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

Smartphones

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.