The Bright Side

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When I published my How to Manage A Grocery Stockpile blog post a couple weeks ago on Facebook, I got no small amount of ridicule in addition to the overall good reception.  As I tend to run to the mild case of worrywart, this honestly didn’t bother me, but a lot of people sort of thought I was overreacting just a wee bit.

Since then, Covid-19 fear, along with an exploding number of cases, has taken hold.  I’m grounded for the foreseeable future from travel.  School here is cancelled for at least 2 weeks, and I suspect longer.   A few nights ago my son and I went to the store just to finish our stocking up, and had what is likely an all-too-familiar experience now – the store was jammed, and shelves nearly bare.  Still, between that and another trip I made alone the next day, we got everything we needed, and some to give away to those who need more.  We even got a few pots of flowers to brighten the house.  While these weren’t essential, I’m so glad we did.

We are stocked to the gills. We weren’t binge-buying toilet paper, that we get through Amazon and have a case in the basement already, so there was no need to clean out shelves.  But we have cold and flu supplies and lots of food (plus wine and coffee!) and now there is nothing to be done but be home.   For us, the good news is that going for walks in our rural area, or me going for runs are solitary things that don’t require contact with others, so exercise, at least for now, is still a good option.  I can work from home.  Having extra time at home, as much as I like being with my team, is going to be a wonderful thing.  I plan to putter in the garden, clean out closets, declutter and organize.

I’ve been potting seeds steadily, for ourselves, and will start potting some for friends and loved ones.  Today I spent an hour or so working on cleaning out leaves and debris from the front garden – I need to spend most of next weekend and probably the following doing more.  While the weather, much like our economy and the future, feels a little unsteady right now, the garden binds me to the earth, holding me firm even when the world around me feels as though it may crack.

But this is the lesson of gardens, and of spring – whatever is going on outside of Sithean, the gardens must be cleaned out and prepared.  The seeds must be started.  The chickens tended, the eggs gathered.  The children too, need tending.

Our time at home, despite the unsettled feeling that comes from the unknown, is a gift.  Time will move more slowly.  We will need less, do less.  There will be fears for all of us, be they health, income or the overall economy.  We can only control so much right now.  Despite the feeling of precariousness in the world, I am grounded.

I wish the same for you and yours.

 

 

 

 

 

How To Manage A Grocery Stockpile

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So I’ve been reluctant to write this one, mostly because I don’t like the idea that I might be seen as a doomsday prepper.  And because local food is important to me, but I am still working on moving the needle even further to the home front, so I didn’t want to be a hypocrite.

But then there’s the Covid-19 virus, that is disrupting lives and the economies in 50 countries.  While it’s a flu, sure, it’s also spreading rapidly, and we don’t know how it’s going to evolve.  So I took a page out of Scientific American’s playbook and did some large-scale shopping.

A few caveats here before I proceed.  We almost always have our pantry and freezer full.  Why?  For a few reasons:

  • It’s an emergency fund you can eat.  If something goes badly in your financial life, it’s protection while you triage funds and make plans.  It’s come in handy for me more than once
  • It’s another kind of protection too, the kind that lets you know that what’s for dinner is possibly only limited by your imagination and saves on takeout
  • I travel, and Eli needs to feed the kids and himself while I’m gone, so we need a solid supply of food

I admit a filled pantry gives me a sense of safety.  I grew up in the ‘we don’t have a lot of extra’ crowd, and I spent a good deal of my early life burning the candle at both ends to make ends meet and keep a roof over my head.  Add to that having experienced both divorce and job loss, and I have a good bit of experience with the benefits of a full larder.

I don’t do it perfectly, and we forget about stuff with reasonable regularity (chickens are great helpers with that) but in a time where being prepared is probably a good step to performing your civic duty, here’s how we do it on the regular, and what we’ve done to be ready for the potential that we’re all stuck at home for a bit, sick or no.

The first thing is not to run out and buy a bunch of freeze-dried prepper food.  Unless you really like backwoods camping, and you go through it, while some of that stuff is tasty, you don’t have to switch up your eating patterns, and as a matter of fact, you really shouldn’t – it may seem like a good idea to buy lots of shelf-stable stuff, but the idea of food is that you eat it, and so you should focus on the things you eat regularly.

I admit, that when I’ve stocked up and the house resembles nothing so much as a grocery warehouse suited to feeding a small army, I tend to feel a little chagrin about just how much overkill it is.  But after a long day at work, being able to make almost anything we want for dinner with minimal effort is a pleasure.  We’re all really busy, not having to run to the store for things here and there all that often is nice.  But that too, requires management.

So first, getting the stockpile.  The best way to do it is to buy extra when things are on sale – if pasta goes to $0.79 a box, I buy a bunch, for example, and about every 3 months I hit a big-box store for things we consume in volume, like beans, butter, tortillas, shredded cheese, and so on.  If you intend to stockpile for the Coronavirus, I would just recommend doing your usual shopping, but more so.  If you normally buy 3 boxes of pasta every couple weeks, buy 6.   Have enough for 14 days of isolation, and then a little.  Importantly, buy the things you like to eat.

Second, make a meal plan.  Get ingredients for your favorite meals, and get extras – you can always make food and put it in your freezer.   I’d recommend 2-3 weeks worth of planned meals and the ingredients, that’s 15 breakfasts, lunches and dinners.  The reality is that 15 days of planned meals typically lasts longer because you are eating up leftovers and sometimes no one is hungry around meal time, or a bowl of cereal sounds like just the thing.  I tend to think a 3-week meal plan will keep us for a month, but your mileage will vary based on how well you measure your intake.

Third, get flexible.  If you always buy fresh, consider frozen or canned in the mixture.  I personally don’t like veggies I haven’t preserved myself, unless they are things like baby corn or bamboo shoots, but I have a can of peas in my pantry for either a curry or just because the kids like them.  While canned peas aren’t the finest in nutritional value, whatever gets you through a few weeks of potentially no school seems like it’s worth it.

Fourth, get snacks and treats.  Unless you are a no-snack person or have no kids, trust me, after about a week trying to juggle working from home with kids who are bored out of their skulls because they have no routine and no friends can come to play….you are going to think that a few ice cream sandwiches and homemade cookies are the least of your worries.  I find it’s worth it to have the raw ingredients because a couple hours in the kitchen here and there with the kids is a lifesaver – it’s helping them to learn to cook or bake their favorite treats, it keeps them occupied, and once you invest in the basics, homemade is cheaper.

Fifth, as much as you can stock up on fresh foods, there’s only so much that you and your family will be able to eat before it goes bad.  There will be a point where salads and sliced fruit gives way to the frozen stuff.  It’s not ideal, but you will live, I promise.

Sixth, and in the Covid-19 case specifically – have the conversation with your household about the stocking up.  Why, what you are buying and aren’t, what happens when the strawberries run out, etc.  My daughter told me we could be isolated for weeks as long as we didn’t run out of Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken.  This I can make happen.  Find out what counts.  In my household, we adults fear running out of coffee almost as much as illness (I’m kidding – sort of).   So coffee is a key part of our stockpile, and I think we will end up with about 6 pounds of it in the house when our next Amazon delivery arrives.  6 pounds won’t last forever, but it should take us through a few weeks.

For a situation like this, I recommend setting a budget limit for yourself.  Otherwise it can rapidly get out of hand.  Trying to prepare for every single situation is fruitless.   I also recommend that at least once a year you go through your stockpile and inventory it – even mentally – clean out and organize.  I wipe down shelves, put like items back together, and take any stale crackers out to the chickens for a treat.

What do you buy?  Again – you know what you like to eat best.  But if your brain is shutting down at the idea of what a potential stockpile looks like, here’s some tips:

  • Shelf-stable milk or milk alternatives, such as Soy, Almond, etc.
  • Canned or frozen veggies, the ones you like
  • Coffee, wine, beer, juice – the things your family likes to drink
  • Condiments
  • Snack food – we have some chips, but also popcorn kernels, chocolate chips for cookies and raw ingredients for several desserts
  • Cooking oils, such as olive oil, butter, ghee, etc
  • Easy to access foods and prepared foods.  If you all get sick, no one is going to want to cook
  • Raw ingredients for at least 2-3 of your household’s favorite meals

Lastly, as you stockpile, remember those that live at the margins.  If you have enough to be generous, remember there are those who cannot afford to stock up, and reach out to your local food pantry or Meals on Wheels – for those who are housebound and have little, an extra bag of groceries is a lifeline.  And if nothing happens and you find yourself with a surfeit of food, donate then.

And remember when you get home from your stockpile trip(s) to wash your hands.  I hope all of this is overkill, but if it isn’t, know that your efforts are going to help keep you and yours safe.

 

Preparing for Spring

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February has settled in, and in the last few days brought with it breathtakingly cold weather.  When I got up this morning, the thermometer hung at 5 degrees F.  The bunnies took up residence last night in a rectangular bin in the dining room, because we had officially landed in rabbit hypothermia weather, and being responsible for our pets becoming rabbit popsicles is not part of my life plan at the moment.

Cold of this depth brings stillness.  No one other than the birds are out right now.  Keeping the feeders full is something that is going to have to wait another hour, but feeding the birds is part of our winter responsibilities too.  Plus it is wonderful to watch birds I hadn’t seen since my grandmother’s time, like goldfinches and bluebirds, make an appearance.  But the lack of humans and cars, and ambient noise of anything other than Mother Nature’s creatures is such a gift.  Even where we are, in a sleepy town on a quiet road, this kind of silence is rare.

Lately I’ve been so deep in family life and work I haven’t stopped to take a look around much, but this morning, as I look out the picture window I remember what a magical place I’ve come to.  Just a house, to be sure, but not just a house either.  Sanctuary, for birds, wildlife, and us.  When we arrived here, I had no sense of how it would all work out, just that we belonged here, that I belonged here.  It was like holding my nose while I stepped off a cliff, with not much but faith in….myself?  The universe?, and the knowledge I could never uproot my kids again and so had to make it work to sustain me.

And oh boy we have made it work.  I haven’t achieved all the goals by a long shot – I still have no idea how we’ll pay off the house before Connor goes to college.  I’ve improved on our local food, but have by no means cut the cord from the grocery store. We definitely managed a significant amount more food preservation last summer than I had in previous years, but can we live on it?  Nope.   We’ve managed to build out plans for the much-needed renovation for this place over the last 18 months, but still haven’t figured out that one either.  Still, we plan to break ground next spring, gulp.  The house needs to be more airtight, we have to deal with water issues, and with 2 of us working at home, we need better spaces to handle it.  I also could use a closet bigger than a shoebox.

But we have done so much, and we’re not just making it work, we are thriving.

Which is why last night, as the 4 of us sat down to a roast chicken dinner, complemented by our locally-retrieved sweet potatoes, onions and potatoes to have a Mario Kart competition (the kids absolutely trounced the adults) I took a minute to reflect on where we are.   Like seeds with enough water and light, we took root here, first the kids and I, and then Eli.  And while some of it is just that humans have a great capacity to get on with things, some of it is that this place tended to us, as we do to it.

Despite the cold, spring is starting to show it’s imminent arrival.  Connor and I potted seeds for Sweet Peas, taking inspiration from My Country Life, as well as Hollyhocks and lettuce last week, and the first of the lettuce seeds are already poking up.  We’ll start more in a couple weeks, as our last frost date isn’t until the beginning of May here.  The chickens are still laying, but less these days.  Still, we have plenty of eggs for cooking and eating, and lots to give away as well.

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Lettuce Seeds

I have a lot of seeds this year.  My plans are to complete the garden with Eli, finally!  And to finish turning the front of the house into an herb garden.  The kids want garden space too, and I’ve gotten a lot of flower to put in the front of the house, an oft-neglected spot.  After weeks of relaxing weekends, I feel ready.  While there’s still a long stretch of soups and curries, and cozy nights in front of the fire ahead, and putting the winter running gear away is a long time off, I’m getting excited about planting and harvesting again.

Spring preparations start slow, but pick up speed as we move into March.  It may be a little ways off, but soon enough the windows will be open and the flowers blooming.

 

 

Winter Daydreams

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Sithean’s landscape turns to frosted magic when the snow falls, as it did this weekend, before turning back to January levels of bitter cold again.  Our weekends have been unplanned and relaxed lately, and while we interrupted our spending freeze to go to the movies yesterday, it’s been mostly pleasant to be at home with little calling our attention other than the day to day chores around the house.

Sunday morning, after a great evening with an old friend and her daughter, complete with chicken parmesan and ice cream sandwiches made with Karen’s homemade chocolate chip cookies, I woke up to about 5 inches of snow on the ground and no where in particular to be.  I fed the bunnies, curled up on the couch, and enjoyed the lingering warmth from the last night’s fire in the wood stove.

Today is busier – the roads are clear enough for me to run, and I head to the airport in the afternoon.  But since it’s a holiday, it’s a quiet morning here, with a nice breakfast of bacon and eggs for everyone and no particularly pressing needs to be met.   That doesn’t mean there aren’t a million things we could be doing – house projects, decluttering, but January is also the time to remember that we are human beings, not human doings.  I’m a huge goal-setter, and I mostly measure a good day by how much I have accomplished, but there’s a very great deal to be said for just sitting and thinking.

As I watch the bird feeder out the living room window and think about nothing in particular, it’s a great reminder that my life is particularly blessed.  I live in a place that takes my breath away.  I have a wonderful family, great friends and health.  Gratitude, something I practice actively, comes easily when the world is still and peaceful.

Still, my mind wanders to spring.  Will the bulbs Eli and I planted come up around the Seckel Pear?  Will the baby fruit trees survive the winter?  Should I try for 2 plantings in the garden this year, even though I only managed on last year?  I want to do more companion planting as well, and work on truly turning the front garden into a sea of herbs.  A plan is required, as it always is, and it’s never something that I come to quickly.

As I get older, I appreciate winter more.  I’ve come to realize the point of January is daydreams, sleeping in, plans, sitting with one’s thoughts.  Spring will arrive, as it always does, with a frenzy of planting and work, and I’ll be lost in it.   But for a few fleeting weeks, there’s a breath in the business of life, and while I may never enjoy being cold, I have learned gratitude for this necessary point in the year that reminds me that respite and rest are just as much a part of humanity as accomplishing things.

New Year Spending Freeze

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2019 took it’s last bow, while we ate a combination of takeout and homemade Asian food and finally got a chance to put on our matching family penguin pajamas.

2020 came in with a gorgeous orangy-pink sunrise.

Today is for sleeping in, removing the last of the Christmas decor, and our most important New Year’s Day task, setting our goals as a family for 2020.  Those penguin pajamas that I’ll spare everyone a picture of?  They were on 2019’s list, the kids having determined that we needed to have a set of matching ones. Other key goals were ‘have a family picture done’, the wedding, and Connor’s perfect addition of ‘share our love’.

Every year we make a list, and every year we try to get to all the things.  This is an acheivable list – not ‘Mom becomes and Olympian’ but things like ‘more family dinners’, ‘do something new on vacation’.  Our first year at Sithean the list included meeting our neighbors, which we’ve done rather successfully.

In addition to the fact that I intend to mostly live on broth and salad for a week or so, to offset the heavy foods the holidays brought with them – I enjoyed them all, but I need something lighter for a while, today kicks off a major initiative for us – a Spending Freeze.  From now through April 15, we’re only buying groceries and things we absolutely need.

So what is a spending freeze?  It’s not a financial diet (diets fail), it’s merely a course correction.  We have all the things we need and many things we don’t.  We have a lot of big, big goals coming up in the next couple years.  We’ve accumulated some debt, which I hate.  Our pantry and freezer are completely stocked.   And over the 3 years we’ve been here at Sithean, clutter has crept in.

It’s time to clean out, not add more.  Ending mindless spending is one way to do that.

For 4 1/2 months, we’ll focus on the things we need, such as food, and make lists of the things we might want.  Since we won’t be buying stuff, we’ll have time to really consider if we want it.  Every purchase needs to be weighed against questions – do we need it?  Can we get it without spending?  Can it wait?

But surely there are things that will come up?  There are. 

K’s 11th birthday will be an exception, although her big gift is already purchased.  I have a little cash set aside for things like book fairs for the kids, and Easter is in there too.  Car and house maintenance that must be done, will.  I ordered our garden seeds early, along with some much-needed tomato cages, and pre-ordered 2020’s fruit trees, because those are time-sensitive items.  I can’t start seeds in mid-April and have a successful garden.  

But for the rest, it’s going to require creativity.  For Eli’s birthday in early April, it means I need to create or find for free a gift, a challenge that I need to start thinking about now.  It means I’m not planting Cranberry bushes until 2021, because those didn’t make the priority list.

If Eli and I find we really need a meal out, we have a couple gift cards we can use, but otherwise it’s home for us for a while.  Which is great – we love to cook, we have lots of food to use up, and honestly if we get tired, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional bowl of Cheerios for dinner.

The key here is not to feel deprived.  We are doing this so we can have other things, not giving spending up because it’s what we ‘should’ do.  This is the path to way more opportunity in the future, not a diminishing of our present.

Happy Frugal New Year to all of you!

 

 

 

Winter Stockpile

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It’s freezing this morning, at about 18 degrees F, and the house feels like it – I woke up this morning to the igniter having gone off  and the house was very, very cold.  A simple reset got it working, but the house will take a while to warm up.

The other night we arrived home from our wonderful Thanksgiving road trip to visit my sister, brother-in-law and their family in upstate New York with a lot of Black Friday loot.  Mostly for us, although we did bring home a little extra on request.  This isn’t your typical Black Friday shopping – we did it all at a place about 30 minutes from her house called The Carrot Barn, a family farm that has a wonderful little sandwich and baked goods counter, local meats, candles and pottery, and a lot else besides.  But the thing that had us going an extra 26 miles west before turning to come home was their bulk vegetables – priced, for the most part, infinitely cheaper than I could ever source here, and locally grown.  Our haul includes 20 pounds of onions, 10 pounds of carrots, 5 pounds of turnips, 25 pounds of potatoes, and a bushel each of butternut squash and sweet potatoes.

We tossed in a Christmas wreath, some garlic, a spaghetti squash and a few other goodies, but the majority of what we spent yesterday is an investment in warm meals for the future.  Besides the carrots and the turnips, these are all ‘keeper foods’ these will winter over in the kitchen by the back door in their boxes or bags, and slowly – or less slowly – get used up.  Last year the onions lasted until February, and the sweet potatoes longer than that.  I guess that’s a perk of our old, drafty house, that the kitchen stays cool enough for vegetable storage.

The first squash became Butternut Squash Lasagna with Garlic and Rosemary for our second round of Thanksgiving last night with my other sister and family.  Today, aside from some holiday decorating, we’re almost 100% dedicated to storm preparation, as 8-13″ of snow and ice are due in starting later today.   This means clearing the pumpkins from the porch by saving those that will become future meals in the kitchen and giving the rest to the chickens, who love a good pumpkin for a treat.  We’ll also be bringing in firewood, and making sure there’s extra water in case we lose power, as well as firing up the wood stove just for the general coziness.   The animals will be warm and safe – Eli had already cut a tarp to cover the bunny hutch, so they will be protected from wind and weather, and we’ll shut up the coop with the two heat lamps for the chickens.  Add to that a pot of soup on the stove and some homemade bread or popovers, and we’ll be about as prepared as we can be.

But back to those vegetables, and the nearly 8 hours of driving in 2 days to get them.  Why, when we can just go to the store around here?  Farmstands abound near me, absolutely true.  Well, for one, we got a lovely overnight and holiday with my sister and her family, who I adore.  And while it’s probably true I could get the carrots and the potatoes for the same rock-bottom price around here, it’s not quite the same thing.  For one, I can chat with the farmer who grows them while I shop there, about how business is and his 23 grandchildren.  I know there’s nothing on this food he would worry about his family consuming.  For another, small farms are failing in the US, and if my dollars can help support one or a few, great.  Honestly though, it’s just good food, and we’ll eat it.  I love sweet potatoes in nearly any form, same for squash.  If I had thought we could go through them in time I would have bought a bushel of Delicata Squash too, but they don’t keep as well as the Butternuts.

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It  is the sweet potatoes though, that I am most excited about.  I eat them in almost every form except that which they are the most known for – candied with marshmallows on top (just ick).   Sweet potatoes are incredibly versatile, and often serve as my Paleo starch when I’m not eating bread.  I love to just slice and roast them with olive oil, salt and pepper, but the options are near-infinite.

This is part of our winter stockpile, and we’re just about done.  The freezers and pantry cabinets are full to bursting.  Our meal plan for the week includes homemade Clam Chowder, French Onion Soup, a roasted chicken, and a favorite keep-us-warm standby, Thai Peanut Chicken Ramen.  Food, that central part of human existence, is one thing we do right here.  As the winter weather sets in, our home – and our stomachs – will be warm.  I wish the same for all of you.  IMG-1882.JPG

 

 

In-Between Days

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Like most of the northern United States, we got whacked with bitter cold temperatures for a couple days this week.  I have never been more grateful for the time I spent tearing out the remnants of the garden last weekend before the freeze set in, and for the help with yard cleanup that Eli and I had.  Other than a few things that need to be put away here and there, and obviously the shoveling that’s to come, our work outside is done for the next several months.

The lack of weeding, harvesting and preserving leaves empty space that wasn’t there before.  This time, of course, will be filled with other projects,  but the space is one of the key joys of winter.  By spring I’ll be antsy to get outside, but for now, after 7 months of work out of doors, the peace is pleasant.  This is that in-between time, before the busyness of the holidays and the relatively pleasant desire to be busy that comes of post-holiday winter boredom, that few weeks where we have no plans, few commitments, and very little desire to add either.

Of course there’s still stuff to do.  Important stuff.  Like making Gingerbread Turkeys.

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Photo by Eli 5 Stone

Or rushing outside to capture the breathtaking sunset that came with the colder temperatures.

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Making popcorn and chocolate chip cookies also hit the list of necessary things.  Wood stove fires, warm soups, and reading cookbooks as we plan some upcoming meals.  I never stop being grateful for the moments where we pause and center ourselves again around home.  Here’s to many more in-between days to come!

Early Holiday Preview

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Garden Gate at Dusk – Photo by Eli 5 Stone

November arrived, and with it the cold.  The other night it rained, and in the morning I found ice pockets in the downed leaves in the front yard.  The chickens seemed confused by the cold when we let them out to roam, and the heat lamp in their coop is on full-time now.

There’s nothing left to do outside other than tidy up the garden and yard for next year and prepare for the winter holidays, which are my favorites.  It’s time for a pot of chili and a fire in the wood stove.

It’s almost time to start baking for the holidays.  Maybe it feels early, but this is the time to start thinking about it.  There’s a few things that we always make – my friend Claire’s gingerbread cookies, sugar cookie cutouts, and others that I’ll blog about, but most important is our very simple Peppermint Bark.  This is a great thing to make early and store in the refrigerator until it’s time to give gifts.  And it’s SO easy, and even small kids can do it with a little supervision

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Here’s what you need:

A double boiler or two pans, one with about an inch of water placed below one that is absolutely dry.  If water hits melting chocolate, it will make it grainy, but the water in the pan below will keep it from burning.

3 cups milk chocolate chips
3 cups white chocolate chips
Crushed candy canes
Sheet pan
Wax paper

Cover the sheet pan in wax paper.  In the double-boiler, over low heat, melt the chocolate chips.  Spread onto the wax paper-covered sheet pan, and wash out the chocolate pan.  Dry it completely either using an oven burner or a towel.  Repeat with the white chocolate chips, spreading carefully on top of the milk chocolate so they don’t combine.

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While still warm and soft, sprinkle in crushed candy canes.  Place in the fridge to chill.  When ready, break up into 2-3″ chunks and put in goody bags or boxes.   Let the kids eat the scraps and shards that aren’t big enough to give away.

 

Final Harvest

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November arrived with a huge windstorm that both postponed Trick-or-Treating until Saturday and brought down the leaves in volume from the maple, oak and ash trees.  Their final display of gold and red regularly causes me to catch my breath, but the weather is turning cold this weekend, with our first frost, so that beauty will turn into the beginnings of winter, more stark than lush.

Our lawn has a leaf coat on it now, but I don’t really like to rake, and honestly leaving it until spring is the environmentally sound thing to do, so I’m considering whether to leave it messy or not.  I try not to trade environmental soundness for appearances, but I hate being the only messy lawn on the block.  Still, I’m working on living with my discomfort.

The last pumpkin is out of the garden, and I pulled the last batch of Tomatillos, plus a few ripening tomatoes this morning in advance of the upcoming cold.  Tomorrow, we’ll wrap our fledgling fruit trees in their winter fleece coats, and next weekend I’ll be pulling up all the plants and vines, spreading a layer of compost on the beds and calling it a day until next spring.

I feel like a squirrel at this time of year, stocking up for the winter.  A bushel of apples from our local orchard is in the fridge, while I wait for the delivery of my new dehydrator, bought with a wedding gift card.  I love dried apple chips, on salads and just to munch on, and I will make a batch of apple sauce, which we mostly use for baking.

In a few weeks we’ll head to a farm near my sister in upstate New York and buy bushels of squash, sweet potatoes, and at least 20 lbs of onions, which should hold us until around February.  Our farm share ended last week, and the last of the kale, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, garlic and shallots are being used up.  In October, November and December the food bill spikes while we stockpile and fill the kitchen with holiday goodies, and then it winds down through February.  While I know the grocery store will still be there, I think this is the way we humans are supposed to live, storing and preserving our food.  I do it imperfectly.  We can’t live on what we put up and store, and we’ll never have enough land to grow it all.   And that’s ok, because part of the strategy is investment in local farms.   This year, Vermont cheese fills my fridge, my vegetables and apples vary between zero and 6 food miles, I haven’t actually purchased an egg in months, and my meats now come within a 150-mile radius, which while it sounds like a lot, is 1/10th of the average of transported food and vegetables.  That doesn’t necessarily outweigh the chips in the pantry or the other purchases, but I’d rather do this imperfectly and incrementally than all at once.  For the same reason that diets fail, so does massive lifestyle change.  My daughter and I spent some time at the local grocery store last weekend, and this weekend we are headed to HMart to stockpile some our Asian pantry and freezer staples.

The cold draws me to the kitchen, always.  With the onset of chill, I feel pulled into the warmth of the oven.  Last weekend it was cold and rainy, so I spent as much of my time in the kitchen as I could.  This weekend will be the same – one last batch of Salsa Verde for holiday gifts, homemade potstickers, maybe a pot of chili.

One thing that happens at this time of year is that my fridge is filled with root veggies. With the final CSA pickup, and me not cooking as much due to some back-to-back travel it was time to use some things up – leeks, a very large golden beet, red and yellow onions, parsnip, carrots, mushrooms, a fennel bulb and a couple sweet potatoes went into the oiled pan, got covered in more olive oil and balsamic vinegar and then into the oven at 400 degrees F under aluminum foil. Roasted veggies are simple and delicious, needing only time and just a tiny bit of seasoning.

After about an hour, I tossed them a little, but left them covered.  After hour two I uncover them, and then roast them for another hour or two more, until the veggies are soft and caramelized.

While they roasted, I moved on to the pint of Peppadew peppers I picked at the farm this week.  Marinated stuffed Peppadews are a favorite of mine, but they are expensive.  These, on the other hand, are not and it’s the same thing.  I used this recipe, and now they are in the garage fridge waiting to be seeded and stuffed with goat cheese.

None of these recipes are particularly complex, which is part of the appeal.  There’s a place for intricate food preparation, but during stocking up season, the key is to keep the food moving into it’s final form, so when winter comes, you still have a touch of spring and summer to sustain you, literally and figuratively.

 

 

 

 

 

Meal Planning

It’s been raw and rainy over the last 24 hours.  I braved the rain last night to head to the garden, where tomatoes are still ripening, albeit not for much longer.  We haven’t had a freeze yet, but the average temperatures have been dropping week over week, so by next weekend I’ll need to clean out the garden completely.    I’ve been holding out because the tomatillos are still producing, and I am getting Sungold and San Marzano tomatoes consistently.   The Mexican Torch Sunflowers are still in bloom as well, defying every reasonable expectation for summer flowers.  IMG_1586

Nonetheless, after another batch or two of sauce, it will be time to close up shop for the winter, pulling vines, raking, and rearranging the bricks.

I’d like to finish the garden fence as well, assuming we can before it gets too cold.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll wrap our baby fruit trees in fleece jackets for the winter, clean up the yard, and start battening down the hatches for cold weather.

We still haven’t been apple picking, so we’ll squeeze that in on Sunday, but a few local, fresh apples have worked their way into our last few weeks of the CSA, as have winter squash, so tonight we’ll be working our way through a batch of Apple and Brie soup with Pumpkin Granola, along with a salad, fresh bread, and a roasted chicken for the kids

We’ve been lucky over the last several days to enjoy deliciously warm fires in the wood stove.  After we bank the fire for the night with one final log, we close the door to the living room, and in the morning the room is still cozy warm.   We invested in some new log racks this year, and we can now store all our wood on the porch and in the house, which makes fires so much easier.

We’ve taken another step towards local food here – starting next month we’ll see monthly deliveries from Walden Local Meat , key to our efforts to reduce our food miles, control meat intake a little bit better, and stop eating quite so much residual plastic.  While the $207 each month for 10 or 11 pounds of meat, another couple pounds of local fish and ground beef and bacon added in is a large chunk of our grocery budget, I expect it will be offset by us not having to think about running to the store for ingredients.  I’ve ordered our Christmas Turkey as well, ensuring our holiday dinner is taken care of with a click of my mouse.

Which gets me to the really important point.  While I love to make new recipes, and I keep lots of ingredients on hand so that we can eat a variety of food, most of the meals here are based on what we might have on hand.  I have a lot of Salsa Verde and chicken, so Enchiladas Verdes are going to be on the menu every couple of weeks.   I turned a roaster chicken into Chicken Soup with Rice last night, adding popovers for a quick and easy side.  I buy flour in 25-lb quantities so that we always have baking ingredients around, and of course we always have plenty of eggs now.

I know I have about two weeks of lettuce and tomatoes for salads before they are replaced by roasted vegetables baking in the oven once or twice a week, or cold-weather greens like spinach.

So what does a menu plan here look like?  Well, it’s flexible – we might get busy and a labor-intensive meal gets pushed for something similar.  What have we had a lot of lately, and do we need a break from repetition?  What needs to be used up?  We have a few bananas past their prime, so banana bread or muffins.  We also have a pileup of root veggies, so a roasting pan full on Sunday night is probably just the thing.

What kind of time do we have?  If there’s lots of commitments, we might make something simple, like Rosemary Ranch Chicken, or if there’s lots of time I might make something more intricate.
Also key are kid requests – no matter what’s in season, we periodically spend the time chopping and prepping for Taco Night, complete with homemade guacamole, because, well – it’s always a hit.  The key here is not to over-plan, but to constantly assess who’s eating, what’s around, and whether everyone has a good appetite.

Here’s our meal plan for this weekend:

Friday Night: Chicken Soup with Rice, Popovers, Salad

Saturday: Eggs and Bacon for Breakfast, lunch out or whatever’s available, dinner Apple Brie Soup with Pumpkin Granola, Salad, Bread, Chicken

Sunday: I’ll get up and bake – banana muffins to go with scrambled eggs or something similar.  Lunch will be leftovers, and dinner will be roasted veggies and some kind of grilled meat, maybe turkey burgers, which are always a hit.

Simple Roasted Veggies:

Cut up a variety of root veggies – mushrooms, onions, beets, carrots, leeks, sweet potatoes, turnips – whatever you have.
Drizzle with olive oil, salt and balsamic vinegar
Bake at 375 for approximately 4 hours, occasionally turning.  Remove foil after 2 hours

Veggies will caramelize with the oil and balsamic vinegar.  Make enough for leftovers.

Monday: This is a holiday here, and the kids head to their Dad’s after breakfast.  Dad just bought a new house, so the kids are excited to go set up their rooms.  We’ll probably make pancakes or waffles for breakfast, have leftovers again for lunch, and dinner will be something Eli and I enjoy, like Grilled Scallops with Salsa Verde and Salad, along with leftover roast veggies.

Happy Eating!