Monday, December 29, 2008

Independence Challenge - Week 33-34

Roast Beast (lamb) from Christmas Day, now starring in lamb curry.

It was a weird two weeks, with assorted holiday celebrations, so I have ended up rolling two weekly posts into one.

I am feeling conflicted about our celebration of Christmas, not sure if it was practical or self-indulgent. I may post more about those thoughts later, but for now I am going to just move on to what I am feeling more sure about.

I had some bloodwork done for a check-up on my thyroid disorder. When I got to the doctor's appointment, the test results were missing. After some tracking, it turned out that my vials of blood had not been labeled properly, and the safety protocol called for destroying them. So, I had to get the blood drawn again. Upside: not only did they cancel the charges for the original bloodwork, they gave me the second round for free. I got $200-300 worth of uninsured bloodwork for free. Merry Christmas to me! I am still pretty healthy in important ways - normal blood pressure, normal blood sugar, lipid profile not bad for a fat girl.

Planted: Nothing, but I worked on a garden plan for next year. Participated in a seed swap.

Harvested: Thyme, still usable under the snow.

It just might really taste like sunshine!

Preserved: Made 3 half-pint jars of Sunshine Jam with a pineapple and a lemon. Very nice marmalade-type texture for my first citrus preserves. Thanks for that recipe, Meadowlark! It makes a great holiday gift.

Now, I just have to perfect some biscuits to go with jam. DD12 got me two new steel half-sheet pans and silicone baking mats to go with them, so that biscuit-making might just have gotten easier. I can use a sheet plan as a work surface, to contain the flour and rolling-out mess, and maybe for kneading bread, too. Having only a 2'-square counter surface (that familiar yellow Formica in all my photos) has really been cramping my style.

Cooked: DH made pasta sauce for us while we were at Christmas Eve services. He made quiche for us Christmas morning. Lamb is DH's family tradition, so he also cooked a juicy roast leg-of-lamb for Christmas Day. He made a new cornbread and sausage dressing we didn't like - but that's what cooking experiments are for. DD16 made mac-n-cheese that we re-heated in slices for days. I guess part of my Christmas joy is that other people do lots of cooking!

I'm doing pretty well with my oatmeal challenge. I have been eating oatmeal 4 out of 5 days, skipping only the morning when I fasted for bloodwork, and Christmas morning. Made oatmeal for Mom, too, when she was here for a few days.

Tried my first batch of granola, full of nuts and dried fruit from a recipe in Vegetarian Times. Tastes good, and I put it in a jar for sprinkling on hot cereal or yogurt. It is too loose for eating out of hand. I need to experiment with recipes until I find a version that can be snacked on more easily, either by acting like trail mix, or being cut into granola bars. Note to self: no peanuts in the next batch - they taste weird with yogurt and oatmeal.

Stored: Whole almonds, sweet potatoes (only .49/lb). One of my mother's friends passed to us a frozen turkey she was given at work. Pork was on sale at the market stalls: ham hocks, a smoked ham end for soup, a lot of pork bones to freeze for later stock-making. Everyone buys pork for New Year's Day, so the butchers have cheap bones.

Visited Redner's Market for a few things: saltines, clementines and butter on sale, potato smilies for DD12. Found a new local brand of smoked kielbasa from Schuylkill County. At $3.50/lb it was a little more than my usual $2.29 store brand (probably private-label Hillshire). Not pastured, but it's a step in a better direction, a local product from a local biz. We like all sorts of sausage. A pound is a good amount for 3 adults with pasta, beans, etc. It has been an adventure looking for local stuff. The ideal would be sausage from pastured or game animals, nitrate free, from local producers. Oh, and affordable enough to buy bulk for my freezer. Dreaming!

Prepped: DH bought another cider bucket, a dozen re-usable ceramic-cap bottles, and a bag of corks for us to reuse wine bottles for our hard cider project.

We bought a sleeve each of plastic pint and quart deli containers to make our fridge and freezer storage work better. Our quaint collection of tupperware and yogurt tubs runs out regularly, and poor labeling results in waste. We hope the clear containers of uniform size will help with all that. I use jars a lot, too, but they don't stack safely.

Look at this old bread bag! When did bread cost 35 cents?

I picked up a big box of pearl cotton crochet string from Freecycle, along with a bag of embroidery hoops. Some of the spools of cotton where wrapped in plastic bags. One bag was a blue-printed bag for Harbison's Sandwich Bread from Texas. It had no UPC, no nutritional information or ingredient list, and a sticker for 35 cents! The girls immediately started braiding friendship bracelets and cell phone fobs.

We drained the top bucket into the bottom one with a rubber tube.

Managed: Down in the cellar, we moved the cider from the primary fermenting bucket to a secondary fermentation bucket. We tasted it, and it was more like apple wine than the bottled commercial cider we used to drink. We are not sure if we let it ferment too long, or if this is what real hard cider is like, or if it needs to mellow. I will do more research in the homebrew forums online. It sure has a kick! There is no doubt that we have produced an alcoholic beverage. We will let it mellow for a month, and start a new batch with brown sugar, to see how that affects the taste. We immediately got ideas about using it like cooking wine. A friend from church is saving empty wine bottles for me, which will make it easy to share. We will reserve the new reusable beer bottles for household consumption.

Reduced, Reused, Recycled: DD12 made a batch of colored play dough for three of her friends at school. That last-minute play dough recipe on Women Not Dabbling in Normal was a really timely reminder for me. DD12 said everyone was impressed that she knew how to make play dough. She also made bundles of cookies she baked herself, to take to teachers, wrapped in reused tissue paper and cotton string with handmade gift tags.

Local Food: Found a guy at the Fairgrounds Market that has pastured eggs from Lancaster County, but they are $4/dz. I only have room for 3-4 dozen eggs, max, but eggs are a big protein source for us and we can go through 1-2 doz a week, more during the holiday baking season. Since the summer producer market closed, I have been pressed to find a source that is not "too far to drive for eggs." I need to learn more about how long I can store fresh eggs, and how to freeze them, so I can make a larger purchase from a source I want to support.

I answered a Craigslist ad giving away a banana box full of hundreds of greeting cards. I send cards to church members who are sick or bereaved. But here's the really great part... it led me to a thrift shop I have not visited in a few years, since I thought it closed. The new owner has had it for about a year as a non-profit, taking donations and regularly giving free clothing to city folk that need it. She has regulars that she saves clothing for. We can work with her at our near-by church food pantry. It turns out she used to run a local organic warehouse, and still has connections with bulk food sources. I can't help by think I was meant to run into her as I plan to start a new bulk-buying group. She gave me some new sources for pastured meat (omnivore!), but even she drives to the Philly area to visit Trader Joe's and Whole Foods stores. She is savvy enough to use Craigslist and other online tools. And she runs a thrift shop! My favorite thing. It's my new place to take clothing donations. I am going to ask at church for people to gather the men's socks, belts, boots, and pants they need most.

Learned: Signed up through Meet-Up for a local entrepreneur support group that meets for a weekly diner breakfast. I plan to get help with the business and marketing plans for my rain barrel business. I know what I am supposed to do - I've had three small businesses that worked out pretty well - but it's too easy to skip the written-plan steps that help you later. I hope the group will help keep me on-task.

I volunteered to be an interviewer for a hunger project:, which I hope will both help policy-makers, and provide me with more personal knowledge about local food security:
Starting in January, Berks County will be participating for the first time in a nationwide study, Hunger in America 2009, sponsored by Feeding America, the national food bank network. The Greater Berks Food Bank and the United Way of Berks County are partnering to manage the research study in Berks County to get an accurate and more in depth understanding of how many people need help getting enough food to eat, what their circumstances are, and what parts of the county they come from. The research results will help in future planning efforts to help those who are hungry.Volunteered at the local United Way to be volunteer interviewer for a Hunger Survey to be performed at food pantries and shelters in our area. The goal is to gather statistics about the hungry in our community.
Gratuitous silverware photo: I like this old grapefruit spoon that
I keep in a jar of House Seasoning (salt, pepper, and garlic powder).

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Winter Thoughts for Independence Beginners

We didn't have all these jars in April. We didn't even have that
cupboard. Or the homegrown onions in the fruit basket.


Judy over at My Freezer is Full was on Week 3 of the Independence Days Challenge, and felt a little unproductive. I've been doing that challenge for something like 8 months, and boy, does that sound familiar!

She felt better once the Holiday Spirit took hold a bit. I feel better, too, after having the funeral of an old friend put me in a funk for a few days. But I got to thinking about how it would be to start this Challenge in the winter. So, I am directing this post to anyone that is just getting started.

I started the Challenge in April, and Sharon recently encouraged newer readers to join in, to get more folks to prepare for the bumpy economic times ahead for many of us. I think it is harder to do this "independence stuff" around the holidays, especially if you just started tracking it. It would be easy to feel discouraged. I found it much easier to get started in April, when local lettuce was appearing in markets, nurseries were setting out veggie plants, and the stores were stocked with seeds and canning jars. On the other hand, I very much felt the pressure to learn to can, and to store bulk food, and to expand my garden, and to transition to new energy use patterns. That's just crazy-making.

After 8 months, I am not an expert about anything. But we have made good progress, and I had a few very energetic months. I am still a beginner in my first year, and I know what that feels like, which might not be the case for someone that is a 5th-generation farmer and canner.

I have begun to wrap my head around food storage ideas - the annual cycle, the establishment of new routines, the re-organizing of the kitchen and pantry. I've found a lot of recipes that work for us, and found local sources of much of what we buy. We are working on a pattern of reasonable eating from stored food. We've made a lot of changes, as a family.

Just the other day, my DH was going out to run errands and I gave him a list of things to buy on sale. He looked at the list and raised his eyebrows, "Frozen orange juice? Really?" Puzzled, I said, "Yeah, it's good in marinades and other recipes. Why?" "Oh, I just thought you might be growing orange trees and squeezing them yourself, instead of using something as convenient as frozen concentrate!" We all laughed - even the kids got the joke. Notice, we have all come to expect that we will examine almost everything we buy, eat, and do, to see if it still makes sense from our new perspective.

But in the beginning, it all seemed so urgent, and there was so much to learn that I felt like I was not finishing any one task. It was overwhelming. You simply cannot do everything you want, not all at once. I still can't seem to bake bread that replaces all of our purchased bread. But instead of commercial brands, we now buy bread from an Amish family at the market and from local bakeries, instead of brand-name bread at supermarkets. DD12, who once thought she wanted to bake bread, now doesn't, and has a lot of trouble adjusting to the new bread regime. But that's OK for now. Not every one will adjust at the same pace.

DD12 responding to changes in our family food habits.
We call this her "angry guinea pig" look. She is normally cuter.
(She edited the photo using the tools at Picknik.)

We still eat some prepared food, and we don't have a local source for unprocessed milk, yet. We still buy too much industrial food, because local organic is often expensive and hard to find. We even eat fast food once in a while. But, we eat more local non-industrial food, make more of our own from scratch, buy less plastic packaging, and use less energy than we did 8 months ago.

What counts is that we got started on something, and are methodically taking steps in a new direction. You may change directions once in a while, but if you keep moving, you can't help but make progress. It's hard to not to compare yourself to other people, but don't. Compare yourself to who you were a week ago, a month ago, a year ago. I guarantee you will feel good about the progress.

The whole thing is about taking baby steps, one day at time. Figuring out how it will work for your own family. Whether you are involved in Riot4Austerity, a garden project, a local food challenge, retrofitting your house, or reducing your plastic output - it's all about breaking things down into small steps and making small changes your family can handle. None of the popular bloggers were where they are now, in the beginning. Fake Plastic Fish, a blog about reducing plastic waste, has been doing it for over 2 years. Over at 'Safely Gathered In,' they blog about Mormon/LDS food storage practices encouraged by church leadership. They live in a culture where food storage is expected and homes are built for it - but a recent post talked about low-income families saving rice by the handful. Even Sharon might seem like she has always been living the life she has today, but she simply started sooner than most of us. Tiny changes add up. You don't go from Chicken McNuggets to raising your own chickens overnight.

Expect to hit walls and enjoy turning points. I was very frustrated a few weeks into the Challenge. DH was not completely on board, and he was the major breadwinner. I made some headway with him by talking about buying bulk to save money, and by cooking tasty meals. Everyone likes to save money and eat well. It took a conversation with one of his family members - who wants to start keeping chickens - for him to have a real change of attitude. Hmm, maybe I wasn't such a nutty doomer building a basement bunker, after all. He agreed to buy a freezer and allocate $1000 to buying a 3-month supply of food. I was ready - I had been biding my time by looking for local sources of cheap food. Now, with the economy clearly in big trouble, he is fully on board, even if he does not think it will get as bad as I think it might. He even reads Sharon's blog, even if he doesn't always agree with her.

After I started seriously storing food, I hit several walls. One turning point for me was the realization that I had to completely re-organize my kitchen and cellar pantry to accommodate new cooking styles, new food preparation processes, and the transfer of smaller amounts of food for immediate use from my bulk stores. My kitchen had become a confusing mess. I emptied and re-organized all my cabinets, and added a lot more shelving, bins, and buckets to my cellar. I no longer needed cupboard space for prepared food, but I needed a lot more room for seasonings and the raw materials of cooking. Consider flour alone - I now use four kinds regularly: bread flour, white whole wheat, unbleached all-purpose, and local spelt. Plus, I have oatmeal, flaxseed, and wheat germ I add to things. I used to have just one flour canister.

And the labeling! You don't need to label when everything comes in a package. But when everything is in a glass jar, and the house has multiple cooks, you have to make sure no one confuses salt with sugar, and that anyone can find the chicken thighs in the freezer. I now have a little bucket with label paper, packing tape, markers and dedicated scissors, so I can label at will. (Do scissors "walk off" in your house, too?)

Another turning point came from reading Morman food storage blogs. They have a recommended minimum structure for storage: 72-hour emergency kits (which we call "bug-out bags"), 3-months of family food storage, and one-year of stored bulk staples like rice, wheat, and oats. For some reason, I suddenly felt like I understood better what I needed to buy for storage. I had been just buying a lot of whatever I found on sale. Once I had my 3-month supply, I just replace what we use, and then buy a big bag of one of the staples for longer-term storage. I can see that the next leap I want to take (storing 6 months of food) will require me to do more about air-tight storage than I do now. Lesson: You don't have to mimic the Mormons, but you need a structure and plan for your buying and storing.

At first, it seemed like I was reading a lot of conflicting advice from various sources. What to eat, how to cook, how to heat my house, how panicked I should be, whether I should plan on being able to send my kids to college - on and on. Many years ago, when I was in Al-Anon meetings after I left my alcoholic ex, they had a saying, "Take what you need, and leave the rest." It's been a useful philosophy ever since. I may not be a Mormon, but I can still admire their community systems and supports. I may not live in a refugee camp, but I can learn how they produce safe drinking water. I'm not a vegetarian, but I have gotten a lot of great frugal recipes from vegetarian sources. I am not stocking ammo and living in a bunker, but I can think about who I want in my "community" when there are challenges to face. Lesson: Don't ignore sources of info that don't completely jive with your worldview. Cherry-pick the stuff you can use, and plug it into the structure of your own plan.

If you are starting a food storage challenge now, keep in mind is that this is winter. I am already feeling a definite annual cycle in food storage. Spring is about planting, and being creative with the last of the winter food stores. Summer and fall is building your stores through preserving and canning as different crops become locally seasonal (read: cheap in bulk). Winter's focus is on cooking out of storage, managing your stores, taking advantage of sales on spices and staples at stores, and resting.

When nature rests and recharges for the next growing season, so I think it is important for me to do the same. I am not trying to store food at the same pace I was this summer. I am paying more attention to establishing family patterns, reading more, doing more relationship-building in my food community, planning for the next growing season. Sometimes I read a news article that makes me feel anxious, and I want to run out and get more food. Right now! But I try to resist the urge to buy out of season and break our budget.

Don't forget that the accumulation of knowledge - whether through research, taking classes, talking to people, reading books, or as lessons learned the hard way - all counts. In fact, since you've started in the winter, you have the luxury of working on the knowledge end of things without the spring and summer pressures of planting, harvesting, and preserving. I am planning to go to my state's Farm Show, a state Sustainable Agriculture conference, and start a food discussion group at my church.

I don't feel the depth of winter at the same level as someone that suffers from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Some people think that SAD maybe an adaptation to winter, a natural urge to sleep away the dark days. But I have never liked winter in the Northeast US. It means shoveling, heating bills, dry skin. My joints ache, and I have a strong fear falling on icy pavement and getting hurt. The new bifocals I got this summer don't help at all - they make my vision blurry at the edges. My thyroid problem makes me more sensitive to cold. Seriously, I would stay indoors all winter, if I could, only going outside if the temperature was over 40F. I'd be reading, writing, cooking, sewing, taking online classes, watching movies, planning my gardening year, working on scrapbooks and art projects. I'd need some kind of indoor gym and room to do tai chi. I really envy all the bloggers that are posting about wood stoves, as I huddle around my oil-filled radiator. I used to dream of being a snow bird - leaving the Northeast for some temperate place in December and coming back at the end of March. I have books about retiring to Belize.

But the economic future makes this region look better to me, now. Whether climate change makes my region a little colder or a little hotter, both are workable. Water is good here. We are in the middle of a rail, road, and water nexuus. My particular town is surrounded by rich farmland full of frugal, practical Pennsylvania German farmers and Hispanic immigrants with good, simple food traditions. Instead of wishing I was someplace else, I'd better start thinking of winter as a welcome break from frantic food storage. I better switch to dreams of wood stoves, instead of tropical beaches. Most of the Independence Challenge seems to be in my head, not my pantry.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Howling Hill Seed Swap 2008-2009

This was one snapdragon plant, that bloomed from July to well after frost.

Yay! I got the envelope for the Howling Hill Seed Swap today. It starts in New Hampshire and goes out full of non-GMO seeds, circulating from person to person on a list. Each of us chooses some seeds, then replaces the seeds with new ones, and sends the evelope to the next person on the list. I am the 4th person. It will circulate to 16 addresses before it goes home to Howling Hill.

It came to me from Rebecca Cameron in Ithaca, NY, and I will send it to Melissa Thompson in Woodbridge, VA, on Monday.

I took a packette of Oregano, 10 of the Egyptian Walking Onion sets, 20 Detroit Dark Red Beet seeds, a pinch of Pink Double Poppy seeds, 10 White Cleome seeds, 5 Cabbage Buscaro, 2 Yellow Squash, and a pinch of the Mustard Greens.

Good-bye seed swap envelope! It says on the back, "Reuse this envelope until it falls apart." I wonder if it will make it back to Howling Hill?

Closed Four O'Clock flowers open in the afternoon into little yellow trumpets.

I put in seeds for yellow Four O'Clock's I collected from a neighbor, Melampodium from a swap, a packette of Roman Chamomile, Asian Tiger Melon from an organic farmer this summer, heirloom Brandywine Tomato seeds, rose-colored snapdragons from my yard, Italian basil seeds from my prolific plants this summer, and seeds from pods I let dry on my False Indigo.

The color isn't ideal in this photo, but the False Indigo (baptisia) is in the pea family and has attractive blue-green foliage that gets about 48" high, with lovely purple-blue flowers that bloom at the time of peonies and iris. The flowers turn into nice pods. Plant needs circular staking or some other prop by mid-summer.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Plan for Food Garden 2009

Fish boxes with lettuce and spinach last May.

What do you do when there is sleet pelting the windows and cars skidding down the street? Stay home! I did some garden planning for next year.

Once again, I am not sure I will be at my current address all of next summer's growing season. Depends on many things: Will DH get into grad school? Will we be able to prepare my mother's house for habitation? Will we move to another city altogether? Will the collapsing economy have us all sharing a cardboard box under a bridge? The future is murky.

I am going to plan for a combination of my yard and my mother's. I will put most things in containers here at my house, so I can take them to Mom's if I need to move. My yard has the advantage of soil built up for a few years. Mom's soil is awful and thin in the sunny places, so I will have to build beds and use containers there, too. She also has groundhogs that will need trapping.

Another option is to get a community garden plot. I am still thinking about that. But then I would be tending three gardens. Maybe I could get a plot for just a few crops, like sweet potatoes, corn, onions, and cabbage. We'll see.

Lessons learned in this past year's garden:
  • I don't have the patience for the many challenges of tomatoes, so no tomatoes next year. We always know people with excess tomatoes that we can have or buy cheaply, so I will put my energy into other crops.

  • Consistent watering is not my strong suit. There always comes a time in the summer when something takes me away from the garden and things get too dry. I need to automate watering, using Self-Watering Containers (SWCs) and/or driplines.

  • The potatoes were a limited success. I can buy them cheaper. I will just grow sweet potatoes, which did very well with little care in 2007.

  • I liked the winter-sowing of herbs and annual flowers. I will do that in milk jugs again in late winter. Lots more basil.
Various herb sprouts in milk jug greenhouses in May.

I plan to use several growing methods. I like my fish boxes for for lettuce and other greens, raised high off the ground to avoid pests that munch and cats that spray urine. They are easy to cover with nets. I will sow the fishboxes around St Patrick's Day, when I plant onions at Mom's house.

I planted some big containers last year, and will do it again but make them SWCs. I got some recommendations from my container-gardening list, and I think I will plant peppers, eggplant, chard, zucchini, and celery in big SWCs.

I want to try Straw Bales at my mother's house. They will be good for a year or two, and will break down into her soil. I thought I would try the vining veggies there, cucumber and squashes.

What to plant in the ground when I might move? I was thinking lots of peas the mature early, and then beans if it looks like we will be here through the summer. Several rounds of basil can go in at my house and Mom's. Onions and other roots go in at her house, if I can get a decent raised bed prepared. I liked the carrots and beets this year. I am very tempted to buy "seed tape" for carrots and beets, which I spent a lot of time thinning.

I enjoyed growing my first onions this summer.

The herbs can go into portable clay pots again. Basil and parsley will come from seeds, but I think I will get another thyme, some sage, and some rosemary from starts at Glick's greenhouse.

I experimented with basil in pots and in the ground. Both worked,
but I need more of it. What looked like a lot of pesto in July,
is almost gone in December.


I want to grow larger amounts of fewer veggies, sticking more closely to what I know we will eat. I already have some seeds, from seed-saving, and from catalog orders this fall:
Corn, Ornamental Indian
Cabbage, Copenhagen (heirloom)
Pea, Mississippi Silver field pea
Pea, Tall Telephone - needs trellis
Pea, Black-eyed (saved)
Lentil, French Green
Basil, sweet Italian (saved)
Bean, Commodore Bush Bean (red)
Bean, Taylor Dwarf Horticultural Bush bean (saved)
Bean, Pole bean, Romano (Italian Flat)
Lettuce, Romaine, Parris Island Cos
Spinach, Bloomsdale Long Standing
Cucumber, Lemon Apple
Squash, Burgess Buttercup
Squash, Waltham Butternut
There is a Seed Round Robin coming in the mail from one of my lists, eventually. It might have things I am still missing. Otherwise, I will put in another catalog order. I still need:
chard
kale
sunflowers for seeds
pickling cukes
pie pumpkins
carrots
beets
thyme
Some things, I like as starts from Glick's where I can buy just one plant for less than 50-cents, for my small yard or container. Things I will get from starts at Glick's:
onions sets
sweet potato sets
one zucchini
one eggplant
celery
My cabbage and broccoli starts this past year were savaged in flats that were given to me when they were half-dead. I got a lot of veg from those free flats. I know that they originally came from the Kutztown Produce Auction. I am going to check that out in the spring. If I can get starts very cheaply, it will be a more efficient use of my time than nursing and thinning seeds. And, I can share extras with neighbors.

So, that's my plan, so far. I wish I could grow some fruit, but everything takes time to get established, so I will probably keep buying at markets and visiting u-pick places until we are settled someplace more permanently.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Independence Challenge - Week 32

De-fatted pan drippings from baked ham, to use for braising cabbage
from the garden.
Aren't those teeny little cabbage heads cute?

My recent posts have been rather food-centric, but the next few will be more about about organizing. I absolutely must have room for my mom to move in by New Year. DH wanted to claim this weekend as a family "DVR Clean-up Weekend" where we watch a bunch of saved movies and TV shows. Tempting. But he saw my increasing distress that the attic is not cleaned and insulated as the earlier-than-usual ice and snow start, so we changed it to Attic Organizing Weekend.

HA! We made a decent start on the cellar on Saturday. Wait... wasn't it supposed to be the attic? Yeah, but I need room in the cellar for some attic stuff. I did some cellar organizing, and started to sort the clothes barrels. Then DD15 got called in to work early, and DD12 is just about useless at times. If she whines at me again, I swear I will give her something to whine about. (I've been waiting for a while to use that line, and it's not an empty threat. I could shave her head.) I guess she is "at that age," but it just annoys the hell out of me.

And the weekend just continued to fall apart from there. DD15 back to work Saturday, DD12 taking hours to tidy her room, church with committee meeting on Sunday. DH sits in his chair and reads, pretending he is just waiting for me to tell him what to do. DD12 needs to be given step-by-step instructions. "Please take this upstairs and put it on my bed. Then COME BACK." "Why-y-y?" "So I don't slap you silly. Now move it!" No one wants to clean the attic, including me, but it's not like I just made up a new chore for the hell of it. We need insulation, and we need the room.

It's hard to do this during the week. DD12 is at school, and then has homework and chores. DD15 is at home, but we want her to stay focused on school, and then she often goes off to work into the evening. DH works three days and has been finding odd jobs lately. He is helping an art installer friend move some things between galleries this week. On weekends, everyone wants to do fun stuff, not clean the attic. Tough! We need it done!

Planted: Nothing. Cleaned up the garden a bit more. Buried some kitchen garbage that was too much for the worm bin. Dumped rotting walnuts in the alley for squirrels but far enough away not to kill my plants. We'll take another shot at walnuts next year - maybe I was meant to have them on hand for squirrels.

Harvested: Nothing.

Preserved: Nothing.

Leftover Chicken Corn Noodle Soup

Cooked: Almost nothing! We had so much leftover food in the fridge that we bought and cooked almost nothing this week. Lots of reheating, toasting, and making hot chocolate and chai. Just bought milk, cheese, lemons, and bakery rolls. Made yogurt, baked peanut butter cookies and gingerbread. DH made two quiches on Sunday night.


Found a nice Ginger Lemonade recipe, and made a batch to heat up for soothing my throat. The dry indoor air is killing me. I wake up with my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. I must be snoring like a chain saw. I already hang wet laundry on a rack in my bedroom to add humidity. I tried a humidifier last year, but it just seems to make my bedside table wet. I'm drinking more hot tea, hot chai, and now hot lemonade to hydrate my poor throat tissues.

Stored: Nonfat dry milk, large canister of garlic powder, chili powder, yeast. Found 2-lb tubs of lard at the German-style butcher at Fairground Market, from John F. Martin & Sons, the nationally-known pork butcher in Lancaster County.

Prepped: DH bought a bucket of ice melt for the winter sidewalk. He also got us car emergency tools, a gadget that goes on your keychain and has a blade to cut a seatbelt and a spring-loaded spike to break a car window if you were trapped inside.

Managed: Dropped off our grass shears and a big old Wiss pinking shears to be sharpened at Standard Grinding (214 Lancaster Ave, if you are local). The guy is only charging me ($7) if the shears come out right. He whipped out a piece of fabric to test them, and it was evident that lots of pinkers come through there. I got the shears for $1 at a yard sale, and they would cost $30-50 to buy new. Standard Grinding is obviously a local biz for decades, full of mysterious machinery and unidentifiable pieces of metal. The proprietor seemed like the perfect guy to ask where to find sandblasting to clean my secondhand cast iron. Sure enough, he yanked out the phone book and gave me the number of a place that makes cemetery headstones - they are all about sandblasting.

I did inventory this week, inspired by the cool GoogleDocs spreadsheet posts at the Chez Musser blog. So far, I counted all the dry goods in he cellar pantry - I will do the cupboards and freezers this weekend. It was very instructive to count everything. I found 6# of forgotten oatmeal in the bottom of the cornmeal bin. I think I have a lot of good basics, but I am weak in some areas, like canned greens and pumpkin. I plan to try to inventory once a month, at least until I figure out how to set 3-month pars. How much pasta DO we use in a month? We'll see!
--> My inventory spreadsheet, so far.
There is a big difference between intending to eat oatmeal, and actually eating it. I have tons of oatmeal, and I need to eat it and make granola. I think I only eat it about once a week right now. Yes, we still have other food for breakfast, but establishing the oatmeal standard will save money and be good for me. And maybe someone else will also start eating it. I make it with wheat germ, dried fruit, whatever fresh fruit there is, and a big dollop of homemade yogurt. It only takes a few minutes to cook.
Oatmeal Challenge: I want to start eating oatmeal for breakfast five days a week. On the weekends I will have other stuff, because I love an egg sandwich, too. If I feel like eating chipped beef or waffles, there is always lunch.
Reduced, Reused, Recycled: The over-stuffed fridge hid a few items that spoiled and were wasted: a half-pound of scrapple, a bag of green beans, and a pint container of creamed chipped beef that I love. I'm kicking myself. This week gets a FAIL for reducing waste.

In our cleaning, I found an unopened set of Dora the Explorer checkers and card games. I took them to church, where I found a librarian friend that took them for the children's department at the library.

Scavenged a huge piece of heavy cardboard to use for our attic project.

DD12, as the modern hoodie-clad Winter Angel

We went to a church kids event, a sort of labyrinth walk where they followed a spiral of evergreen roping laid on the floor, to light a candle from the winter goddess/angel in the middle. The kids carved apple tealite holders. The little wiggly kids could hardly wait for their turns to walk, then marched very seriously around the spiral, and then set their lit apples on gold doilies around the spiral. It was cute and just the right length for littles. My older girls had fun carrying around babies and playing with toddlers. After, I split the used apples with another woman - she will feed them to her chickens, and I to our worms. I took some slightly used tealights for our emergency candle box. I also took some of the pine roping, to decorate our porch rail, since it was going to be thrown away. I will add some holly from my mother's house later this week.

We have been diluting our shampoo, conditioner, and liquid hand soap. I water down the Tresemme conditioner by at least 4X, making more of a creme rinse. We make our own foaming hand soap by cutting 1 part regular hand soap with 10 parts of water, and reusing (many times) a container for Dial foaming hand soap. We like that is rinses so easily, using less water. We made a reusable soap mixing container by marking out the levels of soap and water on the side, so DD12 can mix up batches.

Local/Family: I am going to the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) conference in February. I am going to find a ride to State College (where I graduated from Penn State so many years ago) and attend for 3-4 days. There is programming about all the things I want to get involved in: youth programming development, food distribution systems, and backyard farm gardening. Who Hoo! It's not terribly expensive at $170, and I will ask at the UU church congregation if someone has a spare bed, instead of a hotel room. I plan to also check in with the church's youth group to promote DD15's youth conference series. First "business trip" I have been on in ages. I am excited already. It feels like the perfect way to kickstart the new things I want to do.

Learned: There was a fascinating discussion about salt on the Women Not Dabbling blog, especially as it concerns the many of us that are hypothyroid. I am looking for sources for Celtic Sea Salt and Redmond RealSalt. Put a salt mill on my wishlist, too.

Lots of recipes "on deck" for holiday baking next week.

Library: Wanna to hear about my recipe system? I juggle computer recipe management with a fear of grid-crash; I'm a weird combo of geek and Luddite. I love technology, but don't quite trust it not to leave me stranded just when I need it most. I have over 500 recipes on the recipe website WeGottaEat.com. When I plan to cook a new one one, I print it out and tape it up on the cupboard door over the counter I work at. If I need to make changes to the recipe, I can jot them right down. If not, the recipe goes into a binder I keep as a hard copy (in case the power, the internet, or the computer goes down). Recipes that I use frequently go into my "favorites" - that means I tape them on the inside of the cabinet door. So high-tech. LOL

Frequently-used recipes taped inside cabinet doors.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Independence Challenge - Week 31

The turkey stock bagging operation.

My mom gave me this huge lidded 6-qt container that is low and wide. It just fits on the bottom shelf of my fridge. I chill stock overnight to make it easier to skim most of the fat, then I dip out quart measures of stock and pour it in baggies. I had 8 quarts in this batch, and jarred two in glass for the fridge. I see stock in those paper quart boxes for $2.49 in the store - this batch would cost almost $20 to buy. It probably cost me less than $2, with turkey backs on sale Thanksgiving Week. I feel so thrifty when I make this stuff.

I fold the air out of bags as I seal them. Six quart bags fit in this cardboard box, which corrals them on a wire shelf in the freezer. To thaw, I usually just slit the frozen bag, peel off the plastic, and put the frozen block in a saucepan over very low heat until it melts, about 15 minutes. One bag of stock and two cups of rice gives me 6 cups of cooked rice, enough for dinner and a leftover lunch.

Planted: Nothing.

Harvested: Seven little heads of cabbage. Ooooh, it's cold now. The top inch or two of soil is frozen.

Preserved: Nothing. But I have apples to peel for sauce this coming week.

Cooked: Ever since I won that Bacon-of-the-Month last December, I have been Blogging for Prizes. Haven't won anything yet, but my latest effort was an attempt to win a dutch oven or a stand mixer over at Pioneer Woman Cooks. I was entry number 3219 of many thousand. It's a random drawing out of all the entries, so really there are no points for content, but we had to comment on our favorite pasta dish. Here's what I wrote - and then made for lunch!
I grew up on boxed Kraft Mac-n-Cheese. I needed to find an adult substitute that was just as fast and easy to make. I boil up about a cup and a half of macaroni in salted water. Then I drain it, and put it back in the pan with a lump of butter. I stir it around to melt the butter, then I sprinkle a bunch of grated Parmesan cheese on it (s’ok to use shaker cheese, really). Then I get out a blob of the pesto I make and freeze each winter, and mix it in. Done! You can also use purchased pesto, obviously. Don’t fuss too much about the quantities of mac, butter, cheese, and pesto - it’s good every time. And it really takes no longer than the boxed kind. Yummmm!
I was the Queen of Leftover Turkey this week. Turkey sandwiches, turkey vegetable sautes by DD15, turkey curry, turkey stock. All turkeyed out, for the moment. This is such a good time for hot savory food. I made crockpot BBQ chicken, chicken corn noodle soup, a new recipe for crockpot pinto beans adapted from Paula Deen. On Sunday, I baked a 12# ham, which freed up a lot of space in the freezer, but stuffed the fridge.

Crockpot Pinto Beans

DD15 made two quarts of her Alfredo sauce at home and lugged a big pot to Virginia, to make penne for 20 people at a youth committee meeting. It used 5 pounds of dry pasta and a lot of butter, parmesan, and half & half. She also brought back two gallon-size ziplocks of leftover sauced pasta. Fortunately, it goes well with the ham leftovers, since we will be eating it for days!

Some of what you can see: On the top, a pot of soup that needs to go in quart containers, a pan with the dwindling ham carcass, containers of leftovers, two kinds of chai mix, yogurt, baked sweet potatoes, a little scrapple, bagged spinach, a lonely leek, wheat germ. Middle: more leftovers in sourcream and yogurt containers, cranberry sauce, bagged pasta, green beans, crockpot pinto beans, spelt flour. Bottom: buttermilk, more bagged pasta, turkey/bean burrito filling, 8 blocks of cheese.
I cannot believe how much food is in our fridge right now! I need to find a source for freezer tape and a grease pencil to do better labeling. *I* know what's in there, but no one else can find anything. I am still swinging back and forth between having nothing in the fridge and having too much. But, I think I have learned some new lessons:
  • Instead of planning something for each day, I list the things I want to make, in the order of ingredients that need using. Then I just make the next thing on the whiteboard list.

  • It's starting to look like making one "big" meal per week works, if it is big enough to produce leftovers. Like a turkey, a ham, a large chicken, a pan of lasagna, etc.

  • I really like Chris Musser's 10 Meals ideas. She has about 10 basic go-to meals that she rotates through - many of them are things we make, too. They all use stuff she keeps in the pantry and freezer. I need to mash that idea into my 6-week cycle idea to make sure I keep using the pantry staples.
Stored: 8 gallons of water in recycled cider and milk jugs. Four pounds of cheddar cheese that was "buy one, get one free." Cornmeal, nonfat dry milk, boxed cereal. I am feeling a little anxious after reading about various agricultural crises, so I bought 15# of rice, 25# sugar, and a block of yeast - and ordered 50# of wheat berries from a local source. Is that "shopping therapy" or prudent preparation?

Prepped: Found two crappy windows that will not stay completely shut, in DD12's room and DD15's room. I need the landlord to fix them, but I need the girls's rooms and the attic to be more presentable before I call him in. I want to nail him down about insulating the attic. So, we spent time on Sunday doing some cleaning and organizing. Gotta do more of that this coming week.

A piece of filling popped out of one of my bicupids this week. That worries me, since I have no dental coverage. We were using a very affordable dental clinic at a local technical school, but they are unreliable with appointments. I'm not in pain, and the tooth doesn't seem sensitive, but I worry that food will get stuck in the gap and cause a lot more decay. Rats.

Managed: I baked a pan of sweet potatoes that were getting dried out in the cellar. I think I learned that larger potatoes keep longer than small ones, and that I should label my potatoes according to which farm I got them from, so I know whose tater variety stores longest.

I have quite a number of projects to check on lately. The worm bin is.... wormy, and smells fine with a scattering of peels and tea bags. I might need more worms. The cider fermentation bucket is bubbling merrily through the airlock. The yogurt is culturing and the bread machine is plugging away.

The one project I have failed to finish is the box of walnuts outside. I gathered a large nuber of black walnuts, and put them in a plastic recycling bin to wait for me to have time to hull and clean them. But I kept forgetting about them, as black plant-killing sludge leaked out the bottom. Now they are half rotted, and frozen to boot! I think I will dump them out back in the alley for the squirrels, and the juglone in the wanuts kills the weeds. The poor squirrels would probably love them, since the acorn harvest is almost non-existant this year.

Reduced, Reused, Recycled: DH was ready to yell at the kids for not taking out the recycling on pick-up day. But I told him there were only three tin cans to put out - we reused the rest, or avoiding bringing it home altogether. Buying bulk, and the use and reuse of canning jars and other containers makes a real difference, especially reusing milk jugs. The worm composting will also help. If we had a wood stove, we could also use up little bits of wood (like citrus crates) and non-recyclable paper. Considering the huge slump in the market for recycled materials, reducing the output has suddenly become even more important.

I started a Tattoo Fund. I want to get a tattoo when I turn 50 in a few years. I've never gotten one because the expense seemed frivolous. But I think it's OK to do something frivolous on my 50th Birthday. Will I have the cash? Magic 8-Ball says, "Answer Unclear." I decided to save all my change until then, starting with a blue plastic piggy bank I got for free from a bank branch opening. I'll just empty my change purse into it once a week.

Local/Family: I collected two grocery bags of donated food at the annual soccer award banquet, and took it to our food pantry along with cereal, applesauce, and hot cocoa from us. I have an idea to run a raffle at the next youth conference, where you can only "buy" a ticket by bringing a food item to donate; need to figure out what the prize could be. Ooo, I know! DD15 can hand-paint one of her coveted art t-shirts.

People at church are getting excited about the food group I said I would start. New people are asking me about it all the time. I think that ramping up our food pantry efforts will be a first project. The number of people served by our monthly distribution has tripled in the past few months. We all recognize that the canned goods we get from the county system are not enough, and don't always suit the needs of our clients, many of whom are Hispanic or have health issues like diabetes. We need more rice, beans, dry pasta, cornmeal, fresh food. And maybe to start providing recipes to use the food we give out.

I follow a couple of LDS/Mormon food storage blogs. Their structured storage program makes sense to me: 3 months of pantry, 72-hour emergency kits, and 1 year of staples in long-term storage. They have an emphasis on canning dry staples in #10 cans, which appeals to me for wheat, spelt, sugar, oats, rice, etc. The LDS church supports that by having regional church canneries that may also often be used by non-Mormons. Alas, there is no regional cannery near me. But I just read that some regions have canning machines as loaners. I am going to contact my local Mormon church, and see if they have a canner, and if they would be interested in sending a food storage speaker to a canning workshop.

Learned: For Sharon's Competency Project, my first commitment was to build a worm farm and a rain barrel. We got the worm farm done last week, and now I am working on the rain barrel. As with so many of my projects, there are obstacles. My drill chuck is stuck, so the first thing I need to do is go out and find someone that can help me unstick it. Then I will go hunt down a barrel or two. Then, I can go to work on gathering the parts and figuring out how to assemble them.

I also researched raw-food pet diets, so our cat can also eventually eat sustainably. Not sure what the cat will think of that! I need to get some supplements to make sure she gets enough taurine. Basically, the cat would get raw chicken or turkey with sweet potatoes or squash, with some yogurt.

Library: DH bought the Crisis Preparedness Handbook and a bound copy of Where There is No Doctor. You give that man a mission, and he is thorough!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Starting the Worm Farm

We have three knife-honing steels, so we picked our least-favorite and heated
it in the gas flame of the stove, and used it to melt drainage holes.


My yard and kitchen are too small to generate enough materials to get a nice hot compost pile going, so in the summer I usually trench compost. We dig holes and trenches in and around the planting beds, and bury most of our kitchen waste. It usually decomposes within weeks. But frankly, I feel completely unmotivated to do that in the winter. I needed a winter composting method, which led me to vermiculture, or worm composting.

After looking at a lot of expensive commercial worm farms, I found instructions for a cheap and easy worm bin that is just our speed. It starts with two 10-gallon Rubbermaid storage bins.

We bought the worms at PetSmart, where they stock them as lizard food. I looked at bait shops and checked with my local Cooperative Extension Agent, but I couldn't find another source. I bought 2 tubs, for about $3.50 each, with 40-50 worms per tub. The worms will multiply, so I shouldn't have to do that again.

I had planned to drill the holes in the bin, but my drill chuck remains stuck. So, DD15 melted the holes with the tip of a knife steel and a metal skewer, heated in the gas stove flame.

We did eat the apples we peeled for the worms.

DD12 shredded and wet the newspaper bedding, then we added the worms in their peat moss, a little dirt and leaves from the garden, and some carrot and apple peels. We covered all that with a layer of wet cardboard. We will feed them only lightly for the next few weeks, to give them time to get settled and start multiplying. Once they get going, we should be able to give them 5-6 pounds of waste per week, according the articles I have read.

Worms are not exactly entertaining to watch.

DD12 has been appointed the Official Worm Farmer. The bin will be under the kitchen table, where we will remember to feed and tend them. The worms like temperatures between 55 and 75F, and the cellar will be too cold in the winter. In the summer we will move the bin to the cellar or outside on the back porch.

Our kitchen table is a storage/work surface, not for eating, so I put stuff under it,
like a big box of extra pots and pans. Now, it also has a worm farm.

We put the waste bucket back on the counter to collect worm food. Hopefully, by spring we will have turned our scraps into buckets of lovely worm castings for the garden.

I checked on the worms today, and they seem to have warmed right up. They shy away from the light when I lift up the damp cardboard. My family seems slightly weirded out by the worms in the kitchen, but it's too cold in the cellar. They'll get used to it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Independence Challenge - Week 30

Cider jugs lined up and waiting for us to sanitize the "primary fermentation" bucket. Note the elegant metal computer desk that has become a kitchen storage fixture. I hope to find a small corner cupboard or utility cupboard to replace that. I'd love to have storage for small appliances and the cast iron collection.
I got a cold the day after Thanksgiving, so I have not accomplished as much as I hoped over the holiday break. I have not met my goal of being ready to have my mom move in by the end of this month. Hopefully, by Christmas. It's hard to re-organize your whole house, while still carrying on the regular daily stuff.

We did have a nice holiday of cooking, visiting with family and friends, watching films, and relaxing at home. And we did mop up a couple of half-done projects. It's December 1st, so the kids will want to start our paper Christmas tree project this evening. It's kind of a reverse advent calendar; we add something every day until the star goes on top on Christmas Eve. I'll take photos as that develops.

Planted: Nothing.

Harvested: Cabbage and lemon thyme.

Preserved: Started a bucket of hard cider fermenting. I'll make a separate post about that with photos. The apples are not organic, but Weaver's uses an Integrated Pest Management program that minimizes spraying, and their cider is UV pasteurized, not heated, so it should be good for making hard cider.

I jarred up horseradish I grated from a root. Peeled it, grated and ground it in the food processor with some white vinegar. It made about a pint. DH leaned over and took a big whiff while it was still in the food processor - really cleared his stuffy nose! People say it will only keep its heat for a few months in the fridge. I want to plant some, and make it part of our late fall routine.

I made my own cranberry sauce. It was so easy; just a cup each of water and sugar, simmered with a bag of berries. It made about 2/3 of a quart jar that I am keeping in the fridge. Next time, I will jar it in pints and water-process it. Found a new cranberry sauce-filled muffin recipe to try this week.

I made a big mistake that cost me 3 quarts of really good chicken stock. I had once accidentally frozen a quart of stock in a jar, and it didn't break. So I thought, "Hmm, why not use my reusable jars, instead of plastic bags? I can just move jars right from freezer to fridge as needed." Wrong! All three were broken the third day, I guess after freezing really solidly. Wasted jars and stock. I made 6 quarts of new turkey stock. In quart freezer ziplocks, thank you.

Cooked: Wednesday night there was an interfaith Thanksgiving service, hosted this year at our church. There were Muslim, Buddhist, Baha'i, Hindu, Christian and Jewish guests. I baked a Parsnip Spice Cake. I know a bit about kosher cooking, but I know almost nothing about the Halal dietary laws that Muslims observe. Just enough not to use lard or alcohol-based vanilla extract. I made a label for the plate on the refreshment table, listing the ingredients - so, whether the guests were vegan, vegetarian, Jewish, or Muslim, they could decide for themselves whether to eat it.

It's not a new recipe, but I took an all-local Cornbread Pudding to the family Thanksgiving feast in Philadelphia. When you are not the host, you don't get leftovers, so on Sunday night I roasted some turkey parts and made some pie, so I could have leftover turkey sandwiches and pie. And I had more pie and turkey sandwiches today. :-)

DH caught me roasting a butternut. 'What's that?" "Pumpkin," I said. 'No it's not. It's squash! I don't like squash." "You like pumpkin pie, and pumpkin is a squash, and most pie pumpkins look more like this than jack-o-lanterns - you just never see pumpkin except out of a can." "Still. Not eating it." Which is how I ended up baking sweet potato pie. I'll make pumpkin muffins with the other orange stuff. ~sigh~

Stocked: Hair conditioner, copy paper, packing tape. Parsnips and unshelled walnuts.

I got sucked into Wal-Mart, originally in search of a $13.95 haircut. I already go there once a month to get a $4 prescription refill. But once you are in, the prices are mesmerizing, and you end up buying conditioner, copy paper, and tape. They had sweet potatoes for $.38/lb, green beans for .99/lb, and .68 sleeves of celery. I see how people end up shopping there, even as they mutter, "I hate Wal-Mart." You hate that you want to buy things. I'm so torn - Wal-mart is our nation's largest retailer, and they are making an effort to sell local and organic products. Shouldn't I try to support that? But the organization as a whole is the most non-local thing in the world. When I get a new Rx, I will switch to Target, who I hear has a similar $4 program. If I don't go in there, I won't have to deal with the ethical conflicts.

Friday, I bought almost nothing on "Buy Nothing Day." Just two matinee film tickets and a bag of Swedish Fish, for my mother and I to see The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Holocaust-themed film are never feel-good, and this one was immediately followed by a ladies' rest room full of weepiness, but it was good to go to the movies with her.

On Saturday, a friend of DD15's came to visit for the afternoon. They live in Maryland, but were doing a holiday road trip in our area, and the kids wanted to go to a movie and hang out. It was all arranged via text message and Facebook. I had never met his mother, but I couldn't just let her wander around unhosted, so DH and I took her to lunch, and then she came with me to Weaver's Orchard. I bought half a bushel of our favorite Honeycrisp apples for eating and 7 gallons of cider (5 for the bucket and 2 for drinking), as well as Crispins and McIntoshes to make applesauce, and some other fresh veggies. My new friend also bought apples and veg. Her son has a severe peanut allergy, so she is very mindful about food. When we came back to Reading, we toured the GoggleWorks art center while we waited for the kids. Then we showed them the nightime view from the Pagoda. She told me about a big book sale event in Annapolis, and I told her about our AAUW book sale. I don't know if DD15 and this boy will date, but at least I made a new mom-friend!

Prepped: DH got space blankets for the bug-out bags; they came in box of 12. He also bought forearm lifting straps for our general equipment supply. These straps allow you to use the leverage of your whole forearm to lift things, instead of relying on your hand strength to grasp. That's a great tool for people with hand disabilities like my arthritis. He also bought us a boning knife and a new pepper grinder - I looked for used items, but these are really essential cooking equipment for us, and it was worth buying new to get exactly what we needed. The knife really made a huge difference in meat carving.

He also got four packages of military-style emergency rations for our bug-out bags. They have a five-year shelf life, so I have to figure out how to remember to rotate those. Ugh - we may have to eat them in five years. Each vacuum-sealed brick has six 400-calorie portions of "pleasant lemon vanilla flavor" stuff. Maybe I could put cubes of it on the coffee hour snack table at church - hee hee!

Managed: The sweet potatoes in the cellar are getting shriveled. I have not been using them fast enough. I think I better roast them all and freeze chunks or puree. The squash look fine. I just roasted the first one. The white potatoes are slightly shriveled, but not bad, and we use them regularly. The onions look good. I have not gotten the cellar thermometers I meant to get, and we have been using the clothes dryer for towels, sheets, and jeans - bottom line, I think the cellar has not been as cold and damp as needed for good root storage. The local harvest comes in long before the cellar is chilly enough.

I've been eating the little bits out of the freezer - four pierogies, a lone burrito, that kind of thing that accumulates in the upstairs freezer. I must find time to really re-organize it this week. The stuff in the front comes and goes briskly, but I can't remember what is in the back.

Funny how many things get done here by people wearing
pajama pants. I don't think the worms noticed.


Reduced, Reused, Recycled: We finally got the worm bin started. I will make a separate blog post for that. The poor worms hibernated in the fridge for more than a month. They were still alive, and I hope they warm up and start making little worms very quickly.

Family/Local: Doing some research to prepare for the food security seminar for youth, and the food discussion group at our church, both of which will start in January. People are definitely interested. Heard about a Three-Bowl Ritual that focuses on food waste awareness - might be good for a group activity.

Learned: Signed up for a December 2nd webinar about Small Farm Incubators. It will be good for me to better understand the obstacles to small farm operations, if I eventually want to build a buying co-op with local suppliers.

Library: I'll put this in the "library" section since it contributes to our journaling and documenting. DH got a fancy new Canon camera. His aunts wanted to give him a graduation gift in May, and they finally agreed on a camera. DH is a writer, and might be able to sell more freelance work if he can also supply photos. Our older Kodak EasyShare DX7590 camera now officially becomes "mine" and I plan to find a macro lens for it on eBay. It's hard to take garden and food pix without a close-up lens.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dark Days Challenge - Leftover Style

I served this Dark Days dinner Leftover Style - self-serve on the counter. I made mine into turkey sandwiches. The bread was from a local bakery, but not the Miracle Whip. I am not sure Miracle Whip is even an organic substance, but I am deeply addicted to it on turkey sandwiches. Yummm!
For the third year, we went to DH's godparents in Philadelphia. They have 40-50 people and everyone brings food. I am slowly finding my niche at the buffet table.


My Cornbread Pudding went over well. I used leftover Sweet Potato Cornbread, broken into chunks to get stale for a day or two - otherwise it just dissolves in the custard. I didn't find it necessary to tell our hosts that everything in it was local - even the Brinser's Best Roasted Yellow Corn Meal from the Echo Hill Country Store in Fleetwood @ $1.40 for a 2-lb bag produced in Manheim by Haldeman Mills (37 miles). The sweet potatoes were from Two Gander Farm in Oley, eggs from a Lancaster farm that has a stand at the Fairgrounds Market, milk and half & half from Clover Farms. Not local: vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cane sugar, salt.


After dinner, we played games - word games, charades, poker. The younger kids got turns, even if they are not good players yet. People watch football, nap, and dandle babies. They hire help for the clean-up, so no one is trapped in the kitchen. We look through old photo albums, which include pix of DH's late parents, and DH as a child. There's a fire, and a pot of mulled cider. I like it.

But, we don't get leftovers. I like leftovers. This year, I planned ahead for that. Today, I roasted 4 large thighs and a quarter-breast of turkey. The meat was from Wegman's at the Fairground Market - local and affordable, but not organic. I made gravy with the pan drippings. Not local: salt, pepper, garlic powder, flour.

I also made my own cranberry sauce. Cranberries don't grow around here, so no way to make that local, but at least it was homemade. A cup each sugar and water brought to a boil, then toss in a bag of fresh cranberries and let it simmer until all the berries burst and get mushy. I poured it into a canning jar to gel up for use on the leftover turkey-in-progress. I still have three thighs worth of roasted turkey to use in recipes this week!


DH didn't make his sweet potato pie for the actual holiday, but I still wanted some, so I made one sweet potato and one egg custard pie. The major ingredients were local - sweet potatoes, eggs, and milk. But the crust was a localness FAIL - I used frozen pie crusts. I just don't have room on my 2-foot-square countertop to make pastry. The "secret" ingredient is Cream of Coconut, obviously not local.


Custard is really easy way to use up the second crust in the frozen 2-pack. As long as you don't accidentally slosh it when you slide in the stupid oven rack! I'll be scrubbing that tray for days.

It's not difficult to make holiday feast food from local ingredients - but it can be hard to give up the favorite recipes that call for a few exotic ingredients.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Independence Challenge - Week 29

DD12 making "tire angels." We went to a birthday party at a
rock-climbing gym,
and the floor was padded with shredded tires.

I used to try to post these updates on Thursdays but I am switching to Sundays. On Sundays, I have been to the weekend rummage sales, been to the market, and had some quiet reflective time at church. I've reached the end of weekly menu plan, and I have an idea what the next week holds. The afternoons are a relaxed time for writing. now that soccer season has ended. I do still write a little bit every day, or I will forget it all my the end of the week.

Planted:
Just the opposite - I killed the indoor herbs. I'm 47 years old, and I have never been able to keep plants alive indoors - why did I think that had changed? Apparently, the indoor air is much drier than outside. Or - something I don't recognize killed them like a fungus or wilt. I really do better outdoors; I should focus more on making a tunnel or cold frame.

Harvested: Cabbage and thyme. We've had some hard freezes now, and a week of below-freezing temps, so there won't be much else.

Preserved: The jar of sauerkraut turned out weird. It never developed a lot of brine, and seemed slightly green, but it smelled like kraut. DH tried a tiny bit and said it was weak. We don't eat a lot of it, and only DH really likes it, so maybe this is just something I don't have to make from scratch.

Cooked: Made Chicken Stock from a bag of organic bones in the freezer. The rest of the ingredients came from storage or the garden. It's soup-making season, so I need to keep up with the demand for stock. I was planning to start keeping stock in the new freezer, but I filled it up. There is now slightly more room in the upstairs freezer, which I use for stuff I use frequently - or won't remember to use at all if I hide it in the cellar. I also make waffles for DD12 and keep them in the upstairs freezer.

I continue to struggle with the regular production of family meals, within the new parameters of the storage menu, seasonal/local eating, and careful shopping. We all continue to struggle with resisting the urge to eat out - both generations of us grew up loving hoagies, take-out pizza, and fast food. DH and I both admit that when we are out running errands alone, we sneak take-out food. We do try to patronize local independent restaurants, instead of chains. It's gonna take time to give up flavors we've know since childhood. I quit smoking three years ago, and still crave a cigarette every so often.

DD15 packs her dinner to work. She makes things like shrimp curry and rice and packs it in reusable containers that she brings back home with her. I always ask her to make extra, so DH and I have leftovers to eat for lunch. She's already a good cook; I think she will be a great cook when she grows up. But she better have roommates that like to wash dishes - she leaves a trail of destruction.

Stored: I really wrestled with turkey shopping. I don't need a turkey - we are feasting with Philadelphia family. But it's the best time to buy turkey to freeze. I would love to buy a local pastured turkey, but I just can't afford the $5-8/lb price tag. The battle between the wallet and the principles is hard, especially with both of us underemployed and the savings whittling away.

Weis had store-brand turkeys on sale for $0.47/lb, which was so hard to walk away from. But I am boycotting them, since they stopped donating bread to the food bank, and that turkey itself is from somewhere in the Midwest. I would have had to buy $25 worth of other food from Weis to get the turkey. Giant had more anonymous Midwestern turkeys for .89/lb. Wegman's at the farmer's market has conventionally-raised local birds at 1.65/lb. I went with Wegman's, the most local source. Got a 3# quarter breast, 4 boneless thighs in 4# packages, and 10# of turkey backs (.20/lb) in three bags to freeze for stock-making.

Also stored: onions, kosher salt, cider vinegar, anchovies, dried apricots, golden raisins, semolina flour (for pasta making), barley, ginger root, onion powder, mild chili powder, ancho chili powder, black peppercorns.

Bought more Maggi bouillon cubes; I like the way they dissolve faster than the drier ones. If I have no stock thawed, and I just need to make rice, I put bouillon in the water. And, they are good for the bug-out bags.

Prepped: DH bought waterproof matches, magnesium fire starters, and compasses for our bug out bags. We traded lists for what should go in them, and came up with lists for individual bags, a family box for the car, and a third list of items to gather in the event of a slower evacuation. DH wanted to shop for new bug-out packs for each of us. (I think he has some sort of luggage fetish.) These are bags that will just sit in a closet 90% of their life - I convinced him to let me get used bags at yard sales for next to nothing. I'd rather spend the money on food, clothing, or insulation.

We hit two church rummage sales on Saturday. The kids were disappointed that there were no clothes to dig through, but they they had loads of junk, and I found a lot of good stuff. Spent a total of $20, including a round of baked goods made by little old church ladies.
Kitchen: a plastic mandoline for $1, two perforated steel French bread bakers, two small stainless steel bowls, a tube pan to replace my bent one, and a Kitchen Magician Food Galmourizer (LOL - it's a plastic tool for making garnishes). I got a Salton yogurt maker - I already make yogurt without, but this may help when my kitchen is so cold.

Organizers: a cute old suitcase to store my napkins and tablecloths, 3 new Clinique make-up bags for toiletries in our bug-out bags, a set of 4 glass canisters for dried fruit storage, wooden plate rack to organize my platters, plastic bin for canned goods, two brand new Hallmark greeting card organizers - I'll use one as a gift for my Mom, and the other I sorted my cards into.

Misc: a box of chalk, some candles, and a small Christmas tree wall decoration.
Managed: Cleaned and inventoried the fridge. Did better at not wasting any food.

Local/Family: It was a depressing week in the community. The school bus chaos is out of control, and our barber around the corner was shot and killed by armed robbers. But, the Thanksgiving service at church was about Ethical Eating, and I talked to more people about starting a food circle in January.

Reduced/Reused/Recycled: The farmer's market is just heaped with food this week. It's so hard not to over-shop; I'm only letting myself do that with food for storage, not immediate consumption. I made sure I ate before I went. My only real impulse buying was a bag of golden raisins. I'm doing better at keeping my menu plans in mind, and sticking to the list. I'm working hard to stop wasting food, and buying too much produce is my usual mistake.

The water bill was $77 last month, and $100 this month. I think we used less water last month, certainly not 30% more! I asked the landlord for bill copies, and he referred me to the city water bureau - but they said he is the account-holder and they cannot give me numbers. So, I need to push the landlord for bill copies, and figure out what is going on.

Learning: DH signed up for an EMT course. The course will take 6 months of Sundays, starting in January. We will drop him off at the community college on the way to church (they are near each other). It only costs $125 and he will take the state EMT certification course at the end. He is moving toward an interest in emergency management, and this will add to his skillset. And, we get a our own in-home EMT!

Sharon Astyk started a Competence Project, to encourage people to learn new practical skills for "badges." I said I would build a worm bin and a rain barrel. But DH kicked my butt by starting a whole EMT course. I am also committing myself to getting better at bread baking - I just have not been able to find my groove there.

Library: We ordered Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded. It's the January book club selection at church. I also bought Sharon's Depletion and Abundance, to make the Amazon shipping free. I prefer used books, but at least two people will read these at our house, maybe three, and more if I lend them out at church.

DH subscribed us to Home Power magazine.

Found an interesting (if depressing) book at a thrift shop: Giraffe, the novelization of the slaughter of the world's largest captive herd of giraffes in a Czechoslovakian zoo in 1975. My winter bookshelf is huge and bizarrely diverse.