Saturday, September 23, 2023

Frugal beef jerky

I took a deep dive into our chest freezer last week, inventorying as I went. It's too easy for things to get lost in the bottom depths.

Which is why I was surprised to find four five-pound bags of solid beef, left over from the last cows we butchered before we moved. Twenty pounds! The butchers had pulled these extremely lean chunks aside (at our request) for beef jerky. After the chaos of moving, we forgot all about them.

Don loves beef jerky. He immediately pulled out two of the bags, ten pounds of meat, to make into his favorite treat.

After (mostly) defrosting it, he realized the meat wasn't sliced. So he got to work cutting it thin. I hadn't planned on turning this project into a blog post, so I didn't think to get a photo of the slicing process. Suffice it to say he kept the knife very sharp. (It also helps to slice the meat when it's still slightly frozen.)

After slicing, he marinated the beef in two different sauces (one was a basic sauce made with Worcestershire and soy sauce, the other was mostly the same except he used teriyaki). He marinated each bowl of meat in the fridge for about ten hours.

We have two dehydrators, but he opted to just do one batch at a time. He started with the regular jerky.

Before putting the meat on the trays, he sopped up the extra liquid with towels. (Good thing they're washable.) On some of the slices, he sprinkled red pepper flakes for a bit of extra zing.

The meat can be touching, but is not supposed to be overlapping on the trays.

He set the dehydrator up on a table on the porch and set it at 165F for six hours.

It took, oh, about ten minutes for the yellow jackets to find it. We were swatting at the nasty beasts for the duration of time the meat was dehydrating.

When the first batch was finished...

...he transferred the meat to cookie sheets and baked it at 275F for about 10 minutes, until the meat was sizzling. This "finishes" the drying process and renders the meat safer.

This is the first batch. Now double the quantity (after the second batch was done) and that's a lotta snacks! He got about three pounds of jerky from the original ten pounds of meat.

Interestingly, Don had just purchased a bag of jerky a couple weeks ago. The bag cost about $5.

This bag contained the curiously precise amount of 2.85 oz.

This meant three pounds of this commercial beef jerky would cost about $84. We calculated the cost of making three pounds of our own (from our own beef) was about $35 (based on original butchering costs, electricity costs for running the dehydrator, and ingredients for the marinade).

But of course since we paid for the butchering many years ago, essentially the batch was free. Hard to beat that price.

By the way, a yellow jacket somehow made it into the dehydrator and got dehydrated itself. I found it when I was washing up the trays.

Look at the stinger on that critter! No wonder they hurt.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Advice for economic troubles

The subject of debt has been all over the news lately. Personal debt, national debt, student loan debt, credit card debt, car loan debt, mortgage debt ... the list goes on and on. Then, of course, there's rising food prices, rising interest rates, rising home costs, rising rents, rising energy costs, rising everything.

In this economy, it's an extremely thin line between solvency and insolvency, between a comfortable middle-class lifestyle and homelessness. That thin line is getting scarily close for a lot of people, a frightening number of whom are living paycheck to paycheck.

A good friend admitted rising costs are hitting her family hard. "We figured that due to increases in everything, we have a shortfall each month of at least $2,000," she said. She says they'll be okay, but it's scary. They're ramping up some side gigs to get by.

We're also facing the potential loss of one of our income streams. This plays into one of my dark fears: Debt. Debt terrifies me, absolutely terrifies me. We spent many years in the hole when our girls were younger, and I never ever ever ever want to go back there. Accordingly, faced with a potential reduction in income, we're taking the usual steps we've taken during past times of economic hiccups: Decreasing our spending, boosting our other economic irons in the fire, tightening our belts. We've been through this before. We're black belts in frugality. We'll be okay.

But I thought this might be a good time to open up comments and encourage people to give their advice for handling tough economic times. While financial advice cannot be one-size-fits-all guidance, there are some universal principles everyone should consider. In addition to the usual suggestions of paying down debt and building up an emergency fund (excellent ideas but hard to do), here are some ideas:

• Get lean. Stop spending on anything except necessities. No dining out, no ordering in. Plug the financial leaks.

• Develop side gigs. Multiple income streams are safer than a solitary income stream.

• Start a written budget. It's important to know how much you're bringing in and how much is going out. Only by having it in black and white can you fully assess your financial situation and take the next step.

• Don't take your job for granted. Things can change in the amount of time it takes your boss to hand you a pink slip. Pretend you're about to lose your job and behave accordingly.

• Sell some things. We just had a humongous yard sale. So can you. Obviously any money you bring in should either go toward paying down debt or building up an emergency fund.

Please chime in with your own experience and advice on how to prepare for economic troubles. You never know who might benefit.

Nature's guy wires

I noticed a T-post the other day that, in the morning sun, looked like it had multiple guy wires holding it up.

The spiders around here seem unusually active right now. I'm sure it has something to do with the waning season and the subconscious realization that winter is on the way; but wow, I don't think I'd ever seen such firm strands of silk. It looked, literally, like guy wires.

I hope the architect catches lots of bugs.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Gender reveal

Some of you have been following the saga of our pastor's love story. It all started a year and a half ago when he announced his engagement.

The wedding was a bit over a year ago.

In June – on Father's Day, no less – the pastor announced in somewhat stunned tones that Mrs. Pastor is expecting their first child. All the experienced members of the congregation chuckled at the dazed reaction of the soon-to-be-parents. We've all been there, right?

So today, we got additional news. Gender reveal: They're having a boy!

As the pastor put it, there was no mistaking it; the unborn baby was "loud and proud."

The newlyweds are adjusting to the notion of their impending responsibility. I, for one, think they'll be superb parents. They're both wonderful people with a tremendous amount of love to share.

Now, of course, they're tasked with deciding on a name......

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Are we in for a hard winter?

The wild roses are producing tons of rose hips already. As I remarked while walking with Older Daughter the other day, we'll never lack for Vitamin C in this corner of the world. (Rose hips are rich in Vitamin C.)

It was while glancing at these rose hips that I mentioned one of our old neighbors used such signs to predict a hard winter. People have used folk wisdom for centuries to predict what the winter would be like (some of these signs are fanciful, some may have justification). Whether these rose hips are an indication of future weather is anyone's guess.

But this came to mind yesterday when a reader sent an article on how El Niño is anticipated to return for this winter season, and to prepare accordingly. While the article focused on the rain that could hit Western Washington, we can all translate that to the amount of snow that might fall on North Idaho.

Twenty years ago, we moved to North Idaho from the far more temperate southwest Oregon. We moved in June, which meant the weather was lovely. We had about five months, perhaps more, to anticipate what lay in store for us over the cold months. And here's the thing: depending on whom we talked to, the winters were either "not bad" or they were horrible. Which was it?

The house we moved into was a fixer-upper with poor heating systems (an inefficient wall-mount propane heater and an even more inefficient woodstove). We had no idea what lay in store for us that first winter. But with two small children (five and seven at the time), we knew we didn't want to risk their health or safety by not being ready for what, conceivably, could be a hard winter.

So we made a decision: By October, we would be prepared to be snowed in for three months. This meant we would have enough people food, pet food, and livestock food so we wouldn't have to go to the store for three months, and enough firewood to stay warm. Could we do it?

Yes we could, and we did. And boy, did it pay off.

North Idaho doesn't get winters comparable to places like Maine or Minnesota, but here's the thing: Facing that first winter in our new home, we didn't know. We didn't know how cold it might get, or how deep the snow might be, or how bad the (non-county-maintained) two-mile dirt road might get, or a host of other unknown factors.

As it turns out, that first winter wasn't bad. We got snow, yes; but it wasn't much and didn't overwhelm us. Ditto with the second winter. We were being foolish and going overboard with this "three months" rule? As it turns out, no.

The harsh winters of 2005/6 and 2006/7 made all our winter preps worth it. While we weren't snowed in for three months, we got close. Combined, those two brutal back-to-back winters left something of a psychic scar that made us never underestimate the power of winter.

Then we bought our current all-electric home in December of 2020. We knew we were vulnerable without a non-electric heat source (it was before the wood cookstove was installed), so we had to cobble together an indoor propane heater that only warmed about 400 sq. ft. It was a darned good thing we had it, since we learned power outages are far more common here. We had one four-day stretch that first winter that would have been truly alarming if we didn't have some way to heat at least a portion of the house, however inefficiently.

In short, we don't take winter for granted, ever.

I don't know whether El Niño will slam us with heavy snow any more than I know whether all those rose hips mean a hard winter is on the way. All I know is we'll be ready for it it if comes.

So should everyone.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Hay today, cows tomorrow?

Summer is slipping away from us, and it doesn't look like we'll manage to get cows this fall. However that doesn't mean we're not planning for them.

Now that the barn is vastly cleared out after our humongous yard sale, we've got room to move around.

And one of the first things we did was move in some hay. That's because we happened to see a local listing for small(ish) bales (80 lbs.) in a small(ish) quantity (4.5 tons). Because the price was right and the quality was good, we snapped it up. Here it's stacked on the seller's trailer in his barn.

For a reasonable fee, the seller delivered it. Here he's backing the trailer up the lower driveway...

...watched intently by Mr. Darcy.

The seller unhitched the trailer and left it at our place so we could unload it over the span of a few days.

Unfortunately this span coincided with the days we held the yard sale, making for a very divided focus. What it meant was Don and I started unloading it in the evenings, when the heat was still sizzling and we were tired already.

The first thing Don did was mark the floor in the barn, leaving spaces to move around the bales.

We started by loading the bales onto the tines of  the tractor to transport them into the barn...

...and quickly discovered a hydraulic leak.

Right. So much for unloading and stacking the bales quickly and efficiently. With the yard sale going on and with the seller coming back for his trailer on Sunday afternoon, we had no option except to tumble, shove, and push the bales off the trailer willy-nilly. No rain was predicted, and the only thing we had to make sure was that the seller could pull his trailer out unimpeded.

After the yard sale was over, and since no rain was predicted, we were able to move the bales into the barn at leisure, working just in the cooler morning hours. We used hand trucks to cart the bales in. When the stacks got too high, Don rigged up skids so we could shove them higher. I don't know why, but 80-pound bales weigh more than they used to when we were 20 years younger.

Days went by, and either separately or together, we moved a few bales at a time into the barn, stacking them higher and higher. Temps at this point were still in the high 90s and low 100s, so we didn't kill ourselves to get everything indoors.

But finally the day came when rain did threaten, so we made a final push and just got everything under cover, mostly by leaning the bales vertically in long lines. Hey, it's temporary.

We're still stacking – quite a number of bales are still leaning in vertical lines against the main pile, blocking usable space – but we'll get it done in time. We need this load of hay to have the smallest possible footprint on the barn floor, since we are keeping an eye out to purchase another two or three tons.

No, we don't have cows ... yet. Among much else, we still have to fence the property and build the barn infrastructure (feed boxes, milking stall, calf pen) to support them. With everything else we're working on, that's why we may not get animals before winter.

But wow, is it nice to see hay in the barn again.

Monday, September 11, 2023