Sunday, March 31, 2013

He is risen!

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.

In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words.

A blessed Day of Resurrection to you all.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Chicken piccata

Back in my single days, I sometimes bought frozen dinners, ug. Well I say "ug" now, but back then I found a few that I liked quite well. One of them was for a dish called Chicken Piccata, which until that point I'd never heard of.

A couple years ago while leafing through one of my favorite cookbooks, what should I see but a recipe for chicken piccata! It turned out to be a delicious dish, and now I make it fairly often.

Here's the recipe. Since I was cooking three pounds of chicken, I multiplied it numerous times. Don't follow the measurements too slavishly -- feel free to tweak as you wish. This is a very forgiving recipe.

I start by beating together eggs and milk. The bowl should be roomy.

Next, crushed cornflakes and flour. While the recipe calls for equal amounts of crushed cornflakes and flour, I tend to lean more toward about a 2:1 ratio. More cornflakes gives the chicken a golden crust.

The chicken needs to be pounded flat. I lay a piece on some waxed paper...

...and lay another piece of waxed paper over it. This is because I use my husband's rubber shop mallet for pounding, and it's not exactly clean.

Pound the chicken, but don't go too crazy. You don't want it paper-thin, you just want it flat. Lay the pounded chicken aside on a plate and do another piece.

When all the chicken is pounded, melt some butter with minced garlic in a fry pan.

Dredge each chicken piece first in the egg/milk mix...

...then in the cornflakes/flour mixture. Make sure the chicken gets thoroughly coated.

Then pan-fry everything. Keep the temperature fairly low and don't rush this step because the chicken crust can easily burn.

When you flip the chicken, you'll see the beautiful golden color of the coating.

When the chicken is cooked, the girls just dive in; but Don and I enjoy sautéed mushrooms with it. I use one of the fry pans and add a bit more butter and garlic, along with some lemon juice. I usually have canned mushrooms in the pantry, so I use those.

Serve with a green vegetable, and you've got a really really really good dinner.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Interview with Jane Goodall

I had a thrilling experience this morning. I had the opportunity to do a phone interview with one of my lifelong heroes, the esteemed Dr. Jane Goodall.

Dr. Goodall, who conducted pioneering research on chimpanzee behavior in Tanzania starting in 1960, was quite literally the reason I became a field biologist in my younger days. I cannot begin to describe the impact this woman has had on my life.

Several weeks ago a neighbor, knowing my deep admiration, informed me that Dr. Goodall would be speaking at Gonzaga University in Spokane on April 9. In the spirit of "It never hurts to ask," I immediately called the university and asked if Dr. Goodall was granting interviews.

I was put in touch with the Director of Community and Public Relations, a kindly woman named Mary Joan H., who said she would add me to the list of interested press. At that point she wasn't certain whether Dr. Goodall's tight schedule would permit any time for interviews.

Yesterday while I was out threshing wheat, Don came trotting outside with a notepad in hand. "Drop what you're doing right now," he announced with a grin, "and call back a lady named Mary Joan about an interview with Jane Goodall."

I squeaked in excitement, dropped the flail, and dashed for the house. Ms. H. said that Dr. Goodall wasn't available to do one-on-one interviews, but would I be interested in participating in a conference call interview tomorrow morning? You bet! Dr. Goodall was still back east somewhere, and the call was to take place at 8 am our time.

I was faced with the problem of how to record the interview, since I wanted to base some future articles and columns on it. Don, clever fellow that he is, learned that our cell phones have a recording function. We tested it with a sample call, which was recorded in perfect clarity. Phew!

So this morning, heart a-flutter, I gathered my prepared interview questions and called into the conference number. On the phone with me (besides Ms. H.) were three other representatives from the media -- a radio station, a newspaper, and a regional magazine, all from Spokane. I was the only freelance writer in the group, and was later told by Ms. H that it was my enthusiasm that prompted her to select me to participate. I cannot even begin to express my gratitude.

We had a fifteen minute delay in connecting with Dr. Goodall's representative because of a misunderstanding (she thought we were calling her; we thought she was calling us). Once this was cleared up, there was a momentary delay, and then the gentle British tones of my favorite scientist in the whole world was on the other end of the line.

Ms. H. briefly introduced us and then invited the participants to ask their questions round-robin fashion. When it was my turn, I couldn't resist a little bit of history. I told her, "It was because of your influence in the late 1970s that I became a field biologist myself, and I worked throughout my 20s and 30s in the field before retiring to stay home with my kids. Some of my most prized possessions are the two letters I have from you dated 1979 and 1980, and the book you signed for me in 1980 when I saw you at a lecture. So first and foremost I must thank you for offering hope and direction to a passionate teenager who, thirty-five years ago, wanted nothing more than to spend her life among animals, which in fact I have done. It’s a pleasure to be able to thank you in person."

[I had this all written out in advance, of course. Do you think I could have been anywhere near that clear or eloquent otherwise? Not with my heart in my throat.]

Dr. Goodall was patient and kindly and extremely intelligent in her answers to all our questions. Half an hour barely scratched the surface -- we all had many more questions we could have asked -- but her time was limited and she doubtless had other interviews scheduled right after ours.

I hung up the phone in a glow of hero-worship. My kids have been chuckling at me all day, watching their mom react as if Dr. Goodall was the most coveted of movie stars.

Over the next few weeks I intend to write a number of articles and columns based on this interview. I'm thankful it's recorded so I can document every word Dr. Goodall said.

It would have been delightful to interview Dr. Goodall in person, but this was the next best thing. Wow.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Threshing wheat

For those of you who were following our wheat-growing experiment last year, you might have wondered how much usable wheat we ended up with. Well, I couldn't tell you -- because we still hadn't threshed it.

All winter long, most the wheat was stored in a friend's trailer.

The remaining wheat was triple-wrapped in tarps. We hope it's okay but we haven't unwrapped it yet to find out.

Between cold or otherwise bad weather -- and no need to rush -- we just never got around to threshing anything. But now our friend needs his trailer back, so we have to get that wheat threshed ASAP.

Another reason for our delay in getting the wheat threshed was, quite frankly, we didn't know how to do it. Oh sure, we knew academically what we needed to do, but book knowledge and actually doing it are vastly different things. But since push had now come to shove (and, not incidentally, the weather was finally moderating), we decided to apply the book knowledge and see where it got us.

First thing we needed was a tarp, as a clean surface for threshing. For some time now, we've been collecting old vinyl billboard tarps, which will be used for weed control in the garden.

These tarps are very thick and sturdy (and colorful!). This particular tarp was advertising something for Burger King.

Don backed the trailer onto the edge of the tarp and opened the back.

The wheat was solidly packed in, very dry, with no water or rodent damage. Whew!

But now what? This was the part that had us stumped. Originally we thought we'd lay out a single layer of bundles, cover them with another tarp, then roll a heavy tractor tire back and forth across it to loosen the wheat. These tires weigh upwards of 300 lbs., so that would be a significant amount of weight.

But one look at the wheat -- and a few experimental stomps across the bundles -- and we knew this wasn't going to work. The wheat needed agitation, not weight. What now?

While we discussed our options, the chickens descended upon us, having concluded that we had spread a feast solely for their benefit.

Next Don decided to try an experiment: If he stuffed a sheaf of wheat into a clean garbage can and used a weed whacker, would that rattle the wheat loose?

It worked -- sorta -- but it also ripped the wheat straw to shreds (making it harder to separate from the chaff and kernels), and it also went through an extraordinary amount of weed whack cord. Back to the drawing board.

What we needed, of course, was a flail, but we didn't have one... nor were we sure how to make one. A quick search on the internet revealed lots of ways to make a Medieval weapon called a flail; but a lot less info on the farm implement. However a hasty consultation in our grain-growing bible...

...revealed this gem:

A piece of garden hose! Now that we've got. I knew just where a chunk of old garden hose was.

Without further ado, we cut the hose piece where it was already kinked, and gave that a try. We started by holding it in two hands, like an arc, and beating the wheat with that.

However we soon switched to the one-handed version. This allowed us to rest one hand while using the other, and we could swap back and forth. We'll probably duct-tape these for an easier grip.

And then we started flailing the wheat. The first thing we learned is we had to cut the sheaves (we originally thought we could keep the sheaves tied, but no). Then we learned we had too much wheat spread out on the tarp. It was too thick, and the top wheat cushioned the wheat at the bottom. We needed a thinner layer.

So we pitchforked most of the wheat into a pile at one end of the tarp, and just spread about two bundles at a time. Then we got down on our knees (or sat on a crate) and started whaling at the wheat. The hoses worked beautifully as flails.

When wheat kernels are released, the wheat head starts to look fuzzy or ragged. The head on the left is intact; the head on the right has the wheat kernels beaten out of it.

We beat the wheat until we saw that most of the heads were ragged. Then we forked up a bit of wheat straw, shook it gently, and pitched it to one side.

What was left was a mess of kernals, chaff, beaten wheat heads, straw, etc.

We scooped this up with a snow shovel and a shop broom...

...and poured it into a clean garbage can.

The chickens avoided our little threshing floor, but they took full advantage of the discarded straw.

Once the first sheaves of wheat were threshed, we spread more wheat out and repeated the process. Again. And again. And again. And again. By the end of about three hours, we had all the wheat we had initially pulled out of the trailer, threshed... and we were pooped. And sore.

This was our loot for the afternoon: about forty pounds of mixed wheat berries, chaff, wheat heads, straw, etc. We have a lot of cleaning and winnowing to do, obviously. But this only represents about one-eighth or less of the wheat we have to thresh.

Despite our efforts, though, we found that many of the beaten wheat heads still contained a couple grains of wheat. Hand-harvesting, we're learning, is massively inefficient next to the fanatical precision of mechanical harvesters or combines.

Out of the original 200 lbs. of wheat we sowed, what was our return? At this point, we have no idea since it's not all threshed (threshing, we're realizing, is going to take awhile). Hopefully it was "worth" it, meaning we recouped significantly more than those original 200 lbs we sowed.

One thing's for durn sure... I appreciate a loaf of bread a lot more than I used to.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The situation in Cyprus

Along with much of the western world, my husband and I have been following the banking situation in Cyprus with great concern.

In case you haven’t heard, little tiny Cyprus is in the middle of a great big banking crisis. It’s a complicated situation best summed up in this article.

For the last week or so, Cypriots have had their bank assets frozen pending some decisions within the EU about how much of their own money they get to keep. Yes, really. Ordinary everyday citizens are going to have to "donate" some of their savings to bail out the EU. Cypriots immediately descended on every ATM in the country (because the banks were closed) and withdrew every bit of funds they could... which wasn’t much.

When the screams of outrage hit the bankers’ ears, they modified their diktat to say that only rich people would be "donating" their money. Nonetheless until the complicated situation is resolved, banks have been closed for the past week.

Needless to say, citizens are panicked. They can’t access their money. One of the reasons all the banks are closed is because of the very real possibility that everyone will descend on the banks all at once in order to withdraw every last penny. Cypriot banks don’t have liquid cash enough to cover everyone's assets. No bank on the planet does. That’s just a banking fact.

"With banks in Cyprus closed until Tuesday," notes Reuters, "Cypriots have been besieging bank cash machines all week. Faced with an almost certain run on banks when they reopen, parliament also gave the government the power to impose capital controls."

Remember those words: CAPITAL CONTROLS.

With no money moving around the country, businesses are suffering – notably grocery stores and other critical infrastructure. Stores are insisting on being paid in cash – no credit cards, no checks – and cash is suddenly very scarce. Deliveries aren’t getting made, shelves are going bare. “At the moment, supplies will last another two or three days,” said Adamos Hadijadamou, head of Cyprus's Association of Supermarkets. “We'll have a problem if this is not resolved by next week.”

According to this article, yesterday the Cypriot parliament passed a total of nine bills, covering three main elements of the “rescue” plan. What’s most distressing to the average Joe is that pension funds would be nationalized, and no one can make large withdrawals out of Cyprus. There is also a levy being considered that would seize 15% of all deposits over 100,000 euros.

In effect, Cyprus is – abruptly and suddenly – a financial dictatorship. That’s what “capital control” means.” Cypriots are no longer in control of their own money – the government is. Don’t get me wrong, Cyprus banks have dirty hands in this deal, but my biggest concern is for the ordinary everyday Cypriots who are suffering. And what seems to stun the Cyprus population is how fast this all happened.

Obviously, the repercussions throughout Europe are significant. Now no one in Europe can assume their money is secure. Many Europeans are concluding that if it can happen in Cyprus, it can happen anywhere... and they’re withdrawing their money from banks. The ripple effect is powerful and fast. There is a very real possibility of a continental financial meltdown.

How does this affect the United States? Well, if nothing else it’s a big warning shot across the bow and a situation I believe we should take seriously. How do you think American markets will be affected if Europe fails financially? Do you think our own government won’t one day stoop to confiscating our personal assets? There’s been talking about seizing control of 401(k)s and other retirement vehicles – but few (until now) could imagine a bank holiday and confiscated liquid assets here in America.

A concerned reader emailed me about the money confiscation in Cyprus. “May I ask what is your 'take' on that?” she asked. "If indeed money is being confiscated, it's too true that what one country gets away with can go to another country, and another, and another… ad nauseum. I'm just debating about what to discuss with my husband about the (pretty low but it's all we've got) savings account...”

I replied: The situation in Cyprus worries us exceedingly. It illustrates that no one's money is safe if it's not in their physical possession. And of course, fiat currency is always suspect to begin with.

Please understand that I would NEVER presume to advise anyone on their money. I'm not a financial adviser or an economist, and my understanding of these things is limited at best.

What I can do is tell you what WE would do. If we had a savings account (and we don't), we would remove all the cash, close it down, and convert the cash into something tangible like silver. These can be purchased anonymously from coin dealers. We wouldn't pay for the silver with a check, we'd pay in cash, in person. Then we'd take that silver and put it someplace no one knows about but us.

I know someone who is considerably wealthy. About fours years ago [Update: now that I think about it, it was probably five or six years ago], he saw the financial trouble on the horizon. He took his enormous savings and gradually converted everything into gold, silver, and platinum, which are in his physical possession (or, that is, hidden somewhere only he knows). He bought silver when it was $3/ounce, gold when it was in the $300/ounce range. Imagine how much he's worth now! – and no government can confiscate his wealth because they don't know where it is. Pretty smart, IMHO.

We don't have any spare money (most of our income goes to bills) but we're big believes in tangible assets. Fiat currency is NOT tangible. Gardens and cows and canning jars and pressure canners and stored food ARE tangible.

My husband once read a financial article that pointed out how banks and the government do not consider money in the bank to be YOURS. Rather than actually being your property, bank deposits are considered a LOAN to the bank. Banks take deposited money and loan it out or pay off debts or otherwise make use of it. Oh sure, they’re under obligation to give you some when you ask for it; but the reality is you’re loaning money in the bank in exchange for safekeeping and convenience.

The FDIC has something like $33 billion in an account to cover $10 trillion worth of bank deposits. Do you really think your modest $1500 savings account will be first on their list to reimburse if the banks fail or are seized?

Viewed in this light, savings accounts and retirement accounts can start to look downright scary – insubstantial, insecure, and arbitrary.

It’s for these reasons that we prefer to put any spare cash into tangible assets: improvements to our barn or garden, a new bull, some canning jars… These are items whose value will increase over time in a changed economy.

Just something to think about as we watch the situation in Cyprus unfold.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The recipe challenge

I have a confession to make: I don't like to cook.

Part of this dislike stems from the fact that I can never seem to come up with a sufficient number of recipes that pleases everyone in my family; the rest stems from the fact that, well, I just don't like to cook.

(Though oddly enough, I do like to bake. Go figure.)

Nonetheless I must cook to feed my family, and I prefer to cook from scratch. I realize "scratch" cooking has a different definition today than it did a hundred years ago; nonetheless, I generally avoid boxed-this and canned-that when I pull together a recipe.

And it got me thinking: how many recipes do I have that are not only scratch, but can be made exclusively with storable ingredients? What kinds of foods can be pulled together fairly easily with delving into either perishable foods (salads, fresh fruit, etc.) or commercial pre-packaged components?

Frankly, not a whole lot.

There is a superb and quintessential cookbook that every prepper should own called Cookin' with Home Storage by Peggy Layton and Vicki Tate. This book contains literally hundreds of recipes that fit the above criteria of using no fresh, perishable, or pre-packaged components. I haven't delved into this book nearly as much as I should.

So I thought I'd tap into the deep and knowledgeable reservoir of reader experience and see what recipes you like that can be made from storable ingredients.

I'd like to invite all my wonderful readers to jot down one or two of your favorite stored-food recipes and send them in. If you prefer to post them on your own blog or website and send me the link, that's fine; I'll cross-link back.

My goal is for everyone to be able to accumulate about a month's worth of yummy food-storage recipes. Since not every recipe will appeal to everyone's taste, we should all be able to harvest about fifteen or twenty useful ones -- at least, ideally.

Obviously the recipes don't have to come from the Cookin' With Home Storage cookbook; they can come from anywhere, including your great-grandmother's hand-me-down family secret for divine [fill in the blank].

And, since I'm an avid canner and I believe everyone else should be also (wink), I'll also expand the criteria to include home-canned ingredients. If your recipe calls for a home-canned veggie, or fruit, or soup stock, or whatever -- I'm game. Just specify that it's home-canned.

I'll start by contributing a recipe that came from Amy Dacyczyn's book The Tightwad Gazette called Lentil-Rice Casserole. Sounds boring but it's actually quite delicious. I've modified it slightly by using dried onions instead of fresh onions. I also tend to increase the amount of spices to make it zingier.

Lentil-Rice Casserole

3 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup uncooked lentils
1/2 cup uncooked brown rice
1/4 cup dried onions
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Blend all together in a casserole dish. Bake, covered, 1.5 hours at 300F. During the last 20 minutes, you can top with grated cheddar or Parmesan cheese (leave uncovered for the last 20 minutes after adding cheese).

Okay, so now it's your turn. Submit your best prepper recipe(s), or if you want to send a link to your blog or website which has the recipe, I'll post that too. Let's get this Recipe Challenge off the ground!