Friday, August 29, 2008

The raspberries are leaving, and the pumpkins are coming

Well, we finally got a new camera, so here goes an attempt to brighten up the old blog. (Because everyone knows that pictures make a blog more exciting, right? :)

Anyway, our raspberries (pictured are some of the few remaining stalwarts) have decided that their season is over--but hey, it was a good run. They arrived late, but once they were here, they were here in force. We enjoyed them, as we imagine and heard that the people that we shared them with did. They were a little hard to keep up with, and that is all good.

We now turn our attention to the pumpkin patch, whose plants this year appear to have taken on the opinion that it's fashionable to have produce in all kinds of stages of growth, as evidenced by Exhibit A, a picture of one of the flowers:

Exhibit B, which we have decided to label "baby pumpkin":

And Exhibit C, who has been voted "most likely to be ready by October":

And yes, these were all taken just this evening--there was no time-lapse photography involved.

It's been a little strange this growing season weather-wise, but it's exciting to see some of the produce coming around. We did just get some yellow squash and zucchini and corn from our neighbors over the fence, which we appreciate greatly. Their corn turned out better than ours did, and it's wonderful of them to share.

Having seen so many great things on other blogs, I think our variety of produce will increase next year--growing fresh food is a great source of food storage. Seeds start out small, which is ideal for storage, but when things work out, there's a tremendous yield that just keeps giving. Just remember to use and store non-hybrid seeds whenever possible so that you can try and try again... :)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Polls and Resources

The following are the results from the last two polls that I put up about food storage:

When it comes to the basic staple of wheat, I:

--Have not yet stored any 30%
--Have some, and am knowledgeable about using it in recipes 38%
--Have some, and am searching for some (or more) ways to use it 30%

No one chose the other options. Speaking personally, I fall squarely in the "have some, and am searching for some (or more) ways to use it" category. I have a brand new, operated by elbow grease hand grinder that has never, to my knowledge, seen the outside of the box. I could elaborate on why that is, but in the end it is all excuses, and does nothing for my food storage- using prowess. Some things just need to change. That said, it's interesting the things that happen when you start to talk to other people about actually using your food storage. A sampling:

--I have known for years that my husband grew up eating "cracked wheat cereal", but have never made it myself. My husband has offered to show me how to make it. I mentioned this cereal when his parents were visiting not too long ago, and soon afterwards we received an e-mail asking us if we wanted their wheat grinder (also elbow-grease operated). How can you turn down a free, tried and true wheat grinder? We couldn't. It soon arrived on our porch. We now own two wheat grinders. I am running out of excuses.....

--I mentioned to another friend that I was looking for ways to use our wheat. She said that some people used to just put the wheat in a thermos, cover it with hot water, put the lid on, and leave it over night. They would then have cereal in the morning. I have not tried this personally. But I will most likely be searching for a thermos soon.....

--If you haven't checked out the Friday's Food Fancy posts on Jacobus Family Blogspot, (listed as a resource to the right as well) I don't think I can recommend them highly enough. The recipes are geared toward using your food storage, and the tips and links are excellent as well. Not too long ago, author Peggy Layton was mentioned, because she has written about cooking with food storage. So, being me, I used the local library to see if any of her books were available. The catalogue indicated that yes, there was a book written by this author that would be of interest to me, and yes, it was in. Problem was, it was not where it was supposed to be. I left empty-handed.
Soon after, one of my friends, who I have swapped recipes with, and discussed food storage with, came by to visit and handed me a book by Peggy Layton called Cookin' with Home Storage. A happy coincidence for me, and I now have more work to do to try out these recipes....

So what's my point? Sometimes, if you ask, you will find out that you have more resources available to you--recipes, knowledge, suggestions, or more. You may not end up with an additional wheat grinder on your porch, but if you ask around, you might be able to find someone with the knowledge of where to find used equipment at a good price that would help you to put your food storage to good or better use. For one example of this, you might want to check out recent posts at Johnson Family Farm--talk about knowing how to use a flea market to your advantage. Even if there is not a flea market in your area, there may be other places to go for good deals that other people do know about. You could exchange recipes, books, knowledge, you get the picture. Power in numbers can lead to power in knowledge, just because we help each other.

Now for that other poll I mentioned back in the day... :)

When it comes to the basic staple of beans, I:

Have not yet stored any 7%
Have the canned variety 30%
Have the dry variety 30%
Have some, and am knowledgeable about using beans in recipes 53%
Have some, and searching for some (or more) ways to use them 38%
Have some, but they are strictly for emergencies, and I will figure out how to use them then 15%

Personally, I now have more knowledge about using dry beans, but need to learn to use the canned beans as well. A last resource that you may want to consider? The comments on the blogs that you read. Nancy was kind enough to include a bean recipe in the comments section of my last post with the list of bean recipes, (thanks, Nancy!) so now I have another recipe to try, and it looks tasty. You may want to try it yourself... :)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A little encouragement means a lot...+ a bean recipe list

Long story short: the last time I made rice and beans, my children ate it. No frozen pizza afterwards, just a can of peaches to go along side.

The time that I fixed that recipe before this last time, I had mixed up the water:bean ratio. (Read--crunchy rice resulting in a what appeared to be a somewhat scorched mess when I tried to fix the problem by adding water and cooking it longer and not being attentive enough. Or something. :) We ended up eating something else for dinner. I scooped some of it into a container to save for my own lunch for the next day anyway. When I pulled it out, I explained that this time I had used black beans, how it colored the rice, etc., and my children wanted to taste it. They liked it. Then the last time I made it, one of the kids said something about liking the black beans. Since I had already opened the pinto beans, I said that I would use black beans next time. The same child said something about it being a favorite meal. (That statement has not been repeated to my knowledge, but I remember it well. :)

This recipe was not that well-received at first. If memory serves, we had to "supplement" the meal with additional food later. But as time has gone by, my children have learned to like it more. They do not all like it equally, but they will all eat it without complaint. For me, the fact that if I continue to make this recipe occasionally, it will be familiar in an emergency situation when there is no opportunity to "supplement" it is priceless, because it will be one less thing that's strange in a stressful situation. If you need encouragement to try something like this, I hope you find my experience encouraging enough for you to give your children (parents, spouse, fill in the blank) a few tries with ingredients so that they have the chance to get used to it. There may be some recipes that will never be tried again, but with perserverance something will work for your set of circumstances.

My goal was to learn how to cook beans starting with dry beans. Here is my list of what I consider to be successful bean recipes that worked for my family, all in one place (they are currently spread throughout this blog):

--the recipe just mentioned, which will probably usually be made with black beans from now on. This dish ends up being rice and beans together in one dish. The original post with changes I made is dated May 29th.

--the recipe that I just made Tuesday, which ends up as wonderful refried beans in the crockpot, and which we used with tostadas. You may remember that the last time I made these I mentioned that I used a 7 oz. can of green chilies as a substitute, and it was too hot. This time I used about half of a 4 oz. can. It was still too hot, but better. I would probably still use the same amount of the green chilies, but nowhere near the amount of black pepper mentioned, which I believe was the culprit. I'll change that next time, and see what happens. Live and learn. The original post on this is my June 19th post, where I indicate changes I made.

--this recipe, which I have only made one time before, but which was pretty well-received. I plan to repeat it in the near future. This also ends up as a one-dish meal with the rice and beans together. The adaptations I made for it are found in my July 11th post.

Well, the encouragement I received the last time I made rice and beans means a lot to me. Now that I have a few recipes for beans that I can fall back on, the plan is focus more on other items in my food storage that I need to learn to prepare. So much to do, and so much to learn. Hopefully my children will like the recipes I try. Or at least learn to.... :)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Searching for a wood stove

The house we live in now, as mentioned in the last post, has had two previous owners. The original owners had a wood stove. In the years that the second owners were living here, they put in a gas stove. We would much rather have a wood stove, so my husband asked the second owners about the wood stove that they had replaced, and tried to locate it. Long story short, we find ourselves looking for a new wood stove. After a few years of saving up for it, of course.

Last week a gentleman from a local firm came to our house and took measurements. He could not leave a bid or estimate at the time, so my husband told him to drop a final cost off in the mailbox. The economy must be really going well for that particular firm--we haven't received a written estimate nor a phone call from him. I guess our business isn't that important to him...

So last week, an appointment was made for another gentleman from a competing firm to come and do the necessary measurements, etc., to see if he had a product that would meet our needs. (It did not hurt that my husband saw a sale sign outside the gentleman's place of business. :) He was able to sit down and give us a cost estimate for three different products.

There were a couple of things I found interesting about what he said when he was preparing to make his calculations. I asked him if we could still use the wood stove if the electricity went out and the fan wasn't working. He said yes, but indicated that the gas stove we have now would still work even if the electricity went out--that it required electricity, but would still work during a power outage. I was aware that the gas stove required electricity, (one of the main reasons I want a woodstove) and that it would work in a power outage, but I had no idea how long it would work during a power outage. So I asked him. He said that after about eight days there would probably be a problem, and something like where he is, there had only been power outages for about 16-20 hours. I was like, "Oh, that's good," because that's not anywhere near eight days. Inside, however, I was thinking that we weren't even on the same page. I want a stove that will work for me indefinitely, as long as I can supply the fuel, of course. There's no way to tell an emergency situation that it can only last as long as eight days.

Another issue that's important to us is that the stove have some kind of cooking surface. The gentleman who was here yesterday told us that the model we are considering has a 5-inch "lip" that juts out--we need a wood stove insert. That is not very large...maybe enough to set a soup can on or something. That is better than what we have now, but it would be nice to have a larger surface for emergency situations--we would need it for food preparation as well as heat, after all.
So, (did you see this coming?) I called my best source (Mom). For some reason, I was under the impression that my parents bought a pellet stove, but not so. They purchased a wood stove. So one of the first questions she asked me was about the "efficiency rating." Since it had not come up in the conversation with the stove company gentleman, I did not know. She suggested that I check the Internet, since she was unfamiliar with brand that we were discussing. I found next to nothing, except for the claim that they tested their products themselves--so not that informative in terms of the rating. My husband, however, found the efficiency rating--not stellar, but worth considering. Problem is, when he called the gentleman today to ask more questions, turns out the efficiency rating is 6% less than what was stated on the Internet, so it changes how we look at it somewhat.

My mom also called up someone at a number listed on a website about wood stoves and asked about the model we are looking at, and according to that person, there is no "lip" on the stove that would stick out from the insert and provide a cooking surface. We'll have to figure out who is right on that issue. No cooking surface = a deal-breaker for me.

So, still looking for an emergency (and economical anytime--hopefully, it could help with utility bills this winter) heat source for both heating and cooking. Have to have something to cook my rice and beans on. Or at least a can of soup....

Friday, August 15, 2008

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

If you are like us, about once a year you will get a letter from one of your neighbors asking you to donate to a given cause (which is a good cause) by sending them your donation. They then gather all the donations and send a (hopefully) large donation, on behalf of the neighborhood, to the cause. We got such a letter yesterday. Small problem. We got two such letters yesterday.

One letter was addressed to my husband--I know this, because it was sent to his initial, our last name, our address. The other was sent to "Frida Nobblebipper." (Name changed to protect the identity of an unknown woman who might or might not live in our general area.) The irony? They know the full first name of Frida.

Thing is, we know all the people who have ever lived in this house, none of whom have the surname of "Nobblebipper". The original owners lived in this house for many years, continuing to live here after they raised their children. We considered buying it from them, but passed. We knew the second owners, who called us when they wanted to sell, because they knew that we had been interested a few years before. We were interested. Interested enough to buy it without it going on the market. Not a "Nobblebipper" in the bunch.

So, it probably will not surprise you that I found this interesting enough to talk to my best source (Mom) about. I have never actually been in charge of a project like this, but she told me that one year, an organization had called and asked her to do the same thing. She said that the organization provided a list of names and addresses to use to complete the project. So our neighbors were probably working from such a list, and perhaps thought that since "Frida Nobblebipper" was listed, that we had someone staying with us that they didn't know about.

How does this work into preparation? If you are still reading, :) this is how I see it. What if there is a natural disaster, and people in the neighborhood are the only ones available to provide help during the crucial first hours/days/fill in the blank? Wouldn't it be crucial to know who is accounted for, and who is trapped in rubble/hurt/fill in the blank? Wouldn't it be more efficient to be looking for someone who actually may be in need of assistance, rather than a "Frida Nobblebipper," who, if she exists, may be vacationing in Hawaii at the time of the emergency?

What if there were a pandemic? Everyone would be quarantined in their own houses, but let's say, hypothetically, that there is an actual Frida Nobblebipper, and she lives 3 doors down. Also in this hypothetical situation, there are three-year-old Thaddeus Nobblebipper, and one-year-old twins, Erastus and Petronella Nobblebipper--Frida's husband, Bartholomew, is in the military, off serving the country. What happens if Frida falls ill, there is no one to help with the children, no way of contacting anyone, and no one actually knows where she and her children are to even check on them?

Post title notwithstanding, I am not talking about Sesame Street here, but about emergency situations. I used unusual names a) in the hopes that no one will think that I am actually talking about them in particular, b)because a little humor lightens the atmosphere, and c) because I like to, but this little experience really kind of bothers me. If people who are going to make money (granted, for a good cause) from knowing where people are can't get it right, who will? As far as I know, there are not easily available lists of who lives where, unless you count the census. And since that is not available to the public for many years, it looks like it is up to us, as individuals, to figure such a list out, keep it current and available, and then use it when an emergency strikes that affects our neighborhoods.

My best source (Mom) told me about Her neighborhood is set up this way in Utah, but I haven't heard about it in my state. Apparently, a lot of neighborhoods in her area are set up to deal with a disaster in this way--I really need to convince her to write her own blog, huh? :)

I have looked at some of this site and need to study the program in depth to try to implement it in my neighborhood, but so far it actually looks pretty simple. The hard part for me will be getting out of my comfort zone and trying to get it started, even if it ends up not being mainly me or even mostly me getting it organized. Probably not everyone will participate, but won't a plan for emergency situations benefit everyone that does participate if an emergency does occur? Unusual names aside, it would be heartbreaking if there were an actual "Thaddeus, Erastus, and Petronella" who could possibly have their lives saved if someone knew where they were, but who suffer or worse because no one even knows they exist. There are other possible scenarios--older people who need assistance, etc.--but in the end, we have to know where the "Frida Nobblebippers" of the world are, and what their needs are, before we can help them.

I freely admit (although there is considerable shame involved) that I don't know all of the people in my neighborhood. I plan to work on it so that I do. Hopefully, the fact that I have written this down, in this blog, will encourage me to do it faster.

Chances are, though, that I'm not in your particular neighborhood, so unfortunately, anything I help to set up will not affect you or those around you. We have to help who we can. Who are the people in your neighborhood?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Statistics and a chicken story (kind of)

For those who are interested, in the blog poll last week that asked what people have stored, the numbers worked out as follows:

Staple items (wheat, bean, rice, etc.) 92%
Canned items 92%
Frozen items 53%
Items especially made for storage (MREs, etc.) 69%
A garden that provides produce 92%
Other 7%

Now I just wish that whoever marked "other" would have left a comment--about the only thing that I can think of is livestock, or hens that supply eggs, etc.--live storage is also a good thing. At any rate, that's how it worked out, and though I don't get a large number of people responding, this was by far the poll that has had the most respondents to date. (Thanks to those who participated!) I was impressed by the level of preparedness that is evident by these numbers. I certainly hope that "other" didn't indicate a total lack of storage, but if so, that can be changed. :)
Perhaps the reason that "other" brings to mind livestock or hens, etc., is because I read this article today about people wanting to raise chickens in Utah. I personally have no knowledge about how to raise or care for hens, but I may have to find out what the policies are in my own state and see if it is a feasible project. It's certainly something to think about. You would have to provide storage for the animals themselves in the form of feed, but wouldn't fresh eggs and fresh chicken be a great addition to food storage?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Stocking up for more than just school

Well, school starts pretty soon around here, so I have been out looking for school clothes, etc. It might be just in our area, (though I highly doubt it) but it doesn't seem like there are as many really good sales this year as in previous years. For instance, even though there were sales this past weekend, I don't remember seeing any offers on "doorbusters" in the paper,where you save more because you shop early. I went out shopping a couple of times this past week, and I was torn between two schools of thought: a) I need to shop now, so I can find what is needed before everything is picked over, and b) I need to wait because what if they are holding out for a really big sale right before school starts? I went out to see what the current prices are.

To cut to the chase, current prices are much higher than previous prices, even with sales prices. I went to get shoes and fortunately I had a coupon (for 15% off, if memory serves) because we signed up for the store's children's club (a membership that is free, and just allows you to save if you accumulate a certain amount in purchasing in their children's department). That cut even more off a couple of pairs that I bought, and it definitely helped. The sales price was still high, but overall, for the same quality of shoes the prices are comparable just about everywhere I looked. (Yes, I comparison shop. Big-time. :)

During my second trip, high on my list were the prices on shirts. I "stocked up" on jeans at the end of last school year for this year because they were having an excellent sale. I should have checked out their prices anyway, but the main focus at this point was the shirts. Maybe I don't remember previous prices correctly, (always a possibility :) but the prices have jumped to such an extent that the sales price is now more than I think the merchandise is worth. I went to three stores. I didn't find anything worth buying at any price in one. I bought a couple of shirts in the second because it was the last day of a sale, and even though I thought the price was high, I was afraid that I wasn't going to be able to find anything better. In the third store I hit the jackpot--shirts at about $2.00 less than at the other stores, with the added benefit that they were shirts that I figured my children would like to wear. With all of the other expenses associated with starting school, I didn't "stock up" on extra shirts, but it probably would have been a good idea. I got what I thought was needed, and left.

The day that I went shoe shopping, I stopped by a store that was near where I got the shoes, and stopped at another one on the way home (I figured this was a good way to conserve gas :) and was looking at everything in order to compare. There were some shoes that didn't look as sturdy for a cheaper price at one place, and I have no regrets on that, and comparable normal prices for shoes, without the benefit of a sale and/or coupon, at the other. I also looked at clothes for smaller children, and here there was a shock, at least for me. I don't visit the expensive stores very often, unless there is a particular product or sale that I need to make a decision about. So these are not expensive places to start out with, though they apparently are getting that way now.

At one place, there was a great sale on outfits for younger children. I hemmed and hawed, and then bought 3 outfits that will only fit the child they are intended for in the future. The size is too large now, but they will be useable later. It's a hard decision to make when there are so many things that need to be bought now. But when I hit the next store, I was glad about the decision I had made. The outfits weren't identical, of course, but the same kind of outfit cost more than 4 times as much.

My point? ( I always try to have one :) I suppose that the same is true everywhere, ( and if it's not, I 'd like to know where it isn't) but prices are going up on basic necessities, as well as just on food. Taking care of basic necessities is vital during an emergency, and I'm trying to stock up on clothes that will fit in case of an extended emergency. Unfortunately, a personal economic emergency is one example of such a scenario, because it is hard to purchase new clothes when you are in the midst of a financial crisis, and the same is true when there is a national economic emergency, and the prices go up for everyone. So, while stocking up for school, I'm also trying to stock up for future emergencies, with things that will be used whether there is an emergency or not. As a secondary point, sometimes the good prices are out there, if you really look, and don't eat up the money you're saving in gasoline.

Next, it has been suggested to me by my best source (Mom) that I go look for the actual school supplies (paper, crayons, etc.) today. There are some big sales at national chainstores, and because the prices are so good, the items tend to disappear in a hurry. While I am stocking up for school, I plan to go beyond that and stock up on such items for our home storage as well. When the power goes out, or we're evacuating because of a natural disaster, or fill-in-your-emergency here, it might be good for everyone's well-being to have a more normal activity to participate in, like artwork, or even tic-tac-toe. While I'm thinking about preservation, I might as well include efforts to preserve family morale as well, right? :) Just a thought.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A couple of follow-ups

Just a little unfinished business, if you will: (that is, if you are interested :)

---On Wednesday we used the contact number for the guy at the local foodbank. When he called back, my husband found out the whens/wheres, etc. necessary to drop off our donation on Thursday morning. According to the information we had, there was a particular need for canned meats and fruit, so I made sure some was included. (I guess I could have had my husband ask, but I've always wondered what exactly they meant by "canned meat." I mean, spam is an obvious one, as is tuna, but I wondered if something like stew or something with high meat content is also what they are looking for. But I digress.)

The reason that this little outing to the foodbank is worthy of a follow-up is because of what my husband learned when he dropped the stuff off. Apparently, the foodbank supplied food to over 2000 people this past month, which is an increase of like 30-35%. Also, in our community, 2000 people is a notable percentage of our population. We already knew that the foodbank was running low because of the notice that we read--they indicated that the food drives were finished and the supplies from the ones that had taken place were gone. So my question is, what do you do when 2000 people come knocking at your door, and you have next-to-nothing on the shelves? When I heard those numbers, our donation didn't seem very large at all. But like my husband said, (it reminded me of the starfish story) it will matter to the ones that do get it. My point? The number of people in need is even bigger than I thought--and I thought it was pretty bad in the first place. Not the most cheerful follow-up, but true.

--In my August 1st post, I mentioned someone else's idea to use your staples first when you think that there might be a power outage, so that you can save your more "ready-made" items like canned foods for when generating power might be more of a problem. Riverwalker from Stealth Survival made a good point when he left a comment about using your frozen items first when there is concern about a power outage. In our situation, we don't consider the food we have to keep cold as a long-term storage option because we have no generator, but we do like to freeze stuff ahead to use later while there is power, because it is more economical. That said, if there were a power outage, we would want to salvage what we could from our refrigerator and/or freezer. Since reading that comment, I have come across this article, which gives some guidelines about food safety when it comes to refrigerators and/or freezers. If you have been reading my blog, you will have already realized this, but here is a reminder: I am not an expert--I put these ideas out so that people will possibly see more options and make the best choices for their own situations. I thought these ideas were pretty good, though. I will need to print out a copy before the power goes out.... :)

--And, saving the oldest for last, in my May 26th post, I listed the serving amounts for rice. The 3/4 cup serving results from cooking 1/4 cup rice. Perhaps everyone already knew that. I just didn't want anyone blaming me when they ran out of rice a lot faster than planned because they cooked 3/4 cup of rice instead of 1/4 cup. Ahhh. Nothing like clarification to make sure that I explained it right. Finally. :)

Nothing like learning more right? Thanks to all for the ideas you leave. They are much appreciated!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The importance of rotation

Well, according to my latest poll, I am not the only one with canned food (in my case store-bought) as part of my food storage supply. At the point that I am writing this, 87% of those that have responded either have store-bought or home-canned food stored. Perhaps none of them have the same problem that I sometimes have--eating the oldest items first and saving the newer items for later, thus keeping them properly rotated.
My husband and I went down in the storage room last night and got part of it organized. Here's an example of my usual method of operation:

1) See an advertisement for a great sale on say, soup, (although some of those 10 for $10 are becoming 10 for $20 more and more consistently) and rush to the store on the last night of the sale.
2) Buy a little extra of perhaps another type of soup (or other item) that was also on sale, though not as well advertised. (As noted, those 10 for $10 sales are becoming more and more scarce--this method doesn't actually happen very often, so I have to take advantage of the prices while I can.)
3) Come home. Explain to my husband why I bought so much soup and/or insert other item here. (Fortunately, he's very understanding. :)
4) Fill my cupboards with new soup.
5)Take the remaining items downstairs to the storage room. (Or get my husband to do so. Yeah, he's pretty great. :)

On the surface, this system looks pretty great. Hey, I got what passes for a good deal these days, and I can probably hold out on the stored items until the next sale comes around, if everything goes right. I'm buying (and this is key) something that my family eats regularly anyway. I've checked the expiration/best buy date, and it is far enough in the future that I feel assured that it will last forever. Sounds pretty good, right?

True confession: I occasionally go down to the storage room specifically to look at my storage to reassure myself that it is coming along. Problem is, I don't always take some of the older cans upstairs with me when I go. I sometimes do #4 above with all of the new items and use them, then repeat, while all those food items downstairs that were going to last forever get older and older and older. This is easy to do because I forget, after checking the dates once, (oh, and I did mention that the storage room is downstairs, right? :) to check them again until I am actually in the process of using them. This (to my shame) is an example of poor rotation.

So last night, we went downstairs and tried to fix the problem. We did one area of canned items, and came up with one casualty--a can of soup that had its date run out more than six months ago. It is no longer on our shelf. We found others whose date is coming up. We are donating them to the local foodbank (which has indicated that it is also in pretty dire straits) long before that date arrives. We also unloaded some bags that were victims of the "drop the bag and run" syndrome down there, and are donating some of those items because we got a really great deal on them and feel it would be good to share--and those dates are the kind that bring up images of forever. Some of the cans will need to be used soon, and those have been placed on the shelf nearest the door for easiest access. The others are placed in roughly chronological order elsewhere, and hopefully we will do better in the future.

Like I said, we aren't done with our "weed out the old' expedition, and unfortunately, I'm sure there are more casualties to come. Some items come without dates, (at least some fruits and vegetables that we have purchased) and in the future, we will mark them with the purchase date in marker on the bottom so that we have some idea of how old they are. In our case, we can sometimes tell by brand when we bought them, because we are always looking for a deal, or buying at more warehouse-type establishments, which sell very brand-specific items. It would still be wiser to mark them with a marker and be sure of the purchase date.

Maybe none of you have this problem, and are more organized than I am. If so, I am impressed, because it is something that I need to work on. If you are just starting on food storage, rotation is something to keep in mind. Put your oldest items to the front, and as you buy/can new items, put them in the back of the rotation so that the older items are consumed first. Makes sense, of course, but it is human nature, I think, to do what is easiest, and just shove the new items in.

Just a note--I would be surprised if not one person who reads this were to say/think, "The dates on the cans are just guidelines. Even if the food gets older, it is still edible, it just has lost some nutritional value," because, frankly, I have heard something along those lines myself. Everyone has to make their own decisions on what they think is suitable to do with outdated food. I myself am a little weird about expiration dates and generally am of the mind, "when in doubt, throw it out." That's why I want to eliminate the possibility of outdated food on my shelves altogether. I just have to be more conscientious about my own rotation.

One final note on expiration dates--I will not donate those items that are outdated or have no dates that I know are old. I remember reading about (sorry, no source, but this was striking enough to me that I remember the gist of the story) someone (I think it was a woman) who was a recipient of donated food. She said that if you couldn't donate food to a food drive, she understood, because she herself couldn't. She just asked that people not donate outdated food because she had opened some and there were some nasty things inside and it was inedible. To find it yourself is one thing. To send it away to someone else who potentially has nothing else to feed their children or grandchildren, and have it be inedible, is something else, and I would hate to be the one responsible for that. I am donating some of the things we got at a fantastic price that have a good date, because we were able to get such a good deal. And because for some, the emergency is now.

Whew, long post, short point. Check your dates. Put canned items in chronological order. Put newer items behind older items as they are purchased. Use oldest items first. Repeat. All of which could be entitled, "note to self." So what's on your shelf?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Keeping an eye out for each other

Received some troubling mail recently, again from the state foodbank. Apparently they have a program in place in which they send backpacks filled with food home every weekend during the school year with children who otherwise would not have anything to eat until school starts the following Monday. The fact that such a program is necessary is troubling in and of itself, but I am glad that it exists for those who need it. Even more troubling, however, are the struggles that the foodbank itself appears to be having.

The price per filled backpack is not too high, and it is filled with enough food for two days. That said, on the donation form, donors are asked to send enough money to support a) 8 children b)11 children c) 17 children. Of course, they leave a blank for your choice, as well as places for a monthly gift or matching employer's contribution or a place to use your credit card instead of sending a check. They indicate, though not verbatim, that anything you send would be a good thing. What bothers me is that they feel it necessary to start with sending enough for eight children. Not something like "Would you like to help a child make it through a difficult weekend? If you are able, it would be great if you could help even more..." To me, that indicates that there is a huge need out there, and in this case it highlights the effects on those who can do little about about it--the children. I'm sure that they are always affected, but it seems especially disturbing that they would have nothing at all to eat for two days if it weren't for this kind of help.

These kinds of problems aren't limited to our area, either. Everywhere you look, people are struggling to make ends meet. This article talks about difficulties that a particular food pantry is having, as does this one. In these cases, there is a shortage of donations--after all, the high prices in our economy affect everyone, even those who in previous circumstances were able to help with the supply (a fact that is also mentioned in at least one of the above articles.). There is higher demand, with less supply, and that means that more people are going hungry. That's one way that organizational help might fail (despite every good intention) in their efforts to help those in need.

It hasn't come to this in our country, that I know of, but in this article about Haiti we learn that there is food available, but there are problems in getting it distributed, which leaves the same result as no food in the warehouses--no food for the hungry. This article, while focusing on Britain, gives a good comparison chart for how prices are going up all over the place, in some places (food-wise) faster than they are here in the U.S., and it makes sense to me that a natural consequence to higher-priced food is an increase in the number of people who go hungry.

So what is my point? If you are still reading, :) I guess it's this: if we are in a position to help, hopefully we will. We may not be able to donate to a food bank, but if we have a few extra ears of corn in the garden, maybe we can leave them over the fence for a neighbor who is having some difficulty. Maybe we can invite our children's friend over for a pb&j sandwich picnic one weekend if we think it would be helpful, or have a family from the neighborhood over to share a watermelon. You get the idea. In my experience, people don't advertise when they are having difficulties--it's painful enough in the first place without making it public knowledge. We don't have to spell out what we are doing. And hey, even if it were to turn out that we were wrong--that there really was no need--what is the harm in building stronger neighborhoods, which could help everyone when a real crisis occurs? And if we are the only ones standing between our neighbors and hunger, whether it is a supply/demand problem, or an isolation problem where no food is getting through, I hope that we will have prepared ourselves enough to be able to share. It may not be for a long time--days, and not weeks or months--that we need to help each other, but even days would seem like forever if you have no food for you or your children.

There are more structured ways to prepare your neighborhood for emergencies, one of which I need to learn more about. With more knowledge comes more posts... :) But in any case, I hope that we will keep an eye out for each other. If you are already in a situation that makes putting anything aside difficult, please just do the best that you can. If you are in a position to stock up on a larger scale, please do so. You never know when things could get worse and what you have been able to put aside will help your family. And it may not be just family that needs your help when an emergency comes. We need to keep an eye out for each other. It's part of what makes our country so great, and something that would benefit other countries as well. United we stand.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The seeds are (mostly) down, and the prices are (going) up

Well, got most everything planted, except for the onions, because somehow that packet of seeds mysteriously disappeared. Hopefully they will mysteriously reappear, because it would be nice to have a renewable source of onions to add to my powdered variety. Of course, I could always go and buy another packet of seeds, if there are any left in the store... :)

I don't know how many people have seen this article, but apparently food prices are about to rise again. That's pretty scary to me, seeing as how I saw cereal that was on sale for about $3 more than I thought it was worth in the first place. According to the article, these increases are set to "kick in over the next few weeks," so while not specific, it still doesn't give us that much time to stock up on things at the price (however high) they are now.

I don't know where to find it now, but quite awhile ago I read a comment on a forum which I think was dealing with preparation for a pandemic. My apologies that I can't source it, but the idea was that when you are using your food storage, you should use your long-term storage items first in an emergency situation if there is a possibility of the electricity/power going out, because those items, like beans and rice, require a lot of energy to prepare. Then you save your canned items for absolute emergencies, after the power goes out, because you could eat them cold, in the dark, and still be in a pretty good situation, relatively speaking. Of course, if the power outage continues, you'll still have to make do (solar ovens, etc.) but at least you will have made it easier on yourself while you could.

I'm sure the original author said it better than I have, and I may have read some things into it, but it struck me because I would have started the other way around automatically. To my way of thinking, a lot of the long-term storage will last for 20 years, and the canned food will last considerably less time than that, so I would have gone for the stuff that would expire sooner in a heartbeat, reasoning that I should keep the stuff that lasts longer for the long haul. This idea, however, makes total sense to me, and while I will still watch the expiration dates, if I'm put into a situation where I am totally reliant on my food storage (in a pandemic, everyone would be isolated in the hopes that they wouldn't catch what was going around, hence less grocery shopping, and even possibly no one going to work, including those who work on the utilities) I will keep this idea in mind. It is obviously not my own idea, and everyone will have to make their own choices as to what to eat first when an emergency hits--but it sure is nice to have choices, even if you didn't think of them yourself. My appreciation to whoever wrote that comment. If anyone knows where it is, leave me a comment--- I like to give credit to those who deserve it.

Also, if you have the means to stock up, it would be wise to do so for variety in your storage, and also if you have picky eaters in your family who may need a little extra time to get used to the idea that more food storage is on the way for the foreseeable future. Being able to mix what people consider more "normal" food in with what may be new dishes could be extremely valuable and priceless in stressful situations. But right now, there is a price, and it's going up...stock up if you can. (No pun intended. :) (Really.)