Thursday, December 21, 2023

Prepper's Pantry: Hanukkah Treats

I meant to get this post out last week, but life intervened. However, while it's too late for Hanukkah this year, hopefully our readers can take part in the tradition of eating fried foods at this time next year.

One of the main elements of Hanukkah is the miracle of the oil: only one day's supply was available, yet it burned for eight days. In recognition of this, foods fried in oil are common in Jewish homes during the holiday.

Potato Latkes
Diverging from that tradition in the interests of health, these latkes are baked in the oven instead of fried in oil. We've found it best to use a smooth cooking sheet, not grooved, as the additional surface contact seems to help the latkes hold together.

  • 4 large potatoes (about 10 oz each)
  • 1/2 small chopped onion
  • 1 egg or 1/4 Cup egg substitute
  • 1/4 Cup matzo meal
  • Minced garlic to taste (optional)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • Cooking spray

  1. In a large bowl, combine egg (or egg substitute), matzo meal, onion, garlic (optional), salt and pepper.
  2. Grate the potatoes. Squeeze out any excess moisture. Combine with the egg mixture. (Note: Do not grate potatoes ahead of time.)
  3. Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Coat baking sheet with cooking spray. Place twelve 1/4 cups of latke mixture on sheet and flatten; coat with cooking spray. Bake until pancakes are crisp, 30 minutes, turning over after 15 minutes.
  4. Serve with sour cream, apple sauce, or try some with each.

These little jelly doughnuts take some effort, but they are totally worth it and make for a special treat. Don't sprinkle the powdered sugar on them until just before serving, though, or it will be absorbed by the doughnut and disappear.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the baking sheet and rolling out the dough
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup warm whole milk (105°F to 115°F)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/4 stick), at room temperature
  • 6 cups (1 1/2 quarts) vegetable or canola oil, for frying, plus more for coating the bowl
  • 2/3 cup smooth jam or jelly
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

Special Equipment
  • 2-inch round cutter
    • If none are available, a drinking glass of the same size can be used
  • a candy/fat thermometer
  • a 12- to 18-inch pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch round tip to fill the donuts.

  1. Place the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk to combine. Add the yolks and milk and mix, using the hook attachment, on low speed until a shaggy dough forms (about 1 minute). Add the butter, increase the speed to medium, and mix until the dough is smooth, shiny, and elastic, about 5 minutes.
  2. Coat a large bowl with oil. Form the dough into a ball, place in the bowl, and turn to coat in the oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours).
  3. Lightly flour a baking sheet; set aside. Punch down the dough, transfer to a lightly floured work surface, and roll until about 1/4 inch thick. Using a 2-inch round cutter, stamp out as many dough rounds as possible and place on the prepared baking sheet about 1/2 inch apart. Gather the dough scraps into a ball and roll out again, stamping rounds until you have 30 total on the baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise in a warm place until puffy and about 1/2 inch thick, about 30 minutes.
  4. Place the vegetable or canola oil in a Dutch oven or a large, heavy-bottomed pot and set over medium heat until the temperature reaches 350°F on a candy/fat thermometer. Meanwhile, line a second baking sheet with paper towels and place a wire rack over the paper towels; set aside. Place the jam or jelly in a piping bag fitted with a 1/4-inch round tip; set aside.
  5. Using a flat spatula carefully transfer the dough rounds, one at a time, into the oil. Fry about 6 at a time, leaving at least 1 inch of space in between and keeping the oil temperature at 350°F. Adjust the stove’s heat as necessary to maintain a constant temperature. Fry until the bottoms are golden brown (about 1 1/2 minutes). Carefully flip with a fork and fry until the second side is golden brown (about 1 1/2 minutes more.) If air bubbles appear in the donuts, pierce with the tip of a paring knife. Remove with a slotted spoon to the wire rack. Repeat with the remaining dough rounds.
  6. When the donuts are cool enough to handle, use a paring knife to puncture the side of each to form a pocket in the center. Place the tip of the piping bag into the pocket and pipe about 1 teaspoon of jam or jelly inside. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

These treats aren't restricted just to Hanukkah; they can be made any time of year to add a little brightness when needed.

Happy Holidays and bon appetit!

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Prepper Christmas: the Worksharp

I've mentioned before that in my life I've owned ton of flashlights, but I've owned even more knives than that, and along with those blades I've owned approximately 13.2 million knife sharpeners. My grandfather taught me to sharpen knifes on traditional whetstones 30 years ago, and I own a set to this day. I also love both the Smith and Lansky quick sharpeners, I've spent a huge amount of time on an old Spyderco Tri-sharp, and various others that I can't recall. To put it mildly, I've got a pretty broad experience putting edges on blades.

In the way back early days of this blog, I admonished all of you never to use a grinder to sharpen a knife, and I hold to that admonition. Grinders remove material very rapidly, and can easily destroy an edge if you're not very careful. However, there is one tool I've found that eliminates virtually all of that risk: the Worksharp knife and tool sharpener

There are a few versions available, but my personal unit is the Mk 2. It has a two-position angle guide, using 25 degree angles for pocket and working knives and 20 degree angles for kitchen knives and other blades that need a finer edge. That blade guide, as well as speed settings designed to control the amount of material removed as well as the amount of heat imparted to the blade, protect against all of the major damage risks presented by freehand use of a grinder. 

The reason folks want to use grinders to sharpen knives is because they think the grinder will be fast, and they're right, in theory; the problem is that the speed of a grinder leaves zero room for error. It also imparts heat to the blade, which can destroy the temper (the heat treatment that gives a blade its hardness). The Worksharp is definitely faster than you can run a knife on a stone by hand, but moves much slower than a standard belt sander or grinding wheel. This limits the amount of heat that builds up in the blade, and gives some forgiveness if the user gets a bit off kilter on the angle pulling the blade through.

The kit comes with 6 belts in 3 grits. These are an 80 grit for very coarse sharpening; what Worksharp says is a 220 grit, though it feels far finer to me; and a 6000 grit extra fine for finishing. These do an adequate job of putting an edge on a knife, but they really feel lacking when taking a blade from stone dull or if the edge geometry needs changed to meet the new angles. Luckily, the Worksharp takes 1/2"x 12" belts, and variety packs are readily available.

Leather strop belts are also available for putting that super-clean final edge on. With a bit of practice and good belts, I can easily take a blade from stone dull to a quality level of sharpness in about 15 minutes. What's better, the way the guides are set up makes it almost impossible to screw up your blade while you're getting that practice.

There's a whole lot of ways to sharpen a blade. If you have someone in your life who makes serious use of a knife, this will almost certainly become one of their favorites.


Sunday, December 10, 2023

Prepper Presents: the Budget List

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping. 

In the almost ten years(!) that I've been writing here, there have been so many items to be added to a Budget Gift List that I'm having a hard time narrowing down what to feature here. To make life easier for me I'm going to list what folks have told me are their favorites.

Streamlight Pocket Mate
I bought this as a test item, but when the box was opened the Purple Pack Lady said, "OHHH, I like that! Thank you Honey! You are so good to me, Honey!" which I have learned means "This is now mine, and don't even think of getting it back, okay?" when translated from wife-speak to man-speak.

From the Amazon page:
  • No Standalone lithium batteries are sold with the product
  • Bright white LED with high and low mode: High: 325 lumens; 76m beam; runs 20 minutes Low: 45 lumens; 28m beam; runs 1 hour
  • Spring-loaded clip with carabiner shape hangs cleanly on key rings, zippers, lanyards, etc
  • Conveniently charges via USB power source, Lithium polymer battery charges in 4 hours
  • Multi-function push-button switch with charger indicator LED: Red = charging; Green = charged
The light is very useful, puts out more than enough light to see where you are walking, and has what I really think is a fantastic feature: a color-change recharging and charged indicator.

Hatori LED Mini Flashlight
I've mentioned these several different times as one of my favorite lights, not only for their size but also for the amount of light this tiny flashlight produces! One of these sits in each of my first aid kits, regardless if there are other lights around or not, so that I always know there will be a light handy.

From the Amazon page: 
  • Ultra Bright: This mini penlight gives out max 150 lumens. Super bright in a dark or lit room and lasts quite two hours with moderate use(keep on) on just one alkaline battery(not included), sufficient to light your way and light small dark spaces.
  • Pocket Size: This flashlight is small and light enough to slip into a pocket, backpack or purse. Super Mini size is lightweight and small enough for EDC and fits in the palm of your hand. Only weighting about 30g.
  • Clip on Flashlight: With a clip, the pen light could also be used as cap light for your convenience. Easy to clip to your belt, remove it if you don't need it.
  • Skid-Proof Water-Resistant Design: Suitable for cycling, hiking, camping and other outdoor activities. Our flashlight set is made of high quality 6061T aluminum alloy with no worried using in rain, snow or emergency situations.
  • Safe and Warranty Guarranteed: High-Efficiency and Great Output LED Chip with over charging protection, short circuit protection and reverse connected protection. All of Hatori Flashlights has 100% SATISFACTION GUARANTEE and NO HASSLE 90-DAY MONEY BACK GUARANTEE.
The Amazon link is to the four-pack of lights. If you're like me, there's always someone you know that can use a really good $5 flashlight!

Nitecore MH11 
This is definitely not what most would call a budget light, but it came so highly recommended that I need to include it.

From the Amazon page:
  • COMPACT EDC FLASHLIGHT - Nitecore MH11 is capable of 1000 lumen beam that throws 207 yards in distance. Ideal for edc, at only 5 inch long and 4 oz weight including battery.
  • USB-C RECHARGEABLE - fast charged via the built-in USB-C port on the side of the flashlight. The power indicator tells you the battery status and reminds you to recharge.
  • EASY TO OPERATE - full-press the tail switch to turn the light on and off while half-pressing to cycle through 4 brightness levels. Even remembers the brightness set.
  • PREMIUM QUALITY - built with tough aero grade aluminum and given an HA III finish. Rated IP68 waterproof and 1m impact resistant, MH11 can take a beating in the toughest environment.
  • POWER BUNDLE: MH11 flashlight, NL1826 (pre-installed), NL1834 (backup), USB-C charging cable, holster, lanyard, clip, LumenTac organizer
I have an older, now-discontinued Nitecore flashlight and this is the closest replacement to it in size, lumens, and ease of charging. My original came with a combination AC and car charger for the included batteries, but since everything seems to have a USB-C port now I will continue to recommend this one!

Rite in the Rain Weatherproof Clicker Pen
Everyone needs to write a note sometimes, and when the times are strange, having a pen that will write through anything can be a lifesaver. Paired with Rite in the Rain Notebooks (which I will discuss in my next post), these are included in every bag I have, plus in the cars and bike saddle bag.

From the Amazon page:
  • WRITES THROUGH: The permanent ink writes through water, grease, and mud without clumping or smearing.
  • PRESSURIZED CARTRIDGE: All-Weather cartridge is manufactured in the USA by Fisher Pen Company. The pressurized ink writes in temperatures from -30F to 250F, under water (up to 35 ft), and any angle.
  • PROPRIETARY INK: The ink and delivery system used exclusively in Rite in the Rain Refills will write without skipping in extremely wet conditions far better than other comparable weatherproof pens.
  • INK DELIVERY: Tiny pockets in the pen's tip will deliver ink in the worst conditions without allowing water or air back into the Cartridge.
  • RITE IN THE RAIN NOTEBOOKS: The most ideal pen for Rite in the Rain Weatherproof Notebooks.
I like the lighter-colored body, which (to me) makes this easier to see in low light or in the dark.

Sea to Summit Alpha Camping Cutlery Set
Since I bring my own food to work many days, I carry a set of my own utensils with me because expecting the store-supplied plastic forks to actually do a good job is a bet I don't like to take.

From the Amazon page:
  • Durable aluminum cutlery set for camping, backpacking, boating or picnics
  • Set includes serrated knife, fork, spoon, and mini carabiner to keep set together
  • Hard-anodized aluminum with smooth matte finish is tough and lightweight for lifelong use
  • Each piece has a hexagonal hole (3mm, 4mm or 5mm) in the handle which can be used as a wrench for stove repair
  • Each utensil measures just over size inches, and set weighs 37g; hand wash (should not be washed in a dishwasher)
The reason these shouldn't be washed in a dishwasher is because, per the manufacturer, "the cleanser used in dishwashers will damage the anodization."

These are just a few of the many things I could list, but for a starter set of cool additions, I'd be happy to get any of them!

* * *

Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!
If you have comments, suggestions or corrections, please post them so we all can learn. And remember, Some Is Always Better Than None!

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Presents for Gun Lovers (and other strangers)

With the winter gift giving holidays quickly approaching, I'd like to talk to the friends, partners, and spouses of our gun-loving readers as it can sometimes be challenging to find gifts for them if you don't speak our jargon or know firearms culture.

I’m not going to discuss gifting a firearm here as that should probably be its own post, mainly to explain some of the legal issues, both real and imagined, involved in buying a gun for someone else. Instead, I’ll start by dividing gun lover gifts into two main rough categories: firearm accessories and firearm-adjacent items. Though these overlap somewhat, they can be generally defined as follows:

Firearm accessories are items that interact directly with a gun, such as ammunition, magazines, optics, gun parts, slings, and holsters (both leather and Kydex).

840 Round Can of .223 Rem 55 Grain FMJ-BT Ammo by PMC
on AR15 Stripper Clips and Bandoleers in Ammo Can at

Firearm-adjacent items are things that go with guns but at a different level than the accessories previously mentioned. Examples are cleaning kitsbench matschronographseye and ear protection, and reference booksThis category also includes decorative items, including but not limited to posters, clothingand tin signs.

Tin Sign - Remington - Right of Way

Please note that not all of these items will appeal to every gun lover. For example, the Cowboy Action enthusiast may not appreciate a new Red Dot optic, just like the ardent two or three-gun competitor may not want a western-style leather cartridge belt.

Gift cards to a favorite website or local store, while less personal, are easily purchased and enable the gun lover to purchase exactly what they want. There's also the old trick of leaving a catalog lying around and noting which items your gun lover shows the most interest in. Something else to consider is that gun lovers don't  only want gun-related gifts! I'm also a kitchen person, and some of my most treasured presents are for use in that room.

Another gun lover gift idea is a trip to a firearm museum. I still remember with great fondness the time my then-girlfriend surprised me with a trip to the Remington Museum in Ilion NY, which sadly seems to be closed now. Years later, My Wife(tm) and I made a visit to the Springfield Armory National Historic Site in Massachusetts. There are many other museums around the world that either have a firearms exhibit, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, or specialize in firearm history, like the NRA Firearms Museum in Fairfax VA or the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming.

Cody Firearms Museum

Since she deals with her gun lover on a daily basis, I asked My Wife(tm) for her thoughts. She suggested a date at the range, and asking the gun lover to come up with a list of items to choose from. She went on to tell me that if they say "You should know" or something similar, the relationship is probably doomed. Then she laughed. I'm not sure if she was joking or not, but thankfully I've never done this.

Finally, there's the gift made by hand with love. Whether gun related or not, nothing can top this category. Many years ago, My Wife(tm) made me a selection of fabric pouches for taking my handguns to the range or classes, and I use them to this day.

Happy holidays, and here's to good memories.

The post was originally released as part of Episode 276 of the Assorted Calibers Podcast. As one of the "Gun Guys" of Blue Collar Prepping, I thought it would be useful to our readers here as well.

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