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.

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.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Rant: Key Communicator

A few weeks ago, DD12's school admin asked me if I wanted to be on a parent list and I said OK. This what happens when you go to the office too often to find out why your kid is failing math.

(It's because she sits next to a disruptive kid, to whom she cannot stop responding. Now that she sits next to a quiet kid, she is doing much better.)

Apparently, I am now a Key Communicator:
"...a network of people who are well-connected to both the schools and the community. The idea is to promote a continuing two-way exchange of information between key communicators and the school district."
That means I get pre-recorded phone messages when there is violence at the high school. Since mid-October, there was a minor stabbing, a guard shot with a pellet gun, and an attack by a disgruntled drop-out that was refused re-entry but managed to wander from class to class for hours until she encountered and beat up an old rival.

(Is it any wonder we have my 10th grader cyberschooling from home?)

At first, I thought this "two-way exchange" meant they had made me an official Complainer, to give them feedback from other parents where there are problems. But then I got invited to a dinner...

The dinner was held at the brand-new school that DD12's class moved into on Monday, a magnet school for Agriculture, Science, and Ecology. Good concept, and shiny new building, but I haven't seen a lot of meaningful content yet. At least, not communicated to parents. I am sure I am spoiled by having homeschooled. I can't get used to the curriculum being invisible to me.

The dinner was eerie and corporate. I was greeted at the door by a security guy that looked more like a butler. There was a uniformed ROTC color guard and the Pledge of Allegiance. I counted about 100 seats at round tables in the cafetorium. I sat at a table with our principal, his wife, his mother, the school admin and her assistant, and two other parent "Key Communicators." There were introductions: the Superintendent acknowledged his "cabinet" of top administrators, and the elected School Board Directors, the architectural firm reps for the project, the Mayor, and the principals of the two schools that will be housed in the building. Everyone chortled about their success. At first, I thought the "success" was the dinner itself! I thought, "Wow, they have low expectations." Then I realized that the dinner was to celebrate the spending of $4M to produce this school building. There were very visible displays of sucking up to the Superintendent, accompanied by insider jokes about ordering new office furniture.

The President of the Board showed up very late, and couldn't figure out how to get in the building. (I happened to be out in the hall, listening to the Superintendent tersely giving her instructions through doors and hallways - boy, was he annoyed.) She then proceeded to re-introduce the School Board, exclaiming that the school was only built because the Board had done a lot of work and made a lot of hard decisions. No one stopped her to tell her they had already been thanked during the speeches. I suppose it was a political ritual being played out.

(No one thanked the children who waited in cramped temporary quarters while the construction went almost three months overtime. No one thanked the teachers who tried to teach in hallways and auditoriums. No one thanked the parents, who dealt with the confusion, the crappy bus service, and the lack of teacher contact. No one thanked the taxpayers who will pay for the building.)

The phrase, "It's all for the children," was repeated often, along with things like "Every day, in every way, things are getting better for the children." But there was not a child in sight.

I couldn't tell if there were any teachers, but it didn't seem so - perhaps a union rep that was not introduced. Thousands of dollars spent on catering, an elaborate over-sized cake, rented tables and linens, centerpieces, and gift bags full of custom-imprint schwag. (Gift bags?!) There were black imprinted bags and red ones. I got a black one that had a Post-It note portfolio with "Key Communicator" printed on it - and a imprinted pen, and an imprinted 2Gb flash drive, an imprinted mug full of imprinted M&Ms, and a glossy embossed folder full of info that is already on the website. I wonder what the red bags had in them.

The food was nice - fruit and cheese board with Brie. Good rolls. Salad with raspberry vinaigrette (pretty dated in catering, but still new to some of my tablemates). Three entrees: Pork Loin with Bearnaise, Baked Chicken, and a pasta with clam sauce and lots of shrimp. Cottage potatoes and green beans. Coffee service with the cake. All nice catered buffet food.

We were invited to tour the building between dinner and cake, unguided wandering through empty classrooms. It was nice, but only the kids can put it to the test. The other two parents gushed. "If all schools were like this, all the kids would be geniuses!" I disagree; buildings are important, but not nearly as important as people. People like parents, kids, and teachers - almost none of whom were at the dinner.

I've been involved with the public sector before. I know this is how "business" is done. And make no mistake, a school district is big business - fifth largest employer in the county, and one of the few organizations currently putting up new buildings. Those architects and general contrators would have knelt and licked shoes, if asked. There are more buildings to be built. The financing is already in place.

The Supervisor, hired by an elected Board, is the CEO of that organization. A little round pink-and-white man, he rules a school district that is 80% non-white. Only a third of the Board is non-white - no one is Hispanic, despite the fact that more than half the city is Hispanic, and about 75% of the kids. A good number of school-level staff seem to be black or Hispanic, with several minority principals. This is probably one of the few places it is not hard for a qualified black or Hispanic man to get hired, in this conservative county. Teachers are from a separate unionized country, and not invited to dine.

I was dismayed by the blatant lack of church-school separation. We were asked to bow our heads and listen to the Deputy Superintendent lead us in a plea to Jesus, rather than a non-denominational inspirational message. The staff dutifully thanked Jesus. The Supervisor also thanked him in his speech. No wonder they have trouble separating school activities from the afterschool proselytizing of the Good News Club. They send home applications for church clubs with every kid.

This is how I would have preferred to see the "success" of the new school celebrated:
- Run a food drive, where the classroom that brings in the most food gets to cut the ribbon on the school. The food is bundled into baskets for families identified by the guidance department.

- Announce an essay contest for magnet school students, on some topical theme. The winner gets a cash prize and his/her family gets to come to the dinner with him.

- Eat simpler food (let the adults eat that crap the kids eat every day!) and use the catering money to run a contest for teachers to submit innovative lesson plans. The winners get their projects funded. I bet a lot of teachers could do wonderful things with $1000. That dinner was probably worth 2 or 3 projects.

- Run a reading contest, and the classroom that reads the most books gets money to be spent on library materials the class helps choose.

- Have an elected committee of kids choose a Class Gift from this first 6th grade to the next. A piece of statuary, or perhaps new trees, or a bike rack.

- Figure out a way to extend the celebration to more than three parents. This school and every school in the district has huge difficulty getting low-income parents to get involved in school events. People work, or have younger kids, or have language barriers, or simply feel intimidated. No one at the dinner needed a translator, yet probably half the school's parents do. Fascinating display of institutional racism and classism.

- Buy a sweater for every kid - that new school is cold! 85% of the kids in this urban school qualify for free lunches. There must have been some way to celebrate the new school in a manner that benefited the kids more than the administrators. If I had to hear one more of them say "It's all about the kids," I'd have barfed.
DH and I have talked about inviting the principal and his wife out to dinner. I'd like to see how he feels about it. He strikes me as a practical man, certainly a disciplined man with the will to work this system, but I bet he could think of a lot better ways to inaugurate the school than a stuffy dinner. He invited me to be a Science Inquiry Helper, which somehow involves Hissing Madagascar Cockroaches. Ugh. The things we do for our kids. I'm considering that to be separate from this Key Communicator shtick.

But there is still a dinner kicker! Having read the goal statement for the Key Communicator program, I approached the Community Relations person, to whom we report. It went something like this:
Me: "You want feedback, and I have some. In what form do you want it?"
She:"You tell me."
Me: "Do you want it now?"
She: "Oh. I guess so."
I told her that I often get these school phone messages when I am at soccer practice with other middle school parents. I tell them what the message says. ("Great! That is what we want you to do.") But they seldom believe it. The rumor mill has a different story. Everyone knows someone with a kid at the high school, who has a different story. Or, the police officer that a neighbor knows has another story. The newspaper has yet another story, in print, with quotes from police and witnesses.
She: "Well, that's what your job is, to tell them the truth."
Me: "How do we know which is the truth?"
She: "What we tell you is the truth."
Me: "Then, I guess my feedback is that no one believes that."
She: "It's your job to work harder to convince them."
OMG! I'm an unpaid PR shill for the school district!

Oh, this will be precious.

I get to go to these dinners twice a year. I should probably dress better than khakis and a hoodie next time. And bring my handy-dandy Key Communicator pen and Post-It Notes.

'Cuz I have some communicatin' to do.

[PS: As I was writing this up earlier today, I got a crying phone call from a panicked DD12, on her VERY late bus home. Apparently the kids were out of control, the police were called, the emergency door alarm was going off, they wouldn't let her off the bus, and she wanted me to rescue her from the bus immediately! I could hear screaming.

I jumped in the car and headed for the bus route, but the bus started moving again, triggering a chaotic round of cell phone calls as I chased the bus. I finally caught up at a school bus stop - several angry parents were there, having been waiting for over an hour. At least I got the phone number for the school bus dispatcher out of the driver. There is a lot more to that story, but I got her off the bus at 4:38pm - the buss was due at 3:21pm. She was crying, had a headache, needed to pee, and was starving because the school lunch was horrible. She says someone took down her name and said she was suspended, although she had nothing to do with the trouble. We will be in the principal's office when it opens on Monday, poor man. ]

[PPS: And while I was driving her home from the bus debacle, apparently someone robbed the barber shop around the corner from our house. The newsfeed says that someone else tried to draw a gun, and was shot in the head. We hope it is not the barber or a neighbor. There are lots of police searching our neighborhood for two gunmen. Rough day, today.]

Weekly Menu Review

I really need to do better at organizing the freezer. Who knows what
is in the back? I added 3 quarts of stock, 2 pints of pizza sauce, butter,
half&half, pork bones for stock, and a bag of DD12's potato smiles
since last week. Making waffles to freeze this weekend.

UPDATE: Alert! Do NOT try freezing stock in jars.
I did one jar that did not break, but when I did these three,
they all broke on about the 3rd day, wasting both jars and lovely stock.

Time to see how well I did with the new menu plan. I know this seems silly to people that have used a menu plan for years, but writing it down helps me think about cooking from storage. For years, I just knew what to cook, and bought it weekly at the store, according to what was on sale. Now, I am trying to coordinate using my stored food, eat locally and seasonally, and watch the sales to replenish my long- and short-term storage.

This was the plan:
Mon - Shrimp Fried Rice
Tue - Bangers and Mash with White Pepper Gravy
Wed - Chicken and Spinach Lasagna
Thu - Red Beans & Rice with Chicken
Fri - Hawaiian Pizza
Monday went OK, except that I didn't get dinner done until 9:30 PM. I took DD15 to work at 4, and did grocery shopping until she was done at 6:15 PM. All I had to do was go home and cook, right? Ha. Got sidetracked by a business emergency as soon as I walked in. But we did have Shrimp Fried Rice, by gum! With broccoli from our garden, bacon from the Bacon Club, local eggs, and basmati rice.

Tuesday's plan to make roast chicken for lunch was derailed - it takes longer than I thought to thaw a whole frozen chicken. Oops. But I didn't need the chicken to be cooked until Wednesday night, so that was OK. Tuna sandwiches for lunch. Baked cookies. Tuesday dinner was the "locavore" version of Bangers and Mash, which I posted for the Dark Days local eating challenge.

By Wednesday lunch, the chicken was still not fully thawed. DD15 made her own shrimp curry for lunch to take to work, and I asked her to make enough for both of us. Really busy day, and dinner was suddenly a struggle. There was a storm front moving through, and both DH and I got sinus headaches. We ended up declaring an "on your own" night - everyone forages for themselves. Gotta use that canned soup in the cellar sometime, right? DD15 made us look bad by making herself rice with beans, peppers, and shreds of chicken she picked from the bones leftover from stock-making.

Thursday we finally had chicken! But for dinner - DD15 and DH were both out in the afternoon. I put the chicken in before I got DD15 from work. DH made experimental Sausage & Sage Dressing to go with it, using a bag of stale rolls I bought from the discount rack. I made gravy using both sausage and chicken pan juices, with fresh chicken stock. Scorecard: gravy needed more kick, maybe mustard or more pepper. Chicken was predictably good. Dressing was like a savory bread pudding - I really liked it.

OK, so now it's Friday. But, there is not enough leftover chicken for lasagna. A 5-pound chicken doesn't go as far as I thought for 4 people. I have only managed to make 2 out of 5 planned dinners. Am I maybe planning too much food? Maybe only four large meals per week, and more homemade "quick food" ready in the fridge. People keep wandering into the kitchen looking for something to eat, and not finding something easy to put together.

Cleaned and inventoried the fridge this morning, to see what needs attention. Emptied a few containers from the back - mostly leftover sauces made by DD15. Things that need using: 4 leeks, a quarter pound of bleu cheese, cooked sweet potato, some carrots getting limp, three stale rolls, a pineapple (now on counter).

Top shelf: Uh oh- out of milk! Have pickles, chocolate syrup, red cooking wine, spelt and WW flour, wheat germ, flax meal, buttermilk, half&half, red miso, homemade yogurt, duck sauce, ginger plum sauce, 2 qts ricotta, 3# mozzarella, lemon juice, salsa, pizza sauce, sour cream, bacon fat.

Middle Shelf: Plastic basket of tortillas and assorted cheese, bag of dried beef, 2 quarts of chicken stock, containers of carrots and cooked sweet potato, piece of scrapple, 2 yogurts for DD12, jar of maraschino cherries, lard, tomato sauce, DH's beverage.

Bottom Shelf: Leftover chicken, leftover cooked rice, leftover dressing and gravy, 2 cartons of live red worms for compost bin, bag of spinach, 4 leeks.

Drawers (not seen): 3 dozen eggs (making pasta) 1/4lb bacon, 1/2 lb keilbasi, bags of carrots, half sleeve celery, 2 apples, small cabbage head, celeriac.
Today, I am making Celeriac-Leek Soup and Sweet Potato Cornbread. Making a little apple bread pudding from the rest of the stale rolls. Cutting up that pineapple. We have a busy weekend ahead, and we need to have some easy fridge pickings.

Next week is Thanksgiving Week. We will have dinner at DH's large (40-50 people) family gathering in Philadelphia, so I get out of cooking a big meal. But I need to take a dish for the buffet. I am a relative newcomer to this event, and most of the attendees staked out a niche on the buffet table years ago. First time, I took a nice ginger applesauce cake from a premium bakery. Last year, DH took his blonde brownies, having reconstructed his late father's recipe (a sentimental hit). This year, DH will make his luscious sweet potato pie (the secret is Cream of Coconut). And I need to produce something fabulous, that does not complete with another guest's traditional contribution. The dessert table is packed, so no more of that. I better call the hostess and consult before taking a side dish - maybe I can make something she can check off her list.

We'll eat heavily on Thursday, so I we'll eat lightly the rest of the week, with easy cooking. Apples, clementines, muffins for snacking. I'll leave next Friday completely unplanned, to take advantage of yummy leftovers.
Monday: Chicken Corn Noodle Soup
Tuesday: Turkey Burritos with Refried Beans
Wednesday: Spinach Salad with Blue Cheese Crumbles
Thursday: Bagels and honey lebne w/fruit (breakfast)
Dinner Prep: Thaw a pack of chicken thighs and a roll of ground turkey. Thaw dried beef to make Creamed Chipped Beef for a lunch.

Regular Weekly Prep: Make bread, yogurt, lebne, freezer waffles, carrot muffins and/or parsnip coffee cake.

Shopping: Get tortillas, ginger root, horseradish root, semolina flour, bananas. 15# basmati rice and 25# sugar for storage. Swiss cheese, milk, half & half, eggs.

So, now I am going to the farmer's market, list in hand, to try to stick to the menu plan. It's hard, when there is so much holiday food on display, not to come home with more produce than we can use before it spoils. Produce is my biggest food-wasting area, and I am trying to stop wasting ANY food.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dark Days Challenge - Bangers & Mash

Our version of Bangers & Mash.

I decided to try the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge this winter. I tried the One Local Summer Challenge, but quickly dropped out when I couldn't regularly find enough local ingredients. I was obsessing over getting everything just right, and meticulously calculating mileage for each ingredient.

But now, I have had a summer and fall of gardening, cooking, canning, drying, storing, freezing, and root cellaring. And I'm going to be more relaxed about it. It's the effort that matters, and the things I learn from it, not whether I get it exactly right every time.

Fresh pork sausage from Jack Leininger Meats - $2.99/lb.

What do I consider local? Certainly, everything I grew myself, or foraged. And everything I bought directly from a Berks County grower at a farmstand, auction, or market stall. Anything I know came from a local producer, like a butcher, dairy, or bakery, even if every input was not locally sourced. We don't produce bread flour in this region, for instance, but if the bakery is local, or I made the bread, I am going to consider it local. The counties that surround Berks - Lancaster, Chester, Lebanon, Schuylkill, Montgomery - they are all less than an hour away by car. I'll think of them as local, and some of their farmers have market stalls closer to me than their farms.

Potatoes from Burkholder's and cabbage from my own garden.

As the Challenge progresses, I will give more thought to what "local" means, and post an evolving list of my local foodshed sources. I've actually drawn a map the divides the county into quarters, and I have sources grouped by quarter, so I can make my shopping trips as fuel efficient as possible.

Cooking cabbage in the sausage drippings with a little water to deglaze.

My first Challenge meal was a dinner of Bangers & Mash, a simple sausage and mashed potato meal often served in British pubs. The sausage was made by a local butcher at the Fairgrounds market, fresh pork sausage that I had in the freezer. The potatoes were from the Burkholder farmstand near Fleetwood. The gravy was the peppery milk gravy that DD15 makes. We used local Clover Farms milk.

My vintage potato ricer.

With it, I made Sauteed Cabbage and Apples, which gave the meal a more German motif. I used a small head of cabbage I grew in our garden, and threw in a handful of apple slices from a #10 apple from the Stoudt's Orchard stand at the West Reading market. DH is made happy with cabbage, but suggested a little onion for next time, and slightly less apple.

I like those #10 apples from Stoudt's. Never had 'em before.

What wasn't local? Maybe the little bit of bacon fat I added when the cabbage started to stick. Not sure if that particular blob of fat came from local bacon. In the gravy, the butter was local, but not the superfine flour for the roux, nor the salt and pepper.

I'm happy with this first Challenge effort. I had everything on hand in the pantry or freezer.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Independence Challenge - Week 28

This is one of my favorite breakfasts, oatmeal with fruit and yogurt.
I cut up two very ripe pears for this batch...

Planted: Ginger root sprouts; put in water to root. Did a little fall garden clean-up, much more still to do. I wanted to bag my mom's leaves, but she (and all her neighbors) blew them to the curb and her Township came by with the giant leaf-sucker before I got any. At least we can get free leaf compost next spring from the Township facility. Although, with all the wind and rain, I bet there will be more in Mom's yard.

Oatmeal: 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1 cup water, a handful of raisins,
a sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar mix, a pinch of salt. Cook on low for 5 minutes
or so, until thick, while peeling pears
. Dump onto pears.

Harvested: Two more little heads of cabbage, broccoli, basil, lemon thyme, rose hips, lemon balm.

Preserved: Made apple butter with some apple seconds - Gala, Goldrush, and #10's. I wanted to experiment with adding much less sugar than usual. Filled a 4-quart slow cooker to the top with peeled apple pieces and added 2 tsp cinnamon, a sprinkle of nutmeg, 1/4 tsp of ground cloves, 2 Tbl of sugar, one Tbl of apple cider vinegar, and a pinch of salt. Then I cooked it for 10 hours on low, the last 2 hours with the lid sideways. When it cooled, it was still watery, so I put it back in a pot on the stove for about an hour on the lowest setting, and whizzed it with the immersion blender. It got very thick and I put it in a jar for the fridge. Not as sweet as the store-bought kind, but we like it that way. I think next time I would start it at night, let it cook overnight covered, and then have the whole next day to watch it cook down with no lid. Yielded a little over a pint from 4 quarts of apples - I need a bigger crockpot to produce enough to can for our pantry.

Then I top it with about a cup of homemade yogurt sweetened
with a squirt of honey. "It's like gravy for oatmeal!"

Cooked: Tropical produce like pineapple, avocados, and clementines is on sale. We love clementines, and can go through a 5# case in one day. They are only on sale in November and December - I see them other times of year, but they become very expensive out of season. I know they come from Spain, and I will miss them when import costs rise to where they stop shipping. I feel like a bad locavore when I buy them, but we can't grow citrus in Pennsylvania. We traditionally peel a whole case of clementines and put out a big bowl of juicy little segments as a Thanksgiving appetizer. I can deal with anticipating seasonal fruits that only appear for a short time in the annual cycle of seasons, but I don't look forward to never getting citrus, bananas, pineapple and other things that don't grow in the Northeast US. I expect their prices to climb beyond what I will pay, as a rising fuel prices and the import credit crunch.

My "Bacon of the Month Club" delivery arrived this week. Oscar's Applewood Bacon this month. Did I mention that I won a subscription to this last holiday season, by blogging at Serious Eats? I won Bacon! I can't even recall anything else I got for Christmas. I feel crappy about the carbon footprint, and I would never buy this for myself, but I must admit that I have loved it while it lasts. I've been watching for other blogging-for-prizes opportunities.

DD12 ran out of jarred pizza sauce, so we mad some. She is very particular about things, so we had low expectations. I found a popular recipe with lots of good feedback online, and made it a little more bland for her - no red pepper flakes, less black pepper and spices. We also whizzed it up with the hand blender, since she doesn't like lumpy texture. She pronounced it, "Not the best I ever had, but not as terrible as I expected." Believe it or not, I think that means she will eat it. I froze it in pint containers. DD12 made us tortilla pizzas, and I liked it just fine, so I kept the recipe.

Stored: Seems to be the season for canned fruit sales. I got ten cans of pineapple, 6 of tomato paste, kosher salt, and 6 packages of deeply-discounted black Halloween napkins. DH got 2 big cans of WD-40 and more hot cocoa mix.

Know what? Grocery shopping only cost about $50 this past 10 days or so, including the stuff I bought for storage. Most of it was produce and milk. This business of having food stored is pretty cool.

Prepped: Found two cast iron skillets on Craigslist, smaller 6.5" and 8" skillets to round out my collection. Also got an Atlas pasta maker, with a ravioli attachment - whoo hoo! I have been wanting to try making crackers, as well as pasta. With lasgana on the menu for next week, this was good timing.

DH, DD15, my mom, and I all went to a free flu shot clinic at the state Dept of Health. Saved $120. Then we went out for breakfast. Spent $20. (DD12 got her shot at school.) My arm doesn't even hurt.

DH took DD15 to buy a winter coat. Normally, that's a Mom job, but she thought she already had one picked out. Turns out, it was too lightweight - a rain coat. He did an excellent job of helping her choose a black wool pea coat that will last for years and can be dressed up or down. Good Dadding! Next, he can take DD12 for a school sweater and a winter coat!

OK, this might not seem like "preparations," but it was on the Media Plan. I came back from the store, and DH was all aglow. Uh oh. "I thought you should know that I bought a 42" HDTV while you were gone." Apparently, he called DD15 over to watch him click the cursor, and say "I just spent $1000." It is in our long-term media plan, and our Christmas plan, and we think this is a good time to take advantage of frightened retailers, and he shopped for more than a month before deciding that Amazon had the best deal, and he got free shipping, and he did not use credit. Still a huge purchase. I hope it moves us faster toward saving $100/mo by giving up cable TV and get Netflix. The TV will pay off a year after giving up cable. For people who do not watch TV at all, that might not make sense, but for a family that enjoys film as much as we do, it does.

Managed: Worked on menu planning, to do a better job of eating out of storage. This coming week, we will see if I can stick to the plan. I also participated in a little round of "show me your fridge" and that actually helped me with the menu planning. I think I might take pix of the fridge more often.

DD15 got those big oil containers washed in the bathtub, refilled with water, and carted to the cellar. They add 15 gallons to my water reserves (15 gallons in crated milk jugs). With the water in the hot water heater, we now have 2 weeks of water for 5 people (counting my mother).

We returned the solar lantern; it would not charge. We may make a trip to the huge Cabela's outdoor outfitter that is about 15 miles away. They might have a lot of different lantern options to look at, in person.

Reduced, Reused, Recycled: The car was acting up again, another $260 worth of spark plug and battery trouble. We want our 2000 Jeep Cherokee to last a few more years, to see where we end up and what vehicles come onto the market. But it's fighting us. I think all the driving to conferences is taking a toll. Offsetting that annoyance is the news that I will be able to apply for mileage reimbursement, retroactive to when we first got involved in the youth group this spring. Whew! That will be a help, as will some offers by fellow youth advisors to make room for us in their car pools.

Does anyone have idea for how I can reuse these canisters? I hate
to throw them away, but I can't think how to use them. They are
not bug- or rodent-proof, and only moderately moisture-proof.

I moved the fridge and vacuumed the coils to make it more efficient. (Wow. That sounds so green, doesn't it? OK, here's what really happened: I dropped the lid to the ice tea pitcher down between the cabinet and the side of the fridge. In moving the fridge to get it, I knocked the hot cocoa canister off the top of the fridge. Much vacuuming ensued. ~sigh~ )

I posted to Craigslist to find some free leftover carpet padding to insulate that cold section of bedroom floor over the porch. So far, I only got offers to sell big rolls of it.

Local/Family: Getting ready to take some big steps in this area. I am "ramping up" my involvement in community food security, in a couple of ways. (Get it? Ramping Up is the name of this blog!) I have a lot of things to take care of this fall, including moving my mom in for the winter, so the new activity will start in January - this is planning time.
This summer, at our national convention in Florida, delegates at the 2008 General Assembly selected “Ethical Eating” to be the 2008-2012 Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI) of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (PDF Study Guide). I am going to take that on in my congregation here in Reading, by organizing a study group. A lot of folks are already interested in various food issues, and we run a monthly food pantry distribution, so I think there will be a high level of interest.

In January, I am going to start organizing a local bulk purchasing coop. I will focus local foods, but my larger concern is that city folk find access to inexpensive bulk food staples, so it will not all be local or organic. I've been talking to some people about this for a few months.

I was at another youth conference with my daughter the weekend of Nov 7-9. Part of it was a planning meeting for January event that will focus on Social Action issues. I volunteered to develop a 75-minute youth workshop about "Ethical Eating" for the January conference. Too short to go into a lot of detail, so I will use it to show how food security issues affect all of us, introduce a range of issues, and invite them to choose an issue to learn more about. I will also bring food to taste, which will attract the little beasties to my workshop. We do 4-6 conferences a year, for 50-100 youth each time, many of them repeat attendees. I may work on a series of workshops, perhaps develop a workbook for other youth programs.

I am becoming a Science Inquiry Helper at DD12's public school. The theme of this magnet school is "Agriculture, Science, and Ecology," and it has already gotten an award even thought it did not open yet. I'm going in there to see what they are teaching these city kids. That got me invited to a Key Communicator dinner at the new school, which I found disturbing on several levels. More about that another day, but let's just say I am ruined for public school after having homeschooled. I keep repeating to myself, "DD12 is happier in public school."
We had a family conference this week. The family groans whenever I say, "Let's have a family conference." They know there will be work involved. We just had the last week of soccer season, freeing our schedule until spring season starts. I have not been getting as much done as I would like in preparing the attic, so I delegated to DH and the girls. We are setting aside some afternoons and evenings where I help sort stuff, then they will move it around and do the cleaning. Major push to declutter and organize over the next few weeks. We will go to DH's large family gathering in Philadelphia, so I don't have to cook or clean for guests.

Learned: Nothing formally, but there is seldom a project that does not result in my learning something new. I suspect I am about to learn to make pasta.

Pure evil.

Oh! I thought of something. I learned I can no longer make Jello Cake, which involves baking a 9x13 cake from boxed mix, then pouring a large package of prepared liquid Jello over it. Yellow Cake and Cherry Jello, for instance. Then you put it in the fridge for 3-4 hours, so the Jello firms up in the cake. I thought I would make one as a fun little snack. I cannot stop eating it. The sugar is like crack in its jello-ized form. I'm not used to it anymore. I better not ever make the Pudding Cake, either - which involves poking holes in a box cake and pouring liquid instant pudding over it - chocolate cake with chocolate pudding is especially devastating. It's tough to repress childhood flavor memories.

I'm trying to get back on my program of ordering one used book per week from my wishlist. This week, I ordered Annie Proulx' The Complete Dairy Foods Cookbook: How to make everything from cheese to custard in your own kitchen (Rodale 1982). I've had this out from the library and liked it.

Our church had a service auction, and I bid on a gift certificate to a used book store located at a farmer's market in Lancaster County, about a hour away. I will get a $25 certificate for $10. And the trip will give me a chance to check out a market I have not visited in years, deep in Amish and Mennonite country. I might find those organic bulk potatoes I wanted.

Our church also has a book sale area, where donated books are sold as a small on-going fundraiser. Along with a little fiction, I found these last week:
Cabbage or Cauliflower: A Garden Guide for the Identification of Vegetable and Herb Seedlings. A very useful concept, and full of nice drawings, but I think photos might be better. I will test it out this spring. Perhaps I could use it as a sort of notebook, and add prints of photos I take of my own seedlings, for future reference when I forget to label a flat of something.

Bread Winners, a 1979 book from Rodale about bread bakers and their recipes. I bet there are a lot of tasty winter experiments in there.

Garden Bulbs in Color, a 1939 book full of colorized plates. I am not much of a bulb person, but I think it is a good addition to the garden book shelf, in case I become more interested when I have more yard. I typically like vintage cottage-garden flowers, and this book will give me old names.
We've been buying some new books, too, much as I prefer used. All of DD15's friends are reading Twilight, and the movie comes out next week, so she is racing through the book. Maybe anything that encourages teenagers to read should be supported.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Bloom Day - November 2008

Sedum stonecrop Sieboldii "October Daphne" on it's last legs.

I haven't done Garden Bloom Day in forever. Too distracted by food storage and impending doom, I guess. We went out to dinner with newly-married friends last night. We went to Hong Thanh, a little Vietnamese place downtown, and had bowls of excellent noodle soup, following buy coconut cups for dessert. Then DH and I went to see the new Bond movie. It was like a date night.

Hypericum moseranum 'Tri-color' - St John's Wort did much better
this year, away from the salt of the front sidewalk planter.

A last little rebloom of Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna'

Zinnia "Profusion" in orange, self-sown from seeds in the compost.

I slept until 10 this morning, instead of jumping up at the crack of dawn to go to yard sales. I saw some of the garden bloggers posting for Bloom Day (like my Bethlehem buddy and the great flower scans at Ellis Hollow). It was a leisurely morning, so I decided to take the camera outside and try to remember to enjoy my garden!

The wild petunias are still spreading. I never plant these,
and I always thought they were annuals, but they come back every year.

Marigolds still plugging along under the rim of a pan full of spent sedums.

Little bit of potted basil that didn't quite get killed by the frost.

This great snapdragon just doesn't stop. I saw another one in front
of a neighbor's house around the corner -maybe birds sewed it in my yard
from hers. I picked most of these a fews weeks ago to put in a Mason jar
at church, to remember my grandmother for All Soul's Day.

These rose hips need picking.

We went to DD12's last soccer game of the season this afternoon - and halfway through the second half it started pouring down rain. It had already rained last night and half the morning, so the field was sodden and muddy. Now, they couldn't even see across it. Most of the parents ran for the pavilion. I thought, "If my baby is out there, I will stay, too," even though I couldn't see through my glasses. The referee called the game a few minutes later. By then, the rain had soaked my hoodie and run down my back into my pants. It wasn't a terribly cold day, and the rain wasn't really cold, but it's November, and we were all soaked and chilled. I got the car blanket to wrap around DD12 in her thin synthetic uniform. We were miserable by the time we got home, and we all stripped and took warm showers. I wished we had a fireplace. Hot cocoa only goes so far.

A nice patch of lemon balm regrowing after being cut back. I will
have to pick this to dry, along with the second-growth yarrow foliage.

Gaura Lindheimeri "Pink Fountain" at the end of its second year.
I mulch these with dried grass and yard debris, since some people
have trouble overwintering them.

Coreopsis "Creme Brulee" also a the end of Year Two in my yard.
I need to either sheer these back early in the season for lower growth,
or stake them up somehow.

Oops - haven't been out here this week, and the broccoli is blooming.

I better get out here and cut these tomorrow. They were free
starts planted very late, and I didn't think they would make it,
so I am happy for this little crop.

They lost the game, 0-5. We lost all 10 games this season. We have a lot of girls playing for the first time, and we tend to lose the seasoned players to suburban teams when their families move out of the city. But every kid improved their personal game. A character-building year. DD12 found her niche as a forward, after more than 2 years as a mediocre fullback - she can run much faster than any of us realized. We will practice shooting this spring, so she could actually score next season. I enjoy socializing with the other parents. I'm going to invite them to do something over the holidays.

I also got a lot of small cabbages from the free starts - already
picked 2 heads and 6 are left. I think the variety was "Blue Thunder."

Lots of fall clean-up left to do. Dead peony foliage,
blackening Baptisia, shriveling zinnas.

The grass needs a final trim and there are a lot of pots and buckets to store.

The dried yarrow reminds me of mid-summer's heat. I can't wait for it come back.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New Menu Planning

When I started Sharon's Independence Challenge six months ago, she quoted someone talking about an annual cycle of three activities. You plant like crazy in the spring, you preserve like crazy all summer, and then you spend the winter getting the most out of the stored food. I can really feel that shift right now. I'm not focused on stocking up any more - I'm figuring out how to cook it all now. It's not as easy as I thought.

I was reading someone's blog (wish I could remember who) and she talked about her mother having a 6-week rotation of dinners, with certain things made special for holidays, and new recipes slotted in occasionally. She listed some things she considers go-to meals, the building blocks of her menu planning.

That got me to thinking that I have left behind a lot of my go-to meals, and I need to make a new list. One of DD15's old favorite meals was chicken and sauce over rice, made with canned Cream of Chicken Soup. But now, she knows how to make her own sauces from scratch. I used to love Kraft Mac-n-cheese, and now I make macaroni with pesto and parmesan, or DH makes his heirloom baked mac-n-cheese. Our old eating style had more prepared food and meat in it. Dinner went together fast, unless we wanted it slow on purpose. We bought meat each week, and then decided what to have with it. I went to the store at least twice a week, and we were usually out of something.

We eat better now, but we have new problems. When it's time for dinner, we often discover that nothing is thawed, or some key component isn't ready. More prepping ahead is required, and actual menu planning. Especially since I plan to do the Dark Days Challenge, which asks me to try to produce one all-local meal each week from November 15 to March 15. Whew!

We do have daytime go-to meals. Breakfast is oatmeal and fruit (me), or eggs with grits and gravy (DD15), or quick bread and spread. The kids still like cereal a lot. Lunch is homemade soup, or sandwiches made of leftovers, or DD15 makes stir-fry or curry.

We already decided to have meals planned around staples instead of meat. I took a stab at a basic list for each category, and I want to try that method of having a rotation of menus. I'm going for 6 simple dishes in each category (with the other two nights being leftovers or new recipes), and then I can vary the preparation of the basic dish.

Rice: Fried Rice, Cheese Rice, Curry, Dal and Rice, Paella, Jambalaya

Potatoes: Mashed, Latkes, Potato Filling, Baked Potatoes, Colcannon

Pasta: Lasagna, Pesto Mac, Pasta and Sauce, Filled Pasta, Baked Ziti, Asian Dumplings

Beans: Rice and Beans, Pork and Beans, Pea Soup, Refried Beans, Chili, Bean Soup

Bread: Pizza, Quiche, Waffles, Stromboli, Savory Bread Pudding

So, after looking at my fridge and freezer, this is next week's menu:
Mon - Shrimp Fried Rice (needs bacon, eggs, broccoli)
Tue - Bangers and Mash with DD15's White Pepper Gravy
Wed - Chicken and Spinach Lasagna (makes leftovers)
Thu - Red Beans & Rice with Chicken
Fri - Hawaiian Pizza

The all-local meal will be Tuesday - I got the apple sausage, potatoes, and milk locally, and grew the cabbage.

Dinner Prep: Thaw a whole chicken, a pound of sausage, a small bag of broccoli. Make sauce for lasagna, doctor up some for pizza. Roast chicken Tues at lunch, then pick carcass and peel potatoes. Make braised cabbage with sausage. Make lasagna in advance of baking. Make pizza dough.

Regular Weekly Prep: Make bread, yogurt, lebne, quick bread. Cut up pineapple. Brew herbal tea. Make soup (potato leek). Bake a dessert (Jewish Apple Cake).

Shopping: Replenish instant yeast, milk, chili powder, hominy, clementines, celeriac. Take advantage of Thanksgiving sales on turkey (.47/lb Weis). Buy dried apricots on sale, and turkey backs at market to freeze for stock later (.10/lb last year). Giant has BOGO pork roast, butter for $1.99, and 2/$1 tomato paste. Long-term storage: buy rice, salt, and 25# sugar. Look for local organic bulk potatoes.
Sounds tidy. But, can I stick with planning that is so detailed? We'll see, won't we?

What's in YOUR fridge?

Meadowlark posted pix of her fridge, so of course, I had to post mine, too. Come on, everybody can play! If you post yours, put the link in the comments. No fair cleaning it first! I'd love to see a post from someone with a non-traditional cold storage, like a spring house or ice box.

I can't back up far enough in my small kitchen to take a photo of the whole thing at once so I'll do bits and pieces. The fridge is somewhat empty. I am actually cooking stuff right now to put in there, so I made room for yogurt, apple butter, brewed ice tea, and chicken stock.

The top shelf is jars of pickles and jam, milk, bags of spelt and WW flour, and ricotta cheese stockpiled back in the corner. There is a bottle of red cooking wine hiding out behind the chocolate syrup. A pile of spinach, cabbage, and parsley, crowned by a takeout box of leftover homefries. Middle shelf has a barely-visible basket of tortillas and cheese for DD12 to make pizza, and then a lot of stuff in containers: carrots for munching, bacon fat, sour cream, leftover potato soup, cooked sweet potato, miso, lard, yogurt, lebne, etc. Oh, let's not forget the not-quite-rotten bananas I keep saying I am baking into bread. The bottom (dirty) shelf is currently dominated by leeks, a bowl of over-ripe pears, and thawing chicken, but I just made room for a large container of chicken stock to congeal overnight, so I can skim it. DD12's yogurt is down there - she won't eat my homemade, yet.

I am SO happy I recently cleaned these drawers. The left one is the egg and pork-product drawer. I don't like the foam egg cartons, but they get recycled constantly to my organic egg lady. I see DD12's organic hot dogs, kielbasi, a package of cheddar, and my just-arrived Bacon of the Month package. The drawer on the right is just carrots, apples, and celery. I stopped putting leafy greens down there - I forget them and they liquefy in unappetizing ways. Note the lovely vintage 70's harvest gold vinyl flooring - Mmmmm!

Fridge and freezer doors. The top freezer door shelf guardrail is missing, so we don't use it for much beyond freezer packs. On the door are bags of odds and ends like frozen lemon juice cubes and pesto lumps. The fridge door is butter and cream cheese, yeast in the "garage," mayo and Miracle Whip (no judging!), assorted jam, relish and mustard, leftover partial bags of chocolate chips, pickle jars, and a bunch of seldom-used dressing bottles on the bottom. Why can't I throw those away? Hopefully, you can't see the mold in the door gasket, which I can't ever seem to scrub out completely.

You would never know I organized this freezer about 2 weeks ago. People just *root* in here. Visible are DD12's frozen yogurts, back-up butter, a strip of slab bacon, bags of broccoli, beans, and peaches. The box holds things that fall out, like quart bags of stock and rolls of ground turkey. There is a 3-lb bag of shrimp I intend to portion into pounds, a beef bone for stock, DH's "hidden" cookie stash, and the ice cream maker freezer-thingee. I think the blue bag in the bag corner with the clothespin is corn niblets. The string at the top is attached to a glowstick that DD12 is trying to cryosave from Halloween.

The freezer in the basement is new, so it's cleaner, but no better organized. I filled it so fast that I lost track of what is in there. Inventory is an up-coming project. Visible on top: pork chili, ham-n-bean soup, blueberries, tortellini, pork chops, bacon. Pork was the last thing I bought, so all the chicken is on the bottom, another reason I need to re-organize. The basket has assorted sausage and brats.

So... what's in your fridge?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Independence Challenge - Week 27

Pickled Pineapple, with dried cranberries and mint.

I saw a fox! It was at dusk, up on the mountain on the way to the soccer field. It ran/floated across the road in front of our car, and DD15 and I both yelled, "That's a fox!" as it disappeared into the underbrush. I know there are wild turkeys and pheasants up there, and the usual skunks, raccoons, groundhogs, possums. We see deer all the time. But I've never seen a live fox before. It was cool.

Fairly short update this week; really busy week.

Planted: Nothing, but I ordered some veggie seeds from an end-of-year sale.

Harvested: The last bits of mint tea and basil. Rose hips. Walnut husks for dye. Went to the second-to-last local market for the season, and got more sweet potatoes, more #10 apples, eggs, and a few springs of oregano.

Preserved: Pickled Pineapple, using our mint and a fresh pineapple I got on sale. It's a refrigerator pickle, so no two-part lid. My mom and I tasted it after a few days, and it was really good. Hope it doesn't get over-pickled for Thanksgiving. Does that happen? Checked on my sauerkraut, which smells OK so far. We compared the canned pickles I made earlier this summer with a recipe that calls for liming, with the refrigerator pickle recipe I made a few weeks ago. Both are bread-n-butter style. DH and I liked the crisper ones, my mom liked the fridge recipe. I think it pays to make a bunch of different kinds.

Cooked: DH surprised me with a 4-lb pot roast. With it, I made a new recipe for a potato and rice cake made in a skillet. Good with the gravy DD15 made from the beef drippings. "Oh, you found another vehicle for gravy, I see!" said smart-ass DH. We are still eating the leftover beef in sandwiches.

A big ham shank I got for only $2.

I tend to have a day of the week when I get in the mood to cook a lot. On Halloween Morning, I made yogurt and bread, the pickled pineapple, put Ham and 16-Bean Soup in the crockpot, and made Apple Coffee Cake. None of that was much work, scattered among other tasks, but I would not be able to get that done if I didn't work from home. DH liked waking up to the smell of bread, and DD15 was inspired to come down and make cheese grits, sage-onion gravy, and scrambled eggs that got done as the bread came out. All of the ingredients came from storage or the yard, except fresh milk, eggs, and the pineapple.

Drained some yogurt to make lebne, yogurt cheese, which I sweetened up with some plum preserves to make something like plum cream cheese. I tried it on the waffles and on a bagel. Yowsa!

Stocked: Wow. For the first time in months, I stored nothing this week. It was a busy week, with Halloween, the election, soccer, food bank, and getting ready for another youth conference this weekend in Annapolis.

Prepped: I found Tupperware Heaven! Actually, it was a yard sale. But I got a lot of nice big containers, and some smaller ones for the fridge. I like the flat square one for freezing a batch up muffins for short-term eating. I also got a 5-foot tower of 12x12x12 plastic drawers for the cellar, making more clean storage for craft and fabric stuff I drag out of the attic. ALL for $5. And a free half-pint jar. I just love yard sales like that.

At another sale, D12 found a great pair of soccer shinguards to replace her hand-me-downs. DD15 found a large plastic sewing box full of notions, including cute sew-in tags that say, "Made with Love by Nana." We'll do good things with that grandma's stuff. That's one of the things I like about sales - you don't just get stuff, you get ghosts tagging along, at no extra charge.

Managed: Checked all the "cellared" vegetables in the cellar and found three giant carrots in a plastic bag that had slipped behind something else. One carrot was in the process of liquifying, but the other two are still good. Would have lost those other two carrots if I hadn't done a good check. See how well this Independence Challenge works? If I hadn't needed something to write in this category, would I have checked the veg? I don't think so.

Reduced, Reused, Recycled - It usually doesn't get cold until mid-November. I don't think I turned on any heat until almost Thanksgiving last year. But the almanac and the forecasters are saying that early winter will be colder and snowier than usual. Mid-winter is supposed to be milder, and then a bad March. It doesn't help that the past winters few have been mild, with few big storms - it will make this one seem all the worse.

Our days are still variable - some days we turn on a space heater, some days not. I patrolled the house, looking for airleaks. Kinda futile - it's 100 years old, and it all leaks. Even the baseboards leak, since there are spaces between the wood, the plaster walls, the wood floor boards, and the exterior brick. I did recaulk the front door trim. The terrible aluminum storm windows rattle, and the curtains move with the windows closed. But some days it is too hot to have the quilts hung, so I am not worried until we have the heat on all the time.

In past years, the attic has been unheated storage space, with a door tightly closed at the bottom of the atttic stairs. We tried putting one of the girls up there a few years ago, but the first cold month cost us $100 in electric heat. I plan to have this insulated by the end of the month, and covered with inexpensive paneling. Paneling is ugly, to my taste, but this is a rental house, and the landlord refused to contribute. I just want it functionally warm, since it only needs to make it through this winter. I'm nailing a power strip to the rafter next to the only outlet, so we can plug in lights, space heater, and clock radio for the girls when they move up there.

Local/Family: DD15 and I volunteered at our church's monthly food bank distribution yesterday. We had a longer line than ever, and less canned goods to give out. Short on canned vegetables, cereal, bread. We did have cases of celery and jars of peanut butter to give out. One of the volunteers is going to the regional food bank meeting to see what we can expect in the next few months. We will have to also do an internal food drive.

Library: Found a copy of The Williamsburg Art of Cookery, a reproduction of a 1742 recipe collection, or "Accomplish'd Gentlewoman's Companion." I don't find colonial recipes to be very followable, and it's annoying when all the S's look like F's, but reading them always makes me feel humbly grateful for the invention of the stove.

I also found Volume 5 of Olive Miller's BookHouse series of children's literature anthologies, from 1921, From the Tower Window. It is beautifully illustrated. Might be fun to read from some winter evening. From an Amazon description:
In March 1919, Olive Beaupre Miller and her husband Harry started a book publishing company to sell Olive's compilation of children's literature known as, "The Book House for Children." Using an all female sales staff, their employees went door to door selling subscriptions to the six volume set. Much in the way that encyclopedias were also sold. The series was an immediate success and was continually republished until the 1970's. If you were a middle class parent in the 1930's through 1950's, this was the set of books to purchase for your children. Millions of Americans grew up reading these well written tales of virtue and morality. Over the decades, Olive produced many other books that were to become classics of the genre.
Fascinating. My mother, a generation of childrearing later, had a shelf of the 1954 Childcraft series of literature - still on the bookcase behind her front door, next to the 1960's World Book Encyclopedia. I was born in 1961, and my brother in 1964. I recall a series of endless grade-school reports on states, faithfully paraphrased from these volumes, and typed on our violent electric typewriter. It would move the whole dining room table when I hit the return.