles are a pleasure and the cabinet of candle-making supplies hold a promise.

I do find one little irritant down there. Years ago, when I first started preparing for life where there might well be supply interruptions and major spikes in the cost of energy and food, I bought cases of canned goods. Some of them have already fed the pigs. Some were consumed and never replace or at least not replaced with commercial varieties. I no longer purchase tomato products as my garden leaves me with an embarrassment of sauces and salsas. But there are still some things sitting there that I know I need to use up or dispose of. One of these is the canned corn.

I don’t loath canned corn the way I do string beans but there is no way it can compare with the corn I put up in August. In one of those serendipitous moments, I was faced with a case or so of canned corn just as I was rereading Independence Days (Sharon Astyk’s book and if you don’t have it, get it.) Right at the beginning is a depression era recipe for scalloped corn. It’s pretty easy. A can of corn, two cups of milk, three egg yolks, three beaten egg whites, some salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar mixed together and a topping of buttered bread crumbs. it took only a couple of minutes to put it together and 50 minutes in a 350 degree oven to produce a lovely, puffy corn casserole that my family actually ate seconds of. With a cup of tomato soup, this would have been a meal in itself. I served it with some long-simmered beef and onions and some pickles. Part of my 100 days of prepping is going to include using the food. I can make this ones a week and the corn will be gone before you know it. I’m going to try it with creamed corn next time. I have a lot of that too.

I had one other 100 days experiment. I still had a few gallons of cranberries to use up but I already have a lot of sauce. I decided to dry them as we like cranberry bread and it will be nice to have them on hand. I first dipped the berries in boiling water until the skins popped. Like blueberries and grapes, the skins must be split to prevent case hardening, a condition where the center of a fruit remains moist, even when the exterior is dry. This leads to a mold problem. I popped the skin then placed the berries on the dehydrator trays. One thing I did need to do was keep going back, every hour or so, and popping any berries that had not spit in the boiling water. I was still finding unpopped berries after 7 hours. It was easy to identify them as they were puffy and shiny and I just used a skewer to give them a poke. After 9 hours, the fruit was not quite dry so I turned of the Excalibur and got up early today to finish them off. I plan to vacuum seal the fruit in pint jars as I have a lot of those jars sitting empty and 1 pint is about what I’ll need for a batch of bread or muffins. When I use them, I’ll increase the water in the recipe by a 1/2 cup which should rehydrate them nicely although I may have to fiddle with amount unless I have a reader with a more precise measure)

My oldest son is getting me a camera for Christmas and my DIL is giving me a tutorial so I can post videos and pictures without help. I’m looking forward to having pictures available on a regular basis without having to rely on others time and energy.

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