September 2009

I want to give you a bit of background information on our sustainability library before getting to the good stuff which is about canning cheese. Our local store is a wonderful place. The downstairs part is the store proper. In a tiny space they manage to fit in a fabulous herb and spice section, a food preservation section with everything from canning and cheese making supplies to books and specialty items, a really good book selection, a local artisan area, the best deli in the world and even a rack for seeds. This is in addition to local produce and groceries. The upstairs has an apartment on one side and our library on the other. There is a bathroom, a kitchen, the Creamery office and the library, a beautiful space with hand made tables and book cases, comfortable chairs, a table with all of the co-op ordering info, a basket of yarn and knitting supplies that anybody can access, a seed exchage rack, high speed internet service and books on everything from green building to alternative medicine to gardening to nature to peak oil to politicsto home schooling to preparedness. There is also an amazing selection of magazines. A local person just donated a commercial quality magazine stand so the magazines can finally get organized. I was up there yesterday and found a huge pile, several year’s worth, of Backwoods Home. I have seen copies from time to time but this was the first time I sat down with a dozen issues and really looked at them. This is a very good read. I will warn you that it has a heavy Libertarian slant but the articles are among the best I have come across in terms of useful information. 

The best part of the magazine, for me anyway, was the “Ask Jackie” section. This lady is a canning expert. She cans everything I can plus a lot of stuff it would have not occurred to me to try. I bought some canned cheddar cheese from an on-line preparedness site just so I could review it. It was good but really expensive and out of the question for a lot of us trying to store food on a budget. I use powdered cheddar a lot and it’s not bad, but I love the idea of getting cheese on sale and canning it. Killene, over at Preparedness Pro uses  cheese wax and keeps hard cheeses for a long time that way but canning will allow you to keep softer cheeses too. The directions were clear and easy.

Cut cheese into one inch cubes and drop into wide mouth canning jars. Put the jars in a roasting pan that is half filled with boiling water. As the cheese melts, stir it down and add more cheese until the jar is filled, leaving 1/2 inch of head space. Seal and process in a water bath canner for 40 minutes. To use the cheese, heat the jar in hot water just barely melting the outside layer. Use a table knife to gently help slide the cheese on to a plate like you do with a Jello mold. Let the cheese set in a cold place, then slice or grate to use. She says the cheese may get a bit stronger tasting with age so it might be better to start with a mild variety.

Unfortunately, Jackie did not say which cheeses she recommended canning nor did she specifically say that any did not work but as the process is so simple, I am going to give this a try. I will do cheddar first then move on to some softer cheeses. I would love to come up with a healthy and inexpensive alternative to a Cheeze Whiz type of product. When I want to do that I will often write down the ingredients in the product I want to reproduce, omitting the ones that came from a chemistry lab and fiddle around until I like the results. I have had good luck with cream soups although I have not had luck with canning those. The soup always separates and curdles. Now I just store the ingredients and make it fresh every time. As I have so many mushrooms I want to give you my recipe for cream of mushrooms soup. I make a simple roux with 2 Tbsp of melted butter and 2 Tbsp of flour (use white flour for this). Stir in a cup of whole milk and a bullion cube, Heat but do not boil then add a pint jar of pressure canned mushrooms. I usually chop the mushrooms pretty fine first as I don’t care for big chunks in my soup. I love this soup although Bruce likes his with more mushrooms. If you are using fresh mushrooms, saute them first in a bit of butter or, if you want to be decadent, saute in bacon.


I got a cider press! Well, not me alone but Bruce and me and two other couples. I am excited on two fronts. Of course, I am tickled that I will be able to make cider and press fruit for wine but I am just as pleased that I have made my first group purchase. I think it is such a waste of resources for everybody to buy these big-ticket items when they are used for just a few days a year. Pressure canners, cider presses, even pick-up trucks are huge expenses and it only make sense to share the costs and benefits. It does demand a different mind-set but I ma slowly getting there.

Today was an on again, off again rainy day, perfect for soup. I made a lentil stew with lots of onions, garlic , kale and carrots and topped it off with home-made rolls. I am getting a lot more intentional about using my food storage. I am not so good about rotating the canned vegetables as I don’t care for them. I’ll bet I will like them better in April when the garden stuff is gone.

We have had two trees cut down this summer. It left us with a pile of wood that will be a good start on the fuel we will need when we get the chimney repaired and can begin to use the wood furnace in the basement. We also bought our arch so we can start a maple syrup operation in the spring. Between the honey, the syrup and the cider we will be swimming in sweet. I sure hope we can find enough people to barter with for the stuff we need like more wood and manure for the compost heap.

Plans are moving along for a sewing center in our church vestry. Our sustainability group has had dozens of sewing machines donated and enormous amounts of fabric and notions. The idea is to set up a center where we can go to sew, hold classes and repair clinics one night a month. We had everything but space and new we have that. I will probably do a 4-H sewing group too. I bought the pattern for some very cool slippers. I do need some help putting them together. Fortunately, there is an excellent seamstress in my group of friends. I hope I can trade some honey for some help. Sewing is not my strong suit.

I usually try to post about things I actually do but today I am writing about plans that are not yet firmed up, specifically transportation. I live in a very walkable place. I can use my feet to get to church, our community house, the hardware store, our little grocery/deli/sustainability library/food co-op, the compactor, out town’s safety complex, my daughter’s school and the post office. Just as important to me, I have several good friends who are well withing walking distance. Still, in a crisis, I would have to get around with more than my feet from time to time. If I wanted to do a big co-op pick-up Iwould certainly struggle trying to walk and carry a 50 pound sack of wheat. So what are my options if gas is suddenly $12.00 a gallon or I just can’t drive for some reason?

First, I must mention our vehicles. We own a pick-up truck and a mini-van. Both are paid for and in good shape. If we have to go down to one vehicle, it would be the truck that stayed. It is a standard shift, 4 wheel drive model. It can seat 4 but it is not comfortable for my daughter (she is as tall as I am and weighs the same). We are thinking about getting a different truck that would have a bigger cab and permit us to move down to just one vehicle. The criteria would be second hand, standard shift, low mileage and a brand with a good track record for longevity.

We all have bicycles but we need to make some changes. I have a terrific Schwinn that I got for my birthday a couple of years ago. It looks great but was a terrible choice for where we live. It is heavy, has a single speed, back pedal brakes and will kill you on a hill. It was a nostalgic buy for me. I am thinking of selling it to someone who lives on flat land and buying an electric assist bike with some good panniers. Our town is really hilly and the electric assist would really expand the distance I could comfortably bike. Bruce has a road bike. It is too light for him but just right for my daughter. I think we will replace her outgrown bike with Bruce’s and get him a sturdier road bike. Phoebe has a good bike too and rides a lot.

Never underestimate the value of a good wagon. We have a very sturdy metal wagon. If I had a a big co-op order, I could easily pull the wagon to the store and carry quite a lot home. We have even made pick-ups from the hardware store with it. It carries a couple of kids, school projects and big bunches of produce from the garden to the house. We also have a garden cart that can carry even larger loads.

We live in the snowy Northeast so we each have snowshoes and cross country skis. We really need to replace everybody’s skis this year. They are really old and I want to update to better quality while we still can. Our poor old boots are split and worn and show how much use they get. Phoebe may well get skis for her upcoming birthday. We don’t have good snowshoes for the Karen and that might be added to a Christmas list, especially if I can get a decent pair on Craig’s list. I often get my kids second-hand gifts for Christmas and have never gotten a complaint.

I am shocked at just how much driving I still do. I am trying to get to one town trip each week but it seems that something always comes up that requires an extra trip. The driving is a luxury that we can not afford either environmentally or economically. Perhaps the best transportation investment one can make is in a car pool group. We love living out in the country but organizing a car pool has been a challenge. We tried to organize a ride share several years ago but it was extraordinarily unsuccessful. I think we are so used to being independent and having that car available. Of all the changes peak oil will bring, that easy access to a car with a full tank  of gas is going to be the hardest on us. We would rather be cold that without transportation.

Once we make the changes in modes of transport, there are some things we will need to stock. A bike repair kit is a necessity as are spare tires. Oil for chains and spare parts would be a good idea. If a young person is looking a for a career possibility, bike repair might be a good option. The days of buying those cheap bikes from Wally World and planning to replace one every year are over, at least around here. I expect to buy one good bike and keep it until I die. I hope others will as well. A repair (man, person, oh help me be politically correct here)will be able to make a decent living. I suppose I should be looking for bikes and skis in larger sizes for Phoebe as she is the only one still growing and no, I do not need the jokes about my waistline from any of my friends.

I just want to close with a word about my weekend. I went apple picking with a friend on Saturday. If this calls up images of a beautiful orchard with perfect fruit in those neat little paper bags, forget about it. We went gleaning apples from roadside trees and an abandoned orchard. The fruit is smaller and scabby not at all abundant this year as the cold, wet spring played hell on the blossoms. We asked permission fo the gentleman who owned the land the orchard was on if he minded if we harvested the fruit. He must have gotten quite a chuckle over these two ladies who will not see 50 again, climbing over an electric fence with a full bushel of apples between us, trying to outrun a herd of cows that wanted their fair share of fruit. We were slipping in cow flops and laughing so hard we could hardly breath. It was a wonderful day. I came home to a warm kitchen that smelled wonderful. I had put a pan of root veges on to roast before I left and the aroma of onions and garlic hit me befor I opened the door. There was loaf of good bread on the counter. My girls were doing schoolwork at the table and Bruce was printing out pictures to contribute to our project. I suppose if you were to count the hours I spent getting the apples picked, washed, chopped, steamed, strained and canned I made about $.50 cents an hour for my labor but I could have spent $100.00 0n an afternoon at an amusement park and not had as much fun. All things are relative.

It is that time of year. The air has all of summer’s heat but none of summer’s warmth. Even at 80 degrees there is a subtle nip. It is downright cold right now. I am wrapped in a fleece robe and drinking a tonic of vinegar and honey instead of tea. We have reached that busy stage of harvest and preparation. We pulled another row of potatoes last night ans set them to cure. I pulled a pile of big beets and left others to mature a bit longer. That means beets grees for dinner. I love greens fried in a bit of bacon and sprinkle with some vinegar and feta. I am making more kraut today too.

Bruce got the herb garden staked out. We are going to cover it today with a layer of wet newspaper and black plastic. He situated it to sit right outside the fantasy exterior kitchen. The Stark Brothers catalog came in so it is order time for new trees for the orchard. We are hoping for a small fruit harvest next year. The raspberries are fabulous. We are still eating a cup or two a day. The fox grapes are pitiful this year. I will have to purchase (sniff, sniff) grape juice.

We also got two large trees chopped down. That leaves a big pile of wood to get split and stacked. We have some big sons for the work. Another tree is going as well. It’s on the town berm so they are doing the cutting but the wood will be ours if we want it. We do.

I have to drop off the money and pick up the arch I got for Bruce. I am really excited about sugaring in the spring. We are also getting ready for honey harvest. I have the jars but need to get the labels printed.

I am thinking ahead to the holidays. I have such fun ideas for gifts. I am getting Bruce a sign for the shed with Barefoot Farm logo on it. I think he will really like it. Phoebe is getting the American Girls dolls that belonged to y older girls re-headed. As my foster daughter is approaching adulthood, I am looking for a beautiful wooden box or trunk for her. I want to fill it with little things like dish towels and baking supplies. Remember hope chests? I don’t think people do that anymore but we should revive the practice. We can be egalitarian and include tools.

We have a neighbor coming over to show Bruce how to properly measure our windows so we can begin the process of replacing them all. Until then, we will continue to put up plastic on the interior. It worked well last year. The furnace needs to have the filter replaced and we have to finish the ventilation in the root cellar. The car needs new tires. That has to happen pretty quickly.

I also have people asking me to do a bread baking workshop. I think I will offer one in my kitchen. It would be a lot easier that hauling all of my stuff over to the Community House and I could charge very little as I would have nearly no overhead. I am thinking that I could manage 5 participants at $20.00 a piece. I am harboring this fantasy of a side business of delivering bread to maybe five families a week. I could easily make ten loaves of bread in an afternoon. I suppose I would run into all sorts of commercial kitchen problems though and by the time I paid for the ingredients I would be making about $.15 cents and hour. Maybe it doesn’t sound like such a good idea after all.

Are you all hunkering down? What do you do to prepared for the cold season?

Wow! What a great disscussion from yesterday’spost.  It gave me much to think about. Then I went to a pot luck dinner our church hosted for some peace walkers last night and I came home much embarrassed. If I want to support peace in the world, I need to have peace in my life. How does that reconcile with recommending somebody spank their child because he was irritating me, especially if I raised my own kids without hitting? It doesn’t and I take it back. There were probably 10 other strategies that would have worked. Rule number #1 for blogging. Do not write when you are tired or cranky.

This did, however bring up an important preparedness issue. Do not expect me to have a solution. I am just bringing up the subject.

It was clear from the many posts I received as well as from the private emails that many of us have people in our lives we are responsible for. There are the elderly, babies and the physically, emotionally and cognivtively challenged. I believe it is a measure of our humanity that we do not set our disabled family members by the side of the road. We care for them because that’s what we do. That’s who we are. I have two children with pretty significant special needs myself. Without specialized feeding, my dear little Phoebe would not survive. Without daily medication, another daughter would not function. The feeding issue is less problematic. We could feed Phoebe by hand with a homemade formula substitute if the purchased supplement ran out. It would take a chunk of our day and she would suffer nutritionally but she would survive in the short run. In a true grid down, long term disaster, she would probably not live. It would much more difficult for the child who needs medication. There are no herbs or tonics that would replace the very targeted medication she takes. Like I said. No solutions.

As much as  you can, you do need to think about the needs of those who will be unable to care for themselves in a crisis. Are you prepared with diapers and a way to wash them? Do you have a stash of necessary medications? Perhaps the more important question is this. Are you mentally prepared to care for your loved ones, no matter who they are, no matter what the circumstances? It also brings to mind the larger question of your place in responsibility to the wider community. I am attending a multi-town emergency preparedness training on Friday. I will repeat something I have stated before. I can not eat if my neighbors are hungry. I can not be warm if they are cold. We are pack animals. We need our tribe, our herd, our people. Living alone and isolated holds no appeal for me.

I had a terrific experience yesterday followed by a very different one and I want to share them both.

I took my kids to the pediatrician for their flu shots yesterday. My youngest, Phoebe, is medically fragile and the flu could well kill her so we are all careful about shots. The nurse took the girl’s history and said that since Phoebe has terrible asthma she needed the shot while Karen, who is medically healthy, could have the nasal spray. Karen thought for a minute and said she would take the shot too as it would be easier for Phoebe if she saw her sister get the shot and could see it was not a big deal. You have to know that Karen hates shots with a passion. It was such a brave, kind and generous act, I nearly cried.

Then last night, I went to Phoebe’s school open house. There was a little boy there with his mom and his behavior was atrocious. He was rude, disrespectful and intrusive. It was not because it was late and he was tired. He acts like this all of the time. His mom threatened, cajoled, bribed and reasoned with him. He laughed ate her. His mom looked embarrassed and said that it was so hard to keep him quiet as he was gifted and easily bored!!!

I am not a hitter or a yeller but I do think we may have done our kids a disservice when we made spanking a child such a crime. I had to wonder what would happen to this little guy in a crisis. What if his mom said to run (fire, flood, danger) and he argued? What if he demanded an explanation rather than knowing that when they say for me to do something, I need to do it. NOW! I also wonder about life in a world where he is not always going to get what he asks for. How long will he scream and whine before he understands that the world may not revolve around what he wants. I know I will hear a lot of negative feedback about this but I am going to stick my neck out here. What if mom had taken him to the bathroom and told him in a calm voice that if his behavior did not improve he would be taken outside and receive a spanking and then she followed up? I don’t know for sure. I am guessing that a swat on his fanny might have removed the humor from the situation for him.

I should add that I teach behavior management classes and I never recommend spanking. I have also raised many dozens of kids (I am a foster parent) without ever laying a hand on them in anger. However, I do think it is necessary for kids to know that there is a limit to what behavior you are going to tolerate. I am a big believer in the consequences of one’s actions being the best discipline. If you forget your homework and mom brings it to school twice a week you are teaching a lesson, the wrong one but a lesson non-the-less. If you don’t get your clothes in the hamper you don’t have clean socks. If you don’t eat the beans you don’t get the cookie. If you act up in public you will not be taken out. If you push me to the limit, you will get a swat on the bum. Clear and to the point.

We have created a child centric society in some ways and in others, a very child harming one. We give our kids lots of stuff but none of our time. We teach them to speak Chinese in preschool but not how to speak kindly to their siblings. We teach them to respect money but not to respect their parents. They are exposed to media that displays rude, arrogant behavior as cool and portrays parents as bumbling and easily manipulated. We sell to them and are dismayed when they buy into it.

We have to do a better job. Our kids need to meet the challenges of the future with discipline and grit. They can not afford to think the world will change to suit them.

Now you have a food supply. The power goes out and there sits your food, staring at you, daring you to find something to make that your family will actually consume. You begin to hallucinate. Images of Pop Tarts and frozen pizza fill your brain.

Well snap out of it. There is no place for Pop Tarts in a preparedness program. Not that they would go bad quickly. They are  not real food and lack the capacity to rot the way a carrot does. But still not anything one would bother stocking up on. But what will you eat? Managing you food supply means having a menu plan at your finger tips. The last thing you need in any crisis is lack of directions. Pull out your preparedness notebook and the meal plan should be on the first page. I am assuming you have secured a way to cook but I am also assuming no frozen foods. If you have a freezer and need to eat down before things thaw, your menu plan will have to reflect that.

Breakfast. Assume coffee,tea, milk or hot chocolate

Toasted bread with peanut butter and honey-canned fruit

Pumpkin muffins with raisins-fruit juice-

Blueberry pancakes with syrup or fruit sauce-

Scrambled eggs-toast-fruit juice

Rice cooked in milk and raisins

oatmeal with dried apples and cinnamon

French toast with fruit sauce

Lunch. Assume milk is served with each lunch

Macaroni and cheese with stewed tomatoes

Vegetable soup and toast

Tuna sandwiches and carrot sticks

Chili and bread sticks

Chicken and rice

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and canned fruit

Chicken soup and toast

Dinner. Assume milk and extras like pickles, applesauce and canned fruit

Chicken and dumplings

Stew and biscuits

Rice and beans

Ham and potatoes with green beans

spaghetti and sauce

Chicken and rice curry

Lentil soup

Snacks and desserts

 Cookies, dried fruit, pudding, jello, cheese and crackers, yogurt

Add a daily multivitamin and be sure to include a fruit juice with vitamin c and milk or other high calcium drink. This is pretty basic but it will keep you in good shape and is not bland or boring. It does demand that you reconstitute milk, bake bread and maybe make some yogurt or cheese. I would be willing to bet that this is a better diet than many people get on a regular basis. It is also fairly simple although not fast food.

Today is a short post. I have to go to town and work in the garden.

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