Friday, February 26, 2010

The Emergency Pantry

Stocking Up for Emergencies

My mom used to have an emergency pantry. It was full of stuff like dried beans, peanut butter, stuff she'd canned from the garden and a variety of non-perishables. Being what would in today's economy be called a “low-income” family, we often had emergencies that calle for us to dip into the emergency cupboard. My grandparents also had an emergency pantry in case another Great Depression broke out. My my grandpa kept about 20 giant jars of real roast peanut butter, bags of flour, beans and rice in there. They planted a garden every year until the year he died, canned vegetables and always had last season's potatos covered with lime under the house to keep cool for the winter. We were expected to come over and shell peas and snap beans. It was something you just did.

Since the dawn of time families have kept emergency food supplies. Now, for the first time in history, most of us no longer do. Most of us don't have food sufficient to get ourselves through the week, much less a long term emergency. That's why every time it looks like snow here in Texas, everybody runs to the grocery store. We aren're read shouls the vast complex of interlocking technologies, power, transportation and communications links that sustains us be disrupted by weather, war, economic collapse or natural disaster. If disaster were to happen today, without warning, most of us would be without food, water and basic essentials in a matter of days.

So what can we do about it?

First you'll need a storage place, preferably someplace cool in case the power goes out. If you're lucky enough to have abasement or cellar, you can probably fix up something there. The earth outside the walls of your basement stay a reliable 65 degrees most of the time, even in the summer, so your stuff will last longer. A storm cellar can also be a good food storage spot. It's not only underground, but it is also the place you'll likely find yourself stuck in most weather emergencies. With good ventilation your food should stay dry and cool and increase the shelf life of things stored there. If you don't have such a place, consider building an underground pantry. At the very least build your pantry on the north side of the house away from outside walls exposed to direct sunlight. Insulate and ventilate the pantry so that dry air circulates through it. If you can bring ventilation from a cool place it would be even better. Hot and muggy is the enemy of long term storage. Don't even thinkj about storing food in the attic!

How much food should you store?

Most emergencies are only going to last for a few days, but if you set up your storage system properly, you can keep months worth of food by rotating your stock so that nothing gets more than a few months old. If you are worrying about the “Big One”, experts suggest storing up to six months worth of food. This gives you time to set up greenhouses and gardens and start producing your own food. Don't just store food either. Include bottled water, medical supplies, toilet paper, soap and other essentials as well.

Stocking the Pantry

Stocking six months worth of food is going to be expensive if you try to do it all at once. Instead build your supplies a little at a time by adding extra things to the shopping cart every time you shop. That way you absorb the cost a little at a time and you can take advantage of those 10 for $10 specials on canned goods and peanut butter. You'll be surprised at what you are able to accumulate simply by keeping an eye out for good deals. Be careful that the things you buy are not close to their expiration dates or you won't be able to store them long. If you do find those kinds of deals, simply put the to the front of your shelves and use them ahead of the same things that you already have that have a longer shelp life.

Try to stock a nice variety. Food is a wonderful thing for relieving depression or cabin fever. You don’t want to have to live on hominy and lima beans for 3 months no matter how good a deal you got on them. And don't forget the sweets. They're not essential, but hard candies and cake mixes store well and really hit the spot sometimes.. Make yourself a comprehensive “survival pantry” list. You can find all sorts of suggestions on the Internet on survivalist sites. Tape your list to inside of the pantry door and tick off things as you buy them and add them to your stock.

What to Stock

The best guide to stocking your emergency supply is to pay attention to what your family is already buying. If you have a meal you particularly like, buy double of everything and substitute a non-perishable item where you have a perishable one. Substitute canned potato salad for the fresh stuff. Sub canned carrots for fresh ones (although carrots actually last quite a while when properly stored. Buy canned fish when you eat frozen. Buy jars of pasta sauce if you make fresh. Better yet, if you make favorite homemade sauces or special dishes, try canning or freezing it for your emergency supply. You can always use the stuff for a quick tasty meal some night when you are in a hurry. When you buy bread, pick up flour, oil, yeast and powdered eggs so you can make bread if you need to in an emergency. If you've got a barbecue, you can actually bake bread in it. Look up how to do that and practice in case you ever have to do it for real.

Grow your emergency supplies over time duplicating your family's food purchases and your emergency supply will pretty well reflect your normal eating patterns. Once you are fully stocked, continue to shop as you normally would, but add your recent purchases to the back of your pantry shelf and using the older stuff from the front for your regular meals. Always pull out the older stock as much as possible to keep things fresh. Use a black marker to write the expiration dates on top of all the cans so they are easy to see.

Don’t forget to stock cooking fuels like canned heat and camp stove fuel. Put a big basic first aid box in your pantry and double buy commonly used medical supplies and medicines like aspirin, cold and flu medications. Anything you buy regularly at the grocery store, you'll probably need in the event of an isolating disaster or emergency.


Take some thought as to how you are going to store all the different types of things. Read up in books and on the Internet about how to store flour, pasta, canned goods, and dried beans – things with a long shelf life. As you buy stuff at the grocery store, also begin buying the right kinds of containers to protect your food from bugs, mildew mold and rot. Set up the pantry so it naturally ventilates, but if you can run a powered vent through there, do so. It will mean your food will last longer if the power does go out.


Learn how to can food and grow things in your own garden. Get a book on gardening that tells how to harvest seeds for next year's garden. Even if you never need it, the information will be there just in case. Make up a notebook you can use to collect information about outdoor cooking, how to use tools and how to make things. Learn all you can about how to preserve, store and cook foods by alternate means. Have an organized place where you keep knives, axes, blankets, generators, and other survival gear.

Keep things you will need in case of sudden disaster. Everything needs to be within easy reach and everyone should know where it is. In an emergency you don't want to be fumbling for a flashlight or length of rope if you need it in a hurry. If you know where your gear is and have a good supply of food staples and supplies, you can hold out on your own for weeks – months if need be - till the phone and lights come back up again.

Which brings up another thing – power!

Power comes in a variety of forms. Think about what you will need. You'll have to have a way to cook, heat, cool and get supplies. A generator with a supply of fuel comes in really handy when the ice storm knocks out the power for a few days. If you have an effective fireplace or wood stove, you can hold out against the cold. If you have windows that open and some power to run the fridge and the fans, you can make it during the summer. For more long term disasters, you should have an axe and/or chain saw handy for breaking up wood for fuel. You should have a camp stove or cooking gear in case you have to cook over an open fire.


The Well-Stocked Pantry

Survival Food Facts

Stocking an Emergency Food 'Survival Pantry'

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Ultimate Birdwatcher Suit

Like to really have some fun bird-watching?  Then have I got a project for you.


  It’s the ghillie suit!

A ghillie suit (also called a yowie suit) is typically used by soldier or hunters as a highly adaptable type of camouflage.  The ghillie suit can be altered to make you look like virtually any terrain imaginable and help you completely disappear into the foliage. The ghillie suit is particularly well-suited to heavy foliage.

You can make one out of a darker earth colored jump suit or even, better – a camouflaged hunters pants, shirt and floppy fishing or jungle hat.  Here’s how you create your ghillie suit.  This will take some time to make the basic outfit, but once you have it, you can easily add to it when you are in-country to better blend into the local vegetation.

Start by laying out the clothing you are going to use.  Next you’ll need to get some netting.  An old volleyball net works nicely. You don’t want the holes in the net to be too small so that it’s hard to tie stuff to it.

Cut the net out to the shape of and a bit larger than the front and back of the shirt and pants.  For the hat, lay your hat on the ground and cut a circle of netting with a 3 to four foot diameter.

Do one side of the pants and shirt at a time.  Use shoe glue or other type of thick fabric adhesive and apply to the knots in the net at 4 to 6 inch intervals to glue the net to the clothing.  Allow to dry and then take some clear or dark monofilament line and a carpet needle and stitch the net to the suit at each glue point.  Do the front and back of the outfit.  Be sure to cut openings for the zipper and front of the shirt so you can take it on and off.

Next do the same to the hat and leave net dangling around the brim.  When done you’ll have an outfit with a lot of loose netting hanging from it.

Next cut out some rags that are in several dull earth colors.  Make 2 inch wide strips about 12 to 18 inches long.  Start at the bottom and tie a layer at a time to the netting all way round.  The next layer should hang down and overlap the layer above it.  Mix the colors up so you don’t have any large identical color patches.  Intersperse the rags with strings, thick twine and frizzy cord like jute.  You want to tie them on pretty thickly.  For the base layer, use good surgeon or square knots to make sure the pieces stay attached.  These will be more or less a permanent part of the outfit.  Tie rags and strings to the outside of the hood and work your way toward the center.  Tie more camouflage toward the back than the front to prevent the camouflage from impeding your movement.  Tie only a few light bits in front of the hood to prevent impairment of vision.

Next take 2 or three colors of earth drab spray paint and streak the outside of the camouflage rags and twine.  Don’t spray so heavily you soak the fabric.  Make light striations like streaks of sunlight playing over brush.

Next you need to remove the man-made smells of glue and fabric. You should leave the suit out in the grass for a few nights; maybe drag it through the woods or toss it in the lake and let it dry on the clothesline.  Be careful not to damage the suit, but give it enough seasoning to hide the human smells.

To adapt the suit to local terrain, grab your binoculars, ghillie suit and hood (don’t put it on yet) bird book, several dozen foot long pieces of dark string or twine and a pencil and strike out for your hidey hole.  You might want a backpack for all this stuff.

As you go, keep an eye out for bits of natural materials you can tie to the netting to make you look like the local terrain.  If you hide in a patch of flowers, you might want to make yourself into a loose bouquet. In the grass, tie stalks of grass all over your outfit. One soldier told me he once hid in a town dump by tying bits of garbage to himself so that he looked like a trash pile.  When you get to your hiding place, tie on all the stuff you found, slip on the suit and melt back into the foliage.

The suit uses three dimensional features like branches, leaves and grass to break up your outline. The ghillie suit fools the eye into not seeing patterns. Keep it loose and it will even move in the wind like the nearby bushes.  Be sure to tie things securely so your suit doesn’t make too much noise if you need to move a little.

Properly done, you’ll frighten the wits out of passersby when you, dressed as a trail-side bush suddenly stand up and say, “Lovely weather we’re having.”  You’ll frighten the wits out of birds too.  Properly done, though, they’ll never know you are there. Who knows they may try to build a nest on your shoulder.


  • Be sure and shake out any bits of flotsam and jetsam you plan to add to your suit.  Make sure you don’t add any unwelcome critters.  Nothing spoils the illusion more than having a scorpion crawl up your trousers and send you leaping skywards.
  • Watch out when adding vines.  You don’t want to wrap yourself in poison ivy, poison sumac or poison oak.  This will make for an uncomfortable afternoon of birding!

* Photograph:  (c) 2009 by Chamal N. under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

    Friday, February 19, 2010

    Homemade Peasant Sandals

    Back in my heyday when I was young and handsome and long-haired in the early 70's, I had the moccasin boots, the leather fringe jacket and a leather headband - the entire rig.  People used to assume I was not straight.  Let me hasten to add that the term "straight" in those days was applied to those people who were non-drug users and therefore not entirely trusted by those who were not straight.

    The person who "turned me on" to wearing sandals, was, ironically, an aspiring preacher named Sam Miller. I worked five golden summers at summer camp as a canoeing and swimming instructor, waterfront director and trash man and most of the time went barefoot. The soles of my feet were so thick I could walk on hot pavement like an Indian fakir. I laughed at thorns, Sneer at snakes.  As a result of the constant exposure to healthy exercise, open air and a lack of constraint, my feet are healthy to this day.

    Sam always wore sandals at camp. Later, as I became elderly like Sam (around 25, I think) there were fewer opportunities to go barefoot. Teachers, in those unenlightened days, were required to wear shoes while teaching.  So, when I went outdoors, my soles were not the thick bear paws they once were and therefore vulnerable to stones, stickers and hot pavement. I learned then the value of the simple sandal as a compromise footwear solution providing ease of donning, airy comfort and comfort in and around water.

    Homemade sandals are by far the best type. Hurache sandals are a Native American design popular in Mexico where native runners favor them over old sneakers. The design shown here borrows on that, but is more of a peasant/communist revolutionary model with old tires for soles and ropes for straps.

    You'll need:
    1. An old car, bicycle or motorcycle tire for the sole, fiberglass or fabric reinforced - not steel
    2. A fine toothed power saw to cut the sole out like a sabre saw, reciprocating saw or band saw
    3. A drill with half inch hole saw or maybe larger for the front tabs
    4. One of those white paint marker pens
    5. A 3 foot length of polypropylene/nylon rope - the soft kind
    6. A lighter 
    7. A sharp knife. 

    Step 1
    Lay one of your own shoes or sandals lengthwise in the inside of the tire you are cutting up.  Mark the shape of the sole with a white paint marker, then cut around the shape leaving 3 inches or so of rubber around the shape.  Do that for both shoes.  Then mark 1 to 1 and a half inch tabs on the sides where show and a 2 inch by 3 inch tab on the heel.  When you have it all marked, cut out the soles.  The tabs on the sides should be thinner sidewall rubber if you got the right kind of tire. The heel tab will be thick like the soles. A note about cutting out the sole from the tire.  Avoid cutting through the bead where the tire meets the wheel. This is reinforced with very strong steel cable and can wreck your saw blade cut just inside the bead on both sides all the way around to remove it like a hoop from the rest of the tire.

    Step 2
    Mark a single hole in each tab and two in the heel tab.  You will want to make the front tab holes slightly larger to accommodate 2 pass throught of the lace ropes.

    Step 3
    Drill the tab holes as shown and then use a round file to smooth the sides and edges so the rope lacing will pass smoothly through the hole.

    Step 4
    Fold up the tabs and cut a 3 foot length of soft nylon rope for the lacing. The side tabs, since they are made from the sidewalls, should fold up naturally. The heel tab will likely be more stubborn, but once you've laced it, it will stay up and provide heel protection if you've cut it right.

    Step 5.
    Lace your rope through the two holes in the heel first and then through the rear side tabs from the inside going to the outside.

    Step 6
    It's easiest to finish the lacing by putting your foot in the sole as you lace.  Bring the laces across the top of your foot, criss-cross them and then run them through the front tab holes from inside to outside as shown.

    Step 7
    Bring the lace ends back across the top of the foot and through the side tab on the opposite side of the foot as shown in the pictures.

    Step 8
    One method to finish the lacing is to tie off the ends in a stopper knot at this point and melt the ends to prevent unraveling.  Adjusting the fit as the sandal wears and stretches is a little more problematic this way , but if you make it a little tight the first time, it should be pretty snug for a sandal after you've worn it a bit.

    Step 9
    If you want your sandal to be adjustable, simply bring the loose ends back over the top of the foot and tie them in a bow like a regular shoe.  I like them that way. Looks funky!

    Check out the sandal pattern at Barefoot Ted's Adventures.

    Really nice overview of the sandal-making process with photos.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    The Bread Machine Secret

    You can buy a bread machine, but that doesn't guarantee your bread will be any good.

    It promises to be easy to do, but in reality, mmmmmmmmmm not so much!

    There is a secret to making bread and I will share it with you. It involves no exotic ingredients, no special kitchen tools or the wearing of special underwear (although you may if you wish. The secret to great bread-making is knowing what a baby's butt feels like when you pat it!

    Of course, you actually have to have taken a run at diaper changing at some point in your life. If you have not, then by all means, run straight out, find a baby, remove it's diaper and pat its butt. If you get home without being arrested, then you are ready to make Grandma's bread.


    The "Bread Machine Recipes" cookbook says to measure all the ingredients carefully. If you ever watched you grandmother bake bread, you realize at once what balderdash that is. The truth is bread wants to be baked. The flour and yeast and stuff wants to become a beautiful loaf of golden crusted bread. It has no higher ambition. You, as the baker, are merely the facilitator of this exquisite transformation. So remember, the ingredients are merely a suggestion. It is the baby's butt that is the key!

    • Half cup or so of hot tap water (not boiling)
    • Teaspoon of salt
    • One egg
    • 2 tablespoons honey, Karo Syrup or a big handful 
      of brown sugar. (As you gain confidence - and weight 
      - you WILL later add more than this I promise you).
    • 2 cups of whole wheat flour
    • 3/4 cup or so of white all-purpose flour
    • A big glop of butter or margarine, a couple of 
      tablespoons of Olive or vegetable oil or some Crisco, 
      whatever you have.
    • 1/4 cup of nonfat dry milk (I've never done it this way 
      - I put this in for historical purposes). I use a quarter 
      can of evaporated milk.
    • 1/4 cup or so of wheat germ.  This was another of my 
      grandmother's secrets for making the bread the right 
      texture and adding nutritional value to it.  Wheat germ 
      is the heart of the grain and is very good for you and 
      also slightly crunchy, a quality which I like in my wheat bread.
    • 2 packages of rapid rise yeast or regular yeast or a yeast cake 
      - whatever works for you.

    1. Dump everything into the bread machine in any order you want. They say it matters, but it doesn't. Just don't do the water yet. Make sure you screw in the twirler paddle dealy bob before you pour in the ingredients or it gets real messy trying to get the thing on there and rotating freely - I do that a lot (like tonight).

    2. Program the machine for basic bread and a 1.5 pound loaf. If you want to not have the hole in the bottom from the paddle that you get when you bake it in the machine, then set it for dough. You'll have to pull out the loaf, reshape it and put it in a bread pan to bake in your oven, but you're on your own there. I make 3 of these babies or more a week on a good week and I don't want to have to watch the oven - am almost certain recipe for smoked bread if I'm watching it cook. Press Start.

    3. Fiddle with the dough as it forms. The bread recipe book stopped at step 2. It is wrong to do so, especially since I haven't told you to put in the water yet. Once you press start, you must tend to the critical initial kneading of the loaf. Open the top of the bread machine. Watch the paddle dealy (no need to learn these technical names - it will be obvious to you what the paddle dealy is). Use a big wooden spoon and poke on the dough ball as it forms so that it picks up all the flour as you slowly add the hot water. Don't use all the hot water before it starts coalescing into dough. You may not need it all.

    4. Be patient. At first it won't look like there's enough water, but keep poking the dough ball down to pick up the excess flour. You may need to add some flour if the dough ball is too sticky. Here's where the secret comes in!

    5. Feel the dough. If it feels just like a baby's butt when you pat it, you have achieved doughy perfection. Add hot water or flour to achieve the perfect texture. Once you have done that, go away and let the machine do its job. Come back in about 3 and a half hours to witness the completion of the process.

    6. Most bread machines use the paddle dealy to push the bread out when it is done. I try to get there before that happens so that the bottom of my bread doesn't get squashed. I take it out before the machine ejects it. It may just be my machine, but that's my recommendation.

    7. Enjoy!

    Tom King - Baker Extraordinaire
    (and God bless whoever invented the bread machine!)