Food Preservation and Storage Class

Sharon August 14th, 2012

It is hard to believe that summer is coming so rapidly to a close, and that the opportunity to put up for winter will pass so fast.  So if you’d like help and guidance in doing so, I’ll be running my food storage and preservation class starting Thursday, August  and running for six weeks into October. The class is online and asynchronous and will cover everything from putting up the summer’s glut to building up food storage and a reserve to help temper hard times.  That’s going to be particularly important this year with predictions of skyrocketing food prices due to drought and other disasters, so if your reserves need a little strengthening, now is the time.

Week 1,  - Introduction to Food Storage, How much, where to put it, and how?  Can I afford this?  Overview of food preservation methods, their energy and economic costs.  Storing Water, making space.  Food safety, thinking about the food future, recommended reading.

Week 2, : Water bath canning 101, Preserving with Salt, Sugar and Honey, Bulk purchasing, sourcing local foods, finding food to preserve, what food storage can and can’t do, eating more locally year round.

Week 3: Dehydration basics, Tools you need and where to get them, Menu making and how to get people to eat from your pantry, Setting up your kitchen for food storage, Storing herbs and spices, Sourdoughs and grain ferments, Preserving foraged foods.

Week 4 : Lactofermentation; Special needs, dietary and health issues;  Storing food for children, pregnant and lactating women; Storing medications, gluten-free storage;  Basic dairy preservation;  Building up your pantry and Managing your reserves. Reducing food waste.

Week 5: Pressure Canning; Beverages, Teas and Drinks; Preserving in Alcohol, Coops and Community Food Security; More Menus and Recipes; Root Cellaring and in-Garden Storage, building Community Reserves.  What will we eat when in a low energy future?

Week 6: Season extension, Preserving Meats, Sprouting, The next Steps, Getting Your Community Involved, Teaching others, Food Preservation as a Cottage Industry, The long view of food storage and preservation.

Cost of the class is $150.  I also have five scholarship spots available to low income participants.  Email me for more information or to register at [email protected]


And the Winnah’s Are…

Sharon August 14th, 2012

Hi Folks – So I had so many  responses to the free book giveaway (between here, facebook, private email and the other site, 149 unique entries) that I decided to  give three signed books away.  The boys had an awesome time picking names from the hat, and the winners are:

JRB (entered at

Johanne Perry (entered at Science Blogs)

and Khadijah (entered at Science Blogs)

Please email me with your address at [email protected] and I’ll get them in the mail to you ASAP!

Didn’t win?  All is not lost, you can order one, or I would also consider bartering  (and I also have a few extra copies of _Independence Days_ and _A Nation of Farmers_.  I’m particularly looking at this point for high quality non-white dolls for my foster kids, but might be open to other arrangements if you want to email and discuss it.  I’ve got some family stuff going on this week, so if I don’t reply immediately, I’m not ignoring you, though.


Should You Have Hope? Making Home Excerpt

Sharon August 14th, 2012

It has been a long hot summer, and I hear a lot of worried voices.  And they are all right to be worried - but what can we hope for?

It is tempting to despair of all action. And sometimes those who despair are right. But sometimes they aren’t. And this, I think is an important and central point for everyone who hits those moments when they simply don’t believe society will self-correct in any measure from its impending ecological disaster. I should be clear – I don’t believe it will self-correct in every measure, or even as much as I wish desperately it would. But I also do not believe that what one does to mitigate suffering, soften impacts, make life livable or plan for a better outcome is wasted.

I’d tell you why I believe this, but I think the best ever articulation of this reason, the reason why I talk about rationing and rational possible responses to depletion and limitation even when they may not happen, was made by Thomas Princen, author of the wonderful and intellectually illuminating book _The Logic of Sufficiency_. Princen writes:

I take heart not in the occasional enviornmental law passed, the tightening of one country’s automobile efficiency standards, the international agreement on ozone or timber or toxic substances, but in the hard cases, those little-noticed but nontrivial instances of restrained timber cutting or shortened lobster fishing or community rejection of full automobility. And I take heart in, of call places, sites like the Middle East or Sri Lana and the Koreas. I discovered in my earlier research on international conflict resolution that however intractable an intersocietal conflict may be, there are always people working on the solution. Pick the direst time in the Middle East conflict, for example, and you can find someone hidden away in a basement drawing up maps for the water and sewer lines, the lines that wil connect the two societies and that must be built when peace is reached, as inconceivable as that is at the time. Someone else is sketching the constitution for the new country, the one that is also inconceivable at the time. And someone else is outlining the terms of trade for the as yet unproduced goods that will traverse the two societies’ border. We do not hear about these people because it is the nature of their work, including the dangers of their activities that make it so. Surrounded by intense conflict, hatred and violence, these people appear the fool, idealists who do not know or can not accept the reality of their societies’ situation. If they really knew that situation, others would say, they would be ‘realists’; they would concentrate their efforts on hard bargaining, economic incentives and military force. But in practice, when the threshold is passed, when leaders shake hands or a jailed dissident is freed or families from the two sides join together, everyone casts about for new ways to organize.

My prognosis, foolish and idealistic as it may seem to some, is that that threshold, that day of biophysical reckoning, is near. And with it, serious questioning about humans’ patterns of material provisioning, their production, their conumption, their work and tehir play. Then the premises of modern industrial societies – capitalist, socialist, communist – will crumble. Efficiency will provide little guidance because it so readily translates to continuing material throughput. A little intensification here, some specialization there just will not make things better. A feedlot is still a feedlot, a conveyor belt still a conveyor belt. When it becomes obvious that efficiency-driven societies can no longer continue their excesses, displace their costs, postpone their investments in natural capital, when it is obvious they can no longer grow their way out of climate change and species extinction and aquifer depletion and the bioaccumulation of persistant toxic substances, people everywhere will indeed be casting about. Some will gravitate to the extremes – religious fundamentalism, survivalist homesteading, totalitarian government. Many, though, will seek paths that are familiar, if not prevalent. Notions of moderation and prudence and stewardship will stand up, as if they were just waiting to be noticed, waiting for their time, even though, in many realms, they were already there. (Princen, _The Logic of Sufficiency_ 359-360)

Thomas Princen is not, if you meet him, a wide eyed optimist in the sense that we think of it – he’s a professor of Natural Resource and Environmental Policy at U Michigan. His book isn’t a feel-good crunchy narrative, but a close examination of the economic and ecological impact of the ideas of efficiency in energy and economics and examples of restraint. And yet, I think his kind of optimism is available to us, and should be – it is not that it is inevitable that the leaders that have been making war will make peace – we know it isn’t. It is that it is possible.

We have closed off a great number of options – and that’s a deep and profound disappointment. In my lifetime it would have been possible to do a great deal to make the realities of depletion and climate change a great deal less severe, and we didn’t do it. Now our options are frankly less palatable, less appealing and more painful – the choices are harder, the results are going to be a lot less good. It would be easy to conclude from the fact that my parents’ generation and those who came before them who tried to address these issues failed, that failure is inevitable. And if you set up success as outside the realm of real possibility – constraint of climate change back to old ways, not having to radically change of life, failure will be, as John Michael Greer has observed, inevitable.

But we also know that in our human history are many examples of the unthinkable becoming thinkable, quite rapidly even. There are any number of examples – who would have believed that slavery in the US, the basis of a huge portion of our economy, could be done away with? Who would have believed that truth and reconciliation and change could have brought about an end to apartheid? Who would have believed, growing up as I did in an America where my mother and step-mother had to keep an empty room for my step-mother to pretend to sleep in, so that the landlord and the courts that could take my mother’s children away from her would not know that she was a lesbian, that by the time all their children were grown, my mother and step-mother would be married in both their church and in their state?

Change happens – it happens slowly, painfully, incrementally, and rapidly, agonizingly, ripping things apart as it goes. It never goes fast enough, it never comes exactly as we predict, but when it comes the strategies that enable us to go forward are desperately needed. It is quite possible that the two warring leaders will never shake hands, and will continue to lay waste to their countries. It is certain that without strategies for negotiating peace, they will continue to do so until everything is destroyed. And it is possible that given those interventions, they may yet make an inconceivable piece and a place to begin going forward from.

So call me a lunatic optimist – I’m good with it. But damn it, take time to consider before you abandon lunatic optimism, before you assume that we will never change, or only for the worst. Consider once, consider twice, consider a third time and consider anyway doing the work that would enable us not to march to our doom, or not a quickly, or not as many. If it is not one strategy, find another, one that suits you, a map you can make in your basement, if needed, a garden you can grow behind your house, as you also make the plans for the day when the maps come into the light and the gardens stretch out in front yards as far as your eyes can see.


Scenes from Here

Sharon August 2nd, 2012

So I somehow forgot to mention when I went on maternity leave and promised to post on Thursdays that I meant I would start this Thursday, since I was on vacation last week.  Sorry ’bout that.  I will shamelessly blame the baby and sleep deprivation again.

We spent much of last week visiting family near Boston, which was lovely - the transition with K. and C. really took it out of us.  I’m not a high-stress person, I tend to be pretty relaxed, but we really needed a break after two very hectic weeks and a lot of emotion.  Among other things, we had sent K. and C. home two days before the movie theater shooting to Aurora, CO - just a few blocks from the movie theater where the shooting happened.  You can imagine the frantic phone calls that Friday morning after we read the news.  Fortunately, everyone is ok - but that only added to the stress of losing children who had become part of our family.  I’ve rarely been as tired - physically and emotionally -  as I was by the time we hit the road last week.

This transition was also the hardest one on my boys - K. and C. had truly become their brothers in the three months they spent together.  The six of them proudly built their own obstacle course, made sets for their own productions of various shows and musicals, built things and explored the woods together.  Something is missing without them - and while my sons are happy that they have gone to their loving family and things are as they should be, it takes time to reconstitute as a family after any loss.   None of us wish we didn’t love and lose, but it is a part of the process to grieve the losses as they occur.

So it was lovely to take off and visit my parents, drink wine, play with my nieces, take the boys to the ocean (they had never seen the sea at deep low tide before - the ocean in all its vicissitudes was so much a part of my childhood that I forget it isn’t part of theirs), do some thrift shopping, hang out with friends, etc….  I’ve rarely so desperately needed a vacation and some down time.  All of us came home happier and rested.  My wonderful mother even took the baby for one night so that both Eric and I could have the luxury of sleeping a full night - bliss!

I arrived home to find two boxes of _Making Home_ waiting for me - yay!  The book will be in stores by the end of the month, and is available for order here.   It is always exciting to hold your book in your hand and realize “I did this!”

Much was put off in the couple of weeks that encompassed Baby Z’s arrival and K. and C.’s departure - a barn cleaning, garden work, preserving, non-essential chores of all sorts, so we’ve come home to catch up.  I’m not caught up yet, although I’ve got back my energy and optimism, and am starting to get things done (the skill set for getting things accomplished with a baby at hand is coming back to me).

Baby Z. is uncurling from the newborn lima bean stage into a baby.  He’s a sweetie pie who rarely complains, and is content to hang out and make cute noises at us as long as someone is cuddling him.  (One night at midnight he was smiling and waving his hands at me and Eric looked at me in exhaustion and asked “what are you going to do?”  My response “I guess I’m just going to have to let him coo it out.” )  He still doesn’t sleep at night, but then, he’s not-quite-one-month, so I can’t complain about it.  The boys love him, especially Simon, who is a baby person.  I’m using this opportunity to point up the advantages of being a young man with the skills to care for smaller children to him, and he’s learning a host of baby skills (he was only 4 when Asher was born, and while we’ve had a couple of other babies during the last year of fostering, both were short term placements).

The boys are attending a wonderful camp program near us - Simon and Isaiah had taken a class on making stuffed animals there, that due to the unfortunate death of the instructor, turned into a class on patchwork and sewing. I doubt I could have gotten them to sign up for such a class, but they LOVED it - Isaiah is even talking about making sewing a career (not that this won’t change a hundred times, since he’s 8). The boys are wild for more sewing, and now Asher wants to learn, and I am doing everything I can to encourage this state of affairs.  Apparently their sewing circle included the practice of making up rude and humorous songs of the sort that appeal to 8-10 year olds - I wonder if more youth sewing circles will exist if this spreads? ;-) .

We picked 34lbs of blackberries yesterday in the heat, and have already turned them to jam.  I’ve got tomatoes ready to go next, herbs in the drying room, summer squash being frozen.  We’re trying to get the house cleaned out for our annual recertification as foster parents, and now that we’ve had some desperately needed rain, I’m going to have to get some fall crops in (the earlier attempts all died horribly in the heat).  I miss K. and C. a lot, but they are safe and well at home and I’m starting to hope for the phone to ring again and bring us a new placement.  There is blackberry cobbler in the freezer and jambalaya for the day when we are too busy settling new children in to cook.

And that’s the news from here.  In honor of the new book, I will give away 2 free copies - so sign up in comments if you are interested, and I’ll get the boys to pick names out of a hat!  Winners get a signed copy of _Making Home_ free from me!

How are things for you all?


It isn’t Oil, Call it “Oil”

Sharon August 2nd, 2012

I somehow forgot to draw your attention to Kurt Cobb’s wonderful essay on the difference between oil and “liquids” - he does a better job than anyone I know in making clear what most Americans simply don’t know about our energy - all liquid fuels are not equivalent.  We have been told by implication that they are, and most people are not technically literate enough about oil and energy issues to understand the difference, so it looks like there’s plenty of  oil - but of course, this isn’t oil at all.  We could just as easily call it “oil.”

But first, an important question. Why do government and industry officials, oil analysts, and energy reporters equate total liquids and total oil supply? They claim that these other liquids are essentially interchangeable with oil. (I will discuss some of the not-so-savory motives behind this claim later.) In a recent report the U.S. Energy Information Administration put it this way: “The term ‘liquid fuels’ encompasses petroleum and petroleum products and close substitutes, including crude oil, lease condensate, natural gas plant liquids, biofuels, coal-to-liquids, gas-to-liquids, and refinery processing gains.” Let’s see why the “close substitutes” assumption is demonstrably false when it comes to most natural gas plant liquids and decidedly disingenuous when it comes to biofuels.

First, crude oil is what you think it is. It’s a black, hydrocarbon-rich liquid that comes out of underground reservoirs. It can also be made synthetically from other hydrocarbons such as the bitumen found in the Canadian tar sands. Oil also includes something called lease condensate which refers to the light hydrocarbons that often occur in oil reservoirs. They are gaseous in the high-temperature environment of the reservoir, but condense to liquids when they escape the wellbore and are captured by special equipment located on the oil lease. These condensates become part of the crude oil stream. They are highly prized because of the ease in refining them, though they make only a small contribution to world oil supplies.

But what are natural gas plant liquids and are they good substitutes for oil? Unfortunately, confusion reigns because a very similar but more inclusive term, natural gas liquids or NGL, includes lease condensate, already discussed above and which we know is included in the crude oil stream. Usually, when people refer to NGL, what they really mean is natural gas plant liquids (NGPL).

NGPL are hydrocarbons other than methane that are separated from raw natural gas at a processing plant. They include ethane, propane, butane and pentane. The amounts vary. For example, raw natural gas extracted off the coast of Malaysia contains 11 percent ethane, 5 percent propane, 2 percent butane and about 2 percent of something called natural gasoline or drip gas, a low-octane fuel that is used today primarily as a solvent. Raw natural gas from the North Slope of Alaskacontains a higher percentage of methane and correspondingly smaller percentages of ethane (7 percent), propane (4 percent), butane (1 percent) and other components including carbon dioxide and pentanes (2 percent). In these two cases you can see that ethane makes up about half of the NGPL, propane makes up about a quarter, butane makes up 10 percent of Malaysian NGPL and 7 percent of Alaskan slope NGPL.

So what is ethane used for? It’s major use is as feedstock for the production of ethylene, one of the most widely used chemicals. Polyethylene is the world’s most widely used plastic and found in such things as packaging film and trash bags. Other processes turn ethylene into automotive antifreeze. Yet others turn it into polystyrene which is used in insulation and packaging. Some ethane remains in the natural gas piped to our homes and factories, but not much. So far, it’s hard to see how ethane, the most plentiful of the NGPLs, is a good substitute for petroleum-based liquid fuel products.

We are being played, folks - our collective scientific illiteracy is being used to ensure that none of us notice our oil supply issues.  Read the whole article.

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