Sunday, December 9, 2018

Food Habits Can Sabatage Self Sufficiency

I have been thinking a lot about food, traditions, habits and unconscious "programming" that we may get as young children today. Food and tradition was on my mind because I was baking cookies for our Yule celebration.

As a homesteader, this is one act in the year when only one of the ingredients was actually grown here. I am using eggs which I froze during the summer, when the hens were laying in abundance. But I do not grow enough wheat for flour, have a milk-beast from whose offering to make butter, nor do I have bees. Of course, sugar (granulated and powdered), baking soda, molasses and most of the candied fruits would have to come from off site, as do the nuts, as my trees are all just babies. For a once-a-year special occasion, I bring in the necessary supplies - as the pioneers did, if they could. I do try to keep as much local as I can; the honey and the sifted wheat flour are both standards in the pantry. 

But I was also thinking about tradition. Some of my friends are grandparents with their grand littles near at hand but not all of them are happy cookie bakers, with or without pint size helpers. While I do remember helping my mom with much that she did in the kitchen, cookie-baking included, "baking cookies with..." was not a designated traditional holiday happening. Mom baked, I helped just like any other day. The root of my holiday baking tradition comes from the year I was 11 or 12 and in 6th grade.  We were studying other countries that year and each of us picked a country to research in detail and present an oral report. I picked France, and included Napoleons that I had made, one for each of my classmates and the teacher, as a "visual (and edible) aid." That got me thinking, later in the year, about Christmas
traditions around the world. I researched many counties traditional cookies and picked a large selection to bake for our
Lebkuchen need to age
with an apple or orange
to add moisture
holiday celebrations. Many we did not like, but lebkuchen from Germany and Thumbprint cookies from Sweden made the cut as did Russian tea cakes and I have
Russian Tea Cakes
made them, as well as the Spritz that were my mom's favorite, for many years. The closest the tea cakes every got to Russia was their name, but I think I included them as a verbal nod to my German ancestors who were among the "Volga Deutsch". I also used to make sugar cookies; they were a traditional staple and I guess I figured they were required in a family with kids. But I sent my cookie cutters to a daughter who collected them many years ago and never looked back. They were far from my favorite cookie. In point of fact, I pretty much dislike icing and they usually kinda need it.

I modified my tradition (yes, even though I am not an experimental eater, I do that from time to time!) years ago, swapping in pastry whole wheat flour for the white stuff and now I just use the Maine Grains organic sifted wheat flour for everything in my kitchen.

Butter cookie suns, moons
(full, crescent and gibbous),
stars and wreath shapes.
After completing some butter cookies (yes, cut shapes! LOL I bought a star and some round cutters last week, with the intention of making star, sun and moon cookies, as well as wreaths with only colored decorator sugar for topping. These cookies I like. They are not overly sweet but boy, are they good. Not the easiest to make though. I still have the spritz to fight with tomorrow (my cookie press does not like me.)

Having got the cookies done for the day, it was time to think about supper. I wanted something quick and easy and do keep a few commercial meat products on hand for such times, in addition to the home grown poultry, local pork from the whole pig we bought from a friend and processed, along with home made sausage, ground turkey and a delicious supply of venison shared by a neighbor who could not fit both the deer she shot and the one her husband took into the freezer.

Since the oven was already hot, I had Tractor Guy halve a butternut squash from our garden, which I baked. And then, since the oven was still already hot, I pulled out a bag of fish sticks (we call them stick fishes just for fun) and put them in the oven. BUT I did not want to take the time to peel and slice and oil potatoes for oven fries -- a common starchy side with the stick fishes -- nor did I have a fresh cabbage from which to make slaw.

Let me take a step to the side here and say how glad I am that Tractor Guy is being able to move away from strictly traditional food pairings -- that quite often would require (a) something processed from the store or (b) eating out of season. It's something many of us may not even be aware of, and others struggle with:
  • sandwiches "require" chips or fries
  • fish "requires" chips and slaw
  • pork "requires" kraut and/or applesauce
  • meat "requires" gravy and gravy "requires" mashed potatoes
  • chili "requires" corn bread and/or cheese
  • eggs "require" meat
  • beer "requires" pretzels
That last one is a bit of a joke, but the idea remains.  Yes these pairings are delicious, but in a situation where your goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible, they need to be reconsidered.

Eating what you have stored, and what is in season, requires change. And in the spirit of this article, our supper consisted of a baked winter squash as a veg and rice, cooked with dried pieces of onion and bell pepper, since I had a lousy crop of onions this year and we used our last fresh onion last week. Typically I cook the rice and then add it to a skillet in which I have sauteed some veg: onions and celery, usually and sometimes frozen bell pepper. And for me, since fish "requires" lemon, (we do have some frozen lemons, but I did not want to take the time to thaw one) I tried the Brit thing with vinegar... our own apple cider version, not the malt. Eh. Not as good as with lemon, in my mind about like eating the fish un-garnished, which I will likely continue to do when lemon is not at hand.

Food is so much more than "just something to eat" in so many ways. It can be consolation, perhaps help us sooth stress (or at least make us think it can) or even bring back strong memories of times of not having enough.  I learned this last lesson from my former husband, who said soup never filled him up. Now, I never served watery or (Gods forbid) commercial soups. My soups, whether vegetarian, with meat flavor or actual meat, are all thick and substantial. In fact, many of them could easily be mistaken for stew, except for the smaller pieces into which the ingredients are cut. In talking with former hubs, I learned that through much of his youth as a latch-key kid, on his own during summer school vacations, his mom would set out a single can of commercial soup for him to warm for lunch. That was it, he said. Just the soup, no crackers, bread or anything else. This continued as he became a teen! Now, maybe not all teenagers have the voracious appetites of legend, but it was obvious from his story that the soup was insufficient. Why he did not "graze" on other foodstuffs or ask his mom for more is not for this story.

I had noticed that he loved and often complimented me on my "hearty, meaty stew" even when the only "meat" in the stew was the flavor from stock and no actual pieces were present.  So I began an experiment. For a month, we ate a lot of soup and stew. It was winter, and that was not that uncommon a dish for us, so no red flags were raised. But what I did was to make my usual run of soups (potato, bean, vegetarian veg, veg with meat, chicken noodle, and even split pea) and made notes on the calendar when I served each one, the side dishes and Hubs' comments if any. Then I used the same recipes (well.. as much as I do recipes LOL) but cut the ingredients in to larger pieces and called the meal "stew." That was the extent of the difference. And yes, we had some strange stews. Potato stew, anyone? Vegetable stew? Chicken noodle stew? Strange thing was, Hubs did not make any comment on the names or the dishes, other than declaring, with great fervor near the end of the experiment, after a meal of vegetarian vegetable stew "now THAT was a meaty, filling dish!" I could not help it, but ended the experiment early, telling him first off that there was no meat at all involved, not even beef broth (which, at the time, I happened to be out of!) I even had to show him the cabinet where the broth and bullion cubes were kept, because he kept insisting he had tasted meat. But then I dropped the bombshell and told him that was exactly like my vegetarian vegetable soup, except cut into larger pieces, and that I had been doing this all month. It took dragging him to the calendar to show him my notes and then he had a hard time believing it. He never did get to the point where he felt satisfied after a meal of "soup" but from then on, we had many fine meals of stew, some with large pieces and some with smaller ones and all satisfied the man.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Not Just a Hill of Beans

Oh, my! The dark season, and the holiday seasons are upon us and things have been and continue to be busy here at the sign of the Fussing Duck and Dutch Hex Sign. I enjoyed a brief break in hex sign orders, which allowed me to catch up on homestead tasks. Indoor ones, mostly, as the dark season ushered in cold and snow much earlier, and with much more staying power than we have seen in the ten years in residence here. We are faring well, as are the beasts and birds, mostly!
Troublemaker Major Tom
got into the feeder, needed
help to get out.
Backyard birds, chickens
and some of the fussing ducks
enjoy breakfast in the snow.
In the hex world, after completing the large (48" diameter) and very challenging design for a Pennsylvania Islamic center, I had several much needed weeks "off" to beat down the domestic chaos before the gifting season of orders for smaller signs began.
Islamic center logo, which was designed with
meaning and prayerful intent, rendered
as a hex sign.
Protection from the Evil Eye
8" diameter

Abundance and Prosperity
12" diameter

Livestock Protection for
Angora rabbits, 8" diam.

Protection for That Which Is
8" diameter

Livestock Protection for
Chickens 12" diam.

While all of that amounts to much more than a hill of beans, my title actually refers to some actual beans. 

This year when I planted the garden, I did not put in separate rows for each of the variety of beans I was growing, but instead just put a marker between varieties. Things got very confusing in the dry bean area, as I had also planted them much closer together than usual. I did not figure it would be a big deal, even though I save seed, as beans and peas are not known for crossing easily. I figured it would be easy enough, once they were shelled, to separate the pintos from the cranberry beans and both of them from the black beans I planted for the first time this year. And it wasn't... just a bit time consuming but taken a bit at a time, it got done.

In the process, every now and then I came to a pinto-size bean with pinto-like marking but they were black in color instead of the typical brown, as shown above. Out of the pint of black beans, pint of cranberry beans and gallon and a half of pintos that I harvested, I ended up with 21 beans with the new coloration. Yes, I separated them out and yes I counted them.

I will be giving my beans more separation this coming year, and planting the "new variety" with great care, hoping to grow out enough seed for a good row in 2020, enough to plant for the future year and some to eat! I am hoping for a more robust flavor in a pinto-type bean, but we will see.