Monday, August 14, 2017

Twenty-one Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Day 5 (Stocking up - Food)

He sat across from me, this gorgeous man looking for all the world like an All-American football star (and much too good for the likes of me) with sparkling eyes and a gorgeous smile.  I was completely smitten.  He knew it.

"I like to eat," he declared, twirling his fork between each bite, which he ate with an enthusiasm that belied the quality of the cuisine.

I smiled, thinking that one would have to like to eat to be so happy with the mess hall food.  They didn't call it a Mess, for nothing.  Although, to be fair, some of the Army cooks were actually pretty good.  I would learn a few things from them over the next few years, including the fact that regular tortillas can be deep fried (and even baked) to make taco salad "bowls."  Who knew?

Deus Ex Machina and I met in the mess hall, and not surprisingly, food has been a huge focus of our lives.

In fact, it was food that got us started on this journey toward self-sufficiency.  The beginning, for us, was transitioning to a diet consisting mostly of locally grown/produced food.   It was a decade ago - this summer, in fact, when I accepted my first challenge to Eat Local for the summer, and worried that he was going to starve, Deus Ex Machina skulked and argued and grew angry every time we had to shop, and I said no to something.  He came around when he saw how full our plates were with all homemade food from super fresh ingredients that tasted SO MUCH better than store-bought - even the tortillas I made from scratch using King Arthur flour (local-ish to us).

We still work to keep our diet local, although we've (rather, I've) eased up a bit when it comes to certain things - like fruit.  I'll allow non-locally grown fruit, as long as it's "in season" wherever it's grown.

Did you know that bananas don't have a "season?"  They grow year-round.

The other "rule" is that if it grows in Maine, we only buy Maine-grown.  Potatoes, most produce (especially cold-loving vegetables, like cabbage), apples, berries, dairy, and meat are all locally sourced.

What that means is that we still have to stock-up on a lot of stuff to get through the winter (non-growing season) here in Maine.

A couple of summers ago, I allowed myself get distracted and stay distracted for much too long, and I didn't do as much canning as I should have.  We ended up buying too many non-local foods.  My waistline bears the weight (ha! See what I did there?) of that bad choice.

With TEOTWAWKI looming, I knew we needed to get back into it.

The other day, I was talking to our local farmer friend.  We stopped by the farm stand for some milk and produce.  It was milking time (which I didn't realize when we stopped), and he was in the barn.  He saw me heading back to my car and called out, "Did you find anything?"

I laughed.  "Of course I did!  Except milk.  You were out."

He assured me that there would be milk the next day, and I resolved to stop back by when I was out on errands.

Then, we started talking about corn.  This was their first year growing corn since they transitioned away from being a full-time dairy farm to growing vegetables.   They still have a few cows and are, now, a certified, licensed raw milk dealer, but dairy is not their primary focus.

I've purchased corn, in bulk, from other farms in the past, and I asked him if they would sell it to me by the bushel.  A bushel bag has about five dozen ears.  He said he would for $20 a bag.  He could have a bag ready for me the next day.

The next day, I stopped by for milk and corn.  He asked me what I was going to do with all that corn.

"Can it," I told him.

He said that sounded like a good idea.

My daughter and her boyfriend shucked the corn.  I blanched the ears, and then, Deus Ex Machina and I, using our handy corn cutting tool, sliced the corn off the cob and prepped it for freezing and canning.

We vacuum sealed four packages of corn-on-the-cob and five packages of creamed corn, and we put five quarts and one pint of corn in the pressure canner.

No, that bushel of corn won't last us all winter, but it will be a nice side dish with roast chicken, or a hearty addition to soup or chowder cooked on the woodstove (to conserve electricity) when the snow is blowing outside.  

I've stepped up my canning efforts this year.  I should not have allowed myself to get out of the habit. It feels right to be back at it again.

So far, we have maple syrup (which, unlike other stocking up, we never really stopped doing), strawberry jam, and canned chicken.

The value of canned meat is underappreciated, especially when one is trying to limit the convenience of eating out.  Canned chicken can be used for a number of quick and easy meals, including: stir-fry, chicken "tacos", wraps, sandwiches, pasta dishes, casseroles, and soups.  My plan is to pressure can even more chicken, because worst case scenario, if we end up losing our electricity, the canned chicken will stay good ... but I'll have to be begging friends to let me borrow their stoves or struggling to keep the canner hot enough outside on the grill, so that I can preserve all of that frozen chicken.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Twenty-one Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Day 4 (Cooking)

I like to pretend that if I had a huge, gourmet-style kitchen with a ton of counter space that eating out would never appeal to me.

So, I'm just going to blame that mmff, mmff, mmff dollars (amount of money we spent over the past seven months, which I will not disclose, because it's embarrassing) on the fact that I have a tiny galley-style kitchen with a postage-stamp counter space for meal prep, and most of the counter is usually covered with dishes that need to be washed.

Don't judge me.  I do that well enough on my own.

Unfortunately, with TEOTWAWKI looming, eating out is one of those "world-as-we-know-it" luxuries we can no longer afford.

Mind you, when I say "eating out", I am not talking about McDonald's fast food.  I haven't been to a McDonalds (except for coffee, once) in ten years, and my use of "McDonald's" is a generic term for ALL fast food restaurants (pretty much any place with a drive-thru that doesn't serve, as a primary product, doughnuts and/or coffee - and usually has either "donut" or "coffee" in the name of the establishment).

Eating out is a huge, very expensive luxury.  We had to stop.

Since I do have such a small kitchen, we also don't have a fancy coffee maker.  We have a tiny (subjectively) French press that holds enough coffee for four cups.  We probably make three to four pots per day.

But we found, when we looked at the numbers, that we were buying a lot of coffee in cardboard cups.  We recycle the cups, but still, there's all that waste - and not just the paper waste, but the money!  Holy cow, the MONEY! we spent on coffee.  No, I won't give you a number (see above), but I will say that our favorite coffee shop has a frequent buyer card.  Buy twelve cups, get one free.  I have five cards filled.  I only started getting them stamped every time I buy coffee last November.  Sometimes I forget to get them stamped. I've already redeemed at least as many.  We don't only buy coffee from that one place.  You get the picture.  A LOT of coffee.

The allure of convenience is very enticing, and it is so easy to fall into that trap of thinking, "just this one ...  just this time ... this is a special, extraordinary outing that necessitates Coffee Shoppe coffee."  The problem, at least for us, was that "just this time" turned into a couple of times a week.  

Every day is special - so no day is, at least for us when it came to the coffee habit.  

I often mention that I'm a very lucky Mom.  I have amazing children.  Truly.

My daughters are absolutely wonderful.  Very supportive and willing to just do what I ask. It's pretty incredible.  They don't have a short memory or attention span, and when I say, "We can't get coffee out," they hear and remember.  The one who usually gives in, is me.  Not them.  They never ask.

The other day, when we were heading out to an appointment, knowing that coffee out is not an option, Little Fire Faery made herself a cup to go from the French Press.  Precious grabbed her new water bottle (a new patient gift she received recently) and filled it with water to take with her on the island excursion field trip she went on with our co-op friends.

My girls are also really good about helping in the kitchen, especially with putting away the clean dishes.  I don't know why that chore is so difficult for me, but it is.  They don't wash the dishes, but they'll put them away.  I wash.  They put them away.  Simpatico.

As a team, we're tackling our culinary challenge of not succumbing to the convenience of restaurant food and beverage.  It's not easy, but the general consensus is that it takes about a month to change a habit.  If we can keep it up for the duration of the next three weeks, we'll be set ... assuming that we don't fall off the proverbial wagon ;).

Plus, I just keep telling myself that my homemade food is better - and it is!  It's better quality food for less money, because we raise it organically, or purchase from a local or organic vendor.  It's made exactly the way WE like it without a lot of hassle and hidden costs.  And any hairs are probably from our own dogs.  So, win-win-win!

Fast food for less:

Homemade GF Hamburgers:

1 lbs of locally raised, grass-fed beef made into four patties, served on a bed of homegrown lettuce with toppings of choice and oven-roasted french-fry cut potatoes with a soda made on our Soda Stream.  Cost is about $4/person, as opposed to more than $15 per person for a similar, but not entirely comparable meal from the local high-end hamburger place.

The meal takes about forty-five minutes to prepare, because the potatoes have to be peeled, sliced, and cooked.  But while the potatoes are cooking, everything else can be prepared, and some clean-up of the kitchen can take place.

With a bit of planning (which is actually the tough part, when I'm having fatigue brain after a long, draining day), eating at home is easier than trying to decide where we're doing to get take-out with so many diverse and creative options where we live*.


*Some people who live in more food-desert kinds of places won't relate, but off the top of my head, I can think of five restaurants with five different types of cuisine (Mexican; pizza; hamburgers; seafood; all American) within ten miles of my house that serve Maine-sourced foods and are locally owned.  The struggle is real!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Twenty-one Days until TEOTWAWKI - Day 3 (Fire ...?)

Deus Ex Machina: "Tom called."

Me:  "Yeah?  Is everything okay?"

Deus Ex Machina:  "Yep.  He has some wood.  He's says it's about two cords*.  We can have it, if we pick it up."

That's a fairly common conversation in our house. We are blessed with many friends and family members who will think of us when there is firewood available.  Most folks know that we heat with wood.

It's actually a point of pride that we haven't had an oil delivery since 2008 - the year we had our Lopi wood stove installed.  We've heated our house with wood since then.

Having the wood stove isn't really a new prep.  We already have it, but storing up wood is an every year project.  We were given two cords of wood this summer, after the lay-off, and it was a huge relief.  We have know a landowner who will allow us to harvest dead wood and downed trees, but it's a lot more work than those two cords.  We'll start working on the wood pile in a few weeks, when things cool off a bit.  By winter, we should have what we need to last until next April or May.

It is an on-going project - not a one day thing, but honestly, it only took us a few hours to decide on exactly the wood stove we wanted, to find a local dealer, and to call and order it (back in 2008).  If we hadn't already made that prep, before Deus Ex Machina's job loss, we might be looking at a very different kind of winter, because filling up the oil tank (AND running the furnace, which is forced hot air, and requires electricity ... a LOT of electricity), is probably not in the budget.

To that end, if you're looking at a possible financial hiccup, start planning now for that eventuality.   Like I said to Deus Ex Machina, we've been planning for this for ten years.  That wood stove will keep us warm, this winter, just like the last ten, without requiring that we spend a dime.

I'd also like to share our other, semi-related, prep.

A few years ago, I was an SUV driver.  Then, we tried to get a sticker on our old girl, but her belly was a bit rusty.  She sat in the driveway for a very long time.  We used her for storing the boxsprings to our bed when we moved our bed out of the back room and into the office to start the renovation.  Finally, we found a junkyard that would buy her for parts.

We used to haul wood with the SUV.  In fact, we always, kind of, treated that vehicle like it was a truck ... with a cover.  We hauled a lot of stuff in that thing.  Our other car was a Honda Civic.  One can not haul much wood in a Honda Civic.

We spent several months with just one car, but then, Deus Ex Machina found a used Toyota truck. We bought it.

Having that truck has been invaluable.  We can take our chickens to the butcher (can't imagine trying to haul 12 full-grown meat chickens in the back seat of my car).  We can haul wood.  We can take advantage of "free" stuff on the side of the road.  We can buy an Armoire secondhand and not worry about how we'll get it home.

The truck does not get very good gas mileage, but it's real value is the independence it gives us with regard to acquiring things we need to support our lifestyle.   In just the cost of cord wood, it will pay for itself before we have to call the junkyard to tow it away.

And keeping the home fires burning is priceless.



*We use between 5 and 7 cords of wood, depending on how well it is seasoned and the type of wood.  Pine burns hotter and faster, and so we'd need more of it to get through the winter.  The wood mentioned above was pine.  It will be nice for those early fires where we just want to take the edge off, but we don't need a fire all day.

My Garden is Making Me Rich

There was this whole thing a while back where some person published an article about a $200 tomato or some shit.  The goal, I guess, was to debunk the idea that growing one's own food saves money.  I guess saving money wasn't part of the author's experience.

The problem is that it's not true.  Having a garden DOES save money.  I didn't read the above mentioned article.  Probably if I want to criticize it, I should, but the fact - at least MY personal, decade's long, experience is that my garden does save money.

Take cucumbers, for instance.  We are at the very beginning of harvest season for cukes here in southern Maine.  They're just starting to come up.

I bought cucumber plants this year.  We need to work on a greenhouse or cold frame so that I can start plants.  It will have to come after the house stuff is done, but I'm pretty sure we can do it, mostly, for free.

The plants were $2.50 for a six pack.  I planted them with my broccoli and planned this really awesome trellis thing, that I never got around to making.  So, my cucumbers are growing along the ground.  No worries, because the broccoli is mostly done.  I'm letting some of the plants go to seed, so that I can save it for next year.

Something ate half the plants.  So, I have three.

I have a pound of pickling-sized cukes on my counter  that I harvested yesterday.  I've harvested at least that much again over the past week or two, and when it gets full into growing this month (August is the huge harvest month here), I'll have enough for both eating and making a gallon or two of sour pickles.

Pickling cucumbers sell for $0.50/lb around here.  I need 3 pounds to make a gallon of pickles.  That's $1.50 for a gallon.  I spent $2.50 on plants.  I only have to harvest 5 lbs of cucumbers (which is about 15 little cukes) to break even.  I only have to harvest 6 lbs to make money.

I don't know what that author was doing to make his garden cost so much money, but here's my reality:

I've planted apples, peaches, hazelnut, a chef's fantasy of a perennial herb garden, blueberries, grapes. and raspberries.  The initial outlay for some of those plants was a little high (like the apple tree that was $35), but these things, my perennial garden, are an investment, that over time, pays for itself.  The rest of the garden is the same.

I paid $3 per pound for seed potato.  A pound of seed potatoes is about 3 medium sized potatoes.  Each seed can be cut into three or more pieces, depending on the number of eyes (I've gotten five pieces before from one fist-sized potato).  Each piece will yield between 3 lbs and 5 lbs of potatoes (or more depending on the size of the potatoes at harvest and the growing technique).  So, if I cut a seed potato into three pieces, and each piece give me 5 lbs of potatoes, that's 15 lbs for $1.   That works out to something like $0.07 per pound, as opposed to $0.79/lb for Maine-grown potatoes at the grocery store - or $2 per pound for Maine-grown potatoes at the farm stand.

There's all of that, but also, I just went outside to pick the blueberries that were ripe right outside my door, and I found a dime in front of the blueberry bush.

So, I guess my garden is, literally, making me richer, too :).  


Friday, August 11, 2017

Twenty-One Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Day Two (Water)

This post isn't actually about water - per se.  It's about beverages, and it might seem a little superfluous to some of you.

Here's the thing.  We don't, usually, purchase sodas.

That's a lie.

We didn't, for a very LONG time, purchase Coca-Cola or Pepsi-Cola products, because most of them contain high fructose corn syrup.  Then, Coca-Cola company came out with this "Coke Life" product that has cane sugar and Stevia.  A few 12 packs made it into our shopping cart, maybe once or twice a month.

We also spent more money than we should have on soda products that were locally manufactured (Maine Root and Cap't Eli's were the two brands we would purchase), and/or we would purchase soda products from one of those organic soda companies.  Our grocery store carried a flavor by Virgil's called "Dr. Better".  We found that we really liked it.

Bad habits are born slowly and end up becoming pervasive - remember the frog boiling analogy?  It applies here, too.  In fact a lot of the things I'll probably be discussing over the next three weeks are frogs boiling.

Around June when TSHTF, we realized that we were spending quite a lot of money each week on soft drinks, which is funny for someone who had completely eliminated them only a few years earlier.  It was easy when my daughters were young, but as they reached those teenage years, forcing my opinions and ideologies becomes more difficult and started to feel invasive.  They're getting older, and they need the opportunity to make their own decisions - such is one of the main tenets of the unschooling philosophy.

But as a side note, let's not turn this post into a bashing of my schooling philosophy/parenting style.  I think there's a post about homeschooling later in this series.  You can bash me there :).

Anyway, sodas made their way into our house in a very big and very expensive way.

But then, we were suddenly faced with the need to cut back on our spending.  One of the easiest cuts was the soda.

My friend recommended a Soda Stream.  The initial outlay for the machine was $70, which included one CO2 cartridge.  Because we usually bought the super expensive sodas, $70 is probably what we spent a month on soda.  So the soda stream actually paid for itself after the first month.

When the CO2 cartridge is empty, we take it back to the store to exchange.  It costs $15 - one-fifth of what we were spending on sodas.

We make our own syrup using organic cane sugar and water.  Sometimes we'll add juice from fresh squeezed lemon and/or lime.  We've also made cherry limeade to rival Sonic's.  Ours is way better.  Just saying.  

So, this isn't, exactly, a TEOTWAWKI thing.  If the world goes belly-up and we all start fighting zombies, having carbonated water will be the least of our worries.

But if our TEOTWAWKI is a job loss and the goal is to survive without losing one's house or whatever, switching to something that can save a lot of our cash, especially in a short period of time, might be a useful transition.

Probably, we should have just switched to drinking still water.

To that end, we've actually made a very important step toward improving our water usage here.

We've long been "if it's mellow ..." practitioners.  That hasn't changed.  We usually take quick showers, because, why dawdle?  Sometimes we even shower with a buddy to save water.  We always wash a full load of laundry.  We don't run the faucets when we don't have to.

This year, though, has seen a transition in the way we use water outside.  Precious likes to fill the rabbit water bottles inside.  I, personally, don't find it easier or faster to bring them all inside, but for whatever reason, she did.  I was able to encourage her to use the rain barrel instead.

In addition, I moved a rain barrel closer to my garden, and I put a couple of buckets right next to it. The hose is on the other side of the house and is heavy and bulky and difficult to drag around.  The bucket that can be filled with the rain barrel is right there.  But also, the water isn't turned on and left running while the hose is being moved around the yard, which also saves a lot of water.  AND since we're using a bucket rather than a hose, we can water whenever, and there's less chance of sunburning the plants with water droplets on the leaves in the heat of the day, because we pour the water right at the base of each plant rather than using the sprinkler method in which everything gets sprayed from above.

We probably won't see a change in our water bill, because the cost is going up by 30% this year anyway, thanks to some infrastructure improvements the water company did that they feel their customers should pay for.

But with the rain barrels, if our personal TEOTWAWKI ends up with us in financial dire straits, which results in the water company turning off our water, we'll still have water, at least a couple hundred gallons - as long as it rains ... and if it doesn't rain, we do have access to some water very close by that we could haul (not my favorite plan) by 5 gal. bucket.  It would have to be sanitized for drinking, of course, but luckily, as backpacking enthusiasts, Deus Ex Machina and Big Little Sister have a couple of these.
 
Water is life, right?  Saving money on that absolutely vital commodity can be a big deal.

And having cheap fizzy drinks also contain ingredients we choose is also a bonus.