Preparedness« Previous Entries
Sounds strange, I know, but I had 1.5 lbs. of honey that had started to crystallize and needed to do something with it, so I decided to brew some cough syrup. I scooped the honey out into an enamel pot, added one chopped, strong white onion, and two cold care tea bags from my ample tea supply. It’s been cooking over low heat for the past four hours. I’ll check it again before bed to see if enough of the juice from the onions has reduced for it to be strained and ready for bottling. Once it’s cooled, I’ll add some echinacea/goldenseal extract to it. I find the syrup to be handy for coughs and that under-the-weather feeling during cold season. You can make it with just onion and honey or even garlic and honey for a soothing simple syrup, or you can add more herbal ingredients for whatever cold symptoms plague you most. If you cook it down to a very thick syrup, you can either pour it into candy molds or pour it out on a silicone mat, let it cool, score it into pieces after half an hour, and have your own homemade lozenges. I may go down and add some fennel fronds to mine just for flavor here in a bit.
There was a local produce sale at my neighborhood store, so I went over to check it out and came home with some nice hot and sweet peppers, onions, and corn. I made some salsa with the peppers and onions and some tomatoes I had on hand from the CSA delivery. Tomorrow I’m taking some to share with a friend when I go to visit her. I might make and can some fennel onion relish in the morning before I leave. I haven’t done nearly as much canning as I’d have liked this summer and I’m feeling inspired after my parents brought several jars of home-canned salmon to me when they came to pick up my daughter for the week.
I plan to do a lot of cooking and preserving while she’s away. Mostly to keep myself from missing her so much, but also to have a head-start on easy meals for when she goes back to school. I’m going to prepare muffin batter and freeze it in the paper liners so that I can bake them the night before for an easy homemade breakfast when served with sliced fruit and a glass of milk. I also want to stuff potatoes to freeze for quick and easy dinners, as well as freezing plenty of soups, stocks, and pesto. I’ve also had more apples drying so that we have plenty for school snacks. I might do some pears as well for variety.
I’ve spent much of today pondering my attraction to the slow lifestyle. What makes a woman with ready access to all manner of urban conveniences go out of her way to make as much of her own stuff as possible? A large part of it is quality. I can be a quality snob and yet I’m still a pennypincher, so it’s always made the most sense to me to do as many things as I was capable of myself so that I would be pleased with both quality and price. I’m also a perpetual student. I love to learn new things and, since science and history are two of my favorite subjects, learning how to do things the old-fashioned way or knowing why it is that a certain process works is very satisfying. I’m also not someone who has an easy time sitting still, so the handicrafts give me a way to sit a spell and still get something done. Do a granny square a day on the bus and pretty soon you have a blanket. I prefer to use my time doing things that are either very useful or make me very happy, even better when I can combine the two. Last, and one that has become so important to me since becoming a mother, the projects that I do relax me and give me a creative outlet. Sure, it can be a pain to have to come home after a long day to make a loaf of bread for the next day’s lunches, but once I start working the dough and get into that rhythm, it seems like so many of my cares just fall away and, by the time I’m pulling the loaf out of the oven, I’m calm and happy again.
I like this slower pace. Americans spend so much time dashing around that we forget about the small pleasures of life, the little things that make a big impact and bring us happiness and contentment – that’s why so many of us are sick and stressed out. An hour in my little garden or in my kitchen is worth a dozen psychiatrists and personal trainers. And now that I’ve done some research on various DIY topics and put them into practice, I’m more conscious of my impact on the world around me, how the choices I make affect others not only in my immediate neighborhood, but around the world. Sometimes I make it a game to see how I can reduce my impact even more. What else can I make or do differently?
Believe it or not, for all of my ambitious tendencies, I’ve spent much of today relaxing with a crochet project and a selection of documentaries, getting up to stir a pot or move dishes and clothes around, then back to my yarn. I love days like these. I made a big, delicious glass of apple/carrot/beet/spinach juice about midday with some yogurt on the side, then had a delicious dinner of soft polenta with fresh tomatoes, mixed mushrooms, fresh basil, and roasted garlic while I listened to Haydn on the radio. It’s like a vacation without leaving home.
It’s like Christmas without the crowded stores!
A few weeks ago, I made some online catalog requests to a few seed companies that claimed to have heirlooms and almost all of them arrived at once. I’ve only lightly flipped through, but the array of baby greens alone is staggering. So much variety! I use my speed reading skills to locate key words such as “dwarf” and “container”, then mark those to go back and read more about later.
Now that I’ve worked some of the knots out of growing baby greens in pots on my deck, buying larger seed packets to mix custom blends by season seems like a good expenditure. We both love baby greens as salads or on sandwiches. One of my favorite sandwiches ever is a whole-grain bun with a veggie patty, spicy baby greens, and horseradish mustard – it’s so good!
I’ve also seen a few mixes touted as “braising/stir-fry” seed mixes and those would be great, too. We love lightly sauteed greens with garlic and lemon or garlic, ginger, toasted sesame oil, and tamari with a splash of ume plum vinegar. It makes me hungry just to think about it. A big mess of tangy, spicy greens on top of a bowl of brown rice or soba noodles with some lentils or adzuki beans to complete the protein. Delicious.
So I have something to occupy my nights for awhile as I design the garden, trying to fit as much good stuff as possible into my little space.
Now if I could just figure out how to incorporate a discreet rainwater harvesting system into the deck garden without my HOA getting their collective panties in a bunch. Any future home purchases, I will be avoiding HOAs and neighborhood associations like they have a pox. They mostly seem to be full of environmentally unfriendly zealots who don’t want you to install solar panels or sky lights but are perfectly happy to have tons of chemicals dumped on the lawn every week and they’re very, very concerned that your storm door be the appropriate shade of almond. So annoying.
But someday, hopefully in the next few years, we’ll have a piece of land to call our own and we will be able to work it and tend it without the interference of others. We could make our already fairly small eco footprint even smaller if we were able to produce almost all of our own food, some fibers, and other useful goods.
Since I was already working from home today, I looked at the morning forecast and, after consulting with my daughter, decided that it would be nice if she stayed home from her summer program today, both so I could spend time with her and to have a break from the heat. We got to have a leisurely breakfast of whole-grain toast with peanut butter, fresh fruit, and herbal tea before I started my workday. She watched some educational children’s programming on public broadcasting but after a little over an hour, started clamoring for my attention. I handed her a pile of felt, fabric scraps, and a fabric marker, then told her to design some clothes and accessories for her favorite dolls. She set to work and spent most of the day engrossed in designing purses, backpacks, aprons, guitars, and more. She’s very artistic and I like to encourage not only her particular talent for drawing, but her ability to entertain herself. I think it also helps her not to think as a constant consumer when she actively can create her own playthings (with some help from Mom). Tonight I sewed the backpack she designed and, while I sewed the body together and the straps, she sewed on the small, decorative pocket herself while I coached her. It was only the second time she’s sewn with a running stitch but she did a really good job. I think that basic hand sewing skills are so vital, even if you only ever use them to do minor repairs.
I worked all day with a break for lunch, leftover whole grain pilaf with black beans, roasted peppers, and corn topped with a dollop of yogurt, and a short walk around the cul-de-sac with child and dog. It was too hot to go far, none of us like this kind of intense heat. Once we were back, I juiced some apples with beets and the last carrots for a quick refresher before tackling the take-home work again. I ended up having to work late to finish it all, so we had a quick dinner of quesadillas with fresh, chopped tomatoes and finely diced onion with a plate of cut fresh vegetables on the side. It was good and left us with plenty of time to get out to the garden.
We planted more basil because I really want a basil plant to bring indoors for the winter. They rarely produce enough for pesto but it is so nice to have a few fresh leaves to shred and sprinkle over pasta or soup. We also planted a bowl with red oakleaf lettuce for cut-and-come-again baby greens and a few more chives sprinkled between for companion planting. I planted two of the four broccoli plants that I plan on over-wintering.
The chamomile I was trying to start for an indoor plant seemingly got burned to a crisp today even though I’d been watering it evenly and moved it into the shade of a larger planter this morning. I’ll keep at it for a bit longer to see if anything survived, but I may just have to wait until spring to have a lovely window box full of German chamomile. It’s my daughter’s favorite herbal tea and I definitely want enough of it to harvest for tea and medicinal purposes. Several years ago I was introduced to an herbal syrup made from boiling down organic apple juice and chamomile or mint; it was fantastic diluted with water or sparkling water over ice. I would love to make and bottle my own versions. I bet rosemary or lavender syrup would be excellent as well.
I have more fall and winter seeds on the way. I’ve set aside a large pot for seeding with easter egg radishes and thumbelina carrots. I know that I can do successive seedings of the radishes all the way through to severe winter weather, perhaps a double crop of the carrots as well. I think my daughter will like the carrots, they’re natural small globes, also called French market carrots.
The compost that we’re getting from the worm bin is just of such excellent quality. Black and rich. I need to figure out a way to sift it, though, to remove larger particulates and the worms. Honestly, I’m thinking of just buying a child’s beach toy with a sifter bottom and using that. It seems like my least expensive and time-consuming option. I need another brick of coconut fiber or peat to help retard clumping in the compost because it can be really dense and holds a lot of moisture. I also need to keep my eyes open for more downed branches from the maple trees to use as leaf mulch in my layered containers.
I have a large jar of honey that is starting to crystallize. My plan is to pour off the honey that is still liquid, then scoop out the crystallized honey into a saucepan with some strong chopped onion and garlic to make cough syrup. Too bad I don’t have a source for coltsfoot, which is also good for coughs. Maybe I can find some slippery elm, echinacea, and goldenseal to add to it, though, to make it a more broad-spectrum syrup. I need to restock our supply of elderberry syrup, too, it was so helpful during last winter’s flu season.
Another busy day drawing to an end, but I feel so good about the things we’re doing right now that it gives me energy. The gardening, the projects, the cooking, the healthier mostly whole foods diet. I feel good. I feel positive about the much bigger steps ahead. Those steps back to the land.
Tomorrow we’re going to plant broccoli for overwintering in three of my larger pots. It’s our favorite vegetable, but one that I’ve never tried in a container before. Here’s to hoping, because I know we’d both be thrilled with fresh broccoli from the garden.
I splurged and bought a copy of McGee & Stuckey’s Bountiful Container: Create Container Gardens of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, and Edible Flowers after having trouble parting with the copy I checked out from the library. A fantastic and easy-to-understand guide to cultivating edible plants in containers and/or limited space. I am so excited about the directions for growing columnar apples, dwarf citrus, figs, grapes, fruiting roses, and currants! And one of the authors, Rose Marie Nichols McGee, is the owner of Nichols Nursery, my favorite local source for open-pollinated seeds – so that’s fun for me.
I was reading the book on the train home and my head is so full of ideas for next year’s garden already. I think it will be my best one to date. My daughter will be thrilled about the variety of edible flowers we’re going to plant. That’s quite possibly her favorite part of gardening. She loves salads full of colorful flower petals or sprinkling them over cakes or ice cream.
I’ve been thinking that, instead of letting seeds languish on the shelf, I might plant most of them in newspaper pots and give them as goodwill gifts to friends, family, and neighbors. I just hate to see anything go to waste, including lowly seeds. I’ve also joined an online seed exchange that I’m hoping will take off, another way to get variety and spread goodwill among like-minded people.
Still sketching potential garden plans for next year. Using intensive organic methods, I’m pretty sure I can get the garden in a year-round cycle of production to augment our CSA deliveries.
Speaking of our CSA delivery, we are going to be eating like queens this week: blueberries, black cherries, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, heirloom tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, radishes, zucchini, summer squash, and more, including a huge bunch of basil that is begging to be turned into pesto for the freezer. I may dry some of the fruit as a mixed fruit melange, adding some almonds, walnuts, and pecans for a healthy treat. I’m going to hang a small handful of the basil in the kitchen to dry and replenish the jar of basil in the spice cupboard. Such a bountiful time of year for great, fresh food and I think next year will be even better when our garden is in full swing.
I’ve had my backpack for about two years now. I carry it almost every single day and it takes a beating. Recently two large holes opened up in one of the side pockets. I stitched the long, thin one closed but there was a second, round hole that needed a patch, so I cut a corner from a piece of thrift store fabric, cut it into a heart shape, and sewed it over the hole. My shoulder straps also need repairs. I’m out of fray check, so I found nail polish in matching black and painted the fraying areas to that I can try stitching them later, though, honestly, it may be a duct tape job. The wall between two inside pockets is also coming apart. I know that I could get another day pack for $10-20 but I really hate to toss something that still has a useful lifespan, so I’ll try to repair that this weekend.
For dinner we had pasta with the whole foods pesto I made yesterday. It was delicious and there’s enough left over for our lunches tomorrow. I served it with sliced tomatoes and fresh blueberries on the side for a great, nutritious summer meal.
After dinner I planted peas in the container I prepped yesterday. I’d had them marinating overnight in legume inoculant. It would be nice to have some more fresh sugar snaps before winter. There were a few leftover seeds; I tossed them in the outdoor compost to see if they’d volunteer. We already have volunteer cherry tomatoes ripening in the compost – far be it from me to turn down free food where I can find it. Hopefully my other seeds will get here soon so that I can tinker further with my tiny garden.
I was so excited after playing in the garden today that I went to the Nichols Nursery website to order some seeds. I got chives, borage, german chamomile, leaf lettuce, green onions, top-setting bulb onions, purple broccoli, and a compact basil for winter window box gardening.
Today I made a vegan, whole-grain vanilla cake from Christina Pirello’s excellent cookbook Cooking the Whole Foods Way: Your Complete, Everyday Guide to Healthy Eating and, to be extra eco-friendly, we baked it in our solar oven (pictures below).[caption id="attachment_300" align="aligncenter" width="289" caption="Whole-grain vanilla cake baking in the solar oven."][/caption] [caption id="attachment_301" align="aligncenter" width="289" caption="The sun-baked cake cooling before frosting."][/caption]
Once the cake has cooled, we’re going to make a peanut butter frosting for it, maybe even chocolate peanut butter, I’ll see how the Little Miss feels about that idea.
We’ve been indulging in other healthy luxuries today. I made my whole foods version of coleslaw by shredding a green cabbage and dressing it with the juice of one lemon and a few shots of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, which I then let marinate for three hours. It is so tasty, even my daughter loves it. And, to avoid waste, I took the squeezed lemon halves and dropped them into a big pitcher of filtered water and let that cold steep while the coleslaw was marinating. Now we’re sipping lemon water over ice with a garnish of basil sprigs for a nice summer cooler. I sometimes make this with limes and cucumber slices with basil or mint for garnish. It’s delicious and really refreshing.
I’m going to sit down and redesign my garden plan tonight. So exciting!
It was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit today. On the way home, my daughter and I ended up having to wait an hour for a bus that is supposed to run every 15-20 minutes. Fortunately, we are both prepared for the daily inconveniences of life. We each had a full, cold bottle of water, Emergen-c packets, plus Clif bars and pretzels to snack on. Before we left her school, we wet down our hair in the bathroom sinks, reapplied sunscreen, and put on our sun hats. I’m so glad that we were ready because it would have been a stifling enough wait at 20 minutes. The hour was very uncomfortable even from our seat beneath a shady maple tree, but would have been almost unbearable without the contents of our packs.
We got home and I drew a cool bath for her since we were both overheating. I grabbed the dog and took him in the shower with me for a quick cool-down since he suffers in the heat. Now we’re lounging comfortably in our pajamas, sated with a light snack of homemade bread with apple butter and small bowls of organic cottage cheese. (I’ll probably make another light snack of fruits and vegetables right before bedtime. Neither of us like to eat big meals when it’s hot.) I’m blogging and embroidering, she’s working on her scrapbook while we listen to music. A very pleasant end to a hot summer day.
Quite unexpectedly, I was offered a chance to dig through a box of pantry goods today. My daughter’s father is deploying for Iraq in October and he’s busy getting ready to leave. He stopped by the house today to pick up clothing and supplies to take our daughter camping next week and brought in the box, letting me go through it before he donated the rest to a food bank.
I scored a canned ham, popcorn, a near-full resale case of spiced cider packets, hot cocoa (with marshmallows!), vegetarian baked beans, pumpkin pie filling, and whole black olives. That adds some nice variety since the bulk of what I currently have is very basic staples such as grains, beans, and canned goods like broth and evaporated milk.
Today I saw a very exciting thread on a survivalist forum about vacuum-packing your own MREs for emergencies. The ones pictured were very meat-heavy, though I could easily tailor my own around foil-packed seafood or vegetarian pouch meals. However, I also started thinking about how I could repackage my own homemade mixes such as my lemon-herb couscous (recipe below) for long-term storage in an MRE type bag. I’m not sure yet if it would be best to try to vacuum seal the portions of homemade mixes (I would, of course, be packing meals for two) or if I could put them in less expensive zip-style freezer bags and then put those into the larger vacuum pouches. Intriguing. I’m going to have to experiment to see if I can make predominantly vegetarian equivalents that are both tasty and nutrient-dense. Let’s not forget cheap!
I could make the couscous but add in a handful of dehydrated or freeze-dried vegetables – sometimes sold as soup base at stores with bulks bins – or mix and match individually processed vegetables to suit our tastes. Freeze-dried can be expensive, but I bet you could stretch out a pound into several individual portions if you were pairing them with couscous, potato flakes, pasta, or some quick-cooking grain. And you could add black or pinto bean flakes for some protein, also available at some stores with bulk bins or sometimes in the organic section sold in small boxes. I’d be concerned about the sodium content, though I suppose if you’re in a situation where you need your home-prepped MRE, sodium count is the least of your problems, though too much salty food can increase thirst and cause dents in a stored water supply.
I already keep store-bought ready-to-eat meals in dry storage in my attic but they tend to be expensive unless you find them on sale and their packaging is designed for hanging on a peg in a store, it’s oddly bulky for something you’re supposed to stick in a backpack to save weight while in the great outdoors. It would be nice to fill up the rest of that dry storage bin with meals for two, especially if they were more compact than their store-bought cousins and could be completely prepared with just the addition of boiling water.
I’m going to start keeping my eyes peeled for single-serve products, something I usually avoid because of wasteful packaging and its environmental impacts, but if it’s just for emergency food supplies, I can justify that use.
Lemon-Herb Couscous Mix
4 cups couscous
5 teaspoons dried, grated lemon peel
4 teaspoons dried herbs (basil, dill, parsley, etc.)
2 teaspoons minced, dried chives
2 teaspoons salt
8 teaspoons instant bouillon powder (chicken or vegetarian)
Mix it all together, makes about 4-1/2 cups of mix. Store in a cool, dry place.
To prepare, combine 1 part mix with 2 parts water, bring to a boil, cover, remove from heat and let sit 15 minutes.
Note: I have cooked this by pouring boiling water over it, covering it tightly, and letting it sit 20 minutes. Edible but not as light and fluffy as if cooked in the pot. You can substitute rice or bulgur wheat for the couscous, just adjust your cooking times accordingly.
Last Sunday my refrigerator/freezer stopped working. Kaput! Nothing. We managed to stuff most of the surviving frozen goods into the chest freezer out in the shed, but there were some losses from both refrigerator and freezer. I was able to salvage milk, butter, cheese, condiments, and some eggs before they got too warm. I bought two bags of ice, put one bag on the bottom of my cooler, put in the food, then wedged the second bag of ice in on top and closed the cooler. I then put the cooler into a larger cardboard box in the bathtub and insulated the sides with packing foam and towels, then put a blanket on top. By packing everything this way and only opening the lid when we absolutely had to, I was able to keep our refrigerated food cold (around 40 degrees) and only had to change out the ice twice over the course of the week until the refrigerator was fixed.
I hard-boiled the eggs and cooled them completely before adding them to the cooler because we eat up hard-boiled eggs when we have them and I wanted to make sure we had easy sources of protein for lunches for the week. I also started drying vegetables in the oven right away to keep from losing them without refrigeration. I dried some chard to use as greens powder in smoothies and some cremini mushrooms for soups and Asian dishes. The greens took only a few hours but the mushrooms were thick and had to dry overnight.
I am recovering both from a ruptured cornea and the flu (unrelated though unfortunately linked by timing). The eye issues have made it harder to write online and also to get projects done since I have to plan for frequent breaks to rest my eyes when doing anything intensely visual. I have a crocheted beach cover-up for my daughter half-finished and a pillow case half-embroidered. I also need to start cutting out fabric for summer clothes and start a small birthday present for a friend of mine. Hopefully the eye will continue to resolve and allow me to get back to my preferred mode of living very soon.
Today I’m letting the sun cook dinner. First time I’ve brought out the solar oven this year. I have corn and sweet potatoes roasting inside, we’ll have them with some butter and a salad with some sort of protein such as nuts or boiled eggs.
The ongoing mostly-vegetarian diet has yielded serious weight loss results. I’m now back around 135 lbs., roughly what I weighed when my daughter was conceived. Before I started having health problems, my stamina and energy levels were much higher than before. I was really enjoying that level of fitness and would like to get back to it.
Came home, turned the remaining Easter eggs into egg salad for lunches for the next few days and made a loaf of whole-grain bread to put it on. I have some crochet projects to work on and fabric to strip for rugmaking, but first I have to wade through take-home work from the office because if I put it off and go do fun, creative things, I just won’t get to it.
This summer looks like it will be offering some camping opportunities and that means I need to start window shopping for a bit more gear. Now, I am decidedly not a gear freak. I have a good knife, compass, binoculars, a frighteningly large tent (it can sleep up to eight), a sleeping bag, and a camp stove, but I really could use a sleeping pad and a lightweight cookware set at the very least. A new daypack and some better hiking shoes would be wonderful, too. I’d like to spend a lot more of this summer outdoors, hiking and camping, getting in great shape in case someone wants to go snowshoeing next winter. I would love to take another crack at the Ikenick Loop, it was so beautiful up there.
I was talking with my dad about going out fishing and clamdigging with he and my mom this year, which would be fun that potentially provides food – even better. I also want to connect with local people who might want to hit farmer’s markets and u-pick places for maximum canning opportunities while the produce is cheap and abundant. I put up a lot of apple and pear products last fall, but I think I’d like to do my canning in smaller batches more often than doing the exhaustive, large-scale preserving (unless I have plenty of helpers).