Sunday, January 31, 2010

One Small Change, January wrap up, February Aspirations.

Well, this being the last day of January, it is time to think about my One Small Change.

My One Small Change for the month was bringing my own bags to the grocery store and forgoing the plastic.

I will admit to one day forgetting the bags and having to use plastic. In retrospect, it came down to the very reason why I chose this small change. Rushing out of the house and not planning ahead meant that I left my bags at home.

But I have gained a lot from doing this challenge. First, I have a collection of really cool bags that I was able to make from materials around my house. Second, for 99.999% of the time I was conscious of this one small change. Bringing bags has yet to be a thoughtless habit, unlike the practice of using plastic bags. But this may good. Because if bringing fabric bags is not a thoughtless act then I find that using plastic has also turned into an act that I am more aware of.

For February, my One Small Change will be to concentrate on the one non-renewable fuel source that we use in our home. Propane gas. I will tackle this in several ways. First, our hot water tank uses propane so I will be wrapping it this month. Second, because I bake a lot, I will be more conscious of using my oven more efficiently. No longer will I bake only one item at a time in the oven. Instead, I will plan ahead and make sure that ,if I am baking bread, I will have several other things baking in the oven at the same time. I will also exploit the top of my woodstove to heat food up. I look forward to sharing some the things we are doing in this pursuit.

Also, I will not be reverting to my plastic bag habit but will continue to use my fabric bags! As a budding seamstress I am really enjoying using reclaimed materials to make our bags.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Winter.... in Rough Draft

Tomorrow, I will be in the pulpit at our Unitarian Universalist Church. We are a small congregation and have a part time minister who attends services twice a month. The other Sundays we have guest speakers and members share their thoughts. Below is a rough draft of the message I will share that day.

We come out of the season of light into the period of hibernation; where it is a daily chore to keep the woodstove filled, the wood pile by the stove beckoning replenishment and the wood pile outside diminished. In the back of the mind is the constant questioning; did we put up enough?Will it last the season?

It is so easy to not be present in winter when we have to keep our heads down against a biting wind while pondering if there really is such a thing as a January thaw, even though we have just come out of one. It is so easy to not be present in winter; the collection of seed catalogs pile high on the desk with their glossy photos of ripe,blight-free, tomatoes beckoning like sirens. It is so easy to not be present in winter as I squat on the floor navigating a small leg into a snow pants. Then pushing a foot into winter boot like a puzzle piece that looks like it should fit if only it were turned another way. At moments like this I think of little shorts and sneakers and the progression of my wee one's skill; even if the shirt is on backward, that will follow from this moment. It is so easy to not be present in winter when the house is so cold and the bed is so warm. "Just 5 more minutes, I promise." It is hard to present in winter when the ground does welcome your foots easy tread but dares you to dance with gravity on its icy glare. It is so easy to not be present in winter because it is easier to forgive resolutions unfulfilled than it is to follow through. Okay, so there may have been some intention to do 25 sit-ups a day but that was the giddy promise of a new year and this is the "bleak mid-winter." There is time, There is time...

But this is winter.

The days grow longer,each day a small gift of light is granted until with surprise we notice that the sun has not set at 4 in the afternoon.

This is winter when we can take a breath from the hectic seasonal pace of putting a garden in, tending, harvesting and preserving the summer in jars neatly aligned on the pantry shelf.

This is winter after the big celebration of holiday season when we can cherish small joys; such as woodpeckers at the suet feeder, a bright clear and very crisp day when the air feels so clean, the warmth radiating from a cuppa tea after a long day in town.
This is winter when hubby is gifted a snow day to be home with his family.

This is winter when the quiet allows for the time to follow more sedentary pursuits of reading good books, finishing knitting projects, indulging in a Doctor Who addiction.

This is winter when we can over extend our garden ambitions, without the reality of weeding, as we lose ourselves in the poetic descriptions of Amish Paste tomatoes, french fingerling potatoes, arugala-la-la....

This is winter when we have to work harder to reach out from our hibernation to find our community. Summer may be carefree and full of cookouts, communal canoe trips and spontaneous gatherings around a fire pit.

But in winter, gatherings become intentional, made with an effort and worth the effort even if out travel home is through snow and ice.

Peace and Blessed Be

Friday, January 29, 2010

Food Friday: Managing food storage

First a caveat. Although I am better at managing food than before I started this food storage endeavor, I am by no means perfect. I will confess right here for the whole world wide web to know that; yes, sometimes, there are unidentifiable, aged, mummified or otherwise altered from the original recipe containers of previous meals in my fridge.

But not as much as there used to be:)

First step to managing food storage is incorporating a routine of regular inventory of our pantry. There is all this food I have put up and I want to make sure that 1) I don't find myself with a pantry full of pickled beets that were lost behind containers of dried beans 2) none of the jars have lost their seal leaving the food inside spoiled 3) that jars did not get moved around; mixing the jars of beets that were canned the year before pushed to the back, while we eat our most current beet effort. So about once a month I go into the cupboard. I bring a damp cloth to wipe down the shelves. I bring my black Sharpie marker and masking tape to replace any labels that may have fallen off and I make sure everything is dated.

If it seems that during inventory, I find we are heavy on one item I will make a note to myself to incorporate that food into our meals more. One thing I have not become very good at is trying not to eat all the tomatoes right away. We always seem to finish those first. Ideally, I would like to better manage the pace with which we consume some things so it last longer through the winter season, but then ideally I would like to not open moldy containers in my fridge too;)

I also take note of those grains, oils, sweeteners are low in order to determine if I will need to put these things on my bulk order.

The freezer gets pretty much the same treatment. We keep our freezer in the garage so if we should lose power in the winter things stay pretty cold. I always bring a flash light with me because the lighting isn't that great and need to see to the bottom to get an idea of what is left in there. If there is anything that looks like it might be getting too frosty it is brought inside and put in a soup or bread.

As for the fridge, this is something that has gotten better with time and especially since I make meals for hubby to take with him when he is gone during the week. The best way I have found to manage this is to batch cook. When I make a pot of rice and beans, or soup, tortilla or hot dish I put a couple of portions in the freezer for him for the following week. I initially started doing this because I found that I would spend my whole weekend cooking for him for the week which detracted from the time we could spend together during his time at home. But a benefit to this has been that there the last bowl of soup that no one wants to eat for the 4th or 5th time does not sit there abandoned.

As for other leftovers, this has been managed with better planning and growing boys. For some things like mash potatoes whatever gets leftover gets put in bread or pancakes. Same for any leftover rice or oatmeal. When we serve steamed veggies they just get divided by the number of plates on the table so that there are no leftovers. If there should be any leftovers we either have them for lunch the next day or there is one meal a week, usually a lunch,that is comprise of only leftovers.

Last time, I cleaned the fridge out I noticed that we had a lot of jars of open pickles in there. So now there is only one shelf in the fridge that is designated for pickles. Same goes for jams and sauces.

Ultimately, I realized that not only is food waste a loss of money but also a waste of all the effort I put into food preservation.

How do you manage your food stream? Do you have a system you would like to share?

Next week, I'll share some menus from the coming week with you.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Food Veggies and Fruits.

Sorry for the late food post. Friday was teen's 17th birthday! 17

We celebrated the day with a favorite breakfast. He spent the better part of the day working in the workshop carving wood. We made cake and a favorite dinner. He received his own coffee cup, a hair brush and an art class at the Maine College of Art. He had wanted to take a metalsmithing class this spring but when he realized it was only jewelry making and not his desired blacksmithing, he opted for a digital photography class. We also marked the occasion with a shaving lesson. I have pictures of his face with shaving cream but I promised not to post them online;)

Anyway, the last element to our food storage is fruits and veggies. We grow a lot of the veggies that we eat. Whatever we don't grow, we purchase at our local farmstand, farmer's market or directly from the farm. We also make use of many of the U-pick farms that are available in our area.

And then, we preserve it all. Along the side bar is a list of all we preserved this past year. Looking at the list seems quite impressive. A vast amount of food was squirreled away. The amount of work and effort that goes into this endeavor is part of the seasonality of the life we have chosen to live. But I'll be honest. We are finding that it may not be enough to get us through the winter and we may have to start buying produce by the end of February.

Last growing season was a hard one in the Northeast. We had nearly a month and a half of rain from early June to mid July. Early on, there were already fears that there was late blight in the air; brought to us by tomato plants imported by Walmart and given just the right moist conditions to flourish. For us, this meant that we had to harvest our potato plants a month early to avoid losing the crop. We ended up with 80lbs of small spuds. This also meant that, although I was able to have an ample quantity of tomatoes on the vine , I was only able to can a couple of batches of salsa. The rest of the crop were blighted before they were ripe. Another staple food for us, winter squash, faired no better.

So we bought several cases of tomatoes at our local farmstand. We also bought corn because it was too cool and wet to get ours to grow. Buying from the farmstand is helpful but given the expense, we did not put up the same quantities that we did the prior year. The same goes for berries. I was able to pick about seven quarts of raspberries and blackberries from our own land. But the field where we had picked blueberries the prior year was not open this past summer, so we were only able to get our berries from a more expensive source.

So this is where we are right now; the peas are gone. There is a half a quart of corn. Still a few weeks worth of broccoli and about half a dozen quarts of frozen green beans. We have yet to touch the frozen rhubarb. There is a local farm still selling apples. We have gone through fresh apples but I can still get some of these and make crisp with the rhubarb.

There are plenty of pickled carrots, beans and beets. Only 2 quarts of pureed tomatoes, 4 pints of salsa. Dehydrated apples are nearly gone. But we have plenty of dehydrated kale and zucchini. I have been using the kale in bread. I re-hydrate the zuke for pizzas and soup. The onions and leeks are gone but we still have garlic.

We still have some canned chicken soup and spuds. But the fresh spuds are near their end.

There are parsnips and jerusalem artichokes in the ground. We had a big rain last night so I may go out to the garden to see if some can be dug up. There are beet greens under row cover and plastic tunnels also. So I will clean the snow off of these to see if they can be perked up a bit before we come out of our January thaw.

I've been reflecting about what I would do if I really had no option but to rely solely on the food I put up. Seeing the bottom of the freezer in January can be a little unsettling. We are lucky to have the choice between working on this endeavor of food preservation or going to the grocery store/farmer's market. My thoughts turn to possible future scenarios where I may need to be more dependent on the fruits of my own labors because there are shortages due to peak oil or food price inflation puts many foods out of the reach of my pocket book. And then there is the whim of the weather and how extremes in weather last summer greatly impacted my ability to get ample crops from my own ground.

I haven't got any answers yet. I am still thinking on this but I think that building up skills in wildcraft will be necessary.

I will next address how we manage our food storage, minimizing food waste.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Teaching as a Lively Art

We had a bit of a chuckle from this quote from the book, Teaching As A Lively Art.

The child of three has become a distinct individual. He calls himself "I",that name expressive of discovered selfhood. No longer is he content merely to eat,drink, sleep and make aimless motions. He has found himself in relation to his surroundings and continually reaches out to shape them more to his liking. He models play on adult patterns, digging, building,looking at books and pictures, tending and scolding dolls like a bossy parent. Hi incessant talks is the despair of grown-ups. It pours forth in torrents of questions to which any answer seems entirely satisfying.

Three years olds are pretty cool!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Okay, I may be late to the game..but

...this is really cool! Have you heard of Paperback Swap? In my ever increasing search to live frugally and save pennies, I finally bit the bullet and joined.

I have been a life long book collector and avid reader.However, when we moved to our current, small home I was unable to un-pack all my books. Vast collections of classic and contemporary fiction still sit in boxes in the back of closets. This is not to say that there were not new books purchased to filled the shelves but they were more along the lines of non-fiction, homestead reference and knitting books. Books that, for the most part, require you to read them over and over. Overall, the number of books I buy has decreased. I frequent my local library for most of the fiction that I enjoy. I like a good cookbook, knitting book, children's craft book, traditional craft book and if I find a good one at the library that I think will make a life long reference, I will buy it after checking it out of the library first.

But the book swap...very cool. I can see using this to provide books for our homeschool, gifting frugally and expanding our skills and if the book is a bad fit...well I can swap it!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Springing forward..

It is snowing this morning. Along the coast of Maine the snow is heavier and there is more to dig out. It is winter. Thoughts turn to spring as I ponder what my seed order will look like this year.If all goes according to plan, we should be in our new home by June which is right at the height of planting season. Which may work but life could be a little crazy and we may not get everything in the ground that we hope. In the meanwhile, I sit here at my kitchen table trying to plan what sort of garden we will have this year.

A good friend was able to buy some seeds from the Fedco tent last fall at the Common Ground Fair for me. They are end of season seeds sold at 10%off. So I have some of my favorite varieties. Contesca Romanesca zucchini, red chanteney carrot, space spinach...

The plan for the spring will be to plant all sorts of greens at our current home as soon as we can work the soil, so around the 3rd week of April if the garden has dried in parts. If we plant these in cold frames we should enjoy an early harvest. We have parsnips over wintering in the ground that were planted last spring but we will probably not get any in the ground this year. Peas get planted by Patriots day, so we have peas on the 4th of July, we will not planting those this spring but I may try for a fall crop. I have garlic in the ground that I planted last fall, just in case. I have transplanted the bulbs in spring before but usually from just a few that volunteered from the garlic patch from the prior year. I am not sure if it would be wise to transplant them so late in the season as they usually form their scapes by late June.

We will probably buy tomato,pepper and basil plants this year instead of starting seed at home. I will have to think about potatoes. Maine had late blight last year. I was not able to save any of my seed from last years crop. It is a big staple food for us so I may forgo planting them this year until we know our new garden space better. We may be able to time a corn planting.

I guess this is the direction we are going to try for. We will plant heavy for a fall garden at the new house. Carrots, broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, cabbage, greens ( heavy on the spinach) and beets. We will try to extend our harvest well into winter using Eliot Coleman's Four Season Harvest Method.

For those other veggies we are going to get a share in a CSA. These folks will be our farmer. They serve our nearest farmer's market and also serve the farmer's market near our new home. They also have a dairy CSA so we will be able to get milk from them as well. CSA members also are contacted about U-pick opportunities.

The one thing we are looking forward to are the 4 apple and 2 pear trees at our new home. They are mature trees that are big producers. I think will add a new meaning to apple season for us.

So, are you planning your garden yet?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Food Friday: Dairy and Meat

When I challenged myself to eat from food storage for the winter, a couple of the exceptions to my own food storage were meat and dairy.

In the past we have grown a pig. We would visit a local farm in the spring and buy a little piggie and grow the pig all summer long. The first year that we did this ,we had a source of slop from a local restaurant which reduced the cost of growing the pig. We also were able to get sour milk from a local farmer. The pig got any scraps from the garden and canning season. We did buy some feed for the pig. In the fall, usually late October, early November, hubby would butcher the pig. We figure that our cost for growing the pig to butcher size was about 350.00. The following year our slop source dried up, the farmer was charging for sour milk and feed prices skyrocketed when the price of a barrel of oil reached 147.00. Our costs were significantly more than the year before. We spent about 500.00 for the pig that year. Now granted, the meat from the pig lasted a whole year and compared to the cost of a half pig from the farmers market; which was 400.00, we saved some money.

Our whole approach to meat has been that we want it to be local, we want to know where it comes from and we don't want to eat a lot of it. So, given our period of flux, we decided that we did not want to grow a pig this year but we also did not want to invest the 400.00 on a half a pig. So, for now, we are buying a few pounds of meat from a local farm a couple of times a month. This is usually ground beef and stew beef. Our local farmer's market has a winter market once a month and we will buy chicken there. We eat meat about once a week. It is usually included in a soup or hot dish. When we cook a roast or a roasting chicken every things gets used. First a meat and potatoes sort of meal, then a soup or enchiladas ( or both) and then a stock is cooked and canned for soups later.

If we decide to grow a pig in the future we hope to share the pig with another person to defray the costs. It really is a lot of meat and we do not eat that much of it. We would also grow a couple of crops, such as pumpkins and mangles to finish the pig on. We would also forage acorns for it as well.

We have moved to natural grains for our sheep. It is a mix of corn, oats, barley and molasses. This is a feed mixture that can be feed to all animals which means that we can purchase it in bulk and keep our feed costs down and feed it to any other critters we may have. It also is partially, locally sourced grains. We pondered organic feeds but they are really pricey. We also do not want to use commercial feed pellets because we really want to know what our animals are eating.

As for dairy that is a mix bag from many sources. We eat Cabot Cheese which is a co-op that buys milk from Maine. We drink Oakhurst milk which is also the distributor for Moo MilkAnd I buy organic raw milk from the natural foods store to make yogurt. Kate's homemade butter is produced in Maine.

I have approached yogurt making off and on over the years. But I recently have begun making it on a regular basis when I realized that if I bought a quart of yogurt at the store it was nearly three dollars for the quart but if I buy the organic milk I can make two quarts of yogurt for 3.00. No brainer. And, I am not trying to figure out what to do with all those yogurt containers. I buy my culture from Dairy Connection. I bought Yogourmet when I started. It can be found in the refrigerated section of the healthfood store. From the yogurt, I can make yogurt cheese.

But my home dairy pursuits may be expanding. We have some friends in town that want to get a family cow. They called to see if we would be interested in buying milk from them. I said that we would be. So soon, we will be getting several gallons of raw milk a week from them. It is my hope to start making mozzarella cheese with some of this milk. I think I will start with this kit. Some of the reading that I have done says that you can freeze mozzarella cheese so this is something that would be easy to make in several batches a month. Our friends also have a cream separator so we will also be able to get cream to make butter and ice cream!

As for eggs. Well, alas, the beautiful barred rock above is from our flock from last year. But when we put our house on the market we passed our hens and roosters on to a friend. So for now we buy local eggs from the local feed store. As soon as we are settled we plan to get some more ladies ( but no gents) and we will have eggs again.

Next week I will discuss veggies and fruits.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

One small change update

I have not used one plastic bag since the beginning of the month. I feel all puffed chest and proud! I really think for me it is a matter of just trying not to leave the housed rushed. Well, it might also have to do with it is too darn cold to go anywhere (yup, Zero Degrees this morning), thus we are not spending any money. Win win! It has become something I have been very intentional about.

I plan to make a couple of more bags this coming week to fill out our bag collection and I was thinking that all the old, hole ridden and stained bags might serve well as liners for my new bags. Keep the pretty on the outside:)

I have also been thinking of stepping it up a bit. I have seen patterns for bring your own veggie bags. So, when I head into town this week I think I will find the material I would need for this as well.

Are practicing One Small Change? How is it going for you?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Evan's morning

To Dad:
Today I played in the snow. Boy, was it cold! Then I spoke to you on the phone for a little while. Afterwards, I helped mom grind the flour and make crackers. I read stories while the crackers baked and then I ate a few:) Yum! Then momma and I read stories. I love Woolbur. It was a great morning but I need to take a nap. Hope you had good day!
Love, Evan

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Money ....sigh...

" Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money but you can't get more time."--John Rohn

Isn't it the truth! In our house, we are in the midst of transition in the way that we relate to money which feels more like a significant paradigm shift. Some of this is reflective of what is occurring in the broader economy but most of it has evolved from our own personal circumstances. We have a place to go, we just have to figure out how to get there.

So here is our history. Hubby is still living 2 hours a way during the work week. He has been doing this since September when school began. He will be doing this all school year. This is very difficult on our family. He gets home on Friday evening and is gone early Monday morning. It had been our hope that we could rent our current home while it was on the market and rent another home in the area that hubby works. But ( isn't there always a but) after spending a significant amount of our reserves on getting our current home ready to put on the market, we didn't have much money for moving. We had some for an off-grid home. But when we pondered our hay bill and a little more wood for the season we realized that one major car repair would leave us in absolute straights. This, also, was not taking into account any moving expenses, some repairs to the off-grid home that would be needed to live in it for the winter. Well, gotta be grown up sometimes. So we realized that we had to do something different but we weren't quite sure what this meant...yet.

Right before Thanksgiving we found a home where Hubby works which would fit the bill. It is a lovely 2 bedroom, passive solar, hand crafted home on 7 acres with mature fruit trees and pasture for our sheep. We can purchase it through owner-financing until our current home and land sell. We made an offer for 65,000 and the owner accepted our offer. We need a 10% down payment. We have worked out an arrangement with the seller so that we can move into it by June.

Well, and then the bus broke down again and hubby had to take the car I normally use. I can tell you for a few weeks there we felt like it was never raining but always pouring. We had to take out a small loan to buy a new second hand car. Boy did that stink! We really need 2 reliable cars right now.

Not having the car for almost a month enforced some new habits; getting a car loan during the holiday season enforced some new habits as well.

As a couple we have always felt that we were responsible with money. When I met hubby, he was in the middle of paying off his credit card debt. I had a credit card with a very small line of credit. Hubby has his student loans. I cancelled my credit card. Hubby paid his off. We only buy second hand cars. We put a money in savings every month. In all the ways that folks share about being frugal we have practiced them. We buy second hand. Our electric bill is only 30.00 a month. We grow most of our produce and buy in bulk. WE have one cell phone because Hubby is away for the week. But we weren't really paying attention to our money. Our checking account never dropped below zero but if there was an expense we had not anticipated we would just take the money out of savings. Sure the balance would drop a bit but there would always be that extra gig hubby would have to help replenish it. This may have worked just fine for us if we want to keep the status quo. But as we have already established status quo is keeping our family apart.

So, although we knew how to live within our means; we hadn't really practiced savings in any meaningful way. Something else needed to happen. One of the first things that we decided was to have kitchen table conversations about money every weekend that Hubby is home. We have always been able to talk about money. We found we just weren't talking about money in the right way. We needed to anticipate where expenditures outside normal expenses would occur and how we would manage the payment of them.. We needed to understand where our money would go. We needed to, if not necessarily budget, understand what parameters we were functioning under. With essentially two households right now, money, with all the weight and possibilities it holds, had to be more intentional.

So how does this look. First and foremost, we have just stopped spending money on anything we do not need. We budget for gas, expected groceries, miscellaneous expenses, and sheep feed. We sit down and do this together. I used to be the one to do the grocery list and sometimes it would grow with extras on it. Now it is a list that is adhered to like glue. Hubby would pick up a six pack on occasion, we might on a whim go out for breakfast. These are now considered extras and we mutually agree on whether the money is there for them. We anticipate how much gas we will use during the week and how much we will need to purchase.

We looked at the way we paid our bills. Hubby gets paid every other week. This is new to us this year. He used to be paid weekly. We found that when we were paying a couple of our larger bills with one check, we looked at the other check as the one to spend a little extra on. We were able to rearrange or even out the bills that we were better able to see where the surplus cash was hiding.

We anticipate future expenditures. Hubby needs a part for the bus. We need to paint our bathroom. The handy man is coming in February. The old car has inspection in March. In the past we would withdraw the money from savings to handle these. Now we include these in our operating expenses.

Ultimately all this is being done to build up that savings account. Hubby is teaching music lessons after school, all extra money from that goes into savings. Any extra money left over before the next paycheck is deposited gets put into savings. Give our current approach we anticipate putting in at least 400.00 a month into savings. This is the minimum expectation. But with prudent money management we hope it will be more. Bottom line is that if the money goes into savings, it doesn't come out.

Well, so this is how we are approaching this but the lessons we are learning are so much greater. We are learning to use it up. We use up all the leftovers in the fridge. Except for a small wipe down ,the fridge should never need a purge. We've been big practitioners of the wear it out mantra. We really are learning to make do. This involves tapping into a deep well of creativity which is exciting on many levels. We are learning to do without. This can be an uncomfortable place sometimes. It is so easy to just run to the store to get a do-hicky, thingy-ma-bob just because the whim requires it. We just tell ourselves it is for a greater cause.

Our short term hope is to be together as a family by summer. A long term goal is take the lessons learned from this paradigm shift to explore deeper meanings of living simply, without debt. We know we have a way to go. But once all the particulars shake out we have discussed finally paying off that student loan, and then working to get mortgage free.

It comes down to this simply. This weekend Hubby and I were discussing what we would do with the extra monthly cash we will have when we no longer are paying on our land. We agreed that we should put that towards paying off his student loan. Once this is done the amount of money to pay off the loan ( given the extra we would pay) amounts to 3 days of work a month.
Time he could spend pursing his music career. Time he could spend building up his sheep shearing business. Time he could be at home.

Pretty cool huh?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Business Stuff

Well, so, I thought with the New Year I would de-clutter the blog in some ways but add to it in other ways. So, yes, there is a new look but I also wanted to point you in the direction of my Daily Reads. It is an eclectic blend of blogs. There are blogs about peak oil and resource depletion, there are blogs about gardening and homesteading, crafty mama blogs,homeschooling and Ikea hackers;). Roam around and enjoy the diversity!

Food Friday, Eating from Food storage

As one of my New Year refinements I promised to share how we manage to eat only from our food storage during the winter. Today, I will focus on how we manage bulk foods.

Last year, we were getting many of our grains from natural food stores and regular grocery stores. But over the last year, we opened an Associated Buyers account and now we order all of our grains, oils, sweeteners, teas, some legumes that are not available locally from them and cleaning products for body and home. I order from them 3-4 times a year.

Associated Buyers is the same company that serves as a distributor to many health food stores in our region. But they also will serve buying clubs (buying co-ops without a storefront). We are able to get wholesale prices when we purchase food from them; which allows us to eat good food much cheaper. A minimum order is 350.00. I let friends know when I am making an order so if there is anything they would like, I add it to my order. One added benefit of purchasing some of our food this way is that Associated Buyers carries foods that are produced in Maine. So I can get a 5lb jar of Swan's honey, seaweeds such as dulse and nori, along with many other value added foods grown right here in Maine.

The one challenge to ordering food this way is storing the food. I could buy food in smaller portions but then my cost goes up on the product. For some things I order, like raisins, I will have them broken down into 5lb increments because the larger size offered is more money than I intend to spend. But for things like grains and beans I order them in 25 or 50lb bags. For these larger quantities I store them in 5 gallon buckets with gamma seal lids. Inside each bucket the food is kept in the plastic bag it came in. The key to this sort of food storage is keeping things air tight and bug free. So I will put these items in the chest freezer for a day to kill any crawly critters before I put them in the buckets. I don't keep pasta in these bucket because we eat a lot of it. I order about 30lbs.. I order only organic whole wheat spiral rotini. It comes in 10 pound increments which is packaged inside a plastic bag inside a box.

What is the advantage of buying bulk food like this? Well, first, I have to be much more intentional about the food I am preparing for my family. I don't just walk through the grocery store loading up a cart and worry about the sticker shock when I get to the checkout. Granted, I have to come up with a large amount of money, usually about 350.00 3-4 times a year. But the rest of the money I spend on food is much less during the intervals. This time of year I average about 150.00 a month for a family of four on local meat,local eggs, Cabot cheese in the 2lb blocks, milk and raw milk for making yogurt and pet food. Second, I only order food I know my family will eat in order to reduce waste. If there is something new we might be interested in trying, I buy it in a smaller quantity at the health food store and try several recipes with it before purchasing a larger quantity. Associated Buyers sells many of the name brand organic products for fridge and freezer too, but we usually only buy from the bulk portion of their catalog because it is less packaging and more economical this way. Third, it is just healthier. I do all my cooking from scratch and all of it consists of whole grains, produce from my garden or local foodshed, and local meats. Lastly, food storage is food security. During these tough and uncertain economic times having a store of food provides a cushion if there are any disruptions to the household budget.

To end, I would like to share one of our favorite snacks. We order popcorn in bulk. Yup. Simple fare but always satisfying. I will make a batch of popcorn in the morning while I am making breakfast if we are going to be about town that day. This way I have a snack in the car and will not feel tempted to buy something quick to eat at the store; especially if the hungry beasties from the back seat start to growl. To cook popcorn from scratch put a a few tablespoons of canola oil and about a cup ( I'm just guessing here because I usually eyeball it) of popcorn in a good size pot. On the stove top, turn heat up medium high. Let it warm and it will start popping in the pan. Do not open pan until popping has stopped, not only because you don't want popcorn popping everywhere, but also because you don't want to loose heat while it is popping. When it is all done popping I will sprinkle with a little nutritional yeast and dill weed. This really doesn't take much longer to cook than that microwave stuff and it is much better for you.

Next week I will discuss how we manage meats and dairy.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Baggin' it!

Well, it has been a few days into the New Year and I am putting into practice my One Small Change. For this month I have chosen to forgo all plastic bags. This past weekend I realized that one of the reasons I may be forgetting my bags is that I have had them for a long time. I've accrued them over the years from thrift stores, donations to good causes. They are stained, holey and some of the handles have broken off. So Hubby and I put our collective creativity together and made some new bags.

Hubby repurposed the feed bag into a grocery bag. We have a few more of this sort of plastic weave bag around and will be making a few more.

I made the patchwork bag to hold my knitting ( which has been christened by a water bottle some little person put in it while we were about today). All the materials for the patchwork were from stash, old jeans and finds from yard sales. I also put a tool pocket inside the bag for easy reach of the tools I use most often.

Wee one wanted a new bag too. His library bag was also well worn out, so he got a new one for the new year. I think Scruffer kitty would like one too!
So today was the first chance I have had to remember the bags. I went to Marden's, a salvage store, for .75 fat quarters for more patchwork. While digging in my wallet for the cash to pay, I heard the clerk open a plastic bag. I told her that I did not need a bag and I added that it was a New Year's resolution to stop using plastic bags ( gotta spread the word;). We went to the healthfood store next and I used a cloth bag there as well. I think that it is easier to remember to use my bags when I go to the grocery store but I have a tendency to forget when I go to other retailers.

I also made a linen bread bag for keeping homemade bread in. I had an old linen table cloth that had been stained by one feast too many and saw this idea at Soule Mama. I am still a novice at the sewing machine but I am having a blast with the process. Next project is to make some take-a-long produce bags. Oh and all those old bags, well, they will be mended and patched because they are still useful!

Friday, January 1, 2010

One small change and New Year hopes...

I have joined Hip Mountain Mama in her "One Small Change" Challenge. The idea is that small changes can make a big difference. We live fairly lite on the earth here at Fleecenik Farm but it is so easy to slip, it is easy to take the easier road, dismiss the one plastic bag because it is only one bag. But it all adds up ( as the cache of plastic bags in the cupboard prove) So for the month of January my one small step will be to be very diligent about bringing my fabric bags with me everywhere I go and to remember to bring them into the store when I do go to the store. It is the small changes that create better habits.

As for New Year's resolutions I am going to take a different approach this year. Each year there is a list of things I hope to do. You know the typical stuff: exercise more, eat better. Well, inevitably, I do not fulfill these goals. It is January and my natural inclination this time of year is to hibernate. This hibernation is always a good time of year for me. I feed my creativity, explore and learn new things. I nap. I play. I bake. I read cookbooks. Why would I want to deny the pleasure I get from this yearly rhythm?

Instead, I am going to strive to improve what is working already. This is not to say that there are not goals I want to accomplish. I want to open an Etsy Shop this year. But the shop is just an extension of a family goal.

Anyway, in the effort to improve what is working already, there are several areas in my life as a domestic goddess that I would like to refine. We have been doing really well with eating from food storage these past couple of months. What has not worked, in this regard, is my documentation on this blog. So I will be making a weekly post about how we are managing this, with recipes! Sometimes I have found that we spend more on food when we are on the road. So I would like be more diligent about cooking food to take with us.

Money is an area of our lives that we have been looking really hard at lately. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you have been following our family's travails as hubby lives two hours away during the week. He has been home for 2 weeks and goes back to work on Monday. We have accepted that this may be the way our lives are for the rest of the school year. But we don't have to be victim to circumstance. We have found a potential home that we can owner finance. We need 10% down for a down payment. We will have the needed amount by June 1st if we follow a very austere savings/ money management regimen. We have been paying attention to every penny and find that there is all sorts of extra money in our budget if we just pay attention to where is all goes. I plan to write more about this as I share some things I have discovered over the last month.

I would also like to give more attention to working with what I have on hand. My handmade Christmas did not require the purchase of vast amounts of materials ( partially because I have a bit of a yarn stash). Anyway, I have several home projects I would like to work on this winter that require me to use paint and fabric I have on hand. I would like to explore kid crafts while working with what we have on hand.

I have learned to embrace hibernation and the introspection that comes with this time of year. I look forward to sharing our continuing adventures this coming year!