Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Food Security, Part III

What's in your yard?

Think of it as a new commercial: replace the tired image of a barbarian asking what's in your wallet with a perky—even sprightly—elf asking what's in your yard.

Could you eat off your land? What if you couldn't get to the grocery store... what if the trucks couldn't get to the grocery? Would you and your family have fresh food?

We all know there are no guarantees in life. Jobs are lost, freak storms happen, and much worse. Nita, the matron of husbandry from Throwback at Trapper Creek, demonstrates the hard way that not even the best laid plans can thwart mother nature. The trick is to cover several fronts at a time. In diversity there is security. Or, don't put all your eggs in one basket. (Going back to the land, so many cliches come clear.)

One of the reasons I wanted to break this topic into a series, besides just keeping it manageable, was to demonstrate the different facets of food security and the ways each complements the other. If all your food is coming from one place, then that should be a major red flag. And by "one place" I don't mean the Piggly Wiggly versus Super Wal-Mart. Sure, that's obvious to most of us, but maybe not so to others. Look around for a minute and assess how many others will be turning toward the same food sources in an emergency. Population density as well as the severity of the emergency will dictate how secure your food sources are. That's the advantage of the pantry: you're likely to be the only one shopping there. But the pantry is by no means your only resource.

Insulation from emergencies or hard times rests upon reducing dependence on outside systems. Not eliminating it, necessarily, which I riffed on in the self-reliance series, but reducing it as much as possible. But insulation also comes through having multiple resources that back each other up, the whole being stronger than the part. The freezer backs up the pantry which backs up the yard. Fall back and redundancy are key.

The yard provides valuable fresh food and can do so year round in many, many places in countless ways, but you'll need to how to take advantage of them. For instance, did you know that fir and pine needles contain loads of vitamin C and that the bark has medicinal properties? Can you identify which evergreens are nourishing and which are poisonous? Do you know what a yew looks like and why to avoid it? Don't just take my word for it; do the research. The point is that yards can nourish us in more ways than one, and while gardens are an obvious resource, landscaping can be just as important, as can weeds. Dandelion leaves are often available long into winter for a nourishing salad where I live. Common purslane and chickweed appear in the spring and provide whopping nutrition for their size, rich in vitamins, minerals, and even protein!

So, what's in your yard?

Beginning with just that simple question opens up so many possibilities for food security before ever even planting a garden. Assess what's already growing and stop applying herbicides if you haven't already—they're bad for the earth, bad for the bugs, and they're ridding your yard of valuable food both for you and the bees, among other creatures. Look at all tiers of your yard from trees to shrubs to weeds and try to envision an integrated and holistic system working at multiple levels, with the vegetable garden as just one part. Look into edible landscaping and forest gardening for starters. Then consider wildcrafting and herbal medicine thrown in for good measure.

A large yard isn't a necessity. Once you begin thinking of outside space as an extension of food security rather than strictly ornamental curb appeal, play space, or just wasted space, the number of options available even in the tiniest of yards multiply. Even apartment dwellers with access to the outside or renters can create container gardens that offer at least some food sources, and even a large sunny window presents the opportunity for an indoor herb garden. Of course, larger properties offer nearly infinite possibilities, and it may be helpful to separate bigger parcels into zones to make projects more manageable. That's one of the beauties of the forest garden: it can take quite a bit of work to set up an ecosystem, but the goal is a self-sustaining copy of nature's methods, allowing that system to do most of the work.

The Usserys of Boxwood, a 2.5 acre homestead in Virginia, offer one of the best examples online of forest gardening with limited space. If you haven't already encountered Harvey Ussery's articles in one of several publications, you'll be delighted to get to know him through his website, which is incredibly informative. Another excellent example of how much can be done in a really small space is the Dervaes family, homesteading on 1/5th of an acre in urban California. I've recommended both these sites before and have links to each in my sidebar resources in case you're looking for them later. They're the two best sites I know of for homesteading in small spaces, but please feel free to share other resources in the comments section.

Here at Touch the Earth farm, we have less than an acre in actual garden production, and I'm working to transform our 5.25 acres into a more integrated whole, an ongoing project that will take years. When we bought the property it was a horse farm, with a lovely 3-stall barn and several acres of pasture in dire need of renovation and shade. The first thing I did when we moved in was to plant some fruit trees close to the house because they take so long to get established. I planted 3 dwarf varieties of apple, 2 dwarf pear, 1 plum, 1 cherry, 1 fig, 1 peach, and 6 blueberries, making sure that the single varieties were self-fruiting. I got the majority of my stock from Edible Landscaping in Afton, Virginia, an excellent little company whose catalog is worth getting for the info and ideas alone. Last year I planted 50 saplings to provide shade for the pastures, food for the bees, and potentially, firewood for us.

Planning 10 or 20 years down the road can be difficult, especially in our nomadic culture, but true food security depends upon it. On the one hand, a person with large financial resources could certainly plant trees on a grand scale by simply purchasing them all at once. I, on the other hand, have opted to buy seed stock and gradually expand our plantings myself, requiring an even longer term point of view. I've been dividing and expanding my berries for the past two years, hoping to let them naturalize in different parts of the homestead. The first year I lost most of the plants to a severe summer drought, but I think last year's transplants took pretty well—about 350 strawberry plants and 50 raspberries. This year, I'm hoping to focus on grafting some of our fruit trees to begin creating a small orchard in one of the upper pastures, and we'll continue to divide our berries, planting on different parts of the property. (Matron of husbandry has an excellent post on grafting that's well worth checking out.)

Luckily, not all projects are so long term, and there are many gratifying ones that offer short-term returns. The most obvious is the summer vegetable garden. Lots of folks are already comfortable with growing a summer garden, so a great way to expand upon that is to consider adding an herb garden, a spring/ fall garden, and even a winter garden. Finding ways to grow fresh produce year round will make a huge difference both for the wallet and the environment, not to mention health since the fresher the produce, the more nutrients it has. While fresh, raw produce is nearly always preferable from a nutritional standpoint over preserved, growing your own also has the added security of knowing exactly what goes into the soil and onto the produce—no added chemicals, colors, waxes, etc. I've gotten so spoiled by fresh produce year round that I don't bother preserving certain things like green beans that never taste so great anyway. I spend my time preserving other things that offer both nutrition and taste satisfaction.

We built our first high tunnel for winter gardening in 2007 and just added a second in fall of 2008. After making the plunge, I won't be without some form of winter garden as long as I'm able. I'm still fine-tuning my winter growing, but having a dedicated space has helped tremendously because I'm not stuck waiting for summer plantings to give up the ghost before I can get winter crops started, many of which need to be in as early as July to really get growing before the days shorten. Some, like leeks and parsnips have such a long growing season that they need to be started even earlier to be ready by fall and winter. Starting plants in seed trays helps get a jump on the season if there are still things in the ground, and I've also found even with the crops I direct sow that having a back up seed tray allows me to fill in any gaps that may occur for whatever reason. The two photos above show our high tunnels after having endured temps in the teens this month. The bare looking areas have small lettuces that will do little growing over the winter, but will have a real jump on the spring season as the days get longer.

Growing cold-tolerant crops is key, and in our zone 6 climate I find I don't really need a double layer of protection for most of the crops I grow. Currently, I'm growing tatsoi, kale, chard, bok choi, spinach, several varieties of endive and lettuce, arugula, green onions, turnip greens, beet greens, thyme, citrus thyme, rosemary, cilantro, flat leaf and curly parsley, oregano, sorrel, chervil, carrots, and radishes. Outside the tunnel, I have broccoli, more kale, and several cabbages, and I just harvested the last rows of turnips, carrots, and leeks to bring into the garage. Winter produce often won't be quite as pristine as that grown in milder weather, but most blemishes can be cut out or worked around.

Gardening itself can be a steep learning curve, but so can learning to eat seasonally, which is truly the only way to eat locally. I've found food tastes so much better fresh that limiting myself to seasonal eating isn't very difficult at all. The hardest part for me was broadening my cooking repertoire, and a few choice cookbooks really helped on that front. Pretty much anything by Alice Waters will be invaluable because of her focus on vegetarian dishes; same goes for the Moosewood cookbooks. There are also several farmer's market cookbooks out now, which focus on seasonally available produce and the meals that can be built around it. Committing to trying a new dish at least once a week can quickly offer experience and familiarity with new vegetables. I've found that doing this during the summer when life naturally slows a bit makes it more manageable and less stressful.

I'm including some of my favorite books below. Please offer your own recommendations in the comments section—the more the merrier!

Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman, the winter gardening bible, this is a definite must have if you're considering growing year round. He has loads of useful info, tables, varieties, etc.

Fresh From the Farmer's Market by Jane Fletcher.

Local Flavors by Deborah Madison.

The Farmer's Market Cookbook by Richard Ruben.

Tools and Goals 2008

To Do 2008:

  • put seed order together
  • pull roosters from laying flock
  • set up breeding flocks
  • start microgreens
  • begin sprouting
  • start seedlings
  • continue watering in tunnel
  • clean up strawberries
  • move berries
  • finish fencing
  • finish painting barn
  • plant trees
  • schedule pig butcher
  • order egg cartons
  • learn to shear sheep
  • shear sheep
  • buy ram
  • buy buck
  • feelers for Dexter Jersey heifer
  • Jules' rabbits
  • order bees
  • build bee hives
  • learn to make goat's milk soap
  • use the pressure canner
  • plant more medicinal plants
  • learn to make tinctures and infusions
  • harvest more wild edibles
  • continue working on hedgerows
  • rework front yard into edible/ medicinal garden
  • learn to tan hides
  • learn to use our drop spindle
  • learn to felt
  • save seeds √√
  • second high tunnel
  • make Navajo spindles
  • round bale contacts
  • well pump

Tools for 2008:

  • air tight storage bins for larder
  • bike
  • butcher knife
  • butter molds
  • candle molds
  • canoe
  • cheese press
  • dutch oven
  • Foxfire series
  • hand-pump or solar well
  • herbal preparation guides
  • hot water bottles
  • ice cream maker
  • irrigation lines
  • Little House on the Praire series
    (Thanks Maggie!)
  • meatgrinder/ sausage stuffer
  • milk machine
  • mortar and pestle
  • Nutrimill grain mill
  • pressure canner
  • tanning tools and guides
  • water tanks
  • wind up led flashlights/ headlamps
  • wool carders
  • Yogotherm small cooler instead

Monday, December 29, 2008

A New Look for the New Year

I've been playing around with my blog, as you can see. I'll be updating the look and content over the next couple of days, archiving my 2008 lists and making those for 2009.

Happy New Year to All!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays!

I'm busy baking away, as I imagine many out there are as well, but I wanted to pop in and wish every one happy holidays.

The sun has returned, but we've yet to see it here in our neck o' the woods where we've been gray, gloomy and rainy for ages now it seems. We just missed a white Christmas as the cold snap broke yesterday, leaving us with ice and inches of rain and mud but nothing like what's hit other parts of the country. This weather has made me keenly aware how tenuous off-grid solar would be for us: I think we'd be going into month 3 of no power at this point. I feel very grateful for the electricity that enables me to make nourishing food and wonderful treats as well as for all the other many blessings in my life.

I feel grateful for our basement family room that has taken us 3 years to create, which is now nearly done. Down here, it's always sunny with our yellow walls, warm with our woodstove, and filled with love and happy faces. Here, I can leave the outside gloom behind and snuggle in my cozy cave, dreaming of spring while I plan and rest.

I feel grateful for food and job security, for our land and animals, for all the choices we've made that have contributed to our relative insulation from the hardships hitting homes all around the world this season. I feel especially grateful that we've managed to disentangle ourselves from so many failing systems, and I feel hopeful that we can rebuild local ties from the ground up in ways that empower individuals. Mostly, at this reflective time of year, I feel grateful for my ability to remain optimistic and to be in a position to make plans for outreach and help in the coming year.

We'll be caroling and delivering cookies to neighbors tomorrow, something the girls have really pushed for, and something I've come to see the wisdom behind even if it means I have to sing. ;) We'll be adding another link in the community chain we're working to forge, hopefully bringing a little bit of light into other people's homes from a place they least expect it. We're still the new folks on the block around here, so making connections is important. We delivered cookies our first Christmas here, but have missed the last two years for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's hard to be the outsider in a rural community, but I've noticed that there's not much interaction among folks here on our road, partly because we're so spread out. Maybe we can be the spark that ignites a new energy of neighborliness by reaching out and sharing a little of our time and ourselves. Maybe this small connection can create the space for larger connections when the time arises.

Happy holidays to all, wishing you peace, love, and joy this season.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Food Security, Part II

In my last post I talked primarily about dry storage, but now I'd like to turn to the importance of freezer storage and the role it plays in my family's food security. I'd be remiss for not pointing out here what an incredible luxury freezers represent for food storage; they are by no means necessary. People stored meat on the hoof, smoked, cured, dehydrated, and devised ways to keep foods cool before the advent of electricity, including ice houses, spring houses, and even ice pits, which many grand mansions in Europe relied upon for hundreds of years. Familiarizing ourselves with alternative storage methods makes sense on many levels—economic, ecological, preparedness—and there are many wonderful resources available. Preserving Foods Without Freezing or Canning makes an excellent reference addition to any bookshelf.

Freezing is also a huge energy draw, so considering carefully how to preserve different kinds of foods is crucial. Valuable freezer space should be reserved for the most perishable items in order to maximize the investment. Freezing produce often seems so much easier than learning to can, but by doing this, you're giving up space for meats, fats, and whole grains that go rancid quickly when stored at room temperature. Freezers offer the luxury of longer term storage for these kinds of items. While meats can be dried, smoked, canned, and cured, this kind of preservation changes the quality and the consistency as well as the nutritional aspects of the meats. Dry cured meats, for instance, should be eaten far more sparingly than frozen meat because of their high salt content.

This would, in addition, be the moment to point out that avoiding animal products altogether can drastically reduce or eliminate the need for freezers completely, though as I said, even a small chest freezer can be useful for storing whole grains, nuts, and oils long term, ensuring that essential fatty acids are part of food stores and the family diet.

A full freezer is more efficient than an empty one, so keeping the freezer at least 3/4 full at all times will increase efficiency. Chest freezers are more efficient than uprights, taking advantage of cold's natural tendency to sink: opening a chest freezer releases less of the refrigerated air than opening an upright, which allows that air to quickly spill out. If I had my druthers, I'd have chest freezers and do away entirely with electric refrigeration by rotating frozen water jugs from my freezers into a large upright box fridge for cooling, much like the old fashioned ice boxes, but that's another post.

Freezing is convenience, certainly, but it also allows us to preserve safely many things that do not store well dry, like butter, milk, or colostrum for instance, and even very low acid foods like pumpkin, as well as to preserve more of the nutrients in the foods as they've not been subjected to the heat processing of canning. Freezing, however, does not stop microbial action, so careful maintenance and organization of freezer stores is essential, particularly with chest freezers that have the ability to bury older items at the bottom or in corners. Those that come with compartments will make the job easier, though homemade compartments can easily be fashioned. Vacuum sealing can extend the freezer life of any food because it excludes oxygen, which supports bacteria growth, and seals in moisture. Vacuum sealed meats can easily last a whole year in a deep freezer that goes down at least to 0° F.

Freezers also enable people to purchase pastured meats from local farmers by buying in bulk. Many farmers sell beef or pork by the whole, half, and even quarter at a much better price than each individual cut would cost. Some sell by the share, but most sell by "hanging weight"—a per pound price based on the weight of the cleaned carcass. For example, buying a half beef at $3/ lb would mean expensive ground meat, but very cheap tenderloin. So if you like the more expensive cuts, buying by the half will definitely save money. More than that, however, many small, sustainable farmers don't have the capacity to sell individual cuts, so buying a half or a quarter is the only option. If that amount seems overwhelming, finding a friend or family member to split the share with you can be very helpful.

There's a learning curve to buying meat this way if you haven't grown up with it, and having an adventurous spirit—and a few reliable cookbooks—can help. Those of us who grew up in the supermarket generation have missed out on the incredible variety of butcher cuts. An old fashioned butcher will offer dozens of cuts never seen by cellophaned grocery aisles. Learning what to do with and how to cook all the different parts of an animal takes a bit of time and experimentation. Mostly, you'll come to realize how much gets wasted in conventional food systems! Well, not wasted necessarily, but funneled into different food chains, obscuring the relationship of factory processed meat to a living, breathing animal. I'd like to see an artist's rendition of the supermarket animal along the lines of Kingsolver's "vegetannual." Now that would be a scary sight indeed!

Here on the farm we use freezers for storing most of the meats we produce, allowing us to focus on seasonal production, giving the pastures (and farmers!) a much-needed rest. We can raise a batch of meat birds when the weather's warm and put them up in our freezer for the rest of the year until the cycle begins again. Meats take on a seasonal quality in much the same way as produce: chicken in mid-summer, turkey in November, pork in December. Everything but our breeding stock is off the farm by the time cold weather sets in. Of course butchering traditionally took place in the fall, taking advantage of the natural cold weather and the animal's well-fed state heading into winter. Butchering in one large batch can also save both time and resources over one-at-a-timing it, offering another potential advantage of freezers over storing meat on the hoof. As with most things, however, the energy equation certainly isn't cut and dry; there are savings and expenses on both sides. Finding a food storage system that works for your family and maximizes energy savings will take some tinkering.

Arguably the most important aspect of food security that a freezer offers is the ability to store humanely, sustainably raised meats from farmers you know and trust. A freezer can mean the ability to disconnect entirely from factory farmed meats and the many hazards they represent to animals, the earth, the workers, and the consumers. Knowing where your meat comes from can be the biggest step towards food security you can take short of cutting animal products out of your diet entirely. There are loads of resources out there that detail the dangers of factory farming, including both Eric Schlosser's and Michael Pollan's excellent work, but the Meatrix videos offer a clever overview if you haven't already seen them. The sustainable family farm is not just a fantasy, but it does take some effort from the consumer to find one.

For those interested in some really good resources for cooking, curing, and butchering different kinds of meats, I highly recommend Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. (Love the guy, have to look up his name every damn time.) His River Cottage website has some wonderful recipes and info, but his books are simply outstanding. Though I haven't read them all, I can't imagine you could go wrong with any, but I've listed my favorites below along with some other useful books.

The River Cottage Meat Book, now available in paperback, is worth every penny for its information; Hugh's outstanding commitment to organic, sustainable meat production; as well as its amazing photos. A truly stunning book.

The River Cottage Cookbook, also available in paperback, is another must have. Its seasonal recipes are delicious, and it has lots of valuable information about curing meats.

Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn is another excellent addition to your collection, especially if you have any inclination towards making sausage and salamis.

And of course, for anyone interested in raising and butchering their own meats, I'd recommend Basic Butchering of Livestock and Game by John Mettler.

Our basic freezer stores are listed below. At the moment, we're out of beef and goat, both of which we often have in the freezer; next year, we'll also add lamb. After Bella calves in February, I'll also be sure to freeze some colostrum to have on hand; same when our goats kid. This can mean the difference between life and death for an animal.

breakfast sausage
sweet Italian sausage

legs/ thighs
soup backs

Whole Turkey

chevre cheese
pine nuts
pumpkin puree
shredded zucchini
basil leaves
roasted red peppers
cherry tomatoes
whole wheat flour
yeast and cultures

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Food Security, Part I

I've been wanting to do a series on food security for a while now, and a question just came through one of my email lists about food storage. So now seems like a good time to begin talking about what food security means, especially during these uncertain economic times.

Back in the spring, the conservative paper The Wall Street Journal ran an article about the pantry being the best return for one's money based on rising food costs. It was an interesting and telling piece because the ideas many of us have been talking about and thinking about for some time had begun to go mainstream. The idea that one could have home food stores instead of relying on capricious prices at the grocery stores is such a basic idea but so foreign to so many people that I used that article in many a conversation and correspondence to begin convincing skeptics that basic food security might be a good thing to have on their radar. The fact that at least half these people still gave me that, "Riiiiiight" kind of reaction didn't deter me from prattling on like a freak, citing Katrina, 9/11, and winter storms as evidence for my own increasingly debatable rationality... from their perspective, of course.

But now, we've gone past the writing on the wall (street) stage and have gone straight into the bashing over the head stage. To put it bluntly, folks who don't have some basic food and emergency supplies in place are downright irresponsible. Everyone, and I mean every one, with an income to manage it needs to have at least two weeks of food storage and basic survival supplies for power outages and water supply compromises, no matter how meager. Even if it's just a big ol' bag of rice and beans.

Folks need to take responsibility for themselves instead of relying on and then blaming FEMA's incompetence. C'mon folks, this is the federal government we're talking about—of course they're going to be incompetent! Of course they're going to drop the ball and leave people floundering and falling through the cracks. Don't let it be your family.

Now, I'm not saying that everyone has to go all Mormon or survivalist (and there's a lot to learn from both groups) as I've been gently teased of doing, but I am saying that as a culture we have become dangerously complacent. It's time to take a page out of our grandparents' Depression book and learn to take care of our own instead of depending on the system to take care of us. Considering most of us have been schooled in the system at every turn from an early age, this is a pretty tall order. I get that, and I've been there. I remember when Jim and I were on our honeymoon in a small New England town and couldn't figure out how people got money without any ATMs in town. Well, we got that people went to the bank and all, but how inconvenient that seemed! Why not just do everything electronically? Why not just run to the 24 hour convenience store if you run out of something?

This thought pattern is pervasive, and it's what the system itself depends upon. What we're now seeing unravel in the financial markets and beyond is the idea that the system is self-sustaining and doesn't need to rely on real goods or real money or real responsibility. But the minute people pull up and say "whoa!" the illusion of sustainability collapses, revealing the very tentative structure of the system itself. We're seeing the house of cards this illusion was built upon collapsing all around us, and it's not going to stop any time soon, certainly not until it reaches a supply chain near you.

I'm not talking about panic or hoarding. I'm talking about taking the time now while it's still a luxury to do the slow, steady food storage thing: a little bit extra here and a little bit extra there leaves plenty to go around for the time being. The more of us who prepare in this way ahead of time, the more supply will be available when it's really needed for those who didn't prepare in advance. If you still need a reason to act now, consider the fact that the US has lost more than 1 million jobs in the past three months alone. How comforting would it be to at least have paid for food to feed your family in the face of unemployment?

Enough ranting and convincing and on to the nitty, gritty practical details; I'll start with our pantry.

For my family, I store what we eat, so there's a constant rotation, with some things obviously going more quickly than others, especially based upon the season. I can't really give amounts off the top of my head, but I would say that at this point we easily have a year's supply of food. We don't have a year's worth of everything we like, but we have a year's worth of healthy meals.

It's taken me the past year to make that a reality, just buying a few things extra every month. I belong to a bulk co-op, which has made that kind of buying really easy—a bag of rice and case of coconut oil this month, a bag of rolled oats and a case of tuna the next, that kind of thing. Also, picking up extra jars of peanut butter or boxes of pasta from the grocery when it goes on sale helps tremendously. Spreading out this kind of purchasing not only leaves enough on the shelves for others, but it also ensures that your own food stores have different expiration dates. Once you have your food storage in place, then it's just a matter of basic maintenance purchasing to keep your rotation going.

Because we live on a small farm we have a steady supply of eggs, meats and dairy. I'll expand on our freezer storage more in the next installment, and I'll also do an installment on growing fresh food year round, as well as one on the practicalities of preserving. But for now, I'd like to focus on just a basic list of what's available in our pantry to give folks some sense of what a well-stocked pantry might look like.

Below is a general list of what's in my food stores, though I may be leaving something out—I didn't go in and do a detailed list, and no, I don't have an elaborate tracking system. My food storage system is based on the kinds of things I need on a regular basis. If I run out of something, then I know there's a gap in my storage plan.

My stores say a lot about how we cook and the kinds of food we eat. Pantries should reflect the regionality, personal preferences, cultural traditions, and diverse needs of the families they serve. I make most things from scratch, but not all, as you'll see, so I have lots of basic baking ingredients. I also have lots of home canned goods, in large part a result of growing my own food and cooking from scratch, but this kind of thing can also be done with bulk purchasing from co-ops, farmer's markets, and even grocers.

Most of my bulk grains are stored in the colored 5 gallon buckets on the left side of the photo just above. I finally splurged and bought the buckets and gamma lids, which make them much easier to open, from Pleasant Hill Grain, who offers free shipping on orders over $99. My buckets are somewhat color coded, but they're also labeled. The large wooden bins at the back hold potatoes, and I have wire baskets on my shelves for other stored produce like onions, garlic, and sweet potatoes. If you look at the first photo above, you'll see the baskets and the reused orange juice containers behind them that store water, not much but enough for an emergency.

You'll notice my list below loosely broken down into related categories that reflect different nutritional needs: be sure to have stored whole grains, fats, protein, and sugars. You'll also notice a lot of redundancy because I use different varieties for different purposes in my cooking; this is a definite luxury, and it's certainly possible to make do with less.

jasmine rice
brown basmati rice
arborio rice


rolled oats


wheat berries for long term storage
all purpose flour
bread flour
whole wheat pastry flour
whole wheat flour
dry pasta

Fats and Proteins:
red and green lentils
black beans
garbanzo beans

olive oil
coconut oil
peanut oil
hard cheese

peanut butter
refried beans
cashews (freezer)
pine nuts (freezer)

evaporated milk
dry milk

Sugars, spices, baking needs:
cane sugar
brown sugar
powdered sugar
turbinado sugar

maple syrup
chocolate chips
baking powder
baking soda

canning salt
real salt
sea salt
cheese salt

bay leaves
vanilla beans
sesame seeds
bottled lemon juice

Home Preserves:
dried apples
dried tomatoes
tomato paste
whole tomatoes
chicken and beef stock
dry cured ham
dried chilis

yellow onions
red onions
red potatoes
gold potatoes
fingerling potatoes
sweet potatoes

coffee beans
basic condiments
snack foods my kids like
cereals my family likes

Please feel free to ask any questions about why, how, what, etc. of anything I have in there, and I'd be happy to elaborate in the comments section.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Thankful for Slow Food

From this:

To this:

To this:

To this:

To this:

Round here, Thanksgiving dinner begins in the spring with the hatching of an egg. It takes 7 to 9 months to grow a heritage turkey to a modest table weight. That's roughly 420 to 540 trips out to the pasture to provide food and water for the gobblers. That's a lot of time.

This year I cooked two ~ 8 lb hens for our Thanksgiving feast: one for dinner and one for left overs. Me, I don't much like leftovers, but I found out the hard way one year when it was just Jim and I—after I'd brilliantly labored over a gorgeous duck—that Thanksgiving leftovers are apparently more important than the celebratory feast itself. So, I oblige.

Our turkeys not only provided a feast for 8, they also provided leftovers for four households, at least two more dinners for us, as well as lunches for Jim over the coming year, not to mention the remaining meals provided for two very happy dogs. Once all Thanksgiving gluttony was sated, I made turkey lentil soup with the two carcasses, eking out one last dinner before canning the remainder—5 quarts of soup that will nourish Jim through the winter.

Thank you turkeys for your beauty in life and your bounty in death. I am humbly grateful for all you have provided my family and sincerely wish to be worthy of the gift taken.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

My Birthday Present

This year I got a cheese press for my birthday. Pretty lucky, huh? So, I've been playing around with making my first hard cheeses. I started with a farmhouse cheddar, an easy starter cheese without too many steps.

Here I am heating the cut curds to temperature in a waterbath:

Adding the curds to the mold for the first press:

After the first 10 minute pressing:

Here's what the mold looks like all put together:

After it's first 50 lb press. You can see it starting to firm up considerably as the whey is forced out:

Waxed farmhouse cheddar ready for aging in the cellar:

I chose red wax because I thought it would make nice looking holiday presents. The hardest part was cutting the block of wax for the initial melting. I bought a nice stainless steel bowl for it to live in, which I can use as a double boiler when I heat it for dipping. The nice thing about the cheese wax is that once you peel it off the cheese, you can reuse it many times.

The farmhouse cheddar only needs to age about a month, so we should be able to try our first cheese soon. I'll let you know how it turns out.