Monday, May 18, 2015

What's on Your Plate?

I'm not a breakfast eater. I know, I know ... most important meal of the day ... blah, blah.

I drink coffee or tea in the morning, and then, sometimes I'll have a meal of some sort between 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM. Then, I have a big dinner with my family in the evening, usually between 6:00 PM and 9:00 PM. Yes, that's late for dinner, and yes, I'm pretty sure that's exactly why I have this extra girth around my middle. It's one of those things that we're aware of, but can't change ... right now.

Occasionally, like this morning, I'll have something for breakfast, but it's hardly ever conventional, like the food that's featured as being a typical American breakfast in this Buzzfeed video on what the world eats for breakfast. First, I'm not really a fan of pancakes, and second, that much bread and meat in one meal makes me feel bloated.

My most oft breakfast fare is eggs, paired with whatever seems easiest on that day. This morning I had two boiled eggs with butter and a cup of coffee. Sometimes I'll have scrambled eggs and grits (yes, I'm one of those mysterious people you hear about, but never meet, who actually knows what grits are ... and likes them ;)) or fried eggs and hash browns. Sometimes I'll add pickled or fermented vegetables (olives, sauerkraut, pickled beets) on the side, and if there are fresh tomatoes in the house, they'll be on the breakfast menu.

Sometimes I get really nutty and having something totally off-the-wall for breakfast. I like popcorn for breakfast. Soup (if there are leftovers) isn't unheard of as breakfast fare. I've even made a nice salad before. In fact, when Deus Ex Machina and I start our Second Annual Foraged Summer on Memorial Day weekend (where we eat only what we have foraged for one full day all summer long), a foraged greens salad is very likely to be our first meal ... and it will be breakfast, because Deus Ex Machina likes breakfast and never skips it.

Of the breakfasts featured in the video, the two that most closely match what I'd eat for that meal are from Mexico (I'd switch the flour tortillas for corn tortillas) and the UK (and I wouldn't have both sausage AND bacon, but one or the other or neither).

What struck me is how grain-centric the world's meals are. There was only one breakfast in which a grain was not included and that was the breakfast from the UK. Only two of the world's breakfasts do not include a wheat-bread: Japan where they eat rice and miso, and Vietnam, where they eat a rice-noodle porridge.

It was fun to see this idea of what the world eats. I've been working hard, at least in my family, to debunk the notion that certain foods must be eaten at certain times of day - or rather that certain times of day call for certain types of food (like the whole notion of breakfast for dinner, because breakfast is the first meal of the day - regardless of the menu, and actually even regardless of the hour, and pancakes eaten in the evening doesn't make it breakfast no matter how much homemade maple syrup we use).

I think it's important, for our future, especially if we're looking at resource depletion and a more local diet, to shift our cultural biases around food, because if we're going to eat what we can get where we live, what's on the menu is going to look a bit different. The sooner we start to accept that breakfast doesn't have to be bacon, but can be smoked rabbit**, for instance, the easier things will be for us when rabbit is what's available and pancakes aren't the fluffy, wheat-based breads we enjoy now, but rather a less sweet, more dense acorn flour pancake.

So, what about you? Do you *do* breakfast or are you more inclined to just enjoy food, regardless of the time of day?



**My friend and fellow Mainer, Steve, posted a link on my Facebook wall of an article from our local newspaper. It's about the increase in rabbit farmers here in Maine, which I thought was interesting.

Steve's comment was that I'm on the "cutting edge", because I've been raising rabbits for meat for a very long time, but also because I've been encouraging suburban homesteaders and those who are interested in self-sufficiency to consider rabbits as a potential source of protein. In fact, here is an interview from a few years ago about my rabbit-raising adventures. Enjoy!








Thursday, May 14, 2015

Why Not to Bug-Out

The prepper and survivalist communities are gaining lots of notoriety - not always a bad thing. We have lots of acronyms, as do most demographic groups. We talk about TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) and that time in the future when TSHTF (the shit hits the fan). We express concern about EMPs (electromagnetic pulses), which can be naturally occurring as in a CME (coronal mass ejection or solar flare) or the result of the high altitude detonation of a nuclear bomb. The result would be the same - widespread power outages, which would take months, maybe years (maybe never in some places), to restore, and it's a huge concern, because it's definitely a possibility, and it would plunge the world into total darkness in a second.

Of course, EMPs aren't the only, or even the most significant, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario that concerns preppers. There are all sorts of possibilities, but the one thing most seem to agree on is that preparedness is key. Unfortunately, when it comes to prepping, I'm kind of in the minority with where my primary prepping occurs and how my future in TEOTWAWKI will look.

And I don't even have a BOB (bug-out bag).

Well, I do, but also not ... not really ... because I think there are very few circumstances that would prompt me to leave my home, and I definitely don't have a bunker or a cabin up in the mountains to which I plan to escape when this even occurs.

First, let me explain. I'm not planning to leave, because where would I go? I read an article a few weeks ago the gist of which was that we're never more than ten miles away from some place. Even in the middle of what we might believe is the wilderness, there's something or someone around somewhere. At very least, there's a road. If my goal is to get away from other people, there are very few (if any) places I could go.

I read a different article recently in which the author spoke of the places he would consider as good bug-out locations. I've lived in two of those places: Maine and southeastern Kentucky. Let me just make an observation about people, but first let me say that 1 square mile is just shy of 700 acres. I can walk one mile in about fifteen minutes. I've seen people talking about their bug-out compounds, which on the small side might be ten acres, and on the bold side, a hundred. That's not even a mile. If someone wanted to find that cabin, it would be no problem. Places where there are wide areas of wilderness, at least here in Maine, aren't for sale. They are national parks.

And also, unless the prepper has some extra cash laying around, land here Maine, can be pretty pricey. A "hunting cabin" (completely off-grid, less than 200 sq feet with no insulation, and probably no well or other water source, definitely no septic, and maybe a slit-trench outhouse) on four acres will cost between $20,000 to as much as $70,000. More acreage, more money. If the house is on a lake or close to the coast, expect to pay double.

But there's another, perhaps more important, thing to take into consideration. We have some friends who live on a lake in western Maine. We went to visit them recently, and, well, their house is pretty out of the way. Getting there during the winter would be a challenge, because the road was narrow and steep, which is why most people don't winter there. I can't imagine navigating that road during a winter like we just had. There were several houses within sight of theirs, but they live in an area that is mostly populated by "summer people." That is, they don't have any neighbors during the winter.

Great, right?

Only that a lot of year-round people aren't fond of the summer people. Sometimes it can be a nuisance. Personally, as someone who lives in a tourist-centric town, it's a bother, because those people who visit just during the summer months have no investment in our community. They are here for what the community can give to them, never even considering that we are people with lives that don't revolve around making sure their vacation is pleasant. I'm not a rude person, by nature, but as a word of warning, if one comes into my community with some expectation of entitlement, that person will leave Maine thinking Mainers are not friendly people. And make no mistake, THIS is my HOME. I live here. I work here. I invest myself in this community as an active member - and it's that fact that got me to bristling when I read that article about bug-out locations.

The other suggestion of moving to southeastern Kentucky raised the same scarlet flag for me. First, we think mountains = seclusion, but that's not, always true. In fact, in Harlan County, Kentucky, while there is a lot of land, most of it is on the side of a mountain (or owned by a coal company ... or both). People have built houses on just about every flat surface available, which means, when one is driving down what should be a "country" road, there are houses almost as densely packed as some more comfortable suburbs. Good luck finding a piece of land there.

The whole idea of the bug out cabin kind of reminds me of the way the Europeans viewed the Americas. To them, it was this wide-open, uninhabited wild place that they could come and take and tame. The problem is that it wasn't, and the problem with the idea that one is going to escape the city or suburbs and hunker down in their "vacation" cabin when TSHTF - just move in, without any regard for the other people who live there already (not in their cabin, but in that area) - to me is a little naïve. And please, I don't mean to offend anyone. It's just my opinion, especially being a person who moved around a lot and had to learn to assimilate into new communities, but also as someone who has not just been to those places, but lived in those places that are being suggested.

I know the basic idea of some of the preppers who are planning to bug out is that they, their family, and a few select friends will build a fortress and move out there. Unless it's a pretty big acreage (more than 100), it won't support very many people, but also, 100 acres is not even a mile, which means neighbors are likely to be fairly close.

People have asked me. Every time I do an interview, the question comes up, but bugging out has never been part of my plan.

There are some things that might encourage me to bug out. If we were in a war, and the front was moving in my direction, I might leave. If there was a raging fire headed in my direction, I would probably evacuate. If a tsunami were barreling down on the east coast and likely to hit southern Maine, I'd head to higher ground (although to reach me, it would have to be a pretty large and scary tsunami).

There are very few things that would cause me to leave, and most of the TEOTWAWKI scenarios that concern preppers are not among them.

All of the reasons I would stay are detailed in my book, but mostly, it's because, where would I go?

My goal is to develop an edible, perennial landscape (so that I won't be dependent on buying seeds), to remodel my home so that I am not dependent on non-renewable resources, to have a source of potable water, and to build a community of folks who can support me and whom I can support if (when) the shit does, finally, hit the fan.

Of course, I know that (sh)it is already happening, but it's kind of like the frog in the stew pot. The water starts out cool so that he doesn't jump out, and the temperature is slowly increased ... so slowly, that the frog doesn't notice - until it's too late.

For those who are planning to bug-out, maybe now is the time to go, because it's unlikely that things will suddenly be bad, and it would be very bad to be that frog when things get really difficult.

For those who aren't, getting to know your neighbors and your community is definitely win/win.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Food Security

Today turned out to be one of those days where events just connected, like pieces of a puzzle.

I spent some time this morning working on my plan for the community garden plot I'll be tending this summer. The plot was donated to the food pantry for us to grow fresh produce for our clients, and I was asked if I would be interested in managing it. It's an incredible honor and a very daunting task. I've always been a, kind of, haphazard gardener, and I'm just as likely to harvest 180 lbs of something from a volunteer plant as I am to actually harvest something I meant to grow. I can't leave things so much to chance when I'm gardening for someone else, and so, I'm a but nervous, but also excited. For the first time, ever, I'll have a row garden (as opposed to raised beds).

So, I've mapped out the garden, where I will put what, with special attention paid to what works well together.

At the garden meeting recently, there was a lot of discussion about planting for the bees, and sunflowers were one of the flowers recommended to attract pollinators. At first, I was considering trellising my beans on the sunflowers, but a bit more research proved that to be a very bad idea - as sunflowers and beans aren't very good companions. Cucumber and sunflower, however, are great companions, and so, I have the first few rows of the community garden planned.

When Big Little Sister and Little Fire Faery brought in the mail, among the flyers and credit card offers was a beautiful package from my friend out on the other coast (waves, enthusiastically!) who sent me a huge number of organic seeds.

I just can't thank you enough, M.H.*, for your incredible generosity. I'm humbled ... and so excited. It's so much more than I could have even hoped for. Thank you.





*I didn't know if you would be okay with my publishing your name, but I would be happy to do a link back if you're okay with it. Leave me a comment and let me know ;).

Decorating?

I've never been very good at interior design. I love thumbing through copies of Better Homes and Garden, and when we had a television one of my favorite channels was HGTV, and my favorite shows were the home improvement shows. While some people may be able to live in those picture-perfect houses (and keep them that way), I can't. I excuse my lack of design and order by saying that we live here, and we really do live here.

Homeschooling and working from home means that someone is here most of the time, which means that messes are made. Then, there are the three (large and furry) dogs and three (large) cats. Lots of shedding, lots of panting and drooling, lots of dirt carried in on heavy coats from the dirt road. I don't know who thought that installing white linoleum floors in a house on a dirt road would be a good idea. At least, I think they're supposed to be white.

There was a time, early in our home ownership, when our house became a depository for everyone else's cast-offs, which was wonderful, because we were able to fully furnish our house (and then some!) low cost or for free. It was very helpful and very much appreciated. The only problem is that when most of one's furnishings are things that other people picked out, it tends to be a very eclectic collection of styles and colors. At best, our home decor can be described as shabby-shabby with some yard sale find thrown in, which isn't exactly true or fair, because we have some gorgeous pieces of furniture, including our farm table, which was a gift, and which we very much love.

Add that to the fact that we have a smaller-than-average, older home. I guess, back in the day, people didn't have as much stuff, and so they didn't need storage. There's very little storage space in my house.

When it comes to decorating, for me, it must be functional, and it's definitely a bonus if it also looks nice and neat. It's a double bonus if the decorating is free or inexpensive, and/or uses materials I already have on hand. Recently, for instance, I put up a glass shelf in one of my bathrooms. I used what was a door on an entertainment hutch. We bought the hutch at a yard sale, but the doors were not attached. When we got it home, we realized that the doors weren't made for that hutch, and so, being us, we've just had these glass doors lying around for the last decade, because we might use them for something ... some day ... and so I did. Using some cute shelf brackets I picked up a while ago, I made a shelf in the bathroom. It's cute ... and it's a shelf. One can't go wrong with shelves.

Then, in an attempt to organize stuff we use in the bathroom, I thought, maybe those things could go into jars. I have jars. Lots and lots of jars. So, I took a few of the canning jars I have with glass lids held in place by wire, which I can't use for canning, as a storage option for some of the things we use in the bathroom. I filled these jars with things like cotton balls and q-tips.

And then, I thought, those jars, sans lids would look cute holding toothbrushes and hairbrushes in the other bathroom too.


Speaking of recycling/reusing, I've been reusing that blue deodorant container for almost five years. I make my own deodorant using the following recipe. I still sweat - a lot - because it's not an antiperspirant (which is questionably safe and one may not wish to use it anyway), but there's no odor.

DIY Deodorant

1/4 c cornstarch
1/4 c baking soda
1 tbls coconut oil (or enough to make a paste)
20 drops of essential oil (I use some combination of lavender oil, tea tree oil and patchouli)

Mix well. Store in reused deodorant container for easy application. Should be stored in the refrigerator during the summer or it will liquefy.

What's your favorite frugal decorating tip?


Monday, May 11, 2015

Pantry Challenge Wrap-Up and In the Garden

So, we finished up the pantry challenge at the end of April with a trip to the grocery store. We didn't really buy a lot while we were there. I bought some organic potatoes. Some chocolate probably made it into the cart. We stocked back up on grains (flour, rice, corn meal, popcorn).

Our last week of from our pantry meals were simple. We had chili for Sunday dinner. On Monday, I made a huge pot of rice. We had stir-fry and also made a rice pudding using the raisins we made in our dehydrator. On Tuesday, I browned some stew meat and served it with some leftovers (but I don't remember exactly what). I neglected to write down what we had on Wednesday and Thursday.

I don't think I did more cooking than usual. We do a lot of cooking at Chez Brown (as evidenced by the forever sink-full of dirty dishes - and yes, Deus Ex Machina, I am regretting that impulsiveness that prompted me to give away our dishwasher). Usually I do the cooking, but if I don't feel like cooking, we more-often-than-not will have take out. During the Pantry Challenge, we couldn't eat out, and it was actually kind of nice that it forced us to be more creative and more accommodating and willing to eat meals that weren't so meal-like (like stir-fry with rice pudding for dessert). The best part was that my family fully embraced the pantry challenge and even cooked on some of those nights when I needed a break from the kitchen.

There was only once or twice that we had a craving for something we couldn't replicate in our kitchen. Once Big Little Sister was craving hot wings as served at our favorite little hole-in-the-wall Mexican place (and so we went there for Mother's Day). And we cheated once and bought French fries downtown.

We contemplated carrying the challenge forward into May. We didn't, exactly, but we have all proven to be a bit more cautious about buying stuff at the grocery, and we are looking a lot more carefully at what's in the pantry. In fact, we took the opportunity the challenge gave us to organize some of the food on our pantry, putting beans in jars, for instance, and we found a can of pineapple that expired a year or two ago. Someone will get pineapple-upside-down cake for his birthday next week ;). His favorite.

Speaking of beans, I learned a really cool time-saving technique. I love cooking with beans. Chili just isn't the same without beans. I also love Cajun-style beans and rice and Huevos Rancheros. The problem is that I don't buy canned beans, although I have canned them myself, but it's a long process, and I don't always have the time to can them (which requires pressure canning, not water-bath canning). As such, if I don't think far enough ahead, we can't have beans.

Back in the 1990s, Amy Dacyzyn promoted herself as the Frugal Zealot. She published a newsletter called The Tightwad Gazette and had a pretty large, nation-wide readership (Ms. Dacyzyn lives in Maine). I have all of her newsletters compiled into three volumes, and I like flipping through the articles. Readers often sent in letters, and in one of those, a frugal individual provided a way of cooking dried beans faster. Basically, the beans need to be soaked overnight (which is the part I always mess up, and end up having to cook them all day, which is great during the winter when I can just put them to simmer on the woodstove, but not so great the rest of the year). Then, the soaked beans are put into containers and frozen. The frozen beans cook in about twenty minutes.

So, I have a pound or so of pre-soaked beans in my freezer, and they don't take any longer to cook than rice. It's a nice fast food without a can.

It was a fun challenge, and I'd definitely do it again, but I think, if we join next year, we might push it back to May. We'll have more options for foraged foods to add to the plate, the garden will be producing some things (like pea shoots), and the chickens and ducks will be more generous.

And here are some pictures from the garden.

Peas!


Getting seeds started


Why, yes, I do grow dandelions *in* my garden. Don't they look delicious?


The new perennial bed in front of the newly painted house


Blueberry bush that was saved from being overrun by Lemon Balm


Work in progress. I pulled up and/or moved the raised beds, and I'm trying this new thing in hopes that I can get more growing space.


Stepping stone compass


I am so excited about my garden projects this year. It's better than shopping.