Monday, October 31, 2011

Total fail

I said that I would be putting up new posts on Sundays to mention how well I did on our weekly budget, but didn't get around to it for this, the first week! In all honesty, I just didn't have time. Between a Halloween party Saturday night (leading to a late Sunday morning), brunch with friends to recover, homework, finally starting a few wedding thank-you cards (a grand total of four got done), helping Shane bottle beer, and the final performance of "Annie" (which means helping to strike the set/pit afterward) I was rather overwhelmed. My brother came over for dinner (and to make caramel apples) and I was so exhausted that I could barely hold a conversation. In fact, I'm still exhausted.
This evening Shane wanted to go hang out at J&L's house, but my inclination was more to stay in, turn off the lights so we didn't get trick-or-treaters (no candy in the house--the doorbell rang a bunch anyway) and either watch shows we've been neglecting or read. Also, snuggle with my pets who've been very much ignored. The fact that the dog got into the recycling last night to chew up some cardboard shows me that she's not going to stand for an absent mommy any longer.
So my grocery bills for the last week (we ended up making several trips to the store) totaled around $50. I can't find the receipt from HG Market, and that might have actually been last week that I'm thinking of.... But the gist of it is that this past week was a complete success as far as budgeting. Woo-hoo! Go me!
We did most of this week's shopping tonight. We still need milk, chicken and sausage, but that's it. We've got our meals planned out and a couple of backup plans in case things suddenly get very crazy, as things tend to do.
Excuse me, it's bed time.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hold onto your hats

I realize that this won't be exciting for anyone else, but I just found out that you can can rhubarb. Oh my gosh! Can I say how much easier that will make food storage next year? Less freezer space taken up with rhubarb! And I can easily put away more of it! *Does a little happy dance* Plus, if it's canned I'm far more likely to use it for non-baking purposes, such as rhubarb sauce to go over pancakes. I'll have so much more leeway, both in terms of space and in how I can use it. Since Shane loves rhubarb (he and his brother eat the incredibly sour stalks raw) I think I'll try some of the other rhubarb uses on that site, such as rhubarb juice. As much as I love rhubarb, I totally under-utilize it. I tend to only make a couple of things with it (gingered rhubarb crumble, rhubarb coffee cake, rhubarb pie) so if I'm able to store more of it next year, I'll definitely have to get more creative. I do have a bunch of rhubarb recipes which I've never tried.... I know my mother-in-law tried making rhubarb wine this summer, although I'm not sure how well it worked. (She's going to open the bottles at Thanksgiving, I think.) If that turned out well, I see no reason why I couldn't make some.
In fact, this is making me hungry for rhubarb. I should probably pull some out this weekend and make something with it. If I have time. Four more shows! I'll be sad to be done with "Annie", but it will be nice to have my weekends back.
I've fallen down on keeping track of our food spending over the past couple of months. For one thing, do we count the honeymoon or not? Do I count non-human-food/non-food purchases at the store, like dog food and toilet paper? I think I need to write out a new list of standards for myself (what counts, what doesn't) and start posting it here once a week so that I'm more accountable. So from now on, I'll make a Sunday post around that and say how well I did at staying under budget.
The construction in my building this week is awful. They're tarring the new section of roof and even though it's "low tar, non-toxic" (according to the website they set up) it's been giving us headaches, making us feel sick, and my throat feels like it's been scraped raw. It also smells like they set up the ventilation to put all of the fumes into the library, because no other part of the building smells as bad. I think this is worth complaining about.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lessons from the marriage trenches

Since we got married, I've noticed that Shane and I are both making a concerted effort to be even kinder to and more appreciative of each other. Something about the knowledge that, for better or worse, we really will be seeing each other pretty much every day for the rest of our lives might have something to do with it. And people are wrong--marriage isn't just like living together. Even knowing that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, everything now seems more pertinent. If I'm being grouchy and mean it's not just to the guy I live with, it's to my husband. That title somehow makes it seem more important.
Anyway, Shane's ego is still quite bruised from being unemployed for the second time this year (and no good prospects in sight) so I've been extra careful to let him know when I appreciate something he's done. Last night, it was chicken stock. He had to run to the store (Halloween costume stuff) and I needed chicken stock for the soup. When I got home last night, there was chicken stock sitting on the counter. Organic chicken stock. I don't blame you if you don't understand why that's relevant. You see, Shane doesn't really care about organic or not organic. For him, at the moment, price is everything. If it was just for himself, he'd grab the cheapest stock he could have found. But because he knows it matters to me, he sprang for the organic stuff. So I ran back and gave him a big kiss and a hug to say thank you.
Now if only I can get him to use the reusable bags rather than plastic....
Last lesson: I should probably not use the phrase "I'd do almost anything to get out of _______ chore." It's always a bad sign when the devilish answer is, "Anything?"

Pumpkin soup

We bought a couple of large pumpkins for a pumpkin carving party a few weeks ago, but I'm not actually a fan of carving pumpkins (I'm more at risk of carving myself up than any fruit) so I decided that I would turn ours into food. Since I bought the pumpkin at $.59/pound, I think it's a pretty good deal.
I spent a decent amount of time Sunday morning carving and roasting it. (And by a decent amount of time I mean it spread over hours, but the actual time involved was minimal because once it was in the oven I could go do other things.) For weeks, Shane has been hoping to make a pumpkin spice beer of his own. As a wedding gift, one of our friends (who knows how much Shane has enjoyed making beer) gave us a gift certificate to the local supply store so Shane got the other ingredients pretty much for free. The recipe called for 6-10 pounds of pumpkin, but the one I'd bought was roughly 25 pounds so that was easy enough. We spent several hours together working on this, and even I (who doesn't like the taste of beer) am looking forward to tasting this in a few weeks.
I also roasted the seeds that night. I wanted something sweeter rather than the usual spice (especially since we didn't have a lot of the spices on hand!) so I just mixed in some butter, honey, nutmeg, and cinnamon. I burnt them a little, but it was my first time ever roasting pumpkin seeds so I cut myself some slack.
The rest of the flesh went two places: either into the freezer for future use (like cream cheese pumpkin bread!) and some of it went directly into the pot for last night's dinner. (And today's lunch! Yum.) I've never tried pumpkin soup before, but I really like the recipe I found. In addition to the good taste, it was super easy, making it a keeper. I didn't use a sugar pumpkin, substituted whole milk for cream, and thyme for sage (we're out, darn it!) but it was overall a great recipe. The only other change I made was to add one whole onion. Shane can't stand the texture of pureed soups ("It's like eating baby food!"), so I sweated some onions while I was blending the rest (the only reason I used the stand blender instead of an immersion blender) so that it would have some nice chunks in it. Shane said that it helped. Lastly, don't scrimp on the sour cream. It really adds a lot.
Trying to get in shape again after being sick for so long (my cough is finally starting to go away after four weeks!) sucks, by the way. I'm sore everywhere.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fruit tree season

Apples and pears are in the stores year-round here, but they're really only what I'd consider edible in the autumn. It makes sense, since that's their natural time to ripen. Apple cider, apple pie, and pear muffins are nearly as ubiquitously autumn-y as pumpkins and root vegetables. Combine them with the cool weather and they're perfect for baking! Warm up your house, your body, your soul....

I have a confession to make: I'm am absurdly, ridiculously, insanely jealous of everyone who lives in a climate that will support fruit trees. It's my one complaint about living in Alaska. I love it here, but at this time of year the fruit trees beckon. There is at least one heritage variety that will survive down to -40. I know this because Shane's mom has one. It's never produced more than a few apples each year, but I think it's still fairly young so I'm hopeful that one day it will start producing. And I think I read that Calypso Farms have an apple tree or two, but I've never seen apples at the farmer's market so I don't think they do very well here, if you can get them to grow in the first place.
Oh, I know we can get apples from Washington in the grocery store. After all, it seems to be the apple capital of the US, and it's still regional if not local. But it's just not the same! I want the pleasure of going into my own yard and picking apples, pears, or plums to cook and bake with. Mmm, the things I could do with my own fruit trees! *Heavy sigh*
Not that I've had any time for baking this week, anyway. With "Annie" rehearsals going on every night, it's been a fun and exhausting week. It's striking to me how relevant the themes of the show still are. Tough economic times, people who have everything connected to politicians, and then people with absolutely nothing. People living on the streets because they can't make a living. "7 million people in this city and I can't sell one lousy apple!" And just when you think you can't feel sorrier for them, their shanty town gets raided and destroyed by the police. It's been how long since the Great Depression, and we still don't have a better method of dealing with our homeless but to run them off into other areas and decide that their problems are not ours, that in fact they are the problem. It happens every year all over the country. One of the saddest stories I've heard was about a church in the Seattle area last year who had agreed to let the homeless camp in their parking lot (the tent city had been moved many times before) but the neighborhood rebelled and it was decided that the church couldn't do that because of safety concerns. Of course, they only meant the concerns of the wealthy homeowners, not the safety of the homeless. And the poor church community had their hands tried while trying to do some good.
In the play, I even find the character of Miss Hannigan sympathetic. The poor woman is stuck in a job she hates and isn't suited for because she gets a steady paycheck, housing, and a pension. How many people are currently stuck in that situation? (And yes, I do know that our current economic situation isn't even close to the Great Depression. But there are a lot of similarities which can be pointed to, and none of them are good. Even the fact that we can make comparisons to the Great Depression is a sign of how bad things are.) I do not attempt to excuse or condone Miss Hannigan's abuse of the children, but I think her character is so much more than simply a villain. The way she comes on to Bundles and the police officer, it's obvious that she's lonely. And really, besides her brother, those are the only two men she really meets. She lives where she works, and it's got to be pretty isolating. I end up feeling sorry for her.
The Daily News-Miner ran an article the other day about the local food bank. They've added some interactive online giving methods in the hopes of attracting young people to donate. I hope it works. Just like everywhere, donations are down while need is up. And as always, I encourage everyone (all two of my readers) to donate to their local food banks whenever possible. Even five dollars here and there can make a huge difference. If you don't have any money to give, there's always the website freerice. Every correct answer to a question donates 10 grains of rice. It's fun not only to see what level you can get to, but how many grains of rice you can donate.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

So what's your disaster story?

It's been one of those weeks, you know? We found out that over the weekend that the ceiling was leaking in the library. Luckily, my boss came in over the weekend and found it, but we still lost some books.
My coworker has been having car trouble this week, and she lives out in North Pole so between the distance and the snow, today was the first day she was able to find a ride and get to work. Not that it's been bad, but that's the way this week seems to be going for everybody. Another friend of mine had the heat go out in her cabin.
Our disaster came this morning. There were some fairly mundane, relatively trivial things at first. The dog is mad at me because I've been gone so much this week with the rehearsals for "Annie". So she peed in the living room and, for good measure, got into the recycling. Nothing too big. My wonderful, amazing husband woke up before me and not only started cleaning them up but he made me breakfast. <3 So while he took care of that, I went into the garage to feed the pets and found out that the boiler was gushing hot water into the garage. This was not a leak, this was a major problem. I called Shane out there, and we grabbed a large (empty) tote that had been used for liquor at our wedding to contain the still flowing water, and I called the landlord. Then I went upstairs to notify the neighbors. The song "It's a Hard-Knock Life" kept repeating itself in my head.
All in all, though, it could have been worse. The water obviously hadn't been flowing for too long so water damage was minimal, and I was only five minutes late to work. I heard from the landlord later in the morning, and it turns out that a pressure valve had gone off. He said this is either because the city upped the water pressure, or because the water somehow got too hot. Either way, I'm glad it was easy to fix. He's still trying to figure out what the cause was, though, to make sure it doesn't happen again. And thank goodness we keep the pet food in the garage! No cars are actually in the garage right now, so who knows how long it would have taken for someone to notice otherwise?
I cannot stress enough how thankful I am that Shane woke up early this morning and made my breakfast. I'm so lucky to have such an amazing man I'm married to. But enough gushing.
Things like this make me realize how little I know about home repair and maintenance. It's not that I don't want to learn, or that I think I'd be bad at it. On the contrary, I've done quite well with the projects I've helped with and I would love to learn more! But I think things like home repair are one of the last bastions of socially accepted misogyny. Why does no one ever teach girls and women how to do these things ourselves? Even my progressive, forward-thinking father didn't really think of showing me how to do this stuff. (Although he was excellent about including me in projects--like building a retaining wall in the backyard. I did roughly 1/3 of the work on that and I'm still proud of it.) I think it was just easier to do himself than to show me. Except for painting, which I'm quite good at.
I'm determined that when Shane and I have a home of our own, I'm going to be included in all of the repair/restoration/improvement projects. One of the areas Shane is least comfortable in is plumbing, so I'd like to learn about that. (Especially since plumbers are so expensive!) This is an extension of the reason I like growing some of our own food--that is, I like knowing that I'm capable. I like doing things myself. There's so much more satisfaction and pride in knowing that you've done something yourself, and in showing it off, rather than in paying someone else to do it. Plus, if you do it yourself you have much more incentive to get it right so you know the quality of the work that went into it.
How does one learn about household plumbing?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

This could possibly be a very boring post. If it is, let me know.

I realized that I've been talking about us eating the stuff in our freezers, but haven't said what kinds of things we've been eating. Of course, anyone who has read my blog can tell that we have things like moose meat, salmon, halibut, zucchini, and blueberries frozen. But what do we do with all that stuff?
Well, first of all, the only meat we've bought since we got home (all from HG Market) is 1 whole chicken breast (split into two meals), some bacon (on sale) and eggs. Whenever we need a change from moose, we've made fish. We haven't repeated a recipe once yet, and won't for quite a while.

Salmon chowder--I already put the recipe for that one up. The only things we had to buy were the milk and bacon.
Lasagna--made with ground moose meat, my home-canned tomato sauce, cheeses we had leftover from before our honeymoon (mozzarella and parmesan), and lasagna noodles from our supply. I haven't been able to find those in bulk yet, and we don't have any way to roll them out ourselves, but they were on sale a while ago so Shane bought five boxes!
Moose fajitas--made with moose steak, onions, and bell peppers. We had to buy the veggies and tortillas.
Pork tenderloin--Shane used Alton Brown's marinade, and included one of my peppers grown at work. We paired it with a salad (HG lettuce, farmer's market cabbage, cherry tomatoes from work, and apples) and homemade bread.
Egg drop soup--This is where half the chicken breast went. Usually Shane puts in green onions, but we substituted my chives and it worked out very well. He also doesn't usually put in celery, but he didn't want to pick it out of the freezer pack I made of carrots and celery so he left it in and it, too, worked well. Even after being frozen the local celery packs a bunch of taste! We of course paired it with homemade bread, because that's the best way to serve almost anything. :)
Chicken pot pie--this is where the other half of the chicken breast went, and that was the only ingredient we had to buy specifically for this meal. I use butter in my pie crusts, so it's something we always have on hand. Shane didn't like the turnips I added, "They just don't seem to go with it...", but I did.
Heavenly hamburger--this is a recipe of my mom's, sort of like a goulash. I used ground moose, of course, and made it partly because we had all of the ingredients already in the house.
Zucchini pancakes--I've linked to that recipe before, but here it is again. Topped with birch syrup, they're amazing. I liked them better when I cooked them in bacon fat, though. Because what isn't better cooked in or with bacon?
Smoothies--made with our frozen berries (I'm running out of frozen cherries!) and my homemade yogurt, a little bit of honey, yum! Perfect quick weekday breakfast. I let the berries thaw overnight in the blender, and it's also a little quicker in the mornings. I just have to put the blender on the base and go.
Moose roast--Shane likes to cook it in canned cream of mushroom soup and surround it with veggies.
Chili rubbed salmon with homemade bread and salad.
Halibut (pan roasted in butter and garlic) with the same sides.
Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup--I cheated and bought everything, including the bread! It was one of those crazy nights.

Things we're planning to make soon:
Pumpkin soup
Chicken soup
Salmon with homemade bread and roast root vegetables.
Clam chowder (we also have frozen clams, dug up by Shane's mom)
Moose stroganoff
Moose tacos
Moose stew
Butternut squash soup (Shane gives it a big "yuk!" but I love it! He can make himself a sandwich.)
And before it gets too cold to grill, more moose burgers!

There are so many more recipes that I can't think of at the moment, both what we've made and what we're going to make. I've been writing them down at home when I think of them so that we have a reference when one of us asks, "What are we going to make for dinner this week?" That makes it so simple to create a shopping list, too, because we can easily inventory what we have vs. what we need. And we've been really good about eating all of the leftovers before making something new so that there's no wasted food.
I didn't realize how many fantastic recipes we have to call on until I started writing it all out!

Monday, October 17, 2011

A sobering thought experiment

As I was walking today, I started thinking seriously about what Shane and I would do if he was out of work for a long time again. What would we do if we had to live off of just my salary for an entire year? And I realized that in all of my planning and budgeting, I had never really thought out how much of my salary goes to what. So here's a brutally honest look at my finances.

Income: After taxes, healthcare, and retirement (to which I contribute the maximum) are taken out of my salary I earn just under $26,000 per year. In either December or January I'll get a small, 1.5% increase so that should bump me up to the "just above" category.
As Alaskans, we receive the Permanent Fund Dividend or PFD every year. It's a variable amount, based on the stock market and how many residents there are, etc. Last year it was $1281/person, but this year it was $1174. Since we each get one, I'll add about $2400 to the income.
I've also been doing the FLOT productions and have indicated every time that I would like to continue doing them. Since I seem to be the only violinist interested, I'd say I have a little bit of job security here, but I can't count on it. It's also not a lot of money. I think once I've finished "Annie" I'll have earned about $400 for the year. Since Shane has also done some odd jobs and other things to earn some money, I'll add this to the total even though it's not guaranteed money.
So all of that brings income up to $28,800.

Rent: Our rent is currently $1000/month, but will be going up to $1100 starting in January. Since there are only two months left in this year, I'll start with the fresh year's rent. That means that for the year we'll pay $13,200 in rent. Nearly half my salary. Deduct from income and I've got $15,600 left.

Bills: Heat comes with rent so we don't have to worry about freezing to death. But electricity in our small apartment averages out to about $150/month and internet is about $100/month. $3000 a year just for those two bills. Now I've only got $12,600 for the year.

Student loans: I (thankfully) don't have student loans, but Shane does. The payments are $450/month. So now I'm down to $7200.

Pets: Our dog and cat, while they seem vital to our happiness, are definitely a luxury. Pepper requires grooming at least 3-4 times each year and while we could do it ourselves, it's not generally worth it! $60 each time to get groomed. A bag of food lasts her about 3 months ($40/bag) and she gets some canned food, about $200/year in cans. (!!! That one's an estimate--it's probably much lower, but I've never really kept track of how many cans we go through because we supplement with so much other food, like meat fat and salmon skins.) Zap also needs dry cat food ($40/bag, which lasts about 2 months) and canned food (about $50 for the year) and litter (about $30/bag, 5 bags per year). All of this is assuming that they don't need vet care on top of everything else and adds up to about $1040 per year. (Holy crap! And I scoffed at the average expenditure of $800 per year per pet! I had no idea we spent so much....)

So now I'm down to only $6160, and that would be all we'd have for food, gas, clothes, medical bills, school fees (if either of us takes classes) and entertainment. If we entirely stick to my planned budget of $125 per week for food, that's $6500! Granted we'll have some time with family for the holidays, so we could probably elimate about 2 1/2 weeks from the food budget. But that's still way over what I had planned for, and leaves no room for anything else. Ouch! I never realized before how close we are to being in debt, or to not having enough to eat. Even having a lot of our food budget supplemented by what I have grown, bartered for, or been given, it's been hard to stick to only $125 per week. I keep thinking, this week we'll catch up and give ourselves some wiggle room! But there always seems to be something expensive which we run out of (flour is cheap in the long run, but expensive for the week when I buy it), or some other little expense that crops up.

Before you start worrying about us, you should know two things. First, if Shane is still unemployed in the new year he will start taking classes again and probably get a student job. So it will never come to this. Second, we have savings. We even have a good amount of savings for two people our age. Well, considering the pathetic state of savings in this country, we apparently have a good amount of savings for any age since we could actually get our hands on six months of living expenses if I lost my job. Third, even if it did get this bad, we could turn to either of our parents for help. We don't lack for resources and a safety net. But it is very sobering to realize that, in our current situation, we couldn't sustain our modest style of living on my salary alone. Probably the worst part for me is that we're well above the federal poverty level. Mine is considered a "living wage". But I ask, how is anyone supposed to live well or get ahead if a "good salary" barely covers essentials? For the government to consider someone as being in poverty, that person haS to have nothing. Once again, I'm realizing how good I've got it.

The state of our country has become absolutely pathetic when a couple who couldn't cover all the bills under one salary is considered fortunate.

Yogurt, a success story

Well, I did end up making that yogurt yesterday. (Along with the bread and mulled cider, but more on that later.) This is the video I used. No fancy yogurt maker, no crazy steps like keeping it in a warm water bath in a cooler for 14 hours. I used Northern Lights Dairy milk (since it's not ultra-pasteurized) and I heated it up on the stove so I could keep a better eye on it. (I was also making the sourdough bread.) I never let the milk get to a rolling boil, either, but it had the frothiness which they point out in the video as desirable. The one step which I think could be improved is the warming stage. Our oven is from...the 60s maybe? It doesn't retain heat all that well, so it cooled down quickly. I think transferring it all to a crock-pot on the "warm" setting would work best. (And we have friends, married now, who have 2 crock-pots, so we were going to see if we could buy one or barter for it.) But since I pulled it out when the oven needed to heat up for the bread (about 4 hours) it had a nice mild flavor. I put some into my smoothie this morning.
The part Shane likes about all this is that it's way cheaper than buying it at the store, even having to buy the local milk. (In case you're wondering, ultra-pasteurized milk can't be used in cheese-making, so I would assume that some of the same principles come into play for yogurt making. It might work, but maybe not as well.) Not only am I reducing waste, I'm also supporting two local businesses--Northern Lights Dairy and Alaska Feed Co., where I bought it.
As for the mulled cider, I did that while the bread was rising and the yogurt was staying warm in the oven. I looked up a whole bunch of recipes for what the mix of spices should be and realized that we didn't have most of the ingredients. Dried orange and lemon peels? Whole cloves? Whole cinnamon sticks? Whole allspice? Nah. So I improvised. We had a lot of the spices in ground form so I filled a pot with apple cider and dashed some spices in it. I'm sorry, I can't give the amounts because I just shook in what I thought would be enough of each, but I used: ground allspice, ground cloves, ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon, and just a touch of ground ginger. I whisked them around and let it all heat slowly, never getting to a boil. Then I doled it out into mugs. So yummy! Shane had never had mulled cider before, but he enjoyed it too. The spices settled to the bottom of each mug so we just didn't drink the last little sip. Probably one of these nights I'll mull some wine, which I could do the same way only adding a bit of honey for sweetness. Is there anything better on a cold wintery night than a hot drink? Because I can't think of one.
I have found so many great blogs and articles lately. There's this blog/article which I really liked, about how local/organic food is always portrayed as a good food vs. evil Big Ag dichotomy, when it's so much more than that. I have to agree with the author. I'm far more interested in all the different ways people are trying to move toward sustainability, and why, than in the perceived fight between good and evil. Isn't it enough that people are making a difference?
Then there's this blog/article about why time is your friend when you're baking bread at home. As someone who is still very much learning about bread baking (and specifically, baking bread here where it's very, very dry--it does make a huge difference), and who has very little time, I found it fascinating.
That article, of course, led me to this blog that's all about bread. I welcome the chance to learn more about baking bread, to find new recipes and to try new techniques! In some ways, blogs like that also make me truly excited for when Shane and I have a family. After all, there's only so much bread the two of us can eat, only so many recipes we can try in a given year.
I was right about the primer snow. I woke up this morning to a fresh blanket of snow and it's lasting through the day. It's still wet and soggy, but it will stick. And I'm so glad I'm carpooling to the rehearsal of "Annie". All that slush on the roads is going to turn into ice tonight.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Root cellaring

In Fairbanks, there is a...well, an entity called the Cold Climate Housing Research Center. It's affiliated with the university without (I think) really being part of it. But they have a small library, and they've asked us to do the cataloging for them. So that's been one of my projects recently. What the CCHRC does is try to figure out the best method of home building and housing for life in Alaska. What's the right ratio of insulation to ventilation? Can solar work up here, when we get less than 3 hours of daylight for part of the winter? What can people do to make their homes more efficient? Naturally, it's the kind of resource I love. And the books are right up my alley, too. Curbing my natural enthusiasm, I have only checked one book out so far. The one I chose is called "Root Cellaring" by Mike and Nancy Bubel. It was written in the 70s, but it's astounding how relevant it is today. If it wasn't for the fact that the book looks kind of old (the mustard yellow color used for the cover hasn't been popular since the 70s) I would have thought that it was more recent.
I haven't found all of the information as helpful as I would like it to be. For one thing, the couple who wrote it lived in Pennsylvania. They write about conditions as far north as Maine and sometimes Canada, so it's still useful. But as with a lot of things I would have preferred it if it had been written solely by and for Alaskans. Conditions are just so different up here. They talk about keeping crops in the ground until a hard December. We get the kind of super-cold conditions they warn against by the end of October. And when I read the part about doing a second planting with the intent of storing those crops, I laughed. There's no such thing as a second planting around here. We get one shot at everything. If we're very, very lucky (and if you have a greenhouse or some type of cold frame) the outdoor planting season is May to mid-September, not March to November.
That being said, some of the information has been quite useful. They talk about which crops can be frozen and are still edible (although it's not recommended to freeze them--it's more of a side note in case your root cellar doesn't work as well as you'd hoped) and how cold to keep crops. My potatoes sprouted in the garage last year because while the humidity is nice, the light which the neighbors continually leave on and the heat from the nearby furnace were too much for them.
So we're trying something different this year. The second bedroom in our apartment gets remarkably cold. Cold to the point that I wonder if there's something wrong with the baseboard heater in there. We've closed off that room (we don't want the cold leaching into the rest of the apartment!) and it's what we're now referring to as the root cellar. Shane laughs when I say it, but I can already tell a difference in the potatoes. They're just as hard now as the day I gathered them. The turnips I originally stored in the fridge during our honeymoon, so they're a bit softer than would be hoped. But I'll cook them anyway, so it doesn't really matter. We've also started keeping carrots and parsnips in there. Onions prefer a warmer spot, so they're in a kitchen cupboard.
The second bedroom is also a great place to store beer. Shane's brewing his own again, and the second bedroom is a bit colder than it should be for proper fermentation. But we have it hanging out in the hallway next to that bedroom's door so that it stays warm but is out of the way.
Next weekend we're going to cut open the enormous pumpkin that's sitting on our table. Some of it will go into a pumpkin spice beer that Shane and our friend want to make, and the rest will go into soups, pies, and pumpkin bread. Yum! Sooo much better than canned pumpkin from the store.
It snowed again today. The last snow didn't actually stick, which disappointed me severely. This one's not sticking, either, but I think it's the primer snow. It's getting the ground ready so that next time the snow will actually stay. I hope it's this week! Or even better, tonight.
A chilly, snowy day. I already took the dog for a long walk, so I'm thinking it's time to mull some cider, bake some bread, and make that yogurt.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Eater beware

I'm a plant thief. Or rather, a branch thief. I realized today that it's nearly the end of the month, the month when the new greenhouse is supposed to be finished on campus. The botanical gardens will be wanting their plants back soon, and the library will look so empty. My coworker said that she'll miss the giant jade plant, but we now have three baby plants and one start from it. (They've all been from pieces knocked off--the plant is so old that it's very fragile and the only place to put it was in a high-traffic area.) Looking at all of the plants, I realized that the one I most want to keep is the begonia. My grandmother always had begonias so they're sentimental for me. But this particular one is special because when I received it, it only had one leaf. According to the greenhouse worker it had had some "hard times" before and had dropped almost all of its leaves. I've nursed it back to health week after week and it now has more leaves than I care to spend the time counting. It's beautiful. So I cut a small branch off for myself and I'll try propagating it in water on my desk. (It's what I did with the jade plants.) I read up on water propagation for begonias, specifically, and I should have cut enough off that this will work. Fingers crossed.
On the upside, not having all these foster plants around will free up a lot of space so I can put more of my own plants in here next summer. Growing the tomatoes was such a success that I want to see how well a bushy variety would work. I got three more cherry tomatoes today and the plants show no signs of slowing down. My pepper plant now has two more peppers on it. I wonder when their internal "kill switches" will trigger and they'll succumb to winter?
I found this interesting article from the New York Times about the watering down of the standards of the USDA organics label. First of all, I would like to point out that the article was written in 2009, only seven years after the label and the laws behind it were created. Secondly, they focused mostly on processed foods, although milk and dairy products were also of concern. This is one of the reasons I avoid any and all processed foods when I can, even the organic ones. Because they might not be as organic as you think. It's also a cautionary tale on reading labels. For instance, I prefer Tilamook yogurt over "organic" yogurts that I've tried. When I look at the labels, the organic ones full of all the "food products" that I wanted to get away from! Tilamook has real, whole ingredients. They also don't treat their cows with hormones. So they might not have the organic label, but I still say they're better for me.
One of my weekend projects, though, is to try making my own yogurt. If it turns out, I'll post pictures and the YouTube video I've looked at. Until now, I thought I'd need a crock-pot, or a dutch oven, or that I'd have to put it in a cooler with warm water for 12 hours, or something else completely ridiculous. But I found a video that shows how to utilize your microwave, so we'll see how it goes.
Another of my weekend projects is to sew produce and bulk bags for myself. Until now, I've been (mostly) reusing old bags that I've found around the house. I kind of thought that I'd use jars for all of my bulk items, but that means getting each and every jar weighed every time I go to the grocery store to get its tare. Then I realized that (duh!) other people use things like these organic muslin bags for their bulk and/or produce needs. And while I think that $17 for six organic bags is a pretty good deal, I'd also have to factor in shipping, my need for instant gratification, and the fact that $17 is actually a lot of money that we don't currently have in our budget. So I'm going to make my own. They won't be organic cotton, sure, but I'll get to reuse fabric from an old project (curtains for our cabin) that doesn't fit into our current apartment. (I tried to put up these curtains when we first moved, but they're completely the wrong size for the windows.)
I'm also going to reuse some of that fabric to make little sandwich covers. I saw this project a while ago when a friend posted it on Facebook, but I didn't like the plastic bags involved. I think, though, that I'll make something similar. I'm not sure what to use, though. I do want to make sure it's a little bit leak-proof so that I don't get vegetable juices, mayo/mustard and other things on the rest of my bag. So I might cut up an already-used Ziploc and cover it with a piece of cloth so that the plastic isn't directly leeching into my food. I've also toyed with the idea of using oilcloth, but real oilcloth (not the modern kind made with, you guessed it, petroleum) is hard to get ahold of and, from everything I've read, difficult to make. I do have a gift card to Joann's Fabrics, though, so I'll probably go check them out this weekend. I did find some organic oilcloth on their website, but it was an entire roll and only available on the internet. But no matter what, I'll probably need some supplies to get myself going on these projects so it won't be a wasted trip to the store. It will be very cool and worth it to do a little bit more to eliminate waste in my household.
If you're interested, there are a whole lot more tutorials videos on YouTube about how to make reusable sandwich and snack baggies.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Wait, what? I mean, wut?

I found this gem of a quote earlier: "Face it... sometimes the most environmentally unfriendly person around is Mother Nature." Huh?

The wait is over!

The snow is here! And I really couldn't be much more excited. When I walked to work I could see the snow heavy in the skies, but they fooled me the other day so I wasn't sure. It was nice, just after lunch, to hear my boss say, "Oh, it's snowing!" I wonder how my cat is taking it? I was sort of hoping it would be like last year, when he spent the hour before I woke up constantly running up and down the hallway, first to check if I was awake and then to check on the snow, back to check on me. But I'm sure he will tell me all about it when I get home, since he's a very chatty cat.
I read an article just now entitled "In Praise of Fast Food". Go ahead, read it. I think it's always important to listen to opinions that might differ from mine, but I still found the article annoying. I think the author didn't really understand (or even try to understand) the slow food movement, and that's most of what bothers me. She also assumes that it's an impossible standard for anyone to truly live up to, but since this opinion is based on a misunderstanding of what the movement is about I can sort of understand that. The author says several times that the ideal people want to return to is a time when everyone ate food that took hours and hours to prepare, starting with the backbreaking labor of grinding the wheat (which you'd grown yourself) and pressing the olive oil, etc, to make a loaf of bread. Then she calls slow foodies the culinary equivalent of Luddites. (And for a historian, might I say that she gets the Luddites wrong as well? The Luddites weren't against technology, they were against technology for the sake of technology. They believed that technology should compliment humans and humanity, not that we should so industrialize processes that any and all humanity is taken out of it. Which is what our food system has become, so I guess the comparison is accurate, but not in the way she meant.)
Anyway, I feel the need to get one thing clear: I'm not trying to make anyone stone grind my wheat. I don't need some "artisan" hand-pressing olive oil just for me. That part of technology I like. Machinery has made lots of things both possible and accessible. I'm not kidding myself that I'd be able to have access to those kinds of foods if it still took so much effort to make them. Think of the price! What I am against are pesticides on my foods. I'm against hormones and antibiotics in my meat because it doesn't do anyone any good. I'm against all the miles my food has to travel because it loses nutrients and the pollution it creates harm my world.
She seems to think that the slow food movement is literally about taking hours to hand craft food and it's not "historically accurate" to believe that this is the way it's always been. I get it. Things like Irish pasties and Russian piroshke were invented because they were quick and easy for men to take out into the fields or into the mines. People have always had quick and easy meals to take with them. The assumption that anyone would be against that is absurd.
She also points out that a lot of the foods we think of as "traditional" to a certain area are fairly recent. (Like the introduction of the potato to Ireland, which she doesn't list.) And yes, people have always done things to preserve foods. That's why we have cheese and beer. But the idea that everything MUST take hours to prepare is absolutely ridiculous. Even within the slow food movement, people make their own fast food. Meals that can be easily frozen and thawed for busy nights. (Some of my favorites of those are butternut squash soup and Alton Brown's squash dumplings. Squash just seems to freeze well, but bread can also be made ahead and frozen. Dinner rolls are handy to keep around when we have freezer space to spare and if you're really time-crunched, they're great for making tiny sandwiches.) We're still busy people. Yes, I slow down and take the time to appreciate things. I love my daily walks, preparing dinner for my husband (still sounds weird to say that), and growing my own food. But I have a life beyond food, so I don't make myself "a slave" to my kitchen as the author seems to assume. Yep, I use canned tomatoes! I just happen to have canned them myself. People still use breadmakers, but it's still homemade bread so they know exactly what goes into that bread. Those things are the difference between industrial food production and the idea behind slow food. She doesn't seem to understand the self-reliance portion of this movement, and she brushes over the idea that chemicals in food are bad for us. And yes, our current food system has given people nearly unlimited options because most of us don't have to spend our days toiling away, breaking our backs to produce food. However, I choose to opt out of that system. That's a choice I can make. The romantic in me wishes that I lived in the mid-19th century. The realist in me knows that I'm damn lucky to live now, with all of these choices the author seems to think I take for granted. (And that my desire to live in the past is simply because I find that time period interesting and I want to know more about it.)
Perhaps that historian should take the nutrition class I'm in right now. Maybe then she wouldn't be so forgiving of fast food. But for a historian, the science of nutrition is probably too new and recent. (It's only about 150 years old.)
Yes, I'm taking a nutrition class! I'm learning a whole bunch. First, there's the fact that I can stop freaking out about whether or not Shane and I eat enough fruits and veggies. I had to track my food for three days and then report on it. Despite the fact that I was sick and didn't eat very much (my calorie intake was really low--like 1300 kcal one day, despite drinking a glass of whole milk and eating chowder!) my vitamins and minerals were almost entirely over 100%. Sweet.
I'm also learning why I couldn't stick to the low-carb diet for more than a few days. Turns out, there's a physiological reason I was cranky and tired! Glucose, which mostly comes from carbs, is the preferred energy source for the brain and the nervous system. In fact, there are parts of the nervous system which exclusively require glucose. And while the body stores small amounts of glucose, and can break down other things into glucose, it's inefficient. You'll probably lose fat, but it will also offset your entire metabolism and that will come back to get you after you've finished the diet.
Also, if you're sick you should up your protein intake. Your body needs more than usual since it uses protein to produce antibodies.
In case you're interested (and if you've read this far, I'll assume that you are) I got the article I was ranting about above off a blog about a family who ate for a year without ever visiting a grocery store. They liked the experiment so much that they're doing it again this year. Sounds neat. I haven't looked through the blog that much, but I will.
If you want to read someone else's far more articulate and grounded response to "In Praise of Fast Food", you can read it at "Dissteration to Dirt", another cool blog I found recently. The author of the blog gives the sort of credo behind the slow food movement, which is that food should taste good, should be healthy for us and for our environment, and should be raised/grown humanely (both to the workers and the animals). How is that a bad thing?
Final rant: one of the other things the historian author failed to take into account is all of the different ways people are doing "slow food". Yeah, it all falls under the same idea and is part of the same movement, but no two families are choosing to do things the same way. No two people are even choosing it for the same reasons! Some cite health, cost, taste, environmentalism, and probably a bunch of reasons I can't even think of. That, to me, is very cool.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Taking the hard way

I was looking at one of the campus shuttle routes the other day and had to shake my head. All this popular route does is go from one parking lot to one building. To walk this distance would take about five minutes, and yet people get out of their cars every morning, get into the shuttle, and allow themselves to be transported to their building. I don't think it's even any faster to take the shuttle than to walk, thanks to traffic and the horrible design of the streets in that area.
I overheard a conversation the other night by some students at the rec center. They apparently lived on upper campus and one was complaining about the walk back up the hill. As if it was the most obvious solution in the world another girl answered, "We drove."
I want to know how it got to the point where society places supposed convenience above everything else. It's "too hard" to walk up a hill, so people drive instead--taking just as long, but avoiding all that work. (The work of getting to the gym.) It's "too cold" in Fairbanks to be outside, so people avoid it altogether when possible. It's "too hard" to take the stairs, so people use the elevators to go up or down one or two floors. It's "too difficult" to cook, so people order out or microwave something.
And then they wonder why they're overweight.
I want to know when people stopped recognizing these excuses as excuses and simply started accepting them as facts of life. Because really, this has become the prevailing idea. It's not one or two outliers, it's most people who make these excuses not to exert themselves in any way. And yet they never realize that they're creating more work for themselves by avoiding any "hard work". Between paying for parking, finding parking, plugging in my vehicle, and the time/energy/effort it takes to gas up the truck frequently, I find it more of a hassle to drive to work than to walk. Yes, even at -40. Maybe especially then, since the truck needs so much time to idle and warm up. I would actually have to wake up earlier on the coldest days to get the truck started in time. And then breathe in the noxious fumes it would create.
In addition to all of this, the walking has become my "me" time. I'm more relaxed both at work and at home. I have time to listen to my music (when I remember my iPod), to think about things, and to absorb my day. Even if I had a crappy day, I feel better by the time I get home. I'm ready to tackle the next project.
I read an article a while ago about the benefits of doing daily tasks mindfully. (I'm sure there are tons of those out there.) The author was talking about how something as simple as cooking dinner for your family can change from being just another chore to get through to something meaningful. After all, when you craft a meal for your family you're nourishing them on a very basic level. Doing this with love, knowing that it's for a good purpose, and taking the time to enjoy the process of cooking can remove the stigma of it being "a chore" and make it into something more special. I've definitely been enjoying cooking more since reading that, and it's made me a more careful cook.
Again, if I decided not to cook it would require a fair amount of effort. I could order in every night, but the variety of foods which can be delivered isn't very big, and it's quite costly. So to get anything else, I'd have to drive and I've already stated why I find that a hassle. Is it really so much easier to live that way than to learn a few simple recipes and to grocery shop once a week? If you have a crock-pot, you don't even need to do much work to have a home-cooked meal. Same with bread machines. (I'll give mine another try, but I'd still much rather bake bread myself. I find the whole process relaxing.)
People often cite convenience as the number one reason why they won't change their habits. But when examined, a lot of these habits aren't actually all that convenient. It just seems silly to me that people fight so hard against new ideas which would actually help them.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I want to love like my dog does

We had a kitchen accident the other night. A falling knife, a dog who assumes that anything which falls in the kitchen must be food.... You can see where that lead to. What that simple retelling doesn't say is how Shane and I both worried that she'd been blinded at first (one cut is on the skin of her lower eyelid and it bled HORRIBLY, right into her eye) and how bad Shane felt for not setting the knife down properly. Visions of midnight vet calls, stitches, blindness in our beloved dog's left eye, all went rushing through my head but thankfully didn't happen. The cuts are small and the one somehow managed to miss her eye.
The crazy part, though, is the dog's reaction. She didn't yelp when she was cut, and she didn't freak out at all until we started making a big fuss over her. She did not like getting cleaned up (and who does like having people mess around with your eyes?) but we gave her some treats and within five minutes of the accident, while we were still reassuring ourselves that she could see out of that eye and that she'd be fine, she was wagging her tail. She spent most of the rest of the evening comforting us. When all was said and done, the bleeding stopped and our hearts not pounding so much, we took her back to the bedroom so that we could all snuggle together. Pepper laid on her back between the two of us, belly up for plenty of rubs and neck scratches. When she rolled over it was to put her chin on Shane's chest and sigh a little bit with contentment. There was no blame in her eyes. She didn't resent him (as he felt she should) and she knew that he was upset so she set about trying to comfort him, even though she was the only one hurt.
I looked at her little face and thought, I really wish I could be like that. My dog loves with her whole heart, and aside from a little jealousy (why would the humans want to pay attention to the cat?) she loves unreservedly. She has separation anxiety, but when we're home she doesn't scold us for having been gone. I realized a while ago that she barks and lunges at people, bikes and cars when she's on the leash because she thinks the leash is for my protection, and she needs to warn others away. (I know this is true because when she gets to walk off-leash, she doesn't have these issues. As soon as I take up the leash, others become The Enemy.) My silly little dog wants nothing more in the world than to keep us safe and snuggle us. (And to eat, but that's beside the point.) I want to be more generous with my love, the way she is. I want to be more grateful for the time I have with people. I want to be less demanding, and less critical. I should go take notes from my dog.
I found this fascinating article about things to do with leftover milk jugs and thought I'd share it. I've mostly switched over to paper cartons, but next time I feel the need to buy a whole gallon I'll save the jug and use it for one of those ideas.
I harvested the last of summer's bounty this week. The pumpkins and other winter squash (I think one might be a spaghetti squash?) are sitting on the counter to finish ripening. (There are five altogether.) And I pulled in the last of the lettuce, since the frost has killed most of it. I could harvest a bit more rhubarb, but we have plenty in the freezer and no freezer space left anyway. It'll be better for the plants if I leave them on as well, so that they're stronger next year.
The cherry tomatoes and the pepper plant at work are still going strong, though. Still not too many at one time (the pepper plant has only produced three peppers) but enough to help out a little bit. One of the peppers went into a marinade for tonight's dinner (pork tenderloin) and I pulled 10 little tomatoes off the plants today so those will combine with the lettuce for a salad.
We're doing quite well with our plan to eat out of the freezer. We've got a meal list going so that we know what else we can make. Planning ahead is absolutely essential! But we have so much food in the house we really don't need to buy more than the trimmings. I'm looking forward to all kinds of meals. Pot roast tomorrow with family (our younger brothers and Shane's cousin, who's a freshman at the U, are coming over), and soup later this week. Homemade sourdough bread, pecan pie cookies, chicken pot pie. Yum!
The only thing missing is the snow. Where is it this year?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Something to think about

"We don't need to save the planet; the planet will survive without us. We need to save us." --Jeff Nesbit of Climate Nexus.
It's been slowly dawning on me over the last year or so that environmentalism and concern for human rights are not just linked, but integral to each other. How can you be concerned about people dying in wars and not people dying because of the chemicals in their water? Conversely, what is there to care about in rising ocean levels unless you realize that there are real people who will be impacted by that? Entire cities will be washed away like Atlantis. If you care about people and humanity, you have to care about the environment as well because they're two sides of the same coin. By bettering the environment we make life better for every person. Reducing pollution doesn't just help you, it also helps the kid with asthma up the street. It reduces the chances of your neighbors getting cancer. This really is a matter of human survival. Whether we win or not the planet will still be here, but I don't want to see what it would look like without our rich heritage of biodiversity. I don't want to know the kinds of health problems that would arise in a world taken over by toxic chemicals and pollution. That's what keeps these issues in the back of my mind when I make choices. To recycle or not to recycle?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"Because she's baby crazy!"

One of the things Shane and I decided on while we were in Europe was the fact that we wouldn't take our kids anywhere (except to visit family) until they're around the age of 10. Not even to Disneyland, where all of the fun rides have height requirements. For one thing, the kids won't remember the trip so it's not fair to them. I'd rather save their travel costs and take them on bigger vacations later in life when they'll actually get something out of it. What's the point of travelling the world if you're not going to understand or even remember it?
For another thing, the kids miss out on valuable grandparent bonding time. If we wanted to go on vacation, sans kids, that would be the perfect time to either have one set of grandparents visit to take care of them, or to send the kids off to those grandparents. Having spent a lot of time with my own grandparents as a child, I know how much this helped shape me and how important it is. Plus, it's important for the grandparents, too. Since we don't live close to either set of parents, we'll have to make opportunities for our kids to go see them.
Finally, what really cemented our decision was the fact that we saw so many parents with young children (under the age of five) who were obviously spending more of their vacation worrying about their kids, and feeding them, and making sure they weren't throwing tantrums, than they were actually vacationing. These people were everywhere, and none of them looked like they were having a good time. They all looked completely stressed out, and who wouldn't be with the strollers and bottles and diaper changing and kids screaming or running around? We even saw one family (I believe it was at the Colosseum?) who had bought their approximately 2 year old child one of the audio guides, then got mad when the kid threw it. Seriously? Did they really think their child was going to understand any part of what the guide said? The kid was in a stroller! We get so little vacation time as it is, why spend the whole time worrying about your kids? Vacations are supposed to be fun. And I think it's important for parents to take a little bit of time away from being parents so that they remember who they are, and reconnect with their spouses.
Absolutely every parent we saw, no matter what nationality, had the same frazzled look, the same frantic I'm-not-having-fun attitude and the same almost panicked gestures. That is not what I'd call a vacation. It's expensive, and a waste of what would be a fantastic experience for these children later on in life.
Not that I'm trying to announce anything here--no impending little ones. (We went to J&L's house the other night and while I was holding their baby J asked Shane, "Doesn't that worry you?" Shane said, "Absolutely not. The more she gets to hold your baby, the longer we can put off having one of our own." I had to add, "We need to have two paychecks before we can think of babies.") So no babies for a little while. But this was on my mind this morning.
The autumn weather is making me crave all kinds of comfort foods. Apple pie, butternut squash soup, pot roast, lasagna, chicken pot pie... I get the feeling that I'll be making each of these things in the next couple of weeks. Yum!!

Monday, October 3, 2011

It's the little things

Some days I feel sorry for myself. Everyone has days like these, I know. But right about the time I really need it, when I start to feel like things just never go well for me, I end up getting what I need to show me how truly lucky and blessed I am.
On our honeymoon, Shane and I promised each other that we wouldn't worry about money until we got home. This is not to say that we were throwing cash around, we were very conscious of both the prices of things and the exchange rate. We also knew, going into it, that this was going to be a very, very expensive trip. And that Shane would most likely be jobless when we got home. (He is. The lab is being shut down, so his last day of work was on Friday.) We made our plan to eat mostly foods that we already had stored, and thankfully we're not the kind of people who need to buy new, fashionable clothes each winter so we'll make do with what we already have. (If I really find a lack in my wardrobe, I can see what Value Village has to offer.)
Despite all this, I've been feeling really crummy about our financial situation. Who knows how long until Shane finds another job? I have medical bills from breaking my nose, so my permanent fund (should come out next week, I think) and some of our savings will go toward that. (Shane's pfd is going toward his student loans.) I am doing the FLOT show "Annie", so I'll get paid a little bit for that, but I do mean a little bit. Around $150. Hardly a game-changer when half your household is unemployed.
And then, today, I got the reminder that I needed that, really, we are so lucky. I have a job, and a stable one at that. We have health insurance to help defray costs, and we have savings. Why am I whining to myself about how expensive our honeymoon was? We were able to afford a trip like that, debt-free, when there are so many people in this country and world who are struggling to put food on the table and provide shelter to their families. And in the end, the trip was worth every penny. So I refuse to worry about the cost anymore, because the experience means more to me than money in the bank.
Shane and I are the lucky ones. He has contacts and a network he can set in motion looking for a new job. We're both educated. We have a support system. We can afford food, and heat, and shelter, and even new clothes if we needed to. This week I'm going to once again take up my knitting (a winter project for me) and continue making hats, scarves and hand warmers for those who are less fortunate and remember that I am incredibly lucky. I'm going to make Shane go through his wardrobe to clean out clothes which he never wears, and donate them so that others can make use of them.
If you want to see the kick in the pants I needed to remind myself of how lucky I am, it was this slideshow about the affect of the recession on people.
Lastly, since I'm in an appreciative, I'm-so-lucky mood, I'll share with you the upside to having an incredibly stuffy nose and not being able to taste anything: you don't get sick of foods. Shane got so sick of the salmon chowder we made last week (after eating it for four days in a row), so I polished it off. When you can't taste your food, you can't get sick of any one item and food that might otherwise have gone to waste didn't.