Sunday, February 18, 2018

Pickles, Syrup, and Pot Pie

I did something today that I don't normally do.  Today, I made pickles.

I really love to eat pickles - especially this time of year, but really, any time.  My favorite pickles are sour pickles, which are fermented and usually cucumber.  I REALLY love hot dilly beans.  I also adore pickled beets, both sweet and spicy.  I've even pickled garlic, which is pretty awesome.  A friend gave me some pickled carrots once.  I didn't know if I'd like them.  I did.

And pickled eggs!  Those are SO good.  I love to pickle eggs in leftover pickled beet juice, because pink eggs.  Right?  So yummy for both the eyes and the palate.

I make a lot of pickles.  In fact, if I can pickle it, I will.  It's one of my favorite preservation methods.  Over the years I've amassed a great many books on fermenting and pickling.  Making pickles is not the unusual part,
 
The unusual part about today's activity, at least for me, is that I don't normally make pickles this time of year.  The only thing I can this time of year is syrup, and today, I did that, too.

Yesterday was our first boil of the season.  We ended up with two pint jars of sweet, amber syrup.  We're hoping that we get at least six times that much.  Last year, we only boiled once.  It was a bad sugaring year. 

Given the amount of work and time involved, and the fact that each year we've ended up with less and less of this ambrosia, for us, the maple syrup is like gold.  It's precious, and we do everything we can to make sure that it will last.

As such, after we boil the sap to syrup and filter it into a jar, we water bath the jars to ensure that they seal properly.  With only two pints, what we would have is a lot of energy and a lot of water used just to seal those two jars.

Several weeks ago, we visited the winter store at a local farm.  During the winter, they have, mostly, long storage crops, like carrots and onions, and of course, I picked up some of both that day.  The carrots were a mix of different colored carrots, mostly purple.  I bought 10 lbs.

Unfortunately, I found that I don't like adding the purple carrots to stews and stir-fries.  Purple carrots are a little like beets.  I'm typing this with purple-stained hands from cutting up 3 lbs of purple carrots.  When they're used in cooking, they color the food.  Purple beef stew was a bit much for my aesthetic enjoyment.

So, I had all of these purple carrots, and while carrots store well in the refrigerator, they don't last forever.  I decided I would make some pickled carrots (I used this recipe), and then, I would water bath the carrots and the maple syrup at the same time.

Today, I made pickled carrots ... and then, I made a chicken pot pie with leftover stew from last night's dinner, which is something else I love.  Unfortunately, when we stopped eating wheat, I also stopped making pies, because gluten-free flour doesn't work as well as wheat flour - for me - when making pastry doughs.  For the crust, I used a biscuit recipe and just made it as thin as I could.  It's crumbly, like any baked good that is made with gluten-free flour, but it was tasty ... and just what I wanted.

Pickles.  Syrup.  Pot pie. 

It was a good day. 

 


Monday, February 12, 2018

Surviving Emergencies


Yep.  That's a picture of a newspaper article.

I was out and about the other day running a few errands while my daughters had dance class.  We've changed dance schools this year.

Long story.

Not going to share it.

The gist is that we're closer to home - so less driving, less wear-and-tear on the car, and less gasoline (yay!) - but also that their dance schedule has changed.  So, instead of three days of dancing for three to six consecutive hours, they dance four days a week, but two of those days they only have one hour-long class.  It doesn't make sense to drop them off, drive back home, and then, essentially, turn around and go back.

So, I hang-out, and when I can, I combine trips to the dance school with other errands, like going to the post office.

That's what I was doing on the day I found that article.  I was at the post office, and on the way out, I noted the time.  I still had forty-five minutes to wait.  Luckily, for me, there was a box of free newspapers and so I grabbed one to give myself something to read while I waited.

The paper is the Portland Phoenix.  It's a community-based paper, mostly full of news about the Art Scene in Portland, Maine.  I guess they have a bit of a reputation of being, kind of, edgy.

Even so, to be quite honest, I never expect to see articles, like that one, in newspapers - even the "rags", that aren't specific to us prepper types.  I certainly never expected to see an article, like that one, in a mainstream, edgy newspaper.

Unfortunately, those who live in Hawaii, recently, had a real-life half-hour-of-terror after a warning about an impeding Nuclear bomb was accidentally released to the masses.  For a half hour, Hawaii's residents scrambled to get ready for a bomb they thought was on its way.  It was a mistake, and not quickly enough, the public learned there was not bomb, but for those thirty-eight minutes ....

It's hard to know what one would do in that situation, which is why preparedness is so important.

The good news, as I discovered in the article, is that there are, in fact, bomb shelters near me.

The bad news is that traffic in that area is bad on a good day, which means there's little chance that I'll be trying to buy my way in with my stored water and home-canned goodies - all in carcinogenic-free glass jars.

I would definitely be bugging in at my house.  Since I will be bugging in, in the event of a nuclear blast, what can I do to protect myself, my family, and our livestock?

According to FEMA, we should:

1. Get underground, if possible.  If not, go to an inner room or a room with thick walls.

We have one inner room in our house that has a single, north-facing window.  Our best defense would be to put our king-sized mattress in front of those windows, and then, using duct-tape and plastic, seal all of the doors going into other rooms.

2.  Have a plan for how to contact loved ones.  Cell phones will, likely, be useless.

3.  As always, before the emergency, have a few supplies on hand that will allow you to hunker in place for at least forty-eight hours.

There are no recommendations for supplies that are specifically for surviving Nuclear fall-out, but a general list of emergency supplies as recommended by FEMA includes:

1.  One gallon of water per person per day for three days.
2.  Three days of food, per person.
3.  Battery operated or hand-crank radio, and extra batteries.
4.  Flashlight and extra batteries.
5.  First-aid kit.
6.  Whistle to signal for help.
7.  Dust mask to filter contaminated air; plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal off rooms.
8.  Baby wipes and garbage bags (for personal hygiene, as there may not be water for cleaning).
9.  Tools to turn off utilities.
10.  Local area maps.

The following supplies are also recommended: 

11.  Prescription medications and glasses.
12.  Extra supplies for babies and feminine hygiene products, if applicable.
13.  Pet food and extra water.
14.  Important documents in a waterproof and portable container.
15.  Cash or Traveler's checks.
16.  A good first-aid book and other emergency reference materials.
17.  Water purification, like standard household chlorine bleach.
18.  Matches in a waterproof container.
19.  Disposable plates and eating utensils, in case dishes can't be washed.
20.  Games, books, puzzles, and other activities to keep oneself entertained.


For us Preppers, that's the short list.  We have all of those things, and a whole lot more, generally.

In all of the years that I've been prepping, the threat of Nuclear War has always been way down on my list of possible scenarios, but I suppose the recent events in Hawaii, plus some blustery political posturing, have me reconsidering that threat.  I still think it's far-fetched, but it pays to consider it a possibility - even a very remote one.

The point of prepping is not to fear-monger and get us all terrified and on a frenzy to buy a bunch of stuff so that we're ready, but rather to empower us by giving us the tools and skills to handle whatever may happen.

Puerto Rico is still without power on much of the island.  According to this article, there was an explosion at one of their power plants.   My guess is that the folks on Puerto Rico must have been pretty prepared, because they're still there, and while it's not easy, they're still surviving.  Some may even be living.

My guess is that the rest of us will learn a lot from those who survived Hurricane Irma and its aftermath.

And that the people in Hawaii aren't taking the threat of a nuclear bomb as cavalierly as they might once have.


Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Randomness of my World

I just finished reading Agenda 21.  I won't give it a full review.  I will say that it was clearly a book with an agenda (ha! ha!).  The goal of the book was to draw attention to the UN initiative (called Agenda 21) that will substantially limit individual freedoms, especially with regard to private ownership of land.

Then, FB gave me this gem. 

Not all of it is true.  Permission means that we are required to be given consent to act.  Many of the items on that list require no consent.  

For example, here in Maine, I am still able to own land (not without government involvement, which isn't the same as granting permission.  If I have the money to pay for it, I can call it mine), and with only a few exceptions, I can do what I want with my land.  

I can drive my unregistered car as an unlicensed driver on my own property - without permission.  I just can't drive an unregistered, uninsured car as an unlicensed driver on government-built roads.  That's fair.  

If I own enough of it, I can hunt on my land without a license.  If I hunt with a bow, I don't even have to tell anyone that I'm hunting.  It's no one's business.  Likewise, if I have a stocked pond on my land, I can go fishing ... without a license.   If I'm not, yet, 16, I don't even need a pond to fish without a license.

Depending on the business and where it is located, one does not need permission.  I owned and operated a virtual office service for eighteen years.  I didn't need a license.  

I have never asked for nor been given permission to cross the road.

I do not need permission to collect rainwater.

The fact is that we don't need "permission" for several of the items listed.  Like getting married.  In order to have one's "marriage" recognized by the State for the purposes of filing taxes, receiving social security for dependents, or being eligible for spousal employer benefits, we need to file a legal document called a marriage license, but I can live with someone, in the way that a husband and wife live together (share a house and a bed, have children, adopt dogs, grocery shop together, and essentially build a life as a couple), and it's not illegal.  I won't go to jail.  So, in that respect, I don't need permission.  I only need a license when it comes to receiving support and benefits from the government.  I'm completely free to not accept those benefits and completely free to live with anyone I wish as that person's "wife."  In fact, in some States, the permission thing is so *not* needed that if one can prove that one lived with another person for a specified period of time as a spouse, there's no marriage ceremony or license required.  It's called "Common Law Marriage."  

Memes like the one pictured might be helpful to point out that the government is pretty pervasive and invasive in our lives, but there's also some degree of fear-mongering propaganda - which is not usually very useful.

We have a great deal of freedom, but with that freedom also comes responsibility.  We can't demand that we be allowed to do what we wish, but then require that the government fix it for us when things go bad. We don't get it both ways.

The Maine legislature introduced a bill to prohibit any laws being passed, here in Maine, that supported the Agenda 21 initiative.  That's interesting. 

***************************

Today, here in the US, millions of people will be watching a football game.  I've been asked several times this week about my intentions regarding the game.  I actually thought it had already been played.  Isn't the Super Bowl on Thanksgiving weekend?  Apparently, not.

Twice this weekend, when someone asked me about watching something, I was able to give my stock answer, "I don't have a television."  

I've read dozens of articles recently about how millennials are getting rid of their cable bills and their televisions, and I have so many regular readers who've been TV-Free longer than I have.  So it still surprises me when people are surprised that I don't have a television.

Like this:

Guy:  Hey did you see that commercial with the guy that looks like your husband?
Me:  I don't have a television.
Guy (visibly shaken):  You ... don't have a TV?  How ...?  What ...?  I don't have cable, but I couldn't ... no TV?
Me:  I have Netflix ... and Amazon Prime.  It's not like I live in a cave.

And then:

Guy:  So are you ready for the Super Bowl?
Me:  I don't have a television.
Guy:  *stunned silence*

I sure know how to kill a conversation.  

**********************

I was reading an article this morning about a kid in Puerto Rico who started a campaign to provide solar lighting to people who are still without electricity after Hurricane Harvey last fall.  

 My first thought is that it's a cool thing this kid is doing.

But ....

When we had our very-short-by-comparison, power outage last year, my area of least preparedness turned out to be lighting.  I fixed that.  We have all sorts of solar lights, now, and solar chargers for our electronics.  

And I was annoyed that it is so important to us to have lights.  

My second reaction is to be disappointed with the tone of the article, which implies that people can't survive without electricity.

Millions of years of human evolution.  Less than two centuries of having electricity.  How did we grow so weak that we can't survive without lights at night time and access to ice cream whenever we want it?    

The reality is that they have survived - for FOUR months - without electricity.  They've survived.  They're living.

I hope one of the "survivors" will write a book ... or at least a few great articles ... about how to survive for the long-haul after a major disaster.

******************

I found this book at the library.   For those who don't want to click-through to the Amazon link, it's called "Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes."   The story of Cassandra is that she was both gifted with the ability to see into the future and know what would happen, but she was cursed with the inability to get people to listen to her.  So, she was a prophet to which no one cared to listen, and her warnings went unheeded.

The authors of the linked book state that we have modern Cassandras.  People who know what is about to happen, but fail to convince the masses about what's coming, and it's always too late.  

The book is divided into two sections.  Section One discusses the catastrophes in the past that could have been avoided, if we had listened to our Cassandra.

Section two outlines the possible events in our near future and the Cassandras who are trying to warn us.  This is the section I'm most interested in reading.  What does this author believe are the REAL threats to our safety and personal freedom?  A quick scan of the table of contents was interesting.  Anthrax and AIs are two of the first topics. 

***************************

It's a rainy, cold day here in Maine.  I'm slow-cooking a pork roast in the Dutch Oven on the top of the wood stove.  When it's done, I may make it into pulled pork sandwiches.

Deus Ex Machina and I split some wood earlier, and he's now a nap in the wing-backed chair.  I hear music practice from somewhere in my house.  It's a lazy afternoon.

I'll bet pulled pork sandwiches are considered Super Bowl food.  

Five Ways to Get Out of the Plastic Habit

I've been working on reducing the amount of plastic we depend on in our daily lives for a long time.  It's a process, because plastic is pervasive in our culture.  It's in everything.  The keyboard I'm typing on has plastic keys.  Nearly everything that comes in the mail is packaged in plastic.  Most of the items in the grocery store are, at least, partially, wrapped in plastic.

So, while I would love nothing more than to completely eliminate using all plastic, ever, it's not a cold-turkey kind of thing. Sometimes, we have to pick our battles and make the choice that does the least harm, because all of the choices do some harm.

And sometimes, we have to start with one thing, make it a habit, and then, pick the next thing.

That's what this article is about - showing you what we did to get the plastic out.


1.  Cloth is Reusable

Many years ago when my youngest was still a baby, we helped organize a Spiral Scouts troop in our homeschool community.  For those, who don't know, Spiral Scouts offers an alternative to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts that is co-ed.  Its earth-centric ideology appealed to us and most of the badges were focused on living more lightly on the earth.

One of my family's personal badge projects was to make reusable cloth bags to take to the grocery store instead of using the plastic bags provided at the store ("Paper or plastic?"  You know?).  Just so that you can understand how long ago this was, the grocery store wasn't selling reusable bags, yet, and we were quirky.  It was before South Portland charged extra for plastic bags, and before there was a sign out in front of the local Hannaford asking, "Did you remember your reusable bags?"  These days reusable bags are de rigueur.  Back then, most of the baggers had no idea what to do with our reusable bags.

It was our very first, little baby step toward getting the plastic out, and while we still end up with a few plastic bags (there's one bagger who insists on using plastic, usually without asking us.  We pick our battles, and usually reuse those plastic bags for garbage anyway), mostly, we don't have very many plastic bags in our house.  If I forget my bags, and I can get away with it, I just walk out with my purchases in hand, rather than in a bag.  I get some strange looks, but whatever.


2.  Reduce rather than Recycle

Back during those Spiral Scouts days, as a troop we talked a lot about recycling.  One of our leaders spent a lot of time trying to drum into my brain that *not* using plastic in the first place was far better than recycling it.  It took me a few listens to really understand what she was saying, because in my mind, since there was a solution for using the plastic, rather than wasting it, one was just like the other.

I was likening it to food waste.  If I grow a pumpkin in my garden, but we don't eat it, I will throw the pumpkin in my compost pile.  It becomes the dirt that I add to next year's garden in which I grow more pumpkins.  There's not waste, and it is recycling ... ish.

Unfortunately, plastic isn't pumpkin, and the recycling of plastic is not nearly as neat and eco-friendly as composting uneaten food.  Plastic can not be composted, first.  It doesn't breakdown the way organic matter does.  We all know that, right?

My mistake was in thinking that the plastic was fully reusable.  It's not.  In fact, not all plastics can be reused at all.  Some plastics are single use. Period.  But they don't breakdown.  So, then what?   What happens to the millions ... billions ... [----]llions of pounds of plastic material that is used once and then discarded?

Some of it finds a really cool life as countertops or building materials.

But too much of it ends up being shipped somewhere else and then just dumped or buried in a landfill.

WE don't have to see it or worry about it or think about it, because we put it in our little blue (plastic) bins by the curb, and it gets whisked away (by a gasoline-guzzling garbage truck), and we get to feel good that our recycling bin is more full than our garbage can.  Yay me!  Ouch on the breaking of my arm patting myself on the back.

I have to thank my old friend, LML, for working so hard to drive this point home.  It took me a while to have the Aha! moment, but I did.  Thanks for steering me in the right direction.

So, what do I do?  I make more conscious decisions when I decide to make a purchase, because recycling it isn't the same as not using it in the first place.


3.  Imagine a New Life Before You Take It

What are you going to do with that tiny yogurt container that doesn't have a lid? 

I'll be honest.  We used to like Chinese take-out.  I know.  Plastic.  But .... 

Those plastic take-out containers were reusable.  Deus Ex Machina would pack leftovers in them to take to work. 

We don't do Chinese take-out anymore, because of food sensitivities (which is a different story altogether), but I still look closely at what we're purchasing for ideas about the next life that product will have after I bring it home. 

Paperboard is burnable.

Plastic containers with lids can be reused for a variety of storage needs.  We can also use them as a scoop for our chicken and rabbit feed.  They're great as seed starting pots or for growing herbs.  The goal is to figure out what one plans to do with the container once it's finished holding whatever item it held when it was brought into the house - and the ultimate goal would be to find a use for it that doesn't include the garbage (unless turning it into a garbage receptacle is the plan.


4.  Creative Alternatives to Single-Use Plastic are Pretty Cool

I loved the Tightwad Gazette.  I have all three volumes of the compiled newsletters, PLUS I have the 2 1/2" compilation volume.  I didn't live in Maine when Amy first started her newsletter, but I really wish I had found her (or other frugalistas) back in the day.  I'd have saved a ton of money and really enjoyed using my creative brain to imagine new ways to not spend more than I had to. 

The one thing that I could never quite get on board with was the reuse of ziplock plastic baggies.  First of all, they're pretty cheap cheap to begin with.  I know.  It all adds up, but pennies to wash a bag or pennies spent on hot water and soap.  It's a trade-off, to me. 

Second, those washed bags are just ... I don't know ... ew!  If I've stored cheese in the bag, and the cheese gets moldy, I'm not really thinking I want to wash and keep that bag. 

Then, there's the fact that most of the time, the cheese already comes wrapped in plastic.  It was a total "duh" moment for me.  If I'm careful when I open the packaging, and then, I carefully wrap the plastic back around the cheese and use a rubber band to hold it closed, I don't need plastic ziplock bags. 

Sometimes I'm a little slow.  I'm sure all of you were already doing that - you know, reusing the packaging the product came in, rather than repackaging it in ziplock storage bags.

I've stopped purchasing ziplock bags, and I'm having a hard time remembering what all I used to need them for. 

The second half to this option is to consider how we purchase things. 

Instead of single-serve yogurt, can you make your own ...?  If that's too much of a learning curve, what about purchasing the big container of yogurt and portioning it into little jelly jars?

For us, we discovered it's possible to still have the convenience for most things and to avoid the waste.  We just have to make conscious and thoughtful choices.


5.  Try an Almost-Plastic-Free Option 

I've been trying to cut the soda habit here at Chez Brown for YEARS!  First, I was successful in eliminating the really bad stuff - the stuff that contains high fructose corn syrup, because we started buying only local sodas (which are a lot more expensive than the other stuff).  These are made with only real cane sugar AND they're almost invariably packaged in glass bottles.

So, woot!

But then, we had this financial snag, and we needed to cut down on what we spent at the grocery store, and so the high priced sodas were no longer an option.

We discovered seltzer water.  It's cheaper than soda, mostly, and doesn't have high fructose corn syrup, but ... darn it all, it comes in plastic bottles.

A friend turned me on to the SodaStream, and THAT solved both problems.  We can mix our own syrup, for those who want it, with just sugar and water.  I like mine straight-up.  Just carbonated water.

So, my family is okay with making our own seltzer water here at home using tap water from the kitchen sink.  We're saving a lot of money, AND there's no plastic ... well, except the SodaStream case is plastic, and the bottles we use to make the seltzer water are plastic, but all of that stays in my kitchen.  There is no plastic waste.

It was nice to find a compromise solution that made everyone happy, and that was a more eco-friendly choice.  The SodaStream is even more eco-friendly than the local sodas in glass bottles, because the glass still needs to be recycled, which takes energy.  With the SodaStream, we reuse the bottles for carbonating the tap water, and we drink the water out of a repurposed glass jar.

Repurpose and reuse?  Whoa, wait!  I've come a long way since that first cloth bag!

We still have a lot of plastic in our lives, but contrary to what the deniers claim, every little action does - or can - make a difference ... even if the difference is only in helping us find a more personally satisfying way to spend our time and money.






Monday, January 8, 2018

Dumplings or Biscuits?

... That was the question I asked each of my family members this afternoon. 

We had some chicken stew leftover from the other night.  For that meal, I made dumplings, which were all eaten, but some of the stew remained. 

It's what's for lunch today.

My, personal, preference is dumplings.  Not "slippery dumplings", which I learned ... here on this blog, actually ... are a thick egg noodle.  The ingredients are: flour, eggs, (seasonings if one wishes), and enough water to bind it into a firm, but soft dough that can be rolled out and cut. 

They're popular down south.  My mother used to make them, and I was given her recipe after I went to college.  We called them "noodles", and "chicken noodles" used to be a staple, both in my house growing up and here at Chez Brown when my daughters were much younger.

When we had to cut wheat flour out of our diet, so too went the "slippery dumplings."

It's okay, though, because I actually prefer the other kind, which are, basically, a biscuit that's cooked on top of stew.  I use the same recipe for my dumplings that I use for biscuits.  They're big and puffy and gooey ... oh, heavenly little pillows of dough!

A few years ago, before we gave up wheat flour, I used to make my own bread all of the time.  One summer, I was exploring bread options that didn't require my turning on the oven, because it was just too hot to bake. 

That summer I made several flat breads on the grill (my favorite is Na'an, which is brushed with garlic butter).  I also discovered that English Muffins are actually fried in a pan, not baked in an oven.

That was a cool discovery.

What made it even better, at least from my prepper mindset, was that those breads, assuming I had the ingredients, could be made without an oven.   Any thing I can cook that doesn't require electricity is a positive menu addition. 

Alas, gluten-free bread dough is usually a lot less firm, and so making Na'an or English Muffins hasn't worked for me.

But what I can make are dumplings, which is what I did make.

As mentioned, my dumpling recipe is the same recipe I use for making biscuits.  My family likes them, and I'm thinking that, like my grandmother, I might need to make biscuits a regular, daily staple.  I mean, if there's soup, we can always have dumplings instead. 



Gluten-Free Biscuits, or totally Awesome Gluten-Free Dumplings

2 c. Gluten-Free all purpose flour  (my favorite is Bob's Red Mill 1-to-1 Baking Flour)
1 TBSP baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 TBSP sugar
8 TBSP butter
1 c. buttermilk (I just use raw milk, and it works fine)

1.  Mix all of the dry ingredients in a bowl.
2.  Add butter and mix with dry ingredients until mixture resembles corn meal.
3.  Make a well in the flour mixture and add milk.  *I use my hands to mix the flour and milk into a soft, but firm dough.


For biscuits:  Pat the dough out on a cutting board until it's about an inch thick, and then, using a regular sized canning jar ring as a cutter, cut my dough into biscuit rounds.  Bake in a 400° oven until biscuits are golden brown.

For dumplings:  Roll dough into golf ball sized dough balls.  Drop into boiling stew.  Cover and cook for about fifteen minutes until dumplings have doubled in size and are cooked on the inside.