October 22, 2015

The Most Neglected Part of Prepping

As I was pondering our present circumstances, (personal SHTFsituation), and looking ahead to the foreseeable future, I realized something that I had forgotten from our last SHTF fiasco. It is very easy to get so entrenched in the high adrenalin, fight or flight mode, that when things begin to settle down, it is hard to get out of that mode. It becomes almost addictive. It begins to feel like things aren't right, if something isn't going wrong...

We are still in a total mess, nothing is in its proper place, there is sawdust coating every surface, even though most surfaces were tarped or covered with plastic, saw dust is insidious, it found its way under or through the coverings. We have to cook and eat our meals outside. But thank God we are able to sleep in the house now that the weather is cooling off. I realized yesterday that even though we are living in a "disaster area", we are on our way up, the bottom has been found and we are making progress... so why do I feel so depressed and exhausted? Adrenaline fatigue...

 We have been working on the house non stop, day and night for more than a month, as well as living outside for most of that, without a break or an end in sight. I am tired, out of sorts and I have lost perspective.
Cabinets in this part of the kitchen are taped and ready for sanding. The floor has been replaced, and the stove is in place but won't be hooked up until the kitchen cabinets are done since gas stove and construction don't mix.
Everything is covered and inaccessible until we are finished sanding and painting.

So last night I decided to make a margarita, (made by flashlight in our outdoor kitchen :D ), and began to work on the art for our newly sanded kitchen cabinets. I got lost in the project and worked really late, but I felt like a new person this morning.

What does all this have to do with prepping??? A lot. As Preppers, we spend a large portion of our financial resources, time and effort on making sure we have the essentials, which is appropriate, but it is important to think about our mental health as well. Unfortunately, this area of prepping is seldom considered, or planned for. Whatever scenario you find yourself in, there will come a time when things need to normalize, and "life" to go on. The whole point in surviving is to make it through to a point where LIFE can begin again. But if "the plan" does not consider how to begin to have a life again, and to provide for it, then eventually everyone will burn out.

In all but the most dire of situations, there should be some down time factored in for each person, some time to recharge the mental and physical batteries. What preps have been done for that? Are there any unread books, paper, pens, crayons, paints, non electric wood working tools, or whatever supplies you need to feed the inner child? Have the needs of the adults been considered as well as for the children? And what about those surly teens, who only get more surly when under stress, what preps have been made for them to blow off steam?

You have extra batteries for necessary equipment, but how about for the hand held game devise everyone will be missing? Are there decks of cards and travel size games in your preps, what about a frisbee or a ball? Do you have an artistic person in your group? Have good drawing pencils and notebooks of blank paper, a tin of water paints and some brushes for them. A book worm in your midst? Have some good unread books for them and have them read out loud to provide everyone with some entertainment, A putterer, builder, mechanic? Have non electric tools, wood and other supplies at you long term locale, and a few magazines stowed away for a rainy day or bug out. Crayons and colored pencils, and some children's and adult type coloring books can be a real pick me up for everyone. Yarn, crochet hooks and knitting needles can make socks, and other needed apparel, but will also have some de-stressing value. It is very easy to put all these things in on 5 gallon bucket and store it away until needed. These should be updated and rotated as time passes and ages and interests change.

A compact digital camera and extra chips to document the experience for posterity, will prove invaluable. You may not be able to view them immediately, but some day there will probably be access to modern devices again. Do you really want to miss the opportunity to document your life and challenges for the future? What if not everyone makes it through... having a camera and taking photos may give you one last look at a loved on or friend. Morose I know but give it some thought.
A camera is definitely part of my long term storage plan.

Although I have many interests and a lot of them I would need to put into practice in a practical way during SHTF, like non-electric cooking and baking, gardening, sewing, herbal medicine, etc., but I try to keep the supplies in stock and rotated for some of my less practical interests, strictly for escapism/ mental health time. For me, if I have a clean dry surface and some paints, I can escape into a world all my own. And just for fun, here are a few pics of what I did during my margarita/ mental health time.
Top section of one of the pantry cabinet doors. I am going with a botanical theme for the paintings on my cabinet doors. This one is dill. There will also be mint, oregano, and lavender on the three other doors. Then a smaller less elaborate motif on each of the other 14 cabinet doors.
Close up of part of the bottom of the same door.

Detail of the butterfly on the bottom section of the same door.

What makes your heart sing and what plans have you made for your mental health time in your prepping? Please feel free to leave a comment and tell me about you de-stressing plans.

October 2, 2015

Things I Have Learned While Living in My Garden

For those of you who don't know the whole story go to this post on my other blog to get up to speed. In short we were driven out of our house into life in our garden by mold caused by undetected water damage in our kitchen. We are now in our 4th week outside and I have learned many things. Having been through this kind or situation in the past, (Hurricane Hugo 1989 was a 6 year ordeal for us), we have made prepping a part of our every day life. It is a very good thing we are accustomed to roughing it, and even as prepared as we are, there are some things I see we need to address more thoroughly.

Plan A
 When we started this whole adventure I implemented Plan A: quickly set up an outdoor kitchen. I had to prepare food for our Sabbath and for a friend who had lost a family member. The outdoor kitchen was set up in no time so I could take care of the food requirements for a couple of days. Fortunately I had set up our kitchen fly over the outdoor kitchen, so when a pop up thunderstorm and torrential rains blew through I was under cover. Well kind of... water ran over my feet while I was cooking. Since the spot I chose was level at the 4 corners but had a slight depression in the ground in the middle, so it was a perfect place for rain run off to go. Also the wind blew the rain in through the screened Kitchen fly and threatened to dilute my soup.

When my husband came home that evening we went on to Plan B. We moved everything to the
Plan B
deck way above the ground which gave us good drainage and some shelter from wind driven rain. We also set up our tent on my yoga platform so it would be up off the ground and hopefully dry. So life went on as usual, there was no more rain for the better part of a week. The sun was shining and the northern exposure of our deck gave us shade from the heat of the day. I enjoyed preparing meals and doing some food preservation while watching the butterflies flit from flower to flower just beyond the deck rail. Our Corinthian Bells caught the breeze and called out resonantly from the vegetable garden. Ah... life was good.


We had company come to visit and help us celebrate Yom Teruah, It was a lovely evening. I had prepared a number of tasty things to eat and we watched for the new moon and then ate on the veranda in the warm evening air. It was such pleasant evening, Da and I both settled into the tent on our inflatable mattress feeling very satisfied with our well executed contingencies. The "honeymoon" phase lasted for almost another week and by then we felt like we had a pretty good handle on things, and would be fine for the duration. Ha! Just when you think you have it all figured out...

It started raining, which was no real biggie at first. We were up off the ground and I pulled the tables in some so that the mist from the screened kitchen fly didn't affect my work. I was running the smoker in the yard smoking first, marinated portabello mushrooms, and then a couple of batches of habanero, seranno, and jalapeno chiles. The back yard smelled wonderful and my pot of habanero peach salsa was smelling pretty good too. But as the day progressed, the rains got harder and the wind picked up, all of my food prep area was soaked and the wind kept blowing out the flame on my propane camp stove. I had to stop working and put everything under cover until the rain passed, which took 3 days... I refrigerated the salsa to be canned up another day, and just did the bare minimum necessary to put something hot on the table. That night we went to bed dry and snug, but sometime during the night the bottom of the tent started to take on water. In the morning we were surrounded by a moat. The goose down comforter and sheets were wet and had to be dried out by draping them over furniture in the house. The canopy over the outdoor kitchen on the deck had given way to water and everything inside was soaked. It was of course still raining.

Plan C
So-o... on to Plan C, move everything from the outdoor kitchen on the deck, (including emptying and moving our fridge and having to get it down off the deck in the pouring rain), and relocating it to the covered veranda, where we had been taking our meals and hanging out until bedtime. Then we moved into our 1957 camper, which is great and I love being in it, but we haven't renovated it yet so it has a few quirks... actually more than a few, but it is under a cover and dry so it will serve.

Now we are into our 4th week outside. It looks like we may have the mold issues under control soon, I hope... But for now, Hurricane Joaquin is threatening to dump upwards of 11 inches of rain on this area and the weather has turned cold. Fortunately, I have lots of food made up so my time outside cooking will be in short stints, just to warm things up. But we will be pretty much trapped at the little table in our 13 foot camper, until the storms pass on Monday. Hopefully we will not have to resort to Plan D, which involves packing up and moving to a hotel until it stops raining. I despise hotels and we have a kitten that is really not self sufficient enough to stay on her own that long. So it would be much better to stay here where we can keep an eye on our property and critters. We shall see... Last night the winds brought down a large limb which struck the corner of the pergola cover where we keep our camper and scared the ba-geezes out of me... it sounded like the whole tree came down on top of us. No damage done, but I did get a wake up call to move my car to the other drive where there are no trees!

Here are some things I have learned from this adventure:



1) I really do like living outside, I may place our plan for a covered outdoor kitchen further up on the priority list.

2) Rain changes everything. What is tolerable, maybe even fun when dry, becomes far more difficult and depressing when everything you own is soggy and there is little escape from all the wet. Rain makes even simple tasks difficult. It ruins things. My towels all mildewed, the totes containing my staples and seasonings somehow took on water, the labels came off, things in jars caked up due to the saturated conditions, the staples turned to mush. My feet have been soggy for so long I am staring to worry about jungle rot, (not literally, but foot care is very important when living outside in the wet). Cooking in the wet sucks, sleeping wet sucks more.

3) Outside is dirty. I am constantly wiping down surfaces and having to wash dishes, pots and pans before and after use. Which is no picnic when you don't have a sink and are standing outside with a pan of water, in the pouring rain, with mud squishing under foot, trying to get the dishes clean enough to be safe to eat from. Clothes get dirty quickly, hands and nails get really dirty. No amount of foot wiping will keep you from dragging leaves and dirt into bed with you.

4) Insects are a pain, both literally and figuratively. My biggest fear in living outdoors is my bee allergy. I had hornets buzzing my head because they were trapped in the kitchen fly and couldn't find a way out. Trying to help them out was, literally, taking my life in my hands... Swatting hornets just makes them mad, they are not forgiving and like elephants, they never forget... if you offend one they will wait for you and come after you when you least expect it. Yellow jackets wanted my fruit and to drown themselves in my beverages or disappear down my straws, (swallowing a yellow jacket that was in your drink is not recommended, I didn't actually do that but have witnessed what happens when one does...), ants invaded everything that wasn't sealed in a jar or tote. I spent at least 1/2 hour of every day getting butterflies out of my kitchen tent... I know... you're going to complain about butterflies in your kitchen?? Well after awhile them beating themselves against the screened walls and flapping in you face and on your head does begin to wear on one's temperament. I have been bitten by ants, threatened by hornets and flogged by winged creature enough in the last 4 weeks to last a lifetime.

5) Personal hygiene requires a lot more work, teeth brushing, potty breaks, bathing, keeping clothes clean enough to wear. Fortunately we have a bathroom that is a short distance from the back deck. It is isolated from the mold in the rest of the house. We have power and hot water, so we can still bathe inside and use the bathroom indoors, but now we are living in the camper instead of the back yard so it is a trek all the way around the house to the back door if I need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain. Then I track mud and wet back to the camper and try not to get it in the bedding.

6) If you have a personal SHTF situation instead of a community SHTF, or Global SHTF, then the rest of the world goes happily along while you are trying to figure out where the hell you left the flashlight so you can find your way to relieve yourself, have to be work clean when you're living outside dirty, having to be on time when everything takes at least twice as long to do, and eventually when you have been at it long enough you just start to disconnect from the rest of the world. Surrounded by your reality, the rest of reality becomes decidedly unreal. People start to shake their heads at you and you have little patience for their condescension. You start becoming isolated, lose track of time, don't differentiate one day from the next, stop going out. You begin to think that this is life now and hunker down for the long haul.

7) My biggest discovery during this adventure has been that we actually have a lot of the big things under control. Equipment, supplies, skills, are all pretty much as good as we would hope for. Most of the new issues that we are running into are different than those we discovered during Hugo, (which went much later in the year so we were dealing with cold weather, had no power, no water, and had to rebuild our home while trying to survive with small children in the mix,). Most things have been of less consequence, and have to do with smaller details like bugs and everything being dirty all the time. But it is good to know how much those things can affect your ability to cope. I am glad that we have had this opportunity to test what we know and live out our plans in a time where, if all else fails, we could just go stay in a hotel. It is much better to work out the kinks now, instead of finding things out when there are so many big issues to consider and get a handle on, as would definitely be the case in a real crisis.

So, in closing, I will state that being prepped with food, water, defense and medical supplies is important, but you won't know what your most important issues and preps are without practice and experience. Turn off the power for a week. Live in the back yard, camp, cook, do laundry and practice your practical skills, while making note of things that need work, supplies you wish you had, issues that came up, and then fill in the holes and try it again, until you are certain that you have the basics of living under control. You won't be sorry you did.

September 10, 2015

Stocking an Emergency Pantry, Part 2 in a Series on Keeping a Prepper's Pantry

When talking to people about stocking an emergency pantry, people often say they don't know where to start or how to calculate what they will need for their family. That can be a daunting process if you look at it as the big picture.; What I suggest is to break things out into smaller, more easily-handled tasks. I think that the best place to start is to look at what you cook at home right now and write it down in a notebook that you have designated for this project. Mark down what you and your family eat, breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, remember to note condiments that you used and what beverages you had.. Also make note of how often you eat out and what you eat when you do go out for a meal. Save your shopping lists and your cash register receipts, put them in an envelope that you have taped to the back inside cover of your notebook. Keep diligent notes for a month. This information will be used to help you make a plan for beginning your emergency pantry. For the present you will be focusing on building up your every day food supplies, we will call this your "Three Month Pantry". The goal for this pantry is to provide your family with foods that can be used daily, rotated and restocked frequently. But that will ultimately have a three month stockpile of foods available in the event of a short term emergency situation.

During the month that you are collecting data about what you eat, you can begin to look around for an area that you can designate to hold you pantry supplies. I know that this may actually be the hardest part of the process... Many people live in apartments with little storage, or in homes, but are up to the gills in stuff and have no where to put anything. This might be a good time to take stock of what you have and what you need, to de-clutter and pass along things you don't use or that are just taking up space. If you are an apartment dweller, does the apartment complex give you a storage locker or outdoor shed that you can store some of your possessions in to make room for your food stockpile inside the where it is climate controlled? Can you spare 6 inches of floor space and pull your couch out from the wall, so that you can store some supplies behind it? My son did this in his apartment. He made room behind the couch by pulling it out several inches,(6-8"), then used the area he made to hold some of his storage goods. He kept the end tables up against the wall to hide the gap,; I never even noticed that he had done so until he pointed it out. Consider under-used spaces like the top shelves in closets, how about that dead space at the back of a kitchen base cabinet that you have to be a contortionist to get into? Can you put your bed on risers and use the space under the beds? Do you have a closet you can retask by de-cluttering? How about a garage? Do you have a designated junk/storage room that you can organize and use part of ? At one point in our lives, we used some of our storage as furniture... instead of an end table we had a crate of stockpiled good that we topped with a piece of plywood and covered with a pretty table cloth and a lamp. No one ever noticed that it wasn't a table. The same thing could be done for a coffee table. We did away with our bed frame and used our 2 gallon long term storage buckets, covered by a dust ruffle to hold up our box spring and mattress... it worked fine and we never had to clean under the bed! How much space you can carve out will determine how much of a stockpile you can realistically put aside as a reserve.

I have already written a blog post on this subject, but I feel like more detail would be helpful, so I will elaborate and hope to not repeat myself. To read the first blog post on this subject, go here. For simplicity of illustration, lets suppose that you found adequate space for your emergency pantry goods, inside your living space, with easy access. Now it is time to take all the notes you have been compiling on your eating and shopping habits and turn them into a comprehensive list of your most often used food items. From the list of meals that you prepared during the month, write down the ingredients that you used for each of the recipes. Once you have done this for all the recipes, you should start to see some patterns emerge. Are there ingredients that were used in the majority of the recipes you prepared? Make a list of these items on a separate Item page, one food item per line. Each time an item appears in the recipe notes, make a mark next to it on the Item list. This Item List will tell you which foods you use the most. Look at your cash register receipts to see if there are repeat items on them, if there is a repeat item on the receipts that is not on your Item List, add it to the list. What you want to end up with is a list of items that you can use as a shopping list to begin your emergency pantry.

At this point you will be able to see what foods your family most commonly eats. These foods, coupled with some staple items like sweeteners, salt, oil or shortening, flour and seasonings, will be the base that you will build your pantry stock on. Now you are ready to start adding these items to your regular shopping list. Start with the foods on the Item List that are used the most. If there is an item on your regular shopping list that is also on your item list, then put a star next to it on your shopping list and purchase two of those items instead of one. In the case of fresh meats or produce, purchase your fresh items for immediate use and a shelf stable version of the same item for you stockpile. For example, if you have meat on your menu frequently, then buy whatever meat you will use for your meals this week and then add at least on can of some kind of shelf stable meat, poultry or fish to your stockpile. It may not be fiscally possible, every time you shop, to get doubles of all the things that match on your grocery shopping list and the Item List. So on each trip try to add at least a few things to your pantry stock, starting with the things that are used the most and moving down the list from there. This is a great time to plan your weekly menus by watching for sales, and clipping coupons for items that you regularly buy, to keep the costs of stocking up to a minimum.

In order to make sure that you are covering all the important bases, here is a list of items that would be important to have in an emergency. Shelf stable milk, either aseptic boxes, evaporated canned milk, or dried milk powder, shelf stable fats, like coconut oil , ghee, canned shortening, and to a lesser degree olive oil or vegetable oil. These fats need to be rotated out of stockpile and into the kitchen regularly, since they can go rancid. When you use your kitchen supply of oil up, then shop from your pantry stockpile to replace kitchen stock and replace the emergency supply on your regular grocery trip. Shelf stable meats, poultry and fish, need to be in your pantry stock, to take the place of fresh meats, etc. if there is no way to get to a store. Sweeteners, flour, grains, canned vegetables, canned soups and stocks, pasta, rice, and spices and seasonings, can help to round out a menu should you have to depend on your emergency pantry to put meals on the table. I don't stock any beverages except bottled water in my emergency pantry. Since water is very important to health, especially in stressful situations I don't want to have less healthful choices available. Also fruit juices and bottled drinks don't have a long shelf life so I don't spend money on them.

These are the beginning steps to establishing an emergency pantry. There is still much left to do, but if you start by buying shelf stable versions of the foods that you eat the most, then you will be well on your way to having a stockpile of food that you can depend on in an emergency.

In future posts on stocking an emergency pantry, I will discuss Beginning a long Term Pantry. Until next time!


Variety is the Spice of Prepping

The other day I went to one of my Prepper haunts in Charlotte, no not a gun shop, or even REI, but the Indian market across highway 51 from Carolina Place. It is called Patell Brothers. It is a great place to find a much broader variety of dried beans, lentils and grains, as well as having organic whole spices for long term storage, and premade, mylar packaged Indian meals. These are healthy,tasty, and the bag can be thrown in a pot of hot water to heat then you can eat right out of the bag, (my husband uses these on backpacking trips and swears by them). Their prices are quite good too so the prepping dollar goes farther.

Patell's is only one of many ethnic grocers I depend on for my long term food storage supplies. As a whole, ethnic grocers have an interesting variety of foods not commonly found at the grocery store, their prices are usually better than mainstream grocers and it gives you an opportunity to think out of the box. I also visit a Greek restaurant supply store for bulk dried garbanzos, cans of the best olive oil I have ever had, grape leaves, capers and oil cured calamata olives, an Asian market where I can get a variety seaweeds. nori, spring roll wrappers, pho noodles, rice wine vinegar, canned coconut milk, a variety of condiments and spices for my 3 month pantry, and their fresh vegetable section rivals the best main stream grocer in variety, quality and price, with the added plus of 10 different types of fresh, yes, fresh mushrooms! Then there is the Lebanese market that is home to my favorite Mediterranean spice blend, Zaatar. A blend of roasted thyme, sumac and sesame seeds that is to die for on top of hummus or sprinkled on olive oil brushed pita bread and broiled...yum... as well as Garam Masala, and other spices I use for variety when depending on basic staples. The Korean shop has a particular red pepper flake that I use when making Oi Sabagi, a fermented food I eat practically every day. The list could go on for awhile but I think you get my drift...

When depending on a few basic staples for an extended period of time it is advisable to have a way to add some variety. For us, these foods are incorporated into our daily diet, in part because I love ethnic foods and partly because we are vegan and these foods help to add interest to our table, but more importantly so that we are familiar with how to use them if we need to depend on them. Even if you are normally a meat and potatoes person, it is a good idea to have something in your bag of tricks to use when there is no meat in sight and rice and beans is getting old.

Here is what I bought this trip and how I plan to use them: Masoor Malka, is a kind of split red lentil. it cooks very quickly so it can be soup, salad or side dish protein in short order. Moong beans, better known as mung beans, can be sprouted for a nutritional punch when added to garden grown or foraged greens, or soaked and cooked up to make a dish similar to split pea soup. I usually sprout them since they are a veritable nutrient factory in sprouted form. Masoor Malki, the whole form of Mosoor Malka, make very tasty sprouts that don't taste as starchy as the larger lentils do when sprouted and eaten raw. Whole Urad, otherwise known as Black Gram, make good sprouts. The split version known as Urad Dal, along with cooked rice, are used to make a fermented batter for griddle cakes and dosas, a gluten free, absolutely delicious alternative to pancakes. griddle cakes also make a great vehicle for any type of foods you want to scoop up with your fingers, dips, thick soups and stews, or filled with seasoned veggies and potatoes and rolled up burrito style. They are delicious hot or cold. Toor Dal, or small dried pigeon peas, make a delicious soup. The recipe for this soup is on my other blog www.aviewfromthecottage.blogspot.com. Here is the link directly to the blog post. Just scroll down until you see Sambar soup. By the way this post has a really good recipe for soup stock that is great canned or frozen.

On this trip I also purchased candy coated fennel, which is great for that full feeling after eating a big meal, or for indigestion or upset tummy. It is more effective than Tums and doesn't have all the chemicals, (although it does have sugar...). I will put a bag of this in each variety bucket I make up and one in each medical supply bucket I put together.

I purchased whole organic spices, (Patell's price on organic spices is the best I have found anywhere), for long term storage. I will put each spice in a small mylar bag with an o2 absorber and seal it up. These will go in the variety buckets with the Indian foods, so that the spices required for the foods that I make will be with the staples used to make them. I also enclose a few of my tried and true recipes, in case something happens to me, (or my memory :) so that my family will still know how to prepare the dishes. And just as an FYI, you can buy pure sunflower seed oil from the Indian market, for about 1/3 of the cost of the grocery store price, (normally only found at high end gourmet markets and whole food stores not on the main stream grocery store shelves.)

I also bought a copper bottomed, stainless steel wok, with handles and a chapati rolling pin that makes perfectly formed chapati or tortillas. These will go in our emergency/camping cooking equipment. The wok was very affordable, $14.00 and will work as a pot for every occasion, that can be placed on a cook stove or on a rack over coals. The copper bottom will ensure even heat distribution to help control scorching on unpredictable heat sources.

In the future I will be posting more on how to add variety to your basic food storage. I will also post some of my favorite recipes for you to try out. The only thing I ask is that you credit me and my blogs if you pin or repost my recipes.

So for today I hope that you will think outside the box on what foods and seasonings to store in your emergency pantry. If you have any thoughts you would like to share on the subject, please, leave a comment. I would love to hear your ideas!

September 4, 2015

Lunch from a Prepper's Pantry

  It occurred to me today as I was making lunch for my husband and I that our lunch was a good base for a blog post. It is my way of thinking that being "prepared" is not just for an event that may or may not happen in the future, but to be prepared to put food on the table and live out my chosen style of life every day.
  Here at Heart's Ease Cottage, we spend a large portion of our time and energy making our life as self sufficient, and safe from outside influences as possible. That of course starts with an eye to what a body must have to survive: water, food, protection from the elements, are a few in a long list of things we work to provide for ourselves. Today though I am going to talk about one of my husbands favorite subjects, lunch!
  Today our lunch consisted of a sandwich and some sauerkraut and 16 oz. of good well water.. So? What is so blog worthy about that? Well, the sandwich was made with bread that was baked from Bronze Chief wheat berries, raw sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and millet from our long term storage supplies. The wheat was ground in a Whisper Mills grain mill, (but we have a Country Living hand cranked grain mill attached to our counter that can be used if there is no power), and is baked in our gas oven, or in a non electric scenario, in a Dutch oven outdoors. The ingredients of the sandwich were hummus, home made from garbanzo beans that I can from our long term storage supplies, and keep on hand in the 3 month pantry for daily use. There was also yummy fresh tomatoes, Swiss chard, bell peppers, pesto basil, home made bread and butter pickles that I put up last year, romaine lettuce and red onion slices. Everything but the romaine and the red onions came from the garden this morning. The sauerkraut was made from cabbages that I harvested from our garden late in the spring and made into a naturally fermented, raw sauerkraut. Since this is a raw kraut, it is kept in the fridge instead of being canned, but will keep for months on end in the fridge, (if we don't eat it all first...), or in the event of no electricity will last a week or so out on the counter. Raw fermented foods are vital to digestive tract health, providing your body much needed enzymes and good bacteria to keep your digestive system working properly. It is an important food that is often neglected in the American diet, as is evidenced by all the gastric/intestinal problems and overall ill health that Americans suffer with. So especially for crisis mode food preps, it is a key element to staying well and at our physical best.
 Today's lunch is just a simple example of the way we use our prepping efforts not only for the future, but for today.
  What are you doing today to be prepared? Leave a comment and let me know what you are up to! Have a great weekend!

,

August 30, 2015

Dried Bean Challenge, Part 2

I posted a canning tutorial on A View from The Cottage a few months ago, so for step by step direction on how to can beans go to the above link. I thought I would go into a little more detail here at Prepper's Pantry and add some other ideas for how you can use your long term storage bean in the 3 month pantry and for non electric situations.

In Part One of this Dried Bean challenge post, I was using a bucket of beans from my long term storage, and replacing what I used with a new bag of beans to put in LTS mylar and the bucket I just emptied. So I will pick up from that point.

I carefully cut the mylar bag open, (but if you are just starting out then open your purchased bag of beans), and pour the beans into large dish pans, pick through, and rinse the beans and then cover them with water to soak overnight. I then could wipe the inside of the mylar bag with a dry cloth, peel the label off the outside of the bucket and store both for reuse at another time, I can usually get 2 sometimes 3 uses out of a mylar bag, and an infinite number of uses out of the buckets since I treat them carefully when opening and store out of the light and heat), or in this case I will reuse the bucket, use an new mylar bag and save the opened bag for a smaller quantity of food another time.

Having soaked the beans over night, the next morning I get my equipment together: the pressure canner, (beans are a low acid food and must be canned under pressure to make sure they are safe to eat), canning tools, like funnels, lifting tongs, chop stick, ladle, spoon, clean cloth. The canning jars I will put the beans in and the bands, I consider start up costs for pantry keeping and are reusable, so I don't add them to the cost of the beans, but I do factor the flat part of the lids into the cost of the beans, since they can't be used for canning again once they have sealed. The first time or two that you can using a pressure canner, it may feel like a lot of work and a little scary, but that is just because it is new to you. Being able to can at home can save you lots of money and allows you to preserve your garden produce and make your own canned goods of your favorite recipes. I recommend that you get a Ball Blue Book to refer to for canning times and to get some ideas for recipes. If you follow the directions and use good sanitation, you can stock your pantry with all kinds of safe to eat, delicious foods that you made yourself.

I will interrupt myself for a minute and address a few things about pressure canning... ***Practically everyone has a horror story told by their grandma about the pressure canner blowing its lid on the stove. Well, I was witness to one case of that myself as a child, the lid left its impression in the ceiling for as long as I can remember... but it was a pressure cooker, not a canner, as most of the stories were probably about. With a pressure cooker, it is possible to clog the pressure release with foods that boiled up too high in the pot, or that was left with the heat too high, and in the old pressure cookers there was no emergency release plug. But today in both canners and cookers, there is a hard rubber plug that will blow out if the pressure builds too high. and there is a locking mechanism that comes into play when the pressure inside the pot reaches a certain level, at that point until the pot cools down, there is no way to unlock the pot. The lid is not going to blow off. But if you were gifted your great grandma's cooker or canner and it was made before the safety measures were put into place, I would use it as a flower pot or salvage it for its aluminum value and buy an new model. 

Now where was I...The black beans will go into large kettles on the stove and boil them on medium high for 30 minutes. I will use pint size jars, (the size of the jar will vary with the type of item I am canning). While the beans are cooking, I put all the jars through a sterilization cycle on the dishwasher, or put them on a tray in a 250 degree oven for 15 minutes to sterilize the jars. I put the flat part of the two part lids in a small pan of water simmer it until needed.When the beans have boiled for 30 minutes, I move them off the stove and put the pressure canner on the stove. I place the rack that will keep the jars off the bottom of the pan in the canner and fill with 1 1/2 to 2 inches of water and turn the heat on high to heat the water. This water is what will make the steam that processes the jars under pressure. Next, I line the jars on the counter, (put a towel down on the counter first if the jars aren't on a tray, so that the cold counter won't shatter a hot jar), put a wide mouth funnel in a jar and fill with beans , draining most of the liquid off before ladling the beans in the jars. I fill the jars to the bottom of the neck of a regular mouth jar and to the last ring thread on a wide mouth jar, which will leave about 1 inch of head space in the top of the jar. Then I add 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt to each jar and ladle cooking liquid in to just cover the beans. Wiping each jar rim thoroughly with a clean damp cloth, will assure that the lids will adhere properly and seal tight after canning, so wipe the rims, place the flat part of the lid on the jar and then place the band on. The band should just be just finger tight, if you crank the lid down too tight it could cause the jars to burst under pressure, and if it is too lose it might not seal, so twist the band on and when you begin to feel resistance, go a little tighter then stop. To check to see if it is tightened properly, unscrew one of the jars, if it is hard to turn the lid off then it is too tight.


***This is important*** If during the canning process, the pressure drops below 10 psi, you must start the processing over again. The beans must be processed at 10 psi for 1hour and 15 minutes for pints and 1 hour and 30 minutes for quarts. If the pressure drops below the recommended psi, it creates an environment for botulism to grow. When the time is up, turn off the heat, and leave the weight on the pressure spout; if you remove it  under pressure, you can be seriously burned and ruin a whole pot of food. It is important to allow the canner to naturally, completely cool. Do not try to speed up the process by running the canner under water or using wet towel to cool it, a sudden change in temperature will draw all the liquid out of your jars into the canner and them probably won't seal. Really, just go do something else while the canner cools... 


Once the metal stopper has dropped and the pressure gauge is not showing any pressure, you can carefully remove the weight from the pressure spout and then take the lid off the canner. Use the tongs to take the jars out of the canner. Lift them straight up, don't tip to one side to drain the water off the lids, the lids are not sealed yet and the contents are will still be boiling for awhile, place the jars on a towel on the counter and leave to cool. As the jars cool, you will hear them seal. It is quite a lovely sound... sh-h-tink! I used to lay in bed after an evening of canning  jelly and go to sleep to the sound of sealing lids... It is really best to stay with the jars if the foods are low acid, since they will need to be refrigerated immediately if they don't seal, but for things like jelly, if it doesn't seal, it won't go bad overnight, so I worry less about it. Once the jars are all cooled and sealed, remove the bands, clean the body and neck of the jars with soapy water to assure there is no food residue on them, (if there was any food siphoned out of the jars during processing... it happens...), and label and date the jars. Do not return the bands to the jars, they stack better without them and can be reused to keep costs down, they are just needed for holding the flat lid on during processing. I do keep a few bands around so that once the jars is opened I can hold the lid on in the fridge if I don't use it all. At this point you have jars of home made food that you can use at a moments notice, no having to soak dried beans and cook them before you can prepare a meal. This way you have a stock of beans in your long term storage, and a working supply in your three month pantry that is ready to use. So with a couple bags of beans you have created a long term supply and months of ready to use for your 3 month pantry..

Now for some bonus pointers...

 In the initial distribution of 2-10 lb. bag of beans, 7 lbs. went into long term storage in mylar and a bucket, and 3 pounds remained for another use, I added the 3 left over pounds from the first bag of beans to the other 10 lb. bag of beans and soaked all of them over night and then cooked them for 30 minutes so that I could can 20 pints of beans. After completing the 20 pints of canned beans, I cooked the remaining beans until they were completely done. I reserved half of the cooked beans to make Caribbean Black Bean Soup, drained the rest of the beans and added the liquid to the pot of soup I would be making. Then I put the drained beans on dehydrator trays and dehydrated them until they were completely dry and turned to powder when when I crushed between my fingers. On this rainy day they took about 18 hours to dry, on dry days it would take less time. These beans are ready to seal up with a Food Saver, or can be stored in small, serving size mylar bags with an oxygen absorber.

Cooked, dehydrated beans vacuum sealed with Food Sever wide mouth attachment
The dehydrated beans, vacuum sealed and stored in Mason jars have a several year shelf life if stored in a cool dark place. When stored in mylar, just boil water, cut open the bag and soak the beans for 15 minutes then heat the them in the soaking water on a camp stove until they have absorbed the water, which usually takes 5 minutes or less if the beans are soaked first. This gives you a light weight, packable protein that cooks in very little time.


But I didn't stop there! I also made dried soup mix from some of the dehydrated beans. I put the seasoning for the Caribbean Black Bean Soup in the Vitamix with some of the dehydrated beans, and processed them all into a fine powder. I then sealed them with a Food Saver Vacuum sealer and labeled them with cooking directions. But wait! I am not finished yet!  Remember the pot of Caribbean Black Bean Soup I made? Well, I cooked it down to a very thick soup,reserved enough of the soup for my husband and I to have a bowl each for dinner, then I cooled the rest and put it in the Vitamix and blended it until I had a thick smooth slightly loose paste. I used my dehydrator's solid silicone sheets, and spread the cooled thick bean soup paste on the dryer sheets and dried it until the soup was completely dry. I broke a corner off the dried soup and crushed to powder with my fingers as a test to make sure it was completely dry. If it is not powdery when crushed return to the dehydrator and continue drying until it is. I then checked my Vitamix carafe to make sure it was bone dry and added my dehydrated soup and blended it into a fine powder. I also used the Food Saver to seal the soup up in individual servings, and labeled with cooking instructions and the date. This soup is ready to eat, just add hot water, stir and leave for a minute or two while the ingredients absorb the water. To make a thick paste for use as a burrito filling or to make to make a dip for chips, add water a little at a time until desired consistency is achieved or for soup slowly add hot water until the consistency is... what can I say.. uh,soupy...



Thick bean soup, ready for the dehydrator


Two serving bags of dehydrated uncooked Black Bean Soup

Now, lets figure out how many ways I was able to use 20 pounds of dried beans... 7 lbs. of raw dried beans in mylar and a bucket for long term storage, (shelf life 20 years), 20 pints of canned black beans, ready to eat, (shelf life of several years), 1 half gallon jar of cooked, dehydrated and vacuum sealed beans that will be cooked in 15 minutes, (shelf life several years unopened), 6 vacuum sealed bags of dehydrated bean soup that will cook in 15 minutes or so, (shelf life 1-2 years in plastic vacuum sealed bags, indefinitely when stored in mylar with an O2 absorber), 6 vacuum sealed bags of Ready to Eat, Caribbean Black Bean Soup, (shelf life 1-2 year in plastic, indefinitely in mylar with O2 absorber), and dinner!

Wow... It is just amazing how much can be done with a couple of bags of dried beans!




August 29, 2015

Frugal Pantry Keeping, A Dried Bean Challenge Part 1

I love finding ways to make my budget go as far as possible. Since I did not work outside the home, but chose to be home with our kids and to home school, I had to make the most of our single income. One thing that I learned early on was the best way to make the most of what we had was to spend as little as possible.  I calculated my "earnings" and contribution to the household, by writing down all the ways I saved the family money. I often saved us far more than I could have earned, and there is no tax on not making or not spending money!

When we started planning our emergency pantry, I used the skills I developed while running a home, and raising two active, hungry boys, on one income. I spent a lot of time researching ways to cut food costs, but still have quality foods for our emergency provisions. One way I did this was to break out the costs of each of the foods we normally had in the pantry, and see how low I could go for each item. For example: Which was cheaper, the canned black beans on sale at Harris Teeter, or bulk bag of dried beans from Sam's Club, that we can ourselves? Sometimes combining grocery store sales and coupons was the best way to go, other times I could get the best deals buying bulk from Sam's or from my co-op. Of course, I also preserved as much as I could from our own land, but there is no way to grow everything we need... Which ever way I went , the objective was to provide the best quality food for storage, at the best price I could get. The farther I stretched our prep budget the more I could put in our pantry.

So today just for fun, I will show you how I challenge myself to see how low I can go and how far I can stretch our food budget. Harris Teeter had black beans on sale for $1 a 15 oz. can,, Sam's Club black beans come in a 10 lb. bag for $8.43. That would make the sale cans a little less than $1 a pound and the bag of beans 84 cents a lb. As a rule of thumb, a pound of dried beans, after they are cooked is equal to 3/ 15 oz. cans of beans. So, even on sale the canned beans are more expensive than the bag of dried beans. But I will work through the rest of the process and see what it costs after going through the canning process. I purchased 2/10 lb. bags of beans, (16.86 plus tax). I want to have some put away for long term storage, some to can for ready to use and some to make into food that is backpack ready. The first step is to package for long term what isn't going to be used for canning. Then I need to have a supply of beans on hand ready to use, for the 3 month pantry. Of the 20 pounds of dried beans, I will store 7 lb. of the beans in mylar with oxygen absorbers and put the mylar bag in a 2 gallon bucket with a gasket lid. The 13 pounds that are left of the 20, will be divided between canning, cooking and dehydrating and a pot of soup.

I will be canning 20 pints of beans, the cost per pint of beans at this point is 28 cents a pint. The dome part of the canning lids run about $1.50 a dozen and we will need 20, at $3 for 24, the cost of the lid is 13 cents per jar. The fuel expenditure for running the stove is negligible, so I am not adding that to the cost of the beans. There is the matter of time expended to do the canning, but I am not factoring it in either since this is how I earn my keep... For someone else the calculations might shake out differently. Not everyone has the time or desire to go through the whole canning operation and the beans on sale suit their needs. But for me quality, safety from too much salt, BPA and other additives, and a cost of 2.5 cents an oz., (in comparison to the 6 cents an oz. for the sale beans), are motivation enough for me. I also have the satisfaction of seeing those lovely jars of food lined up in the pantry, knowing that they came from my efforts.

The rest of the beans were cooked and dehydrated, and used to create some other forms of storable food. There will be more on that subject in part two of this post. So for today, how low can I go? Forty one cents a pint is pretty low!

January 28, 2015

Pantry Keeping 101, Part 1 in a Series on a Keeping Prepper's Pantry

   There are many ways to manage long term storage foods. Some people purchase a certain amount of food, like a 1 year supply for a family of 4, from a company that sells package deals of freeze dried, prepared foods.These foods are purchased for the sole purpose of supplying the family food in an emergency, but will not be used as part of their present diet. Others buy large quantities of staple items in 5 gallon buckets that have oxygen absorbers in them to keep them viable for 15-20 years, but the plan is to leave those items in buckets as insurance in case it is needed in some future crisis or food shortage. Both of these forms of food storage are more stock piling than pantry management. There is absolutely nothing wrong with stock piling food for hard times, it is a prudent and responsible thing to do, but there are some drawbacks to both buying prepared freeze dried meals, and buying 5 gallon buckets of staples to save for later.
 
There are some very good companies out there that provide quality foods, that will feed the family 3 meals a day, (Legacy is one that I have heard good things about). For some that is just the ticket, quick easy meals that require very little preparation. But for my family, it just wouldn't work...The prepared freeze dried foods are OK if we were are going on a back packing trip, where light and easy to prepare foods are necessary, and won't be consumed for any length of time.  but if it was the only food I had to offer my family for a long period of time, the limited choices, and relatively bland flavors, would lead to a familial revolt, or worse it would cause food fatigue, ( where people can't stand to eat the same things anymore and just stop eating). I would also have concerns about the lack of dietary fiber, high salt and preservative content in a steady diet of freeze dried, processed foods. Another consideration would be the cost. The freeze dried, packaged foods are kind of pricey.

 I do use freeze dried foods in my food storage plan though, I just buy the freeze dried ingredients, instead of the prepared meals, That way I can control how much salt and other things go into the foods we eat and it just works better for my family.. Honeyville Grains has quality freeze dried foods, like organic sweet corn, organic peas, asparagus tips, and more. Plus some very good quality dehydrated foods like tomato powder, mixed vegetables, carrots etc. All their foods are guaranteed to be non-gmo (with the exception of a few of their soy products), and they have a growing number of organics available. Honeyville has the absolute best shipping offer of any online food supplier, $4.99 flat rate shipping, whether you buy one #10 can or an entire truck load! It just doesn't get much better than that!  I use the freeze dried and dehydrated foods in combination with my long term storage staples like wheat, rice and beans, for our long term storage pantry, but I also use them in my daily meal planning. This insures that our food supplies are rotated on a regular basis, but also makes sure that our storage foods are familiar to us so there is less shock  or balk about eating them should they be all that there is available.

  The stock piling of 5 gallon buckets of staples would take care of the basics, but how long would my family be willing to eat the same few items and really... how long would it take a family of four to eat their way through a 5 gallon bucket of rice or beans? It would probably begin to sprout bugs before it was all consumed. The cost is better and the foods that are stored are more wholesome than the prepared foods but for my family it would still leave a lot to be desired.

So this is what we do... For starters, I prefer to call our process, "Pantry Keeping" rather than "stock piling", since we are not just purchasing food and holding it in long term storage, but we are using it and rotating it onto our table and then periodically replacing what we use. Our method of pantry keeping has several layers, Layer one is an Open Stock, comprised of the staple items that are in my kitchen cupboards, large glass jars on my counters,  fresh foods and condiments in the fridge, plus spices, dried fruits and sprouting seeds.

   Layer Two is a Three Month Pantry, which has a 3 month supply of goods we will use in daily food preps, like home canned vegetables, juices, canned goods purchased from the grocery store, packages of coffee and tea, honey that has been dipped out of the 5 gallon long term storage bucket into 1/2 gallon Mason jars, bottles of tomato sauce and salsa, etc. We call this the Three Month Pantry, because it holds the 3 month supply of some of our most often used items, but it also holds our larger stock pile of olives, pickles, jams, jellies, maple syrup, almond butter, coconut oil, shelf stable meats, cans of salmon and tuna, as well as the medicinal herbs that are not in LTS. We use this as our "grocery store". When I make out my menus, I shop here first for whatever I will need to prepare the week's meals, then if I don't have something I need, I will mark it down on the list I will take to the grocery store.

Finally, There is the Long Term Storage, (known from now on as LTS), which is packaged to last 15-20 years or more, if stored properly and left unopened. Since we store what we eat and eat what we store, our long term storage foods play a daily role in our diet. Although LTS foods are able to be stored for 20 years or more, I try to keep my supplies as fresh as possible by using them to prepare our daily meals. I store supplies of staples that I package myself, in mylar bags that are stored in 2 gallon buckets with a gasket lid. The 2 gallon bucket size is optimal for my family. We can go through a 2 gallon bucket in a reasonable amount of time, so there is less risk of it going buggy or rancid. Since I don't have to focus on using up 5 gallons of something, I can have a variety of things open at one time, giving me more flexible menu options. We have food stores to last us several years, all packaged in mylar with oxygen absorbers to make sure the contents will stay viable for 15-20 years,  but I try to make sure that most of the things we store are cycled through to our table and replaced within 3 years. That way we can be sure to have a fresh, safe stock of food if the regular supply lines are not available.

  The fact that the foods I store are also the foods we eat on a regular basis, means that there will not be any major dietary changes made, should we have to depend solely on what we have in LTS. I also store herbs, seasonings, spices, salt, sweeteners, condiments, vinegar, liquor, (for tinctures and other medicinal purposes), home canned goods, home dehydrated goods, some quality freeze dried ingredients, (not prepared foods...), ingredients like freeze dried corn, peas, broccoli, asparagus, dehydrated tomato powder, dehydrated potatoes, dehydrated cooked beans, sprouting seeds, and raw supplies for making other life sustaining foods like miso and tempeh. We also store dried fruits, which sadly have a short shelf life, but we eat them regularly so the supply is rotated out in a year or less. If we couldn't go to the grocery store for a period of time, we would still have a fresh supply to last a year.

  Since the foods we store are the foods we use, I know that I can create meals that are healthy and that my family will eat. Since they have been rotated and replaced I know that they are going to be edible when I open them, and that they will have retained their nutritive value, and I am almost always eating at last year's grocery prices! A recent example of this savings is: in 2008 I bought three 60 pound buckets of honey, for $100 each. Since honey never goes bad, and it is one of the few sweeteners we use, I bought a large quantity when I found it on sale through my co-op. We just opened the last bucket the other day, so I ordered a couple more on my last co-op order, the price is now more than $200 a bucket. So for 5 years we were eating honey at 2008 prices, (while setting aside money each payday to purchase replacements when we needed to replenish our stock in the future.

  So that is the basic run down of our Pantry Keeping system. In future posts I will go into more detail about each of the levels of storage, outline how we decide what to store, how to calculate what a family would need for a give period of time, how to store foods for long term storage, and how to begin an LTS pantry of your own.



January 25, 2015

Seeds for Thought

After considering all that happened in 2014, what has become very clear is that things never go as planned. The best laid plans can get waylaid when "Life" happens. That is one reason that my husband and I live by the motto, "Be Prepared".  For us preparedness is a lifestyle, part of our every day life. So as I consider the coming new year, one of the things I will be looking at is how well prepared we are for whatever 2015 has in store for us.

   I am presently doing  my first "preps" for the new year. I am poring over our new seed catalogs as they arrive in the mail, in preparation for our next round of plantings in the garden. This is vital, since we lean heavily on our gardens to put fresh, organic food on our table. Not only will I need to plan for what we will plant this coming year, but I will also need to consider what seeds I want to purchase for long term storage. Some seeds store better than others, and all seeds have a relatively short storage life, so before I order seeds I will have to consider what seeds we presently have stored for the long term, and rotate them into use for this year, once I have ordered and received replacements for the storage seed.

  I always have a good supply of  turnip seeds, broccoli, cabbages, kale, clover, alfalfa, many different oriental greens, and other similar seeds. I use these seeds for making sprouts for consumption, as well as for sprouting for seedlings to put in the garden, so I keep a large stock on hand. These seeds have a hard coat and generally have a long shelf life if stored properly. I have used broccoli and cabbage seeds that I found in the freezer, 3 years after their use by date and still had good germination. Even though these seeds will last much  longer than one growing season, I try to use my seeds within 2 years of purchase, just to make sure that I don't let them lose their viability. A rule of thumb is, the larger the seed the longer it will remain viable. I have also found that the harder the seed coat the longer they last, but I don't know if that is scientifically proven. Some seeds like lettuce, onion, and carrot seeds have a large drop off in germination from one season to the next. I usually only buy enough of these seeds for the season, plus a small quantity of seed for long term storage, that I can grow out and save the seed from if need be.

new york  Most seeds that are stored in a cool, dry, oxygen free, moisture free environment will remain viable for years. Even so, I order new seed and rotate my long term stored seeds into my normal sprouting or planting schedule yearly, once the replacement seed has arrived. So at any given time, I have last years seed in the garden this year and I put this years seed in long term storage. I want to have the freshest seed possible should I have to rely on my own stock of seeds, due to crop failure, lack of availability, or extinction.

   The seed that is stored for long term is placed in small mylar bags with oxygen absorbers and is then heat sealed with my Hot Jaws sealer, (an iron will work if you don't have a sealer), then they are labeled and dated. I put the collection of mylar bags of seeds in a 2 gallon plastic bucket with a Gamma lid and keep an inventory list on the outside of the bucket that tells me what seeds are inside. These seeds are then stored with the rest of our LTS buckets, in a cool, dry place.

  Not all the seeds I plant each year are from my LTS cache. I purchase some seed for the present year planting, and put into LTS what isn't used this year. This is usually seeds for tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables that are only planted during the summer months. Each seed packet will contain more seed than I can plant out, so what doesn't get used this year, will be stored in LTS and I will use them along with the new seed I order the following year. That way I don't waste seed, and should there be a lack of seed to purchase the following year, I can still grow out last years seed and save some for the future.

  Once my seed situation is under control, I will move on to inventory our food supplies, make sure the spread sheet that we use to keep track of things is up to date and make note of things that we need to replace. There is always something to be done and every day at Heart's Ease Cottage is a prepping day!

January 23, 2015

How We Became Homesteaders

Hm-m-m.... Where do I begin? Well, if you have been following my other blog, www.aviewfromthecottage.blogspot.com then you have probably read how we got started with prepping. But in case you didn't get to this blog from the cottage blog, I will give you a synopsis of how we came to be where we are today.

 Ceiling down and water standing in the floor
 days after the hurricane. Circa 1989

In 1989, when Hurricane Hugo came through and made pick up sticks of our home, we were in the middle of adding on a bathroom, laundry room and 3 bedrooms to a circa 1944, 750 sq. ft. house we bought 18 days before. We had the new construction "dried in" by the time the hurricane hit, but that was not enough protection to keep the high winds, floods and rain from wreaking havoc on the house and our lives. It took us years to recover. Financially, we were up to our ears in credit card debt, since insurance didn't cover any of the new construction, or the fact that we had to rewire and re-plumb the entire house. With nowhere near enough insurance money to cover the cost of rebuilding, we had to do things little at a time as we could afford to, and when it was something that just couldn't wait until we could afford to begin work, we had to put it on the card. Ouch. Fortunately, once we were given our official Certificate of Occupancy, we could roll all that debt into a mortgage, and eliminate the outrageous interest payments we were paying for carrying so much debt on credit cards.
New construction standing in water after the hurricane
  The Certificate of Occupancy was kind of a joke, since we had been living in the rubble/construction since shortly after the hurricane. For 8 months we had no power or water, I prepared our meals on an old Franklin wood burning stove, that wasn't designed to be used as a cook stove, but we made it work... we had a make shift toilet in the woods and the kids and I bathed from a bucket or from the sink at a convenience store that friends owned, Da showered at the work out room at his place of employment. We worked day and night, Da worked all day at the office, while I measured, cut and numbered lumber for him to knock into place when he got home, we ran wire, laid plumbing, built interior walls, stapled in insulation and hung sheet rock all either by lantern, or when the extension cord a neighbor ran from their house to ours wasn't used to run a single power tool, we could plug in a shop light to illuminate our work area. While we were doing all these things, we had a 7 year old and an infant that needed care, clothes to wash, food to prepare, all with no power and very little time.
N. my oldest son helping with the reconstruction.
E.M helped, too.
We also had very little money to buy food, so our meals were very humble and were made in one pot either on the wood stove or in a dutch oven over an open fire outside. We washed dishes in water we hauled from a neighbors well spigot and drank bottled water. We had no heat that first winter, the chimney that vented the wood stove had been damaged during the storm and the stove smoked like a freight train. So we couldn't heat with it at night and only during the day when we weren't in the room with the stove. It was really futile to try and heat anyway since some of the floors were open to the ground and one gable was still open to the sky... It was a long cold winter.

Master bedroom
  Eventually, we were far enough along to refinance, but nowhere near finished with the house. Most people in our area were out of power for 3 weeks, we had no power for 8 months, most every one else was back to life as usual in a month or so, for us... our baby was three when we got interior doors, he was 5 when we finally had floor coverings. My sink was on 2x4's in the kitchen for 2 years, but we did have indoor plumbing, a stove and a fridge within the first 2 years. It  looked to others like we were back to normal. Ha! That is because we had a car in the driveway,( instead of the deuce and a half dumper that we were filling with pieces of our house and driving to the landfill), and we had a front door instead of a tarp, but inside things were anything but normal. Two years later there we still had rooms with no sheet rock on the walls, we all slept in one room for a year, since the rest of the house was still a construction zone. We breathed the sawdust, insulation, and sheet rock dust while we lived and constructed in the same space.
Since we had to completely gut and redo the 1944 part of the house we took the opportunity to make some modifications. We reconfigured a couple of small rooms to be a big open kitchen/dining/family area that echoed the look and feel of the bedroom addition. We vaulted the ceiling and put in skylights to add extra light and make the space feel bigger. In a way, the hurricane allowed us to have a much nicer design to the total house than we would have had otherwise.

E.M. was 6 months old and N. was 7 yrs. when Hugo hit in September of 1989. This photo was taken in April of 1992, E.M. was almost 3 yrs. and N. had just turned 10. They spent a lot of their early childhood living in a construction zone.

In time though, the sense of the urgency kind of faded and we began to take stock of what happened and how we had survived. It was during that time that we decided that if we had any control over it, we would never be caught without the ability to feed and shelter ourselves again. Even before we were finished with the rebuilding of our home, my husband and kids, 11 and 4 by this point, built an outdoor pantry and we began to stock it with enough food to last us for 6 months. That was the beginning. Now many years later we have an entire system that we call Pantrykeeping, that we use to manage our stockpile and keep everything rotated and in stock. We have a large garden that we keep in production 365 days a year, a variety of perennial fruits, and we continue to practice and hone our homesteading, self-sufficiency skills. Being prepared has become a way of life and every day is a prepping day.

So, with a little background on why we prep, I will in the next few post begin to lay out how we prep. It doesn't take SHTF of TEOTWAWKI kind of events to set life on its ear, it could be a personal crisis, job, loss, illness, or an Act of God. Don't let life catch you unprepared... If you have a survival story of your own, please leave a comment and share it with us we would love to hear from you! Until next time!

January 11, 2015

Smoking Cheddar - Part Three of What Has Gone Before

My all time highest view count for a post on aviewfromthecottage.blogspot.com was this blog post I did on smoking cheddar cheese. It is a great way to add distinctive flavor to your run of the mill medium to sharp cheddar cheese.

It is possible to can cheese. It is a high aid food, so it can be canned in a water bath canner. The FDA does not recommend that you can cheese, so I won't tell you to do it, but I and many others have done it for a life time with no problems, but use your best judgement. I will put the directions for canning cheese at the end of this post. Now on with the story....Blog Post Originally from January 2013.

One day this past fall, I was in the back yard smoking chipotle peppers, (I grow jalapeno peppers and let them ripen until they turn red, just for this purpose). As I was taking the last tray of peppers out of the smoker, I was lamenting to myself that there was still so much good smoke left and I hated to waste it... I was casting about for something to put in the smoker to take advantage of the remaining smoke, when it dawned on me that I had a huge block of cheese in the house that I was going to cut up into pieces and freeze. I am vegan and don't eat cheese, but my husband loves it. He is especially fond of smoked cheese, but it is so expensive that I usually only get it for special occasions. So I decided to smoke some of the cheddar just as an experiment.

 I was afraid that the cheese would melt, and I didn't want to waste it, so I started out by just putting one small chunk of cheese in the smoker. I looked in the side door of the smoker and checked for heat. The coals were mostly gone and all that was left was the fruit wood prunings smoldering in the tray, so I put the block of cheese on the rack and put the lid on. I left it 5 minutes and then lifted the lid to make sure it the cheese wasn't melting through the cracks. It was warm to the touch on the surface, but was still firm. So I turned the cheese and smoked it for another 5 minutes, then it took it out and smelled it. It smelled wonderful! When my husband got home, I had him try a piece. He said it tasted better than the store bought smoked cheese.

So I set aside some time the next day to smoke the rest of the block of cheddar that I had. The smoker that I have is a Brinkman Smoke 'n' Grill.  I got it on sale at the end of the season at Ace Hardware for $29, but they normally run about $45. It has two racks and two pans, one pan for coals the other pan for water, (if you a smoking a turkey or something that takes a long time, it is necessary to have the water to keep things from drying out). I took one pan out and set it aside. I put the other pan on the hanger at the very bottom of the smoker. Then I soaked small twigs and branches of fruit wood, no larger around than my finger, in a bucket of water. *Note I have a supply of fruit wood prunings from my fruit trees, but if you don't have fruit trees, you can purchase Hickory smoking chips and the natural briquettes at the grocery or hardware store.*

While the branches were soaking, I took several layers of newspaper, twisted them tightly and dripped candle wax on them until they were coated, (I use candle wax instead of lighter fluid, because I don't like lighter fluid). I put the newspaper in the pan I had set aside, add a healthy handful of tinder sized twigs, and then placed a small mound of  natural hardwood briquettes on the twigs and newspaper twists and lit the paper. I let the briquettes burn until they were covered in a light coating of ash and were mostly white on the outside, then I took a pair of tongs and placed three briquettes in the pan that was in the smoker. I placed a small pile of the soaked fruit wood twigs on the briquettes, making sure they were in contact with the coals, closed the side door and placed the lid on the smoker. Before long thick smoke started to leak out around the edges of the lid indicating it was time for me to put the cheese on the rack.

I took the lid off the smoker and checked to make sure it wasn't hot inside the smoker, then I placed the blocks of cheese on the rack making sure to leave room for the smoke to circulate around each block.
 I smoked the cheese for 5 minutes on each side. I did several batches of cheese, so as the briquettes burned down and the twigs were consumed, I added more to the pan in the bottom of the smoker, using the side door.When I was finished smoking the cheese, I took them inside on a tray and put them in the fridge to cool. Once cool, I wrapped them individually in plastic wrap and then stacked them in a gallon freezer bag, and labeled them with contents and date. They will keep for many month without freezer burn since they are double wrapped.

                  Here is a recipe for one of my husband's favorite smoked cheese sandwiches:

Two slices of homemade whole wheat bread (or a good quality store bought equivalent)
Mayo
2 -3 Slices turkey breast (or leftover Thanksgiving turkey if it is that time of year)
One thin slice of red onion
2 Tbsp. whole berry cranberry sauce (for the Fall and winter version) or 4 slices of Granny Smith apple (for the Spring and Summer version)
Clover sprouts
2 thin slices of smoked cheddar

Spread mayo thinly on both pieces of bread. Place 1/2 turkey on bottom piece of bread, place cranberry sauce or apples and the sliced onion on the turkey then add the remaining turkey, smoked cheese and the sprouts. Top with the second piece of bread. Press down lightly to settle ingredients, cut into halves and serve. * If you're not a mayo fan then replace the mayo with honey dijon mustard.   Provecho!

*The FDA does not recommend that cheese be canned, but I have done it successfully for years, with no ill effects,  but use your best judgement.
 To can cheese, choose a semi-hard cheese like cheddar or mozzerella, although I have read about someone having good success with cream cheese... It takes about 10lbs. of cheese to fill 12 wide mouth mason jars. Grate the cheese and place it loosely in the jars, keep a bowl full of grated cheese close by since you will need to keep topping off the cheese in the jar as it melts in the jars. Place the jars in the water bath canner that has about 2 -3 inches of hot water in it. You don't want the water to splatter or boil into the jars of cheese so make sure the level of water is no more than 1/2 up the jars when the canner is full of jars. heat the water to a simmer and use wooden spoon to push the cheese down so it will melt. Once the cheese you put in the jar is melted, add more, repeat the process until all the jars are fill to within an inch of the rim of the jars with melted cheese. Use a soapy cloth to thoroughly clean the rim of the jar, removing any oils that the cheese may have left, so that the jars will seal properly. Place a new mason jar lid that has been boiled in a pan of water and and is very hot, on each jar and screw the band on snugly, (but do not crank it down tight, the jars can crack when the begin to create a vacuum.). After all the jars have lids and bands, fill the canner with water to 1 inch above the tops of the jars and put the lid on the canner. Once the water has reached a rolling boil set the timer for 40 minutes. process. When the 40 minutes is up, turn the canner off and take the lid off, but Do Not Remove the Jars from the Water!! Allow the water to cool, before removing the jars. If you remove the jars while the cheese is still hot it may boil some of the oil from the cheese out over the lid and your jars won't seal. Once they are sealed, gently wash and dry jars of cheese to remove any residue that may be clinging to the jars. Dry jars and mark the lids with what kind of Cheese it is and the date.
I recently opened the last of some jars cheese I canned 5 years ago. I needed to make a casserole for a friend that was recovering from surgery. I am vegan I don't have cheese on hand, so I used the storage cheese to make her some comfort food. I opened the jar and smelled it, it had a sharp cheddar smell. I heated the jar under hot water until the oil from the cheese started to liquify along the sides of the glass jar. This made it easier to get the cheese out. The cheese sliced fine but was very crumbly when I tried to handle it much, due to the fact that some of the oil from the cheese floats to the top while it is canning. I took a small quantity and crumbled it over a few corn chips to see if it would melt,and broiled them under the broiler. I then had my husband do a taste test for me. The cheese wasn't inclined to melt over the chips, but my husband said it tasted great. So I made a roux with oil, flour, garlic, seasonings and Srirachi sauce, then I added powdered milk from my food storage supplies, and water to make a sauce, and slowly added the cheese, stirring to melt and to incorporate after each addition. It made a perfectly beautiful cheese sauce that smelled wonderful. I poured the cheese sauce over the noodles and veggies and worked it through with a wooden spoon. Once everything was coated well and there was some cheese sauce pooled up about half way up the noodles, I sprinkled the top with coarse bread crumbs from a home made loaf of bread and then crumbles some cheese on top, sprinkled the top with Italian seasoning, covered the top lightly with foil to keep it from burning. I baked it at 350 for 1/2 hour or so. It smelled great and looked tasty. I got rave reviews from my friend who said the casserole was delicious and a real hit with her 3 year old daughter . So there you have it, canned cheese will not have the same consistency coming out as when it went in, but it was still good after 5years and had developed a fine sharp flavor. And if you smoke it first it will have a rich mellow smokey flavor to boot!

Blog  Link parties this post is linked to:
thehomesteadinghippy.com
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