Monday, October 31, 2011

Our Urban Homestead

 As we have said before we are Urban Homesteaders, basically farmers without the farm, so our little home sits in a quite little subdivision, and if you didn't know us you would have no clue who or what this house and the people in it are capable of doing.
 Some people pride themselves in the size of their home, how well decorated it is, and how many new electronic toys and gadgets they have.  In our house we pride ourselves on how many productive, self sufficient tasks we can complete.  This goal makes for a very busy and sometimes messy home.  Racey and I often say that our house is torn apart and put back together multiple times a day just because we work in it.
 This type of life style can't be lived by just one person in the family.  It takes a group of people working toward the same goal.  When our journey first started, Racey and I were the only ones on board.  Layna was the first of the kids to come around and consider some of the benefits that could be had by living this kind of lifestyle.  She had lived on her own for over a year and knew the price of food, utilities, toiletries, etc.. I must admit McKenna and McClane have both been good sports as well. This is a family operation that takes all of us but benefits the entire family.

I took this picture an hour ago showing Eddie and Racey chopping wood for the fire tonight.  If they're not careful it turns into a little "male ego" competition to see who can get the biggest stack!

Racey and Eddie worked and sweated all through this last hot summer so we would have enough wood to make it through the winter without having to buy any.  Now Racey is all stingy about when he will start a fire because he worked so hard on it.  In years past our fires were for entertainment purposes only and now they are primarily for heating (so he says!)

Heat is not the only thing that we have to stay on top of.  Laundry is a constant battle like it is in every household, and considering we don't use our electric dryer except for rainy day emergencies or when I really need to fluff what has dried on the outside line for a minute or two if it's overly 'crunchy'.

McClane is a typical teenager who frowns every time I pull the camera out!  He said this was woman's work and he didn't want me to take his picture doing laundry when he had been chopping wood just a few minutes before!  "Woman's work!" I said. Then he gave me a goofy smile so I would leave him alone and not smother him with that nice clean laundry!

Well it's Halloween evening, McKenna has worked all day outside the home and I have a hot dinner ready for her and everyone else.  We will start a small fire, open the front door, turn the porch light on and welcome all the little ghouls and goblins to our little urban homestead!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Snow On The Pumpkin

I woke up this morning feeling all warn and toasty till I climbed out of the bed.  It was a little chilly in the house, so I grabbed the throw blanket off the couch and mosied over to the weather station.  Why I do this I don't know, it's like I need modern technology to confirm my feeling of being hot or cold!  The weather station read 58° indoor and 44° outside.  Technically, this temp qualifies us to turn the heat on or start a fire in the rules and regulations of our self imposed Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2011-2012.

But with it being 10:30 am., and McClane gone to church, I figured the two knuckle heads that came up with this idea could tough it out 2°.

So I took my blanket and sat down at the computer for a little surfing and what was the first story I came across? Millions left without power and several deaths attributed to rare October snow. What? Rare October snow?!?  Where? Maybe here!  I run and look out our window and then the ferries pop me in the head and remind me I live in the devils pocket here in the south!  It couldn't possible snow till say ... who really knows anymore.  So I'm left with my "Prepper" wheels turning.  If our friends from Virginia to Massachusetts (who normally get a ton of snow) are caught unprepared for this type of event what can we do to possibly prepare ourselves for a tough winter.

Here are a few things I came up with for the average family who traditionally does not worry about things like this, but wants to cover their bases this winter.
  • If you have a fireplace have at least 3-5 days worth of DRY wood available even if you don't normally use your fireplace.  If you're not familiar with fire starting, have some type of fire starter logs to help start it and keep it going.  If the power is out you will want some way to warm the house.  Even if you have a gas furnace the blower won't run.
  • If you don't have a fireplace and there is no power for a period of time you should have enough heavy blankets for each person in the household.
  • If you are lucky enough to have a generator (you know who you are /e sticks tongue out at him) have enough gas to run it for 3-5 days.  This part is very important! What good is this recourse if you can't get the gas to run it.
  • Have a full tank of propane for your gas grill.  If you don't have a gas grill you should have at least one or two large bags of charcoal.  Not only can you cook this way you can heat water for bathing of little ones. 
  • Have two or three preplanned hot meals in the pantry that can help keep the family warm.  Soups, chili, casseroles, etc.
  • Water, Water, Water. Did I mention Water?  If you have no power or it's extremely cold, it's only a mater of time till the pipes freeze.  Bare subsistence calls for at least two gallons per person per day. This amount is what you will drink, cook with, and use for personal hygiene.  If you are like me and either can't afford or don't want a huge drum of water in the garage then at least start saving your empty plastic soda or juice bottles.  Fill and prepare them for storage before there is an emergency.
  • For those of you who have little ones still in diapers or Pull-Ups you should have at least one spare package that you don't touch till you are ready to move to the next size.  There is nothing more nerve racking than bad weather and a little one who is low on diapers! The same goes for formula.
  • Serve hot drinks, whether it's hot chocolate or coffee, broth, soups, etc.. This is a easy way to keep little ones warm and still get a little food into them.  You can easily heat these things on a gas or charcoal grill if need be. 
I know this seems like a lot to prepare for a situation that might never occur, but remember last year!  We had unusually heavy shows here in Georgia that left a lot of us stuck in our homes for nearly three days.  Racey tried to go out once just to get to a store that's barely a mile away and couldn't even get the car up a tiny little hill because it was so icy.  Remember, it's always better to have and not need than to need and not have.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Home Cooking Saturday - Meatloaf

Today's Homecooking Saturday meal is meatloaf.  Meatloaf is one of those dishes that can be prepared countless ways and have countless ingredients.  In our house several people claim they don't like many of the ingredients in traditional meatloaf so I tend to lean towards fewer ingredients. As their taste grow and change I slowly add a few items into the mix.

Here is what I start with:
  • 1 1/2 pounds of lean ground beef
  • 1 1/2 pounds of ground pork
  • Homemade bread crumbs
  • 2 farm eggs
  • 1/2 cup of homemade onion soup mix (dry)
  • Water
  • Ketchup

First I mix the beef and pork until well blended. If you have a free standing mixer this is very helpful, but if not, no biggie.  Just recruit whoever has the biggest, strongest hands in the family.

Next I incorporate all the ingredients listed above.  If your family likes any of the extra ingredients such as whole sliced onions, bell peppers, brown sugar, dry mustard, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, etc. this is the time to add it.

Since I just blogged about the The Tools of My Trade, I wanted to take a picture of my meatloaf pan. This is a fairly new item that has been added to my toolbox in the last year. I love it!  Notice how it has two pans that nest inside each other. The one on top has holes in the bottom to allow the grease to drain off the meat.  This is  very convenient and reduced the amount of grease in the meat. I also have a Pampered Chef stoneware pan that I have used for 10+ years that was my favorite and still runs a close second to this one.

You might want to lightly grease your pan with a little oil if it's not seasoned well so the loaf doesn't stick to the pan.  Divide the meatloaf into two portions and pack it into the loaf pans.  I used three pounds of meat because I wanted to make two loaves at once and freeze one for a later meal.  This is a really easy way to feed your family a home cooked meal when the time you have to work in the kitchen is just not there!

Lastly you will want to place the meatloaf in a preheated oven @ 350 and bake for one hour.  If your pan doesn't have drainage holes like mine then you'll want to drain some of the grease off as it cooks.  After an hour if you have a meat thermometer you can temp the loaf to verify if it's done in the middle. The temp should be between 165-170 degrees.  If it's not at the proper temp continue to bake until done.

Once it's done I drizzled it with additional ketchup and put it back in the oven to brown or glaze.

Meatloaf is easy to reheat as a leftover.   If you have never tried, a heated meatloaf sandwich the day after it has been cooked you are missing out.  Here are a few different recipes your family might enjoy.

I really hope this meal makes it into your recipe box.  Trust me, your family will love you all the more for it!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gone to the dogs!

Tonight I cooked sauteed beef tips, quartered new potatoes and boiled with salt, pepper and butter, made white rice for McClane, and roasted a head of cauliflower.  Last but not least I whipped up some homemade brown gravy from the sauteed beef drippings!  Yes, I know my southern roots are showing here but bless my heart!  Anyway to the point here... Woofus, my little Maltese, was the only loved one other than myself who would try the cauliflower.  He LOVED it!  Every time he finished a piece he was snorting and 'woofing' for more.

Normally this behavior is annoying and gets him tossed in the kennel, but tonight it was nice to have at least one male in the house who didn't turn their nose up at the cauliflower.  I loved it and even if no one else eats it I'm going to keep making it for me and the dog!

So what's the motto here..... umm... the neighborhood, um, I mean, the dinner, has gone to the dogs!

See you guys tomorrow!  Saturday will feature another installment of Homecooking Saturday, so please stop by sometime this weekend.  Also, Racey is working on a really large piece of content that will be added in the next several days sometime (and it's so long it'll probably take you several days to read the darn thing) so keep your eye out for that.  Between the two of us, I'm the whimsical, non-grammatically correct one and he's the long-on-facts-and-information-and-short-on-whimsy one.  We hope we're both worth reading  =)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Give Love Instead of Stuff This Year

    With Christmas being eight weeks from today, the question of whether Christmas on a budget is really possible begins to consume my thoughts.  I've had excessive spending years, I've had lean gift giving years, and I really can't remember one Christmas being better than the other.  I know at the time I probably thought more gifts would equal a richer holiday experience, but in my memory I can't recall what year was what.  That realization and the frightful economy has helped me move to a "less is more" approach this year.

Give homemade!

    This year we've told the grown kids and family that we would not be giving or receiving gifts.  That doesn't mean we aren't celebrating the holiday, we're just doing it a little differently this year.  We'll still decorate the house, drive through town enjoying the lights, and watch our favorite Christmas movies.  We'll still indulge in all the wonderful food of the season and listen to Christmas music till the youngest ones in the family know the songs by heart.  The only thing we're not doing is buying gifts.  This year our focus is on spending quality time with our loved ones and enjoying the most stress free Christmas we can imagine.

    Most people I know enjoy shopping for a day or two, but after that they dread standing in lines, fighting traffic, and circling the parking lot.  Then there are those who would usually be on our gift list who already have everything, and what they don't have are things you could never afford.  To make shopping easier, many of us have moved toward online shopping or buying gift cards to help ease this burden.  Notice the word I used there?  Did it catch your eye?  I said BURDEN!  Is that what the holiday should involve?  We think not!

Simple doesn't mean "less"!

Here are a few things to consider before you start to run and buy things from the store:
  • Do you buy or exchange gifts just because that is what your family has always done or because it's standard for our culture?  If so, is that really a good reason?
  •  Do you worry about the quality of the gift or do you get something just to get something?
  • Is it any way a burden on your budget?
  • Do you use credit cards to purchase gifts then carry a balance after Christmas?
  •  Can you even remember all the things you bought for everyone you bought for last year?  What about the year before that?  Do they even still have whatever it is you bought?
  • Have you ever re-gifted an item?  If so then the person who bought that gift wasted their money, and the same goes for you when the person you buy a gift for re-gifts it.
  •  Is all this really what holiday time is about ?

    Every family has different expectations, resources, and traditions.  You certainly don't need to adopt our model if yours is working fine and you're happy with everything exactly as it is.  We just suggest you take a moment and evaluate what really matters the most to you about the holidays and tweak your plans until it brings the most happiness to the most important people in the least burdensome way possible.  Do that and you'll be sure to have a Merry Christmas! 

Monday, October 24, 2011

What Kind of Nut Are You?

The last three to four days have been very trying in the Cave household!  We have been without phones, and a steady working internet all weekend.  Just when a page would load the connection would drop and you were back at square one!  Which for me was speaking very evil things to a block of plastic.  Racey had tons of Chemistry homework that was all online, and I had plenty of online work that needed to be done for our new cottage industry we've started, and we just sat here staring at a little hourglass pretending like it was loading!  Let me tell you that is enough to drive this woman insane.

All this got me thinking about how "off the grid" we want to be and how far we have to go...  We have ditched our cable TV, DVD membership, online games (Xbox Live), cell phones, one car, credit cards etc., but the one thing we did keep was our internet.  This still seems like an essential tool for us.  It allows us to conduct business, pay bills, talk with friends and family, and pretty much entertain ourselves.  Most all of us remember when the internet became available to the common household.  It was something that was a pure luxury.  Life and business did not revolve it like it does today.  There is literately only a handful of things that you still have to do in person.  All this seems like a step forward for us but it all hinges on a few things... power, satellite communication, and

Now let me say that we claim to be many things in this household, from urban homesteaders, to frugal , to environmentally aware sustainable consumers to preppers.   The term prepper is a lose term for someone who prepares for the unwanted.  You have all shades of preppers from the Armageddon type to the ones who live in earth quake zones and want to have enough batteries and drinking water to last until help arrives.  We are somewhere in the middle.  We are not total nuts like say Walnuts, we are more the Legume variety like the p-nut!  This weekend reminded me that when normal life is interrupted for whatever reason you need to have back-ups in place.  For us it was something simple like lack of ability to communicate or conduct business, and in our modern culture this is something that doesn't have a easy solution, but there are things you can do to help you get through till things are up and running again.

Here is a list that will help me next time.
  • Don't wait to the last minute to take care of things
  • Have paper back-ups of phone numbers, account numbers, addresses (with direction if your GPS can't connect) 
  • Patience... in large quanities!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tools of My Trade

Have you ever noticed how men tend to have tons of tools?  It seems like every new project requires a new tool until they reach 55 yrs. old or so, and by that time they have acquired every possible tool under the sun.  It's really no different for the homemaker.  We need special tools to do our job as well.  Have you ever tried to bake a bundt cake without a bundt pan, or peal an entire bushel of apples with out an Apple Peeler Corer Slicer?  I have and let me tell you it's no fun! 

This is a china cabinet I bought to display my nice dishes several years ago.  It became a display case of special items that I wanted to look at but not really touch or use except for twice a year.  As we began to down size and started cooking most everything we eat from scratch I realized how ill equipped my current set up and supplies were.  I had just enough space in the kitchen to get irritated.  Our knife collection consisted of one lonely knife who you had to strike a deal with before it would cut, and a mis-matched set of flaking non-stick cookware.  So I decided to convert my china cabinet into a working unit.  Out came all the "too nice to use" items and in went the things I used everyday, or at least once a week.

As you can see I have many different types of tools in here now.  On the bottom right, are two bowls with different types of flour for biscuit and bread making.  On the top shelf is the apple peeler I mentioned above and the remaining items ranging from colanders to mixing bowls to canning funnels.  I keep a small open dish of salt for easy measuring, and a ton of little things in the flatware divider in the middle.  This is now a useful piece of furniture that assist me in my daily routines.  Our kitchen is a working kitchen so the contents of this cabinet change as often as they need to.

This was not the only conversion in our kitchen.  We decided to make our kitchen table an island.  This was in the middle of the kitchen and living area so we figured it could be used to prep most everything and since we clean as we go, it would be clean and free for use at mealtime.  I placed a container I found at Goodwill in the center and filled it with hand towels, knives, and other prepping equipment.  When we sit at the table I just move the container and we have a dining room table again.

If your kitchen seems like it's not working for you, take some time to think about what you're missing that would make life easier.  If it's tools or utensils, hunt Goodwill, second hand stores, Craigslist, and especially estate sales.   If it's space, think about how you could extend your working area.   We more than doubled our 'kitchen' space by doing just a little re-arranging and re-thinking.  If you make your space work for you, it makes it much more enjoyable to work in your space!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

How Low Do You Go?

As the cold front moved in today I was reminded of our goal to use little to no natural gas heat this winter.  We have worked all summer collecting free firewood and plan to heat as much as possible with only that.  In all honesty, the only way for us to use NO gas heat is for the gas company to come shut the meter off!  We are just too modern and our bodies aren't accustomed to adjusting to such sharp increases or decreases in temperature.  Have you ever seen fat people shiver?  It's not pretty! But my philosophy is that you've got to start somewhere and this is how we're drawing the line in the sand on the utility issue.

What temperature do you set your thermostat at?  70 degrees... 68 degrees?  Or are you one of the wild ones who goes as low as 65 degrees?  We typically are the 66 to 68 degree family with a fire in the fireplace as often as we can manage, and I have no problem cooking and baking in the winter.  I consider all the warmth I'm generating just by actually cooking with something other than a microwave or crock-pot to be free heat.

Well this year we are shooting for a fire in the fireplace most days, and a general setting of 60 on the thermostat.  Guess who is getting zip-up footie jammies for Christmas!!! (J/K) Racey said I could have and wear them but as soon as I touched one toe on the bedroom floor I better find something else to wear!  lol!  McClane is going to fuss, I can hear it already... but what do you do.  Natural gas is a non-renewable resource and we as a planet are using it at an unsustainable rate.  Last year several reports came out showing how we almost ran out of natural gas up north.  As it becomes more scarce, and the price continues to increase how do you plan to deal with this issue?  I'm not recommending no heating or only wood heating because that's usually not sustainable either (unless you personally plant bunches of trees every year) but we need to start thinking about how we will deal with changing times.

I popped down stairs and checked our current temp at 7:00 pm and the thermostat read 64 degrees!  Since it's just October 19, and this is the first real day of cold this season I think we have our work cut out for us.  What do you think?

Racey throwing a snowball at me

All joking aside, here is the Freeze Yer Buns challenge I discovered last year at the end of winter.  This is half of what helped me see what a real issue this is.  Even if you think we are crazy and you know your spouse would never go for something like this, just give it a look.  It's good information to know.

Btw, I'm free to house sit any frigid night this winter! ;-)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Where is all our money going?

How do you know when something is a good deal?  Do you wait for the store to put it on sale?  Do you compare brands, prices, quantity, even different stores?  Or do you just buy what you need and hope the money last till the next pay day?  Several women I know have taken the time to put together a price journal of the items they purchase on a regular basis.  This is a working journal that changes depending on your ability to source better deals, sales and inflation.  We started keeping track of our items in February of this year. Each time I return from the store I save the receipt to log the price I paid for the item in my journal.  This helps me see what is going up and what is going down.  If something is increasing then that is an item I began to actively source somewhere else.  It also becomes an item that I keep my eye open for coupons for and sales of that item.  Sometimes I've already found the lowest price in which case I use coupons and sales to get it for a lower cost, but sometimes the price is just increasing overall. 

See Honey! I'm saving us money by buying in bulk!
Have you ever asked yourself "where is all our money going?"  You know there are no new big ticket items sitting around the house, you haven't gotten a new wardrobe lately, and, heck, you can't even remember the last time you splurged on something other than the really cushy toilet paper!  You are working the same hours, maybe even more, but still you are coming up short.  When you keep a price journal it's easy to see if the culprit is price inflation.  This information is helpful when planning or adjusting your budget.  If you see that your grocery bill has risen 15% in the last six months then you know some other expense is going to have to reduce in order to maintain the same budget. 

In our journey many things have gotten the boot.  We've disconnected our cable television, ditched our cell phones, and severely limited fast food.  These things aren't bad or evil, we simply can't afford them.  Ask yourself... Who are you trying to impress?  I honestly can't say I miss these things... they were just something I was accustomed to.  I grew up on fast food and convenience.  My mom was a young, single mom who worked a full-time job at minimum wage until she was able to move forward a little.  There was literally no time to do anything for herself.  We cleaned our own house, and Saturday was the day it was cleaned from top to bottom with no exceptions.  Quite simply, we were broke.  We ate cheap food, wore used or discounted clothes, and my mom worked her butt off just to keep things going, but somehow she did.

Maybe you're in this situation.  Maybe you're fortunate enough to have a good education and a supportive spouse. Whatever your circumstances are, keeping track of your expenditures is the only way to move forward.  That way you'll know where you stand and how you can continue to move forward.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Emergency: Starve or Thrive?

    Since 2008, the U.S., along with the rest of the world, has been in seriously dire financial straits and the view from where we're sitting doesn't look like things will be improving anytime soon.  If anything, the "experts" say we are headed for round two which will be worse than the last three years.  I know a lot of people who have already lost their jobs, cars, homes, credit, savings, and don't have a lot left to lose!  The entire world is on the brink of financial disaster, we are having protests at home, riots abroad, etc. and no one has a solution.

With a high likelihood of difficult financial and sociopolitical times ahead, what are you doing to prepare your family to make it through should things get really tough?

We've had a difficult time addressing all of our concerns here at our house.  If our preparation for 'disaster' was something along the lines of the steps normally taken to prepare for a short term emergency such as a hurricane or even flooding, the issue would be more clear cut.  It would be easy to target specific areas of preparedness, such as having a 72 hour water supply for a hurricane and a few boxes of candles, batteries, and maybe a hand-crank radio along with the requisite stockpiles of food.  However, the approaching storm seems to present a much deeper and wider set of possible problems which, should they hit hard, have a high probability of persisting for a much longer time than a measly three days.

One problem with real potential to occur is a sudden spike in food and energy prices.  These two areas of concern are of such close correlation they can hardly be separated.  The United States has already seen a substantial increase in both food and energy prices over the last 18 months or so.  If the current Iranian issue really came to a head, the closing of the Suez canal by Iran would immediately put oil, and thus gasoline prices, through the roof.  We got a taste of gasoline price hikes and shortages not too long ago here due to a hurricane which damaged a few Texas refineries, and it quickly came to the point of truckers, especially owner-operators, simply not being able to afford to put their rig on the road.  During the recovery after the hurricane, gas was so limited if people saw a gasoline tanker on the road they would literally follow it until it pulled in at a gas station and immediately take a place at a pump.  Once word got out that a station had gas they were mobbed with lines of cars that stretched for miles.  To secure gas for the family vehicle, Racey had to go and wait in a line for nearly two hours at 3:00 a.m. to get some. 

The translation of energy costs and shortages into food is direct.  Many people are unaware of it, but nearly all grocery stores restock their supply of goods approximately every 24-36 hours.  As soon as our nations fleet of trucks stops delivering their precious cargo on a regular, uninterrupted basis, the food in the grocery stores will be either limited or gone within a single day.  Even if the supply lines remain intact, if the cost of diesel were to go up even a few dollars, the price of the food and other goods being hauled by those trucks still on the road would almost instantly increase accordingly.  Have you considered the impact on your family of bread reaching $5 per loaf?  How about milk jumping to $8 a gallon?  What if the price of nearly all food jumped a modest 20%?  Our budget certainly couldn't accommodate such an event.

In response to these concerns, we've tried to learn all we can about food preservation as well as how to cook from scratch.  If you're not used to cooking from scratch you'd be surprised at the variety of foods that can be prepared from staples such as wheat, corn, and oats. We've spent a fair amount of time learning how to make everything we can from the staples so we don't rely on things like Bisquick for pancakes or Pillsbury for biscuits.  Stockpiling staples does little good if you're unfamiliar with how to cook with them.  During a crisis isn't usually the best time to learn so we advise starting immediately as time appears to be growing short.  This blog may certainly help, but don't wait on us to learn the basics because we haven't made a post about it yet.  However, if you have questions about something we haven't addressed here yet, certainly feel free to send us an email and we will be forthcoming with everything we've learned regarding your question or concern.

Many voices have expressed concern about the state of basic infrastructure in this country.  What would we do if strikes by unions and other workers or even civil unrest disrupts the provision of essential utilities such as natural gas and water?  The U.S. had a close call last winter with a shortage of natural gas and heating oil nearly running out completely in the northeast.  Could this winter be worse?  Even if none of these more apocalyptic scenarios play out, which is less unthinkable these days as it may have been in the past, what if cost increases or unemployment in your home makes these services unattainable or unaffordable?  Have you made any preparations regarding how you would deal with a situation such as having no power or gas to your home for days or possibly weeks?  The loss of either one of these things would likely present problems for nearly any household.

In our home, natural gas supplies the energy with which we cook, heat our water, and heat the home itself.  Electricity is responsible for our air conditioning in the summer as well as lights and other home appliances.  Foregoing hot water for showers and heat for the home, a gas shortage would leave us unable to cook in the usual manner.  In response we've done several things:  stockpiled charcoal to allow us to cook on our outside grill, stockpiled firewood for both the fireplace inside which could provide heat for the home as well as for use in our outdoor fire pit and obtained a grate/grill we can place over it to cook over an open fire.  Lastly we keep at least two full propane tanks on hand allowing us to use a propane-powered stove like appliance we installed on our back porch.  We figured our usual kitchenware may not be ideal for these applications so we've obtained, cleaned up, and seasoned a number of pieces of cast iron cookware much more suited to such use.  We only use a few skillets and maybe the dutch oven on a regular basis, but the rest is seasoned and ready to go if we need it.

Electricity, or the loss of it, does present fewer problems, but those problems are potentially larger and more difficult to deal with.  We certainly don't have any worries about the loss of lighting as we have obtained plenty of candles, oil lamps and oil to see us through the darkness.  Not having any air conditioning in the heat of the summer would be extremely uncomfortable to say the least, but no one would die (even if Racey says he would!).  The major Achilles heal of the loss of power would be the inability to run our refrigerator and freezers.  Our budget simply doesn't allow for the purchase, fueling, and maintenance of a generator that would be up to the task.  At this moment we have almost no way of addressing this concern (but feel free to donate a large generator and a few hundred gallons of fuel if you like!  Just kidding.  Sorta.  lol).  The only less-than-ideal response we have right now would be to rush to the store and buy as much dry ice as we could get, and who knows how well that would work out.  This is the reason so much of our preparedness revolves around food storage that doesn't require refrigeration or freezing.  Canning and dehydration have been our major focus thus far.  We've been canning as much fruit and veg as we can, and we're beginning to can meat as well, but even that has been difficult since most of our food budget is required to actually feed us and leaves little overage for 'extra' pounds of meat to go on the shelf.  Dairy has also been a concern that has been a tough one to wrestle with.  Dairy generally can't be canned at all (ghee is the only exception we've found), and we don't live on a farm or have direct access to cows or goats.  Having no milk or eggs of any kind really limits what you can make with staple foods, so we did what we felt we had no choice but to do.  First, we purchased as much dried milk as we could.  If you've purchased large containers of dry milk recently you know it's not only expensive, but prices are increasing constantly and substantially.  Second, we scrimped and saved and bought one each of powdered eggs, cheese, sour cream, and butter packed in #10 cans from this site:  Shelf RelianceSidenote:  If you intend on purchasing anything at all from this site please let us know before you do.  We have a way to get you lower prices than what's listed!

All of the above is just a little bit of an overview of what we've done to attain a sustainable, somewhat long term food supply as well as the means to prepare it if times get really tough.  Even if this sounds like a lot to you, we still feel it's not enough.  We wonder sometimes if we're not making a mistake by failing to stockpile heirloom seeds and getting a hold of some good gardening tools and learning how to cultivate at least enough food for the family. 

Hopefully some of this post has gotten your wheels turning about some of the questions and concerns we've wrestled with over the last while.  Specifically, we'd like to solicit both comments and questions about what you've done to prepare your family for possible emergencies in whatever form they may come.  Let us know what you're doing!  And if you have questions, ask away!

Next time we'll address the more important, more difficult issue of water preparedness....

Friday, October 14, 2011

Avoiding an Empty Pantry

Have you ever had times in your homemaker's journey when the pantry and fridge were a quiet, lonely place?  I have and I'm not too proud to admit that I've received help from food banks, churches, and even food stamps.  I'm certainly not boasting, but when you're a mother your pride takes a back seat when it comes to feeding your children.  I have always worked (outside the home) while I've received help so maybe that has something to do with not feeling embarrassed or ashamed of it.

The meat is the only item I purchased in this meal.

The reason I'm sharing this with you is because I've finally discovered one way to avoid having an empty pantry.  First, start cooking from scratch.  Quit buying convenience foods and learn how to make the same recipes  yourself.  You'll pay anywhere from 30% - 50% more for food that is pre-cut, pre-cooked, pre-washed, individually wrapped, etc.  The frozen dinner meals where all you do is toss it in a crock-pot, for example, are so easy to prepare yourself. "Ready to eat" foods are full of preservatives, additives, dyes, and fillers... the list could go on forever.  Not to mention the quantity and quality of that type of food is below par compared to the dollar amount you paid.  Start eating better cuts of meat that are not filled with hormones, steroids, and antibiotics.  Insist on fresh fruits and vegetables, not filler starches.  We have found that better quality food is more filling and satisfying because it is a whole food without additives and it meets our nutritional needs more efficiently.  When we fill our bodies with unnatural, unhealthy, man-made, processed foods we have to eat more just to meet our basic nutritional needs.  I know a lot of you are on a shoestring budget and think you can't afford to eat better than what you are eating now, but you can!  Learn to source out the best quality for the lowest price.  Don't be fooled into thinking just because it comes from a big box store or that it's the store brand that you're getting the best price.  If your budget is really tight, replace your drink items with water and use the money saved to buy fresh produce.  I remember when my family was young and I would pop into the store for drinks for the week.  If I bought a couple of Cokes for the adults and juice and milk for the kids we were out $20!  If you saved that much each week, in a month you would have $80 to go towards a healthier diet.  Another big help is to buy in bulk if it's a shelf stable item that will last the time it will take you to use it.  This will help keep you out of the store and away from other impulse buys that may occur when you pop in to get that one thing you need.  However, be sure the bulk item you're purchasing is a better price because this isn't always the case.   Often times you'll actually get a better 'price per unit' or 'cost per ounce' by using coupons to buy multiple small packages of an item.  You'll have to be the judge of what works the best for you in this area.

I harp on all the time about food co-ops, but they really are the best choice out there.  The price is reasonable, if not down right cheap.  Most need volunteers and will give special discounts or "extras" for helping.  Plus, involvement with your local co-op will put you in contact with people who think like you, and before you know it you will have all kinds of doors opening with your family's health being the beneficiary.  I'm lucky enough to have one right down the street from me, but if I didn't I would consider getting a group of families together and take turns carpooling.  I was in a church co-op one time and we loved to do this.  We all got to participate but only had to drive once a month or whatever our rotation was.   

The picture at the top of this story is what our family received for volunteering today.  McClane and I volunteered from 9:30am - 11:30am.  We got all that for two hours of work!  The picture really doesn't do it justice because the fruit and veg is stacked on top of each other.  Here is my count list!

What in the world would I have paid for all that at the grocery store?  Whatever it is, I surely wouldn't have been able to afford it.  In all honesty I almost have too much to choose from when it comes to fresh food.  We all know fresh food will not sit on the shelf for a month so the clock is ticking.  We certainly won't eat this by next Thursday when we get MORE, so I will be busy freezing, dehydrating, canning, and cooking it before it goes to waste!  This is the last step in helping your food budget.... ready for it?!?  

Waste nothing!

Cook and eat it, freeze it, can it, dehydrate it, give it away, or, if all else fails, feed it to the animals or compost it!  Waste not, want not right?  I mean think about it... if you waste, you will want much sooner than you would have wanted as if you had wasted it!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Yeast Rolls

Yeast rolls are an easy place to start when making bread, and a dinner time favorite in our house.

Here are the ingredients:
  • 3 C. Bread flour
  • 2 Tbsp. Butter (melted)
  • 1/4 C. Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 package of Yeast or 2 1/4 Tsp. of Active Dry Yeast
  • 7/8 C. Water
  • First you will want to "proof" the yeast by placing it in the 7/8 C. of warm water.  The water should be between 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit.  You will need to use a instant read thermometer to help you with this.  If the water is too warm it will kill the yeast when you put it in, and if it's too cool, the yeast won't "wake up" or activate.  Also add 2-3 tbsp. of your sugar to the yeast/water mix to help the yeast start to activate.

 The yeast is starting to froth up a little.  This is how you know the yeast is active and alive.  You can let it set a few more minutes or go ahead and use it.

When the yeast is ready, pour into mixing bowl, add flour, egg, melted butter, salt, and remaining sugar and mix thoroughly. 

Sometimes the dough is a little runny, if this is the case just sprinkle a little more flour in the bowl and mix till the dough forms into a ball of sorts. (see below)

Once mixed, cover the bowl and allow the dough to sit in a warm draft free place to rise till double in size.  Approximately 30-40 minutes.  In the summer I place my bowl out in the sun, in the winter I find the warmest place possible and if it's a real cold day I will heat the oven to 200 or a little lower and then cut it off and let the bowl sit covered  in the oven till it rises.

Once the dough has doubled in size it's time to turn it out onto a well floured surface and  add remaining flour as needed to form a ball.

Begin to kneed the dough till it is workable.

Don't be afraid to sprinkle your hands and the top of the dough with flour to avoid sticking.

 Roll dough into balls and place in a greased baking dish.

I know they are not pretty and this is something I had to get over!  I was so used to everything being perfect because it was massed produced by a machine, not by hand.

Now cover a 2nd time and let rise till double in size again.

Then place in a pre-heated oven and bake @ 350 till golden brown.

I know this seems like a lot of steps and very time consuming, but if you do it during your day and work on other things while it's rising it's really not hard on you or your time.  I tend to kill you with photos, because when I first started if I could see a picture of what they were talking about then I felt more confident in what I was trying to do.  You can also double the batch and individually freeze half the dough rolled into balls on a cookie sheet, then place in a plastic bag for next time.  All you do is take the individually frozen dough balls place in a greased pan cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise before baking.

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