I spent the whole day yesterday preserving food. I made 24 pints of bread and butter pickles, started some sauerkraut and froze what I think will be the end of the broccoli. I gave some jars of the things I have put up to friends; Heather and Tom got some applesauce, pickles and tomato sauce and so did Sheri and Barbara. I love swapping preservedfood. You never know when you are going to receive a treasure from someone that will turn into a family favorite. Sheri gave me some Bulgarian yogurt starter so I know what I am doing today. I want to make cheese too as I am anxious to try some lacto fermentation with the whey.

Today looks to be another winner weather wise and it is time to pull out more spuds and get the cured ones in the basement. This is time of the year we eat potatoes and onions every day. Our favorite way to cook them is together. I saute a lot of onion and some minced garlic in olive oil then add cut up potatoes. If the are taking a while to soften, something that often happens with new spuds, I may add a bit of water. My girls are big fans of caramelized onions. They can hardly believe it when they hear other kids say they don’t care for them. I will sometimes put a bunched of slivered onions in the crock pot with some butter and olive oil, start on high until it gets simmering, switch to low and leave it overnight. The onions are beautifully caramelized the next day and make the most remarkable onion soup, especially if you use three or four different varieties of onions. This is another good pantry meal as all of the ingredients are just sitting there. I use a beef consume base and pour the soup over slices of toasted French bread and top with whatever cheese I have around. Gruyere is our favorite. I have some leftover potatoes from dinner so breakfast is going to be potatoes and eggs.

I am hoping to get more corn picked today. One of the wonderful things about eating in season is that I get to feast on something until I am sick of it. You know fall is here when the idea of corn on the cob is no longer exciting. I am craving salad again just as the new plants for the green house are poking up. All of the green house starts look good. I am anxious to get them planted but I have one lone cantelope taking up space in there like the mean, rich uncle no one likes. You hate to kick him out because the rewards are so immense but one has to question weather it’s worth the bother.

I just got a new book (I’m generally frugal but books are my weak spot). Fresh Food From Small Spaces is so much fun! I have large spaces but there is so much information about indoor gardening that it is still useful.

My grandson is being baptised in Pennsylvania at the end of the month. We are thinking we should take the girls out of school for a few days and visit the Dutch country while we are there. These are the times I miss home schooling. I will need to ask permission to take my children out of school and it could be denied. It won’t be but I find it hard to believe that I could be fined for not sending my kids to school for a few days for a family trip that will be educational as well as fun. I occasionally make noises about home schooling again but I must confess that being home with no kids for the first time in 34 years is really fun. I can get an amazing amount accomplished and I do enjoy getting to be a grown up for these 6 hours a day. When my kids are home I always have an ear cocked and an eye peeled. My mind can never be fully engaged elsewhere.

For all who have asked about Phoebe Jean-she is much better. She had no fever last night and didn’t cough much. I am keeping her home today as I know there is a tummy bug going around too and I don’t want her exposed to anything else while still recovering. With the Monday holiday, she will have a change to recoup before going back to school. My Phoebe is a sleeper. She can go to bed at 8:00 and sleep until 9:00 the next morning. I am glad not to have to rouse her today. I just checked her and she looks like an angel. I sometimes sit next to her bed and watch her sleep. In the quiet of her room, the sight of her flushed cheeks and the steady rythym of her breath are like a meditation. I can sometimes not believe my luck, that I should have been given the opportunity to parent these particular children at just the time they needed families. I does make one question fate and what is meant to be. I know there are many who would question our decision to adopt a child with special needs, especially at this stage of our lives. I will never forget what Bruce said the first time he saw Phoebe. She was a funny looking little thing, not even able to hold up head at 7 months old. She was wheezing and smelly and clearly atypical but she smiled up at Bruce and he melted. “I do believe the God has dropped and angel on our doorstep”  We have cared for dozens of healthy, beautiful, bright babies over our years as foster parents but we were able to say goodby to most and feel good about what we had given them and where they were going but Phoebe was different. Phoebe was ours.

Advertisements

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 got a post from Andrea at chick-bit-run this morning that, along with a few others, made my day for a couple of reasons. First, it is nice to know that the good feelings I have about my blog readers are reciprocated and next, because it gave me a blog topic. It’s hard to come up with a new topic every day and now I have one. Finding friends.

There are many scenarios for ways in which the world as we know it may change. H1N1 flu, peak oil, economic collapse, terrorist attack, trucker’s strike, oil embargo, food crisis, climatic disaster, these are things with global ramifications. Then there are local disasters like floods and hurricanes. None of these are things people want to talk about much. Such catastrophes change comfortable paradigms in uncomfortable ways. Now wonder folks would rather watch Michael Jackson’s funeral or worry about Jon and Kate’s kids. It is a lot easier than anticipating the funerals of people you care about and worrying about your own kids. If you bring up the subject of preparedness, you will likely be met with rolled eyes and some gentle derision. Talk too much and the derision will not be gentle. This is too bad because a lot of the things we all do to prep are easier to do with a friend. I love making wine with friends, canning with a group and talking sustainable gardening over the backyard fence. I also love discussing preparedness but it’s a lot harder.

So how do you find a prepping companion? It’s not like you can place an add in the personals. “Looking for friends with benefits like a pressure canner you don’t mind sharing”. You have to make the face to face contact. Full frontal assualt may be met with a pat on the head or an icy stare but a more circumspect tact may get you somewhere.

“Boy, the news about the flu is pretty scary. Have you thought about what your plans are if it gets bad this fall or winter?” “Did you see the buy one get two free sale on canned food? It’s such a good deal. I’m going to get a few things to stick in my preparedness pantry. Is there anything I can get for you?”  “It was such a challenge when the power was out for so long last winter. I am picking up extra lanterns and some bottles of fuel while there are still a lot on the shelf. “I just read the neatest book. It has a lot of tips on preparing for a crisis. With all the worry over Israel and Iran, I think it’s a good idea to be ready for really high oil and food prices. This book could help.”

My brother and sister and I get together with our spouses several times a year. Current events are always a topic of conversation and I use those times to bring up preparedness. It has taken a few years but I am no longer teased for my preps. I am actually getting some good questions and at least I got them thinking. When I have to give a gift I nearly always make it something for preparedness like hand crank flashlights, car safety kits or books like Depletion and Abundance or Peak Everything.

Outside of your family, you will need different strategies. You can make a blanket statement at a church or parent’s group. “There will be a movie showing and group discussion about peak oil on Friday at 7:00pm.” A similar announcement in a small, local paper will often be  successful.  A showing of a mainstream post apocalyptic movie is less effective as the emphasis is on everything but preparedness and most are so corny they make you laugh rather than think.

It’s important not to pull out the big guns (literally in some cases) until a friend or group of friends has become established. If you start talking about the end of the world you will come off sounding like a nut job. What you want is to hook up with other like-minded folks who can be a support during your preparing time and form the basis of a community support group in a crisis.

On another topic (my ADD at work), I picked a pile of raspberries and got them in the freezer yestery morning, then flopped into bed with a high fever. It hurt to comb my hair. I felt wretched until about 3:00AM when the fever broke. I am not 100% but I am a lot better today. Good thing as the peas need picking and I have a ton of greens to pick and use. I am out of  homemade bread and cookies. I have no time to be sick but being down and out makes me appreciate my general good health.

I just made the best supper and it was pretty made from stuff that in another life, I might well have thrown out.

You know how there always seems to be a bit too much pasta? I never need an entire box. Lasagna noodles are a particular problem. I use to cook them, then let the extras sit in the back of the fridge until they went bad. Now I try to cook only what I realy need and save the rest in a plastic bag. This goes for the broken pieces too. We eat a lot of past and it adds up quick. Today, I was trying to come up with something for dinner and I hit on the idea of garbage lasagna. I cooked a bunch of broken noodles and set them aside. Then I sauteed a half an onion and some garlic, both of which were just getting ready to sprout in some olive oil. I added a cup of peppers I found in the freezer. They were a year old and a bit freezer burned but not bad. In went the last of my spinach and some kale. The kale was the base of a vegetable platter from the lunch we served for school spruce up day. Somebody was going to throw the leftovers out but I grabbed them first. I made a fabulous stock out of the vegetables and saved the kale. I also had a handful of dried out shitakes. I also found some I forgotten summer squash in the crisper. All of this simmered while I heated up one of my last two jars of spaghetti sauce with the first of the summer basil and some oregano. I layered the whole thing with three kinds of cheese. It tasted great!

There were some other great things about this dinner. I not only used up some food that was still good but would soon not have been but I had my girls help with cooking. I think they take away some good lessons, not just in how to make lasagna but how to get creative in the kitchen. If we have to cook with our stored food, creativity will spell the difference between good and, well, I guess we have have to eat something.

I put up the last of the asparagus today and 2 more meals of sugar snaps. It is hard to get enough to freeze as the kids love them and munch them like candy.

I am heading to the pool. Bruce was working with the bees and didn’t wear his whole bee suit. He is one hurting puppy with probably twenty stings. Cold water and some benedryl will help but he will have a rough night.

I am like a kid with a new toy. All of the attachments I ordered for my food saver came in and I have been sucking the air out of everything.

I started with my first big harvest of lemon balm. I dried it, then crumble it, put it in a mason jar and used the lid attachment to seal the top. It was so easy. I have an oxygen absorber order that I need to pick up next Thursday. When I get it ,I have a plan. I had stored some seed last year but the germination rate was only about 60% . I am going to purchase a year’s supply of seeds now. I can still get most of what I need . Then I am going to put the seed packets in mason jars with an oxygen absorber packets and seal them. If I store the jars in a dry, dark place that stays cool, the seed should last a long time.

If I could get myself organized, I could do a real experiment and track the germination rate next year and compare it with the rate of seeds that were just stored in a drawer with no special treatment. Truth is,  life is going to interfer and, in spite of my good intentions, that is never going to happen. I am going to store the seeds and if they don’t germinate well, I’ll replace them.

A whole lot of my life is like that. I could do a lot so much more efficiently if I just didn’t have to feed people, keep the house in reasonable order, earn a living, take a shower, answer the phone and sit on the porch swing with a cup of tea and a good book. Real life.

I am sitting here looking at my living room wall. My stupid cat pulled down the huge quilt that hangs behind the sofa again. Putting it back up is a monumental job. If I was a truly organized person I would realize that I am beat at this game ( the cat loves to swing on the quilt) and I would take it down and replace it with a nice print.  But it is real life. I love the quilt more than I love my wasted time and the quilt is going back.

It looks like we are done with the rain, at least for a day. I need to get out to the garden and see what needs weeding (everything) and what needs thinning (beets and turnips), what got eaten by cut worms(beans), what has insect damage (squash) and what needs to be harvested (lettuce, asparagus). Real life.

I am overwhelmed by the wonderful posts I have been getting. I have plans to make my year’s supply of catsup after reading the post over at  the riverrockcottage blog today. Herbalpagan has me thinking about other uses for dried tomatoes. I got such a wonderful post about making soap. I have a birthday coming up and soap making supplies sound like the order of the day. Sharon Astyk took us for a walk around her property and I am totally inspired to add a ton of plants to my garden. The list goes on. What a fabulous  bunch we are! Wouldn’t you just love to go to a pot luck dinner with the whole lot of us? The food would be amazing and the conversation inspiring. But all you do makes motivates me to do more and there are only so many hours in the day so I have to pick and chose. Today I am going to rack knotweed wine with a group of my favorite woman friends. I may have time to make at least one batch of catsup too. I want to play with recipe before I commit to a whole canner load.

It is raining again today and the weeds are just as happy about it as the vegetables so weeding is on the to-do list. We don’t have enough mulching material just yet. In another few weeks we can stop weeding as grass cuttings and newspaper will take care of that problem. The only weed that will still require hand pulling is the knotweed.

I am also on spare spot patrol. I still have a bunch of seed potatoes left and seeds as well. I have been tucking them in wherever I see a patch of unplanted land. Bruce had composted a huge pile of leaves last fall and I put about a dozen potatoes in there. I interplanted lettuce sets in the garlic and poked some cabbage in the asparagus bed. I have basil everywhere. I can never have too much pesto. I had some extra tomatoes too and they are doing great in the composting manure pile. My healthiest tomatoes are the ones I planted in a cloth grocery sack. It was suppose to be a hanging grower that would work like the $20.00 topsy turvy I had seen advertised. I found the full sack was way to heavy to hang so I have it sitting outside the greenhouse. I looks so cute, full of cherry tomatoes and basil. I put a second pot on the other side of the greenhouse and put a salad grouping in that one. Mini peppers, lettuce sets and cherry tomatoes work well together.

Again, thank you for the posts. They give me hope for a brighter, greener life.

I am back, although using a very old computer and really disliking it. It is really quite frightening just how quickly we become dependaent on a new technology.

It has been a very busy week around here. A frost kept us busy protecting plants from the cold, then highs in the 90’s the next day kept us busy protecting them from the heat. The temperature swings are hard, especially on the new plants. We have several new fruit and nut trees that need special care. It is one thing to lose a tomato set when I have 4 dozen more but to  lose one of my plum trees would be a tragedy. I think we can finally hope we have had our final frost. I am so anxious to get out my tender crops. The greenhouse needs some cleaning and I can’t do it until the starts are moved.

Our piggies showed up this week. They are still at the adorable stage. I am already hearing from friends who can’t believe we area able to eat an animal we have hand raised. I think it is far more respectful to raise an animal humanely, giving it plenty of food, water, space and attention, then quickly dispatch it and use all of it to nourish my family, use the manure to enrich my soil, then use the surplus vegetables to feed another meat animal than it is to buy factory raised meat that is mired in cruelty from beginning to end, pollutes water and soil rather than replenish it and fills our bodies with questionable additives. That is a closed end system that only enriches agribusiness pockets. The kids are surprisingly accepting of the notion that the pigs are food, not pets. We take good care of them but we keep the end in sight. They have a lot of questions about the process which gives us the opportunity to talk about some important issues.

I cleaned out the two freezers this week. I found some treasures there. Two bags of peas, one of asparagus and several bags of beans. Perfect timing because the asparagus is the only vegetable besides the salad greens producing just yet. I found a huge bag of elderberries I had forgotten about so I spent yesterday getting another batch of wine going. I am expecting an infestation of fruit flies soon. When that happens, the carboys will have to go in the cellar but for now, I like keeping an eye on things.

Our final big project has been the bees. We are up to 7  hives in the enclosure, two of them belonging our neighbor, Tom. They are ready to be split again. We are getting a bit crowded and may need to either enlarge the space or start selling excess bees. We are also getting a lot of beeswax. I am looking for some good recipes for lip balms and salves. I have also started saving any small containers. In addition to our personal use, there is real gift potential for this product. Speaking of gifts-I had a niece get married and our gift to her was a set of glass cookware. I wrapped the gift in brown paper from some bags I had and, instead of a ribbon, I used a sprig of lavender I had dried last summer. The gift looked lovely and I felt good about giving it. Lot’s of people commented on how unique it was. It just illustrates that living lightly on the planet needn’t be about sacrifice as much as the opportunities that abound for a rich, creative life that is not dependent upon great outlays of cash.

Preparedness wise, this is a fun time of the year. I try to follow the one in one out principle for my stores but things invariably get put off and then I have to do a big shop for medical supplies or toiletries or something. In spring, the preps are all about the garden, the orchard and food preservation equipment. There is a happy, abundant feel to those things.

Our big spend this month is a new, double flue chimney. We have a wood furnace in the basement but we don’t use it because we have an old chimney with a single flu. We are updating so we can heat entirely with wood if necessary. Given what is happening with the price of oil, I think this is a good spend. We plan to be energy self-sufficient as well as nearly food self sufficient. There is no better preparedness.