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!


Anonymous said...

That's interesting about the sweet potatoes. I've noticed the same thing, the midsize/larger kinds keep better than the tiny ones. Actually, now that I think about it, I've found the same with other veg like regular potatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc. Interesting, I wonder why. Something to research and learn about. I like your idea of sorting/labeling them by size to track what comes from where and how it keeps. But eep, I have the same problem with labeling - I know what's where, but if someone else goes to find something, disaster!

Lisa said...

Great post as always! Lots of "food" for thought!

Stephany said...

You have been quite busy! As for the bulk foods, I prefer to think of it as "prudent preparation" but really what difference does it make. Eventually you will use the stuff up and if it makes you feel better then I say go for it. (says the person who ordered 25 pounds of sugar, 10 pounds of coffee and another pound of Irish Breakfast tea today;-) said...

I froze the last of the turkey stock this past week and made some turkey noodle soup that the children thought was pretty good. Soup is a new concept to them... wild, huh? Adoption is such an interesting journey. These poor kids were raised on fast food and microwave burritos.

No longer!