Friday, September 3, 2010

Mountain House sale at Emergency Essentials through 9/16

The Mountain House freeze dried food in #10 cans is on sale, 25% - 30% off, at Emergency Essentials from Friday, Sept. 3 through Thursday, Sept. 16.

So if you've been thinking of stocking up, this may be a good time to do it.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Home Made Mylar Packets for Seasonings

This post describes how I made the packets to hold the seasonings in the rice-mix post.

Some time ago I purchased a mylar bag from Emergency Essentials.  These bags are intended to be used inside plastic buckets for storing grains and things.  But I'd heard that you can seal them with a regular iron--like for ironing clothes.  So I decided to give it a try.

The bag is (well, it was) 20" X 30".  I wanted by packets to be 4" X 6", so I cut a 6" strip off the top of the bag.
Then I measured 5 4-inch sections across the strip, but I didn't cut yet.  I wanted to seal along the long edge before I cut the 4" sections, so the pieces wouldn't come apart.  I tried to make my seams about the same width as the factory seams.

Once I sealed along the bottom and cut the sections, I just sealed the both sides of each packet.

I put the labels on while the packets were still flat--before I filled the them.  Then I filled them and sealed the top.   I also snipped a small notch part-way through the side seam near the top, so I can just rip them open when I use them.

It took me a while to get the seams sealed, because I was trying to use the lowest possible setting.  I was worried the mylar would melt on my iron.  But finally I turned it up to the "synthetic" setting, and that worked well.

I'm actually quite pleased with the way they turned out.

Homemade Rice Mix

I am all about convenience foods.  I don't have a lot of time for cooking during the week, so I appreciate being able to fix something quickly.  And the people who blend the seasonings for convenience foods are much better at it than I am.

Some of my favorite convenience foods are the Farmhouse Rice mixes.  I eat a lot of grilled chicken, and these go well with that.  Before I start grilling the chicken, I dump the box of rice, 1 1/2 cups water, the seasoning packet, and a pat of butter into a 1 1/2 qt. casserole dish and microwave it for 18 minutes.  Then I just need to steam some veggies while the chicken is grilling, and dinner is served!  When I don't have fresh food on hand, I make a casserole out of a box of Farmhouse Rice, a can of chicken, and a can of green beans.  Or I go Hawaiian and add a can of pineapple. 

But like all convenience foods, these can be pricey.  And they take up a lot of room in the pantry.  And I'd refer it if it made just a little more rice.  So I've been keeping an eye out for an alternative.  I've been looking for something that would be just as easy to fix, and be cheaper and easier to store.  I believed I've found what I was looking for.

While browsing through the Make-A-Mix book again, I came across a recipe for Chicken Continental Rice Seasoning Mix.  This book has a lot of great recipes in it, and this one does not disappoint.

Chicken Continental Rice Seasoning Mix
2 Tbsp instant chicken bouillon granules
1 Tbsp dried parsley leaves, crushed
2 tsp minced dried onions
1/4 tsp dried basil leaves
1/4 tsp thyme
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp garlic powder

As you can see, this recipe is for making individual packets rather than a spice jar full of seasoning that you would measure out (each packet about 1/4 cup).  At first, I wanted to make up a full jar of this mix so I didn't have to make up the mix 10 times for 10 packets.  However, after making it the first time I realized that this really is the best approach.  This mix has fine powders and chunky herb leaves, and it would be difficult to keep the ingredients properly mixed in a spice jar.  The powders would want to fall to the bottom, while the leaves would migrate to the top.  So, individual packets it is!

Making the rice was just as easy as making the Farmhouse rice.  Put 1 cup of long-grain rice, 2 cups of water, 1 packet of the seasoning mix, and a pat of butter (if desired) into a 1 1/2 qt. casserole dish and microwave for 16-18 minutes.  I was worried it might boil over in the 1 1/2 qt. dish, since it's more rice than in the Farmhouse box, but it didn't.  So I was happy about that.

Obviously, the rice didn't taste just like the Farmhouse rice, as it's a different recipe.  But I really like it.  It has a lot of chicken flavor, with the flavor of the herbs in the background.  The night I made it I hadn't thawed out any chicken, so I made a casserole with this rice, a can of chicken, and a can of green beans.  It was very good.  I took the leftovers to work the next day for lunch and one of my coworkers said it smelled like chicken soap.

It's nice that I can make up several packets and use them with rice from my food storage.  This raises the question, though...what is the best way to make the packets.  I could use the snack-sized zip-lock bags.  Or I could experiment with making packets from larger mylar food-storage bags.  You can also buy small heat-seal mylar bags.  But I decided to make my own--I'll make a separate post about that.

So I'm good to go.  I can purchase my rice in bulk and store it in #10 cans (for 3-month storage), keep a few packets of the seasoning mix on hand, and make a quick dinner whenever I want.  All for less money than I was paying for the Farmhouse rice.  Now, I just need to find more seasoning mixes for variety...

Two Versions of a Cookie Mix

I invented a cookie mix for one of my favorite cookies--and I just have to share it with you.  I like to have a mix like this on hand just to make cookie making quicker.  But it's also nice to know that if you're snowed in for a week you have quick, easy-to-make cookies from your food storage.  As long as you can boil water, you can make these cookies.

This is a cookie recipe that I got from a friend when I was in the fifth grade.  Boy, THAT was a long time ago!  The name of the cookie on the recipe was "Penny Cookies".  I have no idea where the name came from, but I changed it to "Summer Cookies" because I make them in the summer.  I've seen versions of this recipe on various cooking websites, usually called something like "Chocolate No-Bake Cookies".  Yes, "no-bake" is the reason I make them in the summer, when it's too hot to have the oven on.

Here's the original recipe:

     Boil for 1 minute:
     2 cups sugar
     3 Tblsp cocoa
     1/2 cup milk
     1/2 cup butter or stick margarine

     1/2 cup peanut butter (I like to use crunchy)
     1 tsp vanilla

     Pour over:
     3 cups quick oats (I use regular rolled oats)

     Drop by teaspoon over waxed paper. Refrigerate (I usually just leave them on the wax paper on  the counter)

The first version of the mix (we'll call it Version A) is not a food-storage version.  It just combines the dry ingredients from the "boil" part of the recipe, and uses powdered milk instead of fresh milk.

     Mix together and put in quart zip-lock bag:
     2 cups sugar
     3 Tblsp cocoa
     1/2 cup instant non-fat dried milk (this adds more milk solids for richer cookies)

     Boil 1 minute:
     1 package Version A cookie mix
     1/2 cup water
     1/2 cup or stick margarine

     Continue with the recipe above, starting with Add:

But I decided to try creating a mix from all food storage items--keeping in mind that vanilla, peanut butter, and rolled oats are part of my food storage.  This version (Version B) uses powdered margarine in addition to powdered milk.

     Mix together and put in quart zip-lock bag:
     2 cups sugar
     3 Tblsp cocoa
     1/2 cup instant non-fat dried milk
     1 cup margarine powder

     Boil 1 minute:
     1 package Version B cookie mix
     3/4 cups water

     Continue with recipe above, starting with Add:

The cookies made from Version A mix taste no different than cookies made from scratch.  The only real difference is using instant non-fat dried milk, and that is not noticable.

The cookies made from Version B mix took a little longer to harden, but they did harden up just fine.  They tasted slightly different when I first tried them, but by the third cookie I could no longer taste a difference.  I don't know whether it's because the flavors blended or whether I just got used to the different taste. 

It's easy to make up a couple batches of one of these mixes to keep on hand.  Then you can whip up a batch of cookies in no time.  It is quicker to user the Version B mix, but Version A works well when you don't have powdered margarine.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I Can't Believe I Didn't Think Of This Before!

I use freezer bags a lot.  Sometimes I use gallon-size, but mostly I use quart-size bags.  I often use them to freeze smaller portions of food I buy in bulk, such was walnuts or those family-packs of meat. Or I'll buy a big bag of frozen berries and break it up into smaller bags for freezing (so I have to open each bag less often and it gets fewer ice crystals). 

But filling the freezer bags can be awkward:  they don't stand up by themselves, and they don't stay open.  This is particularly troublesome when I'm puting chicken or other meat into the bags.  I don't want to touch the outside of the bags and possibly contaminate them with any salmonella I may have on my fingers (from the meat--I don't walk around with salmonella on my fingers--not often any way).

But a couple days ago I thought of a simple solution to both problems, and tonight I got a chance to test my idea.

First, I washed out an empty #2 can, and used a can opener to remove the bottom.

Then I simply stood the bottomless can up in the freezer bag I wanted to fill, and put the contents into the can.

The can is shorter than the bag, so as I filled up the can I shook the contents down into the bottom of the bag, and slid the can up to finish filling up the bag.

It worked great.  I filled the bag with no problems.  Now I'm ready for the next time I buy a big package of chicken!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Couponing Webinar

A couple weeks ago I took a couponing Webinar (don't you just LOVE these made-up words?) from Kellene Bishop at Preparedness Pro.  Wow!  Did I learn a lot!

I had no idea you could save so much money with coupons.  Of course, I was ignorant of the strategies involved.  You can stack manufacturer's coupons on top of store coupons on top of a store sale.  Who knew?   Well, Ms. Bishop did.  And, as you might imagine, organization is the key to successful couponing.

I'm getting all my stuff together (store cards, coupon binder, etc.) and I'll start saving money very soon.  I have $350 in my monthly budget for groceries.  If I can use Ms. Bishop's strategy well, I should be able to save $200 a month on groceries.  Or maybe more.

I'll report back in how I'm doing.

Kellene Bishop has several blogs, including Women of Caliber -- one of my favorites.

Oh, I almost forgot.  There's another blog that uses the same strategy as Ms. Bishop:  The Krazy Coupon Lady. It's run by two women who've been couponing for ages, and they update daily with sales and hot coupons.  Their blog, by the way, is included in the list of links provided by Ms. Bishop in her webinar.

You are probably wondering what sweet peas have to do with couponing.  Well...absolutely nothing.  But I couldn't have a post with no pictures, now could I?

I Got My Can Organizers

I received my Can Organizers, and boy are they nice.  My shelves are spaced so I could stack my vegetable cans 2 high, and that turned out to be just the right height for the Can Organizers.  You can see them at

I should admit that with the Can Organizers ("C.O." from now on), I can't squeeze as many cans on the shelf as when I was stacking them.  However, the C.O.s solved two problems I was having:  the cans didn't stack very well because they don't have rounded bottoms, so they were always falling down;  it was really hard to put my newest purchases behind my previous purchases, because I had them crammed so tightly on the shelf.

So, with the C.O.s, I need more shelf space, but it's incredibly easy to put the new cans behind the old cans:  simply put the new ones in the top of the box, and they'll roll down to the bottom.

I got the shorter "cupboard" version, which is 10"-11" long.  They fit perfectly on my 12" shelves.  Each C.O. holds 7 cans of vegetables.  So far vegetables, chili, and refried beans are all I have in mine.  I will be getting some more for the rest of my stuff.

Cheap and Cheezy Deer Cage Update

I've had my deer cages around my fruit trees for some time now and I'm happy to report that, with one minor exception early on, they have kept the deer out of my trees.  Whew!

Here's one of the cages around my gravenstein apple tree:

The gravenstein is on a full-size root stock, so it will be a few years before it comes into production.  But when it does, it should produce a lot of apples. 

OK.  I have to make a confession.  This was the last of the deer cages I made, and it's by far the best looking.  On most of them, the piece of fencing I cut off the roll was way too small and doesn't reach around the tree very well.  It takes a lot more fencing that you might think it would.  Hmmm....  Maybe I should have measured first...Naw!

And here's one of the wiley beasts--still eating from Bonnie's Buffet--but just eating clover in the grass this time. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How Cool Is This?

I was just reading the most recent post from the Totally Ready Blog (the link is on the right), and saw an ad for cardboard can organizers.  They look like they work similarly to the Shelf Reliance Cansolidators, but they're made from cardboard, so they're much cheaper.

Paraphrasing Captain Steve Hiller from Independence Day, 'I have GOT to get me some of these!'

Here's the link, in case you're interested: .

I shamelessly stole an image from their website so you can see what they look like:

You put your recent purchases in the top, and it rolls around to the bottom.  When you want to use a can, you take it from the bottom.  So you're always using the oldest can, thus rotating your storage easily.  Of course, you'd have to get one for each type of food you're storing.   But at $12.00 (US) or $16.00 (US) for a 4-pack (depending on which size you get), that's not too bad. 

It looks like they don't have them for #10 cans yet.  But they'd be great for storing store-bought canned foods.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I Made Jam!

I wanted to use my new canner, but there's really nothing in season yet.  Strawberries will be ready soon, but not yet.  So I tried an exotic jam recipe form Blue Ribbon Preserves, by Linda J. Amendt:  Coconut-Pineapple Conserve.

This isn't a frugal recipe, as it uses canned pineapple and purchased shredded coconut (from Bob's Red Mill, of course!).  But not everything has to be frugal, right?  Everyone deserves a little luxury now and then, right?  So what if I could buy blackberry jam at the grocery store cheaper than I can make this?  I can't buy Coconut-Pineapple Conserve at the grocery store for any price.  So what the heck, this IS a frugal recipe--for a luxury item!

For those who may not know what a conserve is, it's a jam that uses fresh and dried fruit and nuts.  Or in this case, canned and dried fruit and nuts.  The recipe called for macadamia nuts, but I didn't have any.  So I substituted pecans.

Here's the recipe:
Coconut-Pineapple Conserve
A refreshing tropical spread, it will remind you of warm, sunny days in the islands.

Makes about seven 8-ounce (half-pint) jars

2 (20-ounce) cans crushed pineapple, lightly drained
¼ cup bottled lemon juice (not fresh)
5 cups sugar
2 (3-ounce) pouches liquid pectin
1 ¼ cups shredded or flaked coconut
1 cup chopped roasted macadamia nuts (or pecans)

  1. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
  2. Make the jam:
    1. In an 8-quart stainless steel pan, combine the pineapple and lemon juice. Gradually stir in the sugar. Over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, heat the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved.
    2. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Stir in the entire contents of both pectin pouches. Return the mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the coconut and macadamia nuts.
    3. To prevent floating fruit, allow the conserve to cool for 5 minutes before filling the jars. Gently stir the conserve to distribute the fruit.
  3. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot jam. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.
  4. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool, and store.

This jam is so good, I actually like eating it right out of the jar.  I think it would be really good in little tarts, maybe on top of a layer of mango curd (the recipe is also in the book), for a real tropical treat.

Of course, it's good on homemade biscuits, too.

I also made Banana Butter, from the same book, and Tropical Breeze Freezer Jam from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which is edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine.  I thought the Banana Butter was a little too sweet.  But the Tropical Breeze Freezer Jam was as good as the Coconut-Pineapple Conserve.  Yum!

Oh by the way, the package of shredded coconut from Bob's Red Mill has a recipe for chocolate macaroons that is really, really good!  I've had macaroons from a bakery that where this sticky, too-sweet gob of coconut.  Not these macaroons.  They're light and fluffy, and full of chocolatey coconut flavor.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Those Pesky Deer

While walking the dog this morning, I discoverd that some deer did get at one of the trees I'd put the cheap-and-cheesy fencing around.  But they just got a few leaves; they weren't able to get the whole thing.  I'm toying with the idea of securing the fencing to the fence posts better, but then it will be harder to get inside for weeding, fertilizing, etc.  Of course, there's no point in weeding and fertilizing if the da*n deer eat the trees down to nubbins!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Dehydrated Canned Mandarin Orange Sections

I know it sounds strange.  Why would you dehydrate something like canned mandarin orange slices?  They're are already preserved.

There are a couple reasons. Dehydrating them concentrates their flavors, so when you chew one you get a blast of tangy sweetness.  But also, it makes them easier to take along as a snack.  And although I haven't tried this yet, I think they'd be good chopped up and added to all kinds of foods:  carrot muffins, orange and cranberry muffins, a bowl of oatmeal, or chicken salad.

Dehydrating canned orange sections is very easy.  The only thing easier is dehydrating frozen corn.  And that's only because you don't have to drain or rinse the corn.

I have four dehydrator trays, so I used six 15-oz cans of oranges (load up on them when they're on sale!).  Each tray took about 1 1/2 cans (with a couple left bites over for the cook!).  I used those flexible mesh tray liners you can get, which make it really easy to peel off the dried oranges.

Just open the cans, drain the orange sections, and rinse them lightly.  Then put them on the dehydrator trays.  It's best if you arrange the slices so they aren't touching, as they will stick together.

I turned my dehydrator on for 6 hours, and that wasn't quite enough.  I needed a couple more hours.  The time, of course, will vary depending on the humidity, and the drying power of the dehydrator.  They should be chewy, without any juicy spots

At the end of the 8 hours, you have a tasty snack.  They're still a little sticky, but not bad.  Just put them in a zip-loc-type bag or a plastic container. 

I can't advise you on long-term storage, because mine never last long enough to worry about.  But if you really want to store them long-term you should probably vacuum seal them (if you have a vacuum sealer) or at least put them in a bag and squeeze out the extra air.  And then freeze them.

I wouldn't really consider these part of my long-term, I'm-going-to-live-off-these-in-case-of-a-disaster kind of food.  But they'd be great for hiking or kayaking trips.  Or just nibbling on at work.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Protecting Fruit Trees From Deer

I've tried the garlic clips.  I've tried the rotten-egg/garlic spray.  I've tried hanging a bar of soap from the branches.  None of it has kept the deer off my fruit trees.  My poor little Honeycrisp apple tree is no bigger than it was when I planted it 4 (or was it 5?) years ago.  To be honest, I'm amazed it's still alive, what with the way the deer "prune" it every year.

So today I'm making deer cages to go around my trees.  The ones I'm doing today are kind of cheap and cheesy--not intended to be permanent.  I'm just driving in a t-bar (I have several old ones in the shop) and attaching a circle of old fencing (which I had in the shop) to it.  It ought to keep the deer out for now.

But I've been thinking about how I want to deal with this problem permanently, and I think I have a solution.  I don't want to just put a fence around my whole property.  The deer (and sometimes elk) come down the hillside, cross the road, and go through my property to the woods and creek on the other side.  I don't want to impede that.  I just want to keep their snacking down to a level that will let my trees grow.

So I was thinking I could build a fence around each tree.  Four fence posts to make a square eight feet on a side, opening to the south, with a gate on that side.  Then I could use the sides of the square as a trellis to grow raspberries and blackberries.  And I could grow grapes, or maybe kiwis, up the posts and onto a horizontal trellis attached to the outside of the square.

Eventually, I think the trees would get big enough that the deer could still get at some of the branches.  But I don't mind sharing some of the trees and fruit with the deer.  I just want to let the trees grow so there's something to share with the deer.

It sounds like I'll be growing fruit trees, cane fruits, and vine fruits awfully close together.  But by including plenty of mulching plants, nitrogen fixers, and other nutrient accumulators, it might work.  At least until the trees get big enough to shade out the canes and vines--but that will take years.

What do you think?  Does that sound feasible?

Well, I have four more deer cages to make, so...break's over!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Haven't Canned Anything in 30 Years

I've decided I'm going to can some produce from my garden this year.  It seems a great way to store food without spending a lot of money.  The only problems I can see are growing enough food to store, and storing it so the jars won't break if we have an earthquake.

I bought some cucumber seed so I can make pickles--something I haven't done since high school.  I'm looking forward to making both dill and sweet pickles.  And of course dilly beans.  Yum!

My younger brother (he doesn't like it when I call him my "little brother"--but I refuse to call myself his "older sister") sent me a link where they collect info on you-pick farms.  They have links for all kinds of fruit and vegetable farmers.  And they have lots of articles on canning and otherwise preserving foods.  Here's the link:  I think this is good for people who don't have a lot of space to grow food, or maybe just don't have the time or desire to garden, but want to preserve food.  I'll look for fruit produces because my fruit trees aren't bearing yet.  But maybe I'll get some good veggies, too, for freezing or dehydrating.  Oh, and they have some links for farmer's markets, too.

Since it's been so long since I've canned anything, I'm going to start with only water-bath canning this year.  I picked up a copy of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, and it has a ton of yummy recipes that I'm eager to try.  "Mom's Apple Pie in a Jar" is an apple jam that sounds wonderful.  And who can resist "Carrot Cake Jam"?  Not me.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More Hamburger Jerky

I really liked the hamburger jerky I made a few weeks ago, and I wanted to make some more.  But I'm too cheap to want to keep buying the packaged spices for making jerky.  So I Googled "hamburger jerkey recipe" and found several recipes on the Internet.

One website I found had easy instructions.  Basically, they said to add 1 tsp. curing salt and 1/4 cup teriyaki or BBQ sauce to every pound of hamburger.  How can it get any easier?

So I ran to the store and picked up a package of Morton's Tender Quick Home Meat Cure and a bottle of Teriyaki sauce.  Then I grabbed a thawed-out pound of hamburger, mixed it with the Meat Cure and teriyake sauce, and pressed out strips of hamburger on my dehydrator trays.  I dehydrated it for several hours, then cooked in the oven at about 200° for an hour.

The jerky wasn't very flavorful.  I'm not entirely sure the Morton's was what they meant when they said "curing salt."  Maybe I shouldn't have gotten the cheap teriyaki sauce.  Next time, I'm going to try 2 tsp of the Morton's with 1/4 BBQ sauce and see how that goes.

Also, the hamburger I had in the freezer was 80% fat free--which means it was 20% fat.  That's fine for making spaghetti sauce, but was too much for jerky.  My hands were covered with grease by the time I finished mixing in the salt and sauce.  Next time I'll use the lowest percentage of fat I can find, like I did the first time.

Maybe I'll try 1 1/2 tsps Morton's before I go all the way to 2 tsp.

While poking around on the Internet I discovered that you don't need to get a jerky gun to make hamburger jerky.  After mixing in the curing salt and seasonings, you can put the hamburger between two layers of Seran Wrap (or equivalent) and roll it out with a rolling pin.  Then cut strips with a kitchen knife.  I'll bet that would get you more even strips that what I've been doing with the jerky gun.

How to Store Soaps and Lotions Economically

Along with food, water, and toilet paper (Dude!  Do you want to go 6 months without toilet paper?), you need to think about storing enough soap and lotion to last the length of time you're storing food for.  So...why not think about making your own soap and lotion? 

It's true that you can buy cheaper soap at the grocery store.  But if you want the good stuff, that doesn't dry your skin out, it costs more--so why not make your own?

When you think of making your own soaps and lotions, you have several options.  You can make your soap from scratch, using raw materials, and the cold process or hot process method.  You can make your own lotion from scratch, using raw materials.  You can purchase melt-and-pour soap bases and add colors, fragrances, and/or other additives.  And you can purchase lotion bases and add fragrances and/or colors.

Personally, I gave up making lotion from scratch a few years ago.  I just wasn't getting the results I wanted.  After experimenting with sample lotion bases from my suppliers (listed in the Soapmaking Resources at the right), I found a couple bases--one for lotion and one for cream--that I really like.  I usually purchase a gallon of each base at a time, then make up enough to fill 3-4 bottles or jars (also available from the resources at the right) each time.  Sometimes I leave them unfragranced, sometimes I add fragrance.

What do I, personally, use for lotion and cream bases?  For lotion, I like the "Lotion Base- Gallon" from Bramble Berry.  Its first ingredient is aloe vera, so I know it's good to use after I go out in the sun.  If you don't use too much, it soaks in quickly and doesn't feel greasy.  And it gets rid of the middle-age crinklies on the backs of my hands (something my from-scratch lotion never did).  For cream, I like "Body Cream Base" from MMS.  I don't use it on my hands during the day because it does leave a little bit of a greasy feeling.  But I put it on my feet before going to bed, and it is wonderful for keeping the skin on my feet moist and supple.  It's also great for rubbing into dry knees or elbows.  All the suppliers I've listed have a variety of bases.

Now, for soap.  I make my own soap from scratch.  Really, it isn't hard to do.  There are lots of resources available:  books, tutorials on the Internet, and mailing groups.  I'd suggest Googling "soap making" and reading the sites that come up.  If you're interested, I'd recommend getting a couple books (or more!).  The Soapmaker's Companion, by Susan Miller Cavitch, has been the the bible for soapmakers for a long time.  While I don't agree with everything she says, this is an excellent resource.  Smart Soapmaking, by Anne L. Watson, is a great resource, but it shouldn't be your only book on soapmaking.  She has a radical method for telling when the soap is ready to pour into the mold.  I haven't tested her theory myself, so I don't know how good it is.  I still rely on the method of pouring at "trace".  The Everything Soapmaking Book, by Alicia Grosso, is also a good resource for the beginning soapmaker.  With any soap recipe from a book or the Internet, it's a good idea to double-check the amount of lye to use (every author makes mistakes, and some books are known for printing lye-heavy recipes).  Bramble Berry and MMS both have good lye calculators, and is another good one.

If you make your own soap from scratch, you need to deal with lye.  You can't make soap without lye.  If you use melt-and-pour to craft soap bars, you don't have to deal with lye.  But the manufacturer used lye when they made the melt-and pour.  So don't believe soap crafters who tell you their soap is better than cold process because it doesn't contain lye.  Whether you make soap from scratch or use melt-and-pour soap base, there isn't any lye left in the soap.  It has all reacted with the oils and fats you added to make soap.

There are soap artists who make absolutely stunning soaps with melt-and-pour bases.  I rarely use melt-and-pour myself, though, because I prefer cold-process soap.  But you can make beautiful soaps that are better than what you buy in the store.

Back to the subject of lye.  You have to take precautions, which I'm not going into here.  But the books listed above do discuss how to safely handle lye, and most on-line tutorials also discuss it. 

Because dissolving NaOH in water to make your lye is an exothermic reaction (it generates heat--quite a lot of it), and you want your lye no warmer than 100° when you make the soap, many people mix their lye the night before and let it cool overnight.  If you do this, be sure no one can accidently spill it or drink it.  Years ago I was on a mailing list with an experienced soapmaker you did this.  Her husband got up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water.  Because he was half asleep, he forgot that the pitcher on the counter was filled with lye.  And he poured himself a glass of lye instead of a glass of water.  He survived the experience, but his mouth, throat, and esophogus were horribly burned, and permanently damaged.  The moral of this story:  Be Very Careful with Lye!

Now that I've scared you about lye, let me say that it can be handled safely.  You just need to be careful.  You can't go on autopilot with lye.  You have to think about what you are doing.

So, why would you want to make cold process soap?  Because you can make a rich, creamy, soap that doesn't dry your skin out, and that smells better than anything you can buy in the store.  If you want to go the natural route, you can use essential oils to fragrance your soap.  Or you can use one of the many [non-natural] fragrance oils available for soapmaking.  Personally, I almost always use a fragrance oil. 

As a teaser, here are some pictures of soap I've made.

I just made this green soap today.  I wanted it green because I used Woodland Elves fragrance oil, which smells like Christmas trees with some Christmas spices.  For the color, I used Yellow #10 die in the entire batch of soap, plus Seafoam Green pigment in a couple cups of soap that I then swirled into the yellow soap.

I made this blue-swirled soap last year.  I used the Woodlands fragrance oil from Sweetcakes.  It's a knockoff of a Bath & Bodyworks mens' fragrance.  It doesn't smell like trees, as the Woodland Elves above.  But it's a wonderfully sexy men's fragrance.  I used blue ultramarine (cosmetic grade, of course) to color this.  You may notice the the blue swirls have little blue speckles.  That's because I made this soap before I discovered that you really need to blend the colors in with an immersion blender--stirring isn't good enough.  Also, I experimented with using the silicone baking molds you can get in the kitchen department of grocery stores.  The ones I got worked well, except that the sides of the loaf mold bowed out somewhat.  But the soap un-molded very easily.  I've heard reports of soap picking up some red dye from some of the red silicone molds, but that didn't happen to me.

This is a batch of soap that is still in the mold (or was when this pic was taken).  I used Vanilla Hazelnut fragrance oil from MMS.  This is one of my all-time favorite fragrance oils.  But like most vanilla fragrances, it turns soap brown (the vanilla part oxidizes).  In this batch, I left some of the soap un-fragranced so it would stay cream-colored.  And I swirled that into the fragranced part, and fluffed up the top. 

This soap is my most beautiful attempt to make a nice, scrubby gardener's soap.  I made the lye with chamomile tea instead of water, and put ground-up and whole calendula petals in it.  Chamomile and calendula are both supposed to be good for your skin, and I figured that gardener's hands need a little extra help after they've been out digging in the dirt.  I added a little bit of Yellow #10 for color, and cornmeal for scrubbiness.  But the cornmeal was too scrubby--it hurt my hands.  I'm still experimenting with gardener's soap.  I haven't gotten one I like that's as pretty as this soap.

This is a picture of a couple bars of soap I made some time ago.  I don't remember what they are, but I suspect they're my two favorite ones.  I believe the one on the bottom is a bar of Vanilla Hazelnut, and the one leaning against it is a bar of Honey Almond.  I usually put ground hazelnuts in the vanilla hazelnut soap, for extra cleansing.

So, what about storing your soap and lotion?  They should be stored in a cool, dry, location just like your stored food. 

I have soap that has still been good 5 years after I made it.  The fragrance was mostly gone, but the soap was still good.  So you can make several batches of soap and store them wherever it's convenient.  If you cycle through your stored soap as you do your stored food, you shouldn't have any problems.  You probably shouldn't store it too closely with your food.  Your food should be sealed so I shouldn't pick up any fragrance from the soap, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

You have to be more careful with stored lotion.  Most of the manufacturers say their lotion should be used within a year of the date purchased.  Kept cool and dry, lotion can probably last longer than that, but you never know.  Remember that lotion is a wonderful environment for growing bacteria, molds, and funguses--that's why they require a preservative.  I don't store as much lotion as I do soap.  I'd recommend keeping at least a few month's worth in storage, and cycling through it as you do your soap and food.  I keep mine in the gallon jugs, and only make up (add fragrance and put into bottles) a few bottles or jars at a time.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Man Does Not Live By Food Alone

It's great to store food for when times get tough.  Having food in the pantry is like having money in the bank.

But if you ever need your food storage to live on, you'll need a lot more than food:  medicines, soap, and toilet paper, for starters. 

But the most important thing to store is water.  We need at least a gallon of water per person per day.  That's roughly 1/2 gallon for drinking, and 1/2 gallong for cooking and sanitation.  And that is a bare minimum.

There are lots of resources on the Internet for how to store water, so I'm not going to go into it too deeply.  But I found one thing recently that I wanted to mention because I've only seen it mentioned one other place:  the WaterBOB(R). 

Many of use who live in rural areas know that if a storm is predicted, we'd best fill our bathtub with water because we'll need it if the power goes out.  But although that water is great for flushing the toilet, it isn't very good for drinking.  It'll pick up any bits of skin flakes, soap scum, cat hair, and dust that may be in the tub.  And you don't want to drink those.

Enter, the WaterBOB.  It's a plastic bladder that fits inside the tub.  You fill it with water, and use the manual pump on top to get water out of it.  It seems to be designed for the scenario I mentioned above, fairly short-term preparedness where you have some warning.  The website says it'll keep the water clean for up to 4 weeks.

I don't know whether it's recommended for longer storage.  Obviously, you wouldn't want to leave it in your bathtub all the time.  And you have to fill it before the power goes out.   But I'd think a reasonably handy person could build a bathtub-sized box to contain and support it, and fill it with purified water.

Anyway, it seems worth looking into--for short-term, predicted, situations like storms.  I'll put the link on the right side of the screen.

You Can Grow Hundreds of Pounds of Food in Your Yard

Did you know that you can grow--potentially--hundreds of pounds of food in your yard every year, without as much work as you might think.

By carefully selecting fruit trees, bushes, and vines, you can grow hundreds of pounds of fruit a year without much more work than growing strictly ornamental varieties.  You can have a gorgeous landscape.  And you get lots of fruit that is often much tastier than what you get at the grocery store--because you can select your favorite variety and pick it at just the right time for best flavor.

Need a beautiful tree in your yard?  Sure, you could plant a flowering pear tree--they are gorgeous.  But why not plant a self-pollinating fruiting pear tree that's almost as beautiful but that also produces awesome pears.  Or how about a persimmon tree?  Many varieties have gorgeous fall foliage and yummy fruit.

Need some shrubbery with fall color?  How about a few blueberry bushes?  Want an evergreen bush?  How about an evergreen huckleberry?  They taste better than blueberries and they stay green all winter (at least, here in the Pacific Northwest).

Got a patio or deck that is too sunny?  Why not build an arbor or pergola over part or all of it, and grow kiwi or grapes over it.

With any of these options you can have a beautiful yard and grow armloads of fruit that you can eat fresh, preserve (can, freeze, or dehydrate), trade with neighbors, or whatever you want.  That fruit can be wonderful now.  But if you ever need to rely on your food storage, it could be life saving.

We're lucky here in the Pacific Northwest, because we have two awesome nurseries that specialize in fruiting plants (trees, bushes, and vines) for home growers:  Raintree Nursery, and One Green World.  Not only are they great suppliers, but both their catalogs contain a ton of information on growing the fruits.  If you're interested in growing fruit, I highly recommend you check out these two nurseries, or any similar nurseries in your area.  The links to both of these nurseries can be found on the right side of the screen.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Couple Pictures of My Yard

OK, I admit that this isn't food-storage related.  But I took a few pictures while walking around my yard the other day, and I can't resist posting them.  It was a nice, sunny winter day, so there were no leaves on the trees and bushes.  So it was easier to see mossy stumps than it normally is.  For some odd reason, I really like mossy stumps.

This first one looks like it was probably a douglas fir tree.  The trees around it now are fairly young big-leaf maples.  And there's red elderberry, some salmon berry, a red huckleberry, and some sword fern.

Spiced Cranberry Apple Fruit Leather

I'm making spiced cranberry apple fruit leather.  It's still drying.  In fact, it's taking a long time to dry.  But I think it's going to turn out really well.  The puree sure tastes good.

1 47 oz jar unsweetened applesauce
1 or 2 12 oz bags cranberries (mine were frozen)
sugar to taste
cinnamon to taste
pinch of nutmeg

To make the sauce, put the cranberries into a 3-quart saucepan with one or two inches water.  Bring to a simmer, and simmer until the berries begin to burst when you stir them up, 3-4 minutes.

Being careful to not burn yourself, pour the berries and water into the blender and blend until they are pureed (add more water if needed).  Pour the puree back into the saucepan, and add sugar a little at a time, stirring and tasting between additions, until you like the sweet/tart balance.  Then add cinnamon to taste and a little bit of nutmeg.

Add the jar of applesauce and stir with a spoon until well blended.  Spread the mixed apple/cranberry puree onto lightly-oiled leather trays (or mesh trays covered with parchment) and dehydrate for several hours until leathery but not tacky.

Peel the leather from the trays, roll into tubes, and cut into bite-size pieces.

The more sugar you add, the longer the puree will take to dry.  Also, the more water you add while blending, the longer it will take to dry.

Depending on how dry the leather gets, it may be difficult to cut with a knife.  I find it easier to cut with an electric knife.

I Made Beef Jerky From Hamburger

While grocery shopping at my local Fred Meyer store one day a couple weeks ago, I discovered that they had a "Jerky Express" on sale for $19.95.  It contains a Nesco dehydrator and their jerky gun with three different nozzles, 5 sample packages of jerky seasoning, and 5 packages of jerky cure.  A jerky gun is like a cookie press, but instead of making spritz cookies, you make jerky strips from hamburger.  Even though I already own a dehydrator, I just "had" to have the Jerky Express.  The jerky gun kit alone is normally $20, so it was like getting the dehydrator for free.

So I went home with the Jerky Express and a pound of hamburger to try out.

I mixed the hamburger with a package of teriyaki-flavor seasoning and a package of the jerky cure.  I used my hands to mix the seasoning in well, as if I were making meatloaf (the spoon in the picture was for scooping it into the jerky gun. 

Then I loaded up the jerky gun and pressed out some jerky strips.

The press held a little less than 1/2 pounds of hamburger.  Pressing it out in strips the way you see here, I almost filled 4 dehydrator trays.  Then using a lamp-timer set to 6 hours, I turned on the dehydrator and went to bed.

When I got up the next morning, the hamburger had dried into leathery strips.  I put them on a cookie sheet and stuck them into a 160-degree (F) oven for an hour to make sure there were no nasty bacteria.  Then I pulled them out and blotted the grease off with paper towels. 

I took the jerky with me when I went to visit family for dinner the next evening, and we darn near polished off the jerky, so I had to make some more a couple days later.  It was that good.

The Jerky Express came with 1 each of 5 different seasoning flavors, so the next batch I made was the Original Flavor.  While this one tasted good, I found it too salty.  The little booklet said that if it's too salty you can make it with 1 1/2 pounds of hamburger instead of just a pound of hamburger.  So I'll probably do that next time.

All in all, I'm happy with my purchase.  I like the hamburger jerky:  it's cheap to make, and it isn't as hard to chew as sliced jerky.  And even though I already had a dehydrator, it's handy to have another one with the same size trays.  Both are expandable to 7 trays, so I can use the trays from the new dehydrator to expand my first one. 

The Jerky Express dehydrator isn't as powerful as the one I already had.  It's only 350 watts, and my other one is 425 watts.  But it worked will with the jerky.  I made fruit leather with it today, though, and it did take longer than with my other one.  It's good to have options.

Making Celery Powder

I hadn't done much with my dehydrator yet this winter, so I thought I'd better get started (before warm weather gets here and it gets too hot to run it).  So I decided to make celery powder.

Celery powder is very easy to make.  Simply dehydrate chopped celery until it's hard, then process in a food processor or blender it's as powdery as you want it.

But it takes a lot of celery to make celery powder.  I started with an entire bunch of celery from the grocery store, and when it was all done I had about 1/3 cup celery powder.  Fortunately, the flavor is concentrated, so a little goes a long way.

Here's how I made it:

I got one bunch of celery from the grocery store.  I chopped it up and spread the pieces on 4 dehydrator trays.  I used flexible fine-mesh tray liners, because the pieces get very small.   Then I dried it for 6-8 hours.  It needs to be dried until the pieces are hard.  Here are the dried pieces in a stainless bowl, and then on the cutting board.

Then I put the celery pieces into the blender and blended until they were in very small chunks.  I put the powder in an 8-oz. spice jar.  You can see that one bunch of celery processes down pretty small.

This powder can be used to flavor soups or stews, spaghetti, salad, or anything else that goes well with celery. 

In Mary Bell's Complete Dehydrator Cookbook, she recommends processing asparagus this way and using it to make asparagus souffle.  She says it's fluffier than souffle made with asparagus pieces because the water in the asparagus weighs down the souffle.  You don't have that problem with dehydrated vegetable powder.

You can make powders out of all kinds of fruits and vegetables.  Mary Bell also recommends making strawberry powder from dehydrated strawberries.  You can mix the powder with sugar for strawberry sugar.  It's great on cereal or for sweetening...anything that tastes good with strawberries.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Seed Potatoes

AI ordered some seed potatoes form Wood Prairie Farm.  They're in Maine -- I almost felt guilty from ordering someplace other than Idaho!  But I survived it.

They have so many different varieties--how can you choose?  And I don't need a whole pound of each variety I want to try.  For one thing, I would seriously go over budget.  But I can't eat that many potatoes anyway.

So I ordered their Organic Potato Blossom Festival.  I don't care about the "organic" part of it.  I think "organic" is way over-hyped.  But this has a nice mix of potato varieties, a pamphlet on growing spuds, and a recipe book.  The potato varieties were selected for "their exceptional blossom beauty and fragrance":  Red Cloud, Carola, Cranberry Red, All-Blue, Onaway, and Butte. 

The Wood Prairie catalog itself contains a wealth of information about the different types of potatoes (the ones included in my order are itallicized):

Soft MoistSteamedCranberry Red
Au GratinAll-Blue
Creamy Mid-DryBakedCarola
SteamedRose Gold
Creamy Soups
Mealy DryBakedSwedish Peanut
Waxy MoistBoiledOnaway
Soups & StewsReddale
Waxy Mid-DryAll purposeCaribe
BoiledPrairie Blush
SaladsRose Finn Apple
Russian Banana
King Harry
Firm DryBakedRed Cloud
FriedYukon Gold
BoiledIsland Sunshine

I'm really looking forward to getting try see and smell all the beautiful blooms.  And, of course, to tasting all these varieties.  Well of course I'll have pictures of the plants blooming, and of the potatoes.

Bean and Squash Seeds

I also ordered some seeds from the Vermont Bean Seed Company (guess where they're from). I got some Dragon's Tongue beans, which I'm really excited about. You can pick them early for green beans, or let the beans mature for shelled beans, or let the pods dry on the bush for dried beans. These beans also have a built-in color indicator! When the pods turn from green to yellow with purple stripes, they're ready to eat as a snap bean. When you pick them and cook them, they turn green, so you know they've been suitably blanched and you can freeze them. Or can them, I suppose. They are a bush bean so I won't have to trellis them. I think I'll plant them out by the fruit trees. I have plenty of room there, they'll get lots of sun, and like all beans they're nitrogen fixers so they'll help fertilize the soil.

I also ordered some Scarlett Runner beans. Who can resist the pretty red flowers? They can also be used at all three stages: as green beans, shelled beans, and dried beans. These do require a trellis. I have some 1X1s out in the shop. So I think I'll drill some holes in them, string some twine, and make teepees. The runner beans should be beautiful growing up the teepees.

I ordered a couple rhubarb plants. Again, I'll plant them out by the fruit trees (which, come to think of it, is where the wildflowers will go). I won't be able to get any stalks from them this year, but in a couple years I should start getting plenty. All the more for rhubarb sauce and leather.

I ordered 1 pound of Jerusalem Artichoke tubers.  What is it everyone says?  "They are neither from Jerusalem nor artichokes".  They're actually related to the sunflower.  I think they look like Maximilian Sunflowers, if you're familiar with them.  But these have edible tubers.  I've never eaten any, so I hope I like them.  If not, at least they'll be pretty flowers that should attrack bees and butterflies.  And I think they grow thickly enough to act as a hedge.  Maybe I should plant them around the fruit trees that the deer keep "pruning" for me!

And I ordered a couple packets of Snackjack Pumpkins--one for my little brother and one for me.  These pumpkins have shell-less seeds.  That's right.  You can roast them or eat them raw, and you don't have to take the shells off.  Yipee!  Their flesh is supposed to be good for pies, too.
Ooh, and I ordered some Turk's Turban Squash seeds.  I don't know how they taste, but they look too cool to pass up.

Wildflower Seeds

I took The Prudent Homemaker's advice and purchased some wildflower seeds from Wildseed Farms.  They're in Texas, but they have seeds that will grow all over North America.  I got 1/4 pounds of the Western Wildflower Mix, plus some chicory, yarrow, shasta daisy, Laura Bush petunia, and gloriosa daisy.  And they threw in a free packet of seed mix.

The Western Wildflower Mix has a lot of lupine, some california poppy, blue and scarlet flax, tickseed, african daisy, cornflower, wallflower, dame's rocket, black-eyed susan, corn poppy, and several others.  It should attract lots of beneficial insects as well as bees and butterflies. The chicory and yarrow are both good for improving the soil.  And of course, the petunias, shasta daisies, and gloriosa daisies are just plain beautiful.  Well, they're all beautiful.   I should really have planted these last fall.  But they'll do OK planted this spring.  I just can't wait until next fall!

I'm going to plant these out in the field, around the fruit trees.  I didn't get enough seed to plant the whole area this year, but this is a good start.

Dehydrated Frozen Corn

I've read in several places that you can dehydrate frozen vegetables.  So I finally decided to give it a try.  I bought a couple bags of frozen super-sweet corn and spread then, still frozen, on the fine mesh tray liners in my dehydrator.  It turns out that 2 bags was exactly the right amount, as each tray can hold 1/2 bag.

I dried the corn for about 6 hours.  I stopped it an hour or so into the drying and stirred the corn around a little.  The pieces closest to the center of each tray dry faster than those near the outside edge.  So they dry more evenly if I stir them up at least once.

One problem I have drying things is that I often want to dry them while I'm at work.  But I'm gone for longer than most foods take to dry. If I leave them drying while I'm gone, they'll be too dry by the time I get home.  So I grabbed an electric-socket timer that I had on a lamp, set it for 6 hours, and plugged the dehydrator into that.  Worked great.

Here's what the dried corn looks like.

The dried corn makes a great snack.  It tastes really good.  Well, it tastes like sweet corn.  I took it to work and everyone who tried it said they liked it.

At first I just put the dried corn in a zip-lock bag.  But that was awkward.  So I finally hit on the idea of using a small RubberMaid pitcher.  It worked great!  Take off the cap to fill it, then just flip the flip-top to pour some out.

It was so well, I went out and bought some frozen peas to try.

Apple and Cherry Fruit Leather

I made some apple and cherry fruit leather the other day (actually, it was about 6 weeks ago).  It was really easy.

You know you can make fruit leather by just spreading a big jar of applesauce on a lightly-oiled leather tray and drying it, right?  Well, that's pretty much what I did.  I just pureed a can of drained bing cherries and added it to the applesauce.  You can use applesauce with no sugar added.  If you use the stuff with sugar in it, it'll take longer to dry.  And it's plenty sweet without added sugar.


It turned out that I needed a bit more than 1 jar of applesauce to fill up my 4 fruit-leather trays.  So I just dropped spoonfuls of pure appleasauce in with the cherry applesauce already in the tray.  I thought it might look artistic.

I dried it for about 6-8 hours (I can't remember for sure), and it was ready to roll up and cut.  I used a small serated knife to cut it up.  But an electric knife actually works better.

You know, it was fine, except that it really didn't have a lot of flavor.  I couldn't taste the cherries at all.  But then, I snuck a cherry out of the can before I pureed them, and it didn't have a lot of cherry flavor either.

I munch of pieces of this now and then.  To be honest, I don't gobble it up like I did the rhubarb leather I made last summer.  But it's still good.  I keep it stored in one of those Glad  disposable plastic containers, and it's holding up just fine.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Gaia's Garden 2nd Edition Set Me Straight

Well, I couldn't resist.  I stopped at the book store the other day and picked up a copy of Gaia's Garden, 2nd edition.  I've been reading it the last few days.

It reminded me that to make progress building my food forest, I need to be planting soil-building plants.  So I'm scrapping my plans to get some honeyberry bushes this year.  Instead, I'll get some Seaberry (also called Sea Buckthorn) bushes, since they are nitrogen fixers.  And I'll plant a mix of annual and perennial flowers that attract beneficial insects and also help build the soil.  I think I'll plant my squashes out there, too.  Then after I harvest the squash, I can slash the plants and let them compost in place.  And comfrey.  I defintely need some comfrey (it can be cut for compost-in-place 2-3 times a year). 

I'd best get busy!