We had dinner with some friends last weekend. We have know each other since our kids were babies.They are witty, charming, terrific cooks and,  for the most part, clueless about peak oil or anything other crisis that might change their comfortable lifestyles. Only one other in our group of ten wanted to talk about the future and what it may hold for us. Jim is a really smart guy. He is making plans for living in an energy starved world. He even came equipped with a photo of the electric panel truck he just ordered. He had all sorts of plans for converting his home to solar and photovoltaic and installing heat sinks.  It was pretty impressive I must admit but there was something fundamentally flawed with his thinking. It wasn’t until I got home and really started to ponder his plans that it hit me. Jim is trying desperately to design systems that will allow him to continue to live exactly as he always has. He wants to drive as much, be as warm, eat the same food and consume in the same way. I know I often recommend that people buy something as they prepare. I really hope you all will call me on that when I am out of line as I I believe that preparedness is as much mental as anything and it is buying too much that has caused an awful lot of the world’s woes.

If one has unlimited resources, I suppose a photovoltaic system makes more sense than a boat but I still have to wonder. These systems require big energy inputs, not just in the manufacture but in the replacement of the battery arrays. Solar panels work well but they don’t last forever either. Electric cars have a lot of advantages and while no one wishes more than I that every car on the road was powered that way, that sad truth is that the electric car idea is a ship that has already sailed. It would require enormous fossil fuel inputs to manufacture a fleet of electric cars to replace all existing vehicles. Then we would have to build the recharging stations and figure out what to do with old cars. It is not as easy as just having the will. You also need the money and the gas and oil to pull it off. If one is building from the ground up, I would put in every energy efficient system I could manage but most of us are not in that place. We are trying to cobble together a life that works.

Rather than investing in an electric or hybrid car, it will make more sense for most of us to plan on driving less. We are carpooling some, biking some, walking some and staying home some. I am in need of more refrigerator space as I am getting all of my milk for the week from a local farmer and those gallons take up a lot of space. I could spend the money on a top of the line energy star fridge but I could also use an existing cooler and replace the ice in it daily as I run a big freezer anyway. I am thinking about a wood furnace to replace my inefficient gas furnace. Until I can afford one, we are turning down the thermostat and putting on sweaters. Our upstairs rooms get really hot in the summer. We used to run air conditioners so the kids could sleep comfortably. This year, we put a fan in the back bedroom to suck the hot air out and kept basement door open so the cool air was drawn up.  On the few nights that it was really hot, the girls slept downstairs in the living room. The actually enjoyed the pajama party and we saved a lot of energy. I could get a new washer and dryer that would be more efficient than the ones I have or I could put a clothes rack in the spare bedroom and dry our clothes inside in the winter. I want a solar hot water system but until I can get one, I am turning down the temperature control on my hot water heater.

We have a mindset in this country that we can always throw money at a problem and make it dissapear but that won’t work this time. All of the bailouts and stimulus pachages are not going to change the fundamental truth of the impossibility of infinate growth in a finite world. Preparedness is only going to allow us some breathing room when the next big catastrophy happens. Real preparedness, long term preparedness is about mind set changes.

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I got up early yesterday, planted some seeds for the fall garden, then got busy pulling all my onions and preparing the bed for next year. Bruce and I took a look at the corn and it hit  us at the same time. We need to get the new freezer! Right now as in we should have done this weeks ago.

I don’t care for canning corn. It takes a really long time and the result are only acceptable. Without electricity, I would but I have electricity so I don’t. I dry some and it actually tastes a lot better that way but again, it takes a lot of time and space and the corn all seems to be ready at once. Well, three at onces. We plant three varieties and have it over a long season but we have a lot in each season. The pigs will be ready soon too. I got on line and did the research to find the model I want and made some calls to find out who had one and would deliver within the next day or two.

We settled on the 24 cubic foot Kenmore. It’s huge and expensive but it has some features I wanted. It’s Energy Star and actually uses less power than some of the smaller models, has a quick freeze option so I can freeze large amounts at once and has a pop out lock and lighted interior.

This will give me three freezers. The one on the top of the refrigerator, the small upright in the mud room and now the huge chest in the basement. Bruce and I rearranged the food storage and he built a small freezer room yesterday. He framed in three walls and a floor and painted them up. The walls and flooring are insulated now and they will protect the freezer from some of the basement moisture. Eventually, the whole basement will be sealed from moisture and insulated but we won’t get to that until winter.

This whole project, as tough as it was on back, served the very useful purpose of making me take stock of my inventory. I went through a lot of food last year! I need to do a big shop this week and fill in around the edges. I have very little left in the way of canned juices and nearly no pineapple, the only canned fruit I purchase other than mandarin oranges when the are on sale. I got rid of some canned food that we are not going to eat like outdated green beans. The reason they were outdated is because nobody here can stand canned green beans. The pigs got those.

The other thing I did since I was down there and cleaning anyway was to rearrange my canning supplies. I had way more rings than I will ever need as I remove them as soon as the jars cool. A lot were rusty too. I took a rubber band and a paper clip and made a kind of bungee cord that I slipped through canning rings in groups of seven (a full canner load). I did this for 6 sets of large and small rings. I put these and all of my canning equipment like jar lifters and funnels in one 6 gallon bucket with a gamma seal and twist off lid. Now I have everything I need in one place and none of it is cluttering up my kitchen drawers. It will stay clean in the bucket and I can stop searching for a good lid in a bag with hundreds of  lids. I love getting organized. Systems are our friends.

I will do a whole post on this later this week but Bruce questioned the number of jars I have. I see his point as there are many extra but here is my reasoning. I pick up jars at tag sales and occasionally when I get to the market. They don’t deteriorate, I have the space and they are one thing I would really need if the grid ever collapsed. I could set up an outdoor kitchen and can all of the meat and frozen vegetables. We would have to work round the clock and use both pressure canners and it would take days but we could do it. If I ended up with some of kids at home, we would have to enlarge the gardens and can a lot more produce as a matter of course. Jars are alos a great barter item. I keep a couple of new boxes on hand and donate one to the occasional raffle along with a copy of my book. I am also trying to rid myself of most of the plastic in my house. Now that I have the space, I will be freezing many vegetables and fruit in jars. I will be able to reuse the lids and extract the air with my my food saver. This will save the money I would have spent on plastic bags and keep those bags out of the landfill. Win, win.

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.

It is the time of the year when there is so much food to preserve that it seems the dehydrator and the canner are going full tilt every day. Yesterday, it was apples. The first local, wild apple are out. I gathered two bushels and put up 8 quarts of sauce. As the canner only holds seven quarts, I kept one in the refrigerator for use this week. It is such a treat after weeks without sauce. I consider foods like home made applesauce and pickles to be great meal stretchers. Not only do they save me considerable amounts of money over store bought but, in a crisis, they provide necessary calories, vitamins and minerals, as well as a sense of familiarity that is so important for morale.

We gave our new lanterns a run through. It was a good idea as these required some tweaking with the wicks. The time to try out new equipment is when the sun is shining. My new stove is due to be delivered on Thursday morning. One of the first things I will do is try out the stove top oven my DH gave me for Christmas last year. The stove top will work without electricity but the oven won’t. We have arranged to have the gas company look over our storage tanks while they are here. We want a much larger tank (1000 gallons). This will give us a nice cushion of heat and cooking time during a crisis while we switch over to full wood use.

We had another crisis meal last night. I made a chicken curry with a couple of handfuls of dried veggies tossed into the sauce. The nice thing about dried summer squash, onions and peppers is that they soak up the extra water in a thin sauce. I could only make the dish because I found one more jar of sauce in the back of storage cabinet. Our new tomatoes are still hard and green so this was a treat too. I still think I will probably have to buy tomatoes this year. It is unlikely enough will ripen to provide me with the makings for 75 quarts of sauce, catsup and salsa that I need to put up.

I painted up that little cabinet that I got from the tag sale. I looks pretty cute. I really need more storage space and will begin to search out this kind of inexpensive solution at tag sales this month. The rain has prevented many sales from happening so a weekend of good weather will have them springing up like mushrooms.

I can hardly believe the sun is shining again. We have not had 2 consecutive days of sun all summer. That means off  to work for me. I would like to add that I believe that the fall will see dramatic increases in the price of food and energy. I hope you are all well prepared for that. Now, while food is plentiful and relatively inexpensive, buy it harvest it, gather and preserve it. You want to be the ant, not the grasshopper in this volatile economy.

Yesterday was both busy and productive. We headed out early on a quest for a stove, broccoli and cauliflower sets and some rosemary plants. I could not find the rosemary I had planted. Really. I looked everywhere and decided I had thought aI had planted it and just hadn’t. The stove was easy. I found just what I wanted. A gas range that does not require electricity to operate. I am glad to be getting rid of my glass top stove. I can finally use my cast iron cookware again, cook when the power is out and use my new canner without worrying about ruining the stove. The new stove has 5 burners and a super burner for things like my canner. This was a big spend for us but I think well worth it. There were a lot of really expensive options to consider. I saved a lot of money because I did not want a stove with a computer or one that was so complicated you needed a manual every time you wanted to turn on the timer.

The broccoli and cauliflower were another storey. There were none available at any of the nurseries we stopped at. I did find some cabbage sets that were so sorry looking that I got 6 of them for a $1.oo. I planted them and will give them love and fish emulsion and hope for the best. We picked up some beautiful multi-colored daisys from a free table. They looked pretty sad too but maybe we can revive them.

I had a treat last evening. Our sustainbility library showed the movie, Juliet Of The Herbs, a lovely little film about the life of Juliet de Bairacli Levy. There was much to recommend this film but one of the images I can not shake was that of the animals on a factory farm. I defy anyone to watch this stuff and still be able to eat factory meat. If the filth doesn’t nauseate you the cruely should. I would rather eat a lot less meat and have what I buy be in line with my values.

I am not sure how it happens but my kitchen is cluttered again. I need to straighten out my baking drawer and pots and pans. I hate to begin a baking or preserving project when my kitchen isn’t neat.

I have two preparedness items to see to, one important and one not so much. The first is laundry. I pine for a hand washer and wringer but the cost is prohibitive, more actually than a new washing machine. I have a notion that I can use a regular toilet plunger (a new toilet plunger) and a mop wringer. I can get those things very inexpensively. I know I won’t use them all the time but I would like to commit to two loads a weeks so that, should I be without electricity, I would be familiar with the process. That’s the important project. The less important thing is to think about sanitation. We have our own septic system and do not live in an earthquake zone that would break our pipes so the odds of not having a flushing toilet are pretty low but, again, one should have a back up plan. I have an old toilet seat that I can set on a 6 gallon bucket. I also have a supply of sawdust and heavy duty contractor bags. I can line a bucket with the bags and cover waste with sawdust after use. It would not be a perfect, long term solution but it would get us over the hump should we not be able to flush for a while. I should mention that we also have a swimming pool so if the pipes were intact but the water not running, I could flush with that water. Lots of preparedness is about being creative and willing to work hard. I would do pretty much anything to remain in my home, no matter what the emergency.

I was asked yesterday about the skills I thought were necessary for self sufficiency. It is an interesting question. Does one need to know how to tan leather and butcher a deer?Is it a good idea to be able to remove your kid’s appendix with hair clips and hypnosis ala Alas Babylon? I guess my point here is that I am never going to be entirely self sufficient. I doubt many people are. We depend on each other to a greater or lesser degree. My goal is to reduce my dependency, particularly in the area of food, and learn to do as much as possible for myself, knowing that if I need a tooth pulled, I am heading straight to the dentist.

I believe that the journey towards greater self sufficiency is a mind set, a way of looking at the world around you. Start with water. It is not enough to store some bottled water. The water will run out and then what? Do you know where your comes from, how it’s delivered to your home and what the vulnerabilities to that source are? Do you know where else in your neighborhood you can access ground water? Can you carry it? Do ou know how to treat it?

Medical care is so easy for a lot of us but by no means is it easy for everybody. If the medical system broke down, even temporarily, do you know how to treat minor accidents and illnesses and do you have the supplies to do so? Do you know the medical practitioners in your neighborhood? Do they know you? Could you call on one in an emergency? Do you have some cash or barter items on hand to pay for care if necessary?

Do you have a plan to heat your home if the power is out? Can you provide lighting and can you cook? Once the propane runs out, can you cook with wood or a solar oven? Have you actually done it? Do you know how to build a rocket stove?

Do you have the proper clothing for a life that entails more labor in very hot or cold weather? Do you have proper foot wear? Do  you have the means and ability to repair clothing and shoes?

Do you know where your food comes from? Can you grow it? Can you preserve it? Do you have the tools and the techniques down to a science? Can you bake bread and will your family eat what you make? Do you know the basics of putting together a casserole, soup or stew?

Can you entertain yourself and your family without tickets to Six Flags? Do you have books and games and puzzles and does your family use those thing regularly?

Do you have hand tools and the knowledge to make simple repairs? Do you have to run to Home Depot every time you need an adhesive, nails, screws, caulking and such?

Do you know your neighborhood and your neighbors? Who has what skills? Do you feud over every little thing or are you a true community? Do you know what grows where and what is edible? What animals are plentiful?

I know I have forgotten as much as I have put in here. My point is that, while most of us need to depend on each other, we also want to be someone others can depend on. I want to have something to bring to the table when times get tough but I want lots of others at the table with me.