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Happy New Year.  I’m hoping that 2012 is going to kick 2011 in its skinny ass.  It seems that we are far from the only people we know who were glad to see the year come to an end; it’s been hard for a lot of our friends, family, and people in our community.  The job search has been on hold though the holidays.  No one seems to check their email and that’s just fine.  We needed a little break to just not think about things for a week.  Starting tomorrow, everything is back to business as usual, so J will be cracking down, following up with a bunch of contacts he made before Christmas.  I’m working on a few new products for Great Marsh Artisan Skincare, and filling orders left and right.  I’m really looking forward to my daughter being back in school so we can get back to our routine around here.

This is a strange time of year for me.  I have always felt New Years Eve is a very bittersweet holiday, moving ever further into history, propelling towards the end of things, leaving behind family and friends who have died, entombed in the past.  I think about them.  This year, one of my best friends is staying back in 2011 without me.  As the first anniversary of his death approaches, on his birthday in early February, I’m finding the inevitable turning inwards.  I think about him, his family, clutch on to those memories I have of us together that fade more and more each day.  I know that soon they will all be vapor, and I’ll only have his name etched into my brain.

I’m not a religious person.  I’m a mediocre atheist who came by it honestly via a childhood of questioning in the Unitarian Universalist church and a degree in religious studies.  I have flirted with other faith traditions outside of Judeo-Christianity, and found something of value in them all but could not ever make that final leap of faith in believing in a theistic god.  I sometimes wish that I could, but despite 36 years of trying, I’ve settled into  the place where I am, still attending a UU church near my home, and trying to answer my daughters increasingly metaphysical questions in a comforting, affirming, but nonspecific way so that she can find her own path of faith.  My heart is full of love, and I know yours is, too.  That’s really all I need at this point in my life.

Nevertheless, after the holidays are over, in the time of the longest nights, the deadest of nature laying in wait, having faith if not in a divine presence then at least a faith that there is a light in the darkness, I use the time to look deep within.  I use the time to cleanse and detox and renew.  I read, I try to eat very clean, simple foods, I move slower and feel myself firmly rooted to home, family, place.  I roast things.  I braise.  I sleep.

Don’t think that the tone of this post means that I’ve gone all woo on you.  I still swear like a truck driver and scream at the kids that I’ll sell them to the Gypsies if I have to break up one more damn fist fight.  Today I started a Whole30 to get back into the swing of things.  I’ve eaten a lot of sugar and even some grains over the holiday season and am up 11 pounds from my lowest weight.  (I felt badly until J told me that he is up 18.)  One of the things I love most about ancestral eating is how simple and streamlined it is.  I never, ever feel that I’m deprived, but rather feel like I’m giving my body exactly what it needs.  I have fallen out of that a bit, so I’m starting the year with a month of clean eating.  After my first Whole30 breakfast of two sunny side up eggs, three strips of (sugar-free, nitrite/nitrate-free, antibiotic-free, uncured blah blah blah) bacon and two sweet potato pecan puffs, I felt amazing.  I never know why I get tempted by non-paleo food; it makes me feel like shit.  It tastes like medium density fiberboard.  It is never, ever worth it.  So, I’m detoxing, resetting, tightening up, cleaning out, thinking about health, nourishment, relationships, life, and nutrition.

Oddly enough, I’m also doing the same with my “beauty” (used loosely) routine.  I was wearing more makeup than usual over the holidays, out of my normal habits, even using shampoo with dimethecone, SLH, fragrance, PARFUM!!  Shame spiral.  I’m now back to using only Dr. Bronners when I have to, Aubrey Organics on the head and cleansing my face with straight olive oil, lavender and tea tree essential oils.  I’m using coconut oil in my hair and to moisturize my skin, as well as my Lavender Honey Hard Lotion and Rosehip Hydrating Serum.  That is it.  I feel softer and cleaner already.

So, meditating on life, health, cleanliness, simplicity, and quiet.  That is 2012 so far.  I hope that I can manifest some goodness our way on the job front.  God (or, as my UU minister calls it, “a universal force of love that always bends towards Justice,”) knows that we need some good news so I’m working on willing it for us all.

Post #1 (What a Dumb Title).

I’m involved in another blogging project.  We are a small, super secret, super awesome group of other paleo-ish nerds who are far smarter and more clever than I.  This is a collective blog that will cover a wide variety of topics from nutrition and biochemistry, to recipes, philosophy, frugality, gardening, exercise physiology, book reviews, food politics, homesteading, disease, medicine, hunting, sustainability, and hilarity.  For my readers who came to A Slim Winter through Paul Jaminet’s blog, Perfect Health Diet, this will be right up your alley.  I hope that you will follow along with us.

We just got our final unemployment check.  $600 that is going to have to last for………ever.  We also just had to turn on our heat.  J had an interview, but he has had a lot of interviews.  It went really well, but they all go really well.  We are sitting around, waiting but we are always waiting.  I applied for a job answering the phone and taking orders at a local pizza place.  They needed someone who speaks English.  I didn’t get the job.  Seasonal help at a local department store chain restocking at night is the next step.  I hope they will consider someone with a Master’s degree.

Baby, it’s cold outside.  It’s also depressing outside, so sometimes one just needs to self-medicate*.  I think this calls for my favorite winter drink, a hot toddy.

Get a huge and well insulated mug that will stay nice and hot for long enough to sip the whole thing down.  Put about a tablespoon of honey in the bottom, toss in a slice of lemon and about an ounce of dark rum (or, whiskey if you’re so inclined).  Brew a cuppa tea.  I particularly love the Ginger Tea made by Yogi, though I think it may have been dumbed down lately.  It used to be much stronger.  Sometimes I will add an additional slice of fresh ginger to the water to strong it up.  When your tea is ready, top off your big giant mug.  Enjoy it, because it will make you warm and happy, something I cherish a lot more these days then I used to.

 

*No, I’m not advocating that you drink your worries away.  Your worries will still be there after your toddy is long gone.  And, please don’t drink and drive.  Really.  This is something you should enjoy in the relative comfort of your own home.  Driving drunk is about one of the most selfish and irresponsible acts, so don’t fucking do it.

Me, In a Rainbow, So I Won't Be Sad

I read this, and I’m filled with a seething, red hot rage.  It’s nothing new, and there are a million graphs and charts and articles  and commentary out there saying the same thing.  The rich are bending all of us over while they swill champagne.  My husband is willing to take a 50% pay cut just for a job that will keep the lights on, but still his recruiters shrug their shoulders and ask if he wants to relocate to Baton Rouge.  I am desperate to work, but with childcare costing us $2,000.00 per month and me being *gasp* a lowly social worker, it’s not feasible.

Last week while cleaning out the coat closet, I found one of the pay stubs from my last job:  $1,180 for two weeks of work.  You know what I did?  I was a Master’s level clinician with a certificate in the Advanced Treatment of Psychological Trauma providing free psychotherapy and crisis intervention to adolescents and adults who had experienced violent sexual trauma.  I saw grown men who had been raped by their priests, children who were currently being raped by a parent, husbands of women who had been raped by their employer, teenagers who were raped by a teacher.  The work is difficult and heart-wrenching and goddamn it I did good work that is needed, and I happily did it for pennies.  I worked on behalf of people who have no advocate.  I held hands in court rooms, clinics, and emergency rooms.  I loved my work.

And I see my husband struggling to get employment while our life spins down the toilet, and I see these people making millions doing nothing.  N-O-T-H-I-N-G.  They make nothing.  They do nothing.  I’m feeling this on an extremely personal level.  I used to tell myself that my low pay wasn’t a reflection on me, but on my clients value to voters and policymakers.  No one with any power cares about the kinds of people I work with; the poor, the mentally ill, the victims of powerlessness.  This lit a fire in me and kept me going working on their behalf, trying to be the best advocate that I could be.  And here I am, largely unable to practice at the moment and in a state of extraordinary powerlessness myself and the people wielding the power turn a blind eye to our suffering and our struggles.  There is no middle class.  The 1% has achieved their American Dream and the 99% paid for it.

Summarized on Yahoo! Finance from the article at  thinkprogress.org:

#1) The Top 1% Owns 40% of the Nation’s Wealth:

Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz points out the richest 1% of Americans now own 40% of the nation’s wealth. This disparity is much worse than it was in the past, as just 25 years ago the top 1% owned 33%of national wealth.

How much does the bottom 80% own? Only 7%.

#2) The Top 1% Take Home 24% of National Income:

While the richest 1% of Americans take home almost a quarter of national income today, in 1976 they took home just 9% — meaning their share of the national income pool has nearly tripled in roughly three decades.

#3) The Top 1% Own Half of the Country’s Stocks, Bonds and Mutual Funds: The Institute for Policy Studies illustrates this massive disparity in financial investment ownership, noting that the bottom 50% of Americans own only 0.5% of these investments.

#4) The Top 1% of Americans Have Only 5% of the Nation’s Personal Debt:

Using 2007 figures, sociologist William Domhoff points out that the top 1% have 5% of the nation’s personal debt while the bottom 90% have 73% of total debt.

#5) The Top 1% Are Taking In More off the Nation’s Income Than at Any Other Time Since the 1920s: Not only are the wealthiest 1% of Americans taking home a tremendous portion of the national income, but their share of this income is greater than at any other time since the Great Depression, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities illustrates in this chart, using 2007 data.

I’ve been in the first row as a spectator, watching Occupy Wall Street and our local occupations develop.  I so want to be a part of it, but I’m needed at home with the babies right now.  I’m inspired and angry, comforted and reassured.  I feel a deep sense of solidarity with the other 99% down there yelling on my behalf, and on behalf of us all.  The criticism of the protests confounds me; don’t they know that we are all in the 99%?  That this is for your benefit, too?  I met with my financial advisor last week, and he told me that he wanted to get up from his desk and go join them in the loby!  Shocking and a bit scary, considering he has all my money which is still only a fraction of what a CEO would make in a month, but it’s all I have.

I read this amazing article that someone posted on facebook today.  Lindsay talks about how to Occupy Wall Street from home.  She discusses the act of making soup as a revolutionary act, of removing oneself from the industrial food system as one thing that women and mothers can do to free ourselves from the slavery of the corporatocracy.  I also read this article in the New York Times the other day, profiling a woman who found herself in Deep Trouble, and went back to the land in Brooklyn to feed her family.  I feel so inspired when I read these.  I feel that I am reading this today as a woman who has control over nothing, who has been crying all day at the news that another job we thought was ours has fallen though, at the idea of my family on food stamps and wondering what happened to my good karma points?  I have been thinking of my grandmother a lot, a woman who came of age in the Depression in a one room cabin in the Rockies, no electricity or running water.  I think that if women like her could get their families through it, then I can too.  Then I remember the world I live in, which is so different than hers.  How my generation has been cursed with debt beyond even my parents wildest imagination.  What are we going to do?  Who is going to help us?  Will there ever be an end to all of this?  Will we ever be OK?  Lately, I think not.

I just don’t feel like blogging.  I keep hearing Obama’s speeches telling us to just wait, and Ron Paul supporters wanting uninsured people to die.  I keep seeing executions and Pakistan and it’s hard to have much hope.  The whole family seems in a funk.  We are in a holding pattern and all starting to get noodgy.  The weather has been hot and humid and we are waiting for fall.  We are waiting for our car to give its dying gasp.  Waiting for someone to call and just offer a damn job.  Waiting and waiting to see which fork in the road we are going to take.  Will I be waiting tables at night?  Will we be on food stamps?  Will we ever be able to sell this house?  Move to Vermont?  Buy new jeans? Will we be able to pay someone to fix all our broken shit?  Or renovate the third floor so the kids don’t have to share a room into their 20’s?  Just trying to hold on, but the consistently high cortisol levels are taking their toll.  Four more weeks until we are cut off our unemployment insurance.

In the meantime.

I’m in squirrel mode.  I was so resistant to getting the freezer in the basement.  J talked me into it and I will begrudgingly concede that I like it.  We got a 13 cubic foot Energy Star model like this one and filled it fairly quickly.   We have had it for five years now, but never really depended on it.  It just sort of expanded our storage space is all.  Now that I’m in Food Hoarding Mode, It has become a lifeline.

Cheeto™ hoarding may lead to cat hoarding

Someone asked me the other day why I don’t do the extreme couponing.  Aside from the fact that I don’t want a full-time job that pays nothing but sixty jars of mustard and a gross of toothpaste, there are just never any coupons for anything I need, and that is because I don’t need much.  I’ll be doing a post soon about how I save on toiletries for the family, and how I make my cleaning products but generally I think most people, including myself, have far too much crap and don’t need more.  For now though, I’m cleaning out my freezers and stockpiling food as I make room for more.

There are certainly not coupons for half a cow, but I can still get healthy, high-quality, ethical food for a good price with a little legwork.  It is definitely worth my time to drive far with my coolers in tow and get a large measure of food.  My freezer gives me that freedom.  Right now I’m cleaning out the old stuff to make room for new so we can go into this depression with at least a bunch of meat and veggies.  Preferably in the form of half a cow.

I was able to make dinner tonight for the kids and for J and I with just the freezer and pantry items.  Per usual, I made tons- as much as I had time and ingredients for.  I left enough out for tonight’s dinner and lunch later in the week then repackaged it all into stackable pint containers to freeze again.  I estimated that the entire meal cost $5.00 for four people plus leftovers.  That’s not per person.  What allowed me to do that was the squirreling away of about six pounds of roasted winter squash purée from last year.  My father-in-law came to acquire something just shy of a Shit Ton of unidentifiable vegetable of the winter squash variety and couldn’t manage to eat it all himself, so he trucked it down from Vermont and we shared in the bounty until we were sick of eating it.  I roasted, puree and froze the rest in one pound bricks.

I also discovered a pound of apple cider caramelized onions from two years ago deep in the recesses of the freezer and a light bulb went off in my thinking parts.  I whipped up two batches of soup; one with apples and onions and maple syrup for the kids, and one with chipotle mecco powder for the grown ups.  I made about two quarts of each soup, using up the last of my amazing chicken foot stock.  I also discovered two pounds of ground dark meat turkey from a local farm in there, and thought some mini-meatballs might be nice in the soup.  The recipe I used required some futzing to make it Paleo, but they actually turned out to be just the best meatballs I have ever had.  And I hate turkey meatballs.

I wish there was some way to calculate how much money that freezer has saved us.  I am confident saying that its had the best return on investment of anything in our house aside from maybe the spray foam insulation in the basement.  Anyhoo, here are the recipes I invented today.  I’m very happy with the cost breakdown and the flavor of everything.  Please not that all measurements are approximate.  My cooking style is more like “cross fingers and throw shit in a pot”.  Those bitches, the Fates, decided to throw me a bone and make something work out in my favor for a change.

Inexpensive, not cheap.

Sweet Apple and/or Chipotle Winter Squash Soup 

2# winter squash, roasted and pureed

3c chicken stock (bonus for chicken foot stock!)

1c cider caramelized onions (or, just sliced yellow onion)

2 cloves garlic

2 apples, chopped (I leave skin on, but you can peel or use unsweetened applesauce)

salt, pepper, maple syrup (optional)

butter or ghee

Roast squash in your preferred way (I cut in half, cut side down in roasting pan with about 1″ water, roast at 400 or so for about 45 minutes or until soft).  Purée in food processor or with immersion blender.

Sauté onions until translucent and starting to brown (or just add caramelized onions), add minced garlic and sauté just until fragrant.  Add chopped apples and season with salt.  Cook just until apples are starting to get soft.  Add stock and bring just to a simmer on low heat, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and purée with an immersion blender, or in batches in your food processor.  Return to heat and bring back to a low simmer.  Season with salt, pepper and maple syrup.

To make it spicy, omit the apples and add a half a can of chopped chiles in adobo ( to taste), rehydrated chipotle mecco chiles or chipotle powder.  Serve with crème fresh.

Paleo Turkey Meatballs

2# ground dark meat turkey

2 eggs

2/3c almond meal

1 small yellow onion, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2c freshly shredded Parmesan cheese (optional, if you don’t do dairy)

1/4c paprika paste (or, tomato paste but the paprika paste is really incredible)

1/2c flat leaf parsley, minced

1 T olive oil or other cooking fat of choice

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all ingredients together with hands just until blended.  Don’t over mix. Heat fat in heavy bottomed dutch oven or skillet.  Roll into medium-sized balls, about two inches in diameter.  Place in frying pan just until browned, flipping gently once.   Put the browned meatballs on a baking sheet into a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until cooked through.

Sometimes knowing that something is really good for you is not enough to overcome the cultural taboo.  Or even the gross-out factor.  I have saved the carcass from lobsters and chickens for a while and using them for stock.  I have a pretty good system going- I just keep a freezer bag going and when i have some bones, I add them in there.  When the bag is full, I get to stock-making.  It has worked well and I have all manner of shellfish, chicken and beef stocks frozen all over the place.  I have never really been able to get my stock really gelatinous, though.  It gets thick sometimes, but not solid and I want solid.  Here is some really in-depth information about the benefits of gelatin and broth, but this is the gist of things:

To summarize, gelatin (broth) can be considered for use in the following conditions: food allergies, dairy maldigestion, colic, bean maldigestion, meat maldigestion, grain maldigestion, hypochlorhydria, hyperacidity (gastroesophageal reflux, gastritis, ulcer, hiatal hernia) inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut syndrome, malnutrition, weight loss, muscle wasting, cancer, osteoporosis, calcium deficiency and anemia.

This stuff is good for you.  But what is the best source?  Why, chicken feet, of course.  Chicken feet.  My only experience of chicken feet prior to this was a horrible childhood memory burned into my mind’s eye that involved a Sunday brunch of dim sum.  I have successfully avoided such things since.  I believe that using the whole animal is the most humane thing.  I believe that animal-based food is imperative to our best health, and I believe that our cultures over-reliance on “clean and pure” muscle meat has left us deficient in many things that are only found in the parts of the animal that other cultures in other times have used liberally.  That doesn’t help when I find myself doing what I was doing in my kitchen the other day.

I special ordered the chicken feet through a local butcher.  It took about a week for them to arrive, and I paid about $6 for two pounds, which seemed kind of pricy.  But, It’s not like I’m going to shop around.  I brought home my paper package very excited to start in on my project.  I used this recipe for chicken foot stock because I listen to Elise in all things related to cooking, second only to Saint Julia.  So, I unwrap the little buggers, and they are kind of gross, but nothing I can’t handle.  Then I start to read the recipe, and  kicked myself for not reading it sooner.

Chicken? Or ugly baby?

I initially boiled the feet for five minutes to clean them, but later learned that it’s not necessary if the feet are already cleaned and no longer have their bright yellow membrane.  Mine were already clean, and I wish I had know that because this is where it got really gross for me.  After boiling the feet, I drained them and had to chop off the talons at the first knuckle, but that’s not the gross part.  When boiled, the feet become waterlogged and warm which transforms them into  something with an uncanny resemblance to a human hand.  A deformed hand from a human child.  A child about the age of my child after never trimming her tallons fingernails.  I was sort of gagging and yelping, weeping and wailing, swearing and shouting.  I was chanting, “It’s the right thing to do.  It will be worth it.”  It took an eternity, but I got all those fingertips off the warm, fleshy, chubby baby hands and go them back in the pot with the mirepoix and covered up.

Five hours later, I drained the stock, added more water and did it again.  At the end of the day, I had about six quarts of stock which I then reduced to two and a half quarts.  Today when I pulled it out of the fridge, I had a solid block of beautiful gelatin.  This stuff tastes so rich and smells just like Grandmas Chicken Soup.  I’ll never go back to plain old bone stock, or at least I’ll always throw a couple of feet in with my bones.  I used some tonight to replace the water I made my kids rice in, and I had some with my shrimp scampi to replace the wine and it’s just lovely and silky and delicious.  It was worth the strange images that now have replaced the dim sum episode, and I’ll hopefully have the elastic skin and springy, lubricated joints of a 16-year-old.

Natures Restalyene™

So, I don’t know how much money this saved in the end.  A quart of store-brand organic chicken broth is $2.00, and this works out to about the same price.  However, clearly what I have here is a very different product than the stuff from the box.  This tastes better, looks better, and most importantly, I know exactly what is in it.  I think that for me, that is reason enough to never go store-bought again.  It’s chicken feet for me.

First and foremost, I want to thank Paul Jaminet and the other members of my little band of ancestral diet groupies from Highbrow Paleo for the love and support.  We got some awesome link loving from the Perfect Health Diet blog the other day which was a wonderful surprise to come home to after our weekend in Vermont with friends.  I’m so excited about all the new readers funneled in from PHD and welcome any and all suggestions on how you all manage WAP/Paleo/PHD/ancestral diets on a tight budget.

Speaking of which, did anyone take part in the Slow Food $5 Challenge?  I did, though not deliberately.  More on that later.  I would love to hear about anyones experiences in doing this.  Personally, $5 is more than I have to spend on a meal per person, but I often find that it might be the average per person cost of a meal by the end of the day since I only eat twice, and breakfast is usually eggs ($1.99/doz)  and something vegetal.

So, we spent the weekend up in Vermont with some friends of ours.  They have a small farm and raise three cows and three pigs for meat as well as 20 roasting chickens, some laying hens and three donkeys.  The donkeys are the most adorable pets.  Our friend roasted up a whole delicious piggy and everyone was thrilled, including the dogs who had to be let out half a dozen times to poop overnight.  We spent the night around the fire, roasting marshmallows and catching up afte the most wild and beautiful bunch of kids were all knocked out lovingly tucked in beds and tents.  Our friends have an incredible set-up and work so hard managing the extensive vegetable gardens and the animals while both working full-time and raising their baby, and yet they still have not found a way to make it

The Girls.

profitable, which is frustrating.  They are doing an amazing job though and we shared an awesome potluck meal with the provided piggy being the centerpiece, and had breakfast of apple pie, raw milk and eggs from the chickens.  Pretty perfect New England morning.

Now on to this weeks housekeeping, so to speak.  A friend posted this recipe on my Facebook wall for a home made laundry detergent.  I had used just very small amounts of phosphate-free detergent, boosting it with a cup or so of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide in the bleach cup and white vinegar in the fabric softener cup.  I decided to give this a shot since I have not been thrilled with the residual crap left on my filthy kids clothes, and hell the numbers looked good in the cost analysis and I need something to blog about.  The cost figures out as follows, according to someone else who can be trusted with things such as math:

  • Arm & Hammer® liquid 100 ounce detergent – $6.79 – 32 loads = $0.21 per load
  • Tide® with Bleach powder 267 ounce detergent – $20.32 – 95 loads = $0.21 per load
  • Jabs Homemade powder 32 ounce detergent – $2.98 – 64 loads = $0.05 per load

We have been using the 2 tablespoons per load instead of the 1 tablespoon as my kids are filthy and disgusting little buggers.  I have to say that I’m very pleased with the results.  Next time I will likely use a Dr. Bronners bar soap (at .81 cents per ounce) instead of Ivory (at .22 cents per ounce) just for comparison.  I would prefer to use Dr. Bronners over Ivory if there was even a slight improvement in the final outcome, simply because I would like a more natural castile soap, especially if the lavender scent would linger (though I don’t think it would).  I also still plan on using the white vinegar in the fabric softener cup of my front loading machine as a rinse agent, because it removes any soap film left on the clothes and leaves things super soft without any added chemicals and artificial scents in the dryer.  It also keeps any soap gunk from clogging up the lines, or so I hear.  I’m still keeping my fingers crossed though.  For static cling, you can just put a couple of safety pins on an old dishcloth or rag and use that in the dryer.  The metal in the pins will [do something science-y] to eliminate the static.  I promise.  I also promise that if you use white vinegar in the wash that you will not smell like salad dressing.

Next laundry-related project will be a drying line out back, but I’m resistant to this because it’s 1) time-consuming, 2) ugly, 3) New England (often cold and wet) and 4) our dryer barely uses any electricity to begin with, as seen on our SmartMeter readout.   The big energy suckage is the dishwasher, but I’ll be damned if I start hauling my dishes down to the river to beat with sticks, or whatever people without dishwashers do.

Anyway, here follows the instructions for your own super cheap and super awesome detergent.  Is it weird that I had a swell of pride when this actually worked and the clothes got all clean from something I made with my own two hands, even if I didn’t necessarily mine the Borax myself?  Say no.

  • 1 cup Borax
  • 1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
  • 1 shaved bar of soap (Ivory, Dr. Bronners, ZOTE, Fels-Naptha)

Shave the soap with a cheese grater into a big bowl, and pour in the Washing Soda and Borax.  Use a wooden spoon to mix it really well.  Seriously, keep mixing it.  Just stir it until you don’t see any distinct pieces of the soap anymore.  It should be a pretty even consistency throughout.  That’s it right there.  You can also do this in a food processor for super-fast results.  You can add a cup of Oxy-Clean for an added boost, which is what I’m going to do on my next batch.  This recipe made just under a quart for me, and It filled about 3/4 of an old Thai food take-out container.  Perfect.  Please note that this is a low-sudsing recipe and is perfectly safe for use in HE washers.

All of these ingredients can easily be found in the laundry aisle of any large grocery store, and even in many hardware stores.  A popular brand of Borax is called “40 Mule Team” and I often see it on the very top or the very bottom shelf.  It’s good stuff to keep around the house.  Washing soda is definitely not to be confused with baking soda and they cannot be used interchangeably.  No one will die- it just wont work as you expect it to.

*A note on septic systems: There are no phosphates in this detergent so there should be no concerns about leeching into ground water.  Many people report that they have been using this powdered formula with their septic systems with success, and some just set the washer to do a pre-soak in order to fully dissolve the powder to avoid the clumping issues that can happen with powdered detergents.  There is a liquid version of this that is a bit more involved, but works just well.

So this is exciting here, people.  Every bit I find myself removing a string that has tied me into the industrial machine, I hum a happy little tune.  Each small step I take to become even slightly more self-sufficient makes me strong and confident.  I need some of that these days.  Ah, my grandmother would be proud!  Or not, since this stuff was totally normal for her and she would probably think it crazy that this commonplace knowledge was so…..misplaced…. in just one short generation.  I’m working hard to bring it all back.

All the raw materials for some lacto-fermented salsa.

If last year was a year of canning, this has been a year of fermenting.  It sounds a lot more intimidating than it really is.  It’s actually quite easy and really just facilitating a natural process.  almost anything can be fermented, but I’m just doing dairy and vegetables now.  I think ill save the meat for the folks in Scandinavia and the Sudan.  If you think you wouldn’t like fermented food, then I hate to tell you but beer, cheese, wine, coffee, chocolate, crème fresh, yogurt and sauerkraut are all fermented foods.  Fermented foods are an amazingly rich and alive source of probiotics.  They are so healthy for you and make your belly happy.  I try to eat some every day, especially with a very protein-rich meal.  They are especially important because they are amazingly cheap to make and I can easily and quickly preserve a lot of our CSA veggies for the winter, which is what this whole thing is all about anyway.  Lacto-fermentation is about the most basic and primitive form of food preservation.  Fermented foods saved entire cultures that did not have constant access to food year round.  We have come to fear bacteria in this day and age, and making friends with and living symbiotically with bacteria is a strangely profound experience.

Kraut, Sriracha, and eggs scrambled in home made ghee. Breakfast for under a dollar!

Anyway, here are some of my projects from the last couple of weeks in getting ready for the Slim Winter.  I made a bunch of ghee from some Kerrygold butter.  I love it, so I’m sure I’ll need to make more soon.  I made a couple of quarts of sauerkraut, kimchi, and fermented salsa.  I have a bunch of turnips that I’m going to shred and ferment, and I’m sure I’ll be getting more beets from our CSA before the year is over, too.  I have about five hundred huge squashes someone gave us that I roasted and pureed put up in the freezer.  I made ricotta that was one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted, but unfortunately after doing the math, It’s really not very cost-effective unless you also need a bunch of whey (which I do, but already have about three quarts frozen) so I don’t think I’ll be doing that one again.  We also have the meat of almost an entire school of Atlantic cod, hake and haddock in the freezer from last years Community Supported Fishery which we unfortunately signed up for the months I fell pregnant with Elias and COULD NOT

Dill pickles fermenting away.

TOLERATE the smell of fish, let alone the idea of eating it.  Into the freezer it went.  We bartered for some tasty pastured meat with some farmer/hunter friends, too so we have a bit of wild venison (and I’m looking for recipes!), bacon, sausage, medallions, roast beef and a pork shoulder.

Sometimes I feel like I’m preparing for nuclear winter.  I know a lot of bloggers do the food prep thing for fun, or for health, or for experimentation.  I used to do it for shits and giggles, too.  The “urban homesteading” movement took off some five years ago or so, but I have found that many of the people doing it are just playing house.  One can read through the comments sections of some homesteading blogs and see all kinds of gushing about paying $14 a pound for “organic, heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market” and then having a lovely afternoon just canning some purée, taking some pretty pictures on their fancy SLR and blogging about it before heading out to their graphic design job in Brooklyn or San Francisco.  I enjoy reading these blogs like I enjoy watching House Hunters International- they are fun and luxurious and totally out of my world.  If I didn’t have to be doing all of this, I probably wouldn’t.  Because kimchi stinks.

I know people mean well (or, sometimes they don’t) but I’m a little tired of getting this question.  It’s always during a lull in the conversation and brought up in a cheery, conversational tone that makes me think that it was deliberate.  I know that someone saw “the job numbers” on the TV machine and though, “Gee, I wonder if [token unemployed person] has seen these.  I’m going to ask them in a bland and non-offensive tone to communicate my empathy for their situation.”  Yeah.  It’s not working.  I don’t look at “the job numbers”, because they can be interpreted in many ways, and because it doesn’t get us a job. We watched them in the beginning for signs of hope, but they never seemed to correlate with our experiences.  So, if you want to help the Long Term Unemployed, don’t condescend to us. Just give some resources to your local food pantry, please.   Speaking of food…

I try to do one food project each day.  We are getting a glut of vegetables from our CSA now, and I’m working hard to keep as much of it as I can for the winter.  In the past I have done a lot of boiling water bath canning, and some pressure canning, too but It’s hard for me to think of anything messier, more time-consuming, or hotter.  I find myself dreading every canning project, especially after last summers 110# of tomatoes.  Yes, it paid off when I ended up with a bookshelf in the basement full of quart jars with fresh tomatoes in them, and I only just ran out of them a couple of weeks ago.  But man, that was a lot of messy work.  I don’t want to deal with it again, so this year, I’ll be oven roasting and freezing some tomatoes, and packing others in oil.  Much easier.  I can get one bushel (which is about 54#) of sauce tomatoes for $20 at a local farm.  I’m hoping to get two bushels processed before the end of the season.

Today I got a Groupon for $10 for $20 worth of meat from a local butcher, so I jumped on it and drove over there.  For less than $50, I got a pound of duck fat, three pounds of freshly ground lamb that they cryo-vaced into individual packages for me to freeze, 2.5 pounds of lamb shanks, 3 ham hocks, and 2 pounds of chicken feet for stock.  So everything went into the freezer except for one pound of the lamb that i made into some lamb meatballs with roasted eggplant sauce.  Yum.  We had everything on hand from our CSA or in the pantry, so it was almost a free meal.  That always feels good.

J talked to his recruiter today who had a great job at a growing company with fantastic people that he would be perfect for……in Baton Rouge.  I cried.  I just refuse to believe that there isn’t something here that he would be great for.  He is willing to commute to DC and NYC on the shuttle.  He is more than willing to telecommute with some travel to a home office.  We cannot afford to sell our home, uproot our family and move someplace with no job market in this economy when they could fire him in a  year.  It’s not fair.  He has a few more resumes in, but he always does.  One company who had expressed some interest in him suddenly decided to go in another direction with the job description.  At least he got a reason.  That’s incredibly rare these days.  Usually you send your résumé through an online form, and then the computer decides whether to put you in to the next step or lock you out.  If you move on to the essay portion (yes, the essay portion), then you have the opportunity to answer some questions in under 500 words about why you would be a  good fit for this job.  Then you hit Submit.  At this point, you either send it out into the ether with no further information and just wait for a phone call, or as is more likely to happen, you get a generic message saying that you’re not right for this position at this time.  Nothing has been reviewed by a human, no feedback is given, you have no one to contact, no phone number, name or interview.  It’s dehumanizing and disrespectful and these online HR systems are losing out on a  lot of great job candidates.  It’s just humiliating.  J read today in an article with tips on how to get around these systems that you shouldn’t even say “summa cum laude” on your résumé, and to change it to “high honors”, or your résumé will get screens out as porn!  We are not dealing with geniuses here, but there is seemingly no way though this impenetrable HR firewall.  Of porn.

Now, I’m off to watch the presidents jobs speech to congress.  Fingers crossed for a miracle.

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