June 2012

It’s going to be another hot one. When it gets up in the 90’s, we shut the house up early in the morning and keep the kids inside. Goodness knows, I have plenty to keep me busy.

Today, the plan is make a tincture for the treatment of headaches. The recipe calls for 2/3 cups a cup of lemon balm and 1/3 cup of feverfew. This goes in a quart mason jar. The jar is then filled with vodka and left on a sunny windowsill for 6 weeks. It is then strained and kept in a dark bottle. You can take a couple of teaspoons every 1/2 hour until the headache goes away. I’m also going to can up some strawberry/lemon concentrate. The recipe calls for 6 cups of hulled strawberries, 4 cups of lemon juice and 6 cups of sugar. It’s all boiled together then water bathed canned. It makes 6 pints of a concentrate that is mixed with water or seltzer. If it goes well I’ll post pictures and the full directions later.

I found both these recipes on-line. Canning Homemade is a wonderful site as is the Foodie With Family site. Frugal Sustainability is also very good. On a day like this, when the garden has to wait until evening, I like to make good use of inside time to start canning and preserving. It will be my reward for cleaning my cluttered refrigerator.

One final thing. I dropped off some strawberries to an elderly neighbor yesterday. We visited for a bit and she told me about her memories of the Great Depression. She told me lots of things I didn’t know about life in my small New England village in the 20’s and 30’s. It was really interesting. There were traveling meat sellers and peddlers of all sorts. I remember the Fuller Brush man. I believe we bought clothes from him. I also remember a man who brought things like soap. Perhaps it was the same man. We lived quite far from town some of the time and my mother didn’t drive so traveling salesmen were the way we shopped. That and the Montgomery Ward catalog. My children would be astonished by the way we lived. I think they think of the history of 50 years ago as ancient. It seems like yesterday to me.


It poured here yesterday. The rain was cause for celebration as we were mighty dry although I hesitate to complain given what so many other places are dealing with. Anyway, I found myself rocking the baby while the rain came down and idly turned on the television. I was flipping through channels looking for something to watch when I came upon a tv show called extreme couponing. I had heard of this and always anxious to find a way to pinch a dollar, decided to watch. What a disappointment.

The two woman profiled did save astounding amounts of money but they did it with a combination of selfishness (why should I leave any for anyone else?) and poor eating habits. In one case, every item purchased was for a non-food item. The “star” got 100+ tubes of Mentos and 100 boxes of artificial sweetener. She got a cart full of sports drinks and paper towels. She “saved” $600.00 which she was using to repair her roof but I don’t get how you can call it savings when she still doesn’t have the cash for the roof. It isn’t as though she would have purchased all that candy anyway.

The second woman gave a class on couponing which was probably valuable and then took three of the participants shopping. Each spent less than $50.00 and got more than $150.00 worth of food. The problem was that none of it was really food. There were pizza bites and iced tea in jugs. I did see some fruit cups but they are mostly plastic and sugar with nearly no actual fruit to speak of. I saw one package of chicken and a box of cereal that is primarily chocolate flavored cardboard. If there was any sort of vegetable or real fruit or whole grain I missed it.

I pondered just what I would suggest to a very low-income family trying to feed themselves a balanced diet on a budget of $50.00 a week. I won’t pretend it would be easy. It would be hard as heck although it would get easier as time went on and you developed a stockpile of staples. It also wouldn’t be doable unless you had the time, inclination and ability to cook. I will post a sample menu that presumes there are some things like baking soda and baking powder, salt and sugar in the pantry.

First. There is no room in this diet for coffee, soda or junk food of any kind. That would be hard for a lot of people and I put myself in that category as I do love a good cup of coffee. I do leave room for iced tea made from tea bags and lightly sweetened.

Breakfast: Oatmeal is cheap and filling. Adding raisins and cinnamon and brown sugar helps a lot. I would be making 4 loaves of bread for the week and toast with peanut butter might be another day. An omlete with chopped veges and maybe a few slivers of cheese could also be on the menu. Juice would be too expensive but you could add some fruit when it was in season. I just made a double batch of blueberry muffins. I have no idea about the price per muffin but they’re pretty hearty and the blueberries are the only expensive ingredient. I pick them in the wild but that’s not an option for everybody. Home-made granola can be expensive if you add a lot of expensive ingredients but if you leave out the coconut and expensive nuts it becomes a lot cheaper and yogurt is very cheap if you make it from powdered milk.

Dinners: You are going to have to have a couple of vegetarian meals a week. Omelets may show up again as they stretch the vegetables. I would cook one big chicken and have it with potatoes and yellow squash on the first night. The next night it would be stretched with a white sauce and served over rice or potatoes. The third night it would be soup with lots of veges and noodles. I know pasta with tomato sauce would be on the menu as would some kind of rice and beans. Potato soup with home-made bread is another option. Fruits and vegetable would have to be what was in season and cheap which would mean less variety than you might like. Salmon patties can use up canned salmon.

Lunch would be leftovers if you have them. Sandwiches are too expensive if you use lunch meat but tuna, egg salad and peanut butter would work. Soup and bread would show up a lot.

I would plan to make a big batch of oatmeal cookies for snacking and some biscuits too. The diet isn’t perfect. It would be heavy on potatoes and bread and every vegetable would have to pack a nutritional punch. It might take several weeks to build up a pantry of staples and you would still probably need to use a food pantry to fill in around the edges. That one big bird would be the only meat. At some point you would want to grow at least some herbs on the window sill to add some flavor. I’m not certain but I think teaming up with another family might help as you could pool some food resources too get better deals on large packages.

I’ve been pretty poor in my life. I fed three kids and a husband well because we had chickens and a garden and a cow in the freezer. There is no way to compare poor in the city with poor in the country. It’s not possible to harvest wild berries and tree fruit or barter for a dozen eggs when you live in a high-rise. The apocalypse may never happen but for sure financial times are not likely to get better any time soon and figuring out how to feed ourselves is going to get harder. I read Greg Jeffers blog (americanenergycrisis.blogspot.com). We don’t see eye to eye on many social issues but there is no getting around the fact that he’s a very bright guy and he’s getting this food growing stuff worked out. He recently posted about the effect of the drought on his crops. Climate change is going to put this kind of information front and center. More than ever I am going to be writing about how to prepare for a food challenged world. We can always stay home and put on a heavy sweatshirt should heating oil get more expensive but we can’t reduce our need for a decent diet. Forget about occupying Wall Street. If you want to make life better for your family, occupy your kitchen and your garden. Occupy a canner and a dehydrator.

I am so sorry to have been so light in my posting. It’s just nuts around here. The weather has been perfect for haying. It also perfect for weeds so I’ve been putting in a couple of hours a day on mulching and weeding. Strawberries are coming in my the gallon. There are very few things better than strawberries shortcake with whipped cream. The New York cherries were ready too. I took a road trip with a truck full of friends and brought back about 40 pounds. That translated into 21 quarts of canned cherries plus several pounds for gifting and fresh eating. It felt good to get the canner out again.

We have just started to eat a bit more out of the garden this week. Tonight I made a grilled garlic scape and asparagus dish with olive oil and sea salt. It would have been better had I remembered it sooner. It was a bit crispy.

The back field looks like a real farm. Trees and berry bushes are surrounded by chicken and sheep, pigs and bee hives. The whole neighborhood of children is having a blast in the field. It’s finally hayed and that has just expanded the game opportunities. It’s so much fun to see what kids come up with. There where about 8 of them last night, hopped up on Tom’s S’mores who found a low branch that made a dandy horse.

Feeding 8 has brought the need for a revitalization of my frugal living efforts. I’ve been looking at food in categories. For instance. Today I made pulled pork as we were having all of the kids and a load of friends and neighbors over for a picnic. I needed Kaiser rolls so I mixed up a batch before anybody else got up. It took maybe 15 minutes of hands-on time to make 16 delicious sandwich rolls. Now we eat a lot of bread around here. At $5.00 a loaf for descent bread, that adds up fast. I have no idea how much it cost to make the rolls but I know it wasn’t $5.00. The return for energy investment is too high not to make the effort to do this on a regular basis. Adding a bit of lemon balm to a pitcher of water makes it seem special without spending any money or adding any calories. Win-win. The same with yogurt. it takes a few minutes to put a quart together but it cost dearly to buy a quart of the good stuff.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of spending money rather than investing some time but it’s a slippery slope and one I have fallen into far too often as so many chores are needing my attention. I have committed to doing one thing each day to keep my food bill in line. That’s seven things a week. Totally doable. Tomorrow it’s pizza. My son is driving right by the pizza place but 2 pizzas will cost me $20.00. I have the mozzarella in the refrigerator and the sauce in the basement. I can whip up a crust in the Kitchen-Aid in a few minutes. I have mushrooms and spinach. The savings are considerable and the work easy. Lazy is way too expensive for me to indulge.

Bruce went down to check the bee hives this week and found that one hive was empty. It had no dead bees, no sign of disease or predators. The bees are just gone. It’s like they were raptured away. I have read a lot about and this is the typical scenario.

It’s really scary for a bee keeper. I’ve read a lot about how bees are the easiest livestock and how they require so little time and energy. Only a non-beekeeper would ever say anything like that. Bees are time and energy intensive. They require excellent hive management to be successful and even that doesn’t ensure success. Bears are a problem. The weather pattern matters, disease and pest management matter. Finding a hive you’ve nurtured for a year just gone is heartbreaking.

I’ve been doing a lot of research on projects I can use with my young homesteaders 4-H group. Once again I’m struck by the vast number of resources that are available on-line that would be lost in a grid failure or cyber attack. I’m making a list of some that I may have missed and downloading them now. Do any of you have any suggestions for things you can download. I want the directions for anything powered by the sun. I have them several dehydrators and ovens. What am I missing???

We all know about storing food and water and keeping some cash on hand, just in case. We keep our cars gassed up and some extra medication because things happen and we don’t want to be caught short. But what about things that are not so obvious? Are there some important holes that you should be plugging now?

Footwear: I have shoes.As the mother of a teenaged girl I find myself tripping over shoes all the time. But somehow, I suspect that the blue sequined dancing shoes will not be very helpful should there be heavy work or a lot of walking to do. What does your shoe supply look like? You need shoes to walk in and shoes to work in. You also need boots that will keep your feet dry and warm boots too. You should also have moleskin, waterproofing and shoe goo. Extra laces are a must as are ice grippers if you live where you get that kind of weather. Add a good pedicure kit to your stocks and learn how to use it. An ingrown nail could be a lot more than inconvenient. As you can afford it, have back-ups to all footwear. It can be second-hand if it’s in good shape and fits well. I’m a big fan of muck boots and Sorrels. You can buy extra liners for them. Add socks. Cheap socks are the pits. Learn to darn.

Spices: I hear all the time about the shelf-life of spices. Ignore most of the numbers. Spices kept dry and away from too much light and heat last a very long time. All that stored rice and beans and the cellar full of potatoes will thank you. I get big bottles of spices from BJ’s and keep them sealed.

Wind up watches and clocks and timers. Time can matter and if the power is out is a real pain not to be able to time something. It’s dangerous not to be able to time your canning kettle.

Hard copies of phone numbers: My kids are all children of the new age and not one of them has an address book. Why would they when all that important information is in their smart phones? Not so smart really.

A hard-wired phone. It doesn’t need electricity and it doesn’t have a battery to go dead and it will make a call with no satellite input.

Non-electric fun: Get some puzzles and some good books.

I’m a sucker for lists. Feel free to add to this one.

I had such a good time with my 4-H kids this week. We made self-watering containers out of old soda bottles. The only hard part was finding the bottles as we don’t drink soda. Just cut the bottle in half, fill the part with the neck with soil and a plant and insert it in the bottom half. When it need water, put enough in the bottom to reach a bit past the bottle top. The plant will get water from the water reservoir with no danger of over-watering. They aren’t pretty but they work really well. I’m always on the look-out for ideas on how to grow food in small places. The container potatoes are doing very well although how anything is growing in this sunless weather is beyond me.

Things are going very well with the new household members. There’s always a comfort curve but my DIL is a truly thoughtful and considerate person. She works so darned hard at her paying job and still manages to pull more than her fair share of household tasks too. I wish this place were just a bit bigger so they had more room to spread out. I feel guilty even thinking that as so many live with so much less.

Interesting news out there. It’s a real education to read about how people in Europe are handling austerity. I have always enjoyed reading about real families living during the depression. There is much to learn and the time is growing short to learn it.