Preserving food

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One area of slow living where I have had some success has been my development of an interest in food preservation. This is a skill that has very rapidly fallen out of favour due to the now widespread availability of refrigeration. The benefits to slow living should be apparent:

  • Turn a useful skill into an enjoyable interest
  • Spend time accomplishing satisfying tasks with family and/or friends
  • From the financial independence angle, less dependence on refrigeration
  • Ability to buy in large quantities foods that are on special (or in season, if growing your own) and save them for later in the year.

There are two primary recipes that I make, and a couple of others that I’ve had success with. The most success I’ve had is with this recipe for easy kimchi from Maangchi. My wife loves it, and I also like it a lot. We prepare it together. It takes some time, but it’s not particularly difficult. The kimchi has multiple uses, of course – what I understand is the most common and traditional usage (I don’t know any Koreans, actually) is as a side dish served with a main meal. But you can make it a substantial snack in itself if you like the bold flavor, just serving it up with rice. My favorite is using it to make kimchi hotpot or soup – all you need to do is add several big spoons to a fairly mild stock to make a delicious spicy soup, to which you can add mushrooms, chicken, or whatever else you fancy.

The second recipe is just simple pickled radishes. Radishes weren’t something I ate a lot of back in Australia, but since moving to Switzerland I’ve noticed these gorgeous bunches of thumb-shaped red radishes with white tips everywhere. Since they’re so plentiful and cheap, I use a simple recipe to bottle them with peppercorns and caraway seeds. They’re great on sandwiches, in a salad, or on biscuits with cheese as a snack.

My other successes have been fermented chillies/capsicums and ginger beer. The fermented chillies came about when I actually wanted to make a hot and thick sauce, however, I don’t have a food processor or blender to complete it that way. I modified this recipe, I added some capsicum and didn’t strain out the solid bits at the end. It’s more of a relish than a sauce that way, I guess. It tastes good on eggs, added to mashed potatoes, or as a topping on meat.

The ginger beer is one I haven’t actually made since leaving Australia. Unfortunately the recipe I used to use has been taken offline. Again, it’s fairly straightforward, but takes time, and it requires suitable containers that I don’t have here in Switzerland. I made a few batches, with varying success in the carbonation. Still, although delicious, since I don’t drink a lot of sweet drinks each batch took me some time to consume.

What are your best recipes for food preservation? If you try any of the ones I’ve linked above, let me know if you have success! How do you economise on the sometimes substantial equipment necessary for more adventurous food preservation? Also, has anyone out there managed to either downsize or remove their fridge because they’re so pro at keeping food the old-fashioned way?

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Influence #1: Early Retirement Extreme

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This is my first influence post. I will have a series of these, and discuss in brief some of the other authors and resources that have led me to trying to live a simpler life.

Early Retirement Extreme

I don’t actually recall how I stumbled upon this website, but I think it was the first that started me on the road towards simplification. I know that at the time I was working a job I was unsatisfied with, but I don’t actually remember googling for early retirement strategies or similar, so it must have been something more tangential. In any event, I read through the archives of the site slowly over several months, and eventually bought and read the book.

Early Retirement Extreme (ERE) is a book about how to become independent of the need to work a salaried job in order for one to secure sufficient resources to keep living. This is fairly straightforward, right? Many people have written self-help books about how to get rich. But ERE is not about getting rich. Rather, it’s about reducing your reliance on an external marketplace to provide for your needs – and hence, if you don’t need to fulfil those needs by buying solutions, you need less money to do the buying. Less money needed = less time spent working a job and saving money for retirement. The idea is to question what it is you actually need to live a satisfying life, and also build up skills so that you can replace most needs for external solutions by providing your own (internal) solutions.

Just to cure any curiosity out there in the blogosphere – I’m not actually on the path to early retirement extreme, for better or worse. I’m just not extreme enough. With that said, I really like this book’s coherent philosophy and emphasis on strategy. ERE is not a list of ‘tips and tricks’ to save money and retire early. It does not give any more than very rudimentary advice on finance. Rather, it relentlessly draws attention to the necessity of ensuring all aspects of your life harmonise in order attain a specific goal, in this case, retirement (or financial independence). Too often (and you will see this easily if you look at any personal finance websites), people focus on saving harder and getting better investment returns only to attenuate those gains because other areas of their life do not harmonise with their goals. Example: a three-person family unit wants to increase their savings, but simply cannot contemplate living in a smaller than four bedroom, double garage house with multiple air conditioners.

Although I am not on the path to saving 70% of my income and retiring in 7 years or so, Mr. Fisker’s comprehensive lifestyle philosophy has certainly made me question and realign a number of my habits and goals. It has helped me to conceptualise and make progress towards a lifestyle that is more robust to negative shocks from the external economy, because I have internalized some of the production for which most people pay others. It has helped me to ask questions about what is possible within (and beyond) the bounds of a consumption-driven economy, and whether the fact that so few do something (attain financial independence) really means that it is particularly difficult. I recommend the book thoroughly to anyone who is open-minded about detaching themselves from the consumer economy (to a greater or lesser degree).

A simple shampoo (things I did today to simplify my life #2)

hair careAfter avoiding all kinds of DIY personal care products for quite some time, I was finally given a kick towards simplifying my hair care by this article. I have begun to wash my hair using a solution with baking soda, and conditioning using apple cider vinegar. This is something of an experiment, and I can’t say I’m completely sold on it yet. With that said, it’s working out… OK. I can’t say I like the feeling as much as commercial shampoo, but yet the skin on my face seems to be less dry as well… Related, perhaps?

My real concern is dandruff. I confess to needing to use Head and Shoulders most of the time. Now, my experience with the natural shampoo has left me with far less of a problem than regular, not-anti-dandruff shampoo, but it’s not quite as good as the H&S. Anti-dandruff shampoos come with a much larger price tag than the regular stuff, though, so if I can cut down on its usage that’d be fine.

I may yet come to some kind of halfway-house routine, where I use the natural stuff twice a week and the H&S once, but at the moment I’ll continue to use the baking soda and see how long I can keep it up for. It means less environmental waste through packaging, more money left in my pocket, and fewer questionable chemicals floating around in my hair and drifting down the drain into the ocean.

Also topical: after she saw my success descaling the kettle with a 50/50 vinegar and water solution, DW* experimented this week with using vinegar to clean various surfaces around the house. She was much surprised and pleased with the efficacy. This is great, because as I’m sure you’ve noticed household cleaning products can prove to be a bit of a hit to the hip pocket when you need to restock them. Finding a four litre bottle of plain white vinegar should be substantially cheaper, not to mention it’s probably less harmful to the environment.

If you’d like to discuss your experiences with DIY personal care or cleaning products, post to the comments!

Update: After scheduling this post, I continued to use the baking soda and vinegar combo, but it’s just not doing too well with the dandruff. So what I’m doing now is alternating back and forth between the natural stuff and the regular H&S.

*DW = dear wife (or perhaps distinguished woman, if you prefer)