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).


fullfreezer said...

What a great stroke of luck to meet the thrift store owner. Sometimes things are meant to happen! I just posted my granola recipe- it looks similar to yours but mine doesn't use any salt or vanilla (although I have put vanilla in it from time to time). I like to use a touch of maple syrup in place of some of the honey- it gives it a nice flavor.

MeadowLark said...

I am SOOOO excited that you tried the sunshine jam. Did you love it? Try it on banana bread too... heavenly.

Matriarchy said...

Loved it! My mom was here when I made it, and she scraped every bit out of the pot - I thought she would lick it clean. I gave her a jar to take home. It made 3.5 jars for me - I had a big pineapple and used a larger lemon. I put a dab of butter in the pot to keep the foam down.

Verde said...

Wow, that gives me chills about the thrift store owner. The jam sounds wonderful.

As always your posts are great - it sounds as if you are really getting active in your community as a result of the independence days?