Sunday, February 28, 2010

Energy Conservation

I was planning to write up a nice long post on ways to conserve energy around the house (after all, the war industry needs those resources!) when Kari at Moo Said the Mama seems to have done it for me. Thanks, Kari! Check out her great post here.

During winter at the Rational Living household we keep the thermostat at 62 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 60 degrees at night (we'll bump it up when company comes over). TMOTH has occasionally proposed dropping it down further but I protest.

I was amused when I came across a newspaper ad in the Topeka Daily Capital from February 24, 1943 with the following text:

We Must All use Less at Home

Even in normal times winter calls for extra volumes of gas, but now that we are at war the demands for gas has increased beyond anyone's expectations. Gas, as a fuel, is used in the making of practically all of our implements of war. The only way these extra demands can be met is by American people using less gas at home. That is one way we can all help meet our 1943 production schedules.

Here is How YOU Can Help on VERY Cold Days
Keep your home at 65 degrees...Closed all unused rooms and turn off the heat...If you have a fireplace, use it for extra heat...Do less cooking that requires high temperatures for long periods of time...Don't turn on gas until it is needed...Turn off as soon as cooking is finished...Use only necessary hot water and save gas in every way you can.

"See?" I asked TMOTH. "Even during the war they were keeping their winter thermostats at 65 degrees!" He hasn't asked to lower the thermostat since I showed him this ad.

In the meantime, we're already making plans for warmer weather. After discussing for many years the merits of installing a whole-house fan (sometimes called an attic fan), it seems like we're finally going to get off of our duffs and get one this year. Does this bend the no-appliance rule for rationing year? A bit, but it is historically-appropriate and since this appliance uses very few resources to produce (as compared to say, a refrigerator or oven *sigh*) we're going with it. I've always been a bit surprised that our 100 year old house never had a whole house fan installed before now. I mean, have you lived through a plains summer? Ugh!

In the meantime, I'm curious to know what the faithful readers set their thermostats on during the winter and summer months. Of course, some of you are lucky enough to live in temperate areas that require little of either heating or cooling. For the rest of us, it's always a balance of finding the right temperature at the right energy-budget price.

For us, it's 60-62 degrees in the winter, and 78 degrees in the summer.

And you, reader?

--Rational Mama

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Appliance Revolt

Less than 12 hours after I cooked liver for the first (and last) time, the oven range stopped working.

Coincidence? I think not.

I think it's appliance karma.

When I woke up yesterday morning I set the bread dough for the evening's meal out to do its final rising and then turned the oven on to preheat. About four minutes later there was a small boom sound - similar to dropping a heavy book on a floor. A quick look at the range revealed that the digital display was dead.

TMOTH confirmed that a circuit breaker had flipped. After that was corrected we plugged the range back in and it made a horrible grinding noise. The stove elements heat up properly but since the digital display is still dead the oven is useless. And we don't feel comfortable using the stove because of the horrible grinding noise that the unit makes when it's plugged in.

The appliance repair technician can't see us until Tuesday, and if he has to order a part it could be several days beyond that before it's repaired - if it can be repaired.

I sure hope it can be repaired. We bought the range a little over six years ago and committed to buying a nicer model at the time because, well, I'm a cooker. It's a smooth-top ceramic and has a convection fan in the oven. It's beautiful. And if it's DOA then I will be faced with one of the dilemmas during rationing year:

No new appliances.

Most appliances were rationed during WWII - you actually had to apply for permits during a period of time. So, if we have to replace our range, we have to buy something used. And this means less selection. What should I do? Buy a crappy, basic model to get us through rationing year and then replace it after restrictions are lifted? Or should I buy a used model closest to what I'm used to?

Of course, if I had my wish, I'd buy something like this. I've always told TMOTH that when I go through my mid-life crisis I'm going to buy refurbished 1940s kitchen appliances and not a fancy car.

In the meantime I'm faced with cooking this week's menu (already decided and supplies purchased) with the resources I have available: an electric skillet, an electric griddle, a microwave, a propane camp stove and a barbecue grill.

I'll let you know how the lasagna turns out.

--Rational Mama

Thursday, February 25, 2010

(Kinda) Historic Recipe: Crisp Lemon Liver

Friends, it was liver night tonight at the Rational Living homestead.

Liver was a frequent wartime meal because liver and other "organ meats" could be purchased with fewer ration points as compared to other traditional cuts of meat.

I tried to prepare as best as I could for tonight. I searched (my favorite recipe site) for a highly-rated liver recipe. I found one that was ration-friendly and had numerous comments along the lines of "my kids never eat liver and they ate it right up!"

I went to the store, looking for nice, fresh calf liver, as described in the recipe. Apparently, however, in our town if you want fresh calf liver you have to go to the butcher's shop which would be about 11 miles round-trip. Ever sensitive to the mileage allotment (and being somewhat lazy) I settled for the generically labeled "beef liver" available in our local grocer's freezer section. In the back of my mind I thought it a bad sign that they didn't keep fresh liver on hand because, in my rationale, if liver is good enough that normal people eat it then the meat department at the local grocer should at least keep a tiny amount of fresh calf liver on hand to appease those loyal patrons.

But, no.

So I brought home a one pound package of frozen, sliced beef liver. And in it's sterile, firm packaging the staggered slices look quite benign.

TMOTH and I talked about the approaching liver night after the girls went to bed. I have no specific memory of eating liver as a kid and I know I've never eaten it past the age of, say, ten. TMOTH was raised with the occasional liver and onions dinner. Now, there are two things that, after nearly 16 years together, I know never to offer TMOTH: any form of olive and/or gratuitous amounts of onions. So, when TMOTH shared his memories of the horrible taste of liver and wrinkled his face in sincere grimaces of disgust I thought that maybe some of his disdain for liver had to do more with the onions rather than the meat itself. He assured me otherwise but promised to take one bite of the prepared liver since we have a one-bite policy in the house. And we both agreed to not tell the girls what the meat was until they, too, had had their one bite (so as to not prejudice their opinions).

When I arrived home tonight I grabbed the package of liver out of the refrigerator. No longer frozen, the package had turned into a bright red, bloody, squishy mass. Very squishy. I soon learned that thawed, sliced beef liver has the consistency of wet tissue paper and also attracts the family dog. I grimaced as I cut the liver in to slices for the recipe, but was optimistic since I couldn't detect any noticeable foul odor from the meat.

The recipe was quite simple and the liver cooked up in a flash. I was surprised that the odor wasn't too bad. I asked TMOTH (diplomatically making himself scarce) if the odor was bothering him in the adjacent room and he replied that it was pretty manageable. I started to get excited - could this be a victory meal?

After preparation, this is what the meal looked like:

I was hopeful; it had a sort of stir-fried, mini-chicken-fried-steak thing going and was drizzled with a lemony-bacon sauce. One the side? A generous pot of saffron rice and canned pears.

Sissy, ever the enthusiastic carnivore, took the first bite. She quickly spit it back out, saying it was too lemony and tasted a little strange. The piece of liver spent such a short time in her mouth I was doubtful if she really got the full flavor.

Eowyn, always a bit more reserved around meat, fondled a piece of liver in her mouth and then spit it out. Party pooper.

TMOTH was next. Like a champion he put an honest bite into his mouth and began to chew. After two chews his eyes became all squinty. After three chews his mouth was grimacing, apparently in a wrestling match with his mind. On the fourth chew the mind won and out came the (thoroughly chewed) liver.

Friends, I feel like I should tell you that chewed, cooked liver looks like cat-sick (as the author of On the Ration might say).

I was the only one left. Talk about peer pressure. I was ready to prove them all wrong. I put a good nickle-sized piece of liver in my mouth. I was pleasantly surprised by the texture; the wet tissue paper had been replaced by a tender meat, very similar to chicken fried steak. Another bite and I could taste the lemony-bacon sauce. Salty and tangy at the same time. Mmm... This wasn't bad at all. With the third bite I committed to the chewing - this piece was awesome and was going to make it all the way down unlike the other losers at the table. Four chews. Five chews. What a bunch of pansies, they couldn't keep the liver in their mouths for more than


Why does it taste like burning plastic in my mouth? Did a chewing-activated enzyme just turn my piece of food into motor oil? What the hell is going on?

Friends, my piece of liver became reacquainted with my plate.

And then we all looked at each other around the table.

I think the rest of the family was a little proud of me. I think they would have been worried if I actually liked the liver. TMOTH said for the first several of my chews he thought I was really going to make it and be able to swallow that piece of liver.

Sissy sympathized with me, saying "I understand. At one point I had this thought that if I swallowed it I would chuck it right back up."

Eowyn quietly kept to her rice and pears.

Friends, I'd like to tell you that this will be the one and only "organ meat" recipe attempted during rationing year, but I'd be lying.

You see, I promised TMOTH that in exchange for his honest try at liver we could try a heart or tongue recipe in the future.

The best laid plans of mice and men...

--Rational Mama

Overheard at Rational Living...

From the mouth of babes:

"Lettuce is precious now."

--Sissy (who, prior to rationing, didn't much care for lettuce)

--Rational Mama

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Just Ask! A Matter of Finances

This week's question is from Rational Living reader Rebecca, who asked:

"Do you keep close track of your household finances and, if so, are you seeing substantial savings from all these homemade meals and not eating out?"

Great question!

I consulted the great Quicken oracle for some fast stats on the same period (Dec. 26 through Feb. 21) this year and last year and here's what I discovered:

Dec. 26, 2008 through Feb. 21, 2009
Gasoline: $197.86 (avg. price per gallon $1.87)
Eating Out: $241.72
Groceries: $1019.60
Total: $1459.18

Dec. 26, 2009 through Feb. 21, 2010
Gasoline: $147.60 (avg. price per gallon $2.50)
Eating Out: $106.50
Groceries: $735.01
Total: $989.11

Total savings while rationing (so far): over $470.00

Not too shabby, huh?

I know we had extra miles last February when Eowyn was hospitalized for a few days at a children's hospital around 60 miles away from home, but in general we've been able to reduce our consumption just by being more efficient with our trips. If you divide last year's figure by the average cost per gallon, that equates to 106 gallons, whereas the more recent figure equates to only 59 gallons. Even if you subtract last year's extra trips to/from the children's hospital our current rate of consumption for gasoline is down 39%.

Our eating out tab has reduced to less than half of last year's expenses. We are all surprised at how manageable the transition to reduced restaurant visitation has been.

Finally, our grocery tab is down 33%, even though more meals at home theoretically means more groceries. I imagine it is because we are spending less on commercially prepared items. Our cost per person has dropped from $4.39 per person/per day last year to $3.16 per person/per day during rationing. That figure includes several different occasions of having company over for dinner, so that actual figure is less than that. Now, some bloggers out there will say that it is still too high, but since I work outside of the home 40 hours a week and don't have the availability to prepare certain foods (breads and pastas) from scratch (although I would really love to), I'm pretty happy with that figure.

What are we doing with this savings? Well, our charitable giving is significantly higher than last year. Very significantly. Otherwise, we're trying to set aside the extra for a fabulous family vacation post-rationing.

What would you do with the extra savings?

--Rational Mama

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Doldrums

Another week, another menu... *yawn*

I'm afraid we've reached the doldrums...listlessly shuffling from one rationing week to the next, counting our points, making the same meals with the same *sigh* seasonal produce.

Same, same, same...

Of course, in 1943 most food rationing didn't begin until late February, so folks didn't have to wait very long at all for the growing season to begin and thus quickly had colorful and tasty options for their menu. Plus, they had nearly a year to plan ahead and preserve that bounty so they wouldn't get stuck with only cabbage and carrots next winter.

Us? We started in late December, so cabbage and carrots we have.

Why, oh why, didn't we wait to start rationing until the end of February?

Anyhoo...after TMOTH rolled a five last week for the Randomizer I wasn't going to chance it again and gave the die to Eowyn for this week's scenarios. And she proceeded to roll a five (head smack!). BUT, at least two of the scenarios we pulled for this week we're favorable, unlike last week, so it wasn't too bad in the end.
  • Beef - limited, only 1/2 the normal purchase amount available
  • Fresh Vegetables - limited, only 1/2 the normal purchase amount available
  • Canned Fruits - Victory Special! available at only 1/4 the usual ration points
  • Nuts and Nut Products - none available for purchase
  • Poultry - surplus, available for only 1/2 the usual ration points
Luckily, the only beef on the menu this week (Monday's meal) was leftover from last week - we ended up not making the meatballs last Sunday and so can use that beef instead of buying new for this week.

The fresh vegetable shortage is a bummer and I had to downsize several portions for the week.

The Victory Special on canned fruits allowed us to buy a few extra cans of peaches and pears and a much coveted jar of applesauce.

I usually try to have a spare jar of peanut butter in the house since it is a staple at Rational Living. That will come in very handy this week since we can't purchase another. Also, there is a pecan pie scheduled for a special meal with guests on Friday that was in jeopardy until I remembered that we still have a stash of locally-grown pecans we picked a few seasons ago hiding out in the back of the cupboard. Whew!

Since poultry was available for reduced ration points I bought a pound of chicken breasts for future use and then obtained a nice quantity of turkey deli meat for a yummy sandwich night on Saturday (all those Subway commercials during the Olympics convinced me we needed a yummy sandwich night).

So here's how our menu shaped up for the week:

Saturday: deli-style sandwiches and chips
Sunday: roasted turkey, gravy, canned green beans and homemade stuffing
Monday: cabbage, tomato and beef soup with fresh baked bread
Tuesday: out to eat (our once-a-month splurge)*
Wednesday: hot dogs and oven-roasted potato fries
Thursday: crisped lemon liver, rice and canned fruit
Friday: bacon-wrapped venison tenderloin, baked sweet potatoes and baked cabbage

*Since it is an eating out week our point allotments for the week were reduced by 1/14th.

Did you see that on Thursday? It's a liver recipe. *shudder*

Liver seems to be a very generational thing, in that generations before mine eat it but subsequent generations don't. I tried to find a recipe that wouldn't be too anachronistic for our experiment but had a very favorable rating. I don't think I will tell the girls it's liver until I see their reaction - but more on that in a special "liver" post after Thursday night.

In the meantime - liver has such a reputation that I am curious as to if there was anything particular that your family cooked that you just couldn't bare to eat?

For me, it was these hamburger/shredded potato patty seemed the potatoes were never fully cooked and made the entire patty a bit slimy. My stomach turns a bit just thinking about it.

Sorry, Mom.

--Rational Mama

Monday, February 15, 2010

Introducing "Just Ask!" and the first question...

We get lots of questions about the rationing project from friends, family and those acquaintances that have heard about Rational Living from a friend.

In order to answer those questions and increase the dialogue on the blog I've decided to start answering a question a week.

Have a question? Use the "Post a Comment" feature to leave your question. I will do my best to answer the questions in the weekly "Just Ask!" feature.

One note of warning: questions by trolls will not be tolerated and an increase in troll activity will require switching to a format where all comments must be approved by the moderator (me). I really don't want to introduce censorship into the Rational Living blog so please, trolls, go elsewhere.

This week's question:

What do you do for the girls' lunches during the week? Do they eat school lunches and, if so, how do you calculate those points?


During WWII there was a robust effort to provide well-rounded meals to children at school at little or no cost to families. I wish our local schools had a meal program that was actually healthy but they don't, so our girls have always brown bagged it.

A typical lunch for the girls consists of a sandwich (typically wholegrain bread with peanut butter and honey or homemade preserves), a starch like crackers or pretzels, and then something from the fruit or vegetable families (carrot sticks, raisins or fresh fruit when seasonable). Their drink bottles are typically filled with either water or 100% fruit juice (slightly diluted).

Only a few components of their lunches are rationed; raisins, juices and commercially prepared preserves use blue/green ration points. If they have a ham or cream cheese sandwich instead of PBJ then the deli meat/cream cheese is subject to red point rationing. We also take advantage of non-rationed sources of protein and often substitute the sandwich for a half cup of cottage cheese. Of course, even though peanut butter, honey and cottage cheese are not rationed they are subject to Mr. Bowles' Amazing Marketplace Scenario Randomizer.

And just in case you're interested, TMOTH and myself typically take leftovers for lunch, supplemented with cottage cheese, raisins, carrots sticks and the like. If leftovers are slim we can do PBJs or dry-soup mixes, which are not rationed.

And how about you, friend? What do you have for lunch?

--Rational Mama

Saturday, February 13, 2010

This Week's Scenarios and Menu

First off, let me say this: TMOTH may never be allowed to roll Mr. Bowles' Amazing Scenario Randomizer die again.

You see, the number rolled represents the number of scenarios we will have that week - except for six, which represents a scenario-free week. We have not yet experienced a scenario-free week.

In between a quick dinner and rushing to piano lessons and church obligations Wednesday night we did our weekly ritual of consulting the Randomizer. In a hurry to get things done, I handed TMOTH the die to roll.

He rolled a five. (EEEK!)

And then we proceeded to pull out some pretty heavy scenarios:
  • Pork: none available for purchase (this includes cuts of pork like pork chops, pork roasts and pork steaks)
  • Processed Meats: limited availability, only 1/2 of the regular purchase amount available (this category includes sausages, salamis and the like)
  • Chicken: scarce, only available for 1 1/2 times the normal ration points as usual
  • Salad Oils: surplus, available for 1/2 of the usual ration points
  • Coffee: only substandard (instant or off-brand) qualities available
There was some nervous giggling going around as we pulled out those first three scenarios. What made it worse was that I had already planned out the menu for the week, which included sausage gravy, a traditional Polish meat stew and a generous portion of chicken satay on Friday night when we are having company over. Meat amounts were adjusted down, down, down and the following solidified for our menu this week:

Saturday: Sausage gravy (using only 1/4 lb sausage), from-scratch biscuits and from-scratch hash browns and canned pears
Sunday: Church potluck - sausage and cheese quiche (using only 1/2 the sausage the recipe calls for) and Asian cabbage slaw...Dinner - spaghetti and meatballs (making only a 1/2 batch of meatballs)
Monday: Bigos (with only half of the recommended Kielbasa and supplemented with non-rationed venison) and bread and butter (and Spaghettio's for the girls)
Tuesday: Leftovers
Wednesday: Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup
Thursday: Black beans and rice
Friday: (Company for dinner) Chicken satay (reduced portions), sesame noodles and baked cabbage

I took advantage of the surplus scenario and purchase some canola oil. I also purchased 2 pounds of confectioner's sugar. We're still plenty good in the coffee category, so I didn't have to sacrifice my appreciation for responsibly harvested, locally roasted PT's Coffee.

It's been a while since we tried a historic recipe, so I'll try to come up with a good one for next week. It may be time to try one of the "glandular meats" recipes.


--Rational Mama

Thursday, February 11, 2010

True Confessions of a Gas Hoarder

Finally! At long last - the long awaited, much anticipated “TMOTH’s Post on Gas Rationing.” Or, as Rational Mama has implied, my impulse to “hoard.” Of course, I don’t think I have in mind anything as extreme as to be improper or “hoarding.” What I have been thinking of is simply saving some unused gasoline ration for later. I see this no more different than saving up sugar and butter rations for a few weeks to make a cake on a special occasion.

If I started rationing with no fuel in the vehicle tanks, put in my 11 gallons and drive less than eleven gallons worth before the next refueling then next week I will still put in 11 new gallons. In this fashion I would soon have a full 10 gallon gas tank in the car (more than that in the minivan). That would allow me to drive more than eleven gallons worth in one particular week if I had gone less on previous weeks. Now we get to the part where, if there were a real rationing authority, I would probably bend the rules just a little bit. Not a lot mind you, but just a little. I would keep one 5 gallon gas can for emergency (or leisure) trips.

Since we are rationing our mileage instead of actual gasoline I will not have to have a gas can in the garage. Instead, I will put unused miles in an imaginary mileage tank in the garage. Or, for convenience, I suppose we could just keep track of it on a piece of paper. This is, in fact, what we have done. By “we” of course I mean Rational Mama, as she is the great organizer of all things good.

So far we have used a total of 684 out of the 1158 miles that our gas rations could have taken us. That is 59% of our potential driving, leaving us with 474 unused miles so far. Using the storage capacity of the two vehicles plus one 5 gallon back up tank we can save a maximum of 530 unused miles. We call these rollover miles. After that point the miles will be “use it or lose it.” I hope we can resist the urge to drive extra just because we can. After all, one of the points of this exercise is to be mindful of our resource usage. Any unused miles can be happily reported as savings on both the pocketbook and our carbon footprint.

Speaking of mindfulness, I must confess that we haven’t yet had to think much about our driving habits. This is just how much we drive on a regular basis. Some things could be changing, though. My carpool arrangement is in jeopardy as the friend I have been riding with is considering a second job that would take him in the opposite direction at the end of the day. Having to drive myself to work would not put us over the limit by its self. I drove myself last week while he was on vacation and we still had miles to spare. My concern is that when the weather is nicer out I have the habit of heading out of town to “go walkabout” as Crocodile Dundee would say. With the nearest significant “wilderness area” being at least a 30 mile round trip (I’m not exactly sure since I never used to think that much about it), my trips will have to be less frequent and may dip into the rollover miles occasionally. We also will have to plan to save our reserve for visiting out of town family. There is a tradition of making it to a certain nephew’s birthday party that I feel strongly about not sacrificing.

Perhaps I should wrap up as Rational Mama often does by asking questions for reflection. How many miles per week does your household use? How much unnecessary driving do you do? Could you consolidate trips? What travel would you be unwilling to do without?

--The Man of the House

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Irrational Panic!

Friends, I don't have to tell you just how seriously I take this rationing program.

I have about half of the handy dandy list memorized. We've dramatically reduced the amount of food waste in the kitchen. Our hand mixer has seen more use in the last month and a half than in the last five years.

And, apparently, I panic at the thought of a contraband can of soup.

You see, last Thursday night was a busy one in the Rational Living household. I wasn't off work until 5:00pm and we needed to be at the school for parent-teacher conferences by 5:50pm. There wasn't much time for dinner, but I chose an easy pasta dish that TMOTH could get a jump start on before I arrived home.

Not only did TMOTH get a jump start on dinner, he had it nearly finished by the time I walked in the door. In fact, as my foot crossed the threshold I beheld a view of him in the kitchen, happily at stove, pouring a can of cream of mushroom soup into the sauce pan.

The problem was, friends, that the ration-friendly recipe I was using didn't call for a can cream of mushroom soup.


The can of soup he was using was from our surplus stash in the basement, where I store items purchased on sale and then bring upstairs (and therefore purchase with ration points) when they become part of the menu.

This was a contraband can. A canned item, being infused into a meal, for which we did not pay ration points.


I stopped dead in my tracks. I stared at the can, as if that could make it go away.

I imagined Office of Price Administration spies kicking in the windows and doors and busting us for our transgression.


And then I caught my breath and sobered up. I decided that we wouldn't have the canned green beans that were scheduled to go along with the pasta dish.

I place the can of green beans in the basement stash.

And all was well once again.


--Rational Mama

Monday, February 8, 2010

This Week's Scenarios and Menu

So, first things first...

Last week we used all of our red and blue/green points...again. Really, I don't see this changing anytime soon. After suffering a week for purchasing ketchup (still in shock over how many blue/green points that costs us) I vow to squeeze out every bit of point purchase I can because, thanks to the Randomizer, we have no idea what items are or are not going to be available. As inconvenient as it may seem I consider this a historically accurate development and success for the project.

We used 145 of our 192 allotted miles. TMOTH had to drive himself to work (rather than carpool) at least once and we had a 14 mile round trip to a nearby hamlet to pick up a gently used treadmill.

Because we have a rule preferring used items for non-perishable purchases during the rationing year (and, really, that should be our rule everyday), it took about a month's worth of searching to find a used treadmill that: 1) works, 2) has an adjustable incline, 3) is a reputable brand, and 4) was within our price range. Anything we found on Freecycle was in rough shape (understandably - it's free!) and the listings on Craig's List were mostly for primo-top-of-the-line models that were reduced to only a million dollars after the owners shelled out bajillions. Eventually, a serendipitous e-mail from a co-worker sealed the deal on a perfect treadmill at the perfect price. This was definitely not an instant gratification process. Again...inconvenient? Yes. Appropriate for our rationing redux? Most definitely, considering most appliances were rationed during the War.

After that victory we were ready to see what Mr. Bowles' Amazing Marketplace Scenario Randomizer had for us. Another week with only two scenarios:

  • Alternative sweeteners (molasses, honey, corn syrup, maple syrup, etc.) - only substandard (off-brand) quality available
  • Canned soups and sauces - Victory Special! Available at half the usual ration points
(Okay self, just breath and stay calm...)

First - alternative sweeteners...luckily I had purchased molasses the previous week (we were getting awfully low to guarantee another batch of Oatmeal Raisin Cookies), and our syrup and honey supplies are well-stocked. Lucked out once again.

Whoa, that's weird, don't know why the font went all wonky there. Anyhoo...

(Big gasp for breath...just let it out...)

Oh my gosh! A Victory Special! Seven weeks into rationing and this is our first Victory Special! And did you see what it was for, friends? Canned soups and sauces! And what is a very common type of sauce? Tomato sauce! Remember my rantings last week at how ridiculously point expensive tomato products are? I would like to be all cool and suave and tell you that I absolutely did not freak (in a good way) and stand in the tomato-based sauce section of the grocery store, drumming my fingertips together like a mad scientist while chuckling absurdly at all the half-point tomato sauces.

But, friend, I did. And I bought them.

Okay, now that I blurted out my excitement, here's our menu for this week:
Saturday: Fried chicken, mash potatoes and gravy
Sunday: Lentil loaf and (canned) carrots
Monday: Homemade pizza (mushroom, olives, pepperoni and left-over sausage from the sausage loaf)
Tuesday: Grilled pork steak and Asian cabbage salad
Wednesday: Baked potatoes and cottage cheese
Thursday: Black bean soup, sour cream and Frito's
Friday: From-scratch macaroni and cheese and cabbage salad

Maybe I'll get organized and make a post for the macaroni and cheese recipe. It's authentic 1940s, with real butter, cream and cheese. A little excessive for rationing? Yes.

But you gotta live.

--Rational Mama

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Rational Sunday Program

Last Sunday I was the main program speaker at our church, a local Unitarian Universalist fellowship. The topic? Our rationing program and why we chose such an undertaking. Over 100 folks politely listened, laughed and provided encouragement for our family while we're on this journey. What follows is the text from my presentation, with the names changed (as usual) to protect the innocent (and the guilty).

A few years back when The Man of the House (TMOTH) was going through a stem cell transplant to cure his Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, my sanity was kept in check through frequent hugs with our two daughters and by lots of reading on 2 subjects: raising chickens in your backyard and civilian rationing on the U.S. home front during WWII. I’m sure some therapist would be able to extrapolate deeper meaning - and multiple sessions - out of that pairing, but I didn't think too much of it at the time. Since the mid-90’s I've pondered the ins and outs of raising chickens, and I’m a born history-geek, so these seemed like nice, safe subjects to explore in the midst of so much chaos and uncertainty.

During that time I could spot a Polish frizzle hen from across the barnyard AND rattle off significant dates in the American rationing time line. While sitting in the rocking chair next to TMOTH in the darkened hospital room I would share helpful information from the books I was reading, such as frizzles do poorly in areas with hard winters (too many big feathers to freeze), AND that sugar was the first food staple to be rationed during WWII. I was never sure exactly how much TMOTH appreciated, or even comprehended, my useful tidbits. After all, he had a lot on his mind during that time, too. But he listened, and I talked. And as I talked I even said crazy things like, “We could convert half of our small greenhouse into a chicken coop,” or, “Say, we could choose to live on WWII rations - ya know, as an experiment.”

Well, as we adjusted to having TMOTH back at home those topics were pushed to the wayside as gloriously mundane thoughts of work and school and laundry and such became the focus of the household once again. I never completely forgot about the chickens and ration points, they just weren't in the forefront of daily conversation. I would still occasionally point out how half of our greenhouse could comfortable house 4 or so hens, or mention that during rationing I would have had to apply to get the extra sugar needed to make the blackberry preserves . But it was all just talk, and to be honest, I was never really sure that I could convince TMOTH to go along with the idea of chickens OR rationing.

And then last fall I read a book entitled, No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process. The author, Colin Beavan, and his household set about to live one year as carbon-neutral as possible. In New York City. Throughout the experiment they phased-in different elements of eco-conscious living, including eating locally, forgoing prepackaged goods and nearly all forms transportation not power by humans (including elevators). Eventually, near the end of the year, the Beavan family forgoes such staples as electricity and toilet paper.

Now, the point of their experiment wasn't to see how folks would react to that last bit; the point was to undergo a personal journey - a chance to dissect how and why we use resources (and the ultimate implications of those choices). What it means to live in the United States and have an enormous amount of resources available at our disposal, and confronting the chain of events that occurs from using those resources.

Beavan's book (and the related documentary based on their experiment) is enlightening, educational, honest and ever aware of the dangers of falling in to a holier-than-thou attitude when it comes to personal claims of living an environmentally-friendly lifestyle.

I thoroughly enjoyed No Impact Man. I enjoyed the stories about living simply, life in New York and how dogs who live in apartments nearly 20 stories up don’t necessarily appreciate their owner’s eschewing of elevators. But, more importantly, it renewed my interest in my own hypothetical challenge: to live off of WWII rations for one year. I passed the book along to TMOTH, who also enjoyed this story of choices and challenges and morals. It generated great discussions between the two of us, about wants vs. needs, the haves and the have-nots, and the general condition of our planet. During one discussion I brought up the rationing project again. TMOTH agreed to give it a try! I mentioned it would mean giving up things like unlimited gasoline, quality meats or processed snack foods. He still agreed! We talked to our two daughters - Sissy, who’s 9, and Eowyn, who’s 7, and they were quite obliging (I think that might be do to a little “ignorance is bliss“). So, we set a date of Dec. 26, 2009 to begin our rationing experiment.

Don't know much about WWII rationing? Here's your history lesson in a nutshell...Rations were imposed in America once we officially entered the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. While other nations, most notably the UK, began rationing (and fighting) years earlier, the US's delay in entering the war postponed any serious changes in resource management. But once the American industrial complex became focused on supplying the needs of the armed forces and the soldiers fighting for freedom, it became clear that Americans’ gluttonous consumption of goods could not continue if the war effort was to be well-supplied while inflation was kept in check. And thus, rationing was mandated.

At first, only "industrial" materials such as rubber and fuel oil were rationed, beginning in early 1942. But soon such staples as sugar and coffee were only available in restricted amounts. Eventually, a majority of food items (sugar, coffee, beef, pork, all canned and frozen foods, cheeses, butter and fats) as well as everyday goods such as shoes, appliances and gasoline, were rationed. Different items were rationed in different ways; points per item or a set amount of goods per person were both common approaches.

Shortages, even of rationed items, became common as the military devoured all kinds of supplies for the war and transport vessels were redirected to war zones and away from U.S. ports. So even if you had enough ration points for a nice lasagna dinner it didn't always mean that those commodities were available for purchase. And while Americans occasionally complained about missing a favorite cut of meat or patching together a pair of worn shoes that would otherwise be replaced, they complied. Granted, there was a black market where one could obtain otherwise taboo or limited items, but the majority of Americans understood that the war, a greater good, needed those resources. In a 1944 poll of Americans, 90% responded that food rationing provided all the nutrition their families needed. Needed. And that was good enough.

In this movement to sacrifice wants for needs, Americans did something amazing: they completely reorganized their consumer habits to work towards a common goal. This was, after all, the Greatest Generation.

But my family and I are not part of the Greatest Generation. And there isn't a unified war against tyrants threatening American freedoms. My husband and I are thirty-something, middle-class, college-educated parents - why would we do such a thing?

Well, sometimes you just need to stretch beyond your comfort zone; to twist and reach and strain to figure out just how flexible (or crazy) you are. Part of this is a bit of a history experiment, too. How many of us have read accounts of pioneers and wondered if we could have hacked it?

Now, let's be honest - this is a lifestyle change for sure. But mostly, this experiment is about learning how much you're willing to change to make a change.

Because if you think about it, there really is a massive war going on. But it’s a different kind of war. Instead of a trench and tank to mark the battlefield, this war takes place in the air-conditioned aisles of a well-lit store the size of an airplane hanger. And we’re all soldiers, because we‘re all consumers.

American’s insatiable drive to buy and insistence on the lowest price has left behind a worldwide mess. There’s no pretty way to describe it. Stripped resources, bald mountains and populations whose meager wages are often times not enough to provide basic shelter and sustenance. Shelter and sustenance - those are needs, not wants.

So, we choose our sides by the purchases we make. When we casually toss that ridiculously-cheap want (not need) in our cart, we choose our side. A side that doesn't connect our actions down the consumer chain, a side that declares that our needs and wants are more important than others in this world who had the unfortunate circumstance of being born outside of the United States.

But what if you dared to make that connection? What if you dared to only consume what you needed, and then as fairly as possible at that? And what if enough people did it so that it made a measurable difference? And what if those now surplus resources were somehow redirected to create change where it is needed? Taking surplus food to areas of starvation, or bottled water to those who indeed lack potable drinking water?

But that’s crazy talk, you say. That would take a lot of change, and people don’t change. But I don’t believe that - change can happen. But, to paraphrase the adage, if we want to see the change, we will have to be the change first.

And so…how are we changing? Well, for one year we’re going to become, in a sense, anti-consumers. Or, at least, really really mindful consumers. But rather than set up some complex system from scratch that is destined to fail because of poor planning on our part, we’re following a veteran system: a system that proved perfectly reasonable and livable: U.S. civilian WWII rationing guidelines.

And what are these guidelines? Here’s the quick list of the restrictions and limits we’re living with for the next year:

Gasoline: We are allowed a 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 if TMOTH’s job equated to a war-supporting industry. Otherwise, if his job didn't earn us the extra bit of gas, we’d only have 6 gallons, or approximately 105 miles.

Sugar: We can purchase a maximum of 2 pounds per week for our family of four (remember: very few prepackaged sweets are permitted during rationing year)

Coffee: Up to 1 pound per adult every 5 weeks is allowed. Neither TMOTH or I are big coffee drinkers (despite being UU), so this doesn't seem like a particularly daunting limit for us.

Canned, Frozen and Processed Fruits, Vegetables and Soups use blue/green ration points (depending on time period), and we‘ll be following point values on a chart from October 1943. Initially, some sloppy note-taking on my part led us to believe that we were allotted 192 of these points per week, which felt so reasonable that during our fourth week of rationing I revisited the original sources to see if that amount was correct. Sure enough, it wasn't. Our family is allotted only 48 (not 192) of these blue/green ration points per week. Big difference. For an example of point values, an average can of pears and a 14oz bottle of ketchup is worth 34 of our allotted 48 points per week.

Meat/Cheese/Oils use red ration points and we are allowed 64 red points per week. We will be using point values on that same chart from 1943. In general, the lower the quality of meat the lower amount of points required per pound. To give you an idea of point distribution, one pound of butter is worth 16 points, a pound of center-cut pork chops costs 10 points and one pound of cheddar cheese costs 8 points. Those three combined are over ½ of our weekly red point allotment.

One note: in the 1940s fresh poultry and fish were not rationed because they were typically only available on a very local basis, but we are including commercially-raised poultry and commercially distributed fish in our rationing program since their widespread availability today rivals that of beef and pork.

Luckily for us, highly-perishable dairy products like sour cream and cottage cheese were not rationed.

Now, because we’re cooky and want the experience to be near authentic, all of the above rations, as well as some additional food items, are subject to change as a result of Mr. Bowles' Amazing Marketplace Scenario Randomizer. This simple system involving a die and two brown paper bags helps replicate the shortages, random point fluctuations and occasional surpluses common during the war. Each week we roll the die to see how many scenarios we will have that week, and then choose a good and scenario accordingly. (Demonstrate). Goods include both rationed and non-rationed items.

By the way, I couldn't help but name this contraption after Chester Bowles who was the first and most influential director of the Office of Price Administrative (OPA) - the government body responsible for the rationing program. Bowles gave up a very successful career in advertisement to volunteer in the Navy during WWII. Although he was rejected on a health concern, FDR appointed him to the OPA. Some folks who were not happy with the rationing program 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.” 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. He did one of those “This I Believe” essays in the 1950s and in it he wrote, “The most fundamental of [our convictions to live by] is a certainty that each individual life is a sacred, vital part of the universal whole, and that there is no force superior to the human spirit.” Whoa! Anyone else get a UU vibe there? I did a little research and - guess what? He was a life-long Unitarian! But I digress…

In addition to the above restrictions we have also incorporated a host of self-imposed limitations 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. During the week we are scheduled to have our dinner out, our ration point allotments for that week will be decreased by 1/14th.

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 or single serving packets of sugar-laden oatmeal).

Seasonal Produce: In general only seasonal fresh produce may be purchased. That means that, right now, our fresh produce selection is pretty much limited to potatoes, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, onions and winter squashes. Grocery ads from 1943 have revealed that during January and February we are also allowed an occasional sweet potato, broccoli, head of lettuce and citrus fruit. If the produce is way off-season, it must be dried, canned or frozen and thus cost blue/green rationing points.

Soda wasn't rationed during the war, but it also wasn't consumed in the same mass quantities that it is today. To keep with the period, the adults of the house are permitted a maximum of three 12 oz servings per week. In the spirit of sacrifice (and because he’s an all-or-nothing, black-and-white kinda guy) TMOTH has sworn off all forms of liquid caffeine during the rationing year.

Limited New Purchases: Nearly 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). This type of system is, most definitely, the opposite of instant gratification. We are currently in the market to purchase a used treadmill and used pressure canner, just so you know (wink, wink)!

We're also in the process of re-evaluating our energy usage, so additional energy ration guidelines may be added. We’re good at keeping the thermostat between 60 and 62 degrees during the winter but we're notoriously bad about leaving lights on in unoccupied rooms and don't use power strips to power-down idle electronics. This will definitely be area of continual adjustments.

So, we are now a little over one month in to our year of rationing. What have we learned? Well, I learned that I need to be a better note-taker - that switch in blue/green ration points per week was a big shake-up.

We survived a family gathering for Sissy’s birthday that included feeding a group of 15 while staying within rationing limits. It took a bit of creativity and a whole lot of planning and saving weeks worth of sugar and red points items to pull of, but we did it.

Also, we've learned that all four of us were wrong. At the beginning of the year we all expected that the restrictions on eating out were where we would feel the most pain. Oh no, not that. It’s the restrictions on fresh produce that are rocking our world. I’m pretty sure the girls would be willing to trade a favorite toy for a bushel of picked-fresh apples and ripe bananas right now, and I've actually started dreaming of green, crisp salads full of fresh lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Mind you, we have roughly 11 more months of this project ahead of us and many, many more challenges ahead. How will we manage vacations and trips to relatives with the reduce gasoline allowance? Can we survive the summer without air-conditioning, and should we commit to installing a whole-house (or attic) fan? And garden space - oh my! I always manage to have a nice productive vegetable garden, but boy - is the pressure on this year! Clearly, we’re going to need to expand our gardening efforts to include either community gardening or borrow space in a friends backyard in exchange for some of the produce (wink, wink).

We have a blog were we post updates, epiphanies and frustrations about rationing. At the beginning of our project year I stated quite plainly on the blog that I'm 100% certain that there will be moments of weakness and regret, but all the good adventures have those, right?

A year from now I imagine we’ll have a much better understanding of our wants and needs. We’ll have an idea of how our purchases fit into the larger world, and how, buy being conscious about those purchases, we can limit the unintended harm and maximize the positive potential of those purchases.

And maybe, just maybe, they’ll be four fat and happy hens perched inside our converted greenhouse.

Thank you.

--Rational Mama

Historic Recipe: Sausage Loaf

This sausage loaf recipe was on the menu last Sunday and I used the recipe available in Joanne Lamb Hayes' Grandma's Wartime Kitchen: World War II and the Way We Cooked.

The description above the recipe states: "This whimsical loaf is reminiscent of the crown roasts of lamb and pork that were almost impossible to get during the war."


Do I want my food to be whimsical? Why hadn't I noticed that word in the description before I committed to cooking the recipe?

It's actually a very simple recipe. Basically, you line the edges of a loaf pan with the sausages "standing up."

Then you fill the middle with a from-scratch macaroni and cheese concoction and bake the whole thing for around an hour.

After an hour it looks like this:

Whimsical? Yes.

Problem? Yes.

See how nice and browned the little sausage heads look? Crispy and thoroughly cooked? Lovely. The sausage bottoms, however, were limp and undercooked. I had to pull them out of the pan and finish cooking them on the stove top to ensure no food poisoning in the Rational Living household. And I also drained out the sausage grease that was pooling in the bottom of the loaf pan. Eww...

In the end we ate our dinner, but it seemed like too much sausage, or not enough macaroni and cheese. In fact, I pulled out several sausages and placed them in the freezer for some future use - it was just too many, especially considering the recipe called for 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of sausages and I only used 1 1/4 pound.

In all, the recipe seems like a rationing odd-ball - lots of red points and an almost gluttonous amount of protein. Maybe this is a confrontation between modern lower-fat cooking and the reality of 1940's menus?

Either way, I think our household macaroni and cheese will continue to stay sausage free!

--Rational Mama

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Going the Distance

As the girls and I walked to the library last weekend (well, I walked and they rode their kick scooters) I was once again reminded of how wonderful it is that we are within walking distance of so many useful locations.

Here's a quick list:
  • my office
  • our preferred pharmacy
  • the (amazing) public library
  • local natural food co-op (I'm a card-carrying member)
  • farmer's market (April through November)
  • grocery store (not the best, but a grocery store nonetheless)
  • veterinarian (great guy)
  • optometrist (nice folks)
  • school (in a pinch...the distance is far enough and there are several major streets to cross so we normally drive the girls to school)
  • neighborhood park
  • hair saloon (Kelly's the best!)
  • bank branch (a real bank, not just an ATM)
  • hospital (TMOTH has walked to/from more than one appointment)
  • two of the girls' best friends
  • many restaurants (burgers, Mexican, Chinese, sandwiches, pizza, Indian...)
That's quite a list! Since our city does not have an expansive public transportation system, it is so nice to have the walking option. Of course, this means we do not live in a suburban housing development but instead live near the center of town. What we earn in convenience we pay for by living in an older house (double-edged sword) and a smaller yard (also a double-edged sword).

It would be great if TMOTH's work was within walking distance, and a better grocery store would be ideal. What wonderful places do you live within walking distance of, or wish you could walk to whenever your heart desired?

--Rational Mama

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

This Week's Scenarios and Menu (and Ketchup on My Mind)

Whew! I'm a little late getting around to this - I kept my nose to the grindstone, so to speak, to finish up the text for the presentation I gave this last Sunday on the rationing program and shunned all other distractions as a result. But, it's over, it went well and I'm back! As soon as I have time to edit the text I'll post it here.

In the meantime, here's this week's scenarios:

  • Eggs - none available for purchase
  • Canned Vegetables - scarce, only available at 1 1/2 times the usual ration points

Lately we've been bartering rides to and from school for a neighbor child in exchange for farm fresh eggs from her grandparents, so we'll have a source for eggs this week even if we can't buy them in the store.

But the extra ration points for canned vegetables this week is sort of like rubbing salt on our wound of realizing we only have 48 blue/green points per week (and NOT 192). C'est la vie.

Here's our menu for the week:

Saturday: Polish cabbage roles and cooked carrots
Sunday: Sausage loaf (historic recipe) and fresh broccoli (!)
Monday: Venison pot pie
Tuesday: Potato-vegetable soup
Wednesday: Venison-beef chili with Frito's and sour cream
Thursday: Beef-less stroganoff and (canned) green beans
Friday: Buttermilk pancakes, bacon and (canned) fruit (our last canned fruit on hand, sigh)

As you can see, this week integrates ration-free venison on two different nights. Yay!

I've been craving chili for weeks and decided it was a must for this week's menu. However, it will be a bittersweet meal because canned/jarred tomato products are some of the most expensive blue/green items. Seriously! One 14 ounce container of ketchup is 18 points (which we needed this week because we are out of ketchup), while one 14.5 ounce can of tomatoes is 11 points. Combined they are over 60% of our weekly blue/green point ration! I was able to pull off the chili by adding in some home preserved salsa and black beans and by using lower-point black-eyed peas rather than the traditional pinto or chili beans.

Typically, at some point in the summer I declare that the 10+ tomato plants I usually plant are too many and swear to plant less the next year. I don't think I will make such a declaration this year. Eighteen points for ketchup? Gee whiz!

This summer? This summer we will can our OWN ketchup, by gum!

--Rational Mama