Monday, October 11, 2021

Ingredients are the Prepper's Gold Standard

This was an interesting article.  Basically, what they're telling us, is that we should get used to shortages.  

A follow-up article quotes the head-honcho of Kraft Heinz, warning us that we should "get used to higher prices." 

Shortages of certain foods and higher prices for the ones that will be available.

I guess we've been warned ... ??

In truth, the Prepper community has been sounding the clarion call for a very long time.  


The article on shortages was interesting, because they mention a couple of highly processed items, like Rice Krispy treats, which will become scarce, and it, sort of, made me laugh.

A couple of weeks ago, I did an analysis of the cost of purchasing individually wrapped, highly processed, snack cakes versus making my own cakes and sending pieces with Deus Ex Machina to lunch.  It saved $24/year, which isn't a lot, but as Melonie pointed out, thinking in terms of what I could NOW buy (like a tank of gasoline for my car) rather than focusing on the tiny annual savings, gave those values a higher ROI.  

When I read that article and thought about not being able to purchase individually wrapped Rice Krispy treats, I will admit that I didn't have even a tiny bit of anxiety.  The fact is that I don't really purchase Rice Krispy treats anyway.

I mean, I guess I like Rice Krispy treats, but the fact is they are so easy to make, I can't imagine why anyone would purchase them premade, except as a convenience if one is out and needs a quick bite, but to purchase them as a storage item, or as snack food, seems a little ... wasteful and silly.

A few weeks ago, Precious decided she wanted to make Rice Krispy treats and asked me to purchase rice krispy cereal.  At the time, I figured one batch, and she'd be done.  Then, she wasn't, and I ended up making a few more stops at the store than I wanted. 

Then, I just picked up a bunch of bags of tiny marshmallows from the grocery store, but in an effort to save some cash, I purchased the cereal, in bulk, from the online bulk foods warehouse, Boxed.com**, where I have been getting most of our groceries for the past several months.  

Then, she was done, but we still had a lot of cereal and marshmallows leftover.


Buying in bulk is an interesting experience.  I end up with far fewer items than I would get when I would shop at the grocery store, but what I've found is that I have a lot more choices.  

I know.  That sounds counterintuitive, but bear with me for a second.

I purchase mayonnaise in huge 46 oz containers from Boxed.com.  That's a lot of mayonnaise, which is good, because I use mayonnaise as a base for a lot of other stuff.  I like mayonnaise on my hamburgers.  I use mayonnaise on my French fries.  Add a little bit of Siracha, and it's amazing for a topping on a buffalo chicken wrap.  Add a few seasonings, and I have a salad dressing, a dipping sauce for vegetables, a sauce (like tartar) for fish, or a cole slaw dressing.   

I don't purchase salad dressing anymore.  I make my own.  It takes about three minutes to mix up.  My simple recipe is:

1/2 c mayonnaise
1/4 c cream or half&half
1 to 2 tbsp wine vinegar or lemon juice
1 tbsp garlic powder and onion powder
1 tsp salt and pepper
herbs (which ones will depend on what kind of dressing you want)

More mayo and less cream makes it more of a dip. 

For a ranch or house style dressing, I add dill and chives (from my garden).  One recipe I saw for ranch includes equal parts mayonnaise, sour cream, and milk (or buttermilk), which has quite a nice flavor.

The amounts given in the above recipe are approximate and to taste.  Mostly, I've made this same sort of dressing so often at this point, that I no longer measure.  I just dump everything in a canning jar, add a lid, and shake well.  Et voila!  Salad dressing.  

A bottle of ranch salad dressing is $3.99, and in the end, all you have is ranch dressing.

Buying mayonnaise as a base for my homemade salad dressing gives me a lot more choices than just salad dressing.  The key is to see the possibilities and to be willing to experiment.  

When Precious wanted to make Rice Krispy treats, I didn't hesitate to get the ingredients for her.  Rice crispy cereal is cereal, which can be eaten with milk, and maybe some fruit, for breakfast.  Marshmallows can be fire-roasted and used for S'Mores, or added to hot chocolate for a creamy treat.  Many cooks will top sweet potatoes with marshmallows.  There are a few uses for both the cereal and the marshmallows beyond *just* rice crispy treats.  And then, there are other options, like this twist on the "treats" - just add peanut butter! 

In short, when I saw the *warning* of shortages with the listing of the types of shortages we might be expecting, it was a laugh-out-loud moment, for me, because those things listed, mostly, are things we, preppers, can often reproduce at home using ingredients that we've either stored, purchased locally, or produced ourselves.

This weekend, Deus Ex Machina and I visited the PYO apple farm, where we picked 44 lbs of apples, at a cost of about $1.13/pound.  I will make applesauce today, which I will can, and I will probably make applesauce several more times this week, along with dried apples, and maybe a batch of slow-cooker apple butter while I'm at work tomorrow.

I might even make an apple Bundt cake (maybe using this recipe or some variation of it).

So many options.   

My mantra is "store ingredients", and that attitude and practice has proven incredibly beneficial to me and my family.  

In these coming times where we might be experiencing shortages and higher prices, stocking up on ingredients and transitioning to a more DIY lifestyle, especially in the kitchen, will become even more important and more valuable than ever before.  While we are still in the midst of the growing season, consider heading over to the farmer's market and "stocking up" on some fresh, local produce.  Grab some eggs from that local farmer and pickle them, or do some baking and store the cakes and muffins in the freezer.  

And consider buying ingredients in bulk from someplace, like Boxed.com, and learn to cook with whole ingredients.  

===========================

Each morning, I write my to do list on the chalkboard in my kitchen.  One of the things I planned to do today was to "prep soap."  A few weeks ago my friend taught me to make a liquid soap base, and "prep soap" means that I put the soap base in a jar, add hot water to dissolve the base, and add essential oils, and then, I use it for whatever it's going to be used for.  Today's soap prep is for the dish soap and laundry soap, which I have been making from that potassium hydroxide base my friend taught me to make.

One of the items that was scarce last year was soap, and this year - and hopefully for evermore (as long as I can find potassium hydroxide, I guess) - that will no longer be an issue for me, because I learned to make my own. 

Soap making isn't difficult, and even if you mess up (which I did), it's still usable.  As long as the saponification process takes place, you have soap.  My last two batches of liquid soap base were imperfect, but usable.  One of them was scalded.  It still soaps up, and I'm using it to wash dishes and laundry.  The other "base" was not fluffy like it's supposed to be.  I guess I may have either over-stirred it, or added too much KOH.  It's still usable.  I can still dissolve it in water and put it in my soap dispensers.  

The next batch will be better.  

Or not.  

The point is to keep trying.

And having ingredients to make soap means that I don't have to worry if Dr. Bonner's experiences shortages, because I have everything I need to make my own. 

And there is nothing quite so empowering as knowing how to take care of one's self.




**This is not an affiliate link, and I get no compensation if you follow the link and make a purchase at the website.   


Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Tools


We have accumulated quite a collection of tools in the years Deus Ex Machina and I have owned our house.  Most of them are fantastic and are used regularly - like my canning supplies and other food preservation equipment.  

A few, though, we purchased for a specific reason, used them, and then put them aside and ... well, honestly, I, kind of, forget about them. 

Several years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn to make incense, and we found a sweet little kit through Rose Mountain Herbs.  I made a few cones, some of which I used myself, and some I gave as gifts at Christmas.  Then, I put the kit in a cabinet and forgot.  The other day I was chatting with my friend and mentioned I had purchased some incense sticks.   She said something about making my own, and I remembered that I could do that!  I can!  So, I went looking for the kit and found it, and she and I may get together in the near future to make incense ... like we made soap.  

When I was making incense, the most difficult part was using the Barbie-doll sized mortar and pestle that came with the kit, and so after making that incense, Deus Ex Machina purchased a real mortar and pestle for me.  



It's a gorgeous marble set.  We also bought one for him at the same time.  His is white and also very pretty.

I guess we used them a couple of times, and, then, they ended up in a cabinet.

When I talked with my friend about incense making, I remembered my mortar and pestle.

Later that same day, I was dealing with a salt crisis.  I love Maine Sea Salt, but it is a very coarse salt with huge grains.  It's lovely on something like salted caramel, when one wants those large coarse crystals.  Not so great when I'm just salting my dinner.

I have a grinder, but the Maine Sea Salt isn't big enough for the salt grinder to work.  Right?  The salt crystals are too big to salt my food, but too small to grind in the salt grinder.

Which is when I had my epiphany, because those crystals can be ground with my mortar and pestle.

And that's what I did.  I used the mortar and pestle to grind up the salt, which I, then, put into a salt shaker.

Having tools is good.  

Maine Sea Salt is more expensive than the grocery store brands, but I like the local aspect of the salt for a lot of reasons.  Buying local means I reduce my personal carbon footprint - which is important to me.  So, I didn't save any money by purchasing the Maine Sea Salt.

I did save money by using the tools we already have rather than trying to purchase a new salt grinder, which may or may not work.  

So, I will call this a win for $aving, because I avoided a new purchase by remembering that I already have the tools I need to get the job done.  Win!




Monday, October 4, 2021

Online Thrift Shopping? This is a thing?

I'm going to be honest.  I actually don't enjoy shopping, just in general.  I don't know that I ever, really, have, especially for clothes or household goods.  

I used to enjoy grocery shopping with Deus Ex Machina on Saturday mornings.  It was a whole experience.  We would drop our daughters off at the dance studio, and then, go to the grocery store together.  We were there on the same day at the same time, and we discovered there were dozens of other shoppers who did the same thing.  We started to recognize people, and they, us.  We found out that the employees also recognized us regulars and would give them nicknames.  Like the "no pants lady" who always wore a thigh-length, white turtle-neck sweater (no leggings or pants, though) and flip-flops - even when it started getting really cold.  I always imagined that she was a reclusive writer, and grocery shopping was one of those necessary evils, because she needed coffee, but she would have preferred to have stayed at home working on her book.  

Deus Ex Machina and I were the "fun couple," because we joked and laughed a lot.  

Then, our lives changed.  

There was no more Saturday morning dance class drop off.   

There were new jobs for both Deus Ex Machina and me.  

The pandemic happened, limiting the number of  people allowed in a store, and so only one of us could do the shopping.  It fell to me, which was unpleasant on so many levels, including losing my "fun" partner.  I started looking for other options for getting groceries into my house, and finding grocery delivery services solved the problem of having to go to a physical store, but there are other things we need, besides groceries.  

At the beginning of the pandemic, many stores closed down, not that I was heading over to the mall for an afternoon of retail therapy anyway, but for a few weeks, between March and sometime in May 2020, while everyone figured out how to respond to this health threat, the second-hand clothing shop I used to go to was just shut down.  I didn't know if it would reopen.  They didn't know IF they would be able to reopen. 

They did open back up with limited hours, limits on the number of shoppers allowed at a time, and curbside pick-up available.  Like every where else last year, masks were required for in store shopping.

For the record, I'm not an anti-mask person.  I wear it, when required, but it is not comfortable, and I do have a difficult time with it.  

First, I wear glasses, and not just glasses, I have progressive lenses (which are fairly new to me to begin with.  I've only been wearing prescription glass for about three years, and my first pair, ever, were progressives).  For those who don't know, basically, a progressive lens gives me two places on my glasses to look out of.  I have one prescription for seeing things that are up close (like this computer screen) and one prescription for seeing things that are far off (like when I'm driving).  The mask interferes with my ability to see the close up stuff, because the way the mask sits on my face changes the way the glasses sit on my face.  I have to read labels at the grocery store, because sometimes gluten is hidden in the ingredients (did you know that gummy bears are made with "wheat sugar"?), but the way the glasses sit on my face with a mask on makes doing that very difficult.  And then, the glasses fog up, and I can't see anyway.

Second, I have two big dogs and three cats, all of whom shed rabbit-sized puff balls.  All of my clothes are covered in fur.  It's just a part of my life.  With no dryer to remove the fur and lint, those things stay on the mask.   When I get the mask on, I invariably inhale a hair, which starts to tickle, and then, I need to cough, and well, don't cough in public these days.  I'm pretty sure there's a tangle of pet fur in my lungs.

So, if I can avoid wearing a mask, I do.

Which has made online shopping my best option.

Amazon is like the online Walmart.  My opinion about Walmart and the fact that I haven't shopped there in more than a decade, is well known.  I don't shop on Amazon, if I can help it.

I have purchased items, if I know what I want, direct from the manufacturer - like Dr. Bonner's soap.

But I was having a hard time with the whole clothes shopping thing.  Did I mention that I don't like shopping?  I enjoy, even less, shopping for clothes for myself (although I will happily shop all day for clothes for Deus Ex Machina).  I never try things on, because I just don't like taking off my clothes in the store - even in the relative privacy of the dressing room.  I think it's just too cold in most of those stores.  Or ... I don't know.  Is that a two-way mirror?  Silliness, but there it is.  

So, I don't try on the clothes, and I bring them home, and too many times, they don't fit.  Or the style looked good in the store, but not on me.  Then, I can either take it back (I hate shopping, remember?  I hate returning items even more), or I can leave it in my drawer until I start thinning my clothes and then donate the never-worn item a few years later.  

Sometime during the pandemic, my daughters signed up for this service called StitchFix**.  It's a pretty interesting business model.  Basically, you sign up giving them your style preferences, and they will select clothes that match what you say you like to wear.  They charge a $20 "styling fee" to send the box to you, and then, if you choose to keep any of the items, they will apply that $20 toward your purchase.  

It sounded fun, and so I signed up.  My first box was a disaster.  Nothing in the box was anything that I would ever wear.  I sent it all back.  They sent another box, right away, at no extra charge, and I ended up keeping two things - a lovely faux-wrap dress and a pair of white capris jeans.  The funny thing is that I would never wear white pants.  But those jeans were so wonderful and fit me so well, that I kept them, and I've worn them half a dozen times. 

What's also nice about StitchFix is that they are committed to being socially and environmentally conscious, but the clothes are new, never-been-worn, and while new clothes are nice, I have a hard time with the ethics of the fashion industry, in general.  If I can get my clothes second-hand, I will.  In fact, until 2020, all of my clothes were second hand - except shoes (which I will repair rather than replace) and my undergarments, which I always purchase new, because ... sanitation.

I was watching a Do It on a Dime video recently, and Kathryn was talking about this clothing service that she uses.  It's, basically, the same model as StitchFix - order a "goodie box", and at regular intervals, they will send you a box of clothes.  You try them on in the warmth and comfort (sans the possibility of two-way mirrors) of your own home.  Keep what you like and return (in their self-addressed prepaid envelope) what doesn't fit your body and/or style.  

The difference between StitchFix and the service Kathryn mentioned in her video is that ThredUp is an online consignment shop.  Get that?  It's USED clothes, and members can both purchase AND sell clothes.  It's exactly like my local brick-and-mortar designer clothes consignment shop, except I get to try on the clothes here at my house; I don't have to sort through the thousands of clothes they have available to find the one or two things that might fit my body-type and style, because I have a personal stylist who does that for me; and I don't have to worry about things like masks and that girl who keeps crowding me, because I've been standing in the sweater aisle for longer than 30 seconds.  

Thrifted clothes without having to go to the store??  I'm calling it a WIN.  I ordered my first goodie box from ThredUp this morning, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they send.

If you have used either ThredUp or StitchFix, I'd love to hear about your experiences.


On a side note, Deus Ex Machina and I stopped in at Goodwill the other night looking for an old tent for a project we're working on.  We didn't find a tent, or anything else we wanted.  What we did notice was how crowded the store was, and that plates, which we used to be able to purchase for less than $1 each are now 3/$8.  The price more than quadrupled.  I didn't look at any of the other prices.  It's crazy!  

Everything is going up.  Even the Dollar Store has decided to raise its prices.  Everything is no longer just $1.  



**This is a referral link.  If you sign up for StitchFix using my link, I will get a $25 credit toward my next purchase with them.  ;).

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Stocking up ... in Plain Sight: Foods You Can Store as Fall Decorations

There's a radio commercial out right now.  I don't recall what the product is, but I do recall some of the content of the commercial.  The commercial starts out by saying something about what Mainers say about Maine.  One of the comments is, "Maine has two seasons: winter and preparing for winter."  

There is definitely a nugget of truth to it, although we do very much enjoy "mud season" and "black fly season" also (both are in Spring), and there is no equal to our fall colors, but really, Spring is just "end of winter" and in the fall, we're still "preparing for winter", which is right around the corner.

I think, on some level, most Mainers are probably preppers - whether that's what they call it, or not. Winters are long, and getting ready for winter is just what we do.  Our growing season is really short, and those who have a garden are also canners, because our growing season is really short, and we need to get as much out of it as we can.  Nearly everyone I know does some food preservation.  

Here in southern Maine, where I live, there are farm stands on just about every corner, and most them carry the same sorts of things: pumpkins, apples, corn, potatoes.  All the things my family loves to eat.  

But those are also some pretty stellar decorations, this time of year, especially.

It got me to thinking about the way we, my family, stocks up, and the fact is that we spend a lot, this time of year, building our winter stores.  Since I live in a small house with very limited storage, it's pretty awesome that a lot of the stuff I want to store is also very decorative, and what's also pretty cool, is that, since they are decorative, those food items might be overlooked, on first pass, by someone who is wanting to take my eats. 

One of my favorite fall "decorations" is corn.  


I like to grow popcorn, because it's pretty, first of all, and I can dry it from the overhang in my dining room.  It looks pretty - like a decoration - but it's also food.  But since it's not in the kitchen, it won't be the first thing someone sees if they are looking for food.

We've also "hidden" beans (in their husks), peppers, and herbs strung up to dry, but looking like a decoration.

I also love my garlic braids.  These are in the kitchen, but they are hanging up instead of being in some sort of storage bin or in a jar or something.  So, again, it looks more like I'm going for a "country kitchen" aesthetic with some Pottery Barn decorations than that I am actually storing something we will eat at some point.

Pumpkins are probably my favorite food decoration.  We buy a bunch of jack-o-lantern pumpkins every year.  While they are a bit stringy for eating we do save the seeds, which I roast.  And even if we don't eat them, my chickens do.



I also grow or purchase a bunch of pie pumpkins.  These are smaller and denser and are quite lovely as a centerpiece on my table (when we're not using the table as a desk).  No one is going to look at the centerpiece on the table as potential meal.

I have a few things in my garden that aren't well known as a food source.  One of my favorite "hidden" delicacies is the sunchoke.  It grows 12' tall and blooms with this lovely yellow flower in the late fall.  The good part is underground.  It's a tuber that looks a lot like ginger and can be used much as one uses potatoes.  


Sunchokes are incredibly hardy plants and also very invasive.  They are native to this part of New England, and while they aren't one of my favorite foods, I keep them in my garden, because in a worst case scenario, it's food that not many people recognize as food.  

The best part is that they don't have to be all harvested.  We can leave them in the ground and harvest them until the ground freezes.  In the Spring, we an harvest them until they start to grow.  I leave the dead stalks, all winter, which tells me where they are so that I can dig them in the spring, but also, because the pith in the stalks is food for the birds that over winter here.  

Another popular outside decoration is straw bales.  Interestingly, if done properly, those straw bales can be used as a cold storage for potatoes, at least in the early part of the season.  From this article on ways to store potatoes

  1. In a shady spot outdoors, place a tarp over the ground and cover it with an inch of loose straw. Pile on potatoes and cover with more straw, a second tarp, and a 10-inch blanket of leaves or straw.
One can also store the potatoes in a rodent proof container in a hole in the ground and place the straw bales on top of the container.  The straw will serve as insulation to keep the potatoes from freezing, and also be an easy way to find them, when it snows.  

We just placed a bulk order for potatoes, and I'm definitely going to be using some of those storage suggestions.  We have several bales of straw outside, which we used as seating for a recent gathering of friends.  Shoving the potatoes into the straw will keep them, at least for awhile, and then, any we missed in the spring, will sprout and grow.  More potatoes is not a bad thing.  And in a TEOTWAWKI situation, who's gonna think to look outside in the straw bales for food?

Since storage is a premium and there's just no chance that I'm going to spend money on a storage facility to hold my preps, finding items that can be stored in plain sight is my preference.  Stocking up on fall foods that I can store out in the open as a decoration is a huge bonus.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Price of a Snack Cake

When I was kid, I used to take my lunch to school every day.  It was a rare and delightful treat when my mother would purchase snack cakes to go in our lunches.  My favorite was Little Debbie's Oatmeal Cream Pies.  

Most of the time, though, my lunches were a peanut butter sandwich on sliced white bread and a little baggie full of Chex Snack mix.  I know.  Super nutritious.  Don't judge.  I was a kid.

I don't eat Little Debbie's cakes anymore, because they are not gluten-free.  Being gluten-free means that we have a much smaller selection than other folks have.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, mind you.  It's made me a pretty good cook.  And, believe it or not, it's saved us money.

Deus Ex Machina takes his lunch to work every day.  I think I've probably mentioned it.  I usually pack his lunch with leftovers, and I usually make enough at dinner to have at least one lunch during the week.  If he purchased his lunch through the cafeteria at work, it would cost between $7 and $15/day.  So, just cooking extra and packing leftovers saves us $55 a week x 48 weeks (allowing for vacations and holidays) is $2640/year in savings. 

Some days, I really enjoy something a little sweet for after dinner, which is why I like making the cakes I mentioned in my last post.  Dessert AND preserving eggs??  Win/win!!

And because I have made so many cakes over the last few weeks, there has been enough for dessert, the freezer, and Deus Ex Machina's lunch.  In fact, the pieces in the freezer will probably end up in his lunch at some point.

After I published the post, I got to thinking about how much it was costing to make those cakes each week, and what the difference in cost would be if we purchased snack cakes for Deus Ex Machina to take to lunch instead of my homemade cake with store bought frosting.

Each cake is a 9'x11' sheet cake.  Our favorite flavors are applesauce spice cake and pumpkin spice cake.  I was using the applesauce I canned last year for the applesauce cake until I ran out of applesauce.  Unfortunately, I don't have a cost for the jars I canned, and so I can't make a cost comparison.

But I do have a cost for the pumpkin cake.

I use King Arthur measure for measure gluten-free flour.  I get a 3 lb bag from Boxed.com for $7.99.  Each cake uses 2 cups of flour.  I can make 5 cakes with a 3 lb bag of flour.

I use Florida Crystals raw sugar.  I get a 3 lb container from Boxed.com for $5.39.  Each cake uses 2 cups of sugar (although I do cut it a little, because 2 cups is a lot of sugar and makes it just a little too sweet).  I can make 5+ cakes with a 3 lb container of sugar.

Each cake uses a 15 oz can of pumpkin.  I can get a can of pumpkin at the local grocery store for about $2.  

The cake also uses eggs and a bunch of spices.  I can add raisins and nuts, if I choose. 

Each cake also uses baking powder.  An 8 ounce container is $1.29.  I use 1 1/2 tsp of baking powder per can, which works out to about 32 cakes.

The flour, sugar, pumpkin, and baking powder bring the cost of the cake to about $2.70.  If I assume the cost of the eggs and spices is around $0.30, and round up, the whole cake costs me $3.

I don't make a very good frosting.  It's a skill I'm still learning, but I can get a can of pre-made frosting for $1.99 at the little Mom&Pop grocery 2 miles from my house.  I can frost two cakes with one can.

Which brings the cost of my cake to $3.99.

The cakes I make are 9'x11' sheet cakes, which I cut into 15 pieces.  The cost per piece is $0.26. 

So, I was curious, and I looked on Boxed.com to see if they carried Little Debbie's Oatmeal Cream Pies.  They do, in bulk.  The have a box of 24 snack cakes for $8.89.  Each of those cakes is 2.6 ounces.  The cost per cake is $0.37.

My pieces of cake weigh in at a hefty 4 oz each.  

So, my cake is $0.09 cheaper and 1.4 ounces bigger than the Little Debbie's Cakes.  

And with fewer preservatives, maybe a little healthier ... ?

If Deus Ex Machina took a snack cake to lunch every day, the cost would be $88.80 per year - just for a 2.6 ounce plastic wrapped cake.  

Making my own cake, which I send with him for lunch saves $24 per year.  

I mean, $24 doesn't sound like much, for sure, but when we figure that the cost of his lunch is free, because it's worked into the price of yesterday's dinner, saving an additional $0.09 per day for his dessert is pretty good.


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

My Favorite Four Ways to Preserve Eggs

I love my backyard chickens, as I'm sure I've mentioned a time or two.  I never got chickens as a money-saving thing.  It was really about food security and self-sufficiency.

But also, having the chickens is just fun.  Chickens are quirky and funny, and anyone who tells you that they don't have personalities hasn't been around chickens very much.  Each of my chickens has her own little personality, likes and dislikes, and habits.  

The only problem with them is that they aren't very consistent when it comes to providing a steady food source.  During the summer, they are egg-laying fiends.  We have 16 laying hens who are six months to 8 years in age.  The younger chickens lay pretty consistently every day.  The older hens, not so much.  We have one very old girl, who is blind in one eye, but still manages to find her way out of the coop regularly.  I found her stealing tomatoes from my garden last year.  She is the only one who lays white eggs.  We get a white egg once a week, or so.  

All total, we are collecting 5 to 8 eggs per day, which means there are a LOT of eggs in our refrigerator at any given time.  During the summer, we will have three dozen eggs in our refrigerator, consistently.

Sometime around October, when the days are shorter and cooler, the chickens start to slow down on the number of eggs they give us per day.  By December, we'll be lucky if the three youngest hens are laying every day, and in February, we might find 5 eggs a week.  

That's just how it is, and it's not the cold, but rather the light.  Some people will provide heat and light to their chickens.  We don't.  We like to keep things as close to their natural rhythms, as possible.

Which means we either gorge ourselves on eggs all summer long, or we find ways to preserve them to use over winter.

I've seen some suggestions for preserving eggs, like salting them, or dipping them in a lye solution.  I haven't tried those sorts of preservation methods, mostly, because I am not certain of how I would use eggs preserved in such a fashion.  

But I do have some ways that I have preserved my eggs for use during the winter.

Boiled, Chopped, and Frozen

When I was a poor college student, I worked at a quick-service to pay my bills.  One of the restaurant's menu items was a seafood salad which was made with shrimp, imitation crab, celery, chopped eggs, a special seasoning, and "Special T" sauce, which was basically mayonnaise.  The eggs were boiled and chopped up, and then frozen.  When we used them, we added them to the salad mix frozen, and they thawed before they were served to the customer. 

I don't use this preservation method as much as some other way, but this would be a good way to save the eggs to use later as egg salad on a sandwich, or something similar.

Cracked open, whisked, and frozen

I've used this method a few times.  Basically, we crack the eggs into a muffin tin - one egg per hole.  Each egg is about a quarter cup.  Then, we put the tin in the freezer. When the eggs are frozen, we take them out of the tin, and put them in a freezer storage container for longer term storage.

To use, take them out of the freezer and allow them to thaw.  The best way to use these eggs is in baked goods.

And speaking of:

Bake into breads, cakes, and muffins and freeze

One of the only reasons I want eggs during the winter - other than a quick and easy breakfast for Deus Ex Machina - is so that I can bake bread and cakes.  It's taken me a lot of years to realize that autumn is the best time to bake these confections and then freeze them for use during the winter.  

Over the past several weeks, I have been baking a cake every Monday and Wednesday, and occasionally adding some bread and muffins to the oven.  Any pieces left from Monday's cake on Wednesday, end up in the freezer.  By full winter when there is snow on the ground, we will enjoy being able to reach into the freezer for a blueberry muffin, a piece of cake, or a loaf of bread.


Pickling
 
I have to admit that my favorite way to preserve eggs is through pickling.  I boil a dozen or so eggs, peel them, and then, add them to a half gallon sized jar with bite-sized sausage pieces (like Kielbasa, Chorizo, or Andouille).  I mix up a very simple vinegar-based pickling brine.  Basically, 1:1 vinegar and water, and 1:1 salt and sugar.  For a half gallon sized jar, I mix 2 cups each of vinegar and water, and 2 tablespoons each salt and sugar, bring it to a boil, pour it over the eggs and sausage in the jar.  Allow to cool, and put in the refrigerator.  After about three days, the eggs are pickled enough to enjoy.  The longer they stay in the brine, the more "pickled" they become.  

I also like to pickle the eggs with jalapeno slices.  I love pickled jalapenos and I LOVE eggs pickled with jalapenos, but I like it spicy. 


In a powered down situation, I could preserve my pickled eggs by pressure canning them, but at the moment, I don't do that.  

I have also, in the past, canned pumpkin bread, which seemed to do okay, but it must be made to very strict specifications, and the use of a preservative, like that found in Crisco shortening, is recommended to prevent botulism.  Since I don't use Crisco oil, freezing is the way I preserve bread, at the moment.  



How do you preserve eggs?  


As  a note, when I was in college, I was fortunate to be eligible for the WIC program, because I was both a young, poor college student and a young mother with very young children (my two oldest were born while I was still an undergraduate student).  Part of the WIC offerings included a dozen eggs per week.  I didn't use that many eggs at that time, and so I had to figure out what to do with all of those eggs.  I didn't preserve them, because I didn't know how back in those days, but I did have this fabulous cook book - 100 ways to Cook Eggs.  It's been long lost in the decades since I was a college student, and I wish I could find another copy.  Alas!

I learned about making quiche from that cookbook, and indeed, one of the prepared, cooked foods, that I still make and freeze from my excess of eggs is quiche.

I just mention it, because having a glut of eggs isn't just a result of having backyard chickens.  In fact, sometimes when eggs are on sale, for those who buy eggs, getting some extra and making a few cakes for the freezer isn't a bad idea. 


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Garden Harvest

I injured the ring finger on my left hand.  Deus Ex Machina and I were joking about how it's never a cool story - like "I was fighting the zombie hoards and tweaked my finger!!"  Mostly it's, I'm a woman of age, and things happen.  

We believe it is a mallet finger injury - i.e. a torn tendon.  I'm certain it's not broken, and I am not in any pain.  So, that's a plus.  I just can't straighten my finger.  Ugh!


But, I have a special splint (that Deus Ex Machina 3D printed for me), which makes typing hard.


So, instead of a long post, I will share today's garden harvest:  beans, broccoli, tomatoes, and grapes.  


Two weeks ago, my granddaughter came over and we planted peas.  They're about six inches tall now.  I'm looking forward to an October harvest of peas from my garden.


What's happening in your world?