Punctuated Equilibrium

Back in school, I learned about the concept of punctuated equilibrium in evolution. Evolution doesn’t happen in a smooth, metered progression. There’s a status quo for a long time, and then when things change, it’s a sudden and pronounced change.

This Thanksgiving weekend I’ve been feeling unexpectedly frustrated. The idea of spending money with black Friday abandon makes me feel nauseous. I just sent in the semi-annual property tax bill for our home, and because of that I won’t able to put away more money toward our homestead property search this month. But what does it matter? There’s suddenly nothing on the market to consider anyway.

It wasn’t until I vented about all of these things in a conversation with my husband that I realized why I’m feeling the way I am right now. It’s because my forward progress has been halted. No gardening or foraging either, of course, since we’re well into frosty nights. What all does a homesteader DO in the winter?

Today, I did the one homesteading thing I could still do; I cooked. Oh, boy did I cook. It started out as plans to make a huge batch of meatballs and freeze them. Then I figured, why not make mashed potatoes too? Those freeze well and the meatballs would be in the oven, so why not use the stove top, too? And then I started browsing around a bit on the internet for big batch freezer meals. That led me to an Alton Brown recipe for Christmas soup which was basically the sausage kale soup I used to make all the time. That, and a Guinness beef stew recipe completed my shopping list.

Meatballs on deck waiting for their turn in the oven as potatoes get skinned.

I think that was around 10am. I cooked non-stop clear to 5pm. I’m beat. My feet hurt, but at the same time, I feel GREAT. Doing something broke me out of the funk I was in. Not only that, all those meals in the freezer make me feel more at ease, more prepared. The end results were:

  • 4 meatball dinners
  • 4 family servings of mashed potatoes
  • 2 Guinness beef stew
  • 2 Sausage kale soup

So for less than $100, 8 dinners plus mashed potatoes that could be a side for the chicken I already have in the freezer, or used to make a shepherd’s pie. Not bad. I didn’t even go out of my way to save money, or go to Costco, and that was a LOT of meat.

Chuck roast and Guinness ready to become an amazing stew. So what if Guinness DOES come in 4-packs. What are you insinuating?

At the end of the day (literally), all this reminded me of that idea of punctuated equilibrium, and how forward progress isn’t necessarily a constant thing. Sometimes there will be no progress. Sometimes there may even be setbacks on the path to the homesteading dream. And that’s OK.

Homesteading is a Learning Process

It’s been a while since I gave you an update on my progress. It’s had its ups and downs, I gotta say. I made some more jam of my own, and also went over to a friend’s house to make a batch together. She had a recipe that used just a little agave syrup, and chia seeds to thicken it up, and that actually worked surprisingly well. So that was cool. And I bottled up my first batch of honey mead, and it’s delicious!

honey mead finished

But then I almost killed my SCOBY. Jury’s still out on that one, really; I won’t know for another week or so if it’s OK. You’ve probably picked up on how I was just hurtling headlong at all these various homesteading and food preservation things. I guess you could say it caught up with me.

 “To prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on th’other” – MacBeth

Since about July, I feel like I’ve been enjoying successes and learning something new almost every week. The kombucha’s been going awesome, and I even seem to have gotten the hang of lacto-fermenting, a skill that has long eluded me. I used Alton Brown’s directive of 5.5 ounces of pickling salt to 1 gallon of water, which left me a good amount of extra salt water in case I wanted to do up a batch of pickled green beans or something.

And I kept that in the “fermentation station” where my big continuous brew jar was. We’ve been less enthusiastic about drinking the stuff lately, I think we’ll have to be careful not to burn out on it. But I’d still been doing half a dozen second ferment jars every week or so.

On this particular evening, I popped open a jar of peach kombucha, took a big swig, and immediately spit it out into the sink. You experienced homesteaders know where this is going, I’m sure. Yeah. I’d used the salt water to refill the kombucha jar. I was drinking peach-flavored saltwater.

I went to one of the kombucha groups and asked if this was it for my SCOBY. I know they’re sensitive, and figured this couldn’t be good. They said to try taking the SCOBY out, making a new batch with some new starter, and seeing how it went. Thank GOODNESS I had one jar in the fridge that was not fruited, because I do know you can’t use second ferment as starter, and I’d completely ruined the only jug I had.

Two lessons learned here:

  1. Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket; I should have had another brew jar, at least a hotel where I could have a backup supply of SCOBY and starter.
  2. LABEL water jugs if any of them are salt water!

I really hope I don’t have to start all over, although I know I can get another SCOBY from the community if I need to. Stay tuned, film at 11.

“It’s only homicide if the SCOBY kicks the bucket…”

And then of course there’s the fall garden. I learned some things from that, too:

  1. Starting a fall garden in zone 5 on the last possible day the seed catalog recommends it is ill advised.
  2. The sun is lower at this time of year, so the area where I was trying to grow peas is mostly shaded now instead of fully sunny as it was in the summer. So the peas grew a lot slower.

There were a couple mild frosts about a week ago, and that didn’t seem to bother the peas. But I woke up to a much harder frost this morning, and the peas were goners. Oh well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained I guess. Learning that bit about the hedge next to the garden casting too much shade on it in the fall was a good bit of knowledge at least. And now I can just focus on mulching the garden in preparation for its long winter’s nap, and next spring.

Maybe the season has something to do with it, but my mad dash to learn everything has slowed down a bit. I do still have plans to make bread, and I’m on my second batch of honey mead right now. I’m looking forward to doing a bunch of homemade Christmas gifts of jam, cookies, and so forth, too. In a way it’s nice to not have to sit here feeling like I should be doing more than that. Time to slow down a bit and catch my breath!

Survival Gaming at its Finest: 7 Days to Die

Survival games don’t have to have zombies. But my all-time favorite one happens to. I still remember the day that a friend at work sent me the link to the 7 Days to Die Kickstarter. The game went live as an early access alpha in December 13, 2013. It was one of the biggest backings I have ever done of a Kickstarter, and I don’t regret it for a minute. The Fun Pimps are the most dedicated and consistent developers I’ve ever seen. Here’s proof. This video just came out FRIDAY. It’s nearly 2018, and look what they’re preparing for the next update:

For those of you keeping score at home, this is about 4 years post-launch. In an era where so many early access games are abandoned by their developers, these guys deserve some SERIOUS kudos.

The game is currently in Alpha 16 build, and I hadn’t played in a while. I have it for PS4 and on Steam. Since I already had the PS4 set up to stream to my YouTube, I started there. But within 10 minutes my son was asking if we could play on Steam together again, like we used to.

7 Days to Die scrap armor

I hadn’t done local game hosting since owning Windows 7, and it’s not QUITE as easy to get to the command prompt and figure out your ipv4 address as it used to be, but you can just use the search function to find cmd. Then enter ipconfig, note your ipv4 setting, and you’re good to go. The port 7D2D uses in our case is not 2500 anymore, but you’ll see this when you’re setting up the game. It’s the ipv4 that’s kind of tricky to get at. Here’s a great little tutorial on how to play 7 Days to Die on LAN.

So before I knew it we were back in survival mode. The first thing we noticed was the new settlement, with a trader NPC. That was exciting and new for us. I wondered if it might make the game too easy, but we were still grateful for it as night descended, even though we couldn’t put down a bedroll in there.

But then a voice came on a loudspeaker announcing that the trading post would be closing. Very impressive, they didn’t used to have voice-overs! We didn’t know what would happen, but were surprised to find ourselves thrown out of the place. Guess hiding behind the fantastic walls of that stronghold wasn’t going to be an option. We hastily constructed the typical base survival structure, ugly as sin, and managed to get it finished and get quiet before the shuffling feet of zombies could be heard. We survived the night.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Why do I love this game so much? After all, I have started over countless times, and generally never make it to the progress point where I’m, say, smelting bullets or riding around in the motorbike. And yet I relive the early phase scenario of the game over, and over, and over.

sunrise in 7 Days to Die Alpha 16.4
Hello stone axe, my old friend…

There’s just something about punching grass. Making stone axes, and wooden bows. Finding a broken down cabin and fixing it up, working your way up the skills and supplies ladder to the point that you establish a garden. It’s that challenge of starting with nothing, you hit the ground and the clock’s ticking to find a water source, and a shelter to hide in by nightfall.

And here we are, doing it once again. I guess part of it is that the game keeps changing. They’ve been making consistent updates and improvements for years. Now it’s vendor outposts and sleeping zombies that rise up when you don’t expect it. Before, it was a treasure map system, and a player leveling and skills system, and of course a constantly increasing assortment of buildings and locations.

7 Days to Die Skills
Skills and level progression are examples of some of the big changes this game has gone through since launch.

As I said, it’s more about the survival for me and less about the zombies, but I think this game has nailed the zombie aspect better than anyone else. They are truly capable of making me jump.

The Walking Dead Pinball

Pardon me, sir, but did you know there’s a Walking Dead pinball machine? Yes, I know, mind… BLOWN. You’re welcome!

With season 8 of AMC’s The Walking Dead kicking off tonight – with its 100th episode, no less! – I thought it would be a good time to chat about a Walking Dead property you may not be familiar with. You’ve probably heard of Telltale’s The Walking Dead video games, and perhaps the solid entry into the mobile gaming market, but you’d have to be part of a pretty elite group of fanatics to know about Stern’s The Walking Dead Pinball machine.

Stern Pinball is the only manufacturer left from the golden age of pinball. And surprisingly, in all that time, there hadn’t been a zombie-themed pinball machine. Stern addressed that oversight in 2014. There were 3 versions of the machine made, as is the current trend with pinball. Starting with the pro version, a base model which is the cheapest at an MSRP just over $6k (note, if you contact a pinball dealer, you will pay lower than MSRP in most cases). The pro model is typically the one that you may find on location in arcades and pubs. Then there’s the Premium, a few more bells and whistles and a higher price tag. This one’s the sweet spot for the home collector, and clocks in at an MSRP of $7700.

The Walking Dead Premium model

But if you’re wealthy or very dedicated to either pinball or The Walking Dead, and simply must have the best of the best… there’s a pinball for that. Enter the LE version. It’s got unique art, sometimes additional bling, and most importantly is limited to a set run of machines. Despite the $8600 MSRP, Stern’s Walking Dead LE has been long sold-out. You could find one on the secondary market if you really wanted to, but given this title is pretty well-regarded in the pinball community (currently #20 in Pinside’s Top 100), don’t expect to get a huge discounted deal just because it’s “used”. That’s not how the pinball seller’s market works.

As mentioned, this is one of the favorites of modern Stern machines. It’s designed by John Borg and Lyman Sheats, two industry veterans whose work is highly regarded. Fans of the show might be put off by the audio callouts, however. The callouts are done by a voice impersonator doing Rick Grimes, but it’s a lot more red-neck than you’re probably expecting. If you can get past that, though, it’s a great play experience that’s flashy, fun, and challenging.

Elements from the show such as Daryl’s crossbow, the prison, the CDC, the barn, “bicycle girl”, and the well zombie are all here, as well as the Governor’s tank of zombie heads (Premium and LE models). The art is all from the tv series as well.

If you’d like to play this bad boy but don’t have a pile of cash sitting around, you may be able to find one on location near you with either Pinside’s Where to Play Map or PinballMap.com.

That’s my JAM!

Making Jam for the First Time

The next area of homesteading that had my attention was canning. I watched several canning videos several times, and figured hot water bath canning was within the realm of possibility for a budding homesteadsman like myself.

So I ordered jars, canning equipment, and the Ball book of canning. Cue husband’s sidelong glances of trepidation. But I told him these were all one-time purchases, and that seemed to satisfy him. Just don’t tell him how much pressure canners cost, because that’s probably in our future. 😉

Anyway, I spent a few nights flipping through the various recipes in the Ball book. I chose my first time out the canning gate to be a low-sugar raspberry lemonade jam. Pro tip: if you ever are canning jam for the first time, don’t choose a low-sugar recipe. As appalling as 5 cups of sugar in a single recipe sounds, sugar is your FRIEND when it comes to jam. But hey, as one of my favorite college professors always used to say, “hindsight is 20/20.”

I used frozen raspberries, for the record, but I don’t think that mattered. At least as far as consistency. It mattered for my wallet, though. We’re talking about $25 in raspberries (3 1/2 pounds). And for sure a few bucks in honey.

That first attempt went the way most first attempts do in the kitchen. It took longer than it probably will down the road. It made a mess, splattering molten raspberry magma all over the stove. And sadly, though I was using the frozen plate test, the jam was too runny when I checked a jar the next day. I managed to spread it on some toast, but it was also very tart. Six gorgeous little jars of failure.

I considered throwing them out. Luckily, before that happened, I read somewhere that if jam is too runny, just call it sauce. I felt like that was a cop-out, BUT… when I drizzled it over vanilla ice cream along with some chocolate sauce, it was amazing. So there you have it; raspberry lemonade sauce, the perfect companion for ice cream, yogurt, and oatmeal.

Still, that wasn’t a satisfying result, really.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

It just so happened, though, we’d been apple picking a few days before. I love supporting our local farm, as my own gardening skills leave much to be desired. (So that’s the rationalization: “yeah, I’m skipping the garden in favor of supporting local farmers. That’s the ticket!”) Besides, fall in New England is well worth paying for.

We are all good apple eaters, but we had a BIG bag of them, which is what you get when you go apple picking. And there was this Apple Pie Jam recipe in the book. This one had plenty of sugar, and given apples are naturally high in pectin…

I found myself jamming again the very next day. When it came time to add the pectin to the recipe, well… you might say I was on the rebound, you know? I added at least a teaspoon more than the recipe called for, for good measure. It’s kind of an ironic term, “for good measure”. It means doing a little more than is called for. Is that REALLY good measure?

I had a lot of trouble getting this one up to the requisite 220 degree temperature, and had to cook it for quite a while. But it was definitely not runny. So that was a good thing. I spooned it into the jam jars, and though I was pretty wiped out, I felt like I was learning the process, and that this batch would be much better.

The next day, I popped open a jar to try it out. It was JELLED. I mean, I’ve bought jelly from the store that was as solid, but that doesn’t make it a good thing. It wasn’t easy to spread on toast at ALL. I managed to squash it down without tearing the toast to bits, and while it tasted great, once again, it just wasn’t right.

I feel like Goldilocks here. The first one was too soft. The second one was too hard. Will the third try be “just right”? Also, while you can call a runny jam “sauce” and get away with it, what can you do with a jam that’s too set?

What’s with all these homestead skills?

I’ve been full steam ahead on acquiring homesteading skills! One week it’s learning kombucha, the next, beef jerky, then canning… but I realized I should slow down a second and explain myself. You know, all this is great, but where’s it all leading to? 🙂

The Goal

The end goal of all this is to move to a homestead type property, at least half an acre. When this happens is uncertain, because right now the housing market is just ridiculous in my area. It’s a seller’s market, and I don’t want to play like that. So we’re biding our time, saving up, so that when we do see the right property, we can jump on it. That’s the motivation for the penny-pinching. Realistically, I think the actual property buying part is at least 6 months out, and that’s if we’re lucky. So…

In the Meantime

While we wait, why not start boning up on survival and homesteading skills? After all, I’ll enjoy pickles and jam (not at the same time) no matter where I live, even if we don’t wind up somewhere “homesteady”. I have a small garden that mostly sucks, but I can practice techniques in preparation for the day I have a bigger garden. Leveling up my Cooking and Gardening skills, as it were.

Homesteading Skills Acquired So Far

Dehydrating. I’ve been doing this for about a year prior to calling myself a pre-homesteader, so I’d say I’m pretty advanced in this skill. I haven’t made fruit leather, but I have dried all manner of fruits, and produced a great beef jerky. My son took a big bag of my 7 Pepper Jerky to school this week for their prehistoric man unit, called it mammoth jerky, and came home with an empty bag.

Lacto-Fermenting. Something I’ve struggled to do for years with little success, but for some reason it’s working now! I still can’t quite replicate my great aunt’s dill pickles, but I’m making stuff that’s quite edible. Next summer I’m planning to grow my own dill, cukes, and green beans. So far the kids are much bigger fans of pickled green beans than cucumbers. The beans just stay crispier. Also want to try baby carrots next.

Kombucha. I am the kombucha MASTER! I took to making that stuff like a duck to water, yo. Carbonated second ferments, and all. So far the biggest hits have been watermelon and ginger. I’m slowing that down a bit though. I have a continuous brew jug with a spigot, and have still been doing the big jar batches. I think that’s making just a tad more kombucha than one house needs, so after today I’m cutting down to the continuous brew jug. That should provide 8 – 10 jars every other week, which is plenty.

Kombucha second ferment - pineapple

Canning Jam. I just made my first 2 batches of jam ever over the course of last weekend, and I think they turned out great (more on that soon). I’ve got a date with a couple friends next weekend to can jam together, so at that point I think I’ll have the hang of it. As my husband pointed out, we don’t really eat a lot of jam. That’s just going to have to change!

Wine and Spirits. I could stretch a little and say I made rice wine, I mean, it was drinkable, so yeah. But the honey mead will be ready in a couple weeks and so far that looks like it’s percolating away just GREAT. Very excited to try that, it was really easy to do.

Honey Mead

Homesteading Skills Coming Soon

Bread-making. I have the yeast, I have the flour, and I have the instructional video on hand. I’ve got a pdf with instructions for sourdough, but I think I’ll start with something plain. Making my own bread to serve my own jam on is the next high-priority item on my learning list. I just need to find the time to do it.

Pressure Canning. This one’s a ways off, partly because pressure canners are NOT cheap, and partly because I’m not sure what I would can. But I have a feeling I’ll get to it.

Survival GAMES

I’ve also got some to-dos on the gaming side. I have extensive gaming time in on a lot of survival games. But they’re not on the channel yet. I’ve set up streaming on my PS4 for that, but I haven’t set up the recording and stuff for Steam. I’m also too lazy to go re-install the Playstation Eye onto my current system, so be advised, my gaming vids will not have audio commentary. Which I’m just fine with, because IMO the constant chatter and acting dumb that’s so in fashion for YouTubers can be… annoying. Maybe I’m just too old to enjoy that. It is what it is. Get off my lawn! It also means I don’t have to wait till the middle of the night when everyone’s asleep to add game content.

My plan is to dive into 7 Days to Die next, which I haven’t played in a while so I’d like to see what’s changed. Once I have Steam set up, good lord, where to begin? Banished, Life is Feudal, The Long Dark, Near Death, This War of Mine, maybe The Forest. Needless to say, there’s no shortage of survival games.

Does Gold Rush: the Game count? Because I’m totally cracking into that one tonight. The Discovery gold shows are my guilty pleasure. There, I said it.

Gold Rush: The Game
Hey Parker!

Saving Money… by Not Spending It

A penny saved is a penny earned.
– Benjamin Franklin

We’ve known how to save money for quite a long time, but modern times have also produced an industry dedicated to taking your money.

I work in marketing, and I know exactly what my goal is at the start of every workday. So I am aware that marketing exists to separate us from our money. But I guess it wasn’t until we set a savings goal for moving to our future homestead property that I realized the true extent of it all.

Everything you see online, every day, has one goal; to get you to spend what you’ve earned.

Sometimes it’s mutually beneficial. I watch an instructional video about making rice wine, which in theory is better for me than buying it, and ultimately cheaper. The next thing you know, I’m on amazon buying yeast balls. Or I read something encouraging me to try growing a second harvest in the fall. Next I’m online ordering a few seed packets.

Those things are fine, especially if I follow through and MAKE the rice wine, and if the garden works out and I find myself with a second harvest of peas and lettuce, for the small investment of those seeds.

But taking this a level further. If I’m browsing epicurious and come across a fun recipe, I may find myself at the grocery store dropping $60 (including impulse purchases). I’d had the meals for the week all planned out, and now that schedule’s disrupted assuming I actually make this new recipe, so some of the ingredients I already had in the plan might go to waste.

One level further. I see a geeky graphic t-shirt I know my daughter would LOVE, and we can always give it to her at Christmas. Boom, another $23 gone.

Again, expenses I could justify, those aren’t even truly frivolous like falling prey to a Steam sale. But the end result is the same, my money is no longer mine.

A dangerous element of this is that your resolve may start out strong, but weaken by the end of the day. Not may… it WILL. It’s known as decision fatigue. It’s actually why stores put a bunch of candy and impulse purchase lures at the checkout. They’re taking advantage of the fact that you just had to make a bunch of decisions. Devious.

Advertisements? You're soaking in it...Times Square by TerabassOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

So we’re barraged with advertising and buying prompts (CTAs, or “calls to action”, in marketing speak) all day long. There’s no way that’s not going to erode your willpower over the course of the day. How do you fight back?

Self-discipline is the only way. It’s not a “life hack” and it’s not a big secret retailers HATE me for telling you. You have to work on your “just say no” muscle.

This is war, and you have to think of it as protecting your resources. Not “what can I buy today?” but “What can I NOT buy today?” In college I took global hydrology, and learned a lot about the concept of inflow and outflow. There’s only so much money coming IN every month. If I can’t easily increase that, I can at least work on reducing the outflow. Here are some ways I’ve done that:

  • Starbucks Vias vs. Starbucks drive-through. Vias are the little tubes of powdered instant Starbucks. It still comes out to about $1/coffee, but a grande ‘bucks is more than double that, plus there’s the time and gas spent driving there. We used to do that every morning, 2 coffees, $5 total. Now I just do it twice a week, making Vias instead on the other days. Savings: $15/week, or about $60/month.
  • Axing Stitch Fix and Hello Fresh. Yes, it pained me greatly to do this, but we’re talking $200 – $300 for every Stitch Fix order, which at one point I was doing every 6 weeks or so. Hello Fresh was $80/week, and it was my favorite of the meal kit services, but with a little planning, I can make $80 go a lot further.
  • Calling to reduce bills. It’s shocking how effective this is. I’ve done it for our phone bill, and my husband’s done it for our tv service. Multiple times. If you call and ask, they can almost always shave at least something off your bill.
  • Cancelled Audible membership. But then resubscribed, because it’s only $15/month, and I consistently use the monthly credits.
  • Ibotta/Ebates/Groupon. You have to be careful with these services, and make sure you really are only buying things through them that you would normally buy anyway. If you can resist the gamification triggers they’ve put in there to make you buy things you normally wouldn’t, there’s some savings to be had.
  • Go to the library! We used to make an afternoon of visiting Barnes & Noble. Grab a coffee ($5 cha-ching)… pick out a book. If the whole family was along, we’re talking $50 at least. In many cases, you can borrow literally the same books at the library, for a grand total of $0.

There are hundreds of blogs out there that specialize in helping you save money, and you should read them. Here, I’m just sharing my own thoughts and what’s worked for me. If you have any tips for saving money that have worked for you, please share. The more the merrier!

Survival Mode in Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (PS4)

Bethesda recently added a survival mode to Skyrim, as part of their new Creation Club content shop. Since Skyrim’s one of my favorite games of all time, and survival games are my favorite genre, I took it for a spin.

My other favorite game of theirs, Fallout 4, already got survival mode a while back, and I don’t think that’s something you have to pay for. I’ll dive into that too at some point, but the Skyrim version’s only free for a week, so it takes precedence.

First impressions were, it took some doing to get the bethesda.net account properly tied to my Playstation account. I expected that, though, and eventually got everything synched up, bought the mode (for free) and fired up Skyrim.

When you start, it’s not clear how you activate survival mode. There’s a nice overview under help, but that’s about it. You have to get through the opening scene first, and once you emerge in the world, a notification will pop up inviting you to turn survival mode on.

From what I’ve seen so far, they’ve done a good job implementing the expected elements. Status updates warn when you’re feeling peckish, famished, or STARVING! There are heat and cold icons, and your health and stamina bars have darkened areas showing you how your current state affects those stats. Here’s some of what’s changed:

  • Healing is no longer automatic. You can’t just take a pause and restore yourself. This single change is huge.
  • You can’t carry as much. This has me thinking about light armor and ranged combat as I usually do, but heavier armor is warmer, so there’s a trade-off
  • Hunger. I felt like such a beggar! Spending the little coin I had to buy some roast and bread. It was great. 🙂 I’m sure that’ll get easier as looting gets better, but then again, I’ll be spending a lot more on provisions now. Cooking is going to be essential.
  • Fatigue. You need to sleep now, to get your level up stat increases, and to stave off fatigue. Reminder: choosing health as your level up stat increase fully restores your health level. Hanging on to that refill saved my bacon at Bleak Falls. If I hadn’t taken a nap in the sleeping bag near the entrance and done that, I don’t think I would have made it back alive. If you go to bed hungry, you’re going to wake up HANGRY, by the way. Nice touch.
  • Risk of hypothermia. I found myself huddling gratefully next to a cookfire twice already. Naturally with Skyrim being such a northern climate, this is going to be a serious consideration.

Body temperature is a new consideration in Skyrim survival mode

You better believe this mode changes the way you play the game. I’m pleased to find myself worrying a lot more. Bleak Falls Barrow (the golden claw quest) is now a multi-visit expedition. My first time in there, I found myself low on health, potionless. I wound up eating every flower and potato I’d gathered on the way just to cobble together enough health to make it back to town. I’ve played Skyrim many times, and have never had to turn tail and slink out of that dungeon… until now. It’s going to take planning and supplies to get through there, and I LOVE that!

I’m thinking my khajiit will use bow and dagger as weapons, and focus on alchemy and cooking. It’s also crossed my mind that I may have to do some stealing, just to feed myself. Hopefully not, but I already picked some cabbages and leeks from a farmer’s field, and though the game doesn’t consider that stealing, I’m pretty sure the homesteading community would. Sorry about that!

I want to try making jam for the first time today (IRL), but I’m definitely going back to Skyrim as soon as I can. This may be a problem, by the way, as Skyrim wasn’t even ON my list of must-play upcoming survival games

Making Beef Jerky in a Dehydrator

One of the best things I ever got off Craigslist was the Ronco Giant dehydrator.  I’d owned a dinky little one years before that, and though it served us well, eventually we got rid of it. But we were having lots of luck finding retro video games on Craigslist at this time, so on a lark I searched for a dehydrator.

That was a couple years ago, and unlike the rice cookers I keep buying, this thing is an appliance that justifies the space it takes up. I actually keep it on top of the fridge at this point, and it’s almost too tall to go up there. It has 10 trays. I pointed out the part in the manual that references “10 – 15 trays” and my husband told me to “settle down”.  😀

I’ve dehydrated apples, bananas, peaches, pears, and many other things with this sweetheart, but today I want to tell you about the beef jerky I’ve been making with it.

I found the owner’s manual online and printed it out, and there’s a recipe for jerky in there. I’ve been going off that and other recipes on the internet, but so far, the results have been almost complete success.

For meat, I’ve been buying top round, with as little visible fat as possible. My son loves turkey jerky, but I’m a bit hesitant to do other kinds of meat besides beef. I even caught top round on sale once, but I’ve got an idea that if I went to a store like Costco or BJ’s, I could get more of it for cheaper. And when you’re dehydrating meat, you really do feel the cost if you’re buying it.

So I take these cuts of top round and put them in the freezer for a while, mostly because I’ve read to do that. I don’t really think I need to, with a good knife I’ve had no trouble cutting them into lovely thin slices.  Then I put them in a zip-lock bag with the marinade. From the Ronco manual, the marinade consists of:

– 1/2 pound of brown sugar
– 3 cups soy sauce
– 1/4 cup liquid smoke (optional but I LOVE the stuff)
– spices of your choosing

I also add a bunch of Worcestershire sauce, I think from another recipe. Sometimes I’ve added a 7 pepper blend for spices (seen above), sometimes just a bunch of garlic powder (which was an accident but actually turned out great).

The manual says to marinate that for about 10 minutes, but I go for at least overnight. You have to massage and flip the bag every now and then so that the thin slices of meat aren’t sticking together and denying themselves marination.

Then dehydration day arrives. I try to do this on Saturday mornings because while it’s typically been taking 8 hours at most, it can take up to 12.

I haven’t run the numbers yet to see how much this is saving me vs. just buying beef jerky, so that’s going to be worth doing, and I’ll do it at some point here. But just as important is the fact that I know what’s going into this as far as ingredients. And my kids absolutely love it.

If/when I get to the true homesteading point where I may be dealing with a purchase or butchering that results in many pounds of meat, this is a great way to preserve some of it. I’m not sure how long it keeps, because at this point it just doesn’t last long enough around my house to go bad. But I would say the bag from the batch above has lasted at least 3 weeks so far.

Making honey mead for the first time

A few weeks back I was experimenting with rice wine (sake).  I’d call the end result a success, although I’m not sure anyone else would. It was definitely alcoholic, but also carbonated. It was good enough that I’m up for trying it again. I still have a bunch of yeast balls and sticky rice, too.

But first, honey mead! One of my favorite presentations during the Back to Basics Living Summit was Malcolm Saunders‘s video on making honey mead. It looked really easy, so I ordered a 1-gallon jug with airlock and stopper, and some champagne yeast.

I’m going to go ahead and say that, unless you have bees of your own, honey is the most expensive part of this project. You need about 2 pounds of honey per gallon of mead, and that ran about $10 where I live.  (update: that was at Target. My local grocery store had a 3 pound jar for a couple bucks more). The jug wasn’t very expensive, and the yeast isn’t either.

Malcolm’s favorite way to make mead is to incorporate herbs into it. I wanted to keep it simple on my first try, so I just grabbed 3 pieces of cinnamon bark I had lying around, and simmered up some spring water with those.

I mean really, that’s it. Now I’ve got this gallon jug of golden cloudy liquid sitting in the fermentation station next to my kombuchas. It’s going to take about a month before I know if this worked out, but I’m really excited!