There’s no free lunch, but …

14 10 2008

… breakfast can be pretty cheap!

We’ve been eating oatmeal every weekday morning for a year or two since it’s quick, easy, healthy, variable and inexpensive. It’s not exciting, but I can manage to muster up dog food and people food while waiting for coffee instead of the other way around. Also, while it’s technically the same breakfast every morning, it’s really quite different depending on whether it’s walnut blueberry, peach cardamom, almond date, or apple cinnamon.

Since I refilled my oatmeal supply yesterday, I thought I’d examine more closely the cost of breakfast. For a long time, I’d buy Bob’s Red Mill extra thick cut oats (organic) from the bulk section at the co-op. They’re a pretty good deal at something like a dollar per pound. Whenever we’d get down to the mill store in Milwaukie, I’d grab a 25 pound bag. Recently I discovered that Cash and Carry in Bellingham carries Bob’s oats in 25 pound bags as well. Unfortunately they don’t have the organic, but at least they have the thick cut and $14.28 seemed like a good deal to me.

Not too far from the oats, I noticed something that I hadn’t seen before: a 50 pound sack of raw sugar! I tend to get raw sugar as a bit of a splurge and set it out for company coffee since it’s fairly pricey so our “house sugar” has been Wholesome Sweeteners organic cane sugar which I buy from Costco for $7.99 for a 10 pound bag. I also get regular C&H brown sugar which is $2.79 for a 2 pound bag. Well, $34.68 is a bit to spend on sugar all at once, but it can be used instead of both of the others and at 69¢ per pound is a pretty good deal. No, it’s not organic and it will color some of the paler foods, but I can compromise a bit. In fact, the budget dictates pretty much that I have to! At least it’s less processed than both white and brown sugars, simplifies my pantry, and gives me one giant recyclable paper sack instead of many smaller plastic packages.

How do I store these giant sacks of oats and sugar? Right next to the giant sack of flour in my office closet! It’s a cool, dry and dark location and relatively handy to the kitchen. I keep my flours in large Rubbermaid tubs and will most likely get another for the sugar once I open the bag. It helps keep the mess down and provides some protection.

Oh yeah, back to breakfast.

I generally make two servings because there’s two of us, but I did the math for one serving so it can be easily multiplied for each family situation.

3 ounces (3/4 cup) oatmeal = 10¢

1/2 tablespoon butter = 3¢ *

1 ounce frozen blueberries = 12¢

1/2 ounce walnuts = 15¢

1/2 ounce sugar = 2¢

So apparently, besides being the answer to life and everything, 42 cents is the price of a healthy oatmeal breakfast! Of course, the price varies depending on add-ins, but you get the idea. It’s unlikely that any pouch of instant oatmeal would provide so much whole food nutrition for that price. Besides the options mentioned above, I will also often substitute 1/4 cup of oatmeal with 1/4 cup of kasha in a 2 serving batch. I like the nuttiness that the buckwheat imparts and it raises the protein level as well. By switching up fresh and dried fruits, different types of nuts, and different spices, it seems like the variations are limitless. At least limitless enough to not need to have the same thing every morning.

Then there’s oatmeal cookies …

* Butter purchased at Costco $8.49 for 4 pounds (this went up $1 in a month!), 3 pound Kirkland walnuts for $14 and change purchased last spring, and U-pick organic blueberries at $2/pound


Living with Wildlife

4 09 2008

It’s important to know who is living in your house and your yard especially since some of them may be carnivores. You may think that just your dog and the feral cat down the way are residents, but a little careful observation can tell you otherwise.

We make it a habit to walk down to the river and enjoy the sites and sounds of the backbone of our valley. Every morning the landscape has changed slightly and it’s always interesting to see who has visited the beach during the night or who might still be there. We’ve seen eagles, mergansers, Canada goose, buffleheads, mallards, cormorant, otters, beaver, coyotes, raccoons and the occasional elk. Since the sand is a good witness, we also know that there are bobcat, possum, various rodents, and, once, a deer.

Living in town is no different really. Remove the water birds and mammals and add in skunks, rats, and many more feral dogs and cats. Even here in the woods, dogs are our greatest threat to our own pets and chickens. Shortly after we got our chickens and had them in temporary housing, they were attacked by a pack of three dogs from a ways away. As you can see, they nearly chewed through 3/4″ plywood, but luckily our hens were safe. The sheriff warned the owner of the dogs that we had the right to shoot them on sight. We haven’t seen them since.

We also now have a robust chicken run that is reinforced with chainlink along the bottom. See the previous post for a picture.

Wild animals are a different challenge. Most won’t bother our Newfoundland dog, few will bother our cats, but more could get to our chickens or their eggs. We let them range during the day, but make sure they are enclosed at night. Kale and Maija almost always slept inside. On some hot nights, we would let them be outside, but it just takes once for something to get to them. That policy is now forever changed: All pets inside at night, no exceptions!

The bobcat came, hung around a couple of weeks, and has since been somewhat scarce. I know it’ll be back though so I act accordingly. We can’t do anything about our feral cat Ralf, but we make sure that she only has food out during the day. She has many places to get shelter and is, by far, more wily than our house cat Kale ever was.

We love having all the wildlife around and do what we can to make our acreage good habitat for them. We do like to stop short of feeding them our pets however! Since there are also bear and cougar around here, we have to be concerned for our own safety as well.


More information about living with bobcats from WDFW.

More about bobcats, tracking, a great narrative about an escape and good description for identifying a bobcat kill site.

Predator identification

What killed my chickens?

Watching Wildlife from WDFW

Mammals of Washington from the University of Washington

Weed and Feed – Fireweed

21 05 2008

I’m not sure why I haven’t heard about eating fireweed before, but it somehow slipped under the radar. Certainly, fireweed honey is familiar and delicious, but apparently pretty much the whole fireweed plant is edible in various ways.

Since I’m “blessed” by a lot of this stuff in my garden area, I just went out weeding this afternoon.

Young fireweed

The fireweed that is out in the undisturbed areas of the yard is at least 3 feet tall, but my garden regularly gets new shoots. I’ve been pulling them out and tossing them into the compost all this time! *blush* Today I picked the young leaves and tops off and added them into a tabbouleh salad.

Fireweed picked

They have a flavor that is similar to sorrel, but much milder. Later I will try cooking up some of the more mature stems like asparagus. Read about identifying fireweed and the various ways of dining on it and try some soon! More at Paghat’s site. Please identify this one correctly! Do not confuse it with purple loosestrife which is a common noxious weed in our area.

The leaves of fireweed are unique in that the leaf veins are circular and do not terminate on the edges of the leaf, but form circular loops and join together inside the outer leaf margins. This feature makes the plants very easy to identify in all stages of growth. When fireweed first emerges in early spring, it can closely resemble several highly toxic members of the lily family, however, it is easily identified by its unique leaf vein structure. –Wikipedia

By the way, there’s a wonderful tool for identifying our local flora is at the Burke Museum website.

Later when the fireweed blooms, try making some fireweed “honey” or fireweed jelly! Since our bees are in such dire straits, I think a batch of ersatz honey can be justified both for the pocketbook and the benefit of our apian friends.

New for spring

24 04 2008

Another day of cold rain and another day needing a fire, but things are greening up and there have been nettles and Claytonia to munch on. Can planting be too far behind? Patience.

Meanwhile, I’ve found a few things that should be useful for everyone:

An easy-to-use search for things in season right here in the PNW at Seasonal Cornucopia. If you leave all fields blank, you’ll get a lovely long list of all the foods that are best right now. You can also restrict results to certain categories such as fruits, vegetables, foraged edibles and so on. This is a wonderful tool and my hat is off to the hard-working people that took the time and effort to create it.

Slow Food Skagit River Salish Sea finally has a website online. There’s a Skagivore event at the co-op on April 29th which should be a good venue to learn more about the local slow food movement. See you there? 🙂

Craigslist has a Skagit community finally!

In other news, there is now an edibleSeattle publication! Of course it is focused down south, but it might be worth a look next time you’re nosing around Whole Foods or Pcc. Meanwhile, check out their Resources
tab for a great set of links. They also have a blog Fresh Sheet which may prove to be interesting.

Speaking of blogs, I’ve found a few new ones with some local’ish interest:

Eat Local Northwest – Seattle

Wild Food Plants – CA (but we share many wild edibles)

Let me know if you have a local blog and I’ll post it to my blogroll.

Power for the People

Of concern to us all is the pending sale of Puget Sound Energy to the Australian

Macquarie Consortium.

We went to a community meeting (AWARE) here at the Concrete Senior Center last Thursday where the potential for a purchase of Skagit County’s assets with the Skagit County P.U.D. was discussed. Representative Kirk Pearson was in attendance and seemed to be interested in the matter as well. This was encouraging. We as citizens need to ask for this and act on it, however, or our electrical services and possibly the vital control of the Skagit River will be in the hands of an overseas absentee landlord.

Here is a brief overview compiled at (Guemes).

Fill out the poll at the Skagit County P.U.D. website.

Come to the public hearing at the Bellingham Senior Activity Center on May 20th. If you’re in East Skagit, come to the AWARE community meeting on May 15th (?) at 7pm as well.

In addition to the people mentioned in the LineTime overview, write to your elected representatives: Christine Gregoire, Rob McKenna, Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray, Rick Larsen, Val Stevens, Dan Kristiansen, Kirk Pearson, and Commissioner Jim Cook and General Manager David Johnson of Skagit P.U.D. (If you’re not in the 39th District, you might have to find your own representative.)

This is our opportunity to wrest our power utility from private hands and into a public cooperative form of management. It will most likely be a tough fight, but the outcome will be worth it: local ownership of our resources and assets with no skimming of (at minimum) 10% of profits off to line the pockets of foreign

If you are unsure about the sale, now is the time to educate yourself on this issue. The deep pockets advertising campaign will begin soon to try to convince you that selling our rights off to foreign interests is a good idea. It is not.

Read “The Pros and Cons of Private Provision of Water and Electricity Service: A Handbook for Evaluating Rationales” (HTML) and other informative articles at that link.

Also Beyond Privatization: Restructuring Water Systems to Improve Performance (PDF link to report)

P.S. I’m having some formatting issues, I apologize.

Grant County (Quincy)

15 02 2008

What do Microsoft , Yahoo!  and potatoes have in common? Quincy, Washington, population about 5,000. Quincy offers up wide open spaces, incentives, and cheap electricity rates. Microsoft and Yahoo! offer a couple hundred technical jobs (with mostly imported labor), a construction boomlet, and the prospects of an energized local economy. Hopefully, that doesn’t also mean a bunch of fast food franchises and a swipe of the great anonymizer turning this small farming community into another ugly modern boomtown with all the personality of a ruralized Lynnwood. Unfortunately, a quick peek at the real estate available already shows a plethora of cookie cutter boxes in the 2,500 s.f. range.

What to do? Well, I think it might be good to extol the virtues of some of the fine local options already available in Grant County! Maybe this influx will have the positive effect of making it possible for more new small businesses to open up in the area. Quincy would benefit from a few good restaurants. It’d be nice to not just drive through.

As it is, we end up visiting Quincy once a year. Sometimes it’s on the way to someplace else and sometimes we include it as part of The Harvest Loop. All the literature calls it The Cascade Loop, but we try to time it such that we can stock up on our wonderful Eastern Washington stone fruit (cherries, apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums, etc.), legumes and popcorn. Occasionally, we don’t make it all the way round the Loop opting to turn around in Cashmere, but then it’s home for a flurry of canning and freezing. One year we may jackpot on the cherries and some years we just catch the tail end of the nectarines, but if all the stars align correctly and harvests are plentiful, early August is a great time as you can usually get a little bit of everything. It takes a lot of will to head east of the mountains at that time of year, however. It’s hot here and it’s even hotter over there!

The rewards are worth it whenever we go.

White Trail Produce, Quincy

One of our first stops in Grant County is always White Trail Produce. The stand is along SR 28 before you get to Quincy proper. If nothing else, we need to restock our Japanese Hulless popcorn supply. We used to buy it a couple of pounds at a time, but this time we just went ahead and picked up the 12 pound tub. That should hold us until next time. White Trail also carries a great variety of fresh local produce, both organic and not, local wines, and other wonderful treats.

Quincy Valley legumes

Another item to stock up on while out there is legumes. We picked up brown lentils this time, but there are also beans of every color and stripe. If you’ve never had beans or lentils from our state, you’re in for a treat. They’re more tender and flavorful than any other. I’ve not had to soak them yet!

River View Farms WheatSnax

It’s not all corn and beans either. There’s also wheat! In this case, in the form of some darn tasty snack food. WheatSnax are a simple concept, fried wheat berries and salt, but it’s quite addictive. A bit like CornNuts, but with the additional bonus of being “mother-approved” and the business venture of a young man and his family in Quincy. You can read all about it at their display at White Trail Produce.

Jones of Washington Vineyards

Naturally, there’s wine as well. The area is thick with wineries so it’s always fun to go to tastings and chat with winemakers. This was a nice one from Jones of Washington Estate Vineyards.

If one of you newly planted Quincy techies have suggestions, please let me know. We’ll be coming over to drive The Harvest Loop when the time comes again.