Oven Canning for Long-Term Dry Goods Storage

jars oven can

The irony of writing about killer DIY projects is that when I’m busiest with my DIY-ing, I’m not writing about it. Example: we recently finished the 400-square-foot addition on our house. I’ve tiled two showers and two floors, laid 300 feet of laminate, painted, installed lighting and plumbing fixtures, and now I’m building cabinets for the laundry and bath.

Now THAT’S a lot of DIY.

And not one blog post. Yet. It’s all documented and photographed and waiting to make its etherwebs debut.

There’s still detail and finish work to do, but the most urgent parts of that project are done. We’re sleeping in our new bedroom and the toilet flushes and the shower works and the laundry gets cleaned. So this week I’m working on a much more urgent project that’s been weighing on my mind. It’s emergency preparedness.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’re chronically wince-puckered under the looming threat of a subduction zone earthquake. The Big One. The End Of The World As We Know It. Tectonic plates playing bumper cars, earth bucking, bridges cracking, buildings crumbling. When it happens (and apparently it’s a matter of when rather than if) the region could be without power or water or emergency services for weeks. Depending on the damage, it could take months to restore public safety and sanitation.

I’m no survivalist type. I didn’t build a Y2K bunker or stock up on ammo in the waning hours of 1999. Being a hardened contrarian, I generally meet public hysteria and fear-mongering with an eye-roll.

I refuse to freak out.

Preparing is not freaking out. In fact, it’s a remedy for anxiety.

I started stocking the garage pantry about a year ago. My husband would open a cupboard and say, um, we have a LOT of canned beans.

Yes, dear. Yes, we do. That’s the idea. Someday we might have to survive off of what’s in there.

He didn’t grow up in a Mormon household. I did, at least for the first nine years. I remember the six-month supply of canned goods and water jugs in our garage. Mormons are experts at this. Today, my step-mom is the preparedness leader for her church. She’s taken up home canning and keeps a 50-gallon drum of wheat berries in the garage alongside fuel, toiletries, camping gear, and first aid supplies. She’s given us our 72-hour “go” backpacks stocked with water purifying straws and toilet paper and mylar blankets. She’s a trusty source of tips and advice.

Maybe you know a preparedness buff. Make use of that knowledge. But if you don’t know someone, there’s an endless supply of info for free.

If you go looking, prepare to squirm through a meandering rabbit hole of patriot propaganda, anarchy and revolution fantasies, and fundamentalist weaponry worshipers. It’s a dark and camo world out there.

There’s also heated debate:

  • You should definitely store huge drums of white rice
  • No. Store brown rice. It has higher nutritional value.
  • No. Brown rice has omega fats that break down and make it harder to store long-term.
  • Don’t store ANY rice! It has to cook for a long time, and fuel will be scarce.

You get the idea.

And here’s another source of comments-section bickers:

Oven canning.

There are staunch critics and practiced proponents. I’ve read it all, and here’s what I decided:

Yes.

Yes to the oven canning, but with caveats.

  • Use it only for shelf-stable dry goods like grains and dried beans and maybe dry pasta.
  • Absolutely don’t try this for vegetables or fruit or anything that you’d can with the normal water-bath method. Stick to the tried and true techniques for those foods.
  • Don’t use it for foods with oils (nuts, dog kibble) because they might go rancid.
  • Don’t use it for sugar (this is a common question in the comments sections.) Sugar will melt in the oven.
  • And definitely don’t put up ALL of your emergency stores this way. Even stored carefully and securely, these jars could sprout poltergeist wings and smash to bits during The Mother Of All Earthquakes. It’s like the investment advice: diversify. If you lose some of your goods when hell breaks loose, you’ll have others to rely on.

With these limitations, I think oven canning is a good idea. You’re storing things that might do well just closed up in a glass jar anyway, but the oven processing time can help sterilize and then heat-seal the jars for better and safer long-term storage.

Are you game?

If so, here are the easy instructions:

  1. Lower your oven racks to accommodate large jars (I got the half-gallon size).
  2. Place a roasting pan or baking sheet on the rack.
  3. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees.
  4.  While the oven heats, fill your jars with dry goods. Leave the lids off.
  5. Place the filled jars on the baking pan and heat them for one full hour. Remember: the lids are OFF.
  6. Place the jar lids and rings in a large metal bowl.
  7. When the hour is nearly up, pour boiling water over the lids and rings. This sterilizes them and helps soften the seals.
  8. Place your rings and lids on a clean towel and dry them well. You don’t want to introduce moisture into your dry goods.
  9. Turn off the oven and leave the jars inside. Take out one jar at a time, using oven mitts, and use a clean cloth or paper towel to wipe the rim of the glass and then screw on the lid. Just hand-tighten.
  10. Wait. As the jars cool, the lids will “pop” and seal. After they’ve full cooled, if any of your jars haven’t fully sealed, you can repeat the process or simply plan to use them within the next six months or so.

For about $20, including the jars, I put away three gallons of grains and legumes. I opted for oats, quinoa, corn meal, and lentils. Compared to their counterparts (black beans, rice, and such) these foods have shorter cooking times and will need less water or cooking time.

I’ll be showing off some other preparedness projects that are easy to do yourself. Do it!

It brings a distinct peace of mind. And if you want to take a gamble at unleashing some karmic woo-woo, cross your fingers and light a candle and repeat your favorite mantra while you fill your garage shelves with food rations and rain ponchos. Maybe. Just maybe, a disaster-prepped household is like the newly-washed car that brings on a rainstorm or the closely-watched pot that won’t boil. Ommmmm. Rest easily, tectonic plates. Peace. Ommmm.

quinoa oven can3jars oven can

Totally Killer DIY

I love reclaimed stuff. The Habitat for Humanity ReStore is one of my favorite hangouts. It’s a great way to find cool vintage-looking stuff with oodles more character than the off-the-rack stuff at the big box stores. And it’s environmentally sound, right? But mostly I’m such a cheapo that I love getting a $100 box of tiles for $5. That just lights me up.

Even better, though: I love taking something off of my house and using it again. That way it’s free, and it goes with my house.

But here’s  my free door that turned into a $1,000 door. studio door 1

I took it off of my garage. And then I cut a really big opening and built these doors garage door one (with cool vintage glass blocks from the ReStore, of course). garage door twoThat way I can drive in the front of my garage, through the back of the garage, and bring my trailer into the backyard. That’s great for moving mulch and compost and whatnot.

So then I took the old door and put it on my soon-to-be writing studio – the one I’m converting from a greenhouse. And it was all going beautifully. I was just putting the last few pieces of trim on it and ready to come take a shower and eat something and celebrate a job well done. And – BAM!

nailed finger

I love using the nail gun. Rawr! Such power! I was zipping right through that trim – pop, pop, pop…a nail here; a nail there…pop, pop, pop. And I was done. See, that’s the thing. The job was done. Done! And I saw one little crooked piece around the window inside the door. It’s hard plastic trim. On a metal door. Blame it on dehydration or exhaustion or bold stupidity, but I though, yeah, the nail probably won’t penetrate that stuff, but it sure would be a nice fast fix if it did, so I’ll just hold this trim in place and…

BLAM!

My first reaction: run to the garage, grab the needle-nose pliers, and yank that sucker out. But it wouldn’t budge. It had bent when it hit the hard plastic, and then it curved into my finger. So I got my husband. I walked calmly into the house and said, um, hey, hon. I need you to drive me to the urgent care for something. All calm like. But that did little good. He does not handle emergencies.

The x-rays (dang, I wish I had those to post here) sort of looked like the nail went through the bone, but then in another angle it looked like it hadn’t. Either way, it hadn’t shattered a bone. The doctor used needle-nose pliers just like mine, only a whole lot cleaner and probably 32 times the cost. He put his weight behind it, and he got that sucker out. Then I just needed some antibiotics.

It really didn’t hurt the next day. I was so impressed. It healed quickly. And then the bill came.

$1,000.

A grand. For a free door. A thousand bucks for “surgery” that amounted to a numbing injection (which hurts like a mutha, by the way, and was a lot more painful than the nail, thank you very much) and a yank with the pliers. Such is our modern medical system.

And such is the life of a DIY nut. Sometimes there are unforeseen expenses. Dammit anyway.

I am a bit accident prone, it seems. I’m starting to get a bit of teasing about that. But there’s a real bright spot here. If I’m ever bleeding out in my backyard, an ambulance will be able to get to me in a hurry, now that I have that fancy drive-through garage.

Good DIY Gone Bad. Very @#%& Bad.

The ugliest table ever

The ugliest table ever

When I watch woodworking shows, I always get this nagging feeling at the moment when the compound mitered joint or the custom-built cabinet must now go together. The thing’s creator – some flannel-clad master like Norm Abrams, Zen-like and confident – will say, “Now, let’s see how this fits. {dramatic pause} Ahh! Perfect. Now our next step…”

Oh. Come. On.

I wanna see the outtakes. Hey, I used to work in TV, so I know there’s a mountain of shots gone bad, all saved up for the blooper reel that everyone will pee themselves while watching at the staff Christmas party. Why wait til December? Lemme see! Lemme hear Norm’s Boston accent go salty. Lemme hear, “Now, let’s see how this fits. {dramatic pause} Son of a … Dammit. {pounding, grunting, trying to make it fit} Ow, shit. I busted my knuckle. Fuggin cut, dammit. I said CUT!”

Family legend has it that I was still in diapers when I loved to watch my dad and his friends tinkering and creating and repairing stuff in the garage. I’d toddle back into the house where my mom and her friends were visiting over tall glasses of iced tea. As they offered to make snacks for us kids I’d show off my new garage vocabulary. “Jesus Christ, that’s a lot of fucking milk.” To this day, there’s something about the juxtaposition of a cherubic face and raunchy language. It doubles me over.

Keep me away from your toddling cherubs if raunchiness makes you faint. And for the sake of your health, stay far from my garage. Also, don’t read the rest of this.

I just spent three weeks on a project that was supposed to take an hour. I had these 3×10 boards from an old waterbed frame we hauled out of my husband’s basement before we sold his house. Good, solid wood in unusual dimensions. I got this genius plan to build a simple writing desk for the greenhouse I’m slowly (Yes, fucking yes, I’m still working on it so quit asking. Damn!) turning into a writing studio.

First step was to marry the two boards to make a 20-inch plank. No problem. Hot damn. I’m gonna build the shit out of this. Next step was to make two precise 45-degree cuts, rendering the long plank into three pieces that would fit together with two 90-degree joints. Simple.

Horse shit.

My Skil saw blade wasn’t deep enough to cut all the way through the butt-pluggin’ plank at a 45-degree angle. I tried a few times, in the back yard, between surprise rain showers. At one point the calm sky suddenly hurled ass-sized hail stones at my head. I actually shouted “Fuck you” to the sky, because we know that can alter weather patterns, but I also I unplugged electrical stuff and ran tools to the garage before I could get tits-up electrocuted right there next to the patio table.

It’s a shitty carpenter who blames her tools, but I took the low road. Dickless wimp of a saw, that’s the problem. So I bought a table saw because I’m sure I need one anyway. It was so cheap I snagged the last one in the store because everyone else knew it was a mama-humping good deal, but if you’re curious just Google table saw prices. Hell yes. Bought one. What’s money when you’ve got a score to settle? Because I was pissed. And because tools. I sang to my dogs all the way home in the car, “Mamma got a new toy, a new toy, a new toy.” They thought we were going to the park. They hate me now.

Well, here’s the thing. When you get the least expensive table saw in the entire western United States, it might not come with all the fancy table saw shit you’ve seen when you watch that genius bastard Norm Abrams. Like, for example, there’s no way to fit a 20-inch plank onto this son of a mutt.

That is, there’s no orthodox way to fit a 20-inch plank onto my new face fart of a saw. But I did it anyway. Because.

Result: buttloads of sawdust all over hell and back, plus three boards that look excellent. At first glance, that is. Try to piece them together and you get these piss-swigging crooked-ass 90-degree joints that don’t meet up. Like, gaps big enough that some guys I’ve known could get all conjugal with those holes. This effort was a total donkey queef.

Seriously. I'm not kidding about these holes.

Seriously. I’m not kidding about these holes.

So, just check out this butt munch of a table. Oh: and it wobbles like a drunk on Mardi Gras. Dog-ass ugly I could forgive, maybe. But this doesn’t even work as a table. Ugly AND not functional. Worthless son of a Trump.

So today it sits in my greenhouse (Jeezus, quit asking when I’ll be finished with that studio conversion ass-ache, okay?) Guano-licking ugly and useless.

Totally guano-licking useless

Totally guano-licking useless

I will not be defeated. Stay tuned. I will have my monkey-shagging writing desk. I will show you when it’s done. But in the meantime, don’t ask. Seriously. Don’t fucking ask.

 

 

Every Weekend Warrior’s Reality

It was hot (for our climate): 86 degrees. I weeded and cleared. I hauled lumber and sawed and drilled and built the boxes. My husband drove the wheelbarrow hundreds of round trips, shoveling and filling. Typical DIY weekend warrior stuff: we were exhausted by Sunday night. My fingers were numb, our cheeks were reddened from too much sun, but we were happy to sit back and admire our handiwork.

But there’s always more.

Weekend warriors, take heart. There’s always more. Always will be. Do what I did: just ignore the nagging to-do list for a little bit. It’ll still be there when you come back.

Pocket Hole Jig: The $40 Tool That Changed My DIY Life

jig

Behold the Mighty Jig

 

Why did I not know about this before? How did I ever get anything done before? This little tool is the coolest, simplest thing ever, and I didn’t even know I needed one.

I learned about it in Ana White’s plans for this console table.console 1 I’m not a raving fan of gadgets, but this intrigued me, especially because this jig promised to create strong, wiggle-free joints in my table. That’s great, of course. But what really sold me is the price. It’s $40. That made trying it a no-brainer.

Straight out of the box, I tried my new jig on some scrap wood. I made only two bone-head goober joints before I hit my stride. This tall, narrow console table is a little powerhouse, thanks to the wiggle-proof pocket holes hidden in the insides and undersides of its joints.

Now I can’t do a project without my trusty jig. It’s like when I discovered nutritional yeast and suddenly couldn’t remember what I ate in the decades before. I don’t know how I made stuff without pocket holes. The manufacturer has bigger, fancier versions of this tool, and some of them are likely in my future.

Pocket holes, hidden way down yonder

Pocket holes, hidden way down yonder

The Store’s Cull Pile Can Save You Huge $$$ on Your Projects

console tiles

My $1 tiles

 

Here’s an easy way to save a bundle and make unexpected things:

Spend a little time cruising the departments of your mega home improvement store (think Home Depot, which is practically my second home). In the paint department are gallons of custom-mixed paints that didn’t turn out as planned. In the lumber department – usually in a big wooden box at the very back of the store – are deeply discounted odds and ends ranging from 2x4s to molding and plywood. In the tile department you’ll find deep discounts on small quantities or last year’s favorite color.

console 1

Here’s a console table I made for our living room. I used some guidance from Ana White’s console design. Ana’s design is also where I learned about one of my new favorite tools (behold the wonders of the pocket hole jig!)

 

 

Ana White's Design

Ana White’s Design

 

You’ll see that my table is a rather loose interpretation of Ana’s. That’s because I needed somewhat different dimensions for this space, and also because I found some nice $1 stone tiles in the cull pile and they ended up determining the dimensions of table top. Four tiles, four bucks. Plus about $30 in lumber (I used 2x2s for a sleeker and less rustic look that goes better in our place. Bonus: they’re also inexpensive.)

This table was super inexpensive, took about four hours to make, and is a custom fit for our living room. Hot veggie dog! Win/win/win. And who can’t use more bookshelves?

 

console 2

Gahhh!! The dogs spend so much time trashing the couch I don’t even bother to straighten it up before I take a photo. Around here, Doggess is lord and benevolent ruler.