I Don’t Want To Be A Wanderer Forever…

incredients 4       As many of you are aware I started prepping as a natural progression of wanting to be self-sufficient. That change was spurred not only by what I watched unfolding economically and politically but also by my personal spiritual walk. I want to exhort each of you to prepare not only physically but also mentally and spiritually for the challenges we will face. Although all of you are not necessarily of a Judeo-Christian based faith, that should not stop this preparation for you.

If any talk of religion offends you, simply speed read through this post to the main points that apply. No offence taken. However I want to share an important spiritual parallel to the concept of prepping. Sometimes we stagnate, we fail to do anything because we feel so overwhelmed and we begin to give in to the feelings of fear and being unable to sort though our feelings and the roadblocks we face. Hiding our heads in the sand doesn’t just make us sheeple. It also puts us in the desert places like the Jews fleeing from the Egyptians. Think for a moment about the Old Testament Jews who were enslaved to Pharoah and how they prayed for deliverance. God heard their cries and sent Moses.

Moses     As God sent plague after plague, the Jews would cry out to God each time questioning. Once in the desert, they still fought back against everything Moses tried to explain. They literally begged to return to the “safety” of Pharaoh and the old status-quo of being slaves so they did not have to face hardships of freedom. All God was requesting was their faith in Him and they chose to instead seek the golden idols and a return to slavery.

Freedom isn’t free is a common enough expression but this is true not only in a militaristic sense but also spiritually. We pay a price for our liberty. Like Pharaoh’s slaves we can’t ignore that price. Moses wasn’t a dictator telling the Jews what to do – they had a choice. He did express anger at the ones who refused to accept a choice of freedom. It’s easier to complain than to actually help one’s self. He knew the security of being enslaved under Pharaoh wasn’t really a place of safety. Not only would they be subject to his whims but also to his need for them to serve his purposes. Even their food would be through him only. Through Moses leading them to the Promised Land, they had a chance at true freedom but instead turned to those golden idols and the lure of lies of slavery. Talk about an entitlement crowd – they were the original ones! They were in a prison of their own making for all those 42 years. This post isn’t meant to be simply a bible lesson though.

Noah025     So now take this and think about where we are as a nation. Freedom exacts a price – not only one of our lives in a military sense though. We’ve all joked often about Noah building an ark in the desert. Little is mentioned about what it cost his family in terms of livelihood, friendships with his community (no matter how far-fetched the boundaries of this community), and the toll it took about him spiritually. How often did Noah go to his Lord in prayer? “Lord, am I really supposed to be doing this? “ Or how about, “Lord I been at this a year or two now – am I wrong to want something to happen to vindicate me in front of the neighbors? They’re all laughing at me Lord?”  “Lord, my kids think I’m nuts here – what do I tell them now – they’d rather go buy a few more goats or sheep for the herd?” “Lord, I’m not getting any younger here – I have grown kids and they’re not too happy about this right now with me – it’s a lot of work hauling this wood after we cut it down.” Just imagine the ridicule this man and his family faced. I wonder what his wife had to say about spending his time and money on this project too. I’m also pretty certain it wasn’t easy to hide this big old ark in the middle of his land – talk about OPS failure! So instead we all complain how hard it is to find enough money to store those extra bags or rice and beans. We get overwhelmed worrying about where to stash it all. How about that sore back from mucking out the barn or chicken coop? Really? Or as I am prone to complain about – I’m not twenty something either – that garden is pretty rough on my tired old body too! Especially when the weeds grow better than the vegetables lately!

We can have lots of excuses and just as many valid reasons why we find ourselves not wanting to push ourselves out our comfort zones. We not only feel overwhelmed – we walk in fear of leaving our safe spot. We owe Him our faith in Him to break free of that bondage. To fail to do so is to wander in our own desert place. For most of us the price of a “Bug out location” is another house mortgage we can’t afford. Few of us can afford to buy 2 – 3 years worth of food for long term storage for twenty or so of our closest family members. Realistically most of us cannot hope to easily pay off house mortgages, car loans, and or student loans anytime soon either. Believe me, I am one of those so hampered also!  But all of us can take those first tentative steps out of bondage towards that “promised land”. We can focus on freedom from fear stepping away from our personal “Egypt”.

I dread thinking our country is changing so radically into something I am not sure I recognize any longer. I find it hard to believe that all we believed in is slipping away. I also think about other countries where free peoples witnessed their own country slide away from what they loved. Those lands slid into socialism, Nazism, fascism or worse seemingly overnight. Yet life continued for these folks – day after day, step after step. They still went to work, they ate, they laughed, cried, fell in love, married, raised family. Some of them never saw the changes because they were so far removed from where the changes took place, living out in the wilderness. Others ignored what was happening around them because it was easier, safer even, to ignore it. Others believed what they were told, that this would be a better world for them, for their families, because of those changes. They bought into the deception because the desert and the journey they would have to face otherwise was a scarier one than the bondage they knew already. Still others were like Moses trying to make them understand how short that journey through the desert could have been. He knew it shouldn’t have taken 42 years of wandering – that place of refuge, of freedom was so much closer if they only took those steps in strength together. Some of us will be put in that position. Some of us are already there – crying out for deliverance, crying out for others to follow us on the path already being offered. Some will even be called to pay more difficult prices – but we each can take a few steps now towards that place – by preparing now in whatever small ways we can, means a chance for the next generation to make it to that place of freedom and maybe ourselves too.

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Let’s Start To Get Serious Now!

confusion  One of the toughest decisions we face as a “prepper” is the decision of what we are prepping for. I personally suspect we will face some major economic calamities that will then bring about a domino effect of other problems and situations. It will pretty much allow any other opportunists to take advantage of the situation meaning possible gangs running rampant, racial tensions to explode, foreign government  interferences, wars, rumors of wars, etc. Throw in climate upheavals and maybe an EMP of natural or not natural causes. The list can go on and on. So I started trying to be ready for hurricanes (I live in Florida ya know.) and then started becoming fearful of economic crashes. I’m already balancing a tightrope walk with finances so it wouldn’t take much to destroy us there. And gosh – I am sooooo lazy! I can’t stand the thought of giving up all my nice gadgets and toys! And hey! I LOVE reading all my Nook and Kindle books – I literally have thousands saved to one device or another. Come to think of it, I’m kinda a game freak on Facebook too. Sighhhhhhhh

Are you getting a drift of what I am suggesting? I’m a real person who enjoys life in the moment but suddenly realized I had almost no idea how to focus on what I prep when. Well — that was who I was only a few years ago. Very shortly after I began worrying about all this I realized I had to stop and think about whom I really am and what I hoped to accomplish. This led me to see that I was making mistakes in my prepping that many and probably all new preppers make: the scatter shot approach to prepping and storage. It meant I had to face up to my shortcomings in this area and become a more focused person in what I hoped to accomplish.

tinfoil hat       I often make friends in the prepper community laugh when I say tin foil hats are not a good fashion statement and I am not looking forward to zombie hordes that I have to fight off with the biggest cannon I can legally purchase online anonymously. (NSA – I am a total waste of your time and energy!)  So I had to decide how to go about this mess. Easiest plan for me was to realize I have four adult sons who are personal fitness buffs, – two Black Belts, 4 fishermen, 3 hunters, etc. My husband also is an experienced hunter and fisherman. He possesses a wealth of knowledge on how to do things having grown up in post WWII Italy on a farm. Therefore I decided to let the men of my family be men. I turned myself to concentrating on the areas I am best suited to take care of.

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I love the computer. I love reading. I love crafts and homemaking skills. From my childhood these were areas of interest for me. As a teen and young twenty-something year old I wanted to live in a log cabin somewhere and raise animals and a huge garden. I saw myself wandering the woods foraging for healing herbs, healing folks with my knowledge and skills. I would go to farms to pick vegetables and fruit and can them. Next we borrowed a plot of land from a family member to grow our own vegetables. It was an easy jump to making cheese. My late mother in law was only too happy to teach me how to do so many things around the home and yard! She came for a visit from Italy for a few months and spent that time teaching a new goat owner friend how to milk the goats. That won us enough milk for her to teach me to make cheese as the family had done for many many years overseas. Then she went foraging and showed me “weeds” and mushrooms safe to eat. The cooking lessons were using things “from scratch” instead of the fancy boxed convenience foods. My sisters in law still share freely with me when I have basic questions. This background allowed me to realize where my strengths lay in this newest endeavor. I already loved vintage kitchen items – loved the look and feel of the older kitchens in soft greens and clean lines. I loved baking, cooking, canning. It was a source of pride to me to have a full table of wonderful foods for my family. My cookbook collection of recipes from Italy rivals the local bookstore selections. I began to teach myself to use all the vintage appliances and utensils. I learned to do things the “old fashioned way” sans electric!

Studying     I had my starting point to concentrate on what I knew best. From there I made it an issue to learn how to store those foods so that they would last more than the week or two or three we think they last. I began to research on the Internet and that taught me I needed to be more organized, to take stock of what I had on hand and how to add to all of it properly. To this I had to organize my cabinets and pantry area my sons gifted me with! Along with this part of my journey I discovered chickens – a natural because I wanted fresher eggs to bake with. After chickens I realized I needed a fresh source of meat – welcome my rabbits! Yes, I would enjoy raising pigs like my in laws used to overseas or even a fresh cow – and especially goats! I love goats! I love goats cheese! (Alas I live in a city that won’t let me have all that! Ha!) My next step was seeing that my granddaughters wanted to share the experience of canning. They were fascinated that grandma made all this neat stuff they love to eat. How would that continue if I weren’t here to help them? What would I do if the Internet weren’t here to show me how to do certain skills? I began to compile notebooks to have as reference manuals for myself, my sons, my randchildren later on.

What have I learned in all this? That taking time to know myself made this journey an easier one for me. I learned it doesn’t have to a journey of fear and panic that the world as we know it will end next week or even next month. I learned no matter what scenario does play out, I can walk though it in peace in my spirit whether I survive it all the way or not. What I am telling you is that even if you do believe in zombies and are concerned that it will be an all out war or whatever, there can be a peaceful calm approach to being prepared. Yes, I want to help you learn how to prepare to face any of these possible trials but let’s start the journey calmly with a focused plan of attack. Know where your strengths lay. Don’t try to be everything at one time. Plan what you need to do. Think in terms of the unusual. Look at your normal day to day activities. What things would you need to continue life as you enjoy it. Obviously food, water, shelter are the basics followed by security – having everyone safe. Is that safe from storms like here in Florida? Is it safe from zombies? Approach your goals in an organized manner so that you know what next step is needed. Use lists. Checking off a list can be a stress buster by letting you see what you are accomplishing. As you throw that extra bag of rice or beans in the shopping cart,  pay attention to the inventory of your supplies. If you already have 500 bags of rice perhaps you need the spices to flavor it. Or are you in charge of security? Having 500 rounds of ammo and no weapon or not having ever used that weapon does not make you a prepper – it makes you a prepper fail. Hone your skills, do your research, plan, organized your preps. Think about what it is you are the most concerned over and what you need to meet that challenge. As the scenario evolves, make your preps evolve in an organized fashion along with it. Approaching this in a more organized fashion will help you to avoid the stress, to find the calm in the midst of on-coming turmoil. You will know you have done the best you can for your family and friends who are in this with you.  Besides – there is nothing more calming than sitting outside listening to the chickens and watching the garden grow – except if you sit down at one end of a table full of family enjoying all the beautiful food you provided!

Work Work Work – In Other Words, No Fun at the Homestead

kitchen        One of the things no one talks about is how much work it is to be self-sustaining. Maybe that’s because somewhere along the way we have lost our work ethic. Or maybe it is because this new life style of being prepared is supposed to be so superior, so glamorous. After all some of the biggest names in the “prepping” world run big splashy blogs and sell branded items with their logos and write books too. They have Face book pages devoted to their lives and thousands follow every word faithfully. How many TV shows are now devoted to the movement? And it’s not only an American phenomenon! You can read blogs from around the world now talking about the same things.

The reality is that running a self sustaining homestead of any size is hard work and lots of it. There is nothing glamorous about it either! Chicken coops need to be cleaned out – and chicken poop smells! When it rains (like it seems to do constantly lately   in many parts of the land), the poop smells horrible. Yes, do not waste your time telling me a clean coop does not smell. I know that and I clean constantly – more often than most probably because I do not want neighbors upset with us. I use herbs to freshen their nest boxes and I use coop compost deodorizers too.

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Rain helps to breed flies and that is another issue few folks talk about. The chickens enjoy eating bugs but even they cannot keep up with bug patrol without my help. Whether it rains or not, the animals need to be fed. And winter months it snows. They still eat.

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Now let’s talk about the rabbit hutches. There’s another smelly messy yucky job! The manure makes great fertilizer just like chicken manure does. But most of us do not live on huge farms or homesteads where we can have piles of this stuff sitting waiting to be used. We have gardens to use it in but can only use so much at a time. I share with everyone I know but not everyone wants any. For some reason many folks think buying their fertilizer in neat little bags that have less smell and muss is a better choice?

So then I have to raise the next messy smelly and not fun issue. We raise our rabbits for a food source. That means butchering and cleaning up afterwards. Someone has to do this job too! It is not a clean job and it is time consuming to boot. Again living in a neighborhood, I am not going to be leaving this around for animals and flies and smell to take over. That means more work to dispose of the leftovers properly. How that is done depends on where you live and those local ordinances too.

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Having a garden that yields enough food to feed your family takes a lot of back-breaking work. The gardens you see on those web sites are beautiful and it is exciting to break ground to start a garden. There are lots of tips and hints out there to encourage you on the journey. Planting a seed and watching it grow is a wonderful experience for the children. But how many of you were made to help weed gardens (even a flower garden) when young? Rain makes plants grow but it makes weeds flourish and outgrow the veggies! Trying to fight those squash beetles without using nasty chemicals is a challenge and takes work. That home grown fertilizer is now going to smell at that end of your yard too! Weeding is a never ending task no matter how much you mulch.

Does all this mean it isn’t worth it? Does it mean it’s a waste of time? Several of you would rather buy convenient no fuss MREs. They can have a place in some prepper situations but one important point to remember is that sooner or later that food source may not be available. Why exactly do you want to prep, to store food, and/or be self-sustaining? Are you preparing for the apocalypse or simply want to control what your family eats? Are you an environalist or simply wanting a more simple lifestyle? I personally am a little bit of all of the above. That however also brings challenges of its own to the plate.

I am not well to do. I don’t have enough money to buy the huge plot of land far from the rest of the civilization. It’s doubtful to say the least that I could afford to live way out there anyway. I certainly can’t afford a separate “bug out” location secondary to my home.  I have to work a full time job to support my family. That means the homestead has to fit around other obligations in my life. Most of the work falls to me. Yes, I do have some help in the form of feeding the animals or penning them up at night away from predators. But the more physical aspects are usually my job. Occasionally I can afford to pay for additional help to work in the garden but that is not the norm for us either. My days off from my full time work are not days of rest. Lazy days are few and far between. And this was reality for most folks only fifty or sixty years ago. Women worked from sun up to sun down on the farms. They took care of kitchen gardens and small animals as well as cooked, cleaned, did laundry, made soap, sewed clothes, and so on. That list went on and on! It was second nature to most of them and few thought twice about it. There were harvest festivals to celebrate the end of one season of work before starting the next. Barn raisings and slaughter days were social events built around helping each other accomplish some of those necessary chores everyone had to accomplish!

If (and I accept it is a big IF) any of the scenarios we fear do come true, our young folks will have a shock adjusting. I suspect many of us will have a shock, even those who thought they were prepping and prepared. Back in the Great Depression stories abounded about those who could not accept what happened and committed suicide or lost it emotionally and mentally. We have a lot more population to contend with who will not have a clue how to survive or where to even begin. Does this mean that we shouldn’t bother with any of this? Does it mean that we not enjoy life and the conveniences or perks we have now? I enjoy having my nails done and wearing my high heels and going out to eat, being waited on too. I like my silks as well as my jeans. I enjoy shopping at Publix (such a clean store with beautiful produce and fresh meat) as well as eating a tomato from my garden! I love shopping the deli as well as opening one of jars of home canned foods. There is pleasure in both and there is no sin in admitting it. Just as it is not an unspeakable sin to speak the truth about the yuck factors of being a prepper or homesteader! Surviving is more than just stock piling food and weapons. It means being prepared in body, mind, and soul for all of the challenges that we face! Be honest in sharing the reality with others because not knowing and suddenly being thrust into it will be stressful – too stressful for most. Having to face the realities shouldn’t scare anyone away. It means rather that we are honest with ourselves about the work and less and worse involved and that we face those challenges honestly. There is pleasure and sense of accomplishment and pride in a job well done. Those eggs taste better for many reasons! The pantry is pretty because of the colors but also because of the work that went into filling it. The peace of a good night’s sleep from the work is a sweet sleep indeed. Sitting out on the patio in the wee hours of the morning watching the sun rise while sipping coffee and listening to the sounds of the chickens is great feeling… no matter how much work it takes, this is the mornings I live for.

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One of Those Easy Canning Recipes with No Waste!

images   This weekend I had a fun time making a couple of great items for the pantry. I started out wanting to can apples for apple pies. So I researched and found a simple recipe or two online and then worked it out to be what our family would enjoy. Most of the online recipes called for yellow food coloring – something I choose not to use. I purchased 28 pounds of Fuji apples. These are a nice sweet apple with great texture – bonus was the beautiful color they maintained through the canning process.

The recipe was a simple one so my husband and I worked as a team this time around. He sat and peeled all the apples and then used a handy apple slicer gadget that also cores them. All the slices were dropped into a large pot holding some water along with a healthy dose of Ball Fresh Fruit Protector to keep the apples from discoloring. Some folks use lemon juice (which works well) but I was going to be adding more lemon juice to the recipe.

Now before I give the recipe, I want to give you a warning/disclaimer. Many folks do not believe in using corn starch to can – because it thickens sauces, it is considered by many to be too dense a product to safely can (much like pumpkin is also thought of)—some folks therefore recommend using a product called Clear Jel which you find in some specialty grocery stores or online. Proceed with this understanding then that not all consider cornstarch safe! Do your own research on this!

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Recipe:

21 qts, peeled cored apples (20 lbs approximately before)

13.5 cups sugar

3 cups cornstarch

30 cups water

9 tbspns. Lemon juice

6 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. nutmeg

3 tsp. salt

Mix everything except for lemon juice and apple slices in big pot. Bring to boil and then cook until thick and it bubbles.  Turn off heat – add in lemon juice.

Pack apple slices into hot sterilized jars. Pour in syrup – leave a good inch of head space – DO NOT overfill or the jars will leak during processing and not seal! Make sure to remove air bubbles, wipe rims with hot cloth before putting on lids. Process in boiling water bath 10 minutes. Any leftover syrup can also be canned to use for pancakes and waffles!

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Now before you rush out to make this – consider one of the basic rules – not to waste if we can use it! I now had lots of apple peels and cores from my 20+ pounds of apples. I put all of them in a big pot and covered with water – enough to cover by about 2 inches over the peels. And I boiled them awhile until I had a nice juice. I strained all the apple peels and cores and ended up with about nine to 12 cups of juice! For my next step I grabbed my Ball recipe books and compared to some other recipes for apple jelly. This was a first for me as I usually make jams and marmalades but had never done only a jelly. This turned out to be easier than I realized and something I will enjoy doing often! It seems a lot of folks online suggest simply buying juices to make their jelly instead of the original methods of boiling fruit and straining several times (the main reason I never attempted   to make jelly!) I broke my juice down into two batches for ease in handling. For every cup of juice, I added ¾ cup of sugar. For every 2 cups of liquid I also added 1 tbspn. of lemon juice. Per the suggestion in the Ball recipes I also added a small bit of butter to prevent foaming but this is very optional. This was all brought to a boil – I used a jelly thermometer to test – it should reach approximately 220*. I tested the jelly by the spoon/ice method – a small amount of jelly on a spoon dipped to a bowl of ice to cool it rapidly. Tilting the spoon sideways, the jelly should “sheet” – sliding off the spoon, not running   off. Then I filled my hot sterilized pint jars. Next rims were wiped down using a hot cloth before setting on lids and rings. As always the lids and rings are set in hot water while cooking jelly so they too are sterilized and ready to use. The hot water also aids in the lid rubber to seal properly. Process the jars in a hot water bath 10 minutes. Let jars cool. Jelly usually sets up fairly quickly but often can take a day or two to gel. Any jars that did not   seal can be put in refrigerator to use immediately!

So now you realize you still have a pot of cooled down  apple peels and cores left. What to do with them now? You could add them to that compost heap I’m sure you have for the garden but I chose to use them by feeding the cores to my rabbits and my chickens had a feast on the peels! See – I told you – prepping is supposed to be fun, not something to make you stress! But I do have one confession to make here. I do stress –because my family enjoys all this food so much that it seems I am working twice as hard to keep up with their favorites!!!!

Necessary Work Made Fun

Every now and then we need to do certain chores as we prep and store that can be boring or time consuming or just plain not fun. I hate anything that makes me more stressed so I’m always on the lookout for ways to avoid more stress. Because I hate stress and how it makes me feel, I’m sure most of you look for ways to avoid it too. After all the whole point of being prepared is to be able to face most trouble stress free! Just like an insurance policy should make you feel a bit less stressed, I like to think of my food storage as food insurance!

Anyway back to the point here – one of those horribly not fun jobs is to take inventory of the food supplies or to sort things into logical order in the pantry. So as I was taking count today, I decided why not label things. I keep sharing jars of food here and there and I hate to always be explaining the contents, use by date, and most important to remind everyone to return my jars and rings!

I happened across some great labels online at the pickyourown.org – and then went searching for some more.

label 1        label 2      I also ended up designing a few more of my own. The labels were made to fit some of the commercial labels you can purchase and print but I tend to be frugal (color that cheap 😉 ) so I simply printed mine out gray scale and used wide tape to put on each jar. Now I have no more questions about expiration dates – and these look cuter than indelible marker on the lids! So have fun with your preps – if worried about no electric some day, print out s few batches and store away! But have fun – don’t stress!

Managing Time and Money For Less Stress

20130605_094051     I have been a bit quiet for awhile due to some time needed elsewhere. That made me realize that I should take a few moments to talk about the stress levels we are all facing here. Many of us have been experiencing an overload factor thanks to news, political fiascoes, and world events such as reading about food restrictions along with toilet paper limits in Venezuela. All of these combine for those into prepping as one big red flag telling us to prepare! Take that along with a healthy dose of weather calamities such as the OK. tornadoes and impending hurricane season here and we feel a “perfect storm” brewing – that watched pot is going to boil over soon if we cannot find a way to safely lower the temperature! For many the desire to garden is being replaced by frustration as snow in May with freezing temperatures or constant rain elsewhere is wrecking havoc with the gardens and seedlings struggling to survive. Then let’s all read about honey bees being decimated and we add another level of stress and tension! Sooooo….

       Take a deep breath, brew that cup of calming tea (no liquor – it will not calm you right now… hehehe!) and we can chat. Prepping is like insurance. When that bill comes in yearly and you realize what a chunk of change it takes to have homeowners or renters insurance and car insurance, the blood pressure usually goes up a notch or two. The we remember we take care of this in smaller bites along with the mortgage or rent payment (no gulping here) or in monthly or quarterly payments. That may not make it totally better but it is more manageable for most folks – few of us write that one big check to the insurance agent once a year! This is how we need to approach our prepping, how to make it fit in without causing us more grief. Very few of us can honestly believe we are prepared to face every and any threat we may face. That should not translate to a do nothing attitude but rather to realize if we put a bit by to help alleviate a bit of an unexpected bill, we can usually manage better than having nothing set aside.

20130605_093925       20130605_093956       This is true of our time as well as money and preps. There are times to focus on yourself and realize that no one can do 100% by themselves and go at a full out pace 100% of the time. It is important to take time to step back every now and then, to let yourself recharge. Maybe not listen to the news for a few days – or maybe like myself you have a need to do some additional research and reorganizing in order to be better prepared.  I was fortunate enough to be gifted with a copy of a great old book that has a wealth of information on more stuff in one book than anyone can believe. In addition I worked on adding lots more information to my notebooks that I had reorganized into more easily navigated sections. My ultimate goal with my notebooks will be to develop a table of contents that helps with that process. One of the other projects was canning more food items. Let me discuss this in terms of time management. Actually this will also apply to managing expenses too!

It can be difficult to find time to spend a whole day or two or three to can foods for your pantry. We often need to do that as harvest time comes along and we have bumper crops of food that may or may not be available all year long. But often we have a lot less time free to spend in a kitchen all day. I have found that like this week it is better to find two or three hours available to do smaller projects instead. So this week I spent a couple hours making pickles. I didn’t go out and  buy 200 lbs. of cukes. Instead I took 15 pounds of cukes and made a couple smaller batches. No fuss and easy clean up while they were processing. I harvested a small batch of jalapeno peppers and made 2 pints of pickled peppers. In less tah a half hour I added to my food pantry. Jar by jar, pound by pound the shelves get filled and we have a sense of calm knowing we are adding to our “insurance”. All of this was done after work each day, taking only a small bite of time so that I was not overtired or overworked. While bread was baking one afternoon, we roasted a sheet pan of garlic at the same time. Ten minutes later we used a one cup food processor/blender to grind them and then added them to a cup of butter, stirred it all by hand a few moments and had a jar of roasted garlic butter at a fraction of the cost of buying a specialty butter. Butter is too dense to safely can so this jar is kept in the refrigerator to have handy to make garlic bread whenever the craving hits! We didn’t make 50 pounds of butter, just one that took less than 20 minutes from start to finish while cooking bread. Again a stress free project instead of creating more stress!

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Remember all of this is to lessen stress, not increase it or overwhelm ourselves! Pick and choose what needs to be a priority versus what can be cut back on to manage time better. If it means stepping back and then stepping forward as I do with my writing, choose to do what works best in your life. Prepping should fit into your life as part of your habit, but not to the point of consuming you so that everything else gets ignored. If you end up with high blood pressure from stress, you won’t survive to need those preps. Have fun with what you do. If you don’t like to can, find other foods to put up. No one says you have to be the master at everything so find someone to share those tasks with. Maybe barter your sewing skills for some home canned foods if need be. Or perhaps you’re a mechanic who can barter for food storage. Be creative in ways to manage time and stress!

Mama DiCrocco Cans 250 Pounds Roma Tomatoes!

DSC_3711       This is not something I would recommend for everyone but I managed to cook up 250 lbs. of gorgeous Roma tomatoes and then can the marinara sauce all within a 24 hour period. This marathon event came about because a friend fell in love with a jar of my sauce I gifted her with! She recently went through some pretty extensive (read that horrifically painful) back surgery so I was willing to do anything to bring her some joy – and relieve a bit of stress for her. At the same time it was a blessing for me to be able to accomplish adding to our own food pantry! But I promise you as you can tell from the photos, I was one very tired mama at the end!        DSC_3740

DSC_3761           Her kitchen is a beautiful large one with a professional 6 burner gas stove top and vented that made cooking a pleasure. Dear Val and she and her mom chopped tomatoes for me coring them first and then chopping into smaller pieces. We prefer our marinara with the tomato skins and in small chunks however if you want, you can at this point run them through a blender to eliminate chunks for a smoother sauce. You can also run the sauce through a blender later when you go to use a jar. Val also chopped about 20-25 pounds of large onions. Then I was ready to begin cooking. I started cooking the first 50 pounds of tomatoes the night before in order to have some sauce ready to start canning right off the bat in the morning. That’s because we like the sauce cooked on slow for about 4 hours before actually canning it.           DSC_3787              DSC_3803
In a large pan I sautéed about 6 large ladle full of chopped onion. Naturally I use a good olive oil (but not the extra virgin – that is for salads). As they reached the translucent stage I added about 4 large cooking spoons (the big stainless ones used for cooking) of minced garlic. We are on a low salt regimen so I plan on about ¼ teaspoon of sea salt per quart jar. Each 50 lbs to tomatoes yields between 26 and 30 quarts of sauce depending on how long I allow it to cook down. Next step is to add several tablespoons of oregano and basil with one or two of parsley to this mixture. The tomatoes should be cooking in a larger pot at this point – it is important to stir them almost constantly to avoid sticking and burning. All of this is then added to the tomatoes and allowed to cook for a few hours!     DSC_3778        DSC_3716            Next step is to have all the canning jars sterilized by boiling in hot water. Lids and rings should also be in hot water.

DSC_3734         Using a wide mouth funnel, ladle the hot sauce into the jars bringing the level to just at the edge of the jar neck. Be careful to not over fill or the jars will not seal correctly later. Next comes a very important point to remember. When our grandmothers canned, the tomatoes were more likely to be more acidic than now. Americans especially wanted ours bred down to having less acid. Therefore either use a tspn. of lemon juice or a ¼ tsp. of citric acid. This is important to prevent spoilage after using a hot water bath canning method. If foods aren’t acidic they must be pressured canned for safety’s sake. Ball Canning Company sells a nifty little plastic tool made to push into the jars to be sure there is not trapped air. The little saw tooth steps are also used to measure the fill height of the jars when canning. Pretty neat tool that will not chip or scratch the jars like a knife might. At this stage I use a clean towel dipped in boiling water – not dripping – to wash edges of jars, the neck of them, and any drips on outside of the jars. The food on the top edges would prevent sealing and lead to spoiling. One last step is to then go over each jar edge again with a towel dampened with white vinegar – again to be sure edges are clean. Then place the jar lids out of the hot water onto tops of each jar, then finger tighten the jar rings on – don’t over tighten these. The put the jars into the boiling hot water being sure that they are fully submersed because water does boil off and they must stay covered under the boiling water for 45 minutes.
DSC_3792         I have empty counter space covered with terry towels to protect the jars and counter and lift each jar out carefully. Leave a bit of room around each jar so that they have air circulating around them evenly – do not place directly in front of a fan or under air vents or the jars may explode from such a sudden air temperature change. You will begin to hear the wonderful pings or pops of each jar as they seal! Val and I enjoy this step feeling very proud that each one seals so completely!        DSC_3791
Towards the end of our marathon I stopped long enough to feed our granddaughter and my friends two children and our husbands some great pasta and marinara sauce – to the bravos and complements of course! Because it was a school night, we packed our car back up with all our big pans, canners, and the last sixty pounds of chopped tomatoes. Back home I finished cooking sauce that evening and then canned it all in the morning. Our final count was 125 quarts of marinara! We did discover one big problem in all this. Even though my friend and I split this bounty, it is not nearly enough for our pantry – everyone has been eating it already and I suspect we will be running out way too fast!     20130429_145400