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Are you ready for the Frankenstorm? October 28, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Ironically, Silence Dogood had just written two posts about disaster preparedness here on Poor Richard’s Almanac when word reached us of the imminent “Frankenstorm,” a combination of three hellacious fronts, including an arctic storm and hurricane Sandy, which will converge on the East Coast, combining gale-force winds with snow and heavy rain, snapping trees and causing lengthy power outages. The hurricane alone has already killed 43 people in the Caribbean; just wait ’til it meets up with the other fronts up here.

Check out Silence’s preparedness posts by typing their titles, “Hoarding for the apocalypse” and “Eating from stored food,” in our search bar at upper right. But thinking about last October’s freak snowstorm, which snapped off endless branches because the trees, as now, still had their leaves, and toppled numerous trees, cutting power to millions, has given Hallowe’en a whole new meaning here at Hawk’s Haven. Our friend Ben and Silence remember being without power for a week in freak freezing temperatures, when we should have been enjoying Indian summer. Instead of sitting on our deck watching the flames ascend from our fire pit, we were wondering how to keep our pipes from freezing and bursting.

And that wasn’t all. City folks who have city water and sewer services may wonder why we’re even making such a big deal about losing power. But out here in the middle of nowhere, losing power means losing everything. Our friend Ben and Silence naively thought we had it made when we bought Hawk’s Haven. The property had a well, oil heat, a gas stove, and a septic system. If the power went off, we figured, all we had to do was light some candles, keep the fridge door closed, and wait for it to come back on. How bad could that be?

Plenty bad, as we discovered when an ice storm cut off our power while our friend Cole was visiting one February. It was then that we understood that every single thing in our house was controlled electronically, which meant that no power meant no light, no heat, no water, no computer, no plumbing, no nothing. We couldn’t even take Cole to a hotel to escape our miserable conditions, because the ice had made the roads too hazardous for travel.

This eye-opening incident gave us what our friends still tease us is a “survivalist mentality.” But hey, we’d really rather survive, given the alternative. As soon as the ice had cleared, we got a wonderful secondhand catalytic woodstove and had it installed in our living-room fireplace. Our living room doubles as our guest room, since we have a sofabed there; we figured if worse came to worst, we could sleep on the sofabed ourselves while the power was out, continue to feed the woodstove, and huddle under our down comforter, wool blankets, and cotton duvets. We have flannel PJs (yours truly) and “granny gowns” (Silence) for cold nights, and aren’t averse to wearing socks to bed if we must. We keep a cord of split, cured wood under tarps near the house at all times, and always have a supply of dry wood inside next to our woodstove, along with a variety of firestarters.

The next item on our agenda was making sure we had plenty of water. We have spring water delivered monthly for drinking, so we typically have 27 gallons on hand. But we realized we also needed water for tooth-brushing, washing, dishwashing, and flushing, so we started collecting plastic gallon containers and refilling them from the tap as needed. Tip: Don’t use biodegradable jugs for this, because they will degrade, draining water all over your wood floors. Those shiny transparent containers that won’t biodegrade in a thousand lifetimes are the way to go for water storage (as long as you don’t plan to drink the water!). I guess it’s comforting to think that at least they can serve some useful purpose.

Cooking isn’t actually a problem if, like us, you have a gas stove. Even if yours is electronically controlled, like ours, you can still turn on the gas and light the burner with a match, then, once the food is ready, simply turn off the burner (or oven) as usual. (Buy the larger-size wooden kitchen matches so there will be more space between the flame and your fingers.)

Washing the dirty dishes is far more of an issue. This is where a store of paper plates and napkins, plastic utensils, and aluminum-foil pans might come in handy. We know you’d never normally use them, but this is an emergency! And you can always burn or compost the paper and recycle the plastic and aluminum. If you have access to ample quantities of clean water, you can skip the disposables and wash your dishes in an enamel-coated steel dishpan, just like great-Grandma did back in the day. They even say the dirty dishwater is good for your garden.

Getting back to food, here are some tips that can make a big difference if the power goes out: First, have plenty of food on hand that doesn’t need to be heated or refrigerated. A peanut butter and honey sandwich with a sliced apple or banana or a peeled orange or tangerine can go a long way towards establishing normalcy and satisfaction. Hard cheeses will stay good for a very long time at cool to cold room temperature, as will jams and jellies and even butter. Crackers and chips will stay good longer than bread, and many are delicious with peanut butter or cheese. Popcorn cooked in a heavy cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven over a gas flame or on a woodstove and served with melted butter, shredded Parmesan, and apple slices is comfort food at its finest. If you have hummus or veggie dip in your fridge along with pita or naan, baby carrots, celery stalks, and broccoli florets, pull them out and enjoy!

Don’t forget hot drinks. You don’t actually need an electric coffeemaker (or a neighborhood Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts) to enjoy coffee. A ceramic or plastic filter base that fits over your mug, a filter (we like unbleached Melitta filters), some ground coffee, and boiling water are all you need to make coffee by the cup (for pennies a cup, mind you, unlike those bazillion-dollar single-cup machines). Hot tea is even easier: Boil water, pour in teapot or cup with one or more teabags, steep, and serve. We find hot cocoa a bit too thick and rich for our taste, but if you’re a fan, stock up now on the supplies you need to make yourself a warm, comforting cup.

Lots of canned soups are now made to be heat-and-eat. Your microwave may be a non-option in a power failure, but you can still pull the ring on that can and pour it into a pot on your woodstove or gas burner. Baked beans (we love Bush’s Grillin’ Beans) can be eaten cold straight from the can, but can easily be heated up on a gas burner or woodstove. If you have a gas or charcoal grill (and who doesn’t?), you have a way to cook food reliably even when the power fails, as long as you’ve had the sense to get extra supplies like charcoal, propane tanks, etc.

Here’s a tip that may seem too obvious to be worth mentioning, but we think it could be a lifesaver for newbies to natural disasters: Eat your most perishable foods first. If you have raw ground beef in your fridge, make burgers, sloppy joes, spaghetti with meat sauce, or your favorite immediately, and eat it immediately. Ditto for hard-boiled eggs, coleslaw or other mayonnaise-based salads, and egg and pasta salads.

If you have salad greens that won’t last a day without electricity, make a big salad and eat it at every meal. (Make everyone dress only the bowl they’re eating; dressing, oil and vinegar, and oily veggies like olives, will break down salad greens overnight, so rather than putting them on the whole salad, have diners add just the amount they want to their own bowls. They can always have seconds!)

We wondered what panicked homeowners would consider essentials after last October’s disastrous freak snowstorm, but quickly discovered, around here, at least, that everyone appeared to be on the same page. The shelves had been stripped of battery-operated lanterns, water, and bread.

We’ve never used kerosene or oil lamps, and don’t think a freak storm is an especially good time to master the basics of oil-burning lanterns. Candles are easy, but they’re not exactly bright. Even the long-burning, three-wick emergency candles are pretty dim. Instead, we use battery-operated lanterns to supply light when the power goes out.

Silence and I have a pair of Coleman battery lanterns that take 4 D-batteries each and last a long time. Each fall, we make sure the lanterns are still lighting at the push of a button (otherwise, we’d replace the batteries). We clean the bulbs and white plastic shades. Our faithful lanterns provide enough light to see us safely to the bathroom and back when the power fails at night, or to cook by, if Silence uses both lanterns. But we have to admit that they’re pretty dim.

In the wake of the oncoming Frankenstorm, we thought a few more lanterns might be in order. But by the time we began hitting our local hardware stores yesterday, we were way behind the curve. Store after store informed us that all the battery-operated lanterns had been snapped up.

Silence finally found a 24-LED light bar for $13 that operated on three (included) AAA batteries. It could hang from a hook, but Silence had an idea to allow us to use its ultra-bright light for our bedtime reading: Set the light bar on one of those folding triangular wood frames that let you display plates, paintings, and etc. We have a couple sitting around, and Silence was right: They were perfect.   

Our local grocery was also out of bread (fortunately, we’d already loaded up on that) and, surprisingly, water. There was not a single gallon jug of water to be seen. The store employees were dumbfounded, but after last year’s power outage, our friend Ben and Silence weren’t surprised that our neighbors had also understood what having a septic system meant in terms of being able to flush when the power went out. (Not to mention having clean water for drinking, brushing one’s teeth, giving to your pets, bathing, etc.) Fortunately, they swear a truck full of water jugs will be arriving at 9 p.m. tonight; you can bet we’ll be there first thing in the morning.

What else? Vitamins, OTC meds like aspirin and Benadryl, first-aid kits with plenty of bandages and antibiotic cream. Pet food. Layers of clothing and blankets. The dual security of land lines and cell phones; if one goes out, the other most likely won’t. Lots of reading, writing, knitting, cooking, and other low-tech recreational activities to enjoy while your power is off and you’re trapped at home. (Napping gets extra points here, too.) And make sure you know your neighbors—and they know you—and you have their phone and e-mail addresses. It could save your life, or theirs.

Now is the time to follow the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared.” Every step you take could save your life, or at least make your family more comfortable as you weather the coming crisis.

Celebrate pasta. October 25, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Today, October 25, is International Pasta Day, and as devout pasta fanatics, our friend Ben and I plan to celebrate. Won’t you join us? I’ll help you out with four of our favorite pasta recipes, from mind-numbingly easy to “yikes, this is taking hours” (but I promise it’s worth every minute!). Mangia!

                  Pesto Pasta

Hands down, the all-time easiest pasta to put together is pesto pasta. We like to use spaghetti or fettucine for this, and often use artichoke pasta (that would be Jerusalem artichoke pasta, such as DeBoles’, not globe artichoke pasta) to up the protein content. Cook your pasta ’til it’s al dente, drain, and stir in a container of pesto, keeping the pasta on the heat over a low flame. Add shredded Parmesan and lots of fresh-cracked black pepper. If you want to boost the flavor, add chiffonaded fresh basil (that’s basil leaves rolled tightly into tiny cigars and then chopped horizontally into little strips).

The second the Parmesan melts, your pasta is ready. Serve with broccoli (we like ours boiled, drained, and shaken hot in the pan with butter, lemon juice, salt, such as RealSalt, and cracked black pepper) or asparagus (cooked the same way as the broccoli) and a crunchy salad and you’re good to go. Yum! Talk about a dish that tastes decadent for less effort than it takes to cook up that bright orange mac’n’cheese from a box.

                   Creamy Pasta

My second pasta is almost as easy as Pesto Pasta, the main difference being that you’ll have to stand over the stove and stir a few minutes until the sauce sets on the pasta. Creamy Pasta is one of those rich, dreamy indulgences that’s perfect for cold weather when you feel like a luscious treat is in order. Unlike Pesto Pasta, Creamy Pasta is definitely a side dish—no matter how good it tastes, you definitely don’t want to down a whole plateful! But fortunately, a little goes a long way.

To make it, boil pasta (we like shells for this, since they hold lots of sauce) ’til al dente and drain. Return to a low flame and add lots of butter, sliced as though for toast, and a cup of sour cream. Season with lots of fresh-cracked black pepper and herb-seasoned salt (such as Herbamare or Trocamare) and continue to cook over a low flame, stirring constantly to prevent burning, until all liquid has evaporated and the sauce enrobes the pasta with a thick coating.

Serve Creamy Pasta as a side with baked sweet potatoes or curried carrots and green beans, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or spinach (or kale or collards) and a yummy salad. I can’t say a single good thing about the nutritional value of Creamy Pasta—it’s pure indulgence, plain and simple.

But sometimes an indulgence (in moderation) is just what the doctor ordered. And when you couple it with the loads of beta-carotene in sweet potatoes or carrots (not to mention the anticarcinogenic properties of the turmeric in curried carrots), all the vitamins and minerals in your green veggie of choice, and all the good fiber in your salad (plus the benefits of extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar if you dress your salads as we do ours), you can look at that luscious pasta on your plate with anticipation rather than guilt.

Just don’t go back for seconds! It reheats beautifully, like all these pastas, so save those calories for another day. It will give you something to look forward to! If OFB, who hates lima beans, isn’t around, I’ll heat up some big, meaty butter beans and add them to my portion of creamy pasta—yum!!!—then go for broke and make two other dishes OFB hates, beets and roasted Brussels sprouts, to eat as sides with the pasta. Pure heaven!

                    Silence’s Red, White and Gold Pasta

This dish (which gets its name from red bell peppers, and yellow or orange bell peppers and yellow sweet onions, and white button mushrooms) requires a few more steps than Pesto Pasta and Creamy Pasta, but it’s so delicious it’s worth it. Read on and you’ll see why!

1 large red bell pepper, cored and diced

1 large yellow or orange bell pepper, cored and diced

1 large sweet onion (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla), peeled and diced

1 16-ounce box button mushrooms, washed, stemmed and sliced

1/2 stick butter, sliced

1 16-ounce carton sour cream

1 package shredded white Cheddar cheese

dried Italian herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme)

salt (we like herbamare, Trocamare or RealSalt)

fresh-cracked black pepper

pasta (we like spaghetti with this)

Melt butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pan (I love my LeCreuset Dutch oven for this). Meanwhile, put a large pot of water on to boil. When the butter has melted, add the diced onion and cook ’til translucent, then add the mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid. Add herbs, salt, and pepper. Add diced bell peppers. When they’re just soft, add the sour cream, stirring well to blend, and turn heat to low.

If the pasta water is boiling at this point, add pasta and cook ’til al dente, stirring often to prevent clumping. Once the sour cream has cooked down and the sauce has thickened, drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the shredded Cheddar to the sauce and stir until the cheese is just melted, then stir the sauce into the pasta and serve. We love Red, White and Gold Pasta with a side of lemon-buttered broccoli and a Caesar or Romaine-endive-radicchio salad, something with a lot of crunch and a slightly bitter undertone to offset the creaminess of the pasta. 

                    Silence’s Ultimate Spaghetti Sauce

Okay, this is about as far from toss-and-serve Pesto Pasta as you can get. To make it, you’ll need a minimum of 2 uninterrupted hours standing at the counter and stove. But trust me, it’s worth it. It’s even vegan! But one bite and every omnivore in creation will be clamoring for more. And the leftovers make the perfect sauce for lasagna, stuffed shells, pizza, eggplant parm, ratatouille, you name it, not to mention a great omelette filling or polenta topping. Or, say, a second round of spaghetti! Cook once, heat until it’s gone. It only gets better.

To remain upright during the initial preparation, I recommend three things: 1. Pour yourself a glass of wine before beginning. 2. Put on one of your favorite CDs. 3. And get everybody else out of the kitchen. (If I need a second glass of wine, OFB is happy to act as sommelier, and I always set out a couple more CDs so I can dry my hands and race out to switch them off when the initial one is over.) 

Ready? Let’s go:

1-2 large sweet onions (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla), peeled and chopped

6 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled and minced

1 16-ounce box button mushrooms, washed and sliced

1 large green bell pepper, washed, cored and diced

4 large or 6 smaller zucchini, washed, sliced, and diced

1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 12-ounce can tomato paste

extra-virgin olive oil

Tabasco Chipotle or Pickapeppa sauce

dry red wine, such as chianti

1-2 tablespoons sugar

1-2 tablespoons Italian herbs (dried basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary)

1 teaspoon salt (we like RealSalt, Herbamare or Trocamare), or more to taste

1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper, or more to taste

spaghetti

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large, heavy pot (I love my LeCreuset Dutch oven for this). Meanwhile, heat a large pot of water to bring it to a boil.

Add diced onion, garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper to the olive oil, and saute until onion clarifies. Add mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid. Add green pepper and cook until it softens. Add diced zucchini and cook, stirring often, until it softens. Add crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and stir well to combine. Add sugar and Tabasco Chipotle or Pickapeppa, stirring well. Add wine in a circle just inside the outer rim of the pot. Stir the wine into the sauce.

Cover the pot with a splatter shield and monitor, stirring every few minutes. Monitor the pot of boiling water, adding more water as too much evaporates out. Meanwhile, make a colorful, crunchy tossed salad. Slice a ciabatta loaf, brush each slice with olive oil, sprinkle with diced Kalamata and/or green olives, dried Italian herbs, salt, and lemon pepper, and run them under the broiler (topped with shredded Parmesan if you’re not a vegan). Or brush each slice with olive oil, run briefly under the broiler ’til just crunchy, and top with bruschetta mix or fresh salsa.

When the sauce has thickened and the water is boiling, add spaghetti and cook. Rather than adding the sauce to the pasta, in this case, I like to lift out each person’s pasta with pasta tongs, top with the sauce, pass around grated or shredded Parmesan, and serve the spaghetti, salad, bread and wine all at once. We don’t have dessert when we eat this—it’s just too rich—but I could see heading out for some tiramisu (my fave) and coffee a few hours later. Mmmmm!!!

So, how will you celebrate Pasta Day?

                ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

Eating from stored food. October 23, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. The other day, I wrote a blog post called “Hoarding for the apocalypse” (type the title into our search bar at upper right to read the post), in which I discussed the things I felt it was most essential to stock up on in order to weather an emergency or an enduring crisis, a time when store shelves might be empty and transportation to a store difficult or impossible to come by. You could find yourself in this situation if an ice storm knocks out your power and makes the roads too dangerous to travel on (been there, done that), or if the world economy collapses and throws us into a worse depression than the Great Depression of the 1930s (let’s hope we don’t go there!). In any case, it’s good to be prepared.

One of the things I suggested stocking up on was a good supply of long-storing food staples: canned beans, vegetables, and tomato products; pasta, flours, and yeast; crackers and tortilla chips; peanut butter; sealed jars and cans of nuts; dried beans, lentils, split peas, and soup mixes; silken and other shelf-stable tofus, shelf-stable almond and other milks and fruit juices; grains like barley, oats, rice, quinoa, bulghur, and popcorn; nonfat powdered milk, powdered butter, powdered cheese, powdered eggs; instant (sorry!) coffee, cocoa powder, and loose tea or teabags (black, green, herbal, medicinal); herbs and spices, including salt and pepper (buy them whole and grind your own just before using if possible, they’ll stay fresh longer); sweeteners, including honey and maple syrup; vinegars, oils, hot sauces, mustards, pickles, canned or jarred olives, salad dressings, and any other long-keeping condiments you favor, such as sundried tomatoes or jars of roasted red peppers or artichokes.

In other words, stock up on things you like to eat that you know will keep for a long time. In real life, you probably would rather eat fresh or frozen corn rather than canned (and that’s certainly true for green beans!). But if your power fails for whatever reason and refrigeration becomes a non-option, canned corn and green beans (or jarred pickled dilly beans or Cope’s dried sweet corn) will give you that longed-for taste and add variety to a suddenly restricted diet.

Here’s just one example: Open a can of corn and drain it (reserving the liquid to add to cornbread or soup), open a can of black or kidney beans, rinse and drain, mix with the corn, dice one of the long-keeping onions you have in storage, add some salsa or hot sauce from your stash, maybe a little dried cilantro, oregano, and/or basil, stir well, get your chips, and dig in! No heating required. But you will need a manual can opener, and other manual devices such as a whisk, eggbeater, mortar and pestle, and etc. to make up for all those electric devices everyone relies on.

As everyone who’s had to feed a big family on a budget or try to get by when there wasn’t quite enough knows, soup is a great way to stretch your supplies—and your budget. A small can of corn may not look like much by itself, but it can add a lot to a soup; so can a handful or two of rice or pasta, a cup of beans or lentils, a can of tomato sauce, a couple of small diced potatoes or carrots, an onion or a few cloves of garlic, a splash of olive oil, and some dried herbs from the pantry. You couldn’t make a satisfying meal for your family with these ingredients alone, but turn them into a hearty, flavorful soup, and there’ll be enough for everyone to have seconds.

Making sure everyone gets enough nutrients from your stored supplies is crucial. Here’s where that old standby of vegetarian cuisine, protein complementarity, can come in handy. Basically, your body needs what’s called a “complete protein” every day, one that contains all the essential amino acids to sustain life. Mind you, you don’t need to eat a complete protein at every meal, as long as you manage to achieve it over the course of each day. Foods that provide complete protein all by themselves include eggs, meat, dairy products, and mushrooms (and yes, you can buy mushrooms dried or canned and stock up). But you can also make a complete protein by combining a bean or other legume and a grain: corn and black beans, hummus and pita, rice and tofu, peanut butter on whole-wheat bread, chili with brown rice, refried beans in a corn tortilla: The list is endless.

Vitamins and minerals may be harder to come by than protein, especially when your access to fresh greens and produce may be limited at best. That’s why stocking up on vitamin and mineral supplements is so important, to fill in any nutritional gaps. Yes, you can buy canned spinach, turnip greens, and collards, not to mention dried seaweed. But like all stored food, the nutritional value will decline over time, so supplements are a good backup.

Which brings me to my last two points: Stored food will keep better, last longer, and maintain its color and nutritional value better if you can store it in a cool, dry, dark place. (This is not true for fresh produce like apples, carrots, potatoes, etc., which tend to keep longest and stay freshest in a cool, humid, dark place like a root cellar.) And finally, the two most important rules of food storage: Buy what you’ll actually eat (or learn how to make something your family thinks is good enough to eat before you have to eat it), and rotate your food.

Food rotation is a royal pain, but it’s something we all should be doing all the time anyway. It means rearranging your canned beans/soups/fruits/veggies/etc.  every time you buy more, so the oldest cans are in the front where they’ll be eaten first. (Remember, expiration dates are your friend.) Ditto for jars of peanut butter, pickles, jams and jellies, and condiments, bottles of juice, bags of chips, and every other food item in your house. If you store flour, pasta, grains, popcorn, cereals, etc. in big glass jars like I do, I find the simplest way to keep track is to cut the date off the package after I’ve dumped the contents into the jar, then tape it on the lid or side of the jar. (Since I buy in bulk, the item is listed along with the date, which helps me identify all those jars of flour!)

Jars keep my dried goods dry and pest-free. I use them for the seed for our indoor birds, too, while the wild birds’, dog’s, and cats’ food gets stored in those huge metal canisters they sell popcorn in at Christmas. (We actually got ours from a wild bird store.) No mice or bugs allowed!

Oops, I almost forgot! Jackie Clay, the homesteading guru over at Backwoods Home magazine, made an excellent point in the last issue: All those cans, jars, etc. are really heavy. There’s a reason grocery shelves are so sturdy. Make sure yours are, too, before loading them with jars and cans, or you’re risking disaster—and at a time when you can least afford it. 

Last but not least, it pays to get a good cookbook or two on using stored foods. The authors have had extensive experience cooking with stored food, and are happy to share their tips and tricks for adding flavor and variety. I have several; the two I can put my hands on this moment are the bible of food storage cooking, Vicki Tate’s The New Cookin’ with Home Storage (self-published, 1993) and Backwoods Home Cooking (Backwoods Home Magazine, 2003).

The Backwoods Home anthology is not strictly a storage-foods book, but so many of their contributors cook with canned, dried, preserved, smoked, pickled, and etc. ingredients—a true pioneer mentality—that I’m including it. You’ll find these on Amazon or on Backwoods Home’s website (click the link on our blogroll at right); Backwoods Home has plenty of other great books to explore, including books on cooking and preserving food by Jackie Clay. Check it out!

              ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

Hoarding for the apocalypse. October 22, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I saw a headline on the Yahoo! home page yesterday about the 36 items you need to hoard against an economic breakdown, or some such thing. Admittedly, since it was one of those one-by-one slideshows rather than a simple list, and I didn’t have time to spare, I didn’t read it. But this is a topic our friend Ben and I think about a lot. So of course last night I was lying in bed thinking about the most essential items to have on hand in case you couldn’t get to the store for a while, or if you did, the shelves would be stripped bare. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Toilet paper. This always heads our list of necessities. Our ancestors used dishcloths instead of paper towels, handkerchiefs instead of Kleenex, and cloth napkins instead of paper napkins. If we had to, we could, too, which is why OFB and I keep a supply of each of these on hand. But toilet paper? What would you use instead of toilet paper?! Wrapped in its original packaging, toilet paper will keep practically forever (as long as it’s kept dry). The issue here is space; toilet paper takes up a lot of it. 

2. Soap. Our ancestors used soap to bathe, as shampoo, as laundry detergent, and as dishwashing liquid. Their hair might not have been as glossy or their clothes as fresh as ours, but simple bar soap did the trick. Bar soap keeps forever and takes up remarkably little space. Investing in an assortment of laundry soaps (like Fels-Naptha), bathing/deodorant soaps (like Dial), kitchen soaps (try a French-milled dish soap), and all-purpose soaps (such as a glycerine or olive-oil-based soap) could pay off if you were abruptly cut off from access to our usual array of specialty products.

3. Toiletries. Toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, mouthwash. Nail scissors, emory boards, nail clippers, orangewood sticks, tweezers. Q-Tips and cotton balls. Deodorant and lotion. Hair ties. Vitamins. Aspirin. Bandages. If all the stores shut down, would you have enough to survive for a month? For a year? OFB and I believe that all of us should keep a year’s supply of these necessities on hand, along with a comprehensive first-aid kit that contains sting and dental kits along with allergy relief like Benadryl. And if you wear glasses or contacts, extra pairs, contacts, saline solution, and the like are a must.

4. Backups. We’re firm believers in everything from extra pillows and blankets to extra pillowcases and sheets, towels and washrags, tee-shirts, socks, jackets, shoes, jeans, sweaters, gloves, boots, earmuffs, hats, you name it. If you use it or wear it, you should have more of it. What if you can’t get more and yours wears out? What if it’s really cold inside and an extra blanket or comforter or two would mean that you could still get a good night’s sleep? Solar technology has transformed devices from calculators to radios and flashlights to smartphone and computer chargers. Wouldn’t it pay to invest in a few? Seems like cheap insurance to us. 

5. Meds. OFB and I are lucky: Vitamins and aspirin pretty much do it for us, and we can buy those in unlimited quantities if we need to stock up. But what if you need a prescription drug to survive? We don’t really have an answer here, since it seems to us that doctors are very reluctant to prescribe on a more than month-to-month basis, for whatever reason. If anybody out there’s had luck getting a longterm prescription, please share your secrets of success!

6. Heat and cooking. In much of the U.S., staying tolerably warm in winter would become a major challenge  if conventional sources of heating, such as electricity, fuel oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy broke down. The same would be true of cooking. Getting an efficient woodburning stove and an ample supply of cut and cured wood might mean the difference between staying marginally warm and freezing. On a sunny property, solar energy could heat a house and its water supply. Solar stoves can be as simple as an aluminum-foil-lined box or as complex as a high-end array, but they allow people to cook without a heat source other than the sun.  

7. Water. City dwellers may only think of water in terms of their monthly water bill. Water and sewer are one of those things that happen, and will always happen, automatically no matter what. Not so for those of us who depend on wells and septic systems. The second the electricity fails, we have no light, no internet, no water, no plumbing, no heat, no cooking, no nothing. If the electricity were to go down for an extended period, we would be driven to using the chamber pots of the 18th century and hauling water from the nearest creek or pond. Those who can afford non-electric composting toilets or whose communities still allow outhouses, go for it! Those of us who are fortunate enough to have propane (gas) stoves know that a match will give us hot food even when our electric stove starters fail (as will a woodstove, even if it’s a simple heating unit, as long as you have plenty of dry wood stored), but the same is not true of water. Storing water for drinking, water for flushing, and water for washing is essential for emergency survival.

8. Food supplies. If you have a reliable source of heat for cooking and water for hydrating, storing dry staples like beans, peas, lentils, pasta, popcorn, grits, cornmeal, and flour is a very smart idea. (Unfortunately, denatured flours and etc. like unbleached white flour will keep longer than whole-grain flours, so stock up on those vitamins.) Include lots of foods that add flavor and pleasure, not to mention concentrated nutrition. You can find dehydrated butter and cheese in powder form along with powdered milk. Don’t forget nuts and cooking oils, vinegars, condiments like mustard and ketchup, and a wide array of dried herbs and spices, as well as plenty of pepper and salt. We like RealSalt, Herbamare (herbed salt), and Trocamare (hot herbed salt).

Our friend Ben’s parents had a bomb shelter when he was a very young child, and he and his siblings loved to play pioneer in its alien confines, surrounded by bags of dried peas and jars of peanut butter. Having never eaten a pea, much less a dried pea, in his life, OFB was fascinated by this futuristic food, which brings up another important point: Learn to make good food with staples before you have to, and make sure your family will enjoy what you make. It will be hard enough to endure the inevitable deprivations of a crisis without being subjected to bizarre, tasteless foods you all hate. 

If, like us, you might find yourself without the means to reliably heat food, canned food can be an excellent storage option. You can open and eat canned beans, baked beans, corn, and the like straight from the can. Add some jarred salsa and a handful of tortilla chips, and you have a meal. (Shredded cheese and sour cream, plus hot sauce and/or pickled jalapenos, certainly wouldn’t hurt, either.) Those jars of peanut butter from OFB’s youth are a great source of calories and protein; pair them with your favorite crackers and keep those crackers in a sealed container to keep them fresh as long as possible. Dried pasta and cans or jars of crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, puree, and the like can quickly make a spaghetti supper, and onions, garlic, mushrooms, cheese, herbs, and spices can make it a family favorite. 

Apples, pears, potatoes, and sweet potatoes all keep well in cold storage; so do winter squash, onions, garlic, cabbages, and Brussels sprouts. Turnips, broccoli, kale, and winter radishes are also reliable cold-weather crops. Dried fruit and high-protein, high-cal snacks like roasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds are excellent additions to salads and cheese and fruit plates. 

In short, learn which foods keep well, how to use them to make food your family will enjoy, and how to combine them to balance your nutritional needs. You don’t need to build a bunker full of military MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) to survive a shortfall. But it will help if you have a pantry or larder stocked with long-lasting foods you can rely on, a couple of cookbooks devoted to cooking with storage foods, and a few reliable field guides to wildcrafting, aka supplementing your storage staples with locally available fresh greens and foods like wild mushrooms, poke greens, lamb’s-quarters, chickweed, amaranth, watercress, sorrel, purslane, ramps, even kudzu. 

9. Grow your own. You don’t need a farm to supply your family with food. A small raised bed or two, a few containers, some tomato cages, and you’re set!  You might choose to build a greenhouse for year-round food production rather than investing in a pool and hot tub, or pass up the latest prestigious landscaping trend in favor of a grape arbor, strawberry bed, raspberry trellis, chicken coop, blueberry bushes, or fruit trees. The important thing here is to know that raising your own food is work, time-consuming work, and it’s important to learn how to grow the crops you want, how to harvest them, and how to preserve them by canning, pickling, and drying (the three low-tech preserving techniques that will hold up if the electricity goes out).

10. Don’t forget Fido. Hard times aren’t just hard for you, they’re hard for your pets. Make sure you have plenty of pet food, treats, and toys on hand for your dogs, cats, birds and etc. Stock up on flea and heartworm preventives. And if your dog or cat is suffering from an illness, make sure you stockpile meds for them just as you would for any family member.

Last, but by no means least:

11. Make lots of local friends. This tip should probably be first, since it could save your life. By befriending your neighbors, you’re investing in priceless life insurance. You give eggs, fresh veggies, and home-canned goods to your neighbors. In return, they keep an eye on your property, drop in with home-baked treats, recommend reliable folks who can do specialized chores that are beyond your abilities (cheap), and make sure you know if anything unusual is happening in the neighborhood. This is how people have always survived. This is how we can survive now.

What are your best tips for being prepared?

           ‘Til next time,

                      Silence

Super-easy secret for great salsa. October 21, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I discovered what the ads that constantly flood my e-mail refer to as “one ridiculously easy trick” for deepening the flavor of jarred salsa when our friend Ben and I were on the road recently visiting family in Nashville. It appears that the “complimentary” breakfast has completely replaced the hotel restaurant; I can’t remember the last time I saw a hotel with a restaurant. And while most hotels now offer some hot entrees along with their cerals and breakfast pastries, these are not, in my opinion, exactly edible.

OFB and I were staying in a nice hotel in Nashville, and it made quite an effort to offer a variety of both hot and cold selections for breakfast: omelettes or scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, French toast, waffles or pancakes, and diced potatoes, as well as real oatmeal (not instant), yogurt, fresh fruit, an assortment of cereals, bagels, English muffins, toast, doughnuts, and pastries, and three kinds of fruit juice, as well as coffee and tea. By today’s standards, this was a luxurious spread. But pre-made omelettes with runny orange cheese, limp bacon, and soggy potato cubes are still not our idea of food, complimentary or otherwise.

You might gather (correctly) from the above that OFB and I like our breakfast hot, and I like mine light. While OFB was piling omelettes, English muffins, potatoes and bacon on his plate, I was trying to convince myself that a couple of spoonfuls of potatoes would actually be edible, paired with a small serving of citrus. Unfortunately, the soft, spongy nature of the cubed potatoes weren’t doing much to reassure me. What could I do to boost their flavor and conceal their less-than-crispy texture?

Fortunately, the hotel came to the rescue. In addition to salt and pepper, they’d set out packets of salsa and ketchup. One or the other would surely help those pitiful potatoes. I grabbed salt, pepper, two salsa packets, and one ketchup, and headed to the table OFB and I had selected. Then, unsure which would be better, I had an inspiration: I opened all three packets and mixed them together.

The result was startlingly, amazingly good. The heat and texture of the salsa merged perfectly with the depth of tomatoey goodness of the ketchup, resulting in a rich, balanced salsa you could never get out of a grocery-store jar. It not only made the potatoes edible, it was an instant hit with OFB on his omelettes, perking them up and offsetting that Velveeta-like cheese.

I’m not suggesting that anyone dump ketchup into delicious fresh homemade salsa. Eeewww!!!!!! That would be blasphemy. But, if you’re like me, you keep a few jars of storebought salsa on hand in case you’re cooking and a starving OFB demands salsa, chips and cheese while he’s waiting for his supper. When preparing his salsa dipping bowl, adding 1/4 ketchup to 3/4 salsa really makes a difference, and it ups the healthy, cancer-fighting lycopene content of the salsa considerably along with the flavor. I’m very happy to have stumbled on this discovery! Try it, and let me know what you think.

            ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

It’s not a spider. October 20, 2012

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“There’s a sucker born every minute.” This quote, usually attributed to P.T. Barnum, but actually devised by the cynical comic W.C. Fields, seems especially applicable to today’s advertising industry.

Why wouldn’t the admongers believe it, when they can sell a gullible, status-obsessed public hideous witch shoes or ugly, gargantuan watches (or knockoffs thereof) for massive chunks of the biweekly paycheck, and all in the name of fashion? If an ad shows a sexy model leaning suggestively against a car, will buying said car really turn the balding, flabby midlevel manager who purchases it into James Bond, with gorgeous women clawing each other to be his chosen partner?

Not bloody likely. But that never seems to keep these nerdy creeps from buying cars that proclaim them to be everything the buyers aren’t, or from flaunting hideous 50-pound Rolexes, or keep their wives from providing free advertising to Louis Vuitton by carrying their blatantly branded purses and luggage, or cramming their expensively manicured feet into unspeakably unflattering Manolos. All for the sake of so-called status, telling the world one simple message: “I can afford this.” 

Business as usual, or so our friend Ben thought, until Silence Dogood pointed out a full-page ad in one of her favorite magazines, Vegetarian Times. Silence had picked up the October issue of the mag when we were in scenic Nashville recently to visit family, and was dissecting it with her usual enthusiasm (“This recipe would be great if only…”) when she came upon the ad, on page 51. It showed a photo of a large black spider with the caption “Think of our environment as a deadly spider… And Flor-Essence as your antidote.”

Flor-Essence appears to be a bottle of herbal drops that you administer as a “gentle detox” and dietary supplement to keep environmental toxins at bay. Okay, okay. Our friend Ben is not about to deny the impact of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, GMO crops, pollutants, and the pervasive use of antibiotics on livestock, not to mention extensive chemical adulteration of food products, on our health. But Silence and I were taken aback by an asterisk placed after the statement “Think of our environment as a deadly spider… And Flor-Essence as your antidote.” What the bleep?!

Turns out, the advertisers apparently think we’re even stupider than we think we are. Stupider than a stale convenience-store doughnut. Scanning down the page, Silence and I finally found a very tiny, pale asterisk beside the following very tiny, pale type, which read: ” *Please note the environment is not actually a poisonous spider. Flor-Essence is not actually a spider bite antidote. And if you get bitten by a poisonous spider you should see a doctor (fast).”

Gee. And here our friend Ben had “actually” thought the environment was a poisonous spider. This explains why I haven’t set foot outside the door of Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home I share with Silence Dogood in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, for 15 years. What if I took a breath of fresh air and found myself attacked by a poisonous spider?! Even gulping down a whole bottle of herbal detox might not save me, despite my faith in a product that made such daring claims.

Yeesh. Please, people, fight back against this ludicrous, offensive, outrageous attack on our supposed stupidity. Buy only what you need, make sure you need only what you buy, and buy local, regional, handmade, and owner-operated whenever you can. Knowing who makes or raises the supplies and produce you need creates community, and community creates a buffer against hard times. You may find that those connections make all the difference if times get even harder.

Until then, try to see ads for what they are, well-paid efforts to manipulate public and consumer opinion. Forget the Rolexes and try to put your money where it will do the most good for your family and community.

Saving America’s rest stops. October 15, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I are on the road, enjoying our first road trip together in quite a while. We’ve been fortunate enough to travel down the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and through the foothills of the Smokies, then on to Nashville, in what appears to be peak foliage season down here. Given that the trees have barely begun to show color up in our part of scenic PA, we were totally unprepared for the dazzling display of reds, yellows, oranges and purples that lined the highways and rose into the mountains. What a thrill!

Long-time readers may recall that I have a sort of thing about the so-called “rest areas” that pop up along the highways to provide travelers with much-needed bathroom breaks. (Type “Seeing America, one rest area at a time” into our search bar at upper right for more on this.) And I’ve been worried that, given the economy, the government would decide that they were an unnecessary luxury and shut them all down. I don’t know about you, but I find stopping at a clean, roomy rest area a far preferable experience to creeping into the back of some dubious gas station to find a bathroom, then praying it actually has soap, paper towels and running water.

So I was delighted to see that Virginia has come up with a workable solution to this problem: It has partnered with Geico. At our first rest stop in Virginia, I was a bit startled to see the Geico gecko peering at me from the rest area sign. But it turns out that Geico is sponsoring all the rest areas in Virginia.

Talk about win-win! Virginia gets financial assistance to maintain its rest areas. Geico, which after all insures vehicles, gets its logo and phone number where drivers of cars, trucks and motorcycles can see them. And grateful travelers get clean, safe, well-maintained bathroom facilities.

Thank you, Virginia, and thank you, Geico! And you other states, listen up.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Occupy this. October 13, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I went to see our friend Rob’s son Christian perform in a play last night in scenic Bethlehem, PA. The play was called “Occupy Your Mind,” and ir was held at the local Unitarian Church, with proceeds going to benefit the startup Bethlehem Food Co-Op. Well, OFB and I are all for food co-ops, and this was only our second chance to see Christian act, so we were very eager to go.

But, okay, what was “Occupy Your Mind” about? Clearly the title was a play on the Occupy movement that dominated the news through much of 2011. I thought that it might be a clever nudge in the direction of actually thinking for ourselves, or even thinking at all, as opposed to being spoon-fed whatever lines the “news” source of our choice chose to feed us. It’s always seemed to me and OFB that occupying our minds to the fullest extent possible was a marvelous (not to mention free) way to experience the richness and diversity of human culture, experience and thought.

But as far as the play’s topic was concerned, I was very much mistaken. I realized this when I saw a tent pitched in front of the Unitarian Church. Upon entering the building, we saw classic Occupy signs set up along the walls, such as “I couldn’t afford my own politician so I made this sign” and “None of them are in jail so why are we bailing them out?” and “Corporations are not people” (amen).

 Turns out, the play is a dramatization of interviews with people who participated in the Occupy protests, with actors voicing one of the interviewees in monologues directed to the audience (which is typically perceived as a group of fellow Occupiers). Each actor tells how s/he came to be there, what s/he hoped to give to the movement, and what, as it turned out, s/he received in return, which usually turned out to be acceptance, a sense of community, and the formation of family ties based on the closeness of people living together and united in a common cause.

The actors are quite talented and their stories are very moving. I felt myself tearing up several times. This was the last thing I’d expected, either from the play or from the Occupy movement. And of course, all I could think about was the Hippie movement way back in the Sixties.

By the time I came along, Hippies were part of the cultural nostalgia: “Flower Power,” peace and love, “White Rabbit” and Joni Mitchell, long hair, long dresses, and flowers in your hair. The idea of Hippie protests, sit-ins and the like against racial injustice, the Vietnam War, and etc. had vanished like smoke after the spectacular fire of the flowering of the Counterculture. But when I saw “Occupy Your Mind,” I gained insight into the mindset of the Hippies in a way I never would have had I not seen the play. 

I’ve always loved the Hippie era because of the idealism and the rich, marvelous cultural renaissance that defined it, especially in music, art, style and furnishings. I don’t regret not being there: Those of us who came after have had the luxury of taking the best (from our individual perspective) and leaving the rest for others or the scrap heap of history. They left us a very rich legacy on which to draw. (For me, the epitome may be Laurel’s Kitchen and Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” but those Gunne Saxe dresses aren’t far behind.)

Getting back to the play, I could easily see the same format adapted to give voice to the Hippie protesters, or concentration camp survivors, or pretty much any group with a story to tell. The performances were strong and moving, and even if you aren’t a fan of Hippies, much less the Occupy movement, I can guarantee that this play will “Occupy Your Mind” and give you plenty to think about. Tonight is the final performance, so if you live within driving distance of Bethlehem, note that it’s at 7:30 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley, 424 Center Street, Bethlehem PA 18018, 610-866-7652. If you go, please let us know what you think!

             ‘Til next time,

                        Silence

Candy vitamins. October 10, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I was recently stunned to see an ad for my local CVS offering a sale on Centrum gummy vitamins for adults. Gummy vitamins? For adults?! What the bleep!

Then I started thinking about this. Most of the vitamins I take are the size of horse pills. They are very hard to swallow. As a result, I find that I often don’t take them. Maybe those gummy vitamins weren’t such a bad idea. Better a gummy vitamin than no vitamin at all. I decided to check them out next time I was in CVS.

Was I in for a shock yesterday when I looked for them in the CVS vitamin aisle! Yes, I found them. But I also found dozens of other adult gummy vitamins, both multivitamins and individual vitamins and minerals. You could buy gummy vitamin D3, CoQ10, vitamin C, omega-3, calcium, you name it. The gummies came in all shapes, sizes, and colors, as well as mixed bright colors and flavors.

There were also chewable vitamins (including a special senior formula), which were cherry-pink and looked like a cross between Necco Wafers and SweeTarts. And Centrum also had adult vitamins that looked like round M&Ms (I wondered if they were chocolate-filled). I thought maybe I’d wandered into the candy aisle by mistake. 

Mind you, I think whoever came up with this idea was a genius. Who wouldn’t want to start the day with an assortment of colorful, flavorful candies rather than trying to choke down a handful of gargantuan pills? But I did wonder about their effectiveness. How well did their potency hold up, and how well did they deliver the vitamins to the body?

Sadly, Google turned up no answers for me this time. I will speculate that because they dissolve in the mouth, they should deliver the vitamins to the system much more quickly and completely than pills. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing I don’t know.

As for me, I ended up passing up the gummies in favor of the chewables (they were on a buy one, get one sale). But what I’m really looking forward to is the day they come out with vitamin Lifesavers…

               ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

Knitting therapy. October 9, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. The best thing about cool weather after the beautiful fall foliage is the onset of knitting season. And unlike the foliage, kniting can be enjoyed clear through spring.

I love sitting in a cold room (as ours invariably are here in Hawk’s Haven) with a pile of warm knitting in my lap. And I find the mindless, repetitive activity endlessly soothing. I tend to be one-pointed (not great at multitasking), so knitting for me isn’t so mindless that I can knit and, say, watch a movie at the same time. (Though I can certainly knit and listen to music at the same time.) But that endless repetitive stitch, the rhytmic turning of the needles, is enough to drive stress away and stop the running to-do list or worry loop in my mind.

For all you accomplished knitters out there, I don’t mean to imply that serious knitting is mindless at all. There’s nothing mindless about trying to follow a pattern or creating an elaborately knitted sweater or even a pair of socks. My knitting is mindless because I just knit scarves and belts: knit a certain set number of stitches, turn the needles, repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Simple as that.

Where my creativity comes in is in choosing the most beautiful yarns to work with, so the end result transcends the simplicity of its creation: People actually like wearing my scarves. I’ve seen people wearing them ten years after I made them. I’ve had people bring me back scarves, battered from use, and ask if I could restore them to like-new condition so they could keep wearing them. This is the beauty of the yarn, not some intricate technique.

I’m glad my scarves and belts can bring color and pleasure to other people’s lives. But even more, I’m so grateful to knitting for being such a wonderful way to calm down, to take cares away and keep stress at bay. Yes, it may all be still out there, but stitch by stitch, it’s not getting in here now. Knitting is my cold-weather safe haven. Thank goodness for knitting therapy!

               ‘Til next time,

                          Silence

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