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Friday Food Storage Quickie

Sharon December 18th, 2009

Friday again!  Time to add more to the food storage.  Ok, this week we’re going to take advantage of holiday sales and add beverages and some quick cooking food.  This is a departure from our usual focus on nutritious staples, but it is a necessary one.

Why this stuff instead of more basic staples?  Well, there are a couple of reasons. In the case of beverages, most of all they are useful for keeping everyone hydrated and comfortable.  In a real emergency you may find yourself drinking water that has been stored for a while, or powdered milk or soymilk.  Moreover, you may be living with a lot less heat, and need hot beverages to keep yourself warm internally.  Plus, if you a caffeine addict or even psychologically addicted to your cuppa, you will be very, very unhappy in a difficult time if you don’t have your fix.  No one needs a crisis and a caffeine headache.

The same goes for the quick cook staples – you may not have a lot of cooking energy to use, or you may need to evacuate and cook quickly over an open fire, sterno or camp stove.  Or you may be so enmeshed in a crisis that you simply have no time to cook staple foods.  So everyone needs to have a small reserve of edible, tasty, calorically dense and tolerably nutritious quick-cooking food.  It is possible to buy this from good sources or preserve it yourself, and if you can, I’d certainly advise that, but I’m assuming here that most of us will be going to a regular supermarket.

What should you store?  Well, for beverages, it depends on what you drink.  Our family drinks water most of the time, but the reality is that stored water may not taste all that good.  Adults can force themselves to drink, but kids may not – and can become seriously dehydrated.  So I advise families with kids to get a flavoring agent – the best is probably Tang or Hi-C – these are not normal staples in my house, I know they are junk, but I think it is the better part of valor in difficult imes.  They cover unpleasant tastes and do add some vitamin C, which is often in short supply.  Or you can store honey, rose hips and a favored herb, and make sweet vitamin C-rich tea for your kids, if they will drink it, although you will be able to taste the water through this more. 

If you store powdered milk, rice or soy milk you might want some cocoa – you can store cocoa powder and sugar or instant cocoa, as your family prefers.  It isn’t as good as fresh, but it will be more palatable than most dry milks.  Or you can store the ingredients to make spiced milk – honey, cardamom and cinnamon.

If you store coffee, I think the best option are vacuum sealed whole beans kept frozen until the power goes out, and a manual grinder and press pot or non-electric percolator.  For tea, you can buy fair trade bulk tea in mylar bags and freeze it – don’t forget a tea ball. 

What about quick cooking foods?  The cheapest, as we all know, are ramen – if you are going to buy these, I think it is worth buying slightly higher quality ones available in some asian grocers – they tend to be tastier too.  But even plain old ramen will do.  They aren’t nutritious, and they are extremely high in salt, so make sure you have water with you, but mixed with some foraged dandelions or lambsquarters they will be decent.  Some shelf-stable tofu actually brings you into the range of “not-that-bad-for-you.”

Canned soup is fine if you aren’t planning on evacuating – it gets heavy if you have to carry it, and it shouldn’t be frozen, because it ruins taste and texture.  You can can your own soup, of course, but if you are buying commercial varieties, or need metal cans, I’d recommend low-salt varieties that don’t require water added – organic if you can find it, but Progresso or something similar if not. 

Dry bean “cup a soups” are good if you have water – often salty, again, but with more fiber and calories.  I do *not* recommend MRES – everything on this list is tastier by a good long bit.   If you can buy good quality hiking food, that will be better than much of this, but I’m assuming here that most of us are looking at supermarkets.  If you like it, instant foods like rice a roni and macaroni and cheese are another option, although they will take more fuel to cook.   

To supplement this, I’d add some good quality trail mixes (no chocolate, which may melt), some hard candy (I use dum dum lollipops, since they are small and come in quantity) for quick energy and as a bribe when things get nasty, along with dried fruit and nuts already in storage.  You can make up small packages, one for each meal, say with a ramen pack, a small package of dried fruit, some nuts, a piece of candy and a small ziplock of your favorite water-taste coverer and put them in bug-out bags.

I don’t like most energy bars that you can buy commercially – they tend to be sweet and bland, and offer a lot of crap for the money, but they can be a good addition to a bug-out bag. You can also order ones made for real emergency use that are of higher quality and better nutrition.

You can go with peanut butter and crackers – whole grain rye crackers last a long time, along with dried fruit and whole nuts.  But when you do it, think about circumstances – how long will your family be content with peanut butter and crackers?  There’s something to be said for a reasonably comforting quick food – soup is probably worth keeping on hand. 

Again, I’m not suggesting that anyone rely on processed and preserved foods as a basic staple - you want to be eating whole foods, not processed crap. But there may be times when that’s not possible, and adding a little bit to your reserve is a good idea, enough for a few meals when no one has the ability to focus on food.

Finally, our non food item this week will be multi-vitamins.  Yes, I’ve put this on before, but let’s make sure you really do have an adequate supply.  I’d also take this time to check over your evacuation kit, and make sure it has things like band-aids, ibuprofen and other basic first aid materials.

Cheers,

Sharon

Friday Food Storage Quickie: Soup to Nuts

Sharon December 11th, 2009

Hi Folks – Time for another food storage addition.  Because it is the holiday season, it makes sense to add things that are on sale right now – many spices and seasonings, as well as ingredients are at the lowest price they will be all year if you have to buy them conventionally (as always, if you *can* buy food locally, from a coop or in bulk, it will generally be a better deal, support good stuff and include less packaging and waste, but we try to be realistic here.)

Last week we got the ingredients for bean or lentil soup together – yum!  This week we go from soup to nuts, literally. Right now our food storage, if you’ve been following my suggestions is probably a little thin on protein, so it is a good week to add a nice, vegetarian protein source – nuts.  These are reasonably priced right now – ideally you will get them from local farmers, but they are also available in supermarkets. They are nutritious, in a cool dry place in the shell will keep 1 year, they are tasty and most people like them.  If you don’t like whole nuts, consider peanut, almond or cashew butters.

Except, of course, the people who are allergic to nuts, which is a non-trivial portion of the population.  Nuts are one of the most 8 most common food allergies in the US.  Most people with nut allergies can still eat chestnuts, which are biologically different than most tree nuts, so that’s one possibility.  Otherwise, you will want to add another protein source to your storage.  Shelf-stable tofu, marmite/vegemite if you like it, more beans, or canned meat or fish (choose organic whenever possible and not overfished species).

Also on sale in a lot of places right now is dried fruit – you can make this yourself if you have inexpensive fruit sources throughout the year – for example, perhaps you can still get a deal on apples at this point. But if you have to buy it, I would recommend some form of dried fruit for anyone who feels they may have to switch from their current diet to a storage diet at some point. The reason is this – unless you diet consists now primarily of the foods you already keep in storage, sudden dietary shifts tend to cause constipation.  This is not a pleasant problem to have, particularly if you are in the middle of a crisis. It also provides something sweet for people not accustomed to doing without sugars, it makes for an easy snack food for kids (mixed with nuts is even better), and it will allow you to make “treat” foods like oatmeal raisin cookies or dried fruit granola bars.  Again, if you can buy local, organic or in bulk, please do so.

We added spices and seasonings last week – if you can, add a few more this week. Remember, whole spices store best, and it isn’t hard to grate some cassia or a nutmeg.  But if all you can get are ground, you can keep them in the freezer for up to two years or on the shelf for one. Just keep them tightly capped and away from heat and light (ie, don’t put them on those shelves over the stove.

Remember the food pantry – throw in a couple of jars of peanut butter and some bread or crackers for them as well if you can afford it.  Dried fruit will also always be welcome, as will things like granola bars for families with limited time to cook.

Finally, our non-food item this week is alcohol, assuming, of course, that your family wants/uses alcohol (I am not encouraging anyone to take up drinking here).  Why would you want alcohol?  Well, there are a number of reasons.  First, you might want it for medicinal purposes – there are studies out there that show that in most cough syrups, the alcohol is the effective portion. Why not toss the Nyquil and just have a glass of whiskey with some honey in it – it tastes better.  If you make tinctures or your own flavorings, you’ll want it for that.  My feeling is that if you have a crisis, a glass of wine with dinner is not the worst idea in the world.   It is the classic barter item in a crisis, and if worst came to worst, and you have to drink contaminated water (which happens at times), you should put a little alcohol in it for safety if you can’t treat it any other way.  Many liquor stores have alcohol on sale right now, so it is a good time to add to your pantry, if you feel it is a worthwhile thing to have!

Cheers,

Sharon

Friday Food Storage Quickie: The Soup Pot

Sharon December 4th, 2009

It is Friday again, and time to add a few more things to our reserve of food.  Because Thanksgiving has just past and winter is coming on (not that you could tell yesterday here in upstate NY where it was 60 degrees, but hey), and I thought it would be good to add some soup ingredients to your pantry.  So this week we’re going to add lentils or beans and some onions and carrots.  We’ll also throw a few seasonings in.

Why lentils or beans?  Well, it is perfectly possible to make a tasty bean or lentil soup without much of anything else lying around.  Good, tasty legumes will make a slightly bland but not unpleasant broth pretty much by themselves, as long as you have seasonings and vegetables.  If you can add some wine, or soy sauce or fresh herbs or a chunk of meat it will be that much better, assuming you like that sort of thing, and many of us can, but a really basic lentil or bean soup is simply not that hard, and it is good.

I like a range of legumes – to me Hutterite bean soup and Lentil Soup and Black bean are all really different and wonderful flavors, but you can pick anything you and your family like.  Lentils have the advantage of not requiring soaking or precooking, but dealing with dried beans is easier than a lot of us think – you just have to remember to put them on the night before to soak.  If you need to cook them ahead (recently harvested dried beans often don’t need precooking, but old ones do), a solar oven (if it is the season), a thermos or hay box cooker (heat it up to a boil and put it somewhere to stay hot), a pressure cooker or the back of your woodstove will help reduce the energy and attention involved.

You can make bean soup out of almost anything, but I’d have a hard time getting it done without some onion family vegetables – onions and garlic are the basic staples of all cooking around here.  The great thing about them is that even in a regular kitchen, they will keep a few months if you put them in a cool spot, and if you have a cold cellar, or any part of your house that doesn’t freeze but gets pretty chilly (consistently below 50 degrees) you can buy in bulk and store a lot of onions and garlic. Otherwise, consider dehydrating onions and garlic – not quite good, but still worth eating.  Right now near me I can buy 50 lbs of onions for 16 dollars direct from the farmer – that’s a lot cheaper than at the supermarket. 

I also recommend carrots, which can be stored in cold storage for several months, or dehydrated and added directly to soups and stews.  Again, this is the time to do it, as farmers wind up the harvest.  Carrots are delicious in a whole host of ways – just having fresh carrot sticks to go with your soup is a gift.

Everything tastes better with herbs and spices, so make sure you are gradually adding these to your pantry.  Ground spices store 1 year at room temperature (keep them away from heat and light) or 2-3 years in the freezer.  Whole spices store almost indefinitely.  Dried herbs if kept dark and cool also last a year, but the nicest way to have them is to have some fresh, so consider bringing in a few plants over the winter if you have a sunny windowsill.  It is worth adding these to your pantry now, since many stores have spices on sale before the holidays.

And this week we’re also going to add one thing to our more general preps – it is time to get ready for cold times, so make sure that you have sufficient blankets to keep warm if the heat goes out, or if you ever have to take in friends or family.  If you don’t, check out your local thrift shop.

Finally, let’s not forget how many people don’t have a good pot of soup on their stoves these days.  As you are out shopping, pick up some extra food for the food pantry – certainly onions, carrots and lentils will be welcome, but consider adding some cans of pre-made soup, for those who not only lack food, but cooking skills, or access to a kitchen or time to cook.

This feature, the Independence Days Update and a few others will remain at this blog regularly, with weekly (I hope) updates.  On Monday, I’ll be premiering the new blog, but this one will remain active and archived.

Cheers,

Sharon

Friday Food Storage Quickie: The Three Sisters

Sharon November 13th, 2009

Hi Folks – The weekly Friday “what to put in your pantry update” is here!  This week, we’re going to focus on the three sisters – corn, squash and beans.  It is a useful mnemonic, I find, to choose items that seem to be related to one another in some way.

The beans are particularly important, because they provide much needed protein.  You can actually use any dry legume – there’s a lot of them.  If you don’t like beans, how about cowpeas, split peas, or lentils.  You can also get canned beans, which are convenient, but mostly come in BPA lined cans, and are comparatively more expensive.  I don’t find cooking beans to be that onerous – in the summer, it is easy to throw them in the solar oven.  In the winter, they can go on the back of the woodstove, or in the crockpot during transitional times.  I prefer dry beans, although I do keep a few canned beans (Eden are expensive but no BPA) around for sudden bean-related emergencies ;-) .

How much to get?  Well, generally speaking you want a 1-3 ratio of beans to grains if they are your primary staple.  Beans are one of those things that are much cheaper per lb if bought in bulk.  Plus there’s less packaging – but if what you can afford is a supermarket package, don’t let that stop you from having enough to eat in a crisis.

What do you do with beans and legumes?  Soups, of course – black bean, red bean, lentil, split pea… Obviously chili.  Dal.  Beans and rice.  Bean dips and spreads.  What’s not to love?  If, btw, you are one of those people who get gas from beans, you might want to throw in a couple of bottles of beano, or start growing epazote, which both help.  Also, generally if you haven’t eaten a lot of legumes, you should add them gradually, rather than all at once.

This time of year, a lot of people are selling winter squash very cheaply, and it is an excellent time to stock up.  Good keeping varieties of winter squash – Pink Banana, Hubbard, Butternut will keep the whole winter at around 50-60 degrees, so in your house in a cool spot.  They do not keep as well at cold temps, so don’t put them in the root cellar.   Most pumpkin varieties don’t keep nearly as well, but pumpkin or squash with lesser keeping qualities can be cooked and dried or canned.

This is also a good time to purchase canned pumpkin, if you are not overly concerned about canned goods.  It is usually on sale now, and over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be focusing on foods that go on sale between now and New Years due to the holidays.  Whether fresh, dried, frozen or canned, the squash or pumpkins provide rich flavor, vitamin A and important nutrition.  If you are dealing with whole ones, don’t forget to eat the delicious seeds as well. 

What can you do with them?  Bake them, add mashed squash and pumpkin to biscuits and baked goods, stuff them, make pies and puddings….yum.

Finally, I’m going to give corn short shrift here, because we already added popcorn to our storage, but if you are just starting now, one form of corn to add would be popcorn.  You might also want to add grits, cornmeal or masa – tortillas, tamales, cornbread, johnny cake and cornmeal mush are part of the traditional foods of our culture.  It goes without saying that if you can get good local dry corn for grinding or making into hominy, that’s the way to go.  If you have to get pre-ground cornmeal, make sure that you rotate it regularly, because it will go rancid – replace every six months.

Also, if you live in a region where sweet corn is still available, now is a great time to cut some off the cob and dehydrate it – mixed with beans it makes a delicious sweet succotash, on its own, a wonderful corn chowder, added to chili or soups it has a great flavor and wonderful texture.

As you are picking up food for your own storage, please don’t forget your local food pantry.  They’d appreciate popcorn, canned beans or bean soups and fresh squash as well to give away in thanksgiving baskets.

As for a non-food item – this is a good time to pick up candles and lamp oil in case of a power outage.  Or, for a more modern option, consider buying cheap outdoor solar lighting – you can pick the sticks out of the ground and set them in buckets or vases around the house for lighting.  Adding even a few sources of light is the difference between safety and comfort and misery and accidents in a power outage.

Cheers,

Sharon

Friday Food Storage Quickie

Sharon October 23rd, 2009

Hi Folks – Here we go again in my attempt to give all of us (me too) a gentle kick in the pants with our food storage - a few things to go on the shopping list this week, and one for the food pantry.  Also one non-food item to improve your preparedness.

Today we’re going to purchase some very basic things – wheat (or if you can’t eat wheat, whatever grain or mix you use to make bready things with), yeast (or make sourdough starter) and salt.  Most of us come, at least to some extent, from a bread culture – from a population of people who are accustomed to eating things on bread-like things.  So without bready things, most of us will be a little lost about what to eat.

What form should you buy your wheat or other grains in?  Well, it depends on you. If you own a grain grinder, the best solution is whole wheat – the flavor of home ground is so wonderful, it keeps forever, etc…  If you don’t have a grinder, you have a choice. You can buy ground whole-grain flours or mixes and use them within 6 months, or you can buy white flour, and keep it forever, but get food that has a lot of empty calories and minimal nutritional value.  Me, I’d choose the former, but everyone has their own way of doing things. But because whole grains go rancid, don’t buy more than 6 months worth at a time if you are buying ground whole grains.  Wasting food is not good. 

You should, obviously, just buy as much as you can afford, and as you can handle and deal with – 1 five lb bag of flour still gives you a lot of meals.

If you want traditional risen bread, you either need to learn to make sourdough starter, or store some yeast. Yeast keeps about a year on the shelf, or several years in the freezer, so don’t buy more than you can use in that period.  Yeast is much, much, much cheaper in bulk than in those little packages – it is well worth asking someone to order you bulk yeast than buying a whole lot of overpriced small packages or jars. 

Finally, buy some salt. I’d recommend iodized salt – no, it doesn’t taste as good as sea salt, and if you already have a solid store of kelp or sea vegetables then you can go ahead and buy sea-salt, but your body does need iodine, so some iodized salt is good for storage.  If you can afford to buy more, you might want to buy a non-iodized salt as well for pickling and because they often have better flavor.  How much?  A 5lb box of salt is well within the price range of most people and available at any supermarket.

What about your food pantry?  If you can at all afford it, please pick up a few cans (or more) of canned soup – low salt is better.  A lot of low income folk have very minimal cooking facilities – or families have parents working long hours and the kids are doing the cooking.  Easy, fairly nutritious, simple to prepare food is the name of the game.

Finally, how’s your flashlight situation?  Do you have working flashlights?  The rechargeable batteries to make use of them (or ones that operate without batteries).  Can you find them in the dark?  Check them today – if you need more, now is a good time to pick some up, or replace batteries.  While you are at it, you could consider ordering long life smoke detector batteries for your home smoke detectors – that way, you never have to worry about your safety if the power goes off. 

Sharon

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