Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hurricane Irene ~ Lessons Learned


As Hurricane Irene approached back in October of 2011, we did little to prepare for it.  I'm in my 50's and with all of the hurricanes and storms I've lived through, I have never once had major structural damage to any dwelling I've ever lived in, nor have I ever felt that my life was in peril.  For the most part, my storm experiences have resulted in nothing more than small inconveniences that were over and done with after a day or two.
We lost power for five days after Irene. My youngest grand child was four months old at the time and having no way to heat her formula was problematic, not to mention being unable to cook for ourselves.
I made the mistake of not putting gas in my car in advance of the storm and with the power down none of the gas stations, banks or stores could do business.  We cooked the thawing food from our freezer on the grill and ate it until we felt it was no longer safe to do so. The cold showers in October were extremely unpleasant but compared to those with damage to their homes, we felt we had no room to complain.
Some of our friends were not as lucky.  A friend in the northeastern part of the state was without power for nearly 3 weeks and a friend from the south had major damage to her home.  Our friends' stories is what finally got me thinking that maybe being a bit more prepared wasn't such a bad idea. 
A friend of the family lives in the south with her husband and son, who was about three-years old  at the time of the storm. Her area was hit hard by Hurricane Irene and sadly, her husband was away, outside of the USA on a business trip so she went through the initial ordeal without his help.

A huge tree fell on her house and came right through the roof of her kitchen, caving the roof and completely destroying one wall------ the wall that housed her pantry and all her foodstuffs. When the storm was over there were virtually no functioning utilities for miles around. Access to her pantry was blocked; her house was full of water, most of the windows broken, etc.

She brought her son out to the car and they basically lived in the car for a couple of days. Luckily, her husband, an avid fisherman, kept bottled water and snacks in the car to have while fishing, so there was a small amount to share with her son---but she had to ration these to the extreme.

On day two she began making her way to the airport to pick up her husband, who had no idea what he’d be walking into as her cell phone wasn’t working to try and reach him. She had enough gas to get there, but not enough to get back home, and as everything was closed she had no idea what they were going to do.

On the way to the airport, she spotted a guy in a convenience store parking lot. The store was closed, but this guy had his own racket going on of selling 8oz bottled water for $3 each or 2 for $5. And he had granola bars and other snacks for sale. Unsure of whether to be grateful or repulsed by such a person, she bought more supplies and went on her way to the airport.

Once reunited with her husband, they began heading towards home, even though they did not have enough gas to get there. On the way, they passed by a house where a family had set up a mini “relief center” at the end of their driveway. They had water and hot coffee, and were serving a simple soup and various snacks—all for FREE. They were simply being Good Samaritans.

The soup was nothing more than egg noodles cooked in chicken broth. But after several days without real food this tasted like 5-star cuisine! They fed our friends well, provided gas for their car with the help of some neighbors, and sent them on their way with enough provisions for a few days and even a coloring book and some crayons for my friend’s little boy.

We had our own drama here during the hurricane but it was nothing like what this little family went through. The contrast of the guy selling the water and the family offering free help really stayed with me. I had never thought of prepping before-----but by new year’s eve, my resolution was to prepare---and not be at the mercy of other people’s greed or generosity during a crisis----as you can’t count on encountering the latter.  To this day, my friend cannot bring up that family who helped without bawling her eyes out.

That kind southern family has no idea that throwing some egg noodles into a pot of bullion and serving it to hungry neighbors has affected the actions of someone 1000 miles away whom they never met. This is another example of how we may never know the full extent of how our actions have affected the lives of others.

The new year came and went and in February, an ice storm knocked out our power for 2 days.  Without electricity, our oil furnace and electric space heaters were useless.  We don't have a fireplace and didn't have a generator at the time, so we endured almost intolerable cold for those two days.  We had no way to even heat some water for hot drinks. We were worried about the pipes in our basement freezing and bursting from the lack of heat.  A neighbor loaned us a small kerosene heater which we put in the basement for the pipes instead of using it  for our own comfort.
In many ways, that ice storm motivated me more than Hurricane Irene had, and I began "prepping" immediately after that.  My first purchases include a pair of oil lamps and a case of lamp oil, sleeping bags rated for temperatures under 20 degrees, a small kerosene heater and a portable butane stove rated safe to use indoors.
As the months wore on, I fondly recalled my grandmother and the way she was always prepared for anything.  I had my husband turn a large hall coat closet into an "extended pantry" to store extra non-perishable food and basically went on from there.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Food Storage Friday

I decided to try and post videos about cooking from your food storage.  I will aim for weekly videos and use this as an opportunity to share some of the items I store and how I use them.  This week I kept things simple with an easy crock pot chili, but over time, I'll try to keep things interesting with some ethnic foods and family recipes.  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Canning potatoes and carrots together

I like to can taters and carrots together in quart jars.  This makes it easy to throw together a stew at a moment's notice by adding either beef or chicken (Which I also can when I'm able to find it on sale). The veggies came from our garden and had to be scrubbed and rinsed several times to get the dirt off.

This is the first year that I've been successful at growing carrots and potatoes.  I'm sure this has to do with the raised beds that my husband made for me in the spring.  I think the earth here is just too compacted for things to grow well directly in the earth, especially root veggies.  So I've converted to raised beds, earth boxes and grow bags and had great results.
I have a love/hate relationship with my mandolin slicer.  They make evenly sliced veggies very quickly, which is great for canning--but dang, are they sharp!  If you cut yourself on one of these it will hurt a lot and take a long time to heal.  I slice those last few inches of carrot by hand to avoid getting cut.
There's a lot of photos of carrots because I am so proud that I grew them myself!
While I'm cutting up the veggies, I let the canning jars come to a boil and leave them at a gentle boil for at least 15 minutes.
I usually just use plain water and a teaspoon of canning salt to cover the veggies when I can them. So I set a pan of water on the stove to boil at the same time that I start sterilizing the jars, then turn it down to simmer to keep it hot until everything is ready.
I fill each quart jar about 2/3 full with cubed potatoes that I parboiled for 5 minutes and then rinsed.  I do this because potatoes release starch into the water when they cook and I've found that when I can them raw, the water looks very cloudy and unappetizing as a result. When I parboil them for just a few minutes I find the finished product looks clear and a lot  more appealing.
I fill the remaining third of the jar with the sliced carrots, add a teaspoon of canning salt or kosher salt, and add boiling water to cover the veggies, leaving 1" head space in the jar.  I removed air bubbles, add the lids and rings and process in a pressure canner at ten pounds of pressure for 40 minutes, after letting the canner vent for ten minutes. 
This is a time saver

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Rootbeer Pulled Pork

Put a pork roast and a bottle of root beer in a crock pot and cook for 6-8 hours. 
Allow it to cool enough so that you can break up the pork.  Discard most of the root beer. Leave a little and mix it with your favorite Bar b que sauce then toss the meat back in and stir.  The meat comes out moist and sweet.  You can make this a day ahead as it reheats really well! 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Nana's Sweet Pickle Brine Recipe

I used my Nana's sweet brine recipe and vegetables from our garden to make pickles, sweet and spicy pickled peppers and also pickles and jalapenos.
Nana's Sweet Pickles
4 cups white vinegar
 5 cups sugar
2 tablespoons canning salt or Kosher salt
2 tablespoon whole mustard seed
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon cloves
For sweet pickles you'll need 15 cucumbers or 30-35 pickling cukes, sliced thin.  Also, one medium onion sliced thin. Let the sliced cukes and onions sit in a bowl for 8-12 hours.  The excess water should seep out of the veggies. Transfer them to a colander and drain off that water
Place your canning jars in a water bath canner and boil for 15 minutes.  Place all of the brine ingredients in a 2-quart pan and heat to boiling, stirring occasionally.  Once it boils, turn the heat down to simmer.  
Pack the cukes and onions into the sterile jars and cover with the brine. Place the lids and rings and drop into a water bath canner for five minutes. You just want to heat the jars enough so that they'll seal when you remove them from the canner.  Any longer than 5 or 10 minutes and they will get too mushy.
Remove jars and let them sit, undisturbed, for 24 hours. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Audra's First Gymnastcs Class

Audra started a Tiny Tots gymnastics class 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Quality time with the grand kids

Breakfast with my little honey
The babies get a bath
Nevaeh making cupcakes for Jeff's Birthday 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Canning Dill Pickles with cucumbers from our garden

We have a lot of pickling cucumbers in our garden so I'll be canning a lot of pickles in the coming weeks. The dill is also from our garden.

To start, get your canning jars sterilizing and start your pickling brine.  I use 2 quarts of water, one quart white vinegar (5% acidity), 1/2 cup kosher salt and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sugar.  You may also omit the sugar entirely if you are diabetic or simply trying to avoid it. 

I like my pickles garlicky, so I add several cloves of garlic to each quart jar along with a bay leaf, a fresh dill head,   1/4 teaspoon of mustard seeds, 1/4 teaspoon of pickle crisp, a sprinkle of hot pepper seeds, 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, a few peppercorns, 1/4 teaspoon celery seed, and if I want a more "dilly" taste I add 1/4 teaspoon dried dill.  To add heat, include a fresh or dried jalapeno pepper to each jar.

I can both whole dill pickles and spears.  I sometimes do dill chips as well.
Once the cukes are in the jar with the spices and covered with the brine, process in a water bath canner for no more than ten minutes or they will get mushy.
Let the jars cool overnight.  I advise letting these sit at least 3-5 months before eating.  Generally, if you're canning from your garden they should be ready to eat by the holidays.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Canning Strawberry-Vanilla Jam

To make strawberry-vanilla jam, use your favorite recipe but add one large vanilla bean to the pan while you are cooking the mixture.  I do the same thing with my peach jam and the taste is phenomenal!!!  

Friday, July 19, 2013

Peach~Jalapeno~Honey Bar-B-Q Sauce

 Peach Barbecue Sauce

Adapted from the Ball Canning Book

Makes 8 8-oz jars

6 cups finely chopped pitted peeled peaches (about 3 lb or 9 medium)
1 cup finely chopped seeded peppers (I use a mix of whatever I can pick from the garden)*
1 cup finely chopped onion (about 1 large)
3 Tbsp finely chopped garlic (about 14 cloves)
1-1/4 cups honey
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp hot pepper flakes
2 tsp dry mustard
2 tsp salt

Prepare boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Set bands aside.

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens to the consistency of a thin commercial barbeque sauce, about 25 minutes.

Ladle hot sauce into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim. Center hot lid on jar. Apply band and adjust until fit is fingertip tight. Process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes, adjusting for altitude.

*Although the original recipe calls for bell pepper, I substitute jalapenos for at least half of the bell peppers to give it a little kick. We always grow several varieties and colors of peppers so I tend to use whatever is ready to be picked.

This is great to use when you're grilling and makes a nice pulled pork as well!  Enjoy!


Monday, July 15, 2013

Making and Canning Monkey Butter

One of my favorite You Tube contributors (Katzcradul) posted the recipe and instructions for making Monkey Butter, which is essentially a banana, pineapple and coconut spread. It's great on toast, peanut butter sandwiches, or over chocolate ice cream.

Having survived the Great Depression and the shortages during WW II, my mom and grandma were of a mind to can and stock items that might not be available regionally during unexpected disasters or plain old hard times.  With all of these tropical ingredients, Monkey Butter is just the sort of thing that my grandma would have canned.
5 medium-size perfectly ripe bananas (no brown spots)
20 oz. can of crushed pineapple, not drained. 
1/4 cup coconut (I prefer ground coconut)
3 cups of white sugar 
3 Tbsp lemon juice (use bottled for uniform acidity)

Peel and slice bananas, then add all ingredients to a heavy saucepan.
Bring to a boil, stirring often, and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until thick.  As the mixture thickens, stir constantly until desired thickness is achieved.
When thick, spoon mixture immediately into hot sterilized jars, apply heated lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

The monkey butter to take on a light pink hue when processed. 

For step-by-step video instructions on making monkey butter, watch Katzcradul's video. Here's the link!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Audra and Trent Turn Two

My amazing son Tom and his beautiful wife Michelle are not only raising their own daughter..
But are also caring for another of my grand babies, Trent
Both babies are turning two, so Michelle pulled off a fabulous party and did so on a budget!
She even made a Mr. Grouper cake
Tom and Jeff took them for a spin on their new tricycles
I have some great kids!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Busy week!

Last week and this past weekend were extremely busy!  I think between the weather and my schedule I only got to spend one full day in the garden-- and there's still so much to be done before the really hot weather sets in---if it ever does. 

When my kids were young I used to fantasize about all of the free time I would have when they grew up.  Boy, was I wrong!   Between caring for my grand children and my home, my garden and participating in community and church events I now have less time than when my kids were small. I also have less energy!

Last Monday was Nevaeh's final swimming lesson and she passed with flying colors.  We feel that swimming while we're on vacation won't be an issue now.
Later that night, we went to an art show at the Savin Rock Conference Center because Nevaeh had a drawing featured there.  She was so proud!  That's her piece in the upper left-hand corner.
Wednesday was Nevaeh's final gymnastics class before the year-end exhibition on Saturday.
On Thursday, we cared for the babies and also kept them overnight on Friday.
On Saturday we took Nevaeh to her gymnastics exhibition----The Big Big Show, as it was called.   The kids were adorable and Nevaeh was very proud of her progress and achievements.
A busy week for Grandma and Grandpa but we wouldn't have it any other way!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Evolution of our Garden

Our backyard gate with morning glories. 2011
When we first bought this house, one of the things I LOVED, (and still do) is the fact that it's a corner lot.  I have always loved the look of an English Cottage style garden.  My original "vision"  was to combine an English Cottage style garden with plantings that support native birds and wildlife.  It was also important to me to have indigenous flowers and shrubs.
I looked at the house and its corner lot and could "see" beautiful gardens and winding paths that wrapped around the corner, roses and other "climbers" growing up unique supports, some veggies and herbs tucked into the garden here and there, some small flowering trees and perhaps some fruit trees.
I've tried to make this vision a reality for over ten years and recently came to terms with the fact that poor soil and an invasive weed problem, as well as other issues, make such a garden impossible to achieve and overwhelming to try to maintain.  (I'll describe some of the issues we've had on this property in future posts, in case it may help someone else).
Other motivators for changing my approach to gardening include the price and quality of store-bought produce and a rekindled interest in canning and preserving my own food----just  as my grand mother did.

To make a long story short, this year, we sought help and advice with the invasive weed problem, installed raised beds and changed the overall focus of our garden to eatables---we do still have  a goodly amount of flowers though---as we want to feed the soul as well.

We also kept a wildlife area--we just made it a little smaller.  I often get great photos of birds which I will be sure and post here.

This  blog and our you tube videos will chronicle the evolution of our garden from this point on, provide instructions for preserving food and preparing our favorite recipes and to offer support for anyone else who lives in a suburban setting and is committed to growing as much of their own food as possible