Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rationing Points: Week #1

So, wondering how we did on using our ration points this week? Here's a quick break down !

RED POINTS (Meats, Cheeses, Fats and Oils) -

Turkey 5 lbs (bone in) - 15 pts
Macaroni and Cheese (2 boxes) - 1 pt
Butter (1 lb) - 16 pts
Canola Oil (32 oz) - 10 pts
Cheddar Cheese (1 lb) - 8 pts
Cream Cheese (8 oz) - 3 pts
Bologna (10 oz) - 3 pts
Bacon (1 lb) - 8 pts
TOTAL USED: 64 pts.

Whew! Barely scraped by, but if we weren't also rationing poultry we would have had much more wiggle room. That bacon was a last minute addition for Wednesday's dinner once I saw that we could afford the points. It's bacon!

(Canned/Frozen/Dried Produce) -

Green Beans (2 cans) - 12 pts
Cream of Mushroom Soup (1 can) - 4 pts
Frozen Snap Peas (1 lb) - 12 pts
Fruit (2 cans) - 32 pts
Spaghetti Sauce (1 can) - 8 pts
Carrots (1 can) - 6 pts
Dried Black Beans (1 lb) - 2 pts
Chicken Broth (5 cans) - 20 pts
Raisins (3/4 lb) - 3 pts
Applesauce (25 oz) - 21 pts
Juice (48 oz) - 9 pts
Spinach (1 can) - 8 pts
TOTAL USED: 137 pts

Hmm...we still have 55 blue/green points to play with...which may come in handy (I'll 'splain later). We're really feeling the lack of fresh produce, especially fruit, since we are subject to seasonal availability just like our WWII civilian counterparts. I did splurge and by some clementines, though.

We also purchased our allotted two pounds of sugar and one adult's five-week coffee rations.

Here's our plans for all these rationed items, plus their non-rationed compadres:
Saturday: Roast turkey with gravy, green bean casserole, and stuffing (using day-old bread that had been stored in the freezer)
Sunday: Turkey and homemade noodle soup with cabbage salad
Monday: Sweet potato and (frozen) butternut squash soup with fresh-baked bread
Tuesday: Baked potatoes with cheese and sour cream and (frozen) snap peas
Wednesday: Pancakes, bacon and canned fruit
Thursday: Spaghetti marinara with carrots
Friday: Black bean soup with corn bread

Lunches this week consist mostly of left-overs, peanut butter and honey sandwiches and non-rationed dried soup mixes. Speaking of soup, the soup on Monday night was not that great. Really. Not good. Orange mush with too much pepper. But we ate it and I rewarded the family by baking our first historically-accurate treat: Lafayette Gingerbread (historical recipes will get their own blog post shortly). And I will fully disclose that we also finished off the last of the ice cream that was hibernating in the freezer since Eowyn's birthday party a few weeks ago. But that is gone now...long gone. Adios. Sigh.

Anyhoo, back to those extra blue/green points...we're getting together with a few friends on New Year's Eve and we need to bring some party noshings, so I imagine we'll be dipping into that surplus, plus providing some baked goods. No traditional little smokies or sweet and sour meatballs or cheese ball. But I also promise to not bring cans of cooked spinach and navy beans, either. I'll let you know what I come up with for that occasion.

Tomorrow night is our first experience with Mr. Bowles' Amazing Marketplace Scenario Randomizer. As challenging as it was to make a menu this week just keeping to basic points my mind already cramps a bit when I think about meal planning with key ingredients either missing or worth more points. Of course, they could also be worth less points...gotta keep the optimism going. Needless to say we'll keep you posted on what restrictions we'll be working with next week!

Be safe - there's a war on, you know!

--Rational Mama

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Rational Review

Now that we've survived the first day of rationing, I thought I'd review all of the rations/restrictions that we are following during this rationing year.

These allotments follow traditional U.S. civilian rationing during WWII:

Gasoline: maximum of 193 miles per week combined for our two vehicles (equivalent to the 11 gallons per week we would have been allowed during the War).
Sugar: maximum 2 pounds per week for our family of four.
Meat/Cheese/Oils: maximum 64 red points per week, following point values on this handy dandy chart (we are including poultry, which was not part of the original WWII U.S. civilian rationing program).
Canned, Frozen and Processed Fruits, Vegetables and Soups: up to 192 blue/green ration points per week following the handy dandy chart. [Editorial Note: during the 4th week of the rationing year it was discovered that we are only allowed 48 blue/green points. Big change!]
Coffee: Up to 1 pound per adult every 5 weeks.

All of the above restrictions, as well as some additional food items, are subject to change as a result of Mr. Bowles' Amazing Marketplace Scenario Randomizer.

In addition to the above we have also incorporated a host of additional restrictions during the rationing year:

Eating Out: we will eat out at a restaurant as a family only once a month, and I will have one weekend lunch out with the girls just once a month as well.
Limited Processed Foods: minimally processed and/or minimally-packaged foods will be preferred over other options (i.e. "real" carrots vs. bags of mini peeled carrots, no prepackaged snack cakes).
Seasonal Produce: only seasonal fresh produce may be purchased, following this list (if off-season, produce must be dried, canned or frozen and thus cost more rationing points).
Soda: permitted at a maximum of three 12 oz servings per week, per adult.
Limited New Purchases: all purchases must be evaluated for needs vs. wants and when possible second-hand options should be considered (Craig's List, Ebay, Goodwill and Freecycle).

We're also in the process of re-evaluating our energy usage in the Rational Living household, so additional energy ration guidelines may be added. We're notoriously bad about leaving lights on in unoccupied rooms and don't use power strips to power-down idle electronics. But that will be fodder for a future post!

In the meantime...pretty much the entire gang at the Rational Living household suspects that the eating out restrictions are where we will feel the most pain.

How often does your family eat out? Do you have a family plan about eating out, or is it more loosey-goosey?

Thanks for stopping by!

--Rational Mama

R-Day is Here!

Only half-way through Rationing Day and what a day it has been already! We had a blizzard here over Christmas so I spent the morning trying to dig out some sidewalk space while The Man of the House is at work. Then the girls and I headed to the opposite side of town to get a needed item for a home repair (leaky kitchen faucet), and unsuccessfully tried to exchange Sissy's damaged #1 present at Barnes and Noble (pages missing!). On the way back we stopped at the grocery store for our first rational shopping.

It was definitely a different type of shopping experience - especially in the produce department. Instead of apples and bananas we purchased a few cans of fruit, applesauce, and raisins. I splurged and bought a few clementines, since it wouldn't have been unheard of for those to be on the market here in December 1943. Otherwise, the only fresh produce purchased was carrots, onions and cabbage which are all available year round and then two sweet potatoes which will be off-limit due to seasonality beginning in January.

I didn't buy any meat or cheese because over half of our 64 red ration points were used to claim the small amount of cheese, butter and oils we already have in the house. You see, citizens were technically required to report all quantities of rationed food items already in their cupboards at the start of rationing. I'm sure there was a fair amount of fudging in regards to this task, kind of like the time-honored tradition of lying about your weight on your driver's license: you give a ballpark figure but no one expects it to actually be accurate. So I fudged a little, but now our red points are all squared up. I also claimed our allotted two pounds of sugar for this week to address the sugar that we already have on hand.

I did face one dilemma as I was menu planning for the week and making the grocery/ration points list: we have a turkey. A big, fat, hefty turkey that I bought at an amazing price during Thanksgiving week and then tossed into the chest freezer. I had full intentions of cooking it before rationing began but between school recitals, birthday parties and holiday events it never happened. If we were strictly following 1940s rationing this wouldn't be such a big deal since fresh poultry was never rationed. But since we adapted the rationing to include poultry I was faced with the fact that I have a giant piece of meat worth approximately 78 red ration points - more than all the red points we're allotted for one week! After lots of consideration I came to this conclusion: after the turkey is roasted today I will split the meat into four equal portions, each valued at 20 red points. One portion will be used this week for roast turkey and then turkey and noodle soup. The other three portions will be put in the freezer to use in subsequent weeks at their 20 red point values.

So, for the record, here's what our dinner menu for the next week looks like:

Saturday (today): Roast turkey with gravy, green bean casserole, and stuffing (using day-old bread that had been stored in the freezer)
Sunday: Turkey and homemade noodle soup with cabbage salad
Monday: Sweet potato and (frozen) butternut squash soup with fresh-baked bread
Tuesday: Baked potatoes with cheese and sour cream and (frozen) sno peas
Wednesday: Pancakes and canned fruit
Thursday: Spaghetti marinara with carrots
Friday: Black bean soup with corn bread

Oh, and by the way, despite the 8" of snow and lots of snow drifts we managed to not get stuck once on our 10+ miles of shopping travels this morning...until two houses away from our alley. A nice citizen helped push our van free and then we got stuck again in the alley. Ten minutes, two shovels, two large pieces of cardboard and lots of help from Sissy and Eowyn and I finally got the van back in the garage. Needless to say, I'm quite content to stay home for the rest of the day, smelling the roasting turkey and sipping on my rationed coffee.

Connect Four, anyone?

--Rational Mama

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Rational Living Cast of Characters

Happy holidays from the Rational Living household! Since rationing begins tomorrow (eeek!), we thought we would formally introduce you to the Rational Living family. Here goes!

Rational Mama - Main author of the Rational Living blog. History nut, sci-fi geek, avid vegetable gardener and foodie. Has a history of establishing (and eventually ending) challenging relationships with food (kosher, vegetarian, no dairy, local...). Serves as main researcher for the rationing project. Predicts the hardest part of the rationing year will be unsatisfied food cravings.

The Man of the House (TMOTH) - Reader, philosopher, nerd, and even-tempered goofball. An all-or-nothing kind of guy. Guest author and moral compass for Rational Living. Predicts the hardest part of the rationing year will be explaining why we've chosen this project.

Sissy - Oldest of the two Rational Living children. Book reader, piano player and all-around animal lover. Pickier of the two kids when it comes to food. Predicts the hardest part of the rationing year will be the reduced sugar intake (she has a serious sweet tooth).

Eowyn - Youngest of the two Rational Living children. Family clown, movie watcher, and lover of pets (her current wish is to have a pet hamster). Rather adventuresome with her food choices. Predicts the hardest part of the rationing year will be going out to eat only once a month.

So that's the Rational Living family. Hope you and your family are enjoying this beautiful (and blizzardy) season!

--Rational Mama

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mr. Bowles' Amazing Marketplace Scenario Randomizer!

(*cue carnival music*)


Step right up and view the amazing, stupendous, death-defying Mr. Bowles’ Marketplace Scenario Randomizer!!!

Yes siree! This astonishing system, which seems so simple, will absolutely guarantee rationing restrictions, shortages and surpluses! You’ll be impressed by its randomness! It’s ability to change your meal plans will boggle the mind! So step right up to see exactly how the amazing Mr. Bowles’ Marketplace Scenario Randomizer works!

(*cue jugglers*)

I wanted the introduction of our wartime marketplace scenario system to be exciting and interesting. After all, this is one element of our rationing program that will make the whole experience slightly more authentic (and crazy). The unpredictability of market availability, prices and points caused added confusion and frustration with the home front rationing program in WWII. The chaos reminded me a bit of a three-ring circus, hence the carnival announcer's delivery (plus, I reckoned it would be less annoying than writing it in the style of the Sham Wow! guy…although, now that I think if it, that sounds like it could be fun).

Anyhoo, this is how the Mr. Bowles’ Marketplace Scenario Randomizer works:

The system consists of one die (that's the singular version of dice) and two paper bags; each bag contains multiple labeled craft sticks. As you can see, we spare no expense here at Rational Living.

Each Wednesday evening we will use Mr. Bowles’ Marketplace Scenario Randomizer and the results will be effective for one week – until the next Wednesday when we use Mr. Bowles’ Marketplace Scenario Randomizer again.

Step #1:

Roll the die to determine how many scenarios are required for the week. Numbers one through five are at face value, while number six means no scenarios for the week (whew!).

Step #2:

Choose an item from the "Goods" bag. The items include: gasoline, pork*, beef*, chicken*, processed meats, canned fruit, canned vegetables, hard cheeses, soft cheese, salad oils*, shortening, sugar*, dried fruit, butter, canned soups and sauces, frozen vegetables, frozen fruit, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, flour, coffee*, nuts and nut-based products (like peanut butter), eggs*, cottage cheese, jams/jellies, dried legumes, alternative sweeteners (molasses, corn syrup, maple syrup, honey), grains (rice, oats, rye, etc.) and milk.

*Items with an asterisk are market goods that were commonly affected during the war and therefore have more than one labeled craft stick in the "Goods" bag.

Step #3:

Choose an item from the Scenario bag. Scenarios include:
  • Surplus – available at only ½ of the usual ration points
  • Scarce* – available but only at 1 1/2 times the usual ration points
  • None Available* – enough said
  • Victory Special – surplus; available for only ¼ of the usual ration points OR buy extra amounts if a non-rationed good
  • Limited Availability* – available, but can only purchase ½ the amount that would normally be purchased
  • Substandard Quality – available but only in lower quality (off-label brands, etc.)

*Items with an asterisk were common scenarios during wartime and therefore have more than one labeled craft stick in the "Scenarios" bag.

For example, one scenario possibility would be that salad oils are scarce and available for only 1 1/2 times the regular rationing points listed on the handy dandy chart. Either we pay the extra points or decide to not purchase salad oil that week.

Each Wednesday we repeat this procedure for the number of times indicated by the die roll in Step #1. The first Wednesday we will use Mr. Bowles' Marketplace Scenario Randomizer will be December 30, 2009.

As you can see, this low-tech system somewhat mimics the unpredictable scenarios wartime shoppers experienced on a regular basis. However, we have one fundamental advantage over our 1940s counterparts: we will always know in advance what circumstances we will encounter while shopping. 1940’s shoppers were often not aware of shortages and such until they entered the store.

By the way, here’s an interesting historical fact about how WWII changed shopping habits: up until the beginning of rationing in late 1942 most shoppers (typically housewives or domestic servants) visited their local grocer daily for their food needs. Only when the rationing of gasoline and rubber for tires began did the American public switch to a weekly shopping pattern.

And now to answer the question which I am sure is foremost in your mind: Why does this spectacular historically-based device have "Mr. Bowles" in it's title?

Well, I couldn't help but name it after Chester Bowles, who was the first and most influential director of the Office of Price Administrative - the government body responsible for the rationing program. Some folks vilified Mr. Bowles, but the more I read about him the more I like him. He said things like, "Government is too big and important to be left to politicians," and "There can be no real individual freedom in the presence of economic insecurity." Apparently, lots of other people liked him too, as he was later elected as Governor of Connecticut and served as a U.S. Ambassador to India and Nepal. I'm sure he'll pop up again at some point on Rational Living.

So there it is, folks. One more post closer to Rationing Day and a year of change and reflection.

--Rational Mama

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Of Veg and Cheese

There's less than two weeks until rationing begins and I'm starting to feel the crunch of getting prepared. In the midst of the holidays and multiple family birthdays I know in the back of my mind that I've got to get our ducks in a row, so to speak, for December 26th. I've already covered gasoline (and rubber) rations, and sugar, meat and coffee rations. As far as edibles go, that leaves fruits/vegetables and oils/fats and cheeses.

Fresh fruits and vegetables were never rationed during WWII (thank goodness), but the market was very much effected by transportation limitations caused by the war. As a result, most produce was available on a local-level only. So, no Mexican strawberries in February or New Zealand kiwis in...well...ever during the war. In our part of the central plains this means virtually no "exotic" fruits and vegetables and extremely limited amounts of citrus fruits during the rationing year. Banana availability was sporadic, which is how we will handle that particular issue with our younger daughter who, if given her druthers, would consider making bananas half her diet.

U.S. fresh produce production sky-rocketed during the war, both commercially and in private "victory gardens." Victory gardens will be covered (repeatedly) at Rational Living during the growing season, but to get a sense of how much was produced consider this: in 1943 3/5ths of the U.S. population tilled and weeded and harvested in non-commercial gardens, producing over 8 million tons of food that accounted for 40% of the fresh produce consumed that year. Wow. Make no mistake, the pressure will be on for this avid vegetable gardener during the rationing year. We'll be able to supplement our fresh produce through the farmer's market and conventional grocery stores as long as the produce is seasonable. Here's a great list of locally seasonable produce we'll be following during the rationing program.

If we want to eat "outside the chart" then it will have to be either canned, frozen or dried produce. We'll use the green (or blue, depending on the period) points following a system similar to the red point/meat rationing program previously described. For our family of four we'll have 192 green/blue points to use each week (or 768 per month), and we'll be using the same handy-dandy chart as with the red point program. One note: our family is way more reliant on frozen produce than the typical 1940s family. In the 40's having a freezer was a bit of a luxury, hence limited availability of frozen foods and their inherently high point value. Sigh. But make no mistake, I'm willing to pay (the extra points) for that luxury.

The same chart outlines point values for fats/oils and "soft" cheeses - part of the red point ration program which we will have to split with meat purchases. Traditional hard cheeses such as cheddar and mozzarella will be rationed at eight points per pound, per historic example. Of course, there were some lower-point alternatives, such as Velveeta, available - and to be honest, Velveeta will always have a place at the Rational Living household. Fresh milk and (uncreamed) cottage cheese served as readily available un-rationed sources of protein.

One last food for thought (or is that thought for food?): grains were never rationed in the U.S. so we will typically have rice and pasta and plenty of flour for bread, pancakes, etc. That is, unless we experience a sudden shortage via our Marketplace Scenario Randomizer which we'll be using on a weekly basis...but more on that later!

--Rational Mama

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Java Dilemma

Java, java, java.

We haven't yet figured out how to deal with the coffee ration during the project year.

Coffee was the second consumable to be rationed by the U.S. government during WWII, beginning in late November 1942. Strangely enough, coffee was rationed not because there wasn't enough to supply the troops, but because civilians were hoarding coffee in fear/anticipation of it being rationed; their own attempt to avoid a shortage caused a shortage. The U.S. government introduced coffee rationing as a way of getting coffee back on the grocery store shelves. The official coffee ration was 1 lb of coffee every 5 weeks for each individual age 15 and above.

That means our house would have 2 lbs of coffee available every 5 weeks.

But see, we're not big coffee folks, so even 1lb of coffee would last for months. Sounds pretty easy, right? Well, part of the reason we're not big coffee drinkers is because of soda. I may have a soda once or twice a week, filling in the other days with an occasional tea or coffee. Hubby, on the other hand, seems to drink soda in spurts - he'll go days without soda and then have a few. So, we could consider rationing soda, but soda was widely available during WWII and was never rationed (yay! an un-rationed, copious supply of sugar!).

So what are we to do with this seemingly easy (for us) ration?

Should we come up with some sort of rationing system that includes soda and/or tea?

Or should we call it good and have at least one ration that is easy to live with?

This also has me thinking...what food item(s) would you consider hording if you suspected rationing would soon be instituted?

For me...I think chocolate would be at the top of the list, along with cheese. Mmm...

--Rational Mama

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Meat Me on Rationing Day

Only 20 more days to go until rationing begins and we've been talking a lot about meat during the past week at the Rational Living household. Now, just so that you know - we are not a big meat-eating family. Mind you, we’re not vegetarians, either. During an average week about three or four of our family meals have meat as a focus; the other nights we’re content with meat-free options. But this week we've been all about the meat - at least in talk. Not just what types of meat we will/won’t be able to eat during the rationing year, but also how much a harvest or two of venison this week would help alleviate some of that restriction. You see, rifle hunting season for deer started this week and the hunter in the family hasn't had much luck so far. I’ll by-pass the hunting soap-box for now (but if you really want to hear it I recommend you visit my bloggy friend Anisa’s excellent essay here). Instead, as we pine away for a freezer full of deer meat I’ll fill you in on the meat portion of our rationing project.

The idea of meat rationing as a civilian effort to help the war actually goes back to WWI, when the U.S. government encouraged “meatless meals” as part of their voluntary rationing program. As you may have already guessed, voluntary rationing during WWI didn't really take off - I think it has something to do with the “voluntary“ part (in general, we Americans aren't very good at self-regulation). Ultimately the considerable inflation that occurred due to restricted markets and continued high demand impacted a family’s meat consumption more than any effort to support the war.

Early in WWII the U.S. government knew voluntary rationing would not be sufficient to guarantee needed resources for the military. After a brief period of “share the meat” campaigns, official meat rationing began in March 1943 as part of the “red point” rationing system that not only included meat but dairy and fats/oils (dairy and fats/oils rationing will be discussed in a different blog entry - pinky swear!) . With the point system each individual was given a set number of red points to use on meat, dairy and fats/oils purchases, with included items varying in point values. For the majority of the rationing period each individual was allotted 48 points per month, to be used (in theory) as they wished. Our family of four will get 192 total red points per month.

In reality, point values fluctuated throughout the war and shortages were common. In general, lower-quality cuts such as tougher bone-in slices and mix-em-up sausages (and SPAM) cost fewer points per pound and allowed consumers more protein for their points. While higher grade cuts were still desirable their considerable point values made them luxuries rather than necessities. Beef point values, in particular, were higher than other meats - partly due to the fact that 60% of U.S. choice beef was reserved for military consumption. Of course, families that couldn't afford the higher cuts of meats before the war were less affected by the point rationing system, while the upper class saw first-hand the affects of rationing at nearly every meal (unless they paid the extra price for choice cuts on the black market).

For our purposes we will be using the following handy-dandy point chart provided by the Ames Historical Society. It’s a chart from the Oct 29, 1943 edition of the Des Moines Tribune. The chart is really wonderful and breaks down point amounts for classic red point items (meats, dairy, fats/oils) but also blue point items (canned and frozen produce) as well. Point amounts for meat are near the center of the page - just under the scandalous headline “Butter Still at 16 Points.” Okay, maybe scandalous isn't the right word, but a pound of butter would have cost (and will cost us) one person’s entire weekly red point rations. This is serious business.

Take a peak at the meat portion of the chart - what do you notice? Okay, first of all veal = beef, very confusing. See how there are “old” and “new” point values listed? That’s demonstrating how point values fluctuated during rationing. Finally, have you noticed that something is missing? Poultry is not listed! This is because non-canned poultry was never rationed, typically because it was only locally raised and sold. The same was true of fresh fish. And game meat wasn't rationed, hence our extra-keen desire for a successful hunt this week. Now, we could happily abide by these same principles for our rationing year; we could fill up on chicken and turkey and use our red rationing points to purchase traditionally rationed meats and such. But it just wouldn't feel right. The whole point of the rationing year is to demonstrate that you can live (happily) on less so that others can have more. Modern food distribution systems make poultry and fish just as widespread and available as pork and beef. And so we’re making the following adjustments to the red point rationing system: game meat is still un-rationed but poultry and fish will be rationed following the point values listed for pork unless the poultry was produced on small-scale farms within 50 miles of our city, or if the fish was caught by ourselves or someone we personally know.

So there you have it, the meat portion of our rationing program. Of course, I didn't cover all the “meat substitute” options such as beans, eggs and cheeses yet. I think that will be more blog-worthy once rationing has begun and we‘re trying to decide what meals to make. I plan on getting a big, laminated photocopy of that chart to hang on the refrigerator for meal planning and shopping reference. In the meantime, there are seven days left of the main deer hunting season.

--Rational Mama