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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,



It’s time for chili. October 7, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Last night, I was reading one of my favorite magazines, Backwoods Home, and came upon an article about making great chili. Now, our friend Ben loves chili, and now that it’s cooling down, it’s certainly time to start making it. So of course I plunged into the article to see if I could get some tips. Yikes.

Not to say that the chili in the article would have been bad; the photo of it looked delicious. But it would have taken 3 hours of standing in the kitchen working nonstop and every pot, pan and bowl in the house to make, not to mention a food processor.

To me, one of the beauties of chili is how easy it is to put together. We don’t have a food processor, we wash our dishes by hand, and I’m not good at standing for long stretches. If you’re not up for a marathon, I suggest that you try my quick, delicious chili recipe, below. Pair it with some hot-from-the-oven cornbread, or warm tortillas for dipping, and some crunchy coleslaw and you’re good to go!  

               Silence’s Quick Spicy Chili

1 40.5-ounce can kidney beans (dark red, light red, or plain red are all fine)

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 large fresh tomato, diced

1 large green (or red) bell pepper, diced

2 large sweet onions (Vidalia, WallaWalla or 1015 type), diced

6 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled and chopped

extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons chili powder

hot sauce (we like the smoky flavor of Tabasco Chipotle in this)

1 tablespoon each dried oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary

Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt) to taste

cracked black pepper to taste

Pour a generous amount of olive oil in the bottom of a heavy Dutch oven or other capacious pot (I love my LeCreuset Dutch oven for this). Saute the onion and garlic in the oil until the onion clarifies, then add the dried herbs, Trocomare or salt, pepper, chili powder, and a few generous splashes of hot sauce. Next, add the chopped fresh tomato and green or red pepper. When the pepper starts to soften and the tomato liquefies, add the canned diced tomatoes, stirring well, then the kidney beans, again stirring well to mix. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the chili is very hot. Serve in bowls, topped with shredded white Cheddar cheese and/or sour cream, if desired. This will serve four to six people, depending on how many insist on seconds or even (shriek) thirds.

This chili keeps well and can easily be reheated and eaten as-is, or used as a filling for tacos or burritos or as a layer in a dip for tortilla chips. (You know the one, with layers of guacamole, beans, salsa, sour cream, and cheddar.) If you use it in the dip, mash it first; people tend to be a bit disconcerted if they see a whole kidney bean on their tortilla chip.

However you eat it, enjoy! And think about all those dirty dishes and steps you’ve saved.

            ‘Til next time,


Keychains of confidence. May 1, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben just read a thought-provoking article in the May/June 2009 issue of Backwoods Home Magazine. It’s by Jeff Yago, and it’s called “A survival key ring—your everyday tool for emergency preparedness.” (You can read the article free online at the Backwoods Home website, www.backwoodshome.com, or click the link on our blogroll at right.) Jeff’s point is that it’s easy to put a few miniature items on a keychain that could prove to be really useful in an emergency situation, be it major or minor.

Jeff has a number of interesting suggestions on both choosing and stocking a keychain. His basic keychain has a LED light, miniature Leatherman MICRA model utility knife with foldout scissors, and an 8 gigabyte memory stick. Other options include everything from a mini-canister of pepper spray to a miniature nuclear radiation Geiger counter.

Our friend Ben found this fascinating because, I realized, Silence Dogood and I already practice a version of what Jeff preaches. Our house keys are on keychains with little LED flashlights and thermometers. My car keychain has another LED light and a compass, while Silence’s has a LED light and one of those extra-loud alarm whistles (fortunately she’s never had to use it!). We do, however, use our LED lights to light up the lock on the house or car door when we want to open either in the dark, or to find an object we’ve dropped getting out of the car at night. They are tiny, lightweight, and bright.

After reading Jeff’s article, I began to wonder what other useful items I could add to a keychain. (A hasty disclaimer: Jeff himself wasn’t suggesting that you add these items to your actual keychain, but that you have a dedicated keychain for them, since then they’d be together and easy to take with you. His point being that it’s not much help to have the stuff if you don’t have it with you when you need it.) I like the idea of the little utility knife especially—those scissors would come in handy when you’re trying to open a stubborn package.

What about you? If you could load up a keychain with useful stuff, what you you put on it?

Solar energy for poor people. April 8, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Someone came on our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, today searching for “solar energy for poor people.” Our friend Ben can relate. Between the cost and the complexity of solar systems, they seem more like rich people’s status toys—Manolos, Rolexes, Gucci bags—than the potential energy saviors of the planet.

However. Silence Dogood and I subscribe to and are big fans of Backwoods Home magazine. Silence was on the website today checking out Jackie Clay’s blog and noticed that the lead article on the website’s home page was about how to select and install a small-scale solar system yourself. It’s by their energy expert, Jeffrey Yago, who has installed bazillion solar systems and knows what he’s talking about. And the article’s posted so you can read it for free. Go to www.backwoodshome.com or click on the link on our blogroll at right.

Solar energy for poor people? Go outside and soak up some vitamin D. Grow a food garden. Cook with a solar cooker, heat your water in a solar shower. Buy a solar flashlight and radio. These are solar solutions we all can afford. And if you want to take the next step, check out Jeffrey Yago’s article.

Blogging globally, eating locally: a rant. March 27, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were over seeing what was happening at one of our favorite blogs, Here We Go! Life with the Shibaguyz (http://shibaguyz.com/), when we saw something that made us see red. Not, we hasten to add, in connection with the Shibaguyz themselves. In fact, we were thrilled to read that they’d come up with a way to develop more space for their urban garden and build community at the same time. We can only say, go guyz!!!

No, what aggravated the hell out of us happened when we clicked the link on the Shibaguyz’ site to Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle website (www.animalvegetablemiracle.com). If you all are fans of growing at least some of your own food and of trying to buy as much of the rest of it locally as possible to support farmers, gardeners, and small businesses in your area, we hope you have read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It’s novelist Kingsolver’s chronicle of a year in her family’s life when they tried to eat locally, and it’s wonderful and inspiring. The website is an attempt to keep the excitement the book has generated alive.

So what’s our problem? It’s this: Posted prominently in several places on the website is a message to this effect: “We’re sorry we can’t respond to your emails or consider fan letters or requests.” OFB and Silence have seen words to this effect on other popular self-sufficiency blogs we admire, too. However polite the wording may sound, there’s no mistaking the message: “We have better things to do than bother with you.”

We think this is inexcusable. Barbara Kingsolver’s book became a bestseller thanks to the very people she’s too busy to bother with; blogs become popular because of the people who read and support them. (One blog that posts a message like this even asks for reader donations to support it!)

Yes, responding to readers’ comments and queries takes time, and the more popular the blog or website, the more time it takes. If you’re a busy writer or homesteader, or are busy for whatever reason, and hundreds of comments are pouring onto your site every day, we can appreciate that you might not be able to drop everything and spend hours and hours answering them.

But in that case, we have a suggestion: Don’t accept comments on your blog or site. Far better from our perspective to say “We appreciate your support of our blog/website, but we don’t take comments here because we don’t have time to answer or acknowledge them, and we recognize that your time is every bit as valuable as ours.” We have a word for posting reader-generated content on your site and/or taking donations while proclaiming yourself to be too busy to bother with your readers, and that word is exploitation.

Since we believe that anyone who reads our blog deserves our courtesy and attention, we’ll set our outrage aside now and leave you with a couple of more upbeat thoughts. First, kudos to Jackie Clay, who writes and blogs for Backwoods Home Magazine (see the link on our blogroll at right). Jackie is a hugely busy homesteader, writer, and mom, but she somehow finds the time to answer her readers’ endless questions about how to do this, make that, and find the other. We could mention many other popular bloggers, like Frances at Faire Garden (http://fairegarden.wordpress.com/), who always find the time to respond to their readers’ comments, however many they are, however busy they are. We think these are the people who give blogging a good name.

And, on the subject of eating locally, here’s a comment we found quite profound. We think it’s especially apt since Silence is currently editing a book on best foods for a healthy pregnancy. One of the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle visitors left this comment on the website: “Just want to mention that the first step in eating locally is to breastfeed.” Thank you, Judy Harden, for thinking this through!

The zen of goat herding. March 31, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading.
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1 comment so far

Hi all! I just had to add a second short post today after reading Jackie Clay’s post on her blog at Backwoods Home magazine. Jackie’s posted about her goat, Velvet, who delivered triplets last week. If you love goats, it’s a must-read (or rather, must-see: check out the pics of the adorable goat babies)!

You can click on the Backwoods Home link here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, then look for the link on their site to the “Ask Jackie Clay” blog. Don’t forget to read the comments section where Jackie talks about taking her goats for walks! Being our friend Ben, I of course think she should have a “Name Those Goats” contest. But she and son David probably want to do the honors themselves.

Anyway, it’s a fun read and I know you’ll enjoy it. And you’ll be in awe of how much Jackie knows about gardening and homesteading, and how generous she is about sharing that knowledge. (Can you tell, I’m a Jackie fan from way back?) And please feel free to share your own goat stories with our friend Ben!