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Practical Prepping: Building A Pantry

Pantry canning jars

I was raised by parents whose own parents lived through the depression.  As such, we learned to prep.  Not for zombies or nuclear war, but for hard times, snow storms and power outages.

I remember quite vividly the blizzard of ’78.  (If you don’t remember it or weren’t here yet, check out those pics.) My parents had just bought our first house in Northern Illinois, just 8 miles south of the Wisconsin border.  Being from NYC and then Chicago, it was a huge thing to have a house and yard, but to find out we lived on an emergency snowmobile route was truly amazing!  My Grandma came for a visit (the fun one), and because of airports being snowed in, she wound up staying much longer than she was supposed to.  Not everyone had as much fun as we did though.

Why Prep?

There are many reasons to prep…

  • short paycheck (or several)
  • no paycheck (or several)
  • medical emergency,
  • natural disasters
    • hurricanes (the names Sandy, Ike, Katrina, Andrew, Isabel and Hugo come to mind)
    • blizzards
    • wildfires
    • tornadoes
    • earthquakes (Haiti)
    • tsunamis (Indonesia, Japan)

I was taught to be a pantry shopper.  I don’t meal plan, I’ll be honest it clashes with my ADD.   I have a grocery budget, I buy what’s on sale… meat, produce, canned goods.  I meal plan from what I have on sale.  Sure there are times that I deviate because I’m in the mood to make something different, but this is how I build my pantry.   Needless to say, if I can get $100 worth of groceries for $75, I’m still going to spend the entire $100 that I budgeted to make sure I have back up.

When my husband and I first started living together, there was a bit of an adjustment.  He was taught to buy what you need when you need it.  When I came home with a case of boxes of macaroni & cheese from a redeemed rain check, he was beside himself.  Why would I possibly buy so much for a family of 3?  He felt it was excessive.  I showed him the receipt.  They were on sale for 10 cents when they normally cost 55 cents each.  Why should we pay full price in the future.  We were still going to eat it in the future but they wouldn’t honor the sale price on our schedule.  I spent $3.60 instead of $19.80 for something we were going to be eating anyway.  In the meantime the money that we just saved could now be used for other items.

Whether it’s buying extra canned goods or canning produce from your garden to last for the winter, it’s best to have extras on hand… just in case.  Utilize sales, coupons, buy one/get one offers as well as farmers markets deals and your garden.  Everything you grow you don’t have to buy!

You’ll find you save money in the long run by buying things when they’re on sale rather than when you need them.  You will also eat better without boxes of chemical helper.

The best part is that in an emergency, you’ll have better choices than just cans of tuna, cream of chemical soup, ramen noodles and saltines.

Maggie

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Sweet & Smokey Broccoli Salad

Broccoli Salad

What can I say about this amazing side dish… It’s sweet, it’s a little salty, it’s smokey, it’s crunchy, it’s delicious!  And another great use for your garden veggies. In my area, variations of this salad can be found a local grocery store deli counters but I prefer to make it fresh so I know what’s in it.  You can vary it by your personal tastes.  I’ve seen grape tomatoes, cranberries, craisins, balsamic vinegar… like Bob Ross used to tell us, it’s your world!

Ingredients:

  • 1 – 12oz pkg of Hickory smoked bacon (with good streaking, not all fat)
  • 2 heads of fresh broccoli, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1/2 c diced red onion
  • 3/4 c golden raisins
  • 6 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp raw honey
  • 1-1/2 – 2 cups of mayonnaise **
  • 1 cup sunflower nuts/hulled sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 c sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

EatingWell

Directions

While the bacon is still frozen, cut across the grain to create “bars”. It’s the easiest way I’ve found to dice bacon.  If it’s soft it can be like herding cats.

How to dice bacon

Put in a heavy skillet over medium-low heat and stir often to separate.  By using the lower temperature you’ll keep the bacon from cooking together and you’ll melt off the most amount of fat.  (Continue with the recipe steps while you’re waiting for the bacon to finish cooking.)  When they are all good and crispy, use a slotted spoon to pull them out of the fat and place in a bowl with paper towels on the bottom to absorb the additional grease.  Since this is a cold salad you don’t want extra grease in it.  Pour the bacon fat from the pan into your jar that you keep in your refrigerator.  If you don’t have one yet… ahem, now’s the time to start one. 🙂

In a medium mixing bowl, combine mayo, honey and vinegar, and whisk till smooth.

Note** It’s completely up to you whether you want to use commercial mayo or homemade. However if you’re a Miracle Whip/salad dressing lover, feel free to use this and just omit the vinegar from the recipe.

In a medium or large container combine chopped broccoli, onion, sunflower seeds, drained bacon, cheese and whatever else your heart desires.   Toss with with the dressing mixture.  Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours for the flavors to blend.  Stir before serving.  Enjoy!

Maggie

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I can put THAT in my compost pile!

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Composting is a win-win. Not only do you get to feed your garden all the nutrients it needs but you’re recycling your garbage. Every piece of garbage that goes into the pile instead of the dumpster saves valuable landfill space and adds much needed nutrients to your soil.

Once you get a good pile going, you’ll start running into the same question over and over again, “Is this compostable?” More frequently than you might think, the answer might be yes. Pretty much anything organic (organic here meaning derived from a natural source, not just stuff from Whole Foods) can go in the compost pile.  If you’ve not replaced your paper products with fabric, good news!  You can compost them and still help the environment.

 Mother Earth News

Start with the most obvious

1. Tea Bags and Coffee grounds, including the filters

2. Fireplace ashes, good news for those of us with wood burners

3. Dead houseplants (I can only grow mold & mildew, so I’m good at this one)

4. Stale Bread and other grain products.  (even if it’s a little moldy, that’s fine).

6. Eggshells

7. Used paper towels, napkins, non-coated paper plates and cups (no plastic or Styrofoam)

8. Paper grocery bags, ripped in pieces

9. Dirt from the bottom of your shoes and boots, or swept off the floor or the wood box (I save my wood box sweepings for fire starters).

10. Droppings from any of your vegetarian critters: chickens or other birds, rabbits, hamsters, horses, sheep, cows, etc. (No dogs or cats though).

11. Paper towel and toilet paper rolls.

12. Miscellaneous cardboard, so long as it’s not waxed and has been ripped into pieces (good job for a bored kid): paper plates, pizza boxes, egg cartons, cereal boxes, you name it!

Burpee Gardening

… more unique

13. Dryer Lint

14. Polish-free nail clippings (from you or your pets)

15. Hair, fur and feathers (great for when you brush the dog and fill a shopping bag or the tumble weeds if you have hard wood floors)

16. Cotton, Wool and Silk clothing or house linens that you’re not using anymore, if it’s too ratty to donate to charity, it’s perfect for the compost pile

17. Rope and twine made from natural fibers like hemp, cotton, jute, etc. (I use mine for wood bundles so it’s burnable)

18. Wine Corks (or a wine box… broken down with the plastic bladder removed)

19. Pencil shavings and eraser rubbings

20. Cotton Balls & Q-tips (with the cardboard stick, not plastic)

21. Toothpicks and bamboo skewers

22. Old pet food: dry dog kibble, dry cat food, fish food, catnip

23. Shredded documents (just make sure not to shred the envelopes with plastic windows still in them, also if your shredder has a credit card shredder make sure these aren’t hitting the pile as well.)

24. Old loofahs (but not plastic poufs)

25. Expired dairy products (yes, you have to still get them out of the plastic container)

26. Old Halloween candy (no wrappers please)

27. Produce that has sat too long (onions, tomatoes and lettuce come first to mind.  Before you chuck the bananas, put the fruit in a Ziploc bag in the freezer for banana bread or smoothies, and just put the peel in the pile.)

28. Used matches and old stale tobacco (no cigarette butts or papers.)

29. Holiday Decorations (jack-o-lanterns, crepe paper streamers, wrapping paper, latex balloons, Christmas Wreaths, Valentine’s Day bouquets, etc – no mylar balloons or anything shiny.  Keep this in mind when buying them.)

ONLY NATURAL PET STORE LLC

Wait, Really? 

30. Beer and wine (I don’t know anyone who has this leftover personally)

31. Condoms made from latex or sheepskin

32. Cotton and Cardboard feminine products

33. The contents of your vacuum canister (if it has paper bags, just throw the whole bag in)

34. White glue (check the ingredients to make sure it’s not toxic, most school glues are just fine)

35. Masking tape

As you might expect, some items will require you to turn your pile right away (used feminine hygiene products and old dairy top the list) not only from the gross factor but you don’t want to attract critters that will tear the pile apart.  Consider having a second trashcan in your house and use it for compost worthy items.  Also let the rest of the family know what’s compostable and what’s not so you’re not retrieving and moving things.

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“Who-Dat” Crawfish Dip

Crawfish Dip

I never knew the depths of my love for shellfish until my Sister-In-Law’s wedding in Venice, Louisiana. I was introduced to crawfish pie. Frankly, while I wish crawfish pie and sweet tea were available nationwide along with a few other all-American regional favorites, that’s the joy of traveling. At least it is for me.

New Orleans was a food-gasm from start to finish… crawfish pie, shrimp Po’boys, red fish, etouffee, beignets… Do I even need to mention Bourbon street? Okay, I need to stop now or we’ll never get to this recipe.

I can only imagine a Cajun Voodoo Queen whipping this up as a love potion, because the heart goes where the taste buds lead.

Justin Wilson

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1 bunch green onions (white parts only), chopped
  • 1 small red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened and cubed
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon creole seasoning, such as Tony Chachere’s
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
  • 1 (12-ounce) package crawfish crawfish tail meat, thawed and drained
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Crusty bread and Louisiana-style hot sauce, for serving

Shrimp boil

This is the shrimp boil from my sister-in-law’s wedding @ Saltgrass Lodge. What’s not to love?

Directions

In a medium skillet, melt the butter over moderate heat. Add onions and bell pepper and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another minute.

Stir in the cream cheese, mayonnaise, creole seasoning, and cayenne; whisk until smooth. Reduce heat to low. Add the crawfish tail meat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Serve immediately with toasted bread slices and hot sauce. Garnish with the green tops of the onions, if desired.

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Bee Kind – Bee Aware

Pardon the pun, but it “bee”comes more apparent every day that we need to dial down the use of chemicals in our environment.

HoneyBees

The bee population in the country is dwindling, literally, by the millions and we need to do something to stop it.  For those of you who consider bees to be just a summer nuisance, think again.   Take a moment to remember your 7th grade biology for a moment.   Bees don’t just make honey, although that’s a great bonus.  They pollinate plant life, many varieties infact, so many that it equates to roughly 70% of the world’s food crops.  We stand to lose if we don’t get our act together quickly.

Here’s a list http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_crop_plants_pollinated_by_bees if you’re curious.  As you can see, it’s not just flowers, but fruits and vegetables as well.  A list including cucumbers, carrots pears, almonds, onions, and apples just to name a few, in addition to honey, beeswax, royal jelly, bee pollen and propolis.

Here’s a snippet of great article from qz.com:

As we’ve written before, the mysterious mass die-off of honey bees that pollinate $30 billion worth of crops in the US has so decimated America’s apis melliferapopulation that one bad winter could leave fields fallow. Now, a new study has pinpointed some of the probable causes of bee deaths and the rather scary results show that averting beemageddon will be much more difficult than previously thought.

Scientists had struggled to find the trigger for so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that has wiped out an estimated 10 million beehives, worth $2 billion, over the past six years. Suspects have included pesticides, disease-bearing parasites and poor nutrition. But in a first-of-its-kind study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists at the University of Maryland and the US Department of Agriculture have identified a witch’s brew of pesticides and fungicides contaminating pollen that bees collect to feed their hives. The findings break new ground on why large numbers of bees are dying though they do not identify the specific cause of CCD, where an entire beehive dies at once.

When researchers collected pollen from hives on the east coast pollinating cranberry, watermelon and other crops and fed it to healthy bees, those bees showed a significant decline in their ability to resist infection by a parasite calledNosema ceranae. The parasite has been implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder though scientists took pains to point out that their findings do not directly link the pesticides to CCD. The pollen was contaminated on average with nine different pesticides and fungicides though scientists discovered 21 agricultural chemicals in one sample. Scientists identified eight ag chemicals associated with increased risk of infection by the parasite.

To continue reading…

Burpee Gardening

What can I do you ask? Glad to hear you want to help! 🙂

First, rethink your lawn and consider planing native flowers and try to plant several varieties so that you can keep blooms going as long as you can during the course of the year.  Second, bees need fresh water just like all living creatures but they can’t drink from a pool, they have to stand on something while they drink.  Consider making a “bee bath” in your flower garden.  Fill a shallow container with some rocks that they can stand on while they drink and maintain it so they know they can come back every day.

Then of course there’s the next level – no pesticides that harm bees.  Here’s my previous post on dealing with Mosquitos.

Bat house

Live in an area with native bats?  Consider a partnership by putting a bat house up.  Click on the picture to check out a variety of bat houses.  Bats are really great, no really!  A single bat can eat up to 300 mosquitoes per night (and no, they don’t like humans).

Mother Earth News

Sure that sounds good but I live in an apartment!

Okay, so that can be an obstacle but its not impossible.  Window boxes and hanging baskets work great.  Talk to your landlord or your homeowning friends and offer to help with their garden.  No one refuses free gardening help (believe me).

Consider making a donation.  Organizations like The Honeybee Conservancy allow you to make a donation for them to act on your own or you can sponsor a bee hive.

Share the word!  Somehow the message of Colony Collapse Disorder seems to be escaping people.  Whether you Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or your book club at the public library, get the word out.

Finally, write.  Even an email to a congressman to let them know where you stand can help.  You can find their contact information at http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml   With enough pressure, maybe we can change the future for us and our bees.

Thanks for helping!

Maggie

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Quick and Easy Composting

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Composting is a simple process. It involves dumping your vegetable and fruit peelings, coffee grounds and egg shells along with grass clippings and twigs and leaves. After six months to three years, you have a rich, crumbly dark brown substance that will give your plants all sorts of nutrition. But often times we don’t have the time (or patience!) to wait that long. Now there’s an easy way to make compost in 30 days or less.

How to get compost – FAST

Setting up your own composter

Of course you could go out and buy yourself a compost tumbler for $100-$200 or more. It will certainly get the job done, but there’s a plan that’s easy and a whole lot cheaper that you can do yourself.

First you’ll need to obtain four pallets. You can usually get them free from grocery stores or home improvement stores. You might have to pay a few dollars, but it’ll be worth it. Be sure the pallets you get are clean, without any grease or any substances on them that could leach into your compost.

Once you have four pallets, use one for the base and three around the sides and back in a U shape. Bind them together with wire, rope or zip ties. Don’t do anything permanent – you’ll be removing them later. If the base has large gaps, you might want to add a few boards to make a “floor.” Be sure to leave some space between, like ½ inch or so, for air circulation.

Mother Earth News

Materials to be composted

Once you have your bin set up you can begin adding the composting material. You want a ratio of about 1 part “green” material to 2 parts “brown” material.

The green material can be:

  • fresh grass clippings,
  • manure,
  • leaves,
  • fresh hay,
  • or household kitchen waste, such as vegetable peelings.

(Don’t worry about weed seeds – once the internal temperature of the compost hits 155° for three days, weed seeds will be killed.)

For the brown material you can use:

  • straw,
  • dead leaves,
  • twigs or yard weeds that have been wintered over.

Now, here’s the part that will speed things up. Everything you put into your compost bin should be no larger than 1-2 inches in size. And all household kitchen waste should be put in a blender. This will speed things up considerably since it will not take time for it to break down naturally.

Burpee Gardening

Filling the compost bin

Premix the brown and green material together. Then set up a 3 inch layer on the bottom of the bin. Add a few sticks so there will be air circulation. Then add another 6 inches of material, then more sticks. Keep doing this until your pile reaches the top of the bin. If you don’t have enough material, go at least 3 feet high.

After you get your brown and green material in the bin in layers with the sticks, wet it down well. It should not be saturated, but similar to a damp sponge. You can also add a few handfuls of lime, but I’ve never had to. You don’t need to add a “compost starter,” but you can add some aged compost or garden soil. This will provide some beneficial bacteria and fungi to get it started.

If you use this method, you won’t need to turn your compost at all. Alternatively, you can omit the sticks between the layers and turn the pile occasionally. This will provide the necessary aeration. The pile will get very hot, 140° to 160°. If you don’t provide aeration, it could get hotter than 160°, which will kill the good bacteria. Essentially, you’ll need to start over. Temperatures of 155° will kill most plant diseases as well, but it won’t kill heat resistant diseases like tobacco mosaic virus. And it won’t be hot enough to kill pathogens found in meat products.

Shop for Laundry Items ReUseIt.com

Other tips for creating great compost

On that thought, here are a few things you shouldn’t compost. Meat and bones are no-no’s. Glass, plastic, fatty substances, metal, rubber, pet waste and anything that may contain chemicals such as clippings from herbicide-sprayed lawns.

Some things I never thought of but that can be composted are junk mail (with any plastic windows removed), cardboard and cereal boxes. Most cardboard manufacturers are using soy-based inks and natural adhesives, but you might want to check before you use them. Newspaper is also great. All of it in our area is recycled paper and soy-based ink. Again, you might want to check with the printer. Cut, shred or tear junk mail and newspapers into small pieces to get them going faster too.

55 Gallon Water Barrel

Another thing you can do to speed things up is add some worms. Red wigglers are about the best to use, but common garden worms and night crawlers will work just as well. These little creatures multiply quickly, regenerate if damaged, make fast work out of scraps and aerate the compost too. And when you’re done, you can use them for fishing bait!

Composting is an old time-honored tradition of slowly making nutrients for your soil out of waste materials. But it can be quick, too!

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