Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bulk Food Series - Part 4, General Meal Plans and Canning

Your food has arrived, your pantry is clean and stocked, and your children are standing in the middle of the kitchen wailing “There’s no food here!!! Just a bunch of weird ingredients!!! Where are the Doritos? I want a sandwich!” Your husband is whistling the Sicily’s Pizza jingle. The nursing baby and the dog are the only ones not freaking out.

This will happen if you don’t have a plan. The biggest help is to have supper made in advance the first night. Something in the crockpot, something warm and familiar and that everyone in your family loves. Pickup day is always a lot of work and you really don’t want to cook that night. Pot roast is my go-to meal for this unless I have a chicken pot pie or a pan of enchiladas or lasagna in the freezer.

Hopefully, you have a meal plan for the following week or two or four so that you can relax over supper with your family as soon as everything is put away and then tackle the actual cooking the following day. Plan on something easy like eggs and toast for breakfast- quick to make, quick to clean, and not a lot of prep. Then decide which big tasks you want to tackle first. With a large produce order for canning, that will be my priority.

Canning: doubling and tripling jam recipes has never worked well for me so I have to do one recipe at a time. 72 lbs of berries should net me 60 pints of jam. In a perfect world, I would use only local honey, fruit and Pomona pectin but to stretch my spendy fruit, spendy honey, and spendy pectin I will also be using some organic apple juice. Jam will eat an entire day of my life but this is a once-a-year occurrence. When I’m buying jam, I’m spending about $8 per week or $416 a year. The cost of ordering berries, pectin, jars, and shipping will come to about $225. I save $190 or a savings wage of $24 an hour. Those numbers will improve the following year when I won't have to purchase so many jars. Not bad for a day’s work!

Other canning tasks: Pickles! Unlike jams, pickles can be doubled and tripled. I’ll spend another day making pickles, pickle relish, and canning grated carrots and zucchini.

One day later in the fall, I’ll spend a day making gifts and beef stock. I used to order the Pacific Naturals organic beef stock from Azure (costco only carries the chicken flavor) but then I discovered that it contains autolyzed yeast extract which is another name for a form of MSG. Sigh. I’m sure the homemade stuff is nutritionally superior but sometimes those convenience products are just so darned convenient! I plan to cook my stock down to something more like demi-glace than stock to save space. I’m also planning to caramelize enough onions to give me 12 lovely quarts of onion soup base.

Ketchup takes little time to can but a lot of time to simmer. Days and days. I’m shooting for 10 quarts this year.

Bulk Food Series - Part 3, some more thoughts on organization

So now you’ve got all these bags and boxes and it all seemed like such a great idea as you were clicking things into the online shopping cart. Pickup was even kind of fun- a little like Christmas but without any toys to assemble or sugared up kids melting down in the line to see Santa. But you get it home and into the kitchen and you wonder what on earth you were thinking.

The good news is that once you get it broken out into containers and put away, it gets better. The bad news is that you may find yourself pulling everything out of your pantry and reworking the whole thing to accommodate these new foods. That isn’t as bad as it may sound because it gives you the opportunity to take a close look at the things you have in there. I just threw away my 3 year old cans of escargot last week. I wish I could claim an organizational frenzy but the truth is that one of them fell off a high shelf onto my toe and I slam dunked them in a haze of pain. I should have thrown them away two years ago! What is sitting in your pantry that you’re probably never going to eat? Make space and get rid of it before it attacks you!


1. Before purchasing storage containers, measure your space. How tall are your shelves? How wide? How deep?

2. Think about having primary and secondary storage. For instance, I’ll be ordering a 50# bag of polenta but only about 5 lbs at a time will be up in the pantry. The rest will be on the gorilla shelves in the garage in a large Rubbermaid tub.

3. Plan for a day of pantry scrubbing and cleaning the day prior to pickup. Maybe it’s just my house but it seems that ick accumulates in my pantry. As long as you know you need to sort through and pull stuff out, you might as well factor in time to clean it.

You might also want to consider declaring an 'eat from the pantry' week where your meals are planned around what you have instead of what you might want since that will save money and create space.

Bulk Food Series - Part 2

So what do I order? And what do I *do* with it all?

Today we’ll tackle the ‘what’ part.

What you order depends on your priorities and food philosophy. I’ve been heavily influenced by the Weston Price Foundation and Sally Fallon Morell’s “Nourishing Traditions”. Maybe you just want to go organic or vegetarian or macrobiotic or you have a child who needs to be on a gluten free diet- these are all things that ordering from a co-op can make easier. Our family’s priorities are these:

1. No high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils or MSG or artificial food colorings/preservatives
2. Avoiding pesticides
3. Dairy products which have not been subjected to the homogenization or pasteurization processes
4. Clean meats, humanely raised and slaughtered
5. Local and sustainable whenever possible
6. Natural sugars and fats

The reality is that I live in Alaska, I have kids, I’m not super-homemaker, and we have a budget with very, very little budge. I don’t soak my grains religiously. I often buy my bread from the local bakery. I drink coffee and tea. I don’t much like sourdough bread. And sometimes, you will see me coming out of the drive-thru. Some days are like that.

So here’s what I do order:

Frozen berries- I'm ordering 72 lbs of them to make jam. Raspberries are a favorite here but the blackberries are much cheaper so we're doing 24 lbs of raspberries and 40 lbs of blackberries and 8 lbs of strawberries.

Produce- I'm writing at the end of July so what's listed now won't be what is listed when we order. Hopefully there will be large quantities of pickling cucumbers and tomatoes available then. I got a great deal on tomatoes last year and canned ketchup. It was really good but only lasted about 8 months so this year I know to do more. I would like to end up with 12 quarts of ketchup and 12 pints of barbecue sauce in addition to 40 quarts of pickles and at least 12 quarts of salsa. We tried a weekly CSA box this month and I go to the Farmer’s Market pretty religiously.

Nuts- cashews & almonds. Walnuts and Pecans are cheaper at Costco and since I totally can't afford the organic and we don't eat enough to make the potential pesticide load worth freaking out over that's OK.

almond meal- great for baking, a nice way to sneak some protein into sugary stuff and for gluten free things. Miss V loves making macaroons. They’re a little sweet for me and they don’t really work as well if you cut the sugar.

coconut oil- sometimes. I can get a better price if I order direct from wilderness family or Tropical Traditions when they are running specials but only if there are other people to share the shipping costs with. Azure doesn't carry palm shortening which is nice for holiday baking - another consideration when ordering oils.

almond oil- for adding to my mayo oil blend. Organic Olive oil is now available at costco less expensively than through azure when shipping is factored in.

pasta- we like the spelt and rice pastas

sugar- sucanat, 50 lbs. Honey- maybe. I'm waiting to hear back from a local producer to see if I can get a similar price if I take my own 5 gallon bucket when they harvest in august. I order maple syrup direct from a grower I know in Maine.

rice and grains- sweet brown rice, white sushi rice, wheat berries, spelt berries, kamut berries, rolled oats (oatmeal, granola, cookies...), barley, arborio rice, popcorn

ginger paste
corn tortillas
baking soda (aluminum free)
unflavored gelatin
cocoa powder

cheese- we prefer to have as much of our dairy intake in an un-pasteurized form and the raw milk cheese sold in 5 lb blocks at Azure is much less expensive than the 2 lb blocks available at Natural Pantry. When I'm unable to get what I want in raw form and must buy it pasteurized I try to buy local so the creamery just down from the school is my first source for that.

Dried fruit: We like their dried cranberries much better than craisens . Dried apples, apricots, currants, raisens, sultanas and coconut all find their way into granola and baked goods throughout the year. I bought the 25 lb bag of dried apples last spring and that was a little more than I really needed. I also bought a bag of date pieces for granola and the kids rejected them outright. Want some?

Vanilla: Good prices on good vanilla. No fake icky stuff and nice reusable bottles.

Powdered Milk- an emergency stash item as well as used to make home-made instant hot cocoa mix

Things I don't buy from Azure:

Meat- I like to know my farmers whenever possible. I like knowing that the cows making my milk are well cared for, that the steer munching its way into a starring role in winter pot roasts has eaten only grass and a little barley and had a happy life, that my chickens spent their days chasing bugs and pecking in the grass and running from shadows overhead. We split a hog with another family and slaughtered it ourselves in May and that was a pretty good deal financially and flavor-wise. Duane Clark comes to the Friday Flings as well as the Saturday market in the Natural Pantry parking lot with coolers of frozen local raised, grass fed, grass finished meat. He has a counterpart with pork who is usually at the Saturday Markets but not the flings.

When I can’t handle a half of a hog or cow, I’ve found that the gentleman running Mt McKinley Meat in Palmer is a very sympathetic soul and I can at least know that they animals from there went as easily as he could dispatch them, they weren’t in a miserable feed lot for months, and they weren’t fed all corn (barley is cheaper by a lot here). From Mt McKinley I can also buy leaf fat for making my own lard with no preservatives and no hydrogenation as well as sliced side pork for home brining bacon without a trace of nitrates, nitrites or MSG.

Lamb comes from Costco- the positive to that is the meat is grass raised and has good color; the negative is that it is shipped frozen from Australia. That’s not exactly a low-fossil fuel endeavor. Someday I might be able to have some sheep of my own to keep me in meat and fiber but until then, the Australian grass fed stuff looks a lot better than the pale slabs at Fred Meyer.

In a perfect world I could barter some moose meat or- the holy grail- caribou this winter. His Majesty has many outstanding skills but he doesn’t hunt. Some women live in houses decorated in a heavy taxidermy motif and have to pay a mechanic though so I know just how fortunate I really am.

Milk and yogurt: We’re big fans of milk in its natural state so our milk comes from a herd of cows in which we are part owners. I use some of my weekly share to make yogurt and we supplement with the oh-so-addictive Greek Gods honey whole milk yogurt. There are better choices than Greek Gods- Stoneyfield organic cream top for instance- because Greek Gods is pasteurized and homogenized but it’s really, really tasty. And effortless.

Fish: If we didn’t catch it or have it given to us, I’ll buy from The Salmon Guy where I can be sure it was at least wild caught and as local as I can get it. Finding shrimp that hasn’t been farmed or messed with is becoming a very difficult and expensive task. Thanks BP! I’m doing some lox and smoked fish this year and I love, love, love my salmon roe. Yum.

Butter:. I make some from our milk shares, I buy Kerry Gold at Costco, and I buy some of the organic regular stick butter at Costco.

Soy sauce: My family’s favorite brand of MSG free stuff is at New Sagaya so I pick it up when I’m in the city.

Spices: I’ve ordered from Penzy’s in the past but now that we have a local option I’m going to check them out.

Tea- Same deal as spices + some comes from Natural pantry, some from the Kobuk

Coffee- Azure doesn’t sell it. I am working valiantly to kick my expensive coffee habit. $50 to $100 a month on coffee is really ridiculous especially since it’s made with milk that is bad for me and sugars and flavorings not found in nature. I’ve tried the local roaster who sells at the Fling. I’ve tried some organic free trade beans from Freddy’s and Natural Pantry. My problem is that I have yet to find anything that doesn’t have that tastes-like-an-old-ashtray-smells aftertaste. We have a French press, we have a grinder, I buy only whole beans but I have to load in so much sugar and/or homemade chocolate syrup and milk that I’m getting too little caffeine and too much sweetened milk. Suggestions most welcome!

Vinegar for cleaning supplies and pickling - Costco. I’m sure that artisan made apple cider vinegar is superior environmentally and in taste but the price difference is HUGE.

Bulk Food Series- Part 1

That first Azure Standard (or any other bulk natural foods) order can be mighty intimidating. I remember my first time and looking at all the bags and boxes and thinking "What have I done? Where will I put it all? I don't even know how to use some of it!!!"

If you are just making the transition from highly processed foods to a more whole-foods style of eating, please consider taking one step at a time. This is a concept completely foreign to my personality but I know it would have made it easier for me. The only possible exception to that advice would be in the case that you've embarked on something like the "Eat Real Food" challenge and just dropped off 90% of the contents of your kitchen at the food pantry. In that case, you need the real food, you need it all and you need it now!

As you are going through and making up your order, consider storage once all those 25 and 50 lb bags arrive. I didn't do that and for many months had a pantry full of 1 gallon ziplocs. It takes roughly 14 gallon bags to contain the grains/stuff from a 50 lb bag. Just FYI, if one fails to plan ahead, orders 6 50# bags of various grains, sucanat, rice, etc plus a variety of dried fruit and other goodies and then puts it all into said gallon bags, one's pantry becomes a random frustrating mess of bags and one begins to avoid cooking just to avoid the pantry... If the goal is to avoid finding yourself at the McDonald’s drivethru, making yourself loathe being in your own kitchen is not the most effective means of accomplishing that.

The large gray stackable bins with the flip front lids ($14.95 regular price, often used for dog food or recycling) hold up to 75 lbs of bulk grains, rice, sugar, etc. & I now have 4 of them. They go on sale at Fred Meyer periodically for $9.95. They are fantastic. I have another size of clear plastic tub which holds a 25 # bag of rice. WalMart ( I know- I hate going in there too....) has some thin rectangular canisters that hold perfectly a 5 lb bag of flour or cocoa powder and line up very efficiently on a pantry shelf.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams

We'll definitely never be featured on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" (if it even exists any more- TV free freak that I am, I couldn't really tell you without using google) but we are certainly eating some delicacies. Our beautiful salmon, caught by my intrepid fish slayer as they swam toward the mouth of the Kenai river, yielded several skeins of perfect orangy-red roe. I had never worked with roe before- I just knew I liked it in sushi and toast points with mayo and on potatoes with sour cream. Even though I love the taste and I know how incredibly nutritious it is I don't buy the stuff: Its expensive!

Now that I had the raw ingredients in hand I knew that I needed to figure it out and that I was not using them for bait. That would be like pouring a cup of 100 year old Scotch on a pile of corn when out deer hunting!  I 'did the google' and got a basic idea then went to work.

First, I soaked the whole skeins in very salty warm water. I didn't want to cook them so I made sure that it was comfortable on my skin and that the salt was thoroughly dissolved in the water. I left them in that bath for about an hour before I began the next step.

The second phase is de-membraning. I won't lie: it's a pain. It took me over an hour to do the 6 skeins of roe and I lost about 20% of the eggs while doing it...and there were still a few little pieces left in there. It is very important to remove all of the vein and not leave any bloody bits in (according to internet articles- I have no idea why). I used the tip of my fillet knife to ease off as much as I could but the stuff doesn't go smoothly.

I placed my membrane-free eggs in a mesh strainer and rinsed them well and picked out big pieces of membrane I'd missed the first time then let them drain while I mixed up my curing brine. There are a variety of recipes out there. I used:

1 cup fine sea salt
1 cup sucanat
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup vodka
4 cups warm water

mix your brine ingredients in a bowl just a little bigger than your strainer full of eggs and make sure that the salt and sucanat are fully dissolved. Gently pour the eggs into the brine and add a little water if you need to make sure that all the eggs are fully covered.

I left mine to cure for about an hour then drained off the brine and packed the caviar into small ziploc bags. I made sure that the air was all pressed out but was careful to try not to break any of the little eggs. Then I placed those bags into another bag as an extra layer of protection against freezer burn and popped them in the freezer.

So far, I've taken one frozen bag out and used that roe. It was good in texture and taste and defrosted very quickly. It was also a big hit at the sushi party we attended last night.

Pictures coming as soon as the camera can be made to work properly.

A post on homemade lox  tomorrow.

Goodbye Lily

Our dog Lily died early this morning. In spite of not being much of a dog person, I'm sadder than I expected to be. She was a good dog, in spite of being a hairy beast who dug holes in the landscaping, and will be missed. So far Hunter (our other golden- they've never been apart in 8 years) seems to be pretty oblivious and the boys don't seem to understand but if we have to get out there and bury her (animal control isn't open yet for me to find out about cremation options) I think it will sink in. Not the Friday I had hoped for.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

All Hail the Conquering Fish Slayer

We went, we camped, he fished, I gutted and cleaned. And it was good. HM did a great job and I am so grateful to the friends who took us and taught us (and brought their bigger tarp and over-all more prepared camping setup). The huge neon yellow mid calf-length rain slicker (with the extra safe reflector stripes) got me a few snickers while setting up camp but, as the rain continued, the snide comments ("Hey! Did you bring us fish sticks?") turned to "That sure looks dry". 

I now have eight beautiful red salmon fillets in my freezer, three more curing into lox in the fridge, and 4 little baggies of roe, also cured. Another pair of fillets is waiting for Bryan to pick them up. The roe with some dilled labneh is really heavenly. Making bagels in anticipation of eating the lox on Saturday is a strong probability. Fresh bagels, homemade lox, local tomatoes, homemade labneh, thin sliced red onions, and a sprinkling of capers....sounds like it might be worth every bit of the work! A bloody mary on the side might also be in order.

There were great lessons learned for next year too. Buy gear this winter out of season. Another pair of waders and boots, a tent or two, nets, another cabana tent, a cook stove,  good sleeping bags and most important of all: at least one of those little stand-up tents probably made for solar showers. The porta-potties were vile, in addition to being kind of a hike. With one of those nifty little shower tents you could set up a honey bucket and skip the whole experience. You could have a place to pull of the wet nasty stuff when you come out of the water. You could actually use it as a shower tent. It looked silly in the sporting goods store but I think I get it now. Sleeping in the back of the Suburban worked pretty well for us but I can't imagine doing it without the memory foam pad. I'm the kind of girl who thinks that roughing it should certainly include an aerobed, at minimum.

The other big lesson: small boys can never, ever pack enough socks or clean clothes and it is likely futile to even try. But more socks are always a good plan.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


this photograph inspires admiration, envy, and frustration (because its not in color!) I am longing to spend days in the kitchen canning jams and pickles and tomatoes and ketchup and veggies of all sorts. Last summer, 6 quarts of ketchup and a dozen jars of zucchini pickles were the extent of what I could manage (we moved in late July). There is something so secure and comforting to me about seeing rows of jars on my pantry shelves. I recently won a new canning book at another blog called "Putting Food By". Can't wait to get it!

A Salon article describes canning as just another hipster craft that doesn't actually save any money. If you're buying fruit at Whole Foods and factoring in the equipment costs in comparison to a jar of Smuckers then clearly the home canned stuff is going to cost more- maybe exponentially more. But if you are reusing jars across years, growing your own produce or purchasing cheaply in bulk and comparing your cost to the things you would purchase otherwise (assuming that you, too, are avoiding HFCS and sprayed fruits) the home canned jams are clearly the winner. My anticipated costs for 12 quarts of no-spray blackberry jam:

a box of jars- $8.90
12 lbs blackberries @ $1.55 - $18.60
6 cups sucanat - $ 3.32
1 oz Pomona Pectin @ $42 lb- $ 2.63
total- $ 33.45 for 12 quarts

I currently buy my jam from a talented local producer and supplement with a compromise brand at the store. We run through about a pint per week at a total of roughly $10 a pint average. 12 quarts would cost me $240 to purchase or $33.45 to produce. Jam can be done by anyone with a large stock pot- no pressure canner required. Even if I didn't already own ladles, funnels, and the special canning tongs or wanted to use twice as many smaller jars, the savings would still be significant.

Last year I calculated costs on my ketchup and found it was more than twice the price of purchasing a jumbo squeeze bottle of Heinz in the store but I think the flavor is better, there is no waste to recycle and I will have jars to re-use this year. My current mayonnaise making ventures are either a huge financial success or a terrible loss, depending upon what your priorities are. Production costs for a quart of mayo run about $5 for my homemade. I could purchase the same amount of Helman's for $ .50 to $1 less but if I purchased the only commercially available mayo that meets my standards (no soy, no canola, organic, GMO free, no transfats, no HFCS) I would pay $15 for the jar + shipping. Given the speed and ease of making mayo, I can't justify the price difference. Making mustard, however, is never going to happen. Organic, cheap, and acceptable mustards can be had for $1.50 a bottle through the co-op. Miss V expressed a desire for pickled peaches today but noted that the idea of being able to afford peaches and putting them in jars rather than eating them all out of hand, one after another, was a little offensive. Maybe we'll get a good sale soon.

What are you canning this year? Why do you do it?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Of mothers and daughters

Once upon a time I was a young military wife riding a train across the Rocky Mountains with my husband and young daughter. The nearly-4 year old had been strictly forbidden from going to the lower level of the train without her parents because the doors could be opened but she had made a new friend a few rows back who encouraged her to come along on an adventure. When I opened my eyes from a catnap to see the child tiptoeing down the stairs I put an immediate stop to the game. While talking to my daughter, I was horrified when my mother's voice came pouring out of my mouth: "If that other little girl told you to jump off a bridge would you do that too?!?!"

I spent years defining myself by not being my mother but at some point in my mid to late 30s I was well enough acquainted with the realities of life and parenting to find some grace for her and see her as a person instead of an institution. Where I once considered "You sound just like your mother" to be a condemnation, it is now a compliment. We still have issues upon which we disagree but I think they are more differences in generational culture and perspective than anything else. Now I can see all of the wonderful qualities that made her a great mom- and I can see what a really difficult child I was for her to raise. I might have been a better candidate for some hippie artist commune than for life as the child of an Army officer and a civil servant but we all survived it and, now, I wouldn't trade my parents for the world. At 13, I would have sold them for a quarter with a flexible payment plan!

This morning my own 18 year old daughter was channeling me. Listening to her harangue her brothers through cleaning up one of their myriad messes was like hearing my own voice from another room, both the good and the bad. I hear my own demanding shrillness in her but I also hear strength, an ability to organize, and a refusal to be walked on by small children. She certainly has more grace for me than I did for my mother at her age and seems less bothered by being compared to me, for which I am very grateful. Watching children become adults is fascinating if you can step back for some perspective. Watching them take over the nagging for a morning to get the house back into order is priceless.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The other side is symmetrical!

Miss V here.

I have fine tuned the blog and it now looks vaguely put together and fit for public consumption. The temptation to do this thing up as an ode to Twilight and HP slash was quiet tempting until I remembered that this is all my work and would reflect badly on me. Probably bad for my health as well.

Since I generally do unfussy blogs this is what you get. It is all even and uniform, the arial font is gone, and it all matches and looks purty. There will be changing banners for seasons and at some point I will do blurb art. Until then this will have to do and Mom will need to change her password next March or bad things may happen. :D

This should be exciting!

I'm handing over the blogger controls to Miss V for a few hours and she is going to make my blog pretty. I gave her a couple of blogs to look at for some sense of what I like and now I'm turning her loose. See you on the other side!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Coming Soon

I'm working on a series for people who are new to co-op ordering, cooking with whole foods, and using local food resources.  Meal plans will be posted. That was the hardest part of switching to a Nourishing Traditions diet for me. Let me know if you have questions or requests! Group canning parties? Classes? Batch cooking swaps?

Our new charter school will have a potluck on the 9th of August and will open up a new Azure co-op buying club the following week. With luck (and permission from the powers that be) we may even be able to get Duane Clark to come sell his local grass fed chemical, hormone, and drug free beef and his friend's pastured pork at our pickup day. Ordering is not limited to families with children in the school. If you would like to order with us, please visit Azure and set up an account so that you can start getting an idea of what they carry and what you would like to order. Shipping is roughly $.35 per pound which is paid separate at the time of delivery.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Christmas Presents!

Saw this today and nearly spewed tea on the keyboard because of the sheer awesomeness of it. Two small boys will be getting these for Christmas- We needed new swords and at least one new shield anyway. The red one just screams for a mod- Viking horns!  

Its not making my "no new yarn" pledge any easier though. I want to go buy the yarn right now and start on these. You will note that my 'no new yarn' pledge did not include patterns. I've already happily sent my $3 zinging through the ether and now I own the instructions. I just need 3 skeins of Brown Sheep bulky(because of course I'm going to felt it!) and  the will to finish my other stuff first. Must....knit....faster.....

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Song of Fred

Fred is outside serenading. He trills and cresendoes but his tune is very, very repetitive. Nagging even. I wish that Fred would find a new house in a new neighborhood but he seems very well established here. Perhaps Fred is lonely- I have certainly never seen him with another. A lady friend might be just the thing to curtail his incessant musical interludes. A polite request seems to be a best first option in most neighborhood disputes but I am certain that in this case, it would be pointless: Fred is a squirrel.

I never thought that squirrels really made any significant sounds before I became acquainted with Fred. Nobody ever says "Chirp like a squirrel!". Unfortunately, Fred failed to get the memo. If we did not reside within the city limits and I were not so unwilling to garner negative attention from local law enforcement, I could solve the Fred problem in a very permanent way. If Fred's preferred trees were on the other side of the house- where we have no neighbors in residence and the structure is incomplete- I might chance it anyway. My northern neighbors would surely object to a .22 aimed at their house though so I resist the temptation. Besides, I've seen Elmer hunting Bugs and that never ends well for Elmer.

Pondering Poo

Ew! Not that kind!

I'm thinking about ditching shampoo and conditioner. I've been happily wedded to my Pantene clarifying shampoo and volumizing conditioner routine for several years but Pantene just shot themselves in the foot with me: they changed formulas and stopped selling the clarifying shampoo. The new formula is icky. It makes my hair feel unclean and my scalp feel itchy and greasy. Certain persons of my acquaintance (generally those who live in my house and have neither the means nor the transportation to run out and purchase an alternative to whatever I toss into their shower) have also complained about the 'new' formula and experienced a sharp increase in dandruff like symptoms. yuck.

As with many other non-mainstream changes, it helps to know someone (or know someone who knows someone's mother) and have the process laid out for me. Sarah is such a daughter of a friend of a friend and wrote just such a helpful post. No matter how well this works out though, I'm drawing the line at deodorant.

Update: I tried just the baking soda part and it felt weird in the shower (we're all so used to the whole rinse-lather-repeat routine) but when I got out and dried my hair it felt great. I suspect that I still have a lot of the nasty chemical residue is my hair though because it went straight to oily/nasty feeling on the scalp in about 4 hours- but it did that with the pantene too. I now have a second squeezy bottle and some vinegar rinse mixed and waiting so I'll try again today. I used a baking soda paste as a facial scrub and that worked beautifully so I think that when my Burt's Bees facial mousturizer is gone I'm going to make some hippie tree hugger changes there too.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Yarn envy

My mantra: I will not buy more yarn! I will not buy more yarn! I will not buy more yarn!

I have to say it a lot since Laura clued me in to the fact that there is a local yarn shop and it also has felting fiber and it is fabulous. I'm determined to finish the projects I already have yarn for before I spend money I don't have on gorgeous new yarn. The biggest problem of the moment is that I hate the way the yarn I'm working with feels. It's Candide & has a lot of vegetable matter in it and is so much rougher than my beloved Brown Sheep bulky. However, I bought several Christmas stocking kits on sale a few years ago and they need to be finished. It's not a big savings if you buy things on half off and then never use them! the biggest problem with my grand plan for self discipline and austerity is that I really do not understand the instructions for doing the heel, I've never done a heel, and I'm going to need to go to the yarn shop for help. I'm going to have to leave all cash, cards, and check books at home.

 (Image from they carry all the kits I have and then some!)

So I will finish the stockings, use my other project yarn, make my dad's Christmas gift, and then and only then will I feel free to covet new fiber. I really want to make myself some felted boots for this winter. Badly. And the gecko mittens I found today.  And some felted insulated carry bags for the kids' tiffins. And, And, And...

so much yarn, so little time.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Unmitigated Gluttony

I mentioned in an earlier post that Miss V was making chicken pot pie tonight. Our guests are going to be in quite late so it was just the five of us- Miss V, SCS, T 1, T2 & me. We devoured the entire batch of this heavenly pot pie. Yes, I know that the frozen puff pastry isn't local, sustainable, soaked, sprouted, made with good fats, or in any other way an admirable processed food. I don't care. It was so, so, so good. I'm full but if there were more I would be eating it. T1 licked the pan clean. This stuff is incredible.
(photo shamelessly taken from the food network site with the recipe- ours disappeared before anyone thought to get a camera)

I warned you it would be random

Summer is rolling along. Estee's at camp, Miss V is making plans for a big adventure, and I'm counting down to the start of the school year. 36 days people!! that last part is a great thing because T1 & T 2 are bickering non-stop and I just threatened to duct tape them to trees on the opposite ends of the yard. Its kind of a shame that they know I'd never do it but it did buy me 15 seconds of silence before they started giggling.

I got to skip cooking yesterday because we went to a wedding. A really wonderful wedding. The reception was a potluck, everything was made by friends or family, the whole thing was low key, low budget- and totally fantastic. This young couple chose to plow money into a 3 week European honeymoon instead of a catered wedding and thousands of dollars in floral, photography, and clothing expenses. It was still a joyful celebration with fantastic music, hours of dancing, and great food. I hope my kids choose to go that route- not that there is a lot of choice since I can't imagine squeezing a big wedding into our budget.

Tonight I also get to skip cooking and enjoy my guests- Miss V is making the chicken pot pie recipe from the Bobby Flay showdown with the Casserole Queens. She watched that months ago before we exiled the TV and has wanted to try it ever since.  The chicken is already cooked and most of the veg chopped so it should go right together for her. Add a little salad, maybe a pan of brownies for desert and we're done!

Also on the cooking front, while digging around the 'net for a marmalade recipe to make best use of our 4 woody little organic oranges from the last CSA basket I came across a reference to a red onion-cranberry marmalade from Thomas Keller's "Ad Hoc at Home" cookbook. Now that I've read more, I want this cookbook. Our library system doesn't have it so I'll be putting in an inter-library loan request today. My orange marmalade search yielded a recipe which left me with weird chunky syrupy stuff. I'll be opening those jars and adding more pectin and re-processing later in the week. It's my own fault because I threw in a little rum for flavor and didn't adjust the pectin.

All the medical bills are finally in along with a little surprise from the IRS- as in "Surprise! you messed up your taxes 2 years ago and we want more money" so I sat down and figured out what we need to do to pay this stuff off. I also have to factor in brake work, winter tires, school supplies and activity fees, and Miss V's upcoming adventure....and we are now back on the envelope system. I'm also going to need to sell some colonial clothing but we should be out of the red by Christmas. Mostly. I think.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Tomato Whisperer

She was at the market again and accounts for fully half of our weekly farmer's market budget now that we know that she'll be there. Maybe 4'11' with her shoes on, head encased in a floral scarf and totally rocking the 'if it fits, it matches" aesthetic-  she doesn't have enough English for me to discuss with her what sort of soil amendments she might be using. She can sure talk to those 'maters though. They are so fantastic that she could bring an interpreter just to let me know she's using DDT and I'd still buy my $20 a week. Yes- they are that good. They smell like proper tomatoes and they taste like sunshine. This is a big deal in Alaska.

My own garden will probably not be producing any tomatoes this summer. The plants are still barely a foot high, there are no blooms, the color is a little on the yellow side...its just sad. Between the moose and my own incompetence I doubt that I'll get anything from my garden this year. Thank God for the farmer's markets and the CSA box. I'm going to be out at Pyrah's again this year. Hopefully the cukes will be up soon.

Mayo Update

Remember when I said I needed to make my own mayo so I could have the good stuff? I followed the instructions and did it in the fantastic new KitchenAid my daughter sent as an anniversary gift (love it. love her. so grateful.) with the whisk thingy. It came out really well. The only caveat is that I kept adding my oil blend (2/3 olive, 1/3 coconut) until I thought it was thick enough. When it was refrigerated it became a little too thick so next time I know to stop a bit short of Helmans consistency. I'd like a flavor that is a little less overwhelmingly olive-y too but I don't want it to taste of coconut either. The oil blend needs some work. Overall though I am delighted with how it came out, how little work was really involved to get a full quart (I tripled the recipe) and how affordable it was compared with ordering from Tropical Traditions. Love them but I live in AK and have kids who would put mayo on their jelly if I let them. That might be an exaggeration but not much.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Desperately Dependent

The power went out for several hours today, reminding me of how energy dependent my life is. My kitchen life in particular. No power = no water, no refrigeration, no oven, no mixer, no egg cooker, no grinder, no vacuum cleaner, etc. It bites!

Since I have no desire to give up any of my gadgets I clearly need some alternative energy in my life. Solar panels, a wind turbine, some micr-hydro would be great but we found land we like and its not right on the river.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Name That Blog

Miss V- who made me a fabulous new banner- thinks my blog needs to be re-named. I think I agree with her. I don't know what to call it though and I'm not 100% in love with her choice. Ideas?


I have quite a yarn stash and no mindless project on the needles right now so when I found this felted basket at Waldorf Mama today it was an immediate flash of inspiration: I can use all of my leftovers to make something similar (it just won't be rainbow striped). I'm thinking that I might use a piece of leather for the bottom too so it will better survive the sorts of abuse I routinely dish out.

If I were doing something more planned and less 'experimental' I'd be all over these from Noni Designs

Too bad I need to knit up all those Christmas stocking kits I bought two years ago, find a positive use for my current stash, finish the unfinished sweater from a kit I bought 4 years back, and still

Thursday, July 1, 2010

First CSA Box!

Is here and I'm excited. I got two heads of lettuce, a big bunch of broccoli, celery (without the leafy bits- boo!), some local purple and white potatoes, some lovely radishes, 4 oranges, and a bunch of what I think are horseradish leaves. I have no clue what to do with those! Suggestions welcome....  the nice folks at Glacier Valley CSA were kind enough to fix my mess up so I'll be getting one box a week instead of 2 next week and none the week after. The celery is a great opportunity to try out the dehydrator which was loaned to me-  not much of a celery fan.

Thank heaven the box was good because the farmers market was not so super by the time we got there yesterday but we did get some tomatoes, some lingonberry jelly, lettuces, garlic, and bok choi.

I also got milk and cream today and have 7 quarts of yogurt doing whatever it is that turns milk to yogurt. Yogurting? Fermenting? Percolating? There's also some soft cheese doing its thing. No eggs so I'll have to resort to store eggs this week. Must replenish the granola stash too.

The sausage is nearly finished and HM will be home tonight. Yay! (update: "almost finished' was wildly optimistic. I am going to be filling casings until I leave for the airport and probably again tomorrow. I think I'll keep some in bulk form for Swedish meatballs)

Book Reviews- Radical Homemakers and Shop Class as Soulcraft

Both of these were good enough that I really tore through them.

Radical Homemakers is based on a premise that I love: there is a choice other than serving the corporate masters. People can opt out, live well on less and create something real and lasting that nurtures the soul and declines to harm others. She talks about the extractive economy and how destructive it is for so many people and I can relate to her perspective. She also seems to think that life without health insurance might be more noble than life with- unless you live in a country with universal care. Having seen the bills for my daughter's cancer care I am extraordinarily grateful to have had good coverage. Our out of pocket expenses this year were limited to $12,000 of the $100,000+  cost. Certainly the cost might have been lower if there was no insurance and the market drove costs down or hospitals closed and doctors went out of business but would the technology and facilities that make my child's continued existence possible themselves exist if there were no insurance companies? I don't know. But we won't be dropping out of our plan anytime soon (like ever).

The idea that I can still build something really meaningful and that my kids can never know the brain deadening hum of fluorescent lights buzzing over one's windowless cubicle gives me warm fuzzies so for that alone, I think the book is worth reading. Its just not necessarily the one true path, the gospel, or a how-to manual from the universe. Borrow this book or pick it up used or get it through inter-library loan.

Shop Class as Soulcraft was fabulous. I'm giving out copies for Christmas- if I can wait that long. If you have kids, especially boys, you need to read this book. If you are involved in the education of children or the counsel of teens, formally or informally, you need this book. If you have the crazy idea that it would be good for people to actually make more of the things we need closer to home than a factory in China, you'll like this book. Part of the message is that the trades are not for dumb people, there is real satisfaction in solving real problems in a hands-on way with an objective standard for success, and that tradesmen often earn more than their student-loan saddled cubicle dwelling contemporaries. This is a book I would buy at double the price. It's high on my list of titles I think we should be reading in our Birchtree Book Club.