Waste Not

I didn’t grow up during the Depression.  I have enough to eat, comfortable shoes, and the right coat for the weather, so my habits aren’t from want.  I’m not sure where it comes from, this aversion I have to wasting anything.

I recycle paper, cardboard, glass, tin cans, and the food garbage in my kitchen.  I’m experimenting with new ways to compost.

I give stuff away to people who might have a use for it…or who might just be throwing it away for me. I frequent the thrift stores, but not to buy.  They know my name when I drive up with the contents of yet another cabinet or closet, and they don’t bother to ask if I need a receipt.  I’m not doing this as a tax write-off but as an obsession to waste not. I have a list of takers, including a place in Tulsa that recycles cloth.

My man thinks recycling is inefficient.  It may be. But he doesn’t complain when I use every bit of a whole chicken: frying chicken legs, thighs, and wings; making a casserole or chicken salad from the breast meat; and making broth and soup from the carcass and remaining bits.  He probably doesn’t realize that I skim the hardened fat from the broth and use it for sautéing. Now, if I could just figure out how to dry the bones and grind them up for the garden!

Instead of questioning why I try to use all the bits, I want to get better at it.  And in case you’re wondering, the hallways in my house are clear. This isn’t hoarding…unless you count books…but using, sharing, and giving.

What are some of the things you use, and how, that most people toss to the side?

Knowledge and Cheese

In my twenties, when I was writing cooking columns for a weekly newspaper and had access to good, rich Jersey milk, I made cheese.  And butter.   I learned the latter skill from my grandmother, and I’ve passed it on to several groups of elementary students.  The cheese-making skills came from books and experimentation.

Now, because I have access to good local cheeses, it has been a while since I felt the need to make my own. I wasn’t sure I remembered how, so I decided to spend a Monday afternoon getting reacquainted with the skill.  My instructions came from Claudia Lucero’s One-Hour Cheese. I started with a quart of whole milk from our village grocery store and a recipe called “First-Timers Cheese in 5 Steps.”

The recipe requires only milk, vinegar, and salt.  I added Penzey’s Sunny Paris seasoning (shallots, dill, and other lovely tastes). I followed the easy directions, and it was as easy as the name implies.  In twenty minutes, the man was tasting what I’d created.

Lucero’s book has a list of necessary tools, but this easy recipe requires only a 2-quart saucepan (I used stainless steel), a bowl, a slotted spoon, and measuring utensils, of course.

The tasty curds were lovely on our dinner salad.

My next experiment will be to make cheese using whole powdered milk.  Will it coagulate?  Will it taste as good?

Why now?

  1. If there are disruptions in the food supply, wouldn’t it be nice to know that your food storage can produce real cheese?
  2. And because I’m reading Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening and I came across this tiny treasure of wisdom:

“Reliance on self-reliance…presumes that you have an ample supply of every necessity and that other survivors (who will all be in the same boat) will let you keep it to yourself. (Should you even want to, considering that you will all need one another’s help?)”

Desperation and greed both make grand entrances when times are hard.  There is less desperation and less danger if we work together in communities, when we invite the wanderer to be part of the community.

More important than sharing your supplies will be sharing your knowledge.  It is the one thing you can never have too much of.  It is the thing that marauders can’t take from you so long as you are alive.  And your supply of knowledge isn’t diminished when you share; it grows.

How Can We Help?

My experience living through the Oklahoma wildfires of 2015, though scary as hell at the time, and still unsettling to think about, is nothing compared to the hell that Californians are going through now.  I had my truck packed, my cat caddies and dog leashes ready, and time to get away.  The ash fell on us, but my family lost nothing but sleep and security.

We can still see the scars around us, and the new homes of those who had insurance.  Drought, high temps, wind, and human negligence caused the multiple fires.  Droughts have gotten more frequent and more extreme here in the center of the continent, but the real apocalypse has started in California and Puerto Rico, along the Gulf coast of Texas and Mexico, in Indonesia and Japan, on the east coast of North America, in vulnerable places around the world.

As the man-made calamities gets more calamitous, I’ve come to realize the flaw in my ready-for-anything plan. I’m not.

Sure, I have stored food. I have a garden, canning skills, and chickens.  I have a source of water and my beloved Big Berkey water filter.  These things only work if I don’t have to evacuate.  Or if I can take them with me.

I’ve devised all sorts of plans to stash canning supplies, jars of canned foods, and camping gear in a trailer if we have to evacuate.  I have a bug-out bag.  In fact, after reading Hatchet (by Gary Paulsen) with my fourth-grade reading lab boys, we all had bug-out bags, hatchets not included.

It’s time to come up with better bug-out plans. The first order of business is a plan to communicate with family, friends, and neighbors.  It’s also time to let go, mentally, of things that aren’t important and to secure backup for the things—bank papers, account numbers, insurance information—that will make recovery easier once the people we love are accounted for.

Meanwhile, is there a resource on the west coast that could pair groups of us here with needy families there?  Let’s make sure the people who have lost everything can rebuild.  How can we help?

Cleaning Up My Act

If you live in the country, and you don’t bicycle into town or own an electric car that you charge with renewable sources, or if you haven’t learned to be entirely self-sufficient right where you are, you probably have a sizeable carbon footprint.  That includes me.

I can feel self-righteous because I use no poisons in my garden.  My chicken pens and runs are treated with DE, diatomaceous earth.  I rotate in the garden, leave wild patches to invite in insect variety, and plant extra.  Electronic gadgets discourage rodents, and horse apples (Osage orange, the fruit of the bois d’arc) deter insects.  I compost and recycle.

I plant crops for bees and butterflies.  I buy local. I eat grass-fed beef and eat yogurt from grass-fed cows.

And I drive hundreds of miles a month.  Even the recycling center is fifty miles away.

I’m part of the problem. I may have traded in my lovely gas-guzzling truck for a Subaru, but it isn’t enough.

How does one live “far from the madding crowd,” and still be part of civilization?  I started a poetry reading a few miles from my farm, but the poets often drive in from afar, at least as far as I have to drive to attend their readings.

It doesn’t help that my small town doesn’t have rural mail delivery.  Or a library.  Oh, I can get mail delivered, including boxes of books, if I’m willing to make a post office even farther from the farm my home PO.

I raise chickens, but I don’t raise their feed.  I buy from two milling companies within a 50-mile radius of the farm.  Neither supply organic feed, at least feed I can afford.  I pick up organic millet from the Oklahoma Food Cooperative when it’s available, but I have to drive 45 miles for the pickup.

Maybe I can decide to pick up mail and other items I need from town no more than once or twice a week.

Perhaps I can fence in enough land to let the chickens graze and grow supplemental crops.  I need millet and turnip greens and a good hay pasture.  And a good tractor.  Wait!

What is a worried person with a big footprint to do?  I need answers.

 

 

Science in the Bathroom

I woke up to a smell that reminded me of sick cats.  It works better than an alarm to get me out of bed.  Nothing in the floor.  Nothing on the bed.  Nothing in the litter box in the bathroom.

But that smell!

Nothing in the living room or kitchen.  In fact, the farther from the bathroom, the weaker the smell.

I would have found it sooner if my vanity weren’t so cluttered.  What I took to be cat sickness turned out to be an explosion.

I bought the bottle of fish poop fertilizer from a local fish farm.  The plastic bottle was bulging when I picked it up from my Oklahoma Food Coop pickup site, but I didn’t think anything about it until I realized that the poopy mess that coated a dozen things on my vanity came from a split in the side of the bottle.

Don’t judge me for keeping fertilizer in the bathroom.  If you are a farmer and a prepper, chances are you have things in strange places—like the galvanized tubs of rice and beans beneath the baby grand…in the bedroom.

So, did methane from the fish poop cause the explosion?  Has anyone else had experience with exploding fish poop fertilizer?

One more question: What gets you out of bed at 6:00 AM on Sunday morning?

Twenty-First-Century Skills

Evidently it has become a problem that so few people like to cook, about 10% of us according to one survey.  Wait!  What about all those cooking shows on television?  Is that just wishful thinking, like someone saying, “Someday I’d like to write a book.”?

I prepare food every single day.  I have my fast-food options: scrambled eggs, salad, tuna or sardines, apples and peanut butter.  I don’t bother with too many fancy recipes.  A lot of meals are simply a steamer filled with what’s available at the time, including potatoes, carrots, cabbage, sweet potatoes, whatever is in season.  Put it on the table with butter, seasonings, and cheese or beans and you have a meal.

We aren’t vegetarians.  I make a pot of beef soup some weeks.  Other weeks I make a beef and pork meatloaf.  A whole chicken lasts a week—fried leg quarters and wings one evening, chicken breasts and vegetables another.  I boil the carcass, removing any meat left on the bones, and make soup. The dog gets gristle, fat, and anything that’s left except the bones.

In my freezer are locally sourced chickens, whole-hog sausage, ground beef from grass-fed cows, and ground lamb.  I raise chickens for meat and eggs, and what I don’t grow in my garden I pick up at the farmers’ market, from gardening friends, and from Oklahoma Food Coop. That includes my Oklahoma peanut butter, Oklahoma lard, and yogurt from grass-fed cows.

What do I buy at the grocery store?  Sardines and tuna, frozen salmon, almonds, avocados, and coffee.  Oranges in their season.  Jar rims and lids.  Apple cider vinegar, although I have made my own.  Chocolate.  And some cheese, although much of that also comes from Oklahoma producers.

When foods are available, I can, freeze, and dehydrate.  In August, my pantry is filling, but I need a lot more green beans, more jars of tomatoes and tomato sauce, and apples.  If they’re available along the roadside when Dale returns from his art shows in Colorado, I’d like another bushel of peaches.

What I thought of, when I heard the piece on NPR bemoaning the loss of cooking skills, was this: what’s missing are time and education.  If you work all day away from home, how do you make time to preserve food?  Without training, how sure can you be that your home-canned foods are safe?  We need to address these issues.  People need to know how to grow and preserve.  As climate change progresses, this education may be what saves us.

Yes, I’m often worn to a nubbin, as my mother would say, during canning season.  But in the winter, when I serve a meal from my freezer or my pantry, I’m grateful that I know how to feed my family.  And I’m proud that I’m passing this education on. The ability to grow and preserve may be more in need in the coming century than even tech skills.  The only thing more important, if things continue to go downhill, may be the ability to find water and dig a well.

 

Beets

I don’t remember eating beets

when I was a kid.

Maybe they don’t grow well

in the humid heat of Zone 7.

 

Now, it’s one of the staples

of my pantry.  We eat them

pickled,

roasted,

just out of the boiling water and sliced,

as a side dish,

on a salad.

 

Remember the discovery!

I was experimenting with pickled beets

and sliced off the rough edges,

popped them into my mouth.

Yum.

Ate a bunch.

 

Next day, thought I was dying.

No tummy ache,

just the mistake

of looking into the toilet

when I flushed.

 

This year, though,

after a couple of dry years,

a friend asked if I wanted beets.

 

She planted two rows,

and did they grow!

 

Two bushels.

Maybe three.

I’ve canned,

Frozen.

Pickled.

 

Now I’m giving them away.

 

Wait!

What if next year is another dry one?

Maybe another canner full,

a few more jars,

one more day boiling water,

slipping skins,

slicing off the rough edges

and popping them into my mouth.