Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Kitchen Armory: Instant Pot

In previous posts I’ve talked about crock pots, also called slow cookers, as well as mentioning pressure cookers in passing. Both have their places in the Kitchen Armory. However, they cost money and take up space. Wouldn’t it be helpful if there was a single appliance that could do the work of both?

We’re in luck because there is such a device. I’ve mentioned Instant Pots before, and Lokidude talked about his a couple years ago, but this versatile tool is important enough to deserve another post.

These appliances combine many features of crock pots along with those of pressure cookers, and have a number of additional options as well. For example, the sauté feature alone is almost worth the cost of admission; add in the ability to make low effort broth or stock, and perfect hard boiled eggs every time, and I’m sold. For those who stock up on dried beans, the savings in time and effort rehydrating them will amortize the expense quickly.

With an Instant Pot, it really is possible to make a more involved one-pot meal that’s not a soup or a stew. For example, see the Fried Rice in my Rice post or the Kung Pao Chicken in my Nuts post.

Of course, before trying any recipes, an Instant Pot has to be purchased. Prices have come down considerably since they were first introduced; it’s now possible to get an 8-Quart model for less than one hundred dollars, and the 6-Quart version costs even less.

The author's InstantPot and cookbooks

Other than size, these two models are pretty much identical. The product description for both is exactly the same:

“Easy to use, easy to clean, fast, versatile, and convenient, the Instant Pot® Duo™ is the one that started it all. It replaces 7 kitchen appliances: pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer, sauté pan, yogurt maker & warmer. With 13 built-in smart programs, cook your favorite dishes with the press of a button. The tri-ply, stainless steel inner pot offers quick, even heating performance. Redefine cooking and enjoy quick and easy meals anywhere, any time. The Instant Pot Duo offers the quality, convenience and versatility you’ve come to expect from Instant – discover amazing.”

One of the most important features of any pressure cooker is the release valve. On our Instant Pot, it’s a knob with a 90 rotation from sealed to vent. Recipes may call for quick release (opening the valve as soon as the cook time is done) or slow release (letting the unit sit for a time, then releasing residual pressure), depending on a number of variables. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s maintenance and cleaning instructions, especially regarding the seal and release valve.

While most Instant Pots come with a basic recipe book, there are many more available through Amazon as well as online. The two we prefer are The Instant Pot College Cookbook and The Instant Pot No-Pressure Cookbook. It’s possible to convert many traditional crock pot recipes for use in an Instant Pot as well.

The ability to create a meal in a hands-off manner as introduced by the crock pot has been expanded considerably by the introduction of the Instant Pot. If forced to keep just one of them, I'd be hard pressed to choose between the two: the crock pot is simpler and basically foolproof, but the Instant Pot gives me far more versatility. Fortunately, I don't have to choose!

Friday, May 27, 2022

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

 Aristotle wrote it down, but others probably noticed it before him: the natural order of things doesn't allow empty spaces to remain empty for very long -- something will fill the void.

For preppers, this is a necessary part of our planning. When something goes missing, we need to think about what will fill its place. This covers more than just physical things, however; organizations and ideas are also subject to the rules of nature. Here are some examples.

There is a lot of chatter about the US dollar losing its place in the world economy. People have relied on the dollar as a foundation for commerce since the end of WW2, but recent events are eroding the confidence that people had. Something will replace it, maybe several somethings; there are other currencies in use around the world and something will become the new standard. It may fall back to hard currency like gold and silver, or it could be a different fiat currency backed by nothing but promises, but something will take its place.

For preppers, barter and exchange of services will likely be at least short-term replacements for any currency failures. These also have the advantage of being difficult to tax and regulate, so they're popular among the more fringe elements of the prepper-sphere.

Many people desire leaders, and big projects require them. Here in America we have a tradition of being more self-directed than many cultures, and my time in the military taught me the differences between our way of fighting and most other countries. The loss of a leader is less of an issue for the US military, because someone will step up and take control of the situation; that's the way we were trained. The armies of many other nations teach blind obedience to their leaders, and the loss of those leaders leads to troops that are lost and ineffective.

Politics is similar in that we have layers of control, and the loss of a leader is rarely a total disaster. We've had Presidents assassinated without the system falling apart, because someone filled the position in an orderly fashion. We have a written plan for who takes over next; it's one of the basic parts of our form of government. Compare that to the times a dictator dies in office and the chaos that ensues.

Try to make arrangements within your team/tribe/family to cover the loss of leaders, because it will keep things going in trying times.

Times of peace are aberrations in human history; our natural order involves conflict on some level or other. Look at history and you'll see that there is always a war or dispute of some sort going on somewhere, and this isn't going to change. The end of WW1 led to the conditions that started WW2, and at the end of that we got the Korean conflict and Viet Nam along with a Cold War that lasted until it was time to start wars back up in the Middle East. Going further back in history shows the same trend, with constant conflict somewhere is the default setting.

Looking at it from a more personal level, how often does a bully retire after breaking a victim? They don't, they just start looking for the next one. They have to have conflict in their lives to feel alive. The same goes for the drama queens that are found in any group of people; they need to stir the pot and create conflict as much as they need to breathe.

Preppers should be aware that conflict is part of life and try to learn methods for dealing with it. De-escalation works on small conflicts, but force may be required to settle larger ones. Shut down or shut out the drama queens for your own mental health and the well-being of all in your tribe.

Recreational Chemistry
The use of various compounds to alter reality is at least as old as humanity, and there are documented reports of other animals knowingly using naturally occurring drugs to get drunk or high, so it's not unique to humans. The “Temperance” movement of a century ago thought they could ban alcohol, but all they did was create a black market and a very wealthy bunch of organized criminals. The “War on Drugs” is having a similar lack of effect on the amount of drugs available to those who seek them, and has fueled a synthetic drug industry that is producing some scary concoctions. I have contacts who have worked for the DEA and Coast Guard and some of the stories they've told me about the smuggling trade are impressive. If the profit margin is high enough, people will find a way around any law or border because their customers will find a way to feed their addictions.

Know your people and their personal addictions. Like most human traits, addictions come in various shapes and sizes and some people handle them better than others. Alcoholism runs in my family, so I keep a close eye on my personal consumption. I've seen how it can affect a family and don't want to make those same mistakes. I've also known drug addicts of all sorts over the years; some of them lost their lives to the drugs, while others were able to be functional members of society while still being hooked to heroin or meth. The loss of supply will make addicts to anything do strange things to feed that need, so at least be aware of your peoples' vulnerabilities.

Being a prepper is more than just stocking up on beans, bullets, and band-aids. We have to plan for the long term, and find ways to keep going even though everything around us is falling apart.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Metal Finishes Redux

When my father died I inherited his firearms and related accessories, which included the AR-15 we built together for his use. While I knew my father was a fan of Frog Lube, I didn’t realize he was also of the “If some is good, more is better” school of thought.

Frog Lube is a family of non-petroleum, non-toxic, food-grade, bio-based solvents and lubricants. When used properly, they can be quite effective, though I’ve read mixed reviews. Unfortunately, if excess Frog Lube is left on a firearm, it turns into a gummy mess. My father’s AR was so gummed up that flipping the safety was like pushing a wooden spoon through cold molasses. Something needed to be done to fix this

I tried scrubbing it down with CLP, my preferred cleaner, but that only slightly improved the situation. Ultimately, I stripped it down completely to the last pin and spring, then put the lower into an ultrasonic cleaner with my standard degreaser. Normally I dilute this with water, but because of how stubborn the buildup was, I skipped that step.

This turned out to be a mistake. When I pulled the lower out of the ultrasonic cleaner, not only had the built-up and congealed lubricant been removed, but also much of the finish.

The receiver as it came out of the ultrasonic cleaner

In my post on metal finishes, I talked about the aluminum finish called anodizing, which is basically a controlled oxidation of aluminum like bluing is for steel. Somehow the degreaser, the microbubbles generated by the ultrasonic cleaner, and the finish on this particular lower did not get along, leaving the lower a patchwork of bare metal and distressed finish. This was a less than optimal outcome, but the lower wasn’t damaged or weakened in any way; it just looked like it had the firearm equivalent of mange. 

To clean up the surface in preparation for refinishing I ran the lower through the wet tumbler I mentioned in my post on brass cleaning. Some of the stainless steel pins I was using as cleaning media had a tendency to get stuck in the pivot pin spring channel until I plugged it with a bit of wiring insulation, but the result was a considerable improvement.

After several hours in the wet tumbler

I decided that since I was going to put a new finish on this lower anyway, I’d optimize it for use on my retro AR PCC. This involved filling the right side Safe and Fire markings with JB Weld and, once hardened, sanding it smooth and flush with the surface of the lower.

To get the proper look for my retro AR, I chose Brownells Aluma-Hyde II Dark Parkerizing Grey, an epoxy based spray finish. Aluma-Hyde is one of a number of spray finishes available on the market, others include DuracoatCeracoat, and Norrell’s. They can all be used to refresh old or damaged items to new, or even better than new appearance.

When using this type of finish, proper surface preparation is essential, and always check the instructions that come with the product. 
  1. The item needs to be clean, dry, and grease free. To achieve this, I used some Remington Action Cleaner & Degreaser I’ve had for many years.
  2. Using baling wire, I hung the lower suspended inside an upended cardboard box as a sort of makeshift painting booth. 
  3. After thoroughly shaking the can, I proceeded with short, light bursts of finish until I had a good base coating. Then I left it to dry.

After the first coat of Aluma-Hyde II. The whitish mark just below the safety lever hole is dust left by my fingers when I positioned the lower for this photo. It brushed right off after I noticed it was there.

The results were fabulous and exactly what I was hoping to see: a nice even coat of dark grey. The lower needs to sit for a few more days before it’s completely cured and ready for reassembly.

In the words of Joe Gill from Crossfire Trail"If you take your time, you get a more harmonious outcome."

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Food as Barter

Growing food is always a good thing: if you grow more than you can eat or store, you can barter or gift the surplus. I've mentioned that when I was growing up my family grew lots of tomatoes, while the neighbor to the north grew sweetcorn along the edge of his corn field, and others grew cucumbers, peppers, onions, or something else. We all traded freely, since we were friends as well as neighbors. Mom and Dad always had chickens for fresh eggs and the surplus were taken to church every Sunday for anyone who wanted them to take home. 

Food as a barter item is nothing new, and when TSHTF it will probably come back into use. World supply lines are already under stress, causing localized shortages of some items, and prices for what is available are climbing fast; if our economy takes a serious dive, or we get involved in another war, things will get even harder to find at the supermarket. Having a secondary source of the basics would qualify as a good prepping idea.

Not all of us are going to have the room to set up a garden large enough to sustain our family, but even a few window planters or a vertical garden made of PVC pipe can grow enough to help. If you have neighbors or tribe that can grow food, maybe you should look at growing the herbs and spices that make meals more enjoyable. There are many options that aren't exactly food but would make good barter items.

Modern people are addicted to sugar as a result of marketing strategies developed after WW2. Think about how much sugary crap the average person consumes daily and you'll see that having a supply of sweetener to trade could be worth its weight in gold.

Sugar comes from two main sources: cane and beets. Sugar cane is a tropical plant that is easy to grow if you have the climate; sugar beets will grow in much colder climates, and once harvested can be left on the ground, frozen, until they're processed. Sugar cane is a perennial grass similar to bamboo that regrows from the roots every year; sugar beets have to be planted from seed every year. Sugar cane is grown in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas; sugar beets are grown in North Dakota and Minnesota, where they'll stay frozen after harvest and can be processed over the winter.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is a cheap sugar replacement that takes some chemistry and equipment to produce. Having spent several years working in a plant that produced it by the railcar load, I know how it's made and don't think many preppers would be able to make it on a small scale. 

Black pepper is a tropical plant, but Cayenne and various other peppers can be used as replacements. With the modern American palate being accustomed to spicy food, peppers are a low-maintenance plant that could be used as a barter item.

Garlic and onions are root crops that take up little room to grow and are easy to store. Most of the other spices like curry, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves are all native to small areas of the world and don't grow well in other areas, hence the trade routes of ancient times. If you can produce enough to trade, there will be a market if our current system fails.

The list of herbs used to season and enhance the flavors of food is too long for me to list here. Mints and herbs are easy to grow in a space even as small as a single pot for use in the kitchen. Growing and storing a few varieties of seasoning for trade purposes wouldn't take much room or time.

Somewhere around 85% of Americans start their day with a caffeinated drink of some sort. Be it coffee, tea, soda, or energy drink, caffeine is an addiction that has its claws in a lot of people. 

There's only one native North American plant that contains caffeine: Yaupon, a variety of holly native to northern Florida and southern Georgia. The leaves make a smooth tea that is richer in caffeine than Asian teas.

We have some cold-hardy tea plants that will grow in colder regions, I'll cover them in a separate article along with how they are processed.

Arabica coffee can be grown in a greenhouse in the USA, but it takes a lot of care and processing to make into something fit to drink.

This one is controversial; I've mentioned growing tobacco before and gotten negative feedback. Feeding this addiction is not supporting a healthy lifestyle, but if a grown adult chooses to partake of it, that's their choice. It's a powerful addiction; I've been hooked on it since I was about 18 years old. I've quit several times, but keep coming back to it. 

I switched from smoking to vaping a few years back to reduce the health effects, but I know it's not good for me. My brain is now wired to expect the nicotine and life is not pleasant without it. This makes it a valuable trade item, but I know nothing about its cultivation and processing.

The nicotine in tobacco has other uses, mainly as a pesticide. It's a powerful poison, so painting a light coating on seeds or stems will kill most insects that touch it. Since I work with pesticides for a living, I'm aware of how dangerous it can be. 

If you find yourself in a community, no matter how small, sometimes specializing in producing one thing can open up lines of barter with others for the things you can't make yourself. This is one of the basics of civilization and shouldn't be lost, no matter how bad things get.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Future of Blue Collar Prepping

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
Some of you may have noticed that the output of this blog has diminished significantly lately. When once we had five posts a week, we're now lucky to get three of them... and it's a struggle to even make that happen. Last week we had only one post. 

I'm pretty sure this blog is dying, and unless we get some new blood to revitalize us it will die. 

I'm not going to pretend that I'm innocent in all this. My family situation is such that I  pretty much always feel creatively burned out, and what was once a fun hobby is something I have to force myself to do, and I feel like I've let everyone down when I don't. At the same time, though, I definitely don't want to shut this blog down. I just want things to be better.

The only way I can think to do that is to have more writers for this blog so that it's not up to the same three people to try to hold things together. There are two problems with that, however. The first is that it's difficult to find people who are enthusiastic about prepping, are good at communicating ideas, and who are willing to produce quality content once a week. The second is holding onto those people after a year of doing it for basically nothing more than warm feelings. Of the seven regular contributors we've had, only three of us remain -- and two of us (myself and Chaplain Tim) are on shaky ground. 

If you're interested in becoming a regular writer for us, please let me know. Feel free to contact the other writers and ask them what it's like to write for me; I like to think that I'm understanding, accommodating and pretty cool, but don't take my word for it. 

Regulars are expected to:
  • Write one roughly 500 word post every week. 
  • Have that post ready for me to edit on a timely basis. 
  • Communicate regularly with me to ensure a steady stream of quality content. 
  • Not have in their posts:
    • Racial, religious, political, or national epithets
    • Incitements to violence
    • Anything advocating the overthrow of established governments.
    • As an example, it is perfectly fine to write an article titled "What do to when the dollar collapses and the U.S. government fails."  It it NOT acceptable to write an article titled "How to kill cops and soldiers when those damn commie Chinese take over America."

Alternately, you can become a recurring guest writer and write every so often. That's fine too. I used to get a lot of guest posts in the past, and I'm not sure where they've gone. The events of the past few years should show that the importance of prepping has only grown. 

Guest writers are asked to:
  • Write a minimum of 500 words. 
    • There is no maximum limit, although if the article is exceptionally lengthy I reserve the right to break it into separately-posted parts. 
    • Preferred formats are Word-compatible email attachments and shared Google Documents. 
  • Video reviews or "how-tos" are also welcome! 
    • Please submit only your own videos. 
    • Please do not submit anything which has been on YouTube for more than a month. 

As an example of what 500 words looks like, this post has 575 of them. 

Thank you for your continued readership since 2014. Please help us continue for many years to come.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Prepper’s Pantry: Beans

Beans, beans
Good for your heart
The more you eat
The more you…

One of the longest cultivated foods, beans have been grown and eaten since before humans developed pottery. Beans were placed in the tombs of pharos in ancient Egypt, and beans are still an important part of our diet today.

The name ‘bean’ (like nuthas been extended from the original discoveries like broad beans, chickpeas, and the like to cover a variety of edible pod-borne seeds. These encompass not only the new world soybean and pea, but also some plants with only a scant resemblance such as coffee, vanilla, and cocoa beans.

Today, a variety of beans can be purchased dry for long term storage, but will need additional prep before eating; this can involve extended soaking in water or cooking in a pressure cooker. Beans of different types are also available canned; while plate-ready, store-bought beans preserved in this manner generally have a high sodium content and frequently include additional chemicals as part of the canning process.

A selection of beans from the author's pantry

If growing beans at home, an important detail to keep in mind is many varieties of beans are vine-based plants and need something to climb for optimal health and productivity. This can be as simple as a garden stake next to the plant, or more involved items such as a trellis or fencing. This element was an integral part of the Three Sisters method of planting which allowed the beans to use the corn stalks for support.

As with rice and pasta, beans are a dietary staple in our home. When many types of beans are combined with rice, the result is a complete protein, which means the dish contains enough of each of the nine essential amino acids necessary as part of a healthy diet. There are a wide variety of beans on the market and even more recipes for how to prepare them: some good, some not so good, and some rather surprising.

Barbeque beans, courtesy of the author's wife

One of the dishes my wife makes in the warmer months is Barbeque Beans. It’s a very simple dish: three 12 oz cans of beans heated in a pot on the stove, then BBQ sauce added to taste and consistency. For variety, she usually uses a mix of beans; in this example, Red Kidney, Great Northern, and Black beans. On occasion, she’ll add browned ground beef to the mix and call the resulting dish “Red, White, and Moo.”

Available commercially canned, dry, or frozen, and in varieties easily grown in a container garden, beans are an important part of our diet and a good staple (along with rice) in every prepper’s pantry.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Reloading: Brass Cleaning

One of the things I mentioned in my reloading overview post was starting with clean cartridge cases. The importance of using clean brass cannot be overstated.

When fired, the inside and outside of a cartridge case is covered in gunshot residue (GSR). Gunshot residue is primarily the result of incomplete combustion of smokeless powder, possibly combined with any lubricant used on the bullet or in the bore of the gun. If fired in a semiautomatic firearm, the case will also pick up grit and debris from landing on the ground. 

All of these contaminants are much more likely to damage your reloading dies by scratching their insides, and they also increase your chance of getting a case stuck. This means that your cases need to be cleaned well. Luckily for you, there are several ways to achieve this goal.

L-R: Dirty; vibratory cleaned; wet cleaned cases

The most common type of brass cleaning equipment is the traditional vibratory case cleaner, which is made up of a bowl that contains the cleaning media and the brass on top and an off balance electric motor underneath. In operation, the motor generates vibrations which propagate through the bowl, causing friction between the media and the brass, scrubbing off contaminants.
Vibratory Case Cleaner

These cleaners are sold either on their own, or as part of a kit that includes a media separator. (An even simpler media sifter is also available.) Speaking of media, there are two types available: corn cob and crushed walnut hull.
  • Corn cob media is softer and generally less expensive. While it doesn’t clean as efficiently as crushed walnut hull, it does produce shinier brass. 
    • Even though the price for corn cob media is fairly reasonable, blast media is basically the same thing and can be found for an even lower cost.
  • Crushed walnut hull media is more aggressive in cleaning, but doesn’t generate as shiny a finish. However, it is usually more expensive than corn cob. 
    • Lizard litter for reptile terrariums is generally the exact same stuff, but at a lower price.
Brass polish can be added to either type of media if shinier brass is desired.

Corn Cob (L) and Walnut (R) cleaning media

    An alternative that’s been getting more popular over the past decade or so is wet tumbling using stainless steel pins as the media. The canister is loaded with brass, water, pins, and any additional cleaner (I use a couple tablespoons of dish detergent), then put on the base unit which rolls the drum for a set amount of time agitating the contents and cleaning the brass. This can produce brass that is nearly as clean as unfired, factory-new cases.

    Wet Tumbler with Stainless Steel Pins and Magnet

    Separation of the stainless steel pins from the brass is a bit more involved than with the dry media system, and a magnet can be very helpful. The brass and pins will also require a drying stage, either by letting them sit out to air dry, or run through some form of heated drying system.

    A tumbler style brass cleaner for use with either dry or wet media can also be made at home. There are a variety of designs, such as this one; other designs use a robust electric motor (like those found on treadmills), a five gallon bucket, a gamma seal lid, and a few other components.

    Hopefully this information is interesting and useful to those of our readers who are considering getting into reloading, are new to reloading, or even those who are already experienced reloaders.

    In the meantime, keep your powder dry and your brass clean.

    Friday, May 6, 2022

    Growing Zones

    Winter is over, so it's time to get into the fields and gardens and start growing things. 

    I've been seeing a lot of interest in growing food as a result of increases in food prices and reductions in availability in stores. The reasons for inflated prices and shortages are varied and get into the arena of politics, which we don't enter. This is not a blog that places blame; we're here to help people get through tough times no matter who or what is the cause. Believe what you want and blame whomever you want, the methods of surviving bad times are the same.

    When food is being rationed, and it can happen again, being able and willing to grow at least some of your own can make life more bearable and might open up lines of barter with neighbors. 

    Growing your own food isn't anything new. As little as 80 years ago "victory gardens" were encouraged during WW2 in order to free up food production for the soldiers, sailors, and marines fighting overseas, and they were common practice for everyone who had the space. If you look back more than 100 years, growing your own food was essential for anyone living outside of cities. Go back even further, or look at other areas of the world, and you'll see that growing food is a personal responsibility that we've seemingly grown beyond. This reliance on industrial food production is an aberration in human history, a temporary pause in the way things normally work. It can change rapidly, and history shows that is has happened before. 

    Does the Irish potato blight ring a bell? A system of tenant-farmers with no control over what they planted led to a monoculture agricultural scheme (nothing but potatoes, which meant high profits for the landowners) ripe for a plant disease outbreak. Millions starved, or were forced to move in order to stay alive.

    Early settlers in North America ran into the same issue with tobacco: the profit margin was so great that they grew tobacco rather than food and ended up starving in early Virginia history*.  The prevailing land grant system didn't help matters, and ended up being one of the causes of chattel slavery in US history.

    Even today, a crop failure can mean the loss of everything to a farmer. It only takes one bad year to wipe out savings and force the sale of the land they rely on to make a living. The "500 year" floods that we've seen three times in the last 20 years have pushed many families off of land that has been in their families for generations. Reports of farmers on food stamps are real, even if they are hard to believe.

    Grow Your Own
    Growing your own food can be a major part of your everyday preps if you have the space. Land is nice to own, and I'd rather tend a garden than mow grass. If you made the mistake of buying into a HOA-controlled area, you may have limits on how big your garden can be and where it can be placed, so check your by-laws. 

    The next step is to find out what will grow in your area. The USDA has produced a "Hardiness Zone" map that most seed and plant sellers will use to determine is a specific variety is suitable for your location. Even though it's called a "Hardiness" map, it also serves as a good representation of the growing seasons for each region. Here's the map, courtesy of the USDA so it's in the public domain:

    As you can see from the legend, each zone is designated by the minimum low temperature for each location. I'm in the middle of Zone 5, which means that it will get down to -10 to -20 °F in the dead of winter. This limits what perennial plants will survive a normal winter to the more hardy plants. I can forget about the bananas and papaya, at least if I want to grow them outdoors. 

    Seed sellers will also use this map for annual plants, usually printing a range of zones that a specific variety is suitable to grow in. If I see "suitable for zones 4-7", I can be reasonably certain that I will have good results in zone 5.

    Find your zone and memorize it. You'll need it when you go shopping for seeds and plants.

    * The last paragraph mentions lack of food because it was more profitable to grow tobacco. 

    Tuesday, May 3, 2022

    Prepper's Pantry: Nuts

    A food item that’s good for long term storage, is energy and nutrition dense, and can be eaten as-is or combined with other ingredients, are nuts and their biological or culinary cousins.

    From the perspective of science, nuts are considered fruits with a hard shell which protects an edible inner kernel. Examples include acorns, chestnuts, and hazelnuts (or filberts). While almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts are not botanically considered nuts, they have been accepted into that culinary family. The all-encompassing term for both groupings is tree nuts.

    (Editrix's Note: I have an irresistible urge to say "How 'bout TREE nuts?!" That is all.)

    Peanuts are considered nuts in a culinary sense, but actually are not nuts at all; they are properly members of the legume family alongside beans, soybeans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils.

    A selection of nuts from the author's pantry

    One of my favorite uses of peanuts for cooking is in Asian recipes. While this particular example is somewhat ingredient intensive, it makes a delicious meal. I usually serve it with rice.

    Instant Pot Kung Pao Chicken

    Kung Pao Chicken with a side of Fried Rice


    • 1/4 cup sesame oil (any kind)
    • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced longways into 1” strands
    • 1 bunch scallions, sliced, separate the light green bottom and the dark green top
    • 1 green bell pepper, coarsely diced
    • 1 red bell pepper, coarsely diced
    • 3 tablespoons (6 cloves) crushed garlic
    • 2-3 pounds chicken breasts, cut into 1″ cubed bite-sized pieces
    • 1 cup chicken broth
    • 1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
    • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
    • 2 tablespoons cooking sherry
    • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
    • 1/4 cup oyster sauce (or half and half hoisin sauce and soy sauce)
    • 2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
    • 1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
    • 3 tablespoons cornstarch + 3 tablespoons water, mixed together to form a slurry
    • 1 cup roasted, salted or dry peanuts, as well as some for garnish

    Other vegetables such as carrots, mushrooms, water chestnuts or baby corn can be added at Step 1 while sautéing the veggies.


    1. Add the sesame oil to the Instant Pot, set to “Sauté” on the “More” or “High” setting. 
    2. Allow it to heat for three minutes and then add onion, peppers and soft green portion of the scallions. 
    3. Sauté for 3 minutes and then add garlic. Sauté for 1 more minute.
    4. Add the chicken and sauté for another 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until pinkish-white in color (it shouldn’t be fully cooked by now).
    5. Add in the broth and deglaze the bottom of the bottom of the pot so anything that may have stuck onto it comes up. 
    6. Follow up by adding in the soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and cooking sherry. Give everything a good stir.
    7. Secure the lid, move the valve to sealing position, set to “Pressure Cook” on High Pressure for 7 minutes. Quick release when done.
    8. Set to “Sauté” on the “More” or “High” setting again. As it comes to a bubble, add in the oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, peanut butter, and chili garlic sauce. Stir well. 
    9. When bubbling stir in the cornstarch slurry, allow to bubble for 1 minute and then turn the pot off.
    10. Finally, stir in the peanuts and whiter, crunchier portion of the scallions.

    Nuts are commonly used in baking. They are added to everything from cookies, to pastries, to yeast breads. This perennial favorite is a variation of the recipe from my post on quick breads and is an excellent companion to a nice hot cup of Assam-based tea.

    Cranberry Almond Scones

    Scones hot from the oven


    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1 tablespoon baking powder
    • ½ teaspoon baking soda
    • ½ to 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
    • ½ to 1 cup raw almonds, coarsely chopped
    • 6 tablespoons butter at room temperature
    • 4 tablespoons of sugar
    • 1 to 1¼ cups buttermilk


    1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
    2. In a large bowl, blend the dry ingredients.
    3. Cut in the butter until the mixture has the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs.
    4. Stir in the buttermilk, but for no more than 20 seconds.
    5. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and knead gently 8 to 10 times, adding more flour as needed.
    6. Tear off chunks of dough or scoop out large spoonsful, and arrange them on a well-greased cookie sheet.
    7. Turn the oven down to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Larger scones take a longer time. They should be just starting to brown when you take them out.
    8. Let rest on a cooling rack.

    Whether as a snack or part of a recipe or travel food like trail mix, nuts are an excellent source of nutrients in a compact package and, barring allergies, should have a place in every prepper's pantry.

    Sunday, May 1, 2022

    White, Red, Green, Blue

    Not actually Erin.
    & is used with permission.
    A few weeks ago I talked about a head lamp with red and green lights. I thought that now would be a good time to talk about the benefits of each type of light. 

    White Light
    This is what you get when you turn on a regular light. Your eyes are optimized for it, so even a small amount can be seen quite far away; I've read in multiple sources that a healthy, average eye can see the flicker of a candle from over a mile away, which makes it ideal for signaling for help. It also allows you to see all colors, which can be important if you're reading a map. 

    White light also has its downsides. Its incredible distance means it can easily give away your position if you're trying to be stealthy or spook animals when hunting. It also causes your pupils to contract, which means anything not illuminated by the light is effectively invisible, and if you shine your light into someone's eyes you can temporarily blind them and leave them seeing spots. While this is a great prank on campouts, it can have tragic consequences in emergencies.

    Red Light
    The most common nonstandard light, red light has a much lower intensity than white. This means it doesn't cause your pupils to contract as much, preserving your night vision. It also doesn't travel as far, making it useful for when you need light but don't want to be obtrusive, such as when you're threading your way through tents on your way to the latrine. Many animal species aren't spooked by red light. 

    On the other hand, because red light isn't as energetic as white it doesn't throw as far before it begins to diffuse, which gives it a less effective distance. I've found that red is best saved for close-up work unless the lumen output is 500 lumens or more, and even then I prefer a different color. For me, red is a "ten feet or less" light. 

    Green Light
    The human eye can discern more shades of green than any other color, which is why night vision devices use that color. While it doesn't preserve night vision quite as well as red, nor does it throw as far as white, it's an excellent compromise between the two. Additionally, green light doesn't seem to spook most animals (including fish), so it's ideal for night hunting.

    Its limitations are also a compromise: green goes further and seems brighter than red, so it's easier to dazzle or disturb people with it, and while it provides good contrast there are times you need to see different colors and not just shades of green. 

    Blue Light
    I confess that I don't have much experience with blue light filters. I am told that it is ideal for tracking wounded prey, although I would have thought that since red is the opposite of green, blood would be a starker contrast under green light rather than blue. What I will tell you is that orange, specifically signal orange aka hunter orange, is practically fluorescent under blue light (or at least under the blue filter of my headlamp). I'm also told that blue light cuts through fog, but I have no experience in that regard. 

    Blue is a high-energy wavelength, so it has nearly the same drawbacks as white light in terms of dazzle, disturbance and loss of night vision, while at the same time damaging night vision. 

    If you have experience with a blue light, please weigh in. 

    In addition to the Red/Green/White LED headlamp I reviewed here, I bought a set of red, green, and blue screw-on lenses from Amazon for $14. 


    While they are designed for the 1,000 lumen $56 Eagle Beam headlamp, they are completely compatible with the much cheaper $15 Dland headlamp reviewed here. In fact, given the near-identical nature between the two, I believe the Dland to be a knockoff of the Eagle Beam. 

    In an emergency, you can also wrap colored cellophane (or packing tape colored in with markers) over your light. While inexpensive, these lack durability but will do in a pinch. 

    In Conclusion
    Regardless of whether they are filters or colored LEDs, every prepper needs a lamp capable of producing red, green, and white light. Blue seems like a luxury to me as I am not a hunter, but having options (especially lightweight and inexpensive options) is a good thing. 

    The Fine Print

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

    Creative Commons License

    Erin Palette is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.