Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sorry it's been so quiet

With everything that's going on in the world and in the economy this is probably the worst time to start getting quiet. I have tried to make a few posts but they all end up being rants. I don't want the blog to devolve into that. My baby is also getting to that age where she's a lot of fun to play with so I've been devoting most of my free time to her. Don't forget that there are three years worth of posts in the backlog and there's a search box in the sidebar in case you're looking for something specific. Maybe I've covered it already. I'm sure that I'll get in the mood for regular posts again soon. For now, though, I'm just kind of taking a break. I just didn't want you guys thinking that I abandoned the blog or something.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Testing gold with an acid kit

So you've started buying gold. You know how to identify the gold content in pieces of jewelry by the stamps and the weight. Sometimes you run into broken pieces of jewelry. Some pieces don't even have a stamp but the owner swears that they're real. Maybe you're trying to buy a coin that you're not sure about. So what do you do to make sure that you know what you're buying? Never fear. There's a very inexpensive solution. Just get a gold acid test kit. You can get them from Amazon or Ebay for around $30-$40. So what do you get?

There are a lot of different varieties of kits that you can get. The kits generally consist of several bottles of acid and an acid test stone. Some kits will also include a digital scale and/or a jeweler's loop (which can be a great value if you don't have either). Some also come with extra acids. You can get acids to test silver, platinum, 10k, 14k, 18k and 22k gold. The cheapest kits come with 10k, 14k and 18k acids and a testing stone. Get an acid kit with all of the acids needed, a testing stone, a jeweler's loop and a digital scale and you really do have all of the equipment needed to buy precious metals with confidence.

So how the hell do these acid kits work? It's not that tough. You rub the piece that you want to test on the testing stone. Then you apply the appropriate acid to the line and see what it does. If you're testing silver or platinum then it's just a one stop shop. 925 (sterling) silver turns a brown-dark red color. If the piece is only 75-90% silver then it will be a lighter red. If it's 65-75% silver then it will be a light green. Here are a couple of the pics of the silver test. The coin on the left is an old 80% silver Filipino peso. The ring is sterling (92.5%) silver. It's a little hard to tell against the black of the stone but you can tell that the coin tested much lighter than the ring. If you're testing platinum then it won't do anything when you apply the platinum acid to it if it's really platinum.

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Gold is a little bit more involved. Because of all of the different ratios of gold there are a lot of different acids to test it. 10k gold has a much different makeup than 24k gold. Overall, though, it's not that complicated. Basically, if you make your line and it dissolves quickly when you apply the acid then you should try a lower grade acid. Keep working your way down until the line doesn't dissolve. Obviously, if the piece is stamped 14k then it's a waste of time to start at 22k and work your way down. If the line doesn't dissolve with the 14k acid then you know you're good.

In the case of the ring that I recently bought it's not stamped at all. It's set with a 1/10th gold eagle so, realistically, the ring should be real (yes I tested it before I bought it).

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So if it's not stamped what's the quickest way to figure out what grade the gold is? Here's what I did.

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I just scratched a line across the stone. Then I applied a drop of 10k acid at the top, 14k acid in the middle and 18k acid at the bottom.

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As you can see the 18k acid dissolved the line. The other two drops dissolved nothing. The ring is 14k.

Another way to do it is to compare a piece that you know is 14k to a piece that may be 14k. Just make a line with each of them and use the same acid on both. If the piece that you're testing dissolves more quickly than the control then it's a lower grade. If the control dissolves and the line that you're testing doesn't then the test is higher grade. In this pic I used 18k acid on an 18k bracelet and my 14k ring. You can see the difference.

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So there you have it. These kits are really simple to use. Gold filled and possibly gold plated jewelry might fool you if you're not pushing down hard enough but gold plated jewelery has such a thin plating that I don't see how the plating could stand up to a swipe or two across one of these testing stones. Gold filled jewelry is a little bit more durable but if the piece looks like it's dissipating even with 10k acid and it's supposedly a higher grade then it could be filled. Case in point:

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That's a 12k 1/20th filled necklace reacting with 10k acid. As you can see the line is cloudy and falling apart in the acid. 14k acid would probably completely dissolve it. If it was a real 12k piece then the 14k acid would probably make it look somewhat like it does with the 10k acid.

I hope this helps. I'm starting to find out that this is a good way to make cash on the side. As long as gold keeps going up then money will keep on being easy to make. You just have to know what you're buying, know where to go to get the best deals and know where to go to sell what you've got. So where do you go to sell your cache when it's finally time to cash out? Hmm....

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Where to buy gold jewelry

There are a lot of sources for gold jewelry. Jewelry stores are the last place that you want to look. Even at the "80% off blowout sales" you can expect to pay a hefty premium over spot. There are plenty of other great places to buy gold, though.

Department stores like Wal-Mart and K-Mart are probably the easiest places to find cheap gold at close to spot. Just look for the clearance items. You can usually find some really small baubles for $15-$100 in 10k and 14k. You can bring a scale but a lot of times the tag will have the weight on it in grams. I've found several pieces for 10% under spot on the clearance rack. Keep in mind that most of the bigger pieces are hollow so they're lightweight and fragile. This is actually a benefit in my eyes since it's a lot cheaper that way. Department stores are the cheapest source for gold that you know is real without having to test it.

Pawn shops are another option. Most of them will mark down substantially anything that's been on the shelf for a while. I just picked up a ring with a 1/10 oz gold eagle in it for less than spot because they'd had it for over 6 months. Bring a scale and if you're not sure if it's real ask them to test it. They should have an acid gold testing kit handy. I'll explain how those work in another article. If you're not into haggling then you probably won't like pawn shops much. A lot of times the sticker price will be pretty close to retail. I use that as a basis for what I can potentially get the price down to. Since most pawn shops will buy anything it pays to know how to deal with them. They can be great sources for all kinds of preparedness gear. You just have to be wary and know what you're looking for.

Coin shops can also be a good source of gold jewelry. Most shops that I frequent have a small selection of gold jewelry under the glass or in the back. You just have to ask to look at it. The one that I go to sells it at spot. Unfortunately, the selection is usually very limited and a lot of times they won't have any selection at all. Coin shops are by far my favorite place to buy gold jewelry just because they only care about the value of the gold. Unfortunately, they have to have some in stock for me to buy it. Sometimes you can get some really nice pieces that you might even be able to sell for a premium at the right jewelry store or on Ebay. It's always worthwhile to at least ask.

There are a few other sources that I haven't really dabbled in yet. I know that you can get some deals on Ebay if you know what to search for. Starting with "scrap gold" should get you on the right track. I just don't trust it enough. Stick to reputable dealers with high feedback if you're going to use Ebay. After a quick search I saw a few really good deals that were ending in minutes. I imagine that this goes on all day.

Garage and estate sales can work. You won't usually find anything of significant value here, though, without doing some talking. Estate sales may have everything laid out but you can bet that anything that's of significant value will either be long gone or in the beneficiary's jewelry chest. The key here is to talk. I like to pull up to garage sales on my motorcycle. When they ask what I can expect to carry home on it I just tell them that I'm looking for gold or silver jewelry. Most of the time they just give me a confused look but sometimes I get someone who's willing to let me take a look at some jewelry pieces that they don't care much about. You can get some good deals with this method. More importantly, you get an excuse to ride. When you come home from a nice long ride and you have a nice gold necklace for your wife in your pocket then all is quickly forgiven.

If you're really daring you could also try to put together a gold party. You'll probably need a few grand in cash on hand to do this. I don't know how the "pros" do it but I imagine that it involves not telling anyone how much their gold is actually worth. Come up with a number that you use as spot that's significantly under the actual spot price and make offers on whatever people show up with accordingly. If they bought it 20 years ago then they'll probably freak out when they find out how much you're willing to give them. If you're ethical then you'll explain to everyone about the spot price of gold. If you're a dirt bag who's just in it to make a quick buck at the expense of ignorant people then you can tell them whatever you want. There's obviously a cost built into organizing and holding an event like this but I would encourage anyone interested in doing it to be fair. Tell people how much you're willing to pay beforehand and give them time to do their due diligence ahead of time.

So there you have it. If you've got another good source for gold jewelry I'd love to hear about it. For the most part it's pretty simple. It's really easy to pay too much if you don't know what you're buying. Once you get it down, though, then you won't get screwed.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Buying Gold Jewelry

My posts have been getting less and less frequent lately. I apologize for that. Sometimes I just get busy with other things and the blog takes a back seat. Over the last month or so of slow posting I've had a lot of ideas come to mind so the posting should start to pick up a bit.

Anyway, I've finally reached my initial goals that I had set for my silver collection. I actually exceeded it by a decent amount. Having done that I decided that it was time to start getting into gold. Unfortunately, gold is expensive. I built up my silver collection over several months by spending maybe $50-$100 per month. Gold coins and bullion, however, carry a hefty premium if you buy it in small fractional coins. It only took a couple of times buying 1/10th oz gold eagles before I decided to come up with a different solution. Then I remembered Ferfal talking a few times about how he wished that he'd bought more jewelry before the crash in Argentina. He's mentioned this in several forums and in several posts on his blog. There is so much to know and it's so easy to get screwed when dealing with gold jewelry that I never gave it much thought. Then I started doing some research. Here I'll try to give you a little lesson in gold jewelry buying 101. Keep in mind that I'm new at this myself so if I miss anything important I encourage comments. In the unlikely event that I'm completely wrong about something I'd definitely appreciate some feedback. Due to the ridiculously high price of gold and my ridiculously limited funds I did some meticulous research to ensure that I wouldn't get screwed over too badly. Hopefully, this information will help you as well.

The biggest selling point of any gold piece is how many karats it is. Don't get this confused with carats or ct. A karat is the percentage of gold that there is in the piece. A carat is .2 grams. If the piece has a number followed by ct. then it's probably just an old piece that has the weight stamped on it. Pure gold is 24 karats. To figure out how much gold is in a piece you take the number of karats and divide it by 24. For example, a 14 karat gold necklace contains .583% pure gold. Here's how the percentages break down:

22k - .917%
20k - .833%
18k - .750%
16k - .667%
14k - .583%
12k - .500%
10k - .417%

I carry this little list in my wallet written on the back of a business card. For the most part, most of what you'll find will be 10k and 14k. 18k tends to carry a ridiculous premium over spot and anything higher just isn't all that practical. 12k and 16k isn't easy to find. .583 and .417 are the two most important numbers to remember. 10k and 14k are probably the only grades that you'll find at or near spot.

So what do all of these numbers mean? If you're trying to buy jewelry as close to spot as possible then you need to bring a scale and know how to calculate the spot value. First of all, most pocket scales measure by grams. They'll probably also measure by ounces but they'll be less accurate per ounce. Most people who are trying to sell jewelry sell and buy by the gram so you want to know how to calculate the price by gram. First of all, precious metals are measured by troy ounces rather than normal ounces so when you're calculating grams you need to divide spot by 31.1. Once you have the spot price converted to grams you just weigh your piece by the gram and multiply it again by the karat makeup. Here's the equation: (spot price/31.3) x (weight in grams) x (karat %)

Most gold pieces will have the karat stamped on it somewhere. It will be followed by a maker's mark. Usually it's on or near the clasp on necklaces and bracelets, on the posts of earrings and inside of rings. The writing is pretty easy to identify. It's just ridiculously hard to read most of the time unless you have a good loop. There are a few things that you need to keep an eye out for when looking for this stamp. If there's just a number followed by a k and some letters or a symbol that don't make sense then that's probably how many karats the piece is followed by a maker's mark. If the letters GP follow the karat mark then the piece is probably plated. If there's a fraction before the karat mark or seemingly part of the karat mark then it's gold filled. The fraction is a percentage of a percentage. It might say 1/20 14k. It could also say 20/14k. Either way, this means that 1/20th of the piece is made up of 14k gold. If you want to figure out the gold value in this piece you use the first equation and take 5% of that. If the fraction is different then adjust accordingly. To be honest, gold filled and gold plated jewelry is usually pretty close to worthless. Filled is better than plated but not by much. Generally, don't waste your time with it. If you see a fraction or you think it's plated then just walk away.

That's pretty much it. Knowing where to go to buy and sell gold is also helpful. I'll get into that in a future post. If you know where to shop and you know what you're buying you can buy gold jewelry at spot regularly. You just have to be vigilant and you have to know what you're buying.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Off the Grid: Life On the Mesa

If you haven't seen this yet it's worth a look. There's a documentary on youtube (embedding disabled by request so you have to click to watch) that highlights a small community in New Mexico. Here's the trailer.

The community is off the grid. Everyone lives in trailers, shanty shacks and other buildings that they manage to hobble together. There seem to be a lot of vets, old hippies and crazy people in the community. Then there's the little group of runaways who think that the rules don't apply to them. The only real government are the "elders". Everyone has a say but ultimately the elders make the decisions. Resources are limited. They have to haul their water from miles away. It's interesting to see how they interact.

This particular community probably wouldn't last in a grid down, supply lines cut, SHTF scenario. Once the gas dries up they wouldn't be able to haul water, anymore. They also can't produce enough of their own food. If they really put their heads together and started working towards that goal now they could probably come up with some viable solutions but for now they don't seem interested in doing anything more than is necessary to get by. A couple of them look like they're trying but they have a long way to go to get anywhere near being self sufficient.

Despite all of that I still think that it's a pretty good look at what some communities could look like once things start going down the tubes. Resources will be extremely limited. People will do what they have to do to get by. They'll start accepting the fact that their own security is up to them. Are you ready to have to live like that?

Friday, October 1, 2010

10/1-10/3 Cheapo Generators at Harbor Freight

This weekend Harbor Freight is having a parking lot sale. Their 2 stroke 800w generators are on sale for $79.99. If your local store is compliant then you could also get another 20% off. There's a very long review thread on Arfcom that contains just about everything you need to know about this generator. The general consensus is that it's a hell of a deal, very durable and works as advertised. This little guy isn't going to run your whole house but if you use it wisely it will make a disaster a whole lot more comfortable. It will keep the lights on and it's a good solution to keep a battery bank charged. For basic stuff it's a whole lot better than nothing...especially for $80 (less if they honor the coupon). I'm not affiliated with Harbor Freight. I just know a good deal when I see one. If you don't own a generator and a genset that can run your whole house is out of your price range then consider grabbing something like this.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Be Ready When the Sh*t Goes Down

So what do you get when you let an MMA fighter write a book about how to survive the apocalypse? When said fighter is Forrest Griffin you get "Be Ready When the Sh*t Goes Down: A Survival Guide to the Apocalypse". What can I say? The guy is a character. If you know anything about him then you probably have a pretty good idea of what to expect from this book. He's got his own brand of self deprecating humor. He's also extremely offensive and it's pretty obvious that he doesn't care who he pisses off. The fact that I found this book in the comedy section of Barnes & Noble should give you a good idea of what to expect.

Before you pick up this book you've got to understand what I mean by "offensive". The book is loaded with sexual innuendo and toilet humor. He swears a lot (he even makes a point to use a different swear word for every letter of the alphabet). He pulls no punches against organized religion. In fact, he devotes an entire section to founding your own religion after the apocalypse. He takes shots at everyone from fatties living in mom's basement to meathead jocks.

The book itself is a very easy read. It's loaded with personal anecdotes, stupid little pictures (some of him and some that must have been drawn by him), silly footnotes and other tidbits of wisdom. If you're as riddled with ADD as I am then it only takes a few paragraphs before you're reading the words on the page without actually absorbing any of the information. His style proves to be a very effective way to keep the reader engaged.

So is any of the information actually useful? While the book has whole sections that describe off the wall, totally ridiculous, unfeasible scenarios like the organizing your own religion section that I previously mentioned (ok so that's probably actually feasible under the right circumstances), how to kill a giant wolf in the event of Ragnarok (heed the editor's warning before that section) or how to milk a giraffe from the back of a motorcycle it does contain enough useful information to be worth a read. However, if you're a seasoned survivalist/prepper you won't find much new, useful information here.

So what can you expect from the book? It has it's serious moments. It covers bugging out, what to put in a BOB, hotwiring a vehicle, basic self defense moves, basic firearm handling and other cookie cutter survivalist stuff. None of it is very in depth but he provides enough information that you get the gist of it. The "how shit will go down" section is the part that most interested me. Some of the scenarios were completely ridiculous but most of them were actual viable SHTF scenarios that were portrayed very accurately. This is probably the most useful part of the book because Forrest's style of writing does a good job of keeping people engaged and paying attention.

So who would I recommend the book to? If you have a friend or a kid in the 20-35 range who thinks that Family Guy and South Park are funny and who can tell you who Forrest Griffin is then they'd probably get a kick out of it. It might even be enough to get them to think seriously about prepping if they're not already doing it. Then again the book is so loaded with humor a lot of readers probably won't take it seriously. That's too bad because it's obvious that Forrest has done his share of thinking about the topic. Maybe he'll get through to a few people.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Garden Update

The gardening season is getting close to the end around here. I've been pretty busy with it all year. As I do every year I tried new things, learned a lot, had some surprises and know what not to try again next year. The harvest has been pretty good but I certainly wouldn't be able to come close to living on it yet. Here's a pretty good snapshot of what I tried.

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Not everything is there. My sunchokes are doing phenomenally but they're not yet ready to harvest. I should have a decent potato crop out of the tire stack that I tried as well. I still have a head of cabbage that I'm going to let grow for a few more weeks. Then there are all of the radishes, turnips and lettuces that I finished harvesting a month or two ago. I didn't bother to do much replanting this year because I just didn't have time. Heck, I didn't even have time to get out and water every day which probably hurt my overall yield. If I could just get the wife to pick up a hose and spray the plants on the days that I don't have time....

My three sisters garden was pretty much a bust. It started out good but, as I feared, between the corn and a nearby tree there was too much shade for the beans and the squash to thrive. I did get about an ear of corn per corn stalk, though. I know of a few people who tried sweet corn this year and every one of them had horrible yields due to pests. This variety seems to be pest resistant and since I'm more worried about having a stock of corn meal than corn for the BBQ around the time of year when it's about 10 cents an ear I think I'll stick with this. I'll try the three sisters garden again next year but I'll be setting it up in a different part of the yard next time.

As you can see I let my zucchini get huge. It stores a lot better that way. It can last almost as long as winter squash if stored in the right conditions. The skin isn't as tender, the meat is a bit more spongy and the seeds may be big enough to be noticeable but I like it this way. I basically cleared a small patch in the middle of my yard and planted the burgese squash. It did pretty well but I think that it got too much sun and I didn't amend the soil well enough so I didn't get as much yield as I would have liked.

My broccoli did better than ever. After two years of getting nothing but tiny little florets I finally found a variety that produces big crowns. I still get a lot of little florets but that's normal. Out of four plants I harvested about ten pounds of pickling cucumbers this year. I canned those up and gave most of them away. I saved a couple of cucumbers to try to save the seed for next year. We'll see how that works out. My carrots did exceptionally well this year. I used half of a 4x4 planter and harvested at least what's in the picture and have that much again still in the planter.

The beans that I planted in my square foot garden did very well. I definitely prefer the pole variety to bush varieties. I just used tomato cages for the "poles". I planted a couple of plants at the base of each leg. I couldn't be happier with the results. The variety I used this year were rattlesnake beans. I probably harvested about twenty pounds of young, green bean sized pods from 9 plants before I just started to let them grow so that I can use them as dried beans through the winter. I'll also save some for seed. Unfortunately, a big portion of what I harvested went to waste because I just didn't find the time to process and can them.

The peppers didn't do well. They never do. The plants were prolific but they just didn't get big. I only had a couple of jalapeno plants and one cayenne plant, though. The cayennes were the only plants that actually survived from my starters this year. For next year I'm considering getting some indoor grow lights. I just don't have a good place inside the house to do starters. I also pulled up the garlic that I planted last year. The bulbs are tiny but from what I've read about growing garlic that's fairly normal for the first year or two. Once they get used to the local soil they start growing better. We shall see.

I underestimated my red kale. It had a very big impact on the overall yield of my garden. The plants grew quickly into fairly large bushes that overtook most of the plants that got off to a slower start. The bright side is that you can just keep harvesting from them all year and they keep on growing. They're an outstanding source of leafy greens that are really hard to stop. They can well, freeze well and taste great. I just grew a lot more than I could possibly use unless I were eating them every single day (they aren't THAT good but I'd do it if I were really hungry).

I'm already planning next year's garden. I'll be rotating the planters like I do every year. I'll also be clearing out most of the red kale if it takes off again next year. Depending on how well the potatoes do I may get some more tires to expand that crop. I've already got the new plot for next year's three sisters garden picked out. I'm still trying to decide what I'll be planting in the plot where I have my three sisters garden this year. Every year the net yield gets better. It's still nowhere near where it needs to be, though. I just wish I had more time to devote to it.

Gardening takes time, patience and practice. Go ahead and keep that survival seed bank stored away in your closet and fill up your bookshelf with gardening books. Just don't expect it to do you much good if you don't have experience growing a garden every year. Even if it's just a couple of planters on your windowsill you should grow something. Stack up some tires in a corner of the yard and grow some potatoes. Fill up a bucket with dirt (drill a couple of holes in the bottom), poke a stick in it and grow some beans. Clear out a small patch of lawn and plant some tomatoes. Whatever you do don't count on putting seeds in the ground and hoping for the best when you get hungry.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I finally took a flying leap into the 21st century and picked up a smartphone. This thing does everything. It's a cell phone! No it's a GPS! No it's a kindle! No it's a mini laptop! If it's electronic this thing can do it or keep tabs on it. I'm liking it a lot. So what does it have to do with survival?

Smart phones have a generous amount of storage space and they come with a slot for mini sd cards. Get one of those SD card adapters and you can plug them into just about any modern computer or laptop. I can also just plug mine directly into my computer and use it as a flash drive. Load your phone up with all of the survival .pdfs and maps that you've got on hand and you don't even need cell phone reception to have useful information handy. Having hard copies of important manuals, maps and papers is a great idea but that can get prohibitively expensive, they take up a lot of space and they're extremely bulky and heavy to take with you.

There's an app for that. These things can do everything from scanning barcodes to make sure that you're getting the best deal on a product to giving you the lowdown on a business just by taking a picture of it. Hit a button and it will tell you about all of the local businesses in the area. Hit another button and you've got a homebrewing calculator that will tell you exactly what you need to make the kind of beer you want. They make accessing anything on the internet extremely simple and easy no matter where you're at. I thought that my netbook was convenient until I got this smart phone. It still doesn't quite replace a real computer but it's close. There are a lot of things that a smart phone can do that a computer can't but there's just no replacing a large screen and a full size keyboard for some applications.

Anyone will tell you that it's a good idea to have a phone with you when you go out to the woods. Take one of these with you and not only do you have a phone but you also have maps, gps, compass and any other information that you had the foresight to load onto it before you left. The less you have to carry the better. Whether you're bugging out cross country or just going for an afternoon hike all of the information that you need to get you to where you need to go is wrapped up in this little package.

There are some cons. The screen is small and can be hard to read. The virtual keyboards are getting better but they can be a pain, too. The battery life is also very short. You can buy extended batteries (as long as you don't have an Iphone) but you're still only looking at a day or so of battery life. You can also get a solar charger. There are some good, compact ones out there. Obviously, if the big disaster ends up being an EMP then you're likely to be stuck with a paper weight. If anything else goes down, though, it will be very helpful as long as you've already got the information you need saved on it. There are a lot more disasters that could disrupt cell phone service and the internet so have the information you think you'll need on your phone beforehand.

Perhaps my biggest issue with smartphones is that they record and track your personal information, usage and habits. When I start hearing about people getting rounded up for political views, race or religion then it's going in the trash. For right now, though, I'm not that paranoid about what they're doing with my information. There are apps that will allow you to remotely delete all personal information in the event that you lose your phone or it's stolen. The privacy issue really is my biggest concern but what can you do about that? If you do anything on the internet you're being tracked. If the government really wants to come after you they can already tap into your cell phone and listen to you even if you turn your phone off. There are complicated ways to get around this (or you can just stop using a cell phone or the internet) but for most of us they can find out what websites you visit, your buying habits who your friends are and even where you live without much trouble. If SHTF I'd rather have this extremely useful, compact, powerful tool with me. Until then it's quickly becoming my favorite item for day to day use.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cooking with cast iron

Cast iron can cover just about everything that you need it to in the kitchen. There are a few things that are better suited for other utensils but that's why you have a few big, stainless steel pots under your counter as well as a bunch of cast iron.

So what do you want to avoid cooking with your cast iron? If it needs to be boiled then grab a stainless or aluminum stock pot. You can probably get away with boiling in a well seasoned cast iron pot but boiling is a good way to get the seasoning to break up and get nasty. You have better options when you want to boil something.

If it calls for vinegar or wine then you should use something else. Vinegar breaks up that cast iron seasoning very efficiently. Especially when you cook with it. So does wine. You might be able to get away with it every once in a while but with regular use you'll start to see chunks of black in your food and bare metal in the bottom of your cast iron pan.

So what can you use it for? Everything else, really. If the recipe calls for oil then it's probably OK. The oil will reinforce the seasoning and ensure that nothing that you're cooking sticks to it too badly. The same goes for any kind of butter or fat. Anything that needs to be fried, grilled or roasted can be cooked perfectly in cast iron.

You can also bake in cast iron cookware. Obviously, tossing them in an oven is the easiest way to ensure a reliable, consistent temperature but you can also bake with them on a stove or over a campfire if you know what you're doing. That's why they call them "dutch ovens". It takes a little bit of finesse to bake in a dutch oven over a campfire but it's not exactly rocket science. Try it a few times and you'll be amazed at the results.

The properties of cast iron are what make it so good to cook with. It's porous so it absorbs fat and that fat is then cooked and carbonized on the surface. At normal cooking temperatures this carbonization holds up very well and is almost as effectively non stick as teflon only much healthier. Cast iron is also extremely thick and heavy so it retains heat very well. Once you get it hot it will stay hot for a while. Quite often I just heat my pan up then turn off the stove and cook whatever it is that I want to cook. Another good characteristic of it is that it's extremely durable and can last virtually forever. If you maintain it you'll be passing it on to your grandchildren's grandchildren. If you know how to season it, maintain it and you use it to cook what it's meant to cook then you'll probably find yourself using it a lot.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Seasoning Cast Iron

Cast iron cookware is pretty easy to find. Most stores that have an outdoors department sell it. Some stores also sell it in their cookware department. It's usually preseasoned. Factory finishes aren't bad but they wear off. Also, if you're buying it used or you don't use it that often and it's sat for any length of time it could rust. In that case you'll have to strip it down and reseason it. Learn to properly season cast iron and it will last several lifetimes. Harbor Freight sells some really cheap unseasoned cast iron cookware so I figured I'd pick up a set and make a post about seasoning it. The set that I bought cost me $15 for 3 pans. That's about as cheap as you're going to find it outside of a thrift store or a garage sale. This pic is on top of a Lodge Logic griddle with a factory finish.

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A properly seasoned cast iron pan will be fairly non stick, easy to clean and can be stored for a long time without rusting. The process of seasoning is pretty simple. You just coat your cast iron with a thin coat of oil or fat. Then you cook the coating onto the pan. When you do it right you end up with a nice, black, smooth finish. Some people recommend using vegetable oil. I've found animal fat to be the most effective. I use lard. When I want to finish a cast iron pan I usually just cook up some bacon in it. When the bacon is done and the pan starts to cool off I wipe the fat all over the pan and then put it in the oven for a couple of hours at around 450 degrees. You can also do it on your stovetop. Either way you're going to get a kitchen full of smoke. Another option is to do it outside on a grill or a turkey fryer. However you decide to go about it just coat the pan, get it really hot and then allow the coating to bake on. You might have to do this a few times to get a nice, even, flat black finish.

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These probably need one more good coat before they're done. In between coats I usually go over them with some water and fine steel wool. You don't want to strip them down to the bare metal again. You just want to get it nice and smooth. Here's an example of a pan with an excellent finish. This is the one that I use the most often. The seasoning on this pan beats any factory finish that I've ever seen. After cooking with it I just wipe it down with a sponge. If it's got some really thick crud on it I take a green pad to it. Don't scrub to hard and you won't ruin the finish. You also don't want to use soap or detergent on cast iron. Keep in mind that the seasoning is just baked on fat. It's exactly what detergent is designed to remove.

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That's all there is to maintaining your cast iron. It's more involved than using normal pots and pans but the end result is worth it. Once you learn how to cook with it you'll find that it cooks more evenly, cleans up easier and lasts much longer than most conventional pots and pans. I still use normal pots and pans for certain things but as my cast iron collection keeps growing I find myself using it more and more.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Cast Iron

I'm a bit of a cast iron freak. I've always loved cooking on it. It's big, heavy, substantial and it works. It's also energy efficient if you learn how to cook on it properly. The biggest problems with cast iron are that it's fairly expensive and there's some maintenance involved in taking care of it. These days it's really hard to find unseasoned cast iron at all. Most of it is factory seasoned and it's ridiculously expensive. I've done my share of cooking on factory cast iron finishes. They work well enough but in my experience they tend to wear or cook away pretty quickly. I'm not sure if it's from cleaning or what but if you treat your cast iron like a regular pan it will rust eventually. Whether you buy your cast iron pre seasoned or not you need to know how to take care of it if you want it to last. Luckily, cast iron is ridiculously easy to take care of. In fact, it takes care of itself if you use it regularly and cook with it as intended.

A few months ago I was at Harbor Freight. They had a 3 pack of unseasoned cast iron pans for about $14. I went ahead and jumped on them. Preseasoned pans are expenseive and you still have to take care of them like any other cast iron. Another option is to buy cast iron used but then you're contending with the possibility that some old guy snuck his wife's cast iron out to the garage to melt some fishing weights or bullets in 30 years ago. Cast iron does very very well at a lot of jobs but once you've got to be careful about what they've actually been used for. If you don't really know then you should probably stay away. Back in the day people didn't realize how bad lead really was so their cast iron would go back and forth between the garage and the kitchen. If you really trust the source of your used cast iron then by all means cook with it. If you bought it at a garage sale from some 80 year old couple then think twice about where it's been. There are home lead test kits available. Several local governments also have offices available to test lead contamination.

Short of a pressure cooker there's no better cooking implements to use to cook your food with than cast iron. It heats evenly and, while not quite as effective as teflon, it's hard to stick anything to cast iron when you cook correctly with it. It does take a little getting used to and it requires quite a bit of maintenance. If you cook the right things with it and you learn to use it as intended, though, it ends up being really easy to deal with. In the future I'll do some more about cooking with cast iron and keeping it maintained.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New Zeal

A couple of months ago I added New Zeal to my blog roll. The guy is doing a great job of exposing people in power who have glaringly obvious communist/socialist backgrounds if you just do a little research on them. His sister site Keywiki is where he catalogs all of his data. You can also check out the Obama files which is a comprehensive list of communist ties that our dear president has. Whether you're "right" or "left" I encourage you to spend a bit of time at least skimming through this guy's website. He always presents a ton of evidence to back up his claims. I'm sure that if you tried hard enough you could discredit a post or two but most of what he says is hard or impossible to refute. Part of preparing is trying to figure out what the future brings. Knowing what's going on in politics has a lot to do with predicting the future of our country. It's very important that we all get engaged and start paying attention. There are a lot of useful idiots and completely corrupt individuals in power out there who, on the surface, seem to have your best interests in mind. Be very careful who you put your support behind. We can't count on the media to vet them. They care more about how amicable they'll be in front of a camera or a mike than what they'll do when they actually get into office.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Back to Basics Grain Mill

One of the most popular preparedness food items that survivalists and preppers everywhere like to tout is wheat. It lasts forever when properly stored. It's extremely affordable. It's nutrient dense. I have more wheat put away in my long term storage than any other single food item. The problem with wheat is that you need a way to process it.

Enter the grain mill. There are a lot of grain mills on the market. You can get electric and hand crank mills. Since extended power outages can result from a wide range of situations worth prepping for I'd recommend getting a hand cranked mill. Now if you start using it a lot and find out that you like fresh flour then by all means splurge on an electric one. I'm sticking to hand cranked options for now. They range from the cast iron Corona mills that you can get online for $10 plus $50 shipping to the venerable Country Living Grain Mill. I own and have used a Corona mill. I actually use it regularly to crush my grain when I'm making beer. I've even made bread out of the flour. The problem with the Corona mill is that it's extremely labor intensive to make flour that's suitable for baking. It's good for a lot of things but if you want to make flour on a regular basis you really need something better.

Yesterday I picked up a Victorio grain mill. It's basically a rebadged Back to Basics Grain Mill. It uses precision machined cutting burrs to grind the wheat. It comes apart very easily and is only made up of a few pieces. It's mostly machined aluminum. The burrs are steel. It does have a few plastic parts but nothing that looks like it could wear out under normal use. It's simple, lightweight and compact.

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It was very easy to set up. The instructions are just a few pages and most of those pages are recipes. You just clamp it down to the edge of a counter, attach the handle and you're ready to rock. You can set it for different grinding consistencies by loosening the knob that holds the handle on. Just don't tighten it too much or you could damage the burrs.

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For this exercise I tightened it down to finger tight. It was a lot easier to turn than my Corona. I did have to switch hands a couple of times but I managed to grind out about 3 cups of flour in 5 minutes or so. The clamp was extremely solid. It's got a rubber strip in the top part that prevents it from sliding around. It works wonderfully. The flour was perfect.

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I've heard in the past that you can't get flour from these in one run. Either they've improved on the design or someone was trying to sell a more expensive mill. This mill fits the bill perfectly if you need a quality mill that you can have on hand just in case. The Country Living Mill is obviously much more solidly built. It's got a flywheel handle so you can motorize it or even hook it up to a bicycle (just make sure that you gear it right or it will spin too fast and you'll lock it up and/or cook your grain). You can also get replacement parts for the Country Living Mill. You can buy four of these Back to Basics Mills and still have enough left over for a couple of sacks of grain, though, so it's up to you whether you think you'll go through enough replacement parts to justify the expense. Even if the SHTF and I'm using this mill every day I don't foresee the need to grind more than a few cups of flour at a time with it. If I had a big family or was planning for the whole neighborhood then I'd seriously consider the Country Living Mill. Whatever mill you want to go with be sure to check out Our Happy Homestead first. They've got a great selection of mills to fit anyone's needs plus a ton of other stuff.

Friday, August 27, 2010

One cheap knife to stay away from

So I was at Big 5 a couple of weeks ago. They have some pretty good deals on occasion. On this particular day they had a Schrade Extreme Survival Knife on sale for $20 (marked down from $60). Helpful hint: Never pay full price for anything at Big 5. Ask the manager what the last sale price was. They'll look it up and sell it to you for that. Anyway, one of the first rules of buying survival related anything....if it has the word extreme in the name it's probably worthless crap. Schrade sold out a few years ago to Taylor Brands who now slaps the Schrade name on the cheapest China made crap that they can find. I couldn't find any reference to the type of steel that this knife was made out of. I only knew that it was stainless which usually means the cheapest stainless grade available that's not heat treated for shit. Knowing all of this I decided to give the knife a shot, anyway.

On it's face it's a pretty cool looking knife. The factory edge was pretty sharp. It's got nice heft with a bulky handle. The blade is 5mm thick and 7 inches long. The knife is 12 1/4" long overall. Unfortunately, most of the weight is centered in the handle so it's worthless for chopping. Speaking of the handle, it's got a big, heavy pommel that would make a pretty good hammer and a nail puller. The nail puller is a pretty silly idea for a knife but maybe someone's gotten some use out of it. It doesn't have a proper finger guard so if you do decide to use the end as a hammer then you need to be extremely careful. It's shaped similar to a dagger. It's got a mean looking sawback that won't actually saw anything because it's just a bunch of notches cut across the spine of the knife. The sheath is decent. It's made out of canvas and it has two pouches in the front. They're big enough to hold a sharpening stone and a small survival kit. It had it's pros and cons at first glance but it was only $20.

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So once I got it home I just had to put it through a few tasks. I started by chopping at a big log in my backyard. Like I said before, between the huge handle and the shape of the blade this thing is a horrible chopper. Don't even bother with anything that's more than a few inches thick. I also had to clear a few lower branches from a tree so I got to hacking. It made short work of them. At first I thought things were looking up for the knife until I stabbed it into the tree while I was picking up the branches. When I went to pull the knife out the tip broke off.

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I have a habit of breaking the points off of cheap, crappy knives. If it happens while I'm hammering away on concrete blocks then I can understand the point not holding up. When I stab a tree and it happens then as far as I'm concerned the knife is crap. This Schrade Extreme Survival Knife definitely falls into the crap category.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Old Jarhead always has something worthwhile to say.

Today he hasn't failed us. Go check out his Bigotry and the Measles Post. He didn't write it but it's still worth passing on. Give it a click if you get bored.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Tactical Diaper Bag

When I was in the hospital waiting to take the baby home we were offered a couple of "diaper bags".  They were full of stuff like formula, butt wipe samples and baby books.  Most of the stuff was useful.  Against my wishes and better judgment we went with formula because the wife couldn't stand breast feeding.  Luckily, a few days after bringing the baby home I found a crapload of formula on clearance at a local grocery store.  At least it wouldn't be too expensive.  Anyway, all of that free stuff was great.  The "diaper bags" provided SUCKED, though.  Then I picked up a Maxpedition Versapack EDC.

This thing seems to have been made to be a diaper bag.  It's got plenty of room, it's got a ton of accessible compartments, it's extremely comfortable, it's very durable and it's got a pocket for a gun.  What more could you want??

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Did I mention that it makes carrying a full sized handgun easy?  I'll admit it...I'm a wuss when it comes to carrying.  I compromise by carrying a Keltec P3AT most of the time.  But when I've got my kid with me I hate to make that compromise.  I don't have to when I'm rocking this pack.

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The water bottle pocket that's obvious in all of the pictures is extremely handy.  It's also got a few other handy little pockets that I use to carry everything from multitools to spare lighters to bandanas and maps, pens and notepads.

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and even butt cream when I think the baby will need it. BTW Boudreaux's Butt Paste is the only stuff that worked for us after our kid came home from the hospital with a rash. After a 2 oz bottle the rash was gone and her butt has had no problems with any kind of rash since.

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When I want to leave the baby at home there's plenty of room for my netbook.

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This pack easily fits everything from my get home bag minus the pot (and everything inside) and the water bladder.  The water bottle almost makes up for the missing bladder, though.  I hate to leave behind my pot and alcohol stove but I think that I could manage to fit them into the kit with a bit of ingenuity.  I'll have to take a look later.  Anyway, if you've got one of these packs lying around and you've got a kid on the way they make a first class diaper bag while retaining the features that make it a good bag for any guy, anyway. If you don't have a kid on the way then it makes an outstanding day bag. It allows you to carry a lot more than you could normally carry in your pockets without even noticing it. I'd recommend it to anyone.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Best sleeping bag ever!

This thing is just too awesome for words.  I wonder if it'll fit in my BOB. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Mexican Fisherman and the Businessman

Bison's post today made me think about a story I read a while back.  I was sitting in a Jimmy John's and they had it hanging up on the wall. 

A fisherman docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

"Not very long," answered the Mexican.

"But then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the

The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his
needs and those of his family.

The American asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar and sing a few songs."

The American interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help
you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat."

"And after that?" asked the Mexican.

With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you could sell them directly to the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You could leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City!  From there you could direct your huge new enterprise."

"How long would that take?" asked the Mexican.

"Twenty..maybe 25 years," replied the American.

"And after that?" the Mexican asked.

"After that? That's when it gets really interesting," answered the American, laughing. "When your business gets really big, you could go public, sell your stock and make millions!"

"Millions? Really? And after that?"

"After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

You don't believe the economy is recovering???

Then you're obviously part of the problem. I wonder how long it will be before the administration starts blaming the "double dippers" when we go into another recession or even a depression. According to this piece by NBC the chance that there could be a double dip recession has nothing to do with the fact that the government is borrowing against our future and rewarding liers, thieves and cheats with our money. If the naysayers would just shut up and tell people that everything is fine then the economy would recover in no time!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Free firestarter offer is over...for now

The feedback for free firestarters has been overwhelming. For now the offer is over until Leon can get some more inventory. If you received a firestarter please let me know what you think of it. You can email me at artyboy at gmail dot com.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Improvising a fixed blade knife

A couple of posts ago I talked about how I had made a fixed blade knife with the small pocket knife blade that I keep in my wallet. It was a pretty easy little project. It only took about two hours. I've never made a knife handle. I've never even read about how to make one. I just put it together off the top of my head. Everything I used either came out of my wallet or can easily be found in nature. Any suggestions on how to make a better knife handle next time will be appreciated. Anyway, here's what I did.

I started with a stick that was about the size of the blade.

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I battoned the stick in half.

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Then I "sanded" them into the rough shape of a handle by rubbing them on my patio. Any flat rock should work. After getting the rough shape I drilled holes in them to line up with the hole in the blade so that I could pin it in place. I started by digging out a hole with the blade then I used my diamond knife sharpener to file out the holes to the same size as the hole in the blade. I also carved out a space for the blade on one of the handle halves.

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Once I got everything to fit flush I pinned the blade in place with a stick. I also wrapped the handle with some string.

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Before taking it apart I put it through some normal knife tasks just to see how it handled. I chopped up some meat and vegetables for dinner.

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I also tried starting a fire with the small striker that I keep in my wallet. While it provided plenty of spark I couldn't get a fire started. I suck at making fires with firesteels. It's one skill that I've never been able to master just from reading about it on the internet (among many others). In this case practicing doesn't seem to help much, either.

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My overall impressions of the knife aren't bad. It had no play from side to side but quite a bit forward and backward. For normal cutting tasks it functioned well enough. Much better than it would have had it not had a handle. The handle definitely allowed for a lot more torque and control. I didn't try doing anything wild and crazy like battoning logs (besides the handle) or cutting down trees and it wouldn't stand up to that kind of abuse. If all else fails I'll be glad to have it during an emergency.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Free Wallet Firestarters!

Leon over at has made a very generous offer to my readers. He's giving away free wallet firestarters for a limited time! Just send him an email that you saw this post and would like to try it out and he'll send you one for free. You can reach him at survivalsenselp at gmail dot com. I already have some on the way and will be doing a review when they show up. Be sure to check out his site, too. It's got a lot of great survival information.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Wallet Survival Kit

Recently I did a post on my every day carry. I had just updated a few things. In that post I also mentioned a wallet "survival kit". You're obviously not going to be able to fit everything you need into your wallet but you can definitely carry enough to give you an advantage if you ever get stuck in a situation where you're between you and your preps. I've been messing around with the idea and have come up with a few items that are so small that they're practically unnoticeable.

Everyone knows that the one tool you really need if you ever get caught on your own is a knife. Most of the knives that I've seen that fit into a wallet tend to be very small. They're just a small, maybe 1-2" knife with a full tang and no handle. Such a small knife has limited functionality. So instead of paying a ton of money for what would amount to a novelty I just dug around in my knife drawer and pulled out a gun show special folder. I took it apart and was left with a 3" blade that fit neatly in my wallet.

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With a little ingenuity you can make a pretty effective fixed blade out of it. I'll do a post about how I made that with just the items in my wallet later. I also want to see how the handle holds up to some light duty. It's not as good as a quality fixed blade. Hell, it's not even as good as a decent folder but it makes a decent backup in case you were to lose or break your "real" knife. If you didn't have anything else it would certainly be better than nothing.

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As you can see from the pic above I also carry about 20 feet of string wrapped around a business card. I need to tape a few needles and fish hooks to the card. The string is a bit too thick to sew with but it's strong enough to be very useful for light duty tie downs and stuff like that. If you needed to build a shelter, tie down some gear or wrap the handle of an improvised fixed blade knife it will do the trick.

As for the rest of the "kit" it's pretty straightforward. I took the diamond sharpener off of one of those Smith's Pocket Pal Multifunction Sharpeners. It unscrews easily and disappears in your wallet. It makes a handy knife and hook sharpener or you can use it as a file. I also carry a small flint that I removed from a magnesium firestarter. I always like to have a few extra receipts on me in case I need some tinder. Just a few days ago there was a great post over at Bug-Out Survival about some wallet sized firestarters. As soon as I can get my hands on a couple of them I'll be slipping them into my wallet. I also carry about 10-20 feet of duct tape wrapped around a credit card. Besides that it's just the normal, credit cards and an emergency contact card with phone numbers of friends and family.

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Do you carry anything unusual survival related stuff in your wallet? Do you have any ideas to improve mine? Let me know what you think.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ova Easy Dehydrated Egg Review

So, like I said in my post yesterday, I was checking out my local big box sporting goods store and saw some dehydrated eggs in the freeze dried food section. The bag was only 4.5 oz and it claimed to contain the equivalent of a dozen eggs. I've been looking for something like this for a while. I'm not a fan of mountain house "camper meals". They just have way too much salt and they don't fill me up at all. I prefer to cook my own stuff. Eggs are a pretty essential ingredient in many of my favorite recipes. Dehydrated eggs are an obvious solution but every time I look at the ~$50 price tag on a #10 can of them I've always decided to hold off. At $3.99 these were not only a good price but they were in a convenient package that will fit nicely in my BOB. If they came in resealable packages they'd be absolutely perfect. Everything else that I carry is in plastic peanut butter jars, though, so one more won't hurt.

Anyway, I'm not about to carry it anywhere unless I know it tastes like eggs. So this morning I made an omelet. I used 6 scoops of the eggs and 12 tablespoons of water. That seemed to work out almost perfectly to 3 eggs. I also threw in some shitake mushrooms, tomatoes, ham, green onions and garlic.

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Saute the ingredients in some olive oil before adding the egg.

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Add the egg, flip it and then lay a slice of cheese (in this case my homemade cheese) across the top.

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Fold it over onto a plate. I went ahead and sauteed some tomatoes in some hot sauce for the topping.

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The texture was spot on. It cooked like an egg. I thought that it tasted like an egg, too, but when I went back to the store to pick up another package the guy stocking the shelf said that he'd tried it (just cooking scrambled eggs) and he thought that they were horrible. In an omelet I couldn't tell the difference between these and regular eggs. I thought that they were great and a bag immediately went into my BOB after tasting. Some people's minds are made up before they even try something new. If it's just too weird then they'll never like it. Other people taste things that most people don't ever seem to. Keep an open mind and get the ratio of egg to water correct and I think that you'll like it. From what I can tell 1 egg = 2 scoops of dried eggs + 3 scoops of water.

On the way there I stopped at a pawn shop and picked up a Buck 119 for $20. The sticker price was almost retail so I decided to just lowball the guy and see if he'd bite. He did. It's like new and the previous owner probably never did much more with it than try to cut paper to see how sharp the blade was.

When I got to the store I picked up that Condor Bushcraft 5" blade that I was talking about yesterday. That cost me $32. The review for it is coming up. It's got a nice, thick blade and the point isn't very pronounced. The blade is made of 1075 high carbon steel. It's got a pretty plain but comfortable walnut handle and it comes with a very nice leather sheath. At 10 1/2 ounces it should be a pretty good at chopping and I'm sure that it's beefy enough to handle battoning. It's got a fairly sharp, convex edge. From what I've read it's easy to sharpen. Some people want a blade that they can shave with. I have a baby face so being able to shave isn't much of a concern to me. I just want it to cut when I want to cut something. I have a feeling that it can take some punishment so I'll probably post up a few trials at some point.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What I did to prep today

I don't do these posts too often. I should probably start doing them more just to give other people ideas. I always seem to be prepping so I don't really think about it much. It's just kind of second nature. I spent a couple of hours in the garden getting caught up with weeding. Usually, I just water it and go to work. I weed on the weekends when I have more than 20 minutes to spend in there. It amazes me how much you can get for such a small amount of work out of a garden.

After spending a few hours with the baby and some time doing some researching I decided to head over to the local big box sporting goods store. I wanted a good fixed blade knife and their selection is usually pretty good and reasonably priced. When I got there they had CRKT Pike's Peak folders on sale for $15. It was a good deal so I had to grab one for the wife. My daily carry is an urban shark so it wasn't much of an upgrade for me. CRKT makes some great knives, though, so having a spare or two around isn't a bad thing. I almost picked up a 5" Condor Bushcraft knive for $32. I was impressed by the quality of the sheath, the thickness of the blade and the decent edge. I don't like buying anything that I know nothing about without doing some research, though, so I held off. After a quick Google search it looks like a solid blade so I'll be going back tomorrow morning to snatch it up. Reviews will follow.

Walking through the camping section I noticed some interesting stuff. They had some Datrex bars so I grabbed a brick of them since they always seem to be out of stock. They also had some small bags of dehydrated eggs for $3.99. On the package it says that they're the equivalent of 12 eggs. I will be doing a review on them soon. I almost bought a #10 can of dehydrated eggs just a few days ago but I opted for a can of freeze dried ground beef instead. Now I'm glad I skipped the eggs. They're not something that I'd want to buy a bunch of without giving them a try first. These packets are the perfect size for what I'd want to keep in my BOB or take with me on a camping trip. There is a scoop inside and they're resealable. As an afterthought I grabbed a couple of boxes of pistol primers.

From there I headed to the army surplus store. I was really in the mood to buy a solid fixed blade but they didn't have anything besides Kaybars and no name crap. They did have a pretty cool little low tech gadget that I almost jumped on, though. It was a block of gypsum inside of a plastic container. The idea is to fill the container with kerosene or something and let the gypsum absorb it. It becomes a firestarter that you can retrieve from your campfire after you put it out. Cool idea. Kind of bulky. It looked messy. I passed. I did grab a Lansky folding diamond sharpener, though. It's basically a two sided diamond sharpening stone that folds up like a butterfly knife. I took it home and FINALLY managed to put an edge on a really crappy beater knife that I bought a while back. I'll see how well it works on my hatchet tomorrow night. It's extremely compact and easy to use so I can see it seamlessly fitting into my bugout gear.

So what did you do to prep today?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Cheese is finally done

So I finally tried the cheese that I made a couple of months ago. I wasn't sure what to expect. What I ended up with was a good, edible, mild cheese that was a bit like cheddar. I could eat it every day and I wouldn't complain about it a bit.

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As you can see it ended up with a lot of little holes in it. I'm not sure what that's from. It didn't seem to affect the flavor, though. It made it a little crumbly but it was still soft with the same texture as a jack cheese or something. I let some friends try it a couple of days ago and they all liked it. I'm not going to try again until I build a press that can handle a 5 lb block. Making 1 lb of cheese is just too much work. When I can start making 5 lbs at a time I'll likely get more into it.

I hit up an estate sale today and scored a Lyman Spartan reloading press and a GI hatchet for $30. The hatchet is replacing the Coleman hatchet that I usually take to the woods. As for the press, I've got a lot of the equipment I need for the calibers that I normally shoot. I also have a ton of brass and the Speer reloading book. I mostly just need the powder, primers and bullets. Stay tuned for some updates on my adventures in reloading.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Quote of the day

"The more you read and learn, the less your adversary will know." - Sun Tzu

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Garden update

My garden is going pretty well so far. The kale from last year has taken over a corner around my container gardens. I let them grow because they're a very good green. I love them and have been eating a ton of them but they just keep growing. In hard times they'll likely be a staple. You can can them, freeze them, dry them, eat them raw or cook them. They're great in a number of dishes. I've also been harvesting turnips for a few weeks now. My beans and peas should be ready soon. My summer squash should also be ready pretty soon. The "beets" that I planted turned out to be broccoli. I've already harvested some florrettes.

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I planted some acorn squash and peppers in another patch of the yard. A bunch of purslane also went nuts so I just weeded the nasty stuff and let it do it's thing. It's a really good wild edible that tastes like spinach. The stems have a citrusy taste. I've been eating a lot of them and will be planting some in strategic places in my general vicinity.

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My potatoes are starting to look a little sad. I should probably add another tire onto the stack but I figure there's at least 40 or 50#s of potatoes in there. I'll find out once I let the vines die off and start eating them.

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The sunchokes that I didn't have much hope for are thriving now. I planted some heirloom beans around them but I don't think that they're very good companion plants. I'm not expecting much from the beans but I'll probably have plenty of sunchokes.

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My three sisters garden is doing OK. The corn is all growing nicely. A few of the squash plants were eaten up so I replanted. I'm hoping that they end up producing something before the first frost. The beans seem to be doing OK but some of the vines leaves look pretty sad. For the most part they're good. We'll see.

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I have high hopes this year. I don't have much space but I think that I'll get a lot of yield. If I had some chickens and rabbits I could probably get by without many trips to the store at all. I will be canning. Even now I probably go to the store once every few weeks and spend maybe $30 or so.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dr Seuss on government

Saw this on the web and thought I'd post it.

I do not like this Uncle Sam,
I do not like his health care scam.
I do not like these dirty crooks,
or how they lie and cook the books.
I do not like when Congress steals,
I do not like their secret deals.
I do not like this speaker Nan,
I do not like this 'YES WE CAN'.
I do not like this spending spree,
I'm smart, I know that nothing's free,
I do not like your smug replies,
when I complain about your lies.
I do not like this kind of hope.
I do not like it. nope, nope, nope!

Monday, July 12, 2010

My little baby is growing up

As I type she's on her second (ok third now) bowl (very very small bowls) of prune juice and baby food rice. She loves the stuff. Being the prepper that I am I can't let her get too big before I make sure that I have a good repertoire of great one liners for any boys that she actually convinces me are OK to bring home. So now I call out to you experienced fathers. What do you say to junior when he shows up to pick your daughter up for a date? Maybe you've been junior. Has anyone ever really freaked you out? Tips and ideas are appreciated.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My Get Home Bag

I've touched on the GHB in the past but I've never really gone over what I put in mine. The idea is simple. It's just a miniature bob that's designed to get you home in the event of an emergency where you can't just drive home. It should be small, lightweight and easy to carry. Some people go so far as to carry there's everywhere so that they always have it on them. I'm rarely far enough away from my car to warrant that so mine stays in the trunk. When I go to fairs, festivals or other places where you have to park 10 miles away and deal with huge crowds of people then I take it with me. So what should you put in it?

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As you can see, I probably pack a lot more than I need. The pack only weighs 8 lbs, though, so I don't even notice the weight. If I ever need it there's a good chance that I'll be walking several miles to get home. There's a very big network of green belt trails in my city which I plan on utilizing if I happen to be in town when something happens. If I get caught outside of town then I might have to live out of it for a day or two. Here's a rundown of the contents:

The bag - It's just a generic backpack with a hydration bladder. I don't remember where I got it. I just had it and everything fit so I've stuck with it. I prefer civilian gear to paramilitary style gear.

Water - My water solution for this pack is a Platypus 1L Hoser hydration bladder and iodine tablets. I can also boil water in the pot.

Food - The cliff bars are convenient. The 1L pot has a folding handle that locks down on the lid. The altoids tin is an alcohol stove. Take the lid off and it fits neatly into the esbit stove. I keep a few esbit tabs in the stove for backup/firestarters. There's also a small bottle of everclear for the stove. Why a cooking setup but no food that needs to be cooked? For day trips I can throw in a backpacking meal or two. I can also use it to cook up some wild edibles if I get sick of Cliff bars and decide to do some foraging.

Fire - Between the strike anywhere matches, a bic lighter and a magnesium bar I should be able to get a fire going. The knife has a firesteel in the sheath, too.

First aid - My first aid kit is pretty bare bones. I've added some things since taking this pic. Basically, though, it's just medical tape, gauze, small bandages, small tweezers and moleskin. I can also use the everclear for disinfecting.

Shelter - The idea is to get home not to go play in the woods. If worse comes to worse I can use the poncho and some 550 cord to cobble something together. Throw in the emergency blanket and I should be fine... as long as it's a beautiful summer evening.

Lighting - I've got a small pen light and a xenon with a spare set of C123 batteries. I should probably throw in a headlamp. I keep one in my car, though, so if I really think I'll need it I'll have one.

Miscellaneous stuff - Duct tape, 550 cord, a cheapo fixed blade knife (a real piece of shit that I must replace soon...don't buy cheap knives unless it's a Mora), some kleenex, pencil and a small notebook (not in the picture), a small mirror, sun block, one of those compass/whistle/matchbox/signal mirror "survival tools", some body warmers and a couple of waterproof bags round out the rest of the kit.

If I get stuck on the other end of town and I have to hoof it home this should cover me. If it takes longer than expected to get home or I can't go directly there then a little ingenuity should get me by for a day or two. Besides what's in the bag I'll also have my EDC on me (Keltec P3AT, CRKT Urban Shark, Gerber Clutch, Streamlight Stylus Pro and whatever is in my wallet).

If you're looking for a "get it and forget it" premade option I'd probably go with Nitropak's executive 72-hour kit. They claim that it covers two people for 72 hours. It weighs in at 17 pounds. At first glance it seems expensive but you'd probably end up spending a lot more if you were to try to buy everything a piece at a time. Then there's the time it takes to research, decide what you want and then actually go get it. There are a few things that I'd probably replace or remove immediately but for the most part everything looks pretty solid. I'd also add a few things. They claim that there's extra space for some more stuff. There's a detailed description of the contents on their site if you follow the link above so you can decide for yourself. It's the best looking premade "survival kit" that I've seen.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Bug Out: The Complete Plan for Escaping a Catastrophic Disaster Before It's Too Late

So I finally finished reading Scott William's Bug Out: The Complete Plan for Escaping a Catastrophic Disaster Before It's Too Late. He sent me a copy for review just a couple of days after it was released. I've been reading a couple of other books on the side so this one took me longer than it should have to get through. It's a very easy to read, concise, to the point manual that covers the who, what, when, where, why and how of bugging out. You see several other survival manuals touch on it. You read about it all the time on message boards. You see people talk about BOBs, survival caches, bug out locations, bug out routes and everything else. I haven't seen any books and very few discussions with this level of detail that concentrates solely on this aspect of survival, though.

Who: Who needs to have a serious bug out plan? Not everyone has a stocked bug out location in the boonies. He does a good job of not only convincing you that you should have a solid plan but that you can have one no matter what your circumstances are. This book concentrates more on the typical person who doesn't think that they have anywhere to go in an emergency. It also makes the people who think that they have somewhere to go think about what they'd have to do if they couldn't get there.

What: He goes into good detail on what to take. Let's be honest, though. This is the one aspect that's been covered to death all over the place. He covers what he considers the essentials and why they're essential. How do you cook? How do you purify water? What kind of gun should you take? In the appendix there's a very long, detailed list of everything that he would consider taking with him if he had to bug out. It's a very solid list with some things that I hadn't thought of or seen talked about before.

When: When should you seriously consider bugging out? If you're going to do it then be ready to do it on a moment's notice and don't hesitate or you could find yourself fighting with everyone else who's trying to get out of town themselves.

Where: Where do you go if you have nowhere to go? If you live in the US he's got you covered. He breaks down every region of the US with basic maps, different areas within each region, wild edibles and game and the kinds of things to expect in the wildernesses of each region. I didn't read this whole section since I'm not interested in some of the other regions. He has my region pegged, though, so I trust that he knows what he's talking about with the others.

Why: Why even consider bugging out? What would make you want to leave your home? Why would you even think about it if you have nowhere to go? Sometimes you won't have a choice. Other times you'll have some important choices to make and having the tools and knowledge beforehand can ensure your success if you decide that staying home isn't the best option.

How: How do you get out in the first place? He covers everything from automobiles to boats to pack animals. He also gives good suggestions on making plans, making caches and having your route planned out ahead of time among other things.

Overall, this is a very well thought out book with a ton of practical information. Whether you have a stocked and paid for BOL that no one knows about or not bugging out can be an option. If you're interested in the outdoors at all then you will be able to make use of it whether you ever have to bug out or not. To be honest you could just as easily use this as a guide on how and where to go adventuring in the US wilderness. I could see it being a good book for someone who's on the fence about getting started in preparedness. Especially if they're already into camping, hiking, kayaking, hunting, etc.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Trapper family in ANWAR

Here's a cool documentary that I watched last night. Years ago this guy moved to the ANWAR with his wife to raise his family. He's one of the last people allowed to live there by the US government because he lived there before they instituted a moratorium on new people settling there. Check it out when you have time. This guy is the real deal without being your stereotypical antisocial survivalist type.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

This is an interesting camping tool

A couple of months ago a new outdoors store opened up locally. It's pretty neat. They have everything from military surplus to clothing to camping gear to cattle feed. Anyway, I was poking around in the milsurp section and saw a stack of these:

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It was only $3.95 so I went ahead and picked it up. If nothing else I'll have fun beating up on it next time I take it to the woods. The concept is very cool, though. It's a small hatchet with a pry bar, a hammer and a nail puller. It only weighs about a pound and it's not very big. More than anything it struck me as a great urban emergency tool. It's small and lightweight enough that you could easily carry it in a daily carry bag or a laptop bag. It would be a great tool to have on you if you had to pry a door open or even hack through it. My biggest concern is that the steel seems pretty soft. I don't think that I'd want to stake my life on it. The thought of using the pry bar really concerns me. It would be better than having nothing, though. If someone made something similar that was properly heat treated and used good, quality steel then I'd be very inclined to take a close look at it. Does anyone know of anything? At $4 you can't go wrong. I'm not saying that it wouldn't hold up if you needed it to. I just don't think that it would hold up under real torque. I doubt that the hatchet blade will hold an edge for very long, either. It doesn't have the weight to be very effective without a sharp edge.

Quick update: After making this post I decided to test it a little by taking out a few saplings that I needed to remove from the backyard. It made short work of them.

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It's probably something that I could have done just as easily with a good fixed blade knife but it's something. The handle kept slipping off of the rest of the blade after just a swing or two. A little epoxy will fix that, though. At least a few whacks and some stripped branches didn't dull the blade. I'm still worried about the pry bar holding up if you actually use it for something serious. I'll update later when I get a chance to test it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Brewing Beer With Preps

For years I've stored grain. I've had at least a couple of bags of rice and a few bags of wheat lying around longer than I've been brewing beer. Ever since I started brewing I've been looking for ways to "cut" my beer with my preps. The big boys do it all the time and they produce drinkable beer. Purists will, of course, poo poo you all day but if you haven't figured it out by now I give a crap what the purists say. I prefer to figure it out for myself. It's amazing what I learn when I do something on my own rather than reading about the almost certain results from a book.

Anyway, I've been reading Bug Out by Scott Williams (buy this review is coming soon and it will be glowing) and Radical Brewing: Recipes, Tales and World-Altering Meditations in a Glass by Randy Mosher. If you understand the basic concepts of brewing (up to the point of understanding how to brew a decent all grain beer) then you can follow Randy's book and get a lot out of it. He explains in detail several recipes and techniques that are way out of the modern day norm that he takes from old world styles and recipes.

One of those techniques is brewing with unmalted wheat. I'll just assume that if you're reading this blog that you have plenty of wheat lying around. If you don't then you need to get some. After reading Randy's description of the process I did some research online. Wheat beers used to be extremely popular. They're light, refreshing and easy to drink. Brewing with it can be quite a challenge if you're not using malted wheat, though. What brewers of old would do was use a cereal mash. I tried to do this over the weekend. My efficiency was lower than expected but it was still sufficient to make a decent beer so I went ahead and pitched my yeast (a strain that I cultured from the dregs of a bottle conditioned saison), popped on the airlock and will now forget about it for at least two weeks.

So what is a cereal mash? Start with your crushed, unmalted grain. Keep it separate from the rest of your grain bill until you're ready to mash. If you're using corn keep it at 10-20% of your total grain bill. If you're using wheat keep it under 30-40% of your total grain bill. If you're using some other off the wall grain you're just going to have to experiment till you figure out the proper ratios for yourself. Once you figure out how much unmalted grain you want to use then you can start setting up your mash.

Start with your unmalted grain. Some websites recommend adding 3 quarts of water per lb of grain. I think that 2 quarts per lb was sufficient. Mix your crushed, unmalted grain with the water in your boiling vessel and get it up to 120 degrees F. Once you get it there turn the heat off and let it rest for 15 minutes. Then do it again at 154 degrees F. After both rests are finished then bring the mash to a boil for 20 - 30 minutes. The wheat/corn/whatever will start to congeal and gelatinize. Pour it into your mash tun with the rest of your grain bill. Once you get the temperature of your grain then calculate your strike water temperature. Add the water and mash for an hour.

If all goes well then you'll end up with phenomenal efficiency. Your finished beer will be loaded with alcohol and everyone will be coming to you for your secrets. More realistically you'll end up with horrible efficiency and a beer that's much weaker than you anticipated and without much body to back it up. Next time I try a cereal mash I'll use a much higher percentage of unmalted grain.

I'm one of those weirdos that uses arcane formulas to calculate the final temperature in my outdated cooler mash tun. It does the job as long as you do your part and hit your temps. One thing to keep in mind is that if you want a stronger beer but your wort doesn't finish as high as you wanted it to you can always boil it a little longer to bring up the gravity. While brewing with preps might be a bit of a pain it can be done but you'll still need some malted barley to round it out.

This post is definitely geared more towards the experienced homebrewers. Don't let that stop you from asking any questions if you're not one, though. I've done a few posts that detail brewing from extract and all grain but if you don't do it you'll never really get it. This is one of those skills that could prove to be very very lucrative if things get really ugly. Even if the world doesn't end you can still always make good, cheap beer.