Monday, June 28, 2010

Moving to a new blog

I've moved to a new blog, FamilyLifeBoat.com.
See you there.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Cooking Corn Tortillas for Tostadas


We love tostadas as a light summer meal, especially when it gets near 100°F. In the winter we usually we bake them in the oven; you can also deep fry them but they often get bubbles that way which makes them structurally weak.

My current favorite is to pan fry them, it doesn't heat up the kitchen so much and is pretty fast. A little oil brushed on and cooked in the pan. I noticed that it was beginning to curl so I put the bacon press on top, they turned out nice and flat and crispy.

There are a architectural rules you need to follow when building a successful tostada. Refried beans are great for forming a foundation, they are sticky so the food stays on the tortilla and not just slid off. It will also hold the tortilla together a little when it breaks. But after a layer of meat, cheese and salsa the beans will be blocked so they can't hold onto the higher toppings. 

Now a layer sour cream or guacamole under the top layer of lettuce and tomatoes and the whole thing holds together even if you drop it, which of course I did. I just used my fork to flip it back over and expect for a few stray bits of lettuce it had held together.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Storm is Coming

There's storms a coming, not just one but several and they look to be coming together as a perfect storm. They will affect the whole world.

Terrorists who want the blood of Americans to run in our streets. 
Dictator bullies who envy everything we have, and want to take everything, even life itself.
Bugs and blights that spread from field to field and destroy crops.
Pandemics that sicken and kill.
Natural disasters that destroy cities.
Politicians that waffle on important issues.
Man-made disasters that pollute. 
Economies that dip and weave.

Then there are small disasters, that are disasters for our families but that go unremarked by the world. A job loss, being hit by a drink driver, or just getting sick.

Why do we prepare? Because we can see these storms coming, these things have happened before and they'll happen again. So we learn from what happened to other people and apply the lessons learned to us and our families and our communities. 

We go outside in the summer time and when we see clouds building, towering into the stratosphere we know that a thunderstorm will soon be upon us. There will be rain, and wind, maybe even hail and tornados. 

Do we still go out on the picnic we were planning? No, of course not, we batten down the hatches. We put the resin chairs in the garage with the bicycles and shut the windows. We run to the store for milk, bread, batteries and ice. 

The storm may miss us like it did last time and the time before that, but we remember the storm that did hit us a few years ago. We talked to the widow down the street who told us about the Big One all those years ago that nearly leveled the town. We hear on the news what's happening to other lands. We read in books what happened in other times. 

Like the ants and the grasshopper, ants live many seasons and so they prepare for the winter. Grasshoppers only live for a season, long enough to mate, lay eggs and die. Grasshoppers will die even before fall, much less winter, comes.

How do you feel when you run out of toilet paper? How do you feel when you're out of toilet paper and you were just at the store? Building a home reserve let's us completely lose that feeling. Oh, out of paper, just go downstairs and pull one off the shelf. No fuss, no muss.

If you're laid off, how would you feel if all you had was that 2 weeks pay severance check, versus if you had 3 months of food and cash stored up at home? What kind of job would you take, what would you sell, if that severance check was all there was between you and foreclosure?

Being prepared is not about being scared, it's about moving beyond fear and getting ready so you don't have to be scared anymore. If your city is shut down because a pandemic has quarantined everyone for two weeks, you know you'll be fine because you have a months food at home and you don't need to go to the store where people are fighting over the last of the milk and bread. 

Preparedness is also about freedom. Say you get a new boss, who's a bully. Who's going to stand up to him or walk away when the economy is in the tank? How much of a hold can he have on you if you have 6 months cash in the bank and a food in the pantry and a garden to grow more.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Preparation 101 What Parts of Your Life Readiness Touches

I thought to list out the major things you need to be conversant with to help put some bounds on the problem of become ready for future events we can see coming or have a distinct possibility of happening. And I found it touches all parts of your life. When it comes to readiness it is in many ways a lifestyle. 

But that is okay, I don't want to spend all my time going to work and staying inside the lines and all that. I want something more, I am okay with doing some things now that will pay off in the future. 

Bad things happen and having an emergency fund and food storage as a cushion let's you absorb the shock and allows you to rebound much more quickly to get back on your feet. Is that really all that different from taking night classes for a better job in the future? 

Taking night class is preparing for something good to happen, an emergency fund and food storage is preparing for something bad to happen. Look at history, then look at the news and what do you think you need to be ready for?

Food
Cooking
Hygiene
Recipe
Gardening
Permaculture
Food Storage
Preserving
Canning
Meats
Fruits
Vegetables
Composting
Water
Sources
Purification
Storage
Sewage
Shelter
Heating
Cooling
Fire
Light
Flashlights
Clothes
Tools
Home Design
Transportation
Automotive
Bicycle
Medical 
Skills
Supplies
Sanitation
First Aid
Financial
Personal Finance
Work
Business
Banking
Community
Neighborhood
Politics
CERT
Security
Personal
Spiritual
Emotional
Intellectual
Physical
Communications
AM/FM/TV/Weather Band
FRS/GMRS/CB
Amateur Radio
Computer
Internet
Newspaper/Magazines
Mail
Mobile Phone
Telephone
Disasters
Man-Made
Chemical Spill
Utility Failure
Job Loss
Fire
Crime
War
Medical Emergency
Computer Failure
Natural
Earthquake
Tornado
Tsunami
Volcano
Wildfire
Blizzard
Flood
Solar Flare

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Thoughts on Guerrilla Food Gardening

One of the big problems with living in an apartment is not having anyplace to plant a garden. A few pots of herbs and other small plants is better then nothing but is not going to produce anywhere near enough to feed a family.

While I really like the idea of permaculture it really does take some actual ground to really pull off a self-sustaining food source. Actually, Oma in East Germany pulled off something that could be called permaculture.

I recently came across Guerrilla Gardening. And while mostly they seem to be about planting flowers and ornamental stuff but only a little bit on vegetables. This is a good strong idea that we can adapt for survival production.

While planting flowers in the median isn't going to keep you alive, even if it is something like an edible nasturtium. There are ways we can leverage this for something good.

We are not going to be plopping a full-on garden in the middle of some park or forest and hope nobody finds it. Where we can get to, someone else can get to, too. Some places, like federal lands, may have other illegal growers already doing stuff. We have to think different.

Seed balls are a great way to get started. Using a little fertilizer, some native edible plant seeds and some clay you can make lots of marble sized seed balls. Now where can we drop them?

Suburban Colorado has a lot of Open Space and Nature Areas. These are often irregular block areas between neighborhoods to provide some buffer space. Most are just empty lots with a sign on it, that are over grown, though the edge will be mown to keep the sidewalks clear and the chance of wildfire down.

Most are full of native prairie grass, which is fine, but even if we use native edible plants they would be out competed by the grass, especially since it is usually so dry here. What we need is some water and shade.

I have noticed a few open spaces that have some trees always are by a creek that runs through them. This is a very good thing. The creek may only be seasonal but with the shade and mulch from the trees it should be okay. The land around a creek is uneven so it is unlikely to be mown.

There is often plenty of trash around blown in by the wind, so people will be coming through cleaning up a few times a year. So expect it to be discovered, so hide it in plain sight and since seeds are cheap spread them out over a large area so there is something left somewhere.

This is not the kind of thing you'll want to visit often, it'll have to take care of itself. To not call attention to yourself you'll want to look like what people would expect, a hiker or birder. A daypack, binoculars and a camera would be expected. A bag for trash would be good too, leaving a place better then you found it is always a good thing.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Apartment Survival Strategies

One of the problems of living in an apartment is that you are highly dependent on infrastructure: water/sewer, power, trash and the like.

While an ultimate solution is to bug out to a family member's home in the country; that isn't always possible for many reasons, like if you are trapped because of a blizzard.

So remember the basics: food, water, shelter (heat and light) and medical supplies.

An apartment doesn't have a basement so you'll have to get creative with storage.

Bottled water is easy to store. A great place is under the kitchen and bathroom sinks, because water bottles aren't concerned about moisture and those spaces are often not completely filled anyway.

Food is a little more interesting. Obviously, you are not going to have a big freezer so most of your food will have to be boxed or canned. But that means we can fit it practically anywhere they can fit.

A note about boxes. Food tends to be heavy so don't get big boxes, think small like large shoebox sized.

To make them more useful organize the food in the boxes so that you have several meals ready to go. That way you don't have to dig through a bunch of boxes looking for the right ingredients.

Putting labels of what is inside on the outside so you can find things easily. You could even put recipes in there to make it even easier. If you are worried about peekers, just use a generic label like taxes 1999 and reference code and keep the master list in a safe place, but add the location so you know where to look.

At home improvement and home deco stores you can usually get inexpensive side tables that are some legs, a round top and a fabric covering. There is plenty of room under there for several boxes worth of dry goods.

There are underbed storage boxes that allow you to easily slip lots of stuff under the bed.

There are risers for sofas and beds that give you an extra 6 inches under them. They are made for people who have a hard time getting in and out but this also gives us extra space to store food.

If you pull the sofa out from the wall a little you can stack boxes behind it and disguise it with a board on top and  a fabric covering.

And over the toilet storage rack opens up space for soap, toilet paper and cleaning chemicals.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dr. Wes: The Day After

Dr. Wes: The Day After: "In business, nothing changes quickly. Especially big, money-hungry, bureaucratic machines. But the paranoia will grow amongst the administrative and medical supplier ranks as senior leadership looks to cut back. You see, doctors are just the first.

And then there's the patients. If you're in a big town, you won't notice the difference. That's because in the operating rooms, there will still be one nurse where there had been two. In the ICU's, your nurse will visit you a bit less, but thanks to electronics, she'll still be watching or listening for you. You might notice it's harder to understand the foreign accent of your doctor, but he or she will be pleasant. At least until the next doctor arrives on the night shift.

But for the rural patients. Best of luck. Hope you've got frequent flier miles or low mileage on your car. You're going to need it. I have no doubt that you'll be able to get a telemedicine doctor to see you, provided you have more than a dial-up connection and a new computer with a videocam. What, you can't afford one? Better ask the government for a computer, then, okay? And while you're on the phone, ask them how possible acute appendicitis will be handled, will you?"

So what do you do?
Move to the city? Don't get sick? Don't have accidents?

Think outside the box.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Combining Powerful Ideas

There are some amazingly powerful ideas floating around out there, getting traction in different places solving problems and doing good. Not all ideas work in all places since there are legal and cultural barriers but that's okay, there are plenty of good solutions to most of the problems out there.

The problem is that often only one or two ideas get implemented in a particular place, when getting all these ideas together would make an order of magnitude difference or more.

Many of these ideas don't scale well, but that might be an advantage sometimes. You can't economically run an aluminum smelter on solar, it needs the density of coal or nuclear power, but then we don't need a lot of aluminum smelters.

Passive solar homes, maximize the use of sun, shade and wind to minimize the amount of heating and cooling a home needs during the year. The building materials can be pretty flexible too, from sod to straw-bale to adobe to insulated concrete panels.

Alternative power from solar, wind, and microhydro allows you to generate electricity.

Biodiesel for automotive fuel.

Biogas for cooking fuel and fertilizer.

Squarefoot gardening for high density home gardening, it gets a power boost when combined with succession planting.

Permaculture gardening strives for a permanent agricultural solution by maximizing the harvest of rainwater, and extensive use of native and zone compatible perennial edible plants in a layered approach.

Many of these ideas can be combined to create a sustainable lifestyle to keep you and your family alive and healthy during really tough times. Tough times come to everyone in one way or another being prepared will give you peace of mind.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Michael Yon: Gobar Gas II

I love articles like this. It shows us how people are solving a survival problem, but aren't thinking about it as a survival problem. To them it is just the answer.

A Gurkha veteran named Lalit whom I met, deep in the jungles of Borneo, at a British Army man-tracking school, came with good ideas.  Lalit began a conversation by announcing that many of Afghanistan's energy, land restoration and fuel needs could be solved if the Afghans would immediately adopt "Gobar Gas" production. This mysterious substance could improve the lives of Afghans as it had that of the Nepalese, he said, as, with great enthusiasm, he began to explain.
...

“Gobar” is the Nepali word for cow dung.  The “Gas” refers to biogas derived from the natural decay of dung and other waste products and biomass.  In Nepal, villagers use buffalo, cow, human, and other waste products for biogas production.  Pig and chicken dung are used in some places, as are raw kitchen wastes, including rotted vegetation.
Gobar is typically mixed with a roughly equal amount of water, and gravity-fed through a pipe into an airtight underground “digester,” where naturally occurring bacteria feast on the mixture. This anaerobic process produces small but precious amounts of gas. That gas can be fed directly into a heat source, such as a cooking stove, and used to power it.
The biogas that is produced is 50-70% methane by volume, similar to natural gas, and a convenient source of clean energy. The biogas is easily collected and stored for lighting, cooking and other household uses.  After the bacteria have finished digesting the dung, the byproduct is a rich organic fertilizer (sometimes called slurry).  That fertilizer is more effective than raw dung, with two important benefits for hands-on farmers:  it doesn’t smell bad, and almost all the pathogens and weed seeds have been destroyed.  There is no downside.  No waste.  No poisonous residues or batteries.  No moving parts.  Gobar Gas is an astonishingly elegant tap into “the circle of life” that environmentalists, economists, development people and humanitarians should all appreciate.
...
Before coming to the biogas sector, Mr. Rai worked in photovoltaic energy.  “Biogas has much greater socio-economic benefits,” said Mr. Rai in his Kathmandu office, “but biogas is not sexy like photovoltaic, which mostly helps men.  Biogas mostly helps women—the men don’t really notice because they still get cooked food, so why would a man invest 25,000 rupees?  But men will invest in photovoltaic because they get the sexy solar panel,” he said.  “Even women sometimes will opt for photovoltaic solar power because they don’t realize the headaches, coughing and eye problems come from cooking.”
 ...

Ten kilos of dung yields roughly an hour of stove burning time, and one of those skinny cows produces about 12 kilos per day.  KQ had a great herd of sheep—probably a couple hundred—kept in pens when not out feeding.  Villagers scrape sheep dung from the pens, which they mixed with cow (I saw only one), mule and horse manure for cooking.  A small stream runs through the village.  Afghans will use greenhouses if taught; I’ve seen them in Helmand and Oruzgan.


 ...

The bio-slurry from the digester is so effective for growing crops that in some countries, according to Mr. Rai, biogas is not an energy program but an agricultural initiative. In Vietnam it has been adopted for sanitation.  The biogas and the great sanitation benefits, including reduction of waste-borne diseases, are byproducts in one place and impetus in another.  In Karbasha Qalat, with a few greenhouses using the bio-slurry, the standard of life could dramatically improve.  There must be thousands of “Karbasha Qalats” in Afghanistan.
...
For a typical Nepalese family, installing a biogas facility, even with subsidies, is expensive.  But people feel that the investment pays for itself quickly.  Some women reported that Gobar Gas installations completely returned the investment within a year to 18 months.  SNV figures are more conservative, but even they show a complete return on investment after about three years.
...
But it’s important to consider the less easily monetized but still very real benefits of using Gobar Gas.  Saving 2,500 kilograms of trees each year per family has long-term economic value to farmers as the soil is revived. Improved health from better sanitation and the absence of constant wood smoke in the home has clear economic benefits, as does the ability to send children, freed from the labor of searching for fuel, to school.  These gains and many others don’t fit on a balance sheet.  But they are the conditions for real, long-term economic and social development in the Third World. 
...
Households of four to five people require about two cows or buffalos to create enough raw materials.  A thousand chickens or a hundred small humans can match one big water buffalo, and four pigs equal about two cows in dung production. Connecting the family outhouse gives a slight Gobar boost, but is more useful for sanitation than fuel.
...
Afghanistan recently won the silver medal in a competition for the world’s most corrupt nation.  Somalia beat them by a nose, walking away with the gold medal, and all the gold that was meant for the people.  Adding resources to Afghanistan has only made it more corrupt by giving thieves something to steal and more power after they steal it.  Grassroots efforts can bypass many of these issues.
More than forty of the world’s most developed nations are nurturing Afghanistan, trying to push, pull and prod it into shape.  Simultaneously, it won a silver medal for corruption.  This means, at very least, that top-down solutions are typically not working.  The government cannot be trusted with development money, because they don’t care about the development part.  We might as well feed the money into bio-digesters.  Fundamental progress in Afghanistan can best be achieved with more bottom up efforts.  That’s what worked in Nepal. 
...
The caloric rollercoaster for the star anaerobes begins at about 15ºC (59ºF).  That’s when they start waking up and going to work.  To kick them out of bed, some farmers pile straw atop the digester.  Decaying straw produces heat.  Busy anaerobes begin to help by producing heat inside the digester.  Some people build greenhouses over top, or barns.  In China, according to Jan Lam, the SNV biogas project manager in Cambodia, “The ‘3 in 1’ approach is popular.  A greenhouse contains a vegetable garden, pig sty and biodigester.  Vegetable waste is fed into the pigs and their waste goes directly into the plant which is often large enough for cooking and a water heater.”
In cold weather, digestion can be prodded with warm water.  As temperature rises, production rises, but the top of the “thermo coaster,” the ideal temperature, is about 35ºC (95ºF).  Good dung, plenty of water, little oxygen, and the anaerobes do their job.  Above that temperature, they slow down, trying to shed some heat.  But if slowing down doesn’t work, if their world gets too hot, they die.
Installing a digester is like adopting a baby elephant.  It can’t get too hot or cold.  It must eat every day, and drink lots of water.  Sometimes it needs a little washing.  If the water source is far, the system is impractical.  Many parts of Nepal and Afghanistan are impractical for baby elephants and biogas. 
So we have here a simple and durable system for creating cooking fuel, that also handles major sanitation issues and creates great fertilizer as a byproduct.

Unless you are running a diary farm you aren't going to have enough input to make heating fuel, but cooking fuel is a great first step. But a well designed and well sited house will not need very much heating or cooling.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

News Roundup



Cooking: The Blanche

Cooking foods does lots of great things for us. First off it often improves the taste, which is always nice. Cooking can also liberate more nutrients providing more power for our bodies. Proper cooking can also kill off surface bacteria. 

I'll focus on the last one for this post: Killing surface bacteria.
Generally speaking most of the food we have is pretty darn clean, but people walking around the produce section can and do cough and sneeze. A simple wash will wash off most of these germs but if you need to be sure your vegetables are germ free you can employ the blanche

Blanching food does several things. It will kill surface bacteria, it will liberate cellular oxygen allowing the base color of the food to be more easily seen and it will loosen the skins on certain foods.

You already know that bring water to a boil will kill the germs in the water, but did you realize that boil water will kill the germs on the outside of the things put into the water? Nobody ever mentions it but this is actually very important. 

Have you ever noticed how bright the colors are on those vegetable trays you can get at the store but the raw vegetables you get from the produce section are rather lackluster looking at the same time? The reason is that raw foods still have lots of oxygen bound up in them. By blanching foods the heat will cause the oxygen to liberate from the cells of the food allowing the colors underneath to shine through.  Overcooking will cause the colors and the cellular structure of the food to breakdown resulting in an ugly gray goo. We're going to prevent that with an ice-water shock bath. This works best on foods like broccoli, beans, carrots and celery, you know, the foods you usually see on a veggie tray.

Blanching will loosen the skins on certain foods, like tomatoes and peaches, for easier processing. Cooking tends to weaken cellular structures, since a blanche is so quick only the very outside of the food will cook, that makes skinning the food much easier and less wasteful. This is most often used on foods like tomatoes and peaches. This is the first step to making Tomato Concassé, which is the foundation of tomato sauce, or peach cobbler.

Blanching
To blanche food you need:
A big pot to boil the water in. Wider is better so the food will have room to float around and not touch other food. Lots of water means that the boil will recover the boil faster.
A large bowl, filled with a 1:1 ration of water and ice. After about 5 minutes you will have water at 32°F (0°C). This will shock the food, cooling it down quickly and stopping the cooking process. If we just let it sit on the counter it will continue cooking until it reach equilibrium.
A spider or slotted spoon. To get food in and out of the boiling water.
Since you are working with lots of water a few towels would be handy.

For a veggie tray, you'll want to cut the foods into bite-sized pieces before blanching. Lower a spider full into the water and allow to cook for 30 seconds, then using the spider again remove them into the ice-water bath for the shock. after 1 minute they will have stopped cooking. You can dry them in a salad spinner or on some towels. If you are not going to eat them within the hour store them in the refrigerator to keep them out of the Danger Zone, wrapped in some moist towels to keep them from drying out.

Fresh Tomato Sauce
If you have a garden with tomatoes one of the great things to make is your own tomato sauce. To make a good homemade tomato sauce you should start with a tomato concassé, because the seeds are tough and bitter and the skin will curl up into nasty little tubes that never soften. 

Ingredients
20 Roma Tomatoes, concasséd

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup finely diced onion
2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon finally chopped fresh oregano leaves
1 tablespoon finally chopped fresh thyme leaves

The juice of 1 lemon

Tomato Concassé
For skinning fruit, you'll need to cut a small X in the base (non-stem end) of the fruit and lower 2-3 of them into the water with the spider for 30 seconds. Then remove them with the spider and shock them in the ice-water bath. After a minute you can peel them by rubbing them in a towel to remove the skin or if the skin is still hanging on too tight with a paring knife by grabbing the loose skin at the X we made between the knife and thumb and pulling. We live at high-altitude so we need to go for 60 seconds to loosen the skins enough. Discard skins. 

Cut the tomatoes in half and using your finger remove the seeds and pulp, discard the seeds and pulp. Chop the tomatoes into large cubes discarding the hard stem. 

In a large non-reactive pot cook on low the tomato concassé, oil, salt, pepper, onion, garlic, and herbs for about half an hour until most of the liquid has cooked out.
Add the lemon juice. Let that return to a boil. Check the seasoning and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, June 14, 2010

News Roundup

It Just Isn't Possible to Prepare Enough Sometimes

What happened to them is terrible and shows one of the biggest holes I've seen in many preparation plans. 

I know exactly what they went through. We were hit by a drunk driver that crossed the median of the Interstate. My pregnant wife and I ended up in the hospital for a month and, unusually, the drunk was died on scene. Miraculously, we both had the same insurance company and when the hospital called they got agents who were sitting back to back, which expedited things nicely. 

Our emergency fund was depleted in the helicopter and ambulance charges just to get to the hospital. Helicopters are expensive. Ending up in the hospital tends to be very expensive. The cost of healthcare is greatly distorted because of how insurance companies and the government handle claims.

A car crash is one of the more expansive accidents that can happen to you. Cars are very safe nowadays and you tend to survive things that used to kill people outright but injuries can be worse because of it.

I once read that you could self-insure yourself if you had $1 million in the bank. While that is a great goal, you need to build up to it. 

Most advise you get for an emergency fund is 2-3 months of expenses. I prefer 1 month of expenses per $10k salary per year you make. 

Take it to the next level for a crash fund. The trouble is that a crash fund would have to be by definition pretty big. We're talking about $100k+ here. That would be 2-3 years salary for an average person. You can't do that very quickly at all, unless you hit it big on the lottery or something. 

Cash, CDs, gold, silver and other commodities, and the like. Right now stocks and bonds are not looking so great right now but they are options too things will change and they may be valid choices again.


The easiest way to do this is to make it a combined fund: retirement and crash. Don't put all of your funds into locked accounts like an IRA or 401(k) keep some of it liquid and semi-liquid. 

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Canning Experience in Denver

One of the great experiences we get to have is to go to the Denver Cannery and do some volunteer work. The products we do go to the poor and needy and disaster victims, but you can buy some of it yourself.

The LDS Cannery in Denver recently got upgraded to handle meats. So, yesterday we did beef chunks, they also can do chicken and pork and cream of chicken soup, as well as the old standbys of tomato soup and salsa. The USDA inspector comes at least once every day and said he's been impressed by the quality and cleanliness of the volunteers, usually beating the professional meat packers he's also inspecting. I would have loved to get a chance to ask him why he thought that was the case but it was to noisy and busy.

We had about a dozen volunteers doing most of the work, packing the meat into the cans, putting the cans into the basket to go into the pressure canners and packing the finished cans into boxes.

There were 4 missionaries, not the young kids most people see, these are older people doing a couple of years of service who are trained at the process and how to repair the machines and do the more critical/hazardous work like using the crane to move the baskets of cans to and from the pressure canners.

The most amazing thing is how with about 5 minutes of instruction we just self-organized into doing jobs we thought ourselves were best suited for and dove right in.

We blazed through 4 pallets of beef chunks, about 1600 pounds of meat in 4 hours. Even with the lidding machine occasionally eating cans instead of topping and sealing them properly. The cannery itself did 80,000 pounds in the past 4 weeks. Not bad for a place of only about 3000 sq. ft. and a bunch of volunteers.

I was near the front of the line getting the meat from the tubes it came in to the canning table where most people were concentrated. We would dump 25-30 pounds of meat onto to the table every couple of minutes, when things were moving smoothly, to keep the packers supplied with enough meat to not fall behind the cans. We were soon covered in blood up to our biceps. 

Near the end we were getting cramps in our hands from all the work. I couldn't do that work all day, we were warned that it was tough work and he wasn't kidding. But if I had too it wouldn't be too bad if you could rotate out to an easier job from time to time. 

I noticed a lot of the county Food Banks from around the state are signed up to do turns on the schedule: Arvada, Boulder, Larimar, Weld, Food Bank of the Rookies and even The Salvation Army and Jewish Family Services. Next month there is a Mayor's Night, mayors from around the state have been invited to come join in to participate in some canning to get an idea of what is going on in here. 

And all that is just the Wet Pack Cannery, the Dry Pack has its own area, personnel and schedule. 

Most of you don't live by Denver and so I found a list of community canneries by state but it doesn't list the one I know about here in Denver so you'd better look around in your own community. 

The Absolute Beginners Guide to Learning How To Cook for Survival: Part 15 Technique Blanching

Cooking foods does lots of great things for us. First off it often improves the taste, which is always nice. Cooking can also liberate more nutrients providing more power for our bodies. Proper cooking can also kill off surface bacteria. 

I'll focus on the last one for this post: Killing surface bacteria.
Generally speaking most of the food we have is pretty darn clean, but people walking around the produce section can and do cough and sneeze. A simple wash will wash off most of these germs but if you need to be sure your vegetables are germ free you can employ the blanche

Blanching food does several things. It will kill surface bacteria, it will liberate cellular oxygen allowing the base color of the food to be more easily seen and it will loosen the skins on certain foods.

You already know that bring water to a boil will kill the germs in the water, but did you realize that boil water will kill the germs on the outside of the things put into the water? Nobody ever mentions it but this is actually very important. 

Have you ever noticed how bright the colors are on those vegetable trays you can get at the store but the raw vegetables you get from the produce section are rather lackluster looking at the same time? The reason is that raw foods still have lots of oxygen bound up in them. By blanching foods the heat will cause the oxygen to liberate from the cells of the food allowing the colors underneath to shine through.  Overcooking will cause the colors and the cellular structure of the food to breakdown resulting in an ugly gray goo. We're going to prevent that with an ice-water shock bath. This works best on foods like broccoli, beans, carrots and celery, you know, the foods you usually see on a veggie tray.

Blanching will loosen the skins on certain foods, like tomatoes and peaches, for easier processing. Cooking tends to weaken cellular structures, since a blanche is so quick only the very outside of the food will cook, that makes skinning the food much easier and less wasteful. This is most often used on foods like tomatoes and peaches. This is the first step to making Tomato Concassé, which is the foundation of tomato sauce, or peach cobbler.

Blanching
To blanche food you need:
A big pot to boil the water in. Wider is better so the food will have room to float around and not touch other food. Lots of water means that the boil will recover the boil faster.
A large bowl, filled with a 1:1 ration of water and ice. After about 5 minutes you will have water at 32°F (0°C). This will shock the food, cooling it down quickly and stopping the cooking process. If we just let it sit on the counter it will continue cooking until it reach equilibrium.
A spider or slotted spoon. To get food in and out of the boiling water.
Since you are working with lots of water a few towels would be handy.

For a veggie tray, you'll want to cut the foods into bite-sized pieces before blanching. Lower a spider full into the water and allow to cook for 30 seconds, then using the spider again remove them into the ice-water bath for the shock. after 1 minute they will have stopped cooking. You can dry them in a salad spinner or on some towels. If you are not going to eat them within the hour store them in the refrigerator to keep them out of the Danger Zone, wrapped in some moist towels to keep them from drying out.

Fresh Tomato Sauce
If you have a garden with tomatoes one of the great things to make is your own tomato sauce. To make a good homemade tomato sauce you should start with a tomato concassé, because the seeds are tough and bitter and the skin will curl up into nasty little tubes that never soften. 

Ingredients
20 Roma Tomatoes, concasséd

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup finely diced onion
2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon finally chopped fresh oregano leaves
1 tablespoon finally chopped fresh thyme leaves

The juice of 1 lemon

Tomato Concassé
For skinning fruit, you'll need to cut a small X in the base (non-stem end) of the fruit and lower 2-3 of them into the water with the spider for 30 seconds. Then remove them with the spider and shock them in the ice-water bath. After a minute you can peel them by rubbing them in a towel to remove the skin or if the skin is still hanging on too tight with a paring knife by grabbing the loose skin at the X we made between the knife and thumb and pulling. We live at high-altitude so we need to go for 60 seconds to loosen the skins enough. Discard skins. 

Cut the tomatoes in half and using your finger remove the seeds and pulp, discard the seeds and pulp. Chop the tomatoes into large cubes discarding the hard stem. 

In a large non-reactive pot cook on low the tomato concassé, oil, salt, pepper, onion, garlic, and herbs for about half an hour until most of the liquid has cooked out.
Add the lemon juice. Let that return to a boil. Check the seasoning and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Road to Serfdom as a Comic Book @ AMERICAN DIGEST

It looks like Glenn Beck's show on The Road to Serfdom has caused Chicago Press to sell a 6 month supply of the book (about 13,000 copies) in less then 24 hours.

There is a Comic Book version available.

The Absolute Beginners Guide to Learning How To Cook for Survival: Part 14 Canning supplies

Whether there is a societal breakdown or not being able to preserve the food you may get cheaply at harvest time or in some other kind of windfall is a powerful way to save money.
Canning was created because Napoleon needed a way to feed his army without antagonizing the locals by eating all their food as the army passed through. Napoleon offered a X-prize to solve this problem. If you get food from a jar or a can you have to thank Nicolas Appert who won the prize after he invented a way to stuff food into a modified champagne bottle, seal it and boil it to make it safe from spoilage. Some rivals took the idea and decided to save money by skipped the boiling step, which allowed us to discover the dangers of botulism.
The most important thing we are trying to do in canning is to kill the Clostridium botulinum microorganism which produces botulism toxin which can paralyze your muscles within 72 hours, including those used for breathing. Oh, it leaves your brain and nervous system intact, so you can be wide awake the whole time. As little as 1 microgram is fatal to humans. While it can be killed at regular boiling temperatures it can form heat resistant spores. These spores cannot survive high acid environments like jams and tomato sauce. In a low acid environment the spores can survive and release the microorganism which thrives in a low-oxygen environment like a sealed jar of meat and vegetables filling it with botulinum toxins. To kill the spores the temperature of the jar needs to reach at least 240°F and the only way to make water reach that temperature is to increase the pressure.
There are several ways to preserve food all with there own kinds of specialized tools. You could improvise but it is much better to have the proper tools to make it safer and easier. And when it comes to preserving foods safer is better.
Canning foods has the potential of being really dangerous, even fatal, so follow the recipe. The best resources are the Ball Blue Book of Preserving and your local extension office.
Most supermarkets seem to carry a canning supplies in the summer at least. They even have kits with almost everything you need to get started. I'd also recommend getting the quart sized rather then the pint sized kit, you can do pints in a quart sized pot but not the other way around, we did that and trying to can 40 pints of strawberry jam takes a really long time when doing only 7 pints at a time.
There are two basic variations, water bath canning and pressure canning. Water bath is just that, the jars take a bath in boiling water. For meats and other low-acid foods a pressure canner must be used.
While the kits have almost everything you need, you may need to have a few other things like a spare set of tongs, preferably with silicone tips to grab sterilized jars and rings, since it needs to be sterilized too it needs to be silicone to withstand the boiling water without breaking down.
If you are making more then one batch another large pot to sterilize the next batch while the first is being processed is handy, but you should already have a stockpot that will do that duty.
A small pot for the lids, you need to sterilize them but not so much that the sealing compound is damaged. A small pot gives you better control and you should have this already anyway.
A timer for obvious reasons.
Towels, canning is a very wet process and lots of towels will keep things clean and dry.
Plenty of counter space. You don't really want to move a bunch of hot and wet jars into your pantry. You'll generally need to let the jars sit for several hours to seal and cool. You'll hear lots of popping as the jars vacuum seal themselves. What is happening is that you caused the everything to expand as it was heated; it also pushed out some of the air from the jars when they were in the water bath, as they cool everything shrinks including the air and that is how the seal is created. If you move it around too much while hot the seal won't hold, even with the rings.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

News Roundup

Increase Kitchen Efficiency by Learning Basic Knife Handling Skills

Minimum Payments: A Monster That Will Eat You Alive

Life inside the North Korean bubble

Top 10 Design Myths

10 Ways to Prevent a Home-Plumbing Nightmare

Food Fight

Wheat rust: 'cereal killer' in Kenya

15 Unusual Uses For Baking Soda

Off-grid Laundry machine

FTC floats Drudge tax

How to Be a Hegemon

The Dr. Zhivago Option

2010 Grasshopper Forecast

Obama loses the Left: suddenly, it's cool to bash Barack

Nancy Pelosi, the liberal House speaker, is heckled by liberals

Disturbing Job Ads: 'The Unemployed Will Not Be Considered'

Aging Baby Boomers and the Generational Housing Bubble: Foresight and Mitigation of an Epic Transition


How to Preserve Food for Future Consumption Using Three Simple Old Fashioned Methods

Vanishing Farmland: How It's Destabilizing America's Food Supply

Phoenix-area hospitals fight highly toxic 'supergerm'

As the Sun Awakens, NASA Keeps a Wary Eye on Space Weather

Severe weather rakes Midwest; 7 dead

Watching California Wind Power Output

Time can't erase D-Day memories

More rain in Boise. When will it stop? When will the sun return? Where is summer?

BEST HOUSEPLANTS TO IMPROVE INDOOR AIR QUALITY

KEEPING KITCHEN STAPLES FRESH

Double-Decker Drum Composter

Salt

Preparing Your Information for Disaster, Part Two

From the oil spill to the financial crisis, why we don't plan for the worst

I'm Tired--some updates

U.S.’s $13 Trillion Debt Poised to Overtake GDP: Chart of Day

The Finger of God

Declutter Your Home and Simplify by Choosing Classic Designs

A Self-Appointed Teacher Runs a One-Man 'Academy' on YouTube

A diet of the mind

Time Machine plus a clone secure the day

A “Systems” Explanation of How Bailouts can Cause Business Cycles

ZYWICKI: Why aren't banks lending?

A Future With Fewer New Miracle Drugs

A Classical Education: Back to the Future

The Overton Window

The Absolute Beginners Guide to Learning How To Cook for Survival: Part 13 Cooking Utensils part 2

Bowls A good set of nesting bowls is very helpful and doesn't take up much space. Metal is better then plastic since plastic will link with fat molecules so they are hard to get really clean. Glass is also great since you can put them in the microwave if you need to heat or defrost something, but they can break. Bigger is often better but don't get one so big it doesn't fit in your cabinet or dishwasher.

Graters Lots of things need to be grated and a good box grater makes it easier, it needs a nice wide base. For hard cheeses, citrus and other fine grating jobs a microplane grater rocks.

Stainers and colanders are for separating foods and liquids. Slots work better for draining liquids and make sure to have a bowl or other container big enough for the stainer to fit in. Wire mesh strainers can be also be used for sifting flour. You'll want a big one that will fit into a 6 Quart bowl for washing large amounts of food like before a canning session. A medium sized one of 2 Quart size for pasta, and a small one of 1 cup size for straining loose teas and other herbal infusions, this is also great for sifting flour and powdered sugar when baking.

Can opener, get at least three of these for your kitchen and two in your emergency kits. You can brute force your way into a can with a strong knife but a can opener is much easier and safer.

Measuring cups and spoons and scale, all recipes have ingredients that need to be measured. Two sets are important, stainless steel is the most durable. An electronic scale is fine, a manual balance scale would be great.

Peelers or vegetable peelers are designed for getting the skin off of foods like carrots. They are also very good at making very thin slices of firm foods like potatoes; homemade potato chips a breeze to make. The most important thing is to get one that's comfortable for your hand.

Scissors are really useful. You want a few of these. A pair of general purpose scissors for opening bags and cutting butcher's twine is a must. They can be good but not great pair. On the other hand a great pair of kitchen shears can save you a lot of work. It can cut the back out of a chicken carcass or the fins off of a fish. Since this is for cutting raw meat, this must be stainless steel and they must can come apart so you can really clean it.

Bench scraper, amazingly useful not just for manipulating dough but also transferring chopped foods from the cutting board to a bowl or pan.

Ladles are really just spoons with a deeper bowl. I like the calibrated ones, 1/4 cup, 1/2 cup and 1 cup. It makes potion control easier.

Spice grinders, pepper mills and mortar & pestle. Whole spices last years so they are great for storage, but you need to break them up when you want to use them. Whole pepper is a great and easy addition. Pepper mills are good for pepper, obviously, and other pepper sized spices like allspice. For something like cinnamon sticks or chunks you need something different like a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

Mallet or meat tenderizer sometimes you need to flatten food, but don't over do it or you'll make mush. There are two basic styles, Hammer style and vertical style, a flat base and a vertical handle. A matte finish with rounded edges is best.

Food mill is a manual food processor, something very handy for preparing foods for canning or making mashed potatoes.

Storage containers there'll be no more plastic bags after a collapse so some good and durable storage containers are going to come in handy. Plastic is fine as all materials will eventually wear out or break.

Ice trays not just for ice any more, get them in the 2 Tablespoon size which are good for freezing egg whites, and small amounts of stock for helping dishes.

Rolling pin, a solid one piece French style rolling pin is almost indestructible. But an 1.5 inch wooden dowel will work fine.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

News Roundup

Emergency Plan: Better Than an Emergency Fund
Tales from a DC Kitchen
10 People Who Survived the Impossible
35 More Secrets the ER Staff Won’t Tell You
Americans stock up to be ready for end of the world
Rescuing adult authority in the twenty-first century
DIY and Danger
Put Together a Rock Solid Home Tool Kit
Al Dente: How to Feed the World: Monsanto vs. Michael Pollan

The Absolute Beginners Guide to Learning How To Cook for Survival: Part 12 Cooking Utensils part 1

If you're cooking you don't want to use your hands to reach in and try to flip things over and unless you're on top of Mount Everest you don't want to reach into a pot of boiling water. That are what the various utensils are for. You want to have at least 2 sets: one for working raw foods, particularly meats, and one for cooked. Switch when the last raw side goes down to the hot surface. And have at least one set for working over a fire or outdoor grill.

Spatulas are one of the first thing to use to manipulate foods on the stove. Spatula is an overloaded word used to describe a flat metal flipper or a soft silicone paddle. Generally speaking when talking about cooking a spatula is a one of the flat ones not the rubber ones usually used in baking, which I'll talk about later. They can be solid, perforated or slotted. The holes reduce surface friction and allow fat to drain. Slotted ones are best for turning fish as a solid spatula will shred the fish, the long open slots allow the fish to slide without catching. Metal allows for more flexibility but should not be used on non-stick surfaces which require plastic. 

Rubber spatulas are often just called spatulas in the baking context. Rubber spatulas usually made from things other then rubber. High temperature silicone can be using one the stovetop without melting and are great for making omelets. Get a small one for getting into jars and frosting cakes, a large one for folding ingredients together, and a spoonula for transferring creamy, fluffy foods like puddings and whipped cream.

Spoons let you bring out samples of foods for tasting, which is very important so you can adjust the seasoning before serving. Slotted spoons allow you to drain foods that have been poached or deep fried. Metals spoons can be lighter and more aggressively shaped then wood or plastic but conduct heat which is bad for candy-making. When getting a wooden spoon get one with a thick handle so you can use it as a spurtle or a pestle. 

Tongs are great for manipulating foods. Too often I need to flip something cubic over and a spatula will sometimes just flip it all the way over. Tongs give you way more control.

Whisk works best in a rounded bowl or a saucier where it can reach the corners. It is best at combining particulates and liquids. There are two basic type the round for working up the sides and the flat for scraping the bottom of the pan. Lots of tines and big round head is better.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Remembering D-Day, 66 years ago - The Big Picture - Boston.com

Remembering D-Day, 66 years ago - The Big Picture - Boston.com

Disturbing Job Ads: 'The Unemployed Will Not Be Considered'

Disturbing Job Ads: 'The Unemployed Will Not Be Considered': "In a current job posting on The People Place, a job recruiting website for the telecommunications, aerospace/defense and engineering industries, an anonymous electronics company in Angleton, Texas, advertises for a 'Quality Engineer.' Qualifications for the job are the usual: computer skills, oral and written communication skills, light to moderate lifting. But red print at the bottom of the ad says, 'Client will not consider/review anyone NOT currently employed regardless of the reason.'"

I understand that companies need to filter resumes. I saw a company that got a stack of resumes 5 feet tall every week, without the envelopes. That is a lot. Far too many to actually read individually.

So they add requirements: college, x GPA or higher, x years of experience, &etc.

How's that working for you? Do you really need someone with a BS for being a retail clerk? A 3.9 GPA for driving a package delivery truck?

I remember one of my professors telling us something significant that he noticed about students when he asked them to do thing.
For example, he would ask a student to fix an electric motor and bolt it on a wooden base.
An A student would quickly tinker with the motor and put it on the wooden base. It might work.
A B student would tinker with the motor for a while and mount it with a hand tightened bolt. It might work.
A C student would get the motor working and mount it on the base and it would tell the professor that it was done, but would take the longest time.

Which one would you hire?


The absolute Beginners Guide to Learning How To Cook for Survival: Part 11 Towels

The next most important thing are towels. Towels!? Yes, towels. The basis for safe cooking is a clean and hygienic kitchen and you can accomplish that best with towels.

You'll need wash cloths that generally stay at the sink for wiping things with lots of water and scrubbing vegetables and pans and the counter. This really don't need to be fancy at all, bar mops are cheap and sturdy. All-white cotton cloths are nice so you can bleach them clean.

Dish towels for wiping your hands, soaking up larger spills and keeping foods covered. You don't want fancy embroidery or decals, those are art for hanging on the walls, not serious kitchen tools. I like sturdy, waffle-weave towels and terry cloth. 
We also like flour sack towels for covering food since they are so light, and also for wringing out water laden foods like frozen spinach and shredded potatoes.

Some people like sponges, but those are germ hotels. Sure, you can put them in the dishwasher or boil them or even zap them in the microwave, but those might be hard to pull off after a crash. I prefer to use towels and go with a fresh set every morning after they had the night to dry, they just go in the next load of laundry. You'll be doing laundry anyway. 
You should have enough towels to go for at least a week without doing laundry. You'll want a wash cloth for each sink and a dish towel next to each sink and next to the stove for cleaning up spills.

An important accessory for a towel is a small spray bottle filled with about a cup of water and 1/4 teaspoon of chlorine bleach, the unscented stuff, please. This is a powerful sanitizing solution you can spray around the kitchen to kill bacteria and viruses. That you should definitely use after cooking a meal with raw meat or at the end of the day.

Sanitizing Solution Formula: 1/4 teaspoon chlorine bleach per cup of water or  1 Tablespoon per gallon.

Anniversary of D-Day

They went out to fight for someone else's freedom and to stop tyranny.

It was not a line in the sand, it was a root canal.

Thank you.

Friday, June 4, 2010

News Roundup

The absolute Beginners Guide to Learning How To Cook for Survival: Part 10 Knives

Knives are a big deal they are the oldest kitchen tool of all. Like most old tools there are an enormous number of specialized variations for all kinds of jobs. They also come in a wide variety of metals and non-metals.
The most important feature of a knife is how well it fits in your hand. If it doesn't fit you well, you won't be able to use it well and it will be more likely to slip and cut you.
You need two basic knives: a chefs knife and a paring knife. Mostly an 8" chefs knife and a 3" paring knife will do most of the work you'll ever do in the kitchen. But remember to make sure it fits you. My wife has smaller hands and so a 6" knife is better for her. I am on the large size and a 10" knife works best for me.
If you do a lot of some specialize task then getting a specialized knife makes sense. If you do a lot of fishing a fillet knife is helpful. Baking your own bread, which my wife does a lot, a serrated bread knife is great. We also like getting whole chickens and breaking them down ourselves, and a boning knife makes that job easier and faster.

There are some important accessories that your knife needs.
Two cutting boards, a plastic one for cutting raw meats that you can put in your dishwasher, and a wooden one for cutting vegetables since a good wood cutting board is a fast surface for cutting lots of ingredients quickly.
A honing steel, will realign the edge of the blade to true which keeps it sharp. It doesn't sharpen the blade, that requires a sharpening stone, which you should also own and learn to use.
A knife holder. Don't keep the knife in the drawer, it is dangerous and will dull your blade and scratch on everything else in the drawer. Whichever you choose make sure that the edge of the blade has minimal contact. You don't want the vertical blocks where it sits on the edge.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

News Roundup

Rise of the replicators
Providing Health Care Will Get You Investigated
The memory manipulators:
How long can a human live unprotected in space?

The absolute Beginners Guide to Learning How To Cook for Survival: Part 9 Thermometers

Accurate Thermal Guessing Stick or thermometers.
The power of the kitchen comes from the control of temperature. Heat and cold are your allies and your enemies. Mastering thermal control is the Jedi level of kitchen mastery. And to do that you are going to need something to measure temperature. LIke most tools there are many variations specialized at doing different things.

The oldest style is the analog glass-bulb, formerly filled with mercury, generally the ones you can find today are filled with a dyed alcohol which is easier to read and plenty accurate. They are found in all kinds of enclosure styles for many different temperature ranges. Since alcohol has a constant coefficient of expansion over a relatively small temperature range, there are different formulations for different temperature ranges. Most often found in oven, refrigerator and candy thermometer styles.

There are the analog bi-metalic style. Two metals are welded together into long strips. Since they have different rates of thermal expansion they coil around each other. They are reasonably accurate and very inexpensive but sometimes have mild calibration issues, this also has range issues so they use different metals for different ranges. These are often used in the big dial style thermometers. You most often see these in oven, refrigerator and unpowered instant read and meat thermometers.

There are the digital thermistor based thermometers. A thermistor is a thermal-resistor, a small ceramic disk that changes its resistance as the temperature changes. A small battery powered device measures the change in resistance and translates that into a temperature reading for us. Virtually all of the digital electronic kitchen thermometers on the market today are based on this technology. This also has a very wide temperature range it can detect, so it can accurately measure temperature from freezing ice cream to deep-frying oil. Because it is battery powered you may want to pick up some extra rechargeable batteries and a solar powered battery charger so you can keep cooking after civilization falls. Another downside is that the ceramic disk is usually pretty big putting big holes in your food.

Finally, there are the digital thermocouples. These are two different metal wires that are welded together that create a voltage when heated and an electronic circuit can detect that and give us a temperature reading. Very fast, very accurate and makes for nice thin probes. They are also the most expensive. If you already have a Digital Multi Meter (DMM) in your home tool kit then getting a thermocouple attachment for your DMM is inexpensive. Same battery precautions as the thermistor-based thermometers as well.

Oh, there is one more the digital infrared thermometer, that is specialized as reading temperatures of the surface of objects at a distance usually a few feet. Not really useful in the average kitchen.

How many thermometers and what kind do you need?
You'll need one each for the refrigerator and the freezer(s). I like the bulb style because they are smaller and don't get in the way.
You'll need one for the oven, where a nice big dial style makes reading it easy from a distance.
A probe thermometer. I like the digital thermistor ones with the long probe so you can read the internal temperature of what is in the oven without having to open the oven, which would let out the heat, waste energy and increase the cooking time. Having two of these is great for Thanksgiving so you can monitor the white and dark meats, and for smoking foods so you can monitor the smoke box and the food temperatures simultaneously.
A handheld instant read thermometer for probing smaller foods like steaks and chops.
If you are making your own bread a thermometer for the proofing box is very handy.
Finally, you'll want a few regular room thermometers for the kitchen, pantry and storage room, just so you know how warm they are. The warmer the food in storage is, the shorter it will last before spoiling.