We took the girls to the opening night of our agricultural fair last night. It was not as much fun as usual. The first night is 1$10.00 bracelett night meaning for $10.00 you can go on all the rides for the one flat fee. We don’t do carnivals or amusement parks so we hadno problem with letting the kids do this. The propblem we did have is that the livestock doesn’t all arrive until today so by going last night we missed a lot of the stuff we most enjoy. We are expecting a big storm today to make the fair a giant mud pit this afternoon so it was go last night or maybe not go at all. Most of locals go on Saturday. Last night seemed to be a lot of out of towners. There were just too many hollowed eyed teens for my taste. I stuck pretty close to my “too pretty for her own good” daughter. I was a lot more aware of how much junk was there too. The cheap plactic toys from China neverbothered me before but they do now. There was guy selling fried cheesecake (yuk) but the man who used to sell corn on the cob was not around. I don’t know. It just felt different to me.  I won’t go on bracelett night again in spite of the savings. It just had a bad vibe to it.

I got home and was quite happy to start loading my new freezer. I plan to fill it with the food from the two smaller freezers and defrost those. I was not happy with all of the old food I found. I found a few packages of meat that have been there for months (years). I had not freezer wrapped them so they were all dried out and awful looking. I expect they are still good to eat. Just (just!) the flavor will be affected. So today’s poll is this. Would you eat old meat if it had been frozen for 2 years? 1 year? Why or why not? I have some lamb too. The chops look good but I don’t know about the ground meat.

I can see why people used to have pasta night and fish night and meatloaf night. It does make the organization of a kitchen food supply a lot easier. For those of use with big gardens and food animals or those who store food, this is no small problem. We have a lot of blood, sweat, tears and money tied up in our pantries and freezers. I need to get serious about this. We waste too much food in this country and I do not wish to be a part of that. Tonight. we are eating some stew beef that has, quite frankly, seen better days. We are going to eat some of the dried peas that I put up this spring and pull potatoes to serve with it. With a lot of gravy, my kids will eat most anything. Tomorrow it  will be the chicken and on Sunday, I am serving a pot luck with the one piece of fish, the 6 left behind meatballs, the 2 chicken wings and a creamed vege dish that will incorporate a lot of the bottom of the bag vegetables that need to go. The best thing about my new freezer is the compartments. I will be able to put all of the pork in one bin, the chicken in another and so on. I am committing to eating from a different bin each night with 3 nights a week devoted to a vegetarian meals that will use up some of my 75 pound stash of dried beans. It is so convenient to go for the canned beans that I ignore the others. I also have to start eating the dried pasta. I have mountains of it. My kids hate the dried stuff and only want fresh.

All of these disjointed thoughts are connected in some way that has to do with waste and respect for the planet and what we think things are worth. It is too early in the morning and I am operating on far too little sleep to connect them well. I just have this feeling, this inner sense that things are changing. Our wasteful, self-indulgent lifestyles are not going to be sustainable any longer. The kind of excess that made it possible for me to have the luxury of losing a pound of stew beef is disappearing. I have to see this as a good thing although it will be a hard lesson for us to learn.

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I went to the market this week and, as usual, amused myself by looking in people’s grocery carts. It is pretty interesting to see what passes for food in this country and why people complain about prices. Chicken Helper, graham cracker pie crusts (pre-formed and packed in a double layer of plastic for your viewing pleasure), cereal that is 27% sugar. YIKES!!!

This got me to thinking about convenience food. My brother and his girlfriend came over unexpectedly on Sunday morning. If I had been unprepared, I would have needed to drive to the local store and spend $5.oo or more on some coffee cake kind of thing. Instead, I was able to pull out two quarts of home canned cherries, add a bit of corstarch to the juice, top it with a crumb topping and have it in the oven in under 3 minutes. This was possible because I always keep a cannister of topping in the refrigerator. It’s one of those easy recipes that make it possible for my to make a dessert out of any fruit I have on hand. I make it in bulk and it lasts a really long time.

4 cups flour

4 cups packed brown sugar

1 cup butter

Cut this up in a food processor or with a pastry cutter until the pieces are pea sized. Stir in 2 cups rolled oats and store in a covered can in the refrigerator. To use, just pout some on top of thickened fruit. I have found that if I let the fruit thicken in a 350 degree oven for ten minutes or so before add the topping, it stays crispier.

I look like Betty Crocker when I haul out a dish like this with no notice when in fact, nothing could be easier. The trick is to have this kind of convenience food at you fingertips.

For years, my husband would get up in the morning and make a double helping of instant oatmeal before heading out the door to work. I nearly divorced him over the habit. I can’t even look at the stuff without getting nauseous. Now I make my own instant oatmeal. I whiz 6 1/2 cups rolled oats in the food processor. Add 1 cup dried milk, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon cinnamon and maybe some cloves or nutmeg. I add some extras like chopped walnuts, raisins or dried apples. This recipe is pretty flexible. Sometimes I pop in a bit of wheat germ or some flax seed meal. This can be kept in a cupboard for up to six months but we eat it up long before that. To prepare it, put 1 cup oatmeal mix in a pan with 1 cup boiling water. Cook it for about 1 minute over low heat, stirring constantly, then let it sit for another minute. It isn’t quite as easy as adding some boiling water to a package of instant oatmeal but you aren’t starting the day with a dish of artificial ingredients either and the cost difference is significant.  A box of 8 packages of the instant stuff is $3.50 for brand name and $2.50 for the generic stuff on sale. I buy all of the ingredients in bulk through my co-op for far less.

Buttermilk Salad Dressing is a staple in my kitchen. Have you ever looked at the ingredient list on the bottled stuff? YUK! 4 1/2 cups of buttermilk powder, 1 1/2ups of dehydrated chives, 1/2 cup dried dill, 1/4 cup dried mustard and 1/2 cup sugar make a decent substitute. When you need dressing or a quick dip, take this from the refrigerator. Use 10 tablespoons of mix  1 cups warm water, 1/4 cup cider vinegar and 2 tablespoons plain yogurt or sour cream. This will give you about 2 cups of salad dressing.

For Ranch Dressing (our favorite) mix 2 heaping tablespoons dried, minced onion with a tablespoon crumbled parsley, 2 heaping teaspoons paprika, 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons pepper and a heaping teaspoon garlic powder. Since I dry all of the herbs, this costs me nearly nothing. It stores on the shelf for a year or until the herbs lose their punch. I usually make at least 12 times the amount listed here so I always have it on hand. When I need Ranch Dressing, I add 5 tablespoons of the mix 1 cup of mayonnaise and 1 cup buttermilk. You can make it thicker by adding it to sour cream or yogurt instead. 

My final thought is about biscuits. I think there should be a law against those things in tubes. They are not food. And I don’t get the use of “just add water” pancake mixes. How the heck hard is it to mix up some pancakes? If you make a mix up ahead of time, it takes seconds, really, to put together a healthy, rib sticking breakfast. 6 cups of flour, 3 1/2 tablespoons baking powder, 1 cup of dried milk powder, 1/2 tablespoon salt is cut up with 1 cup shortening. I actually use Earth Balance spread as I have a problem with my cholesterol. I keep this in my refrigerator. This makes a just-add-water ix that isn’t filled with non-food junk and costs pennies to make. Make it thick for biscuits and thin for pancakes.

I feel a bit funny about this post as I think we spend far to little time on preparing food and here I am, promoting ways to get out of the kitchen quicker. But the truth is that we all have busy days and times when spending 15 minutes extra is just too much. For those days, it’s nice to know you can eat quickly while still saving time and money. From a preparedness standpoint, having this stuff on hand will make preparing meals that much easier. There is the added benefit of reduce packaging to consider. I have a reduction in my household trash as a major goal in the coming year. The more you make from scratch the less you have to toss out.

 

 

 

When I first got married, I actuall bought

I have gotten a couple of private emails directing me to an article that is linked at the survivalblog website about a family on unemployment in Elkhart, Indiana. I suppose it could make you angry (it did a lot of people) because this family is losing their rental home while still purchasing beer, soda and cigarettes but it just made me sad. These guys thought they had a contract with America for a specific kind of life and somebody broke the contract. Pointing fingers won’t help.

This got me to thinking about a couple of other emails I have received asking where I thought families should begin in starting a preparedness program. These were people less concerned with big disasters and more concerned with recession depriving them of their livelihood. Yesterday, I spent some time looking over what I have and trying to prioritize  in terms of real usefulness. For instance, I have a bottle capper because I like to make soda but I would not give that a high rating. Making soda is fun but not necessary for survival. What follows is my “gotta have it list” for preparing to live on less.

Water bath canner: I start here because water bath canning allows you to glean and gather fruit and process it with very little effort. You can buy a couple of bushels of tomatoes and put up quarts and quarts of sauce. If you have some land, and by some I mean ripping out the roses if necessary, you can grow tomatoes and your sauce will be nearly free.

Pressure canner: Meat in bulk is a lot less expensive but you need to be able to preserve it. Freezers and electricity cost a lot more than a quality canner and the meat is there, able to be turned into easy, stove top or outdoor cooked meals. I would start by learning to can hamburger, chicken and stew beef.

Dehydrator: Today, I am buying bags of frozen vegetables at the big box store and drying them for long term storage. They are cheap right now and I want to avoid buying another freezer so drying is the way to go. Drying herbs and fruit is easy and requires less electricity than any other method of preservation.

Food Saver: Having a vacuum sealer makes it possible to keep dried food in optimal condition. I dry larger vegetables and grind them up for soup base.

Canning jars: You can never have too many. Check out yard sales and Craig’s List for the best buys but if you must pay cash, consider them an investment.

Weather proofing: check out every program that is available to help you reduce your energy consumption. Sell the big screen TV to buy insulation.

One good, basic cookbook: You need to know how to prepare real food. Every time you are tempted to buy fast food, put those dollars away and make biscuits and gravy and a simple vegetable dish. Follow up with a fruit cobbler.

Community: Got friends? If you have friends, you have people to share expenses with and people to learn with. That canner is less expensive if you buy it with your sister or your best friend. You half the cost and double the fun. Instead of spending money going out to eat or to the movies, pick a couple of bushels of apples and put up apple sauce. You will have so much fun and be eating great food in January when the stuff in stores is expensive and shipped in from Chili

Land: By land, I mean garden space. Maybe your church or synagogue will put in a garden if you get the ball rolling. We have a garden on our school grounds this summer. Families are taking turns caring for it. Go to the library and check out books on self sufficiency on small spaces. There are lots to chose from and they are full of ideas. Check out books on thrifty living. The Tightwad Gazette books are a good place to start. I have all of them and read them often for inspiration.

This recession is far from over. The people in Elkhart would call it a depression. If only they had prepared for this time, there lives would be so much better, so much healthier. We all need to be preparing for a life of less. It is up to us to make decisions now that will keep our families healthy and happy, no matter the economy does.

Most of us have pretty predictable relationships with food. We choose what to purchase or grow and prepare based on a value system developed over time and geared to fit a particular set of circumstances.

Gourmet: This is the person who can ignore cost and health issues in search of the perfect meal. It matters not that the truffles came from France and cost the equivalent of a week’s supply of groceries for a poor family, if the recipe calls for truffles then truffles it is. The $100.00 bottle of wine, the fillet Mignon, the Hollendaise sauce will all be consumed in spite of the doctor’s warning. I know couple of gourmets and, while I like the occasional dinner invite from one, I shutter to think of their impact on the planet.

The Cheap Eater: The compulsively cheap eater considers boxed macaroni and cheese with a side of hot dogs a meal. A lot of these people end up overweight because cheap food is often starchy and calorie dense and the calories come from cheap fats and sugars. This is not a value judgement. If you have to feed  your kids and you have been laid off for six months, eating cheap can become an art form. My mother could feed 6 of us three meals from one chicken. We ate the body of the chicken for day one, stretched with corn bread and potatoes. On day two, we got chicken and dumplings with very little chicken and a lot of gravy and dumplings. Day three was chicken soup. It had practically no chicken in it but a lot of rice and vegetables and there was always a bread of some sort. We also used to eat a lot of Puffed Rice. It came in huge bag and cost next to nothing. We called it Puffed Air.

The Convenience Cook: This cook never saw a just-add-water meal she didn’t love. Forget the salt, the fat and the cost, as long as she can get supper on the table in minutes, she’ll buy anything. Canned spaghetti and Ramen noodles feature heavily in this cook’s repetoir.

The Health Food Eater: If it came out that moldy leaves where good for you, he would eat them. Lots of tofu and sprouts make up a typical meal. Full fat vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce is the food of the devil. A lot of these people find that they do feel better on this diet but they have the unfortunate habit of boring companions to tears as they discuss every morsel consumed ad nauseum.

There are a lot of other kinds of eaters from fast food to regimented, vegetarian, vegan, omnivore, locavaor, live food, low carb, no carb, eating is as fad prone as clothing. In a world with looming food shortages our fussiness may be a luxury we can ill afford.

Last night we ate what I consider to be gourmet fare. I made a batch of pasta with pesto from my first basil. We also had a side salad with a bunch of garden greens, the last of the asparagus tips, some garbanzo beans and a bit of feta. I added some tiny beets and carrot curls for color. The pesto is easy to make. A handful of basil, some pine nuts, a few tablespoons of Parmesan cheese and a few cloves of garlic held together with olive oil, pesto takes only a couple of minutes from garden to plate. If you want to save time, make up a large batch when the basil peaks and freeze it in serving sized containers. Home made pasta does take time but there are several good varieties of pasta that can be prepared. I use Barilla Plus when I don’t make my own. I used canned garbanzo beans because I forgot to soak some dry beans but dry beans are a perfect food. Cheap, easy, storable, and a healthy, low fat protein source. They also taste great and can be adapted for an unlimited number of recipes. Who doesn’t love hummus?

What I’m getting at with my rambling (cut me some slack please-I am still sick) is that it is possible to eat as you like, cheap, easy, healthy and delicious if you have a garden or purchase from farmer’s markets. It does take some planning. You might need to spend an afternoon putting up tomato sauce or freezing a couple of dozen cartons of pesto but you will gain the ability to toss together a terrific dinner in very little time.

Pick 14 meals, 7 summer and 7 winter. Think about the ingredients and try to be sure you can get most of them locally. Obviously, some things like olive oil will need to be brought in but if the majority of your food is local, you can splurge on those things. If you love mac and cheese, do the research and come up with some local cheeses and whole grain pasta to replace the old orange stuff from a box. If  1/2 of your meals are vegetarian, so much the better. Include a couple of things where the ingredients are set out and people make their own meals. We like tacos and wraps for this. Flat bread with fillings like hummus, avocados, tomatoes, sprouts and cheese are so easy and so good. They have the added advantage of being something I can set out and have ready when we are all on different schedules. When you make a soup, stew or chili, make a double batch and put half in the freezer. Come up with a few crock pot meals and a least one good pizza dinner.

Teach your kids the fundementals of things like pizza crust and salads. My daughter is 15 and capable of putting together a meal with very little supervision. The goal is to save your health, your pocketbook, your waisteline and the planet while you enjoy excellent food. Don’t be afraid to experiment with some vagan fare and some raw foods. In the future, when much more of our food will have to be grown where we live, the ability to be flexible and to have some kitchen skills will be critical.

For all who have emailed me, I am feeling a lot better but no where near 100%. It’s so cold here that I am putting together a soup for dinner. I will toss it in the crock pot this morning and it will be ready by dinner. Karen is going to make some corn bread and cookies for dessert. Breakfast is yogurt over granola with some raspberries on top. Lunch will be hard boiled eggs, the left over salad and some bread and butter. I wont’ have to do much but we will eat like kings.

My yard looks haunted, with sheets and towels and tarps covering all of my tender plants. I am afraid that my tomatoes may be beyond help. The basil is probably toast as well. They just don’t handle the cold wind we have been cursed with for the past week. In an effort to make it feel a bit more like summer around here, I decided to mix up a batch of ginger ale. It isn’t hard to do although if you are inherently sloppy as I tend to be, it can get sticky.

You probably have all of the ingredients in your kitchen and most of the equipment too although a bottle capper is handy. You can make an acceptable batch of soda in screw top plastic bottles although I have heard they are more likely to explode.

I used a recipe for Virgin Island Ginger Beer from another Storey book, Homemade Root Beer Soda and Pop by Stephen Cresswell.

You need to grate 2 1/2 ounce of ginger root into a pot. Add the juice of 1/2 a lemon, 1 2/3 cups sugar and 2 quarts of water. Bring this to a boil and simmer uncovered for 25 minutes. Remove it from the heat and let it sit, covered, for another 1/2 hour. Pour 1 quart of cool water into a gallon jug the add the ginger mixture. Top off the jug with more water, leaving a 2 inch head space. You want the mixture to be just lukewarm. I needed to add cool water to get the temperature right. Shake the jug really well. Put 1/8 teaspoon ale yeast into 1/4 cup luke warm water. I used wine yeast but even plain bread yeast will do in a pinch. Wait about 5 minute and add the proofed yeast to the jug and shake it up again. Now you can bottle the soda. You will need 11 12 oz bottles. I like to use Corona beer bottles. They are clear so I can see that they are really clean and they don’t have screw caps. Of course this means that my kids are drinking from beer bottles. The kids, of course, think it’s very cool but I can see why another parent  might have a problem with it. Just pour the soda into a cup if you do. You will need to use a funnel and a strainer to do this. A piece of cheese cloth in a funnel works too. Now cap the bottles and you’re finished. I bought a bottle capper and a large supply of caps at a wine and beer making supply store. You can get one from Lehman’s but it is a lot more expensive. Now comes the hard part. Patience. You need to wait 36 hours to check for fizzies. If it’s warm, that may be long enough. In this weather, with no heat on in the house, it may take 72 hours to ferment. When you see bubbles, put the soda in the refrigerator or down in the basement to keep it cool. Otherwise the fermentation will continue and the bottles may burst. That has never happened to me. My kids drink it up as soon as it’s ready.

The question I am often asked is, “Why bother?” Soda is cheap enough and this is a lot of work for 11 bottles of pop. I could, after all, make a batch of lemonade and have it ready in 5 minutes. The easy answer is that I just like knowing how to do things. It is fun to try something and have it be sucessful. It’ s actually fun to try something and have it bomb, then go back to the drawing board and figure out where I went wrong. I like knowing that if I had to, I could manage to make do with very little and still have a good time.

Saving money is a big part of our ability to refrain from actual, full-time, gainful employment. I get a lot of questions about how we do it so I thought a post on the subject might be useful.

Let’s take coffee. I really like a good cup of coffee in the morning but it is an expensive indulgence. I could do away with it and save the $9.00 a pound I spend. That is strategy #1. I could switch to herbal tea that cost nothing as I grow the herbs and harvest our honey to sweeten it. Strategy #2 is to drink less coffee. Rather than 2 cups a day, I could have one cup of coffee and 1 cup of tea, cutting my expenditure in 1/2. #3 is reduce the amount of coffee I put in the coffee maker. I use to put 10 scoops of coffee in a 10 cup coffee maker. I cut down to 6 scoops of coffee to 8 cups of water. This is actually strategy # 4 as well as I almost always threw out the last cup of coffee left in the pot mid-day and  not wasting coffee saves money. I buy free-trad, organic, shade grown coffee. Strategy #5 would be to buy a cheaper brand but there are environmental and social reasons why that doesn’t work for me so, while I don’t do that with coffee, I would with something that didn’t matter.  

One of the surest ways to save money is to make things from scratch. Now coffee isn’t an option but I am saving considerable money by making my own laundry soap. I needed to clean out a plastic bin this week and tossed in a 1/4 cup of my laundry soap and found it worked just fine. I stated using 1/2 cup of the soap for a load and reduced that to 1/3 a cup for a large load of not-dirty clothes and found there was no real difference. I will reduce to 1/4 cup and see if that works. The goal is to use as little as possible to get the results I want.

There  are nearly always positive social and environmental results to using less, making do, doing without, using things up and thinking about how you spend money. I put less waste in our landfill, my kids learn valuable skills watching me build, grow, concoct and figure out how to do things. My life is more interesting than it would be if I spent my time working a job  in order to earn money in order to buy stuff in order to do stuff that I can do myself because I don’t go off to work every morning.

In a crisis, the best preparedness thing you have is your own skill set. Creativity will be more important in the long run than a lot of what you will spend money on.

I pulled all of the parsnips yesterday and was then conflicted about how to store/preserve them. I decided the thing to do was experiment a bit. I put one small bunch in the vegetable crisper in a paper bag. I planted another bunch down by the bees. They will apparently grow quite tall and have lovely flowers that bees love. I dehydrated another bunch. They are taking a while to dry but when finished, I will use the food saver and store them in a cool dark place. Some I plan to pulverize and add to mashed potatoes and soups for thickening. The final bunch was stored in food saver bags with all the air sucked out. I put these in the vege crisper. I love Parsnips but no one else really likes them much so this was good thing to experiment with. If one method turns out poorly, it won’t matter the way it would if we lost a bunch of broccoli or peas.

One of the fun parts of this homesteading preparedness stuff is the experimenting. Admit it. You all love to be the one to come up with some nifty idea to save time/money/labor or that results in amazing yields. I know there are folks out there who think this home making  stuff is deadly boring and some of it is. There is just no good way to spice up cleaning a toilet. But figuring out a recipe for home made cleaning solutions, then calculating the cost per ounce (thanks Heather) is alchemy. It makes me feel like a good witch.

It’s easy to run to the store and trade money for a mass produced product. It is much more stisfying to figure how to meet the need without spending money. My Phoebe outgrew a thick cotton dress that she wore over her bathing suit. It has a couple of stains on it and was not really good enough to pass on. I got a brilliant idea. I ran a seam across the bottom. Now using the wide shoulder straps as handles, I have a nifty little produce bag for my occasional trips to the farm stand.

From the old shutters Bruce  used to make a curing shed for squash and potaotes to tc the cobbled together  hot boxes, experimentation and innovation makes most small farms work.