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.

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.

As most of you know, thanks to the miracle of adoption, I have seven kids. Two still live at home, three are across the country and two are local. The two local, one a single dad with full custody of two children and one married with a wife and toddler, would most certainly land here in the event of a major event. When I plan for storage, I do keep that in mind but I think I have made an error in not asking that they be more responsible for their own preparations. I have been working on a list for each family that outlines what steps they should take in a disaster. A disaster is defined as something that disrupts food supplies or causes civil unrest for a period of time. I would not consider an impending winter storm a disaster (they could all ride one out here without a problem) but a collapse of the US dollar, a  terrorist attack that involved biological weapons or a dirty bomb or a severe pandemic that closed down most commerce would be. I think they need a list of what they should pack because, if something serious enough to warrant leaving their home happened, they would likely be fighting panic and need some clear direction so they do what needed to be done without hesitation. I already harp on the car theme. Keep the tank half full. It’s an important point. If electricity was out, they could not stop at a filling station and get gas. The pumps won’t work. A half tank minimum would make it possible to get home.

What would I want them to pack? Not much actually. Their clothes and any medication of course, concentrating on foul weather gear and work clothes. I hope they have irreplaceable pictures on a flash drive or in an album they can grab. I would want them to bring bedding and sleeping bags and towels as well as food and toiletries. I gave my daughter-in-law a canner for her birthday and I would want her to bring that and hand tools would be a good idea. That’s really it. They would certainly know to take back roads here and to come first and worry about looking foolish and over-reacting later.

I am also talking to them about contributing to our family preps. If I give them a list, they could pick up a couple of items each time they shop. They could leave them at home or bring them here and we will store them. I do the big things that are bulk purchases like wheat, oats, sugar, salt, oats, rice and corn but some of the other stuff is inexpensive and usually purchased in smaller quantities. I would suggest canned juices, baking supplies, peanut butter, cooking oil, canned milk, toilet paper and things that are shelf stable and often go on sale at 10 for &10.00 like canned fruit, tuna and soups.

My son is self-employed and works from home. He hires out people to do his shopping usually (plus he is the typical absent-minded professor type) so I would not expect him to do this but he easily give me $300.00 dollars a month that I could put towards food supplies. I am looking at canned beef and chicken form Lehman’s. It is $100.00 for a case of 12, 2 pound cans. This is not cheap and it’s not local so I would ordinarily not consider it but if my son wanted to pay for it, it would be a way to get a good supply of shelf stable protein. The money could also help with the purchase of more six gallon buckets and gamma lids. They are usually a  lot more expensive than whatever I store in them.

This may seem a bit over the top, even for me, but I think it is important planning. How many times have those of us who prepared hear the same thing. If  anything happens I’m coming to your house. No. Actually, you aren’t. I have a large family that I’m responsible for and a limited amount of room. I can direct you to the nearest shelter but I can’t take in every friend and relation who could have prepared and didn’t.

My good friend, Susi, dropped off 40 pounds of peaches for me yesterday. They are lovely peaches, drops from trees that have only been lightly sprayed with an early fungiciede. As I peel the peaches before canning, I worry less about the spraying than I do about sprayed apples. I hope no one writes to tell me about some hideous thing that will happen to be as result of canning the sprayed peaches. The peaches are not quite ready, goodnews for me as it is another scorching day and canning is not what I want to do. I will probably chose a cool evening for this hot project. It is hours of work but the results are so worth it. My goal is 360 quarts of fruit, one for each day of the year if I was feeding the current family members as well as visitors. That’s a goal, not a reality. As usual, my preps are a work in progress. I will still need to depend on my purchased canned fruit to get to a year’s worth. I can peaches, seckle pears, applesauce, cherries, blueberries and apple slices. I no longer can strawberries as they turn grey and unappealing with the heat.

I have 12 chickens coming from my friend, Kathy and all of the pork from the 2 pigs. I am canning stew beef and hamburger, maybe 12 one pound jars of each.  Next year, I am hoping for lamb. The only problem with the lamb is the cute factor. I have the 3 girls at home and they find the pigs disqusting but I am sure they would fall in love with a dear little lamb.

I am looking over my co-op catalog. I need to fill in my wheat again. Can i just remind everyone to check out their inventory? I was shocked at how much wheat I have gone through this year. I am getting another 500 pounds of wheat and another 100 pounds of oats. I am running into space problems. If anybody spends the night with us, they have to share the room with about 20 6 gallon buckets. The chiffarobe holds the stored cooking supplies and the bookcase is home to stockpiles of pasta. I always hope for the best but I plan for the worst and the worst for me is a run on banks which will lead to a run on supermarkets.

I had a friend tell me that she was sure she could feed her family for 6 weeks just on what was in her cabinets and freezer. Wanna bet? A family of 4, man, woman and 2 kids would need about 7000 calories a day for optimal heath. They could get by on 5000 for a while but they wouldn’t like it, especially if used to considerably more. Once the Cheerios and Eggos run out what will they do for breakfast? I go through about 10 pounds of flour on a week when I bake a lot. How many people have more than a 5 pound sack of flour? What about oats and dried fruit. Most people think of lunch as a slab of sliced lunch meat between two slices of white bread along with some margarine and mustard. The bread would be gone in a day or two and the lunch meat before that. Then what? How many cans of tuna, chicken and ham spread will they have. Can they bake the bread? Do they have yeast? How many cans of soup do they have? Will their kids be willing to eat food they aren’t familiar with? At supper time, when they can’t send out for Chinese or pizza, what’s for dinner? How many potatoes do they have? Five pounds?  Ten pounds? Not enough if they eat them every day. How much rice do they store? How many bags of vegetable? When they pull  out that last sack of freezer burned peas they will be left with a couple of cans of string beans and some artichoke hearts. If all of your food can be stored in your kitchen cabinets, you would be hungry before a week was out.

I am watching the news as I write this. Hurricane Bill is a catagory 4 and heading up toward the east coast. It looks like it will miss us but I trust a hurricane like I trust a telemarketer. Today I am checking out my power outage preps. I need to make sure I have enough rabbit feed and that both vehicles are gassed up. Bruce will get the chain saw ready and make plans for protecting the pigs and bees.

I went to the city yesterday to participate in an upcoming docu-drama about the world after a pandemic decimates society. I was interviewed primarily about food, evacuation and community building. There are some pretty strange ideas out there about how one would get food if forced to leave one’s home on foot and unprepared. The reality of a man needing 3000 calories a day is hard to wrap your mind around. One thing for sure. You won’t get it by foraging wild greens. I don’t think it reasonable to expect that some city guy, who spends his day pushing paper is, all of the sudden, going to turn into Wilderness Jones and snare a couple of squirrels a day either. And water. Did you ever try to carry a gallon jug for any distance. Water is heavy and awkward and most ground water in the US is not safe to drink without being treated. I asked about things like shoes, shelter and security. The security is especially important because, in a real apocalyptic scenario, it won’t be just nice guys and theirfamilies on the road. It will be desperate, frightened people and many will not be nice.

Then there was talk about how much land a family would need to feed themselves. Again-plain silly to think a paper pusher becomes Mr. Green Jeans without any experience farming. Just this year, with the blight problems, a lot of us would be hungry if we were depending on that crop to feed us through a long winter.

The next question was about bunker living versus finding a community. Here is the truth of it. Man is a herd animal. We are not designed to live in isolation. We need each other. None of us can do everything. In a community, the soap maker will swap her wares for honey and the bee man swap his honey for milk. The dairy farmer will swap for wine and the vinier swap for shoes. The shoemaker will give a pair of boots for help with birthing his first born and the midwife swap for soap.  Pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents will matter less than a real thing that you need to keep warm or fed.

I  came away from interview with a renewed commitmant to some preparedness principles.

Bloom where you are planted as long as you are not planted in the middle of a big city with rampant crime. If you are, start today to make plans to get out.  Make your home the place you escape to. Get it paid for ASAP and spend the money to get it energy efficient. Know it, love it and care for it.

Know where your food comes from and keep enough stored to get you through a time when leaving might not be safe or wise. Learn now how to grow and preserve what you harvest. Store seeds and tools and plant perennial food plants like berry bushes and fruit trees, asparagus and rhubarb.

Make community service a priority. Know your neighbors and treat them like family. You don’t have to love them. You have care about them. Those are two very different ideas.

Get a skill. Practice until you become expert. Don’t expect to make a living as a potter or winemaker. But do learn all you can and build a customer base as your skills improve. Offer a quality service and be honest. The best investments you can make are in yourself, your home and your community.

We have talked a lot about the terrible growing season this year and about food security on this blog but until I spent a day pulling out my tomato plants and bagging then in black plastic until they are dry enough to burn,until I wept over the black and grey splotches on the leaves of my potato plants, until I spent an hour on the phone in search of 3 bushels of local, organic tomatoes only to be told that such a thing may not exist for any amount of money, I did not comprehend the true fragility of our food security.

The tomatoes were started from seed in my upstairs spare bedroom. They were lovingly cared for and, when strong enough, transferred to the greenhouse, a small model that was purchased with money that could have been spent many other ways. Then they were watched and fussed over until big enough to be transplanted to the garden, into soil that has been nurtured with the manure we got from neighbor’s cows and the remnant of many happy meals that had turned into compost over the course of months. The potatoes were heirloom varieties. I remember how excited we were when our good friend, Sheri, called to tell me she had them, how we anticipated eating them as she suggested, baked in olive oil and rosemary and sprinkled with coarse salt.

If you sauce comes form a jar with a picture of a fake Italian chef on the label, if your potatoes are limp, greasy strings you get at some drive-in window, it may be hard to understand the depth of my grief. Perhaps I am overreacting. It is, after all, only some produce. My kids won’t go hungry. I can afford to go to the market and write a check and bring home a year’s worth of sauce but it feels like more to me. Somehow I am channeling the fear and anguish an Irish farmer who saw her crops die before her eyes and knew that she was witnessing the death of her children, her culture, her homeland.

This is why I prepare. Even if I could not afford to lay down the money for sauce,  having food in storage means that I can get through a bad harvest and not be destroyed by it. I see the cans of seed I have as insurance against a bleak day when that heirloom seed may be priceless to me.

My children humor me about all of this. I don’t think the real vulnerability of our agricultural system is real to them. They think of our gardening as a kind of intense hobby that pays off in some mighty good dinners. They can not imagine that I am doing this, not just for fun but because I don’t ever want to wonder how I will feed them or their children. Henry will turn 2 next week. I bought him a child sized wheel barrow and some garden tools. They are tiny but they are sturdy and made for real work. When he comes here I will take him to the garden and show him how to rake and hoe and pull a potato from the ground with more reverence than if he had just discovered a diamond. We will cook the potato and eat it and talk about what a miracle it is.

I must add something. In the midst of my misery yesterday, I took a break from the arm numbing work of pulling out all those plants and looked over my mail. I found a catalog from Richters Herbs and a gift certificate. It was a belated birthday gift from Heather and her family. There is no word for my gratitude, not just for the gift but for the promise of the gift. I spent the evening looking over the pictures and imagining next year’s herb garden. I could smell the oregano and taste the lemon balm. Thank you Heather. What magic was afoot that I should recieve that gift a week after my birthday on the very afternoon I needed it most?

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