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Posts Tagged ‘emergency preparedness’

No blog of mine would be complete without at least one Top 10 list.  This year we celebrated the 4th of July with a three-day weekend filled with family, friends and the season’s first berry picking extravaganza, so I decided it was time I share some of my hard-earned canning/preserving wisdom.   I was reminded as I canned this season’s first round of jam of all the tips/tricks and do’s and do not’s and decided to share them with you here.  I present Farmgirl Chic’s Top 10 Tips for Successful Home Canning/Preserving:

 

10.  Start with a jams and jellies.  They are so easy and super hard to mess up and trust me, you will mess up.

9.    Canning/Preserving is not something you squeeze into a busy day.   You need at least 3 hours.  Maybe more if you are making salsa.  Words to live by: If you have to be somewhere in the morning; 8 PM is too late to start canning something.

8.   Use only trusted and reliable canning recipes.  Just because great-aunt Bertha’s magic relish hasn’t killed anyone yet doesn’t mean that it won’t.  Try the Ball Book and/or website for some great recipes.

7.  Sterilizing jars in the dishwasher:  Good Idea.    Canning in the dishwasher: Bad Idea.   Also canning in the oven is not the right choice and neither is flipping the jars upside down after filling them with hot liquid in the hopes that they seal.  A Boiling Water Bath Canner (BWB) or Pressure Cooker are the only right choices (see photos below to see the BWB I use)

6.  Never stop stirring the jelly while it is cooking.  EVER.  Unless you have a hankering to spend an entire afternoon scraping hot and sticky jelly from your  stove-top,  just take my word for it.

5.  Pepper burn is a real thing.   When working with hot peppers wear gloves.  Don’t pretend that you are tougher than the pepper.  You are not.  Take it from someone who spent an entire afternoon with her hand in a bowl of milk to make the burning stop.   As a side note, wash your hands before you touch your eyes even if you wear gloves.

4.  Don’t reuse the lids.   They are for one use only and they are dirt cheap.   I am a person who sees botulism around every corner so I want to make sure that I have done all I can to keep my preserves fresh and safe and using new lids each time is part of that process.

3.  Don’t try to “jazz” up the recipes when you start out, especially if using the BWB method.  Acidity percentages are very important in this process.  This is my 3rd season making my own preserves and I still feel like I can’t doctor the recipes.

2.  Canning should be done when fruit and veggies are at the peak of freshness.   When you can’t decide if  they are sprouting mold or just have natural fuzz, you have missed the window.  Go ahead and throw them away.

1.  Canning sounds mystical and overwhelming, but in truth it is fun and nothing is cooler than providing your family and friends with delicious homemade goodies that allow you to enjoy the tastes of summer all year-long.

Below I have attached pictures of the process as it looks in our house.   Happy Fourth of July Everyone!!

We're Jamming, Jamming, Jamming. I hope you like Jamming Too...

The Sterile Field

Squishing the washed and stemmed berries

Just Keep Stirring, Stirring, Stirring

Checking For Sheeting (which means I can finally stop stirring)

Boiling Water Bather in Action

The finished project. Yum!!!

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I had intended to write about our garden as it enters its second stage, but alas, the weather was not being super cooperative so that will be a post for another day.  Instead, I would like to share my extreme couponing experience and my plans moving forward.   If you caught my tweets you know I saved about 27% off my total bill at my local grocery store, Price Chopper.   We are still reaping the benefits from that trip (nothing says let me entertain you like a can of Bush’s baked beans of which I have 5), and slowly starting our stockpile.   I saved 27% without printing any online coupons or really using the full extent of the deal match-ups that I could have.   I also realize that when we see the famed “Extreme Couponers” on reality TV, they have a ginormous stockpile already and therefore can pick and choose what they get with every trip, and can wait to buy necessities until they reach rock bottom prices.  Our stockpile has not reached epic proportions as of yet, but I am confident we will get there.   As for the overall experience I can tell you the following things for sure:

1.  Couponing is a time commitment.  I did not even get any of the online coupons, completely research the match ups or organize the coupons with anything other than a paper clip and a dream and it still took about 3 hours of time total from clipping to car.

2.  5 boxes of cereal take up a LOT of valuable cart real-estate.    By the end of the trip I was practically balancing yogurt on my nose.   If you are going to try an extreme coupon trip, bring a friend who can push an additional cart..then load up on cereal till your heart’s content.

3.   Have your coupons organized and bring them all, even if you don’t think you are going to use them.  I stumbled across a couple of really good deals while shopping made even better by coupons I had on my person.

As I move forward with this new “hobby”, I have a couple of goals in mind:

1.  I would like to spend only $400 a month or $100 a week on groceries.   This would cut our monthly bill in half, which would be ideal and means Iphone for Jamie and more grassfed/free range meats for  our family.

2.  I am going to organize the coupons in a binder and/or accordion file in the hopes of being able to get the most bang for my buck and time.

3.  I would like to clear out some shelves in my basement to start the stockpile.  My husband has acquired the shelves and now we just need to clean out the space.  It has long been a dream of mine to have an unlimited supply of paper towels, toilet paper and dishwasher detergent in storage.  Perhaps soon that will be a reality.

I already have my match-ups lined up for the next trip and will share a photo of my newly organized coupons once it is complete.   In the meantime I am looking forward to reporting increased savings and sharing photos of our homemade and store-bought hybrid stockpile.

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The original title for this post was going to be “Localvores for Wal-Mart.”  It was inspired by a conversation I had yesterday with two of my dearest friends who gently reminded me that my desire for a Super Wal-Mart to come to my town was a perfect contradiction to my buy local, eat organic, return to basics platform that I have clearly been fairly vocal about.   Anyone else NOT my dearest friends would have probably come right out and said, “You loud mouthed hypocrite!!  How can you even think such a thing?”    Well, here is my defense.   We on the eat local/organic front tend to be a tad bit extreme when it comes to our beliefs.   That extremism sometimes forces everyone to miss a key point:  Every little bit counts.   Every time we choose to buy from our local farmers market or sign up for a CSA we are making a difference.  Every vegetable we plant, harvest and either eat or put by, makes a difference.   I will be the first person to say that food in our nation has become big business right along with oil and electronics and my sincere hope is that more people like me decide to build a relationship with food or those who grow it, or decide to become growers themselves.   As it turns out, however, to the best of my knowledge, no one local or otherwise grows toilet paper. If you do know someone who does, by all means, send me their way.s  As romantic as using leaves or newspaper sounds, I am just not there yet in my journey back to basics and I am guessing that city sewers and septic systems around the country will appreciate that choice.  The same can be said for soaps, make-up, toothpaste, medicine, etc.    Let’s be honest, sometimes the only things that will satisfy my child are chicken fries and Spaghettios.   As a mom, I do my best to prepare whole and healthy foods for my family. I bulk up on local, in-season produce and freeze or can it.   I try to do the cook once, eat all week routine as often as possible.   I use homemade or “green” cleaning products whenever possible.  I do seem to have an unhealthy addiction to Seventh Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner and Method Daily Shower Cleaner. The wasteful skeleton in my closet comes in the form of Lysol or Clorox disposable wipes.   Since the city might frown on us putting a milking cow in the backyard, I will still need to continue to purchase milk.  Until I get a chance to take that glass blowing class,  I still need to purchase containers to freeze all of my make ahead meals and jars to put all my jellies and pickles in.    The moral of my tale here is that until such a time when ALL of my time can be put into creating a self-sustaining household, I will still need to budget a good chunk of our monthly funds for groceries purchased at a store.   I would also like to purchase a whole (butchered) cow for my larder and perhaps a pig that have both been grass-fed and bred locally.   As luck would have it, my family is not in a position to have that much budget for food, so it would be nice to get as many of those aforementioned necessities at the cheapest price possible.  In my experience, that occurs in places like Wal-Mart.    Every dollar I save there is one more dollar that can go towards a significant purchase from a local farmer or merchant in my area.   Now, the debate as to whether a Wal-Mart ever REALLLY gets built in this town will rage on for years to come, so in the meantime, I have been inspired by TLC’s Extreme Couponing.   While it would be sweet to get $1000 of groceries for $1.98, I don’t know that I will ever be that committed, but I am going to strive to shave 50%-60% off our grocery bills each month.  Ideally, this money will be put towards paying off some debt, paying for my, (dare I say it aloud lest it doesn’t come true), my Iphone, and most importantly putting money into purchasing local, grass-fed meat and fresh and local produce.    Also, of course, there is the part of me that loves a good challenge and has a really strong desire to build a grocery reserve.   As a parent it takes only one sleepless night wondering if you will have enough money for groceries that week to make you want to become more of an ant and less of a grasshopper.   So, our new approach to “stockpiling” will be a combination of putting food by, cooking once and eating all week, and of course, extreme couponing.  Below is a list of websites that I am using to start my foray into spending less to have more.   Also, Google Docs has some amazing templates for coupon tracking and monthly budgeting that I have downloaded and will start using.   I plan to Tweet and Blog about my successes and failures in this area and will hopefully inspire others to take a look at how much they are spending and what they are spending it on.   If my life were a fantasy camp, I could just make every thing myself, but until someone invents a from scratch that doesn’t scratch TP, I am guessing that I will need to continue this approach.  My first official extreme shopping trip will occur later this week and I will certainly share that experience, good, bad or ugly.

The Organic Mother-This is my friend and also the owner of our CSA, Hannah’s Blog.  She has some great tips on how to live organically on a budget and an amazing book she is selling for just a $1.  Check it out and you will become a fan like I have.

For the Momma’s – I learned about this site over a year ago when I took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Course.  It’s a great site with great daily deals (including free Kindle Books) and links to lots of other couponing and money-saving sites.

Couponing 101– A great site that offers a more realistic perspective on how to coupon like a real person and not the border line hoarders on the TV Show.  Also loaded with great links to printable coupons and daily deals.

Wicked Cool Deals– A great site, especially if you live in New England, as they give price matches to my favorite store Price Chopper.  Which, by the by, if you live near a Price Chopper and have not taken advantage of the gas deal…you are CRAZY.

Common Sense with Money– This site pretty much has everything the above sites do, but also has a free E-book on couponing that you can download for free if you sign up for their newsletter.

Most importantly, if you are looking for a deal on a favorite product (organic or otherwise), you can always visit the companies’ websites.  Many of them have printable coupons available.   Also, a lot of the links I have on this site have all helped me begin to put food by and make my food dollars stretch.

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