Depletion and Abundance...

Victory Garden!

Depletion and Abundance are just two sides of the same coin. We're no longer speaking of the future when we talk about climate change and peak oil. So now the project is to accept depletion, and still find a good and abundant way of life, not just for ourselves, but for those who will come after us. We can do this - it is one heck of a challenge, but we have to find a way, so we will. That's what this site is for - finding a way forward.

I am the author of three books. Depletion and Abundance: Life On the New Home Front explores the path to finding a good life in spite of tough times. A Nation of Farmers:Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil analyzes our current food situation and offers steps for creating meaningful food security. Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation explores the connections between food storage, food preservation and our democratic heritage.

The Pie Crust Chronicles

Sharon November 21st, 2011

Despite the fact that I’m somewhat famous for my association with pie ;-) , piecrust has always intimidated me a little bit.  I’ve made some truly dreadful crusts over the years (most hideously the first time I tried a coconut oil crust from a loathsome recipe that not only tasted bad but crumbled into dust).   I’ve also made some pretty decent ones, but I wanted a pie crust that was functional, could be used all the time, tasted good, but also was low input – no food processors (mostly because I don’t want to clean all the food processor parts just for pie dough), no running back and forth to the freezer to put the butter and flour in to keep them perfectly cold, etc… just the same basic tasty pie dough that has been filled with just about everything in human history – that thing that wrapped up pumpkin and pecans and mincemeat, bits of beef and onion for lunch and vegetables in broth for dinner pot-pie.  I wanted it easy, I wanted to be able to do it my sleep, and most of all, I didn’t want any vegetable shortening or lard in it – vegetable shortening because the stuff is gross, lard because I keep kosher. (Once years ago we stopped at an Amish farmstand and bought an elderberry pie, and I was filled with passionate admiration for the crust and went back to ask the woman who made it how she did it – her recipe began with “render your lard” and I realized that sadly some heights might be denied to me – I’ve come to terms with it, since suet makes a fine crust for meat pies.)

Thanksgiving is the season of pies – and of pie-related adventures.  The great virtue of pie is that you can put just about anything into it – parsnip pie is a family favorite, so is leftover chicken bits with root vegetables.  Sweet potato pie, of course is ubiquitous, and I make a not-very-sweet pumpkin pie my children love for breakfast (a Yankee, by definition, is someone who eats pie for breakfast).

My two favorite crusts are butter and suet.  The trick with the butter is to keep it as cold as possible (I do not fetishize this, however – the reality is that people have been making crusts in summer for a long, long time), and also not to try and perfectly mix it with the flour.  This was the bit I had to learn myself – what you want are small pieces of butter not fully combined, so that they can create that flaky quality.

Here’s a fabulous recipe for butter pie crust. While she is rightly concerned with temperature, this time of year that’s not too hard to achieve – just stick your ingredients outside if need be (remember not where the dog can get them ;-) )

Does beef fat (suet) crust sound disgusting to you?  It is actually really good – I got the idea from a New York Times article of a few years ago, and because we can’t use a butter crust with meat fillings or meat meals (mixing dairy and meat is not permitted in a kosher home) I really needed a good savory piecrust.  All suet is great for meat pies, but suet and coconut oil are really good for a nice pareve crust for a cherry or pumpkin pie.  I also like it in biscuits. Even kosher suet is quite inexpensive, and doesn’t have to be rendered to use it – none of the standing over a hot pot of lard business.

I think demystifying pie crust may join with learning to can in my most important kitchen moments – I hope some of you who are still intimidated find, in this season of pies, a happy ending dessert.


Filling the Root Cellar

Sharon November 14th, 2011

As those of you who have been reading for a while know, I don’t actually have a true root cellar.  Instead, what I have is a south-facing sunporch that doesn’t freeze until we get to about -20 (which happens about 1-2x per winter here).  So for 99% of the time between November and March, I have a highly functional, if imperfect cold space for storing produce.  I hang blankets over the windows to prevent excess light from sprouting tomatoes and keep spare blankets for tucking over the produce if things get crazy-cold.

We put up, for a family of 7, about 250lbs of potatoes, 2oo lbs of onions, around 50-60 good sized squash of various types, 100lbs each of carrots and parsnips (we would eat more carrots than this, but they don’t store as well as some others), 12 bushels of apples (lots of apple fiends in my house, including our new little guy, M.), 200 lbs of sweet potatoes, 60+ heads of cabbage, 100+ heads of garlic (we really like garlic ;-) ) and lesser quantities of beets, turnips, celery root, pears, quinces and other vegetables.  While some things will run out over the course of the winter, we will still be eating onions, potatoes, squash and apples into May most years.  Add to this our in-garden crops (usually more than this year, since we lost the garden to Hurricanes Irene and Lee), which usually include spinach, scallions, kale and winter lettuces, and our preserved and stored food – bulk grains and legumes, condiments and home-preserved items and this forms the bulk of our diet for a good portion of the year.

Normally we fill the cellar gradually, over the course of a sustained harvest season.  With the destruction of our fall garden and many of our summer crops, this year is a little different – our root cellar produce is coming from further away, from farms up in the hills and downstate that weren’t hit as hard as the surrounding ones.  We’ve always relied at least a little on other farms to supplement a bad crop in a difficult year or to expand on what we grow (for example, we grow sweet potatoes here, but it is just too cool and wet for them to be totally happy – mine run small, whereas the sandy-soiled farms in the valley produce real lunkers great for roasting, so we always buy some), but this year we’re doubly grateful for the interconnections that bring food from further away (still not terribly far) to us.

There’s an art to timing root cellaring – for those with true underground storage with fairly consistent temps, this isn’t such a big deal, but for us, we have to wait until things are fairly consistently cold.  An occasional January thaw or November or March day in the 60s is no big deal if the nights are cool – the blankets and insulation help keep things stable, but an extended warm stretch can cause problems.  Still, in general some temperature fluctuations are mostly handled pretty well – at least by everything but the carrots.

We are unable to keep perfect humidity or apples entirely away from potatoes, and find that this just doesn’t matter that much.  Most of the foods in our cellar last fairly well – we could optimize, of course, but that would require more energy and resources than we want to put into it, and we find it more useful to put our energy into say, making kimchi out of the carrots and cabbage nearing their end, or making applesauce out of the apples that shrivel.

This sort of lazy-woman’s root cellaring is the kind of thing that probably many families can do – finding an underused closet and cutting some ventilation, or walling off a corner of a basement, porch or mudroom with insulation enough to keep things from freezing.  The money and time it saves is enormous, and the quality of food we get is also wonderful – things taste fresh, sweet and delicious for months, and it allows us to put our food dollars where we most want them – back in our pockets in years when we grow our own, in the pockets of nearby farmers the rest of the time.

The meals that come out of our cellar are wonderful too – we always have the ingredients of delicious, flavorful meals – a little broth and we’ve got vegetable soup with rich, complex flavors.  A little meat and we have stew.  Some curry paste and we’ve got curried vegetables.  Some tofu and we’ve got a stir-fry.  Add chicken and we’ve got a classic sabbath dinner of roasted chicken, roasted vegetables and greens.  Shepherd’s pie, lentil soup, massaman curry, bubble and squeak, kimchi-vegetable soup, sweet potato pie… it all comes almost effortlessly from our vegetable cold storage.


The Read-Aloud List

Sharon October 18th, 2011

I will finish my 150 Children’s books list one of these days, but one of the great things to do when times are tough, nights are late, power is out or when everything’s normal for that matter, is read to your kids.  If you don’t have any kids, I encourage you to borrow some if you can, because frankly, reading to children is one of the great pleasures of the universe.  There’s nothing like reading an old favorite (or one you never knew about) and watching someone discover it for the first time to make you happy.  If you don’t have any kids, reading aloud to a partner can be lovely as well, but  a small person snuggled on your lap is nice addition.

With my oldest at 11 1/2, I have now read My Side of the Mountain, the entire Little House series 3 times (and will shortly embark on the fourth), Winnie the Pooh and the Mary Poppins Series four times.  We’re still discovering new books to read and re-read, but I thought I’d mention some of the best, including a few less obvious ones than the classics above.   I’ll also mention a few classics we’ve had less than total success with, although, of course, your mileage may vary.

Every kid in my house gets a story at bedtime (sometimes both of us reading simultaneously) most nights, and the range of preferences is pretty large.  Isaiah likes animal stories and  adventure, Simon likes everything, especially stories that seem real to him,  Eli loves poetry and Asher jumps back and forth (at nearly six) between picture books and chapter books, and has a taste for magic and fantasy.

Good books and good read-alouds are different, I find.  There is considerable overlap between them, of course, but some books that aren’t quite as compelling read to yourself are fabulous read-alouds if you hit them at the right moment in childhood, and some wonderful classics aren’t ideal read-alouds unless you do considerable on-the-fly editing.  Different families will have different opinions, of course, but I find a few ingredients make books especially good for reading out loud.  Many of them come from the virtue that for most of us, reading out loud slows you down, and forces you not to skim over anything.  As a fast reader, what I find is that I am required to take full notice of parts of the book that I might not attend to fully were I not simultaneously reading (or listening to Eric read) and listening.

1. A certain kind of dry humor.  There are some books that are simply funniest when you read the jokes out loud.  My favorite example of this is _Cheaper by the Dozen_ where much of the humor involved is most effective when you hear it read – even the reader will find it funnier that way.  _Three Men in a Boat_ which incredibly wonderful anyway, is another book where simply slowing down to read it out loud makes the comedy more effective.

2. High adventure of a certain sort – storms on boats, pirates, sword fights, horseback races, etc… all demand to be read aloud in minute and meticulous detail – every sword slash or adventure is detailed.  For someone reading silently to themselves, it can be hard to fully savor every detail in the way you can when voices and description beg to be read outloud.  _Treasure Island_, Howard Pyles _Adventures of Robin Hood_ and _The Hound of the Baskervilles_ are obvious examples, but this is, of course, one of the appeals of the Harry Potter books and books like _The Tale of Despereaux_ as well.

3. Certain kinds of style and language.  There isn’t one kind of writing style that is suited to being read out loud to children – wonderful children’s books come in all sorts.  At the same time,  it is harder to hide weaknesses of style when reading aloud than reading to oneself.  I know for example, that I wept at _Black Beauty_ as a girl.  I made a stab at reading it out loud to my kids, however, and we were all bored stiff.  Some children’s books substitute extensive description for good description, frankly.  Particularly for younger children (or for everyone when it is well done) I’m partial to a certain unadorned quality in my language – just good, clean, elegant bare prose (of the kind I never write myself, sadly).  Laura Ingalls Wilder (particularly in _Little House in the Big Woods_ which was the book of hers least amended by her daughter), Robert Heinlein (whose juvenalia like _Have Space Suit Will Travel_ makes for delightful read alouds) and Patricia MacLachlan are all very different practitioners of the art of producing amazingly clean prose for children.  When the writing is more elaborate and stylized, there’s a certain flow and grace to it that allows for good reading – why children who don’t really understand all the words can enjoy _Ivanhoe_ or _Midsummer Night’s Dream_ or _Robinson Crusoe_.  There are some children’s book authors who really have this gift down – Sterling North, E. Nesbit and Jane Yolen can be counted on for stylized prose universally perfect for reading aloud.

I do have one rule for reading children’s books – never assume you want to read a sequel – and never start a book with a thousand sequels unless you are ready to read the other ones.  I admit, my children’s passion for the _Redwall_ books has worn me down some – they are all exactly the same, and while one is delightful, nine is not better.  Also, beware the tagged on sequel – _Ella of All of a Kind Family_ (the last of Sidney Taylors series about a Jewish family in WWI era NY), _The First Four Years_ , _Jo’s Boys_ and all the books after the second Anne Shirley book get old pretty fast for the reader.  Some children are content to say “ok, this isn’t very good, let’s stop” others must complete a sequence.  It certainly won’t kill me to read books I find dull, and I do (and hey, it is better than the years of reading _Green Eggs and Ham_ nine times a day, or worse when Eli at about a year had to read the thrilling cliff-hanger _Who Says Quack?_ over and over again), but it can save someone some trouble to establish a stopping point early on.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich  A wonderful, charming, funny book about growing up among the 19th century Ojibwe.  Frankly, if I was going to read the _Little House_ series, with its problematic relationships to Native Americans and westward expansion, I thought it was important that my kids read books that were just as compelling and brilliant about the Native Experience – and this is a glorious book to balance the expansionist, manifest destiny narrative that underlies so many westward bound children’s books.  Elizabeth Speare’s _The Sign of the Beaver_ is another good one.

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.  We first read this on a car trip into Vermont (if you can read in a car without getting sick  (I can, Eric can’t)  and have an adult or teen to do so, it is a wonderful way to make trips pass) and read the entire book.  It is a wonderful story for younger kids about a little girl who has been denied competence by her loving aunts, and who gains it when she comes to live with a Vermont farm family.  Simon has asked us to read this several times, even though he’s really a bit too old for it, because it is so beloved.

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan  There is no real evidence that this ever happened, but that doesn’t change the fact that the story of young Norwegian children sneaking gold past Nazis on their sleds isn’t just one of the most enjoyable children’s books out there.  I adored it as a child, and after reading it out loud to my sons, it received the encomium “It is just too short.”  It also has a somewhat unique narrative in that this is a story not about children shedding the adults in their lives, or about malicious or foolish adults, but about adults and children of both genders working in tandem together, and respecting each other’s capacities.

Rascal by Sterling North  I loved this book as a child, and particularly enjoyed reading it to my sons.  Isaiah, especially adored the stories, which are tinged with both nostalgia and sorrow, and regard the adult world with a critical eye that I think resonates with children.  Rascal is Sterling North’s pet racoon, and his stories of growing up in a world only marginally touched by adults are glorious.  This is the ideal animal story book.

Meet the Austins by Madeline L’Engle.  My kids liked here Wrinkle in Time and the Murray/O’Keefe series a lot, but somehow the Austins, without the science-fictiony details have appealed to them more, perhaps because they feel very real.  We picked this one because it deals with some of the issues of adding difficult children to your life, but it also is a book that simply describes what it is like to be a kid in an unusual family very well.  Unfortunately, most of the sequels deal with Vicky Austin’s love life and aren’t of any particular interest to my boys, all of whom are too young to regard that as anything but revolting.

Captains Courageous I admit, I’ve often Kippled. I like Kiping’s children’s literature quite a lot, and this is my favorite – perhaps because I grew up along the New England coast in a family that included a number of fishermen, I have a taste for boat literature.  We’re working our way on this now, and loving every second of it.  This is the perfect children’s adventure story in many ways.

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis – my sons loved this story of Great-Depression era wanderings of an orphaned Michigan boy seeking to find his father.  Through tent cities, bad foster homes and into the jazz world, Bud is just a delightful character and again, very real seeming.

Some failures:

The Swiss Family Robinson I remember liking this one, but my kids hated it.  Besides the heavy handed Christian moralism, which didn’t bother me as a kid, but does annoy my children, their main objection was the perfectly correct statement “but every time they see a new animal, they shoot it.”  Plus, they correctly thought that it was too convenient that everything anyone could want was always available on the ship.

On to Oregon by Honore Morrow.  You know, I’m a big proponent of addressing the problems of racism and sexism in older children’s books by discussion, rather than demanding that all great books be untroubling in those regards.  At the same time, there are a few books we’ve taken a shot at that turned out to be so appallingly racist without having much else to redeem them that I simply couldn’t read them.  _On to Oregon_ was one of them – the “all indians should be murdered” rhetoric is just to revolting to bother with.  I found _Half Magic_ (which I’d loved as a kid) and _Hitty: Her First 100 Years_ to also be simply without sufficient virtue to justify working through the worldview they arose from.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri  I’ve never been able to get my kids into this, even though they should like the goats, the reasonably light-handed German romanticism and the story.  I admit, when I was a kid I kind of skimmed lightly over the long section about Heidi’s exile in the city myself, preferring her life on the mountain, but my children just got bored there and started to wander off.  I don’t think it is the gender thing (plenty of books about girls in our repetoir, giving the lie to the claim that boys won’t read about girls – although if they start kissing, boys or girls are right off Simon and Isaiah’s list), and I’m not sure what it is.

This is only a partial list of some of our favorites, but perhaps you’ll have suggestions of your own!


Goats for Sale

Sharon October 12th, 2011

My friend Michelle took home Maia, Bast, Meadowsweet and Kahlua, so this year’s does are now all settled and sold, but we do have wethers and a buck looking for a good home.  Check them out:

First, our buck – Goldenrod is a tight linebreeding on Frodo (RingBearer) who was David Funk’s herd sire, out of Bast, who is a Gil-Galad (Frodo’s nephew) daughter.  Goldenrod is turning into a beautiful buck – but we are bucked up.  He is ready for the breeding season and has both a lovely personality and amazing milking lines.  Cost is $250, email for details [email protected]

We think that Riesling may actually be wearing eyeliner – how else can you explain those amazing eyes?  He’s a sweet, snuggly, friendly little wether who loves being a pet, eating brush and playing with his brother, Merlot.

And here’s Merlot:

They are both Selene’s babies, which means they get that big, friendly personality from her.  They’d be superb pets, brush cleaners and buddies.  Both are 9 weeks old.

Amaretto has the coloration of the drink he’s named after, and is mellow, curious and friendly.  He would love it if you sat down nearby so he could climb on your lap and taste your clothes while you scratch his head.  Amaretto is 11 weeks and ready to go home!

Amaretto is generally an easy-going guy, but he could see the raspberry bushes and was dying to get into them here!

Orpheus (seen here with Isaiah, 7) is a sweetie-pie who loves attention.  You can’t see the gorgeous white spots on his other side in this picture, but he is a handsome guy.  He’s big and healthy and was born in April, and ideally would love to go home with his twin brother Daedalus.

Daedalus is another beauty, and very friendly.  He loves to play king of the hill, and is a leader among the baby goats.  He’s not too proud to be scratched behind the ears, either.

All goats other than goldenrod are wethers, all are $75 to good homes.  We will not sell one goat unless you already have goats – they are herd animals and that would be cruel to them.  We provide support to new goatkeepers.  Email me for details [email protected]


The End of Growth is a Women’s Issue!

Sharon October 10th, 2011

Perhaps the first widely read piece I wrote was entitled “Peak Oil is a Women’s Issue” and focused on the ways that an energy decline might affect women. At the time it was written (the earliest version appeared in 2004) the peak oil movement was largely a group of men, mostly geologists, oil men, a few economists and journalists interested in a growing issue.

My argument (more refined variations of which I’ve continued making for years) was that women need to organize around energy and environmental issues, because they stand to lose a great deal in a society that has fewer resources to go around.

At least one critic accused me of writing a “handmaid’s tale” and raising an alarm about nothing, which I find sort of funny, because we all *know* that in hard times women and children tend to suffer the most. Assuming that won’t be true requires an argument for why this time will be different.

The UN has already described the ways that the first and most profound victims of climate change will be women. Energy depletion, and the end economic growth will be no different, unless we act to make them different. We need a new women’s movement that has a profound understanding of the ways that energy has shaped women’s expectations and experience, and that can respond to a radically changing society.

Thanks to reader Vickey, we can see that thus far, events aren’t different – women are paying the price again.. Consider what’s happening in Topeka as a more extreme version of decisions being made all over the country:

In Topeka, Kansas city officials are considering a controversial move to decriminalize domestic violence in the city after the Shawnee County government offloaded domestic violence enforcement on to city governments. Cities facing budget cuts and lost revenue are turning to many different cost-cutting measures, but this is perhaps the most extreme. Already, the county government has turned away at least 30 domestic violence cases.

We know that most domestic violence isn’t reported, that most battering victims are so ashamed and afraid that they won ‘t call the police, so the 30 + cases that were turned away are just the tip of the iceberg – we know that women will die unless batterers can be stopped.

Legal protections for women and children should be fundamental, but we live in a society that regards them as optional luxuries to be abandoned in hard times. Without a shift in the way we regard women’s issues, we are likely to see more of this horror.

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