Butter, eggs and food security

Last week my husband went grocery shopping and, though butter was on the list (as it always is) he came home without it. Upon my inquiry he told that plain simple unsalted butter was simply missing from the shelves, and there was nothing to be found but the fancy imported spreadable brands. This has lasted for some days now; butter, an important staple in our daily menu, is missing from the dairy aisle.

Of course, when there’s an overall abundance of food, it might not seem so very important. We can have toast with cream cheese instead of butter for breakfast. Butter can be replaced by coconut oil in baking. But in our culture, so used to affluence and to store shelves groaning under the weight of any food imaginable, it seems almost incredible that one might step out to get butter (or anything else, really) and find out that it’s not to be had.

I was born in a country where food deficit was the daily reality. There was no hunger, but it was common to walk into a store and find half its shelves empty, and make do with whatever was available. People stockpiled canned and dry goods and non-perishables; it was plain common sense.

Above: whole grains and pulses, stored in a tightly closed container, will remain in good condition for years and make a compact, useful, cheap and readily available food source. 

We might not like to hear it or even think of it, but a time may come – and not in the very distant future, either – when food is not as readily and abundantly available as it is today. Some products may become less common than they are now, on a temporary or permanent basis. Others may simply become more expensive. Either way, people who are opting to learn food security skills today will be the gainers.

Stockpiling is one valuable practice to be learned. It makes very good sense to have a nice stash of products that can be stored for a long time, rotating them every few months or so. Canned food, rice, beans and grain of all kinds, flour, yeast, salt, non-perishables such as soap and toilet paper, and much else, can make a nice safety cushion for emergencies or simply for lean times. We have lived largely off our pantry for months on end during several periods.

Growing your own wholesome, fresh food is the next big step. A productive vegetable garden and a chicken coop, even a very little one, contribute a lot toward the goal of food security. Even just having plenty of veggies and eggs can provide one with a variety of delicious meals. A couple of goats or a cow will further enrich the family’s diet. If we had a dairy animal now, we wouldn’t care if there is any butter at the store or not! I remember an egg deficit time a couple of years ago – we were lucky to have eggs from our chickens and so didn’t feel it at all. It might not happen soon, but I’m aiming to have a larger, more consistently productive vegetable garden, more chickens (and maybe other poultry), and dairy goats again.

Another thing to do would be to learn about foraging and which sources of wild-growing food are commonly available in your area. It can be berries, fruit, herbs, mushrooms, and much else. Always play safe and only consume what you know for sureto be edible.

If you are just beginning to learn about food security, I heartily recommend perusing the writings of Jackie Clay, a homesteader with many years of experience under her belt, and a real powerhouse of optimism, cheerfulness, resourcefulness and determination. You can start by looking up Jackie’s articles on the Backwoods Home Magazine archive, reading through the Ask Jackie archive, and visiting her blog.

Of kitchen sinks and gratitude

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Illustration photo: Huffington Post

Last Friday I awoke to the sounds of gushing water from the kitchen. It actually sounded like a small, gurgling stream. Bleary-eyed, I rolled off the bed and went to see what’s the deal; I discovered a small lake spreading out from under the kitchen sink.

Of course, I did what any rational woman would do in such a situation – I ran to shake my husband awake, panting, “Quick! Quick! There’s an emergency! We’re all drowning!”. My husband opened one eye, stepped into the kitchen, took a look at the whole thing and closed off the pipeline leading to the sink. While I was mopping up this miniature Lake Windermere, he remarked, “Well, at least the kitchen floor will be clean.”

He explained to me that there’s something wrong with the kitchen pipeline (you don’t say?!). Did it rust through? Got nibbled on by mice? Punctured by evil aliens? I didn’t care; I just wanted the use of my kitchen sink back. It didn’t help that Friday is the busiest day in Orthodox Jewish households, growing progressively crazier as the clock ticks toward afternoon and the lighting of Shabbat candles.

In case you are wondering, washing dishes in the bathroom sink is not very convenient.

I’m sure my husband, who is a real handyman, will put this right eventually, but this kitchen sink incident got me thinking of all the other things we normally take for granted – our comforts and conveniences, the abundance of food and clothes, our spacious, well-heated homes, our civil rights and freedoms, our families, health, and very life. So let us stop for a moment to appreciate it all. Celebrate the kitchen sink!

This week we marked our son Israel’s second birthday. I am so happy and grateful to be the mother of this little boy. With my older girls, I was very young and newly married and it was Mommy Boot Camp all the way for the most part. But once Tehilla, our second daughter, was out of her toddler years and I realized I might never have another baby again, I shed many tears. When Israel was born all felt like a gift; it still does. For the past two years, I am grateful to say I have been able to appreciate so many things about his infancy and toddlerhood – just relax, enjoy and let go. We all sit on the floor a lot, playing with Lego, blocks or toy trains, and I no longer have that itch telling me I have to get going and move on to do something more important.

I guess this post is just a record of thanksgiving. For children, families, life, and comfortable homes with modern conveniences. I thank God for what I have, really I do.

Just please, fix that kitchen sink.

Nurturing Hands: The Holistic Health Pocketbook

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I am happy to announce that my natural health book, Nurturing Hands, has been revised, expanded, newly edited, generally revamped and re-released as Nurturing Hands: The Holistic Health Pocketbook. It is now available both in print, in a neat compact pocket size (134 pages, 4.99$) and in a digital version both on Kindle (2.99$) and Payhip (2$). It includes sections on nutrition, natural birth, breastfeeding, and health-promoting kitchen tips.

Working on this book was tremendously satisfying, like weaving together threads that have been loose for a long time. I hope readers find it both educational and enjoyable.

I am offering up to 3 review copies to my blog readers – if you are interested, just drop me a line through the contact form or in the comments.

Dreaming of chicken coops

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Ideally, the chicken coop I’d like to see in my yard looks something like this.

In practice, we have the below:

coop

This is the fifth chicken coop we have built, having moved several times during our married life so far, and we scrimped on a lot of things knowing we’re probably going to move again in a couple of years (not very conductive to homesteading, I know). Our coop is way too drafty (we only get away with this because we live in a warm climate and choose hardy breeds), only partially roofed, has a dirt floor, gaps here and there through which very small chicks can escape, and other inconveniences. We don’t have a run, our roosts need sanding down to keep splinters away, and I could go on and on.

I do hope that someday, we get settled in a more permanent place and build a good, sturdy, convenient, secure and pretty chicken house.

Read more about our chicken housing experiences here:

“A reliable chicken coop is a must if you don’t want your chickens to end up as the dinner of some fox, stray dog or whatever local predator you have in the area. Do yourself a favor and make an initial investment in a chicken house, a real sturdy shed you wouldn’t mind taking shelter in for the night. As we’ve moved house several times, we’ve had to make do with some makeshift coops that caused us a lot of alarm and frustration. We lost a lot of chickens to predators, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t learn from our experience.”

Mean Green Cleaning Machine

Do you like to clean? I think I see a couple of you shaking their heads and smiling… yes, I mean you. And I’ll be brutally honest – while I, in fact, appreciate a clean bathroom and floors, there are many other things I’d rather be doing – like baking cookies, taking a walk with the kids, digging in the garden or writing.

However, cleaning must be done in order to maintain a livable, inviting atmosphere, and while I’m at it I’d rather avoid harsh dangerous chemicals as much as possible (and save money along the way, too). Check out my latest Mother Earth News post on this subject:

“When standing in the household supplies aisle in a supermarket, it’s easy to be dazzled by all the various cleaning agents in colorful bottles and packages. However, most of that stuff isn’t just outrageously expensive, it’s harmful for the environment and can even be downright dangerous. Luckily, it’s possible to clean house simply and effectively, just the way our grandmothers did – combining simple materials which don’t cost a lot and aren’t dangerous to keep around small children.”

citric acid crystals

Above: citric acid crystals – one of my favorite green cleaning little tricks.

Hold On to Your Kids: book review


Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need To Matter More Than Peers is a book with an important message (the headline itself, I think, speaks volumes!).

By Briana LeClaire:

“The overarching theme of the book is ATTACHMENT. To whom are your children more attached? Are they attached to you, their parents, and other adults? Or are they attached to their peers? To whom do they look for guidance? Whose star have they hitched their little wagons to?”

“My son is so independent,” a neighbor proudly told me once, “he has so many friends! As soon as he gets back home, after lunch, his friends come to visit him or he visits them, and he plays together with them until it’s time for supper. He hardly needs me at all!” Want to guess how old the boy was? Only 4. And the situation described above was seen by his mother as something most natural and desirable.

There is a perspective of my own I would like to add: while the authors of the book admit that attachment between parents and children, especially young children, is vitally important, and that early enrollment in daycare and preschool is more likely to make children peer-oriented (that is, dependent upon their friends in the development of social connections, goals, values, morals, language and habits), they also say that the most obvious (and, they confess, most desirable) solution – that of young children staying at home, usually with their mothers, is in most cases an impractical, outdated measure.

Their suggested solution is creating an attachment between the child and the “parent substitute” – babysitter, daycare worker, teacher, etc. While, of course, an invested and caring daycare worker is better than a detached, unaware one, I do not think a parent-child-like connection between the child and the care provider is possible or even healthy. There are too many children per caretaker and, above all, nobody can love your child like you do. Also, there is absolutely no guarantee the caretaker/teacher passes on values and messages you approve.

I vividly remember a 3-year-old niece who kept talking to us about her preschool teacher, whose name was Ruthie. That child was evidently engrossed by Ruthie and talked about her a lot more often than she mentioned her parents. Perhaps it is better that the child was so connected to her teacher, rather than her peers, but the fact remains that Ruthie (however capable of creating the attachment) did not care about the child in the same way. It was not her child, after all. At the end of the year, the child and her teacher would part, never to meet again. Is it really good for a child to give her heart to a teacher in such a way, when we know it is to be only a temporary relationship?

Even grandparents, aunts and uncles (the relationship with whom is permanent) are not supposed to be more than auxiliary figures in child-rearing. They can provide help, plenty of help, but the biggest chunk of the job of child-rearing (in time as well as authority) should belong to the parents.

Rather than say it’s impractical for young children to remain under the care of their mothers, it is better to stress the importance of such a measure, and to encourage families to stick to it as much as possible. You know how it works: when you are convinced something is truly important, and that there is really no equally good substitute, you will move mountains to make it happen. Of course, for some parents it will not be possible to keep their child at home, and then damage-minimizing tactics, as described in this book, are in order.

While I do not think mothers at home should be directly funded by the government, I do believe that  significant tax reduction for fathers in single-income families would be a fair measure. Let people keep a larger share of their own fairly earned money and provide for their family. It would ultimately save the government a lot of money on all sorts of programs that fight violence, bullying in schools, teen pregnancy and drug abuse, and other ailments of our society.

My first sourdough loaf

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I have wanted to try making sourdough bread for a long time, and last week I’ve finally taken the plunge. I used simple instructions for sourdough starter that called for nothing but flour and water, and was a little skeptical at first, leaping with joy when I saw the first foamy bubbles – hurray! It’s working! I’ve captured myself some real wild yeast.

By day five, my starter acquired a prominent yeasty smell and I decided it’s time to dive into baking. I used whole rye flour, opting for sticky dough that is stirred rather than kneaded. After proofing the bread for about 8 hours in a warm kitchen, I eased it into English cake tins and let it stand a couple hours more before popping it into the oven.

Unfortunately, I left rather too much room for rising, forgetting that rye bread, especially sourdough bread, does not rise that much. As a result I got flat and, let’s face it, sorry-looking loaves, but the taste was very satisfying – full, complex, a little sour, with a very pleasant chewy texture. It was delicious warm, covered with melting butter, and was definitely worth the effort and waiting.

I saved a bit of the dough for next time’s starter and froze it, because bread-making happens somewhat sporadically around here. I hope next time I get a loaf that is good-looking as well as great-tasting.

A friend of mine, who makes delicious sourdough bread in the way of a little kitchen business, tells me that her secret to great-tasting bread is in the flour: she buys whole rye and spelt in bulk, soaks and sprouts the grains, then oven-dries the grains and only then grounds them into flour which she uses for bread-making. For practical reasons (my oven is tiny) I can’t do the same, but I still think I did pretty well for a first-timer. I’m excited about this venture into the world of traditional slow-rising breads.