Thursday, April 25, 2024

Prepper's Pantry: Hot Sauces

As I've mentioned in some of my other food related articles (spices, canning [1 and 2], and pickling), home-preserved foods are generally nutritious and filling but can eventually get monotonous. There are many different additives available to add variety to meals, the simplest and most common being salt to enhance flavor and pepper to add some zing. Another option, and one with great variety, is hot sauce. 

My Wife and I grow some form of hot pepper in our garden most years. In addition to using them throughout the growing season, we also preserve them in different ways: sliced and frozen; in salsa, which is also frozen; dried and crushed; bottled in vinegar; and, of course, in hot sauce. We make a number of different hot sauces of different levels of heat and flavor, depending on the harvest and our mood. Neither of us likes heat for the sake of heat, preferring flavor with some spice. With that in mind, we also make some hotter sauces that are intended for use in soups or stews, where a tablespoon of hot sauce will go a long way.

Speaking of heat, peppers are measured on the Scoville Scale, starting with the sweet bell pepper and going up through the truly insane.

Scoville Scale

At their most simple, hot sauces are an acid (such as cider vinegar) and a flavoring (such as hot pepper paste). Frequently, salt will be added for its preservative and flavor-enhancing properties. In the following recipes, carrots are used as a thickener and to moderate the heat level. Habaneros are obviously not the only peppers that can be used; feel free to substitute different peppers and experiment.
When making hot sauce at home, the most important precaution is to avoid transferring any of the spice molecules to your mucous membranes, such as your eyes, nose, mouth, or genitals. Gloves and goggles or lab glasses can help with this, as can rigorous washing-up.

Habanero Hot Sauce
  • 1 ½ cups chopped carrots
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 ½ cups lime juice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (minimum)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup chopped habaneros, about 12 chilis (minimum)

  1. Combine all the ingredients, except the habaneros, in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes or until the carrots are soft.
  2. Add the habaneros and simmer until at the desired flavor and heat. Adjust the heat by adding more habaneros or by increasing the carrots, but this can alter the flavor.
  3. Place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Strain for a smoother sauce.
  4. Pour in sterilized jars and refrigerate.

Habanero Pepper Sauce
  • 12 habanero chilis, stems removed, chopped (minimum)
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (minimum)
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • ½ cup chopped carrots
  • ½ cup distilled vinegar
  • ¼  cup lime juice

  1. Sauté onion and garlic in oil until soft.
  2. Add carrots with a small amount of water.
  3. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer until carrots are soft.
  4. Place mixture in blender with chilis and puree until smooth.
  5. Combine puree with vinegar and lime juice; simmer 5 minutes to combine flavors.
  6. Put mixture into sterilized bottles and seal.

For those interested in more information, Ian (aka LawDog) has a good discussion on hot sauce characteristics which you can find here.

Bon appetit!

Friday, April 19, 2024

Guest Post: Sourdough Starter as a Prep

  by Weer'd Beard

Weer'd (that's how he spells his name) is a member of our Facebook Group and has written for us before. 

If you've spent any amount of time baking bread, you have likely read or heard about sourdough bread and the substance known as a "starter". So what is a sourdough starter?

Put simply, it's a colony of wild yeast and bacteria raised in a medium of flour and water, and any bread product leavened with this mixture (as opposed to commercial yeast) can be considered a sourdough bread.

Why is this relevant for preppers? 
  1. The biggest reason is that bread is a staple in most cultures around the world, and yeast is a requirement for a majority of these breads. As we saw in the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic, disruptions to the labor force and supply chain, plus a massive interest in hobby baking, meant that commercial yeast vanished from store shelves. There's no reason why this might not happen again.
  2. As you'll see in this article, making sourdough is very easy. Even if you decide that keeping a starter in your kitchen isn't for you, after you've learned the techniques I'm going to teach there's nothing stopping you from doing it in the future if you ever change your mind. 
  3. One component of the starter culture is yeast, but the other is the bacteria Lactobacillus which consumes the starches in your flour and produces carbon dioxide (which is our leavening gas) and lactic acid. The acidity of this starter is the "sour" in sourdough, but this acidity also has anti-fungal properties. This means  that products leavened with sourdough starter will be less likely to grow mold than products made with commercial yeast.
  4. A standard loaf of bread has just four ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast. Of all those ingredients, yeast has the shortest shelf-life, and even frozen commercial yeast will expire and die.
  5. Eating bread baked at home is going to be better for your health than eating store-bought bread, because there will be no need for the additives and preservatives that keep bread soft and fresh.
Hopefully I have your interest. Now let's get to work making a starter.

For reference, I relied heavily on this video and this website.

Growing a Sourdough Starter
First, you'll need a container. I panic-bought a bunch of commercial yeast during the pandemic and I was worried it would die, so I ended up spending a lot of time talking about sourdough before I actually started making it. 

Because of that, my wife bought me this kit, which is nice but honestly not necessary. You'll be fine with any glass container that has a wide mouth and relatively straight sides, so a drinking glass, a pickle or tomato sauce jar, a canning jar, etc. and a paper towel, a piece of cloth or a clean rag secured with a rubber band or twine is just fine. (Also, remember to save the cap if you re-purpose a jar. I'll explain why later.)

After you thoroughly clean and rinse your container, add about two tablespoons of flour and two tablespoons of water to the bottom of the jar and mix them well. For this initial phase I suggest that you use water that's been de-chlorinated (well water, bottled water, or water that has been boiled but then allowed to cool to room temperature) and whole wheat flour. This will likely work with tap water and AP flour, but whole wheat and chlorine-free water will give the wild microbes a bit of an advantage to start out.

Keep the jar someplace warm but sheltered from sunlight. If you have a place where you keep your fresh fruits or vegetables on the counter, that would be ideal. Fruits and vegetables will also have wild yeast growing on them, so in theory the air around these will have more spores and will foster growth.

After 24 hours, give it a good mix and scoop out about half the material (about 1 tablespoon) and replace it with an additional tablespoon of fresh flour and water. Give it another good mix and scrape down the sides as best you can. The fresh flour and water will give the microbes fresh nutrients to grow, and by removing half the material you're giving better odds that the microbes you end up growing will be the right kind. The scraping isn't necessary for the starter's survival, but once flour and water dry they turns into library paste and will make a mess and make it harder to see the progress, so this is more of a quality of life kind of thing. 

Every day for a week you'll want to do the same thing: mix, discard, add, mix, scrape. By about day three or four you'll start seeing bubbles and activity. At this point you should start smelling the mixture before you discard half. 

You see, we co-evolved with these microbes, and the waste products of these critters (lactic acid for the Lactobacillus and ethanol for the yeast) are not only chemicals that are safe for humans to consume, they are also lethal to many bacteria and fungi that might make us sick. Because of this you will likely start noticing a pleasant smell coming from the mixture, and what it smells like will vary from house to house and may change over time.

When my starter first started, the smell reminded me of stale beer. This summer, it took on a scent more like overripe fruit. Now that the weather has gone cold, the smell reminds me more of a really nice aged cheddar. My buddy who lives in the next town has a starter that smells more like an aged Parmesan cheese.

My point is that the smells coming from this should be invoking scents that remind you of foods or drinks, not of unpleasant objects like a wet dog, dirty feet, or dirty laundry. In the event that your mixture starts smelling foul, don't give up yet. Keep dividing and feeding it for another week and see if things improve, as there's a good chance the yeast and lactobacilli will crowd out whatever nasty critters have taken up residence.

After your first week you should start seeing noticeable activity in your jar, and you can start feeding it twice a day. Once a starter has been sitting for a few hours, it starts developing a foamy top layer with a layer of liquid over the less active bottom layer.

I like to think of that line as a "fuel gauge". When a starter is freshly fed that line of liquid will be evenly distributed, but after a while a well-fed starter will be mostly foam with a small line of liquid near the bottom. When you see this line, stir it up so that the top doesn't dry out and form a crust and see where the next line forms. 

If a head doesn't form and the liquid rises to the top, then the bulk of the starches have been consumed and the starter is ready to be fed again.

After about 10-14 days your starter should be very active when fed and have a pleasant smell. Once this happens you can start maintaining it, and a well-maintained starter should rarely need to be discarded.

Maintaining Established Starters
Now you can start gaining volume if you need it; just remember to feed at least roughly half the volume in the jar of flour and water. You can also switch to tap water and AP flour if you desire (I use tap water, but I still use whole wheat starter because I feel it's better for the microbes and a small amount of whole wheat flour makes for a better bread).

Always remember to leave plenty of space at the top of the jar, because it will expand as the microbes consume the starches! 

If you have a good volume of starter and you think it'll be a few days before you need it, you can cover it with the solid lid and put it in the fridge for up to a week.

Using Your Starter
The easiest answer is to look up sourdough bread recipes and follow those, but you can also convert existing recipes to sourdough by adding a volume of starter instead of the yeast, and then subtracting that volume of flour and water equivalent to that volume of starter. The standard rule of thumb is "1 cup of starter is equal to one packet of yeast (which is a little more than 2 teaspoons of active dry yeast) then subtract one cup of flour, and one cup of water."

This conversion will require longer rise times because wild yeast isn't a race horse bred for speed like commercial yeast is. Because of this, I prefer using less yeast and taking a longer time.

Here are two recipes to try out.

Whole Wheat Sourdough Sandwich Bread
This is a conversion from the bread found here

In a bowl, add:
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat sourdough starter
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3 cups AP flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups water
  1. Mix well to combine, then give the dough at least 8 hours to rise.
  2. Once risen, pour into a greased loaf pan and allow to proof until it's close to the top of your pan (note that the rise time won't be too different between starter and conventional yeast, but the proof time will be at doubled at the very least, depending on the air temperature).
  3. Place proofed dough in 450 degree oven for 30 mins. Then take loaf out of the pan and allow it to cool on a rack before cutting.

Sourdough Crackers
Since these crackers use no oil, and the sourdough starter has lowered the PH of the cracker they will keep for a very long time in an airtight container.
  • 1/4 cup sourdough starter
  • 2 cups AP flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup cold water
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Dough should be soft but not sticky. Let rise at least 8 hours.
  2. Give dough a quick knead until smooth, then turn out onto a floured surface (divide dough into manageable pieces) and roll out into a rectangle approximately 1/8". 
  3. Salt the surface and roll the salt in, adding other seeds or spices if desired.
  4. Take a fork and prick the surface evenly. If you skip this step the crackers will puff up like oyster crackers, which isn't a bad thing. 
  5. Cut to size using a pizza cutter or a sharp knife.
  6. Place pieces on a baking sheet, making sure they have a little space between each cracker, and put into a 400 degree oven for about 10-15 mins. Watch closely because once the crackers start to lightly toast they are done, but they will go from toasted to burnt very quickly.
You can double this recipe just by doubling the flour, water, and salt, and keeping the same amount of starter.

Tips for Managing Sourdough
If you happen to use up all your starter while baking, simply add more flour and water to the dirty container. There are enough microbes remaining to completely revive the starter.

Once your starter is established, I recommend freezing at least a cup's worth. In the freezer, a starter will last at least one year with no maintenance. To use simply thaw it, feed it as soon as it becomes liquid, and it's ready to use as soon as it's frothy and active again.

To make a large batch of starter you can just put a small amount of starter in a bowl and simply put equal parts flour and water in and give it a good stir. It'll be all starter by the next day.

I hope you found this guide useful and can see the advantages of knowing how to make and use sourdough starter as a prepper resource!

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Text, History, and Tradition

As regular readers know, I am Jewish. As more attentive readers know, Passover begins towards the end of April. As even more observant readers know, Purim was just celebrated in March. What does all this have to do with prepping? In the immortal words of Tevya, Tradition!

There are many types of traditions. In addition to secular holidays and religious events, some families have game night, others have leftover night, and there's always Taco Tuesday

Being able to follow traditions, even in harsh conditions, can be of immense benefit to emotional and psychological survival. For example, during the Holocaust, groups of Jewish prisoners in the concentration camps scrounged enough supplies to celebrate the Passover Seder. They did this even knowing if they were caught they would be punished, tortured, and even killed. After the war, some of the survivors credited this type of action with aiding their survival. It gave them hope, reminded them of better times, and helped them remember they weren't alone. Their first Passover after liberation was particularly joyful, for they had survived.

On a lighter note, parents of small children should have a few favorite books, either paper or electronic, for bedtime stories or activities. There are books I re-read when I feel overwhelmed or especially stressed. Having a copy of these to revisit during a survival situation, an environment high in both stress and overwhelming emotions, would likely help me persevere. This turns simple books into respites of immense value.

There are also travel and e-versions of many popular games. These may take up a little space and add a small amount of weight, but they can also create a positive psychological difference out of proportion to these concerns.

When are are planning your preps, don't forget that psychological and emotional health is just as important as physical health.

What traditions do you think would be of particular benefit during survival situations?

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Prepper's Pantry: Yogurt Bread

This is an extremely simple bread with a prep time measured in minutes. Including baking, the entire process took me less than an hour from start to finish. It's perfect for those days where bread is desired, but time is limited.

Yogurt Bread


  • 3 Cups self-rising flour or all-purpose flour
  • 5 tsp Baking powder
  • ¾ - 1 tsp salt
  • 1 ¾ Cups lowfat vanilla yogurt 
    • (if using Greek yogurt, increase to 2 Cups)


  1. Combine flour and yogurt in a large bowl. Mix with a spatula until no lumps of flour remain. Hand mixing may be required. When done, the dough should be moist and slightly sticky. Add small amounts of flour or yogurt to get the desired texture.

    Dough mixed and ready

  2. Grease or line a loaf pan with parchment paper and add the dough. Use the spatula to smooth and level the surface if desired.

    In the parchment paper-lined loaf pan

  3. Bake in a preheated 375° F oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the surface is lightly browned.

    Fresh out of the oven

  4. Cool on a baking rack before slicing.

    Transferring to the cooling rack
This bread has a slightly heavy texture and a rich flavor. It can be eaten as-is, but works wonderfully with a fruit spread or honey for breakfast, or any other time. There's also an alternate version that uses sour cream in place of the yogurt I intend to try as well.

The crumb

Bon appetit.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Guest Post: Disaster Entertainment Options

  by George Groot

George is a member of our Facebook Group and has written for us before. 

Years ago, the tornado warning siren went off in our neighborhood. We took the kids to the basement and brought along a laptop so they could watch some cartoons while we waited for the storm to pass. We’ve since moved away from that area, and now live in a home without a basement, so our tornado room is an internal bathroom where we keep some basic survival kit under the sink. But if we lose power for days (such as after a hurricane) I still want to keep the boys and myself entertained, and that means having battery-powered devices or options that don’t require batteries. 

Streaming services such as Netflix, Spotify, YouTube, Hulu, Crunchyroll, Amazon, Disney+, etc. all offer complete libraries of drama, romance, adventure, comedy, and horror at the convenience of nearly any screen capable of accessing the internet. This is an incredible bargain for a lot of people who don’t have the means to purchase physical media of every movie, TV show, or program that they find entertaining. However, it also means that entertainment is connected to steady broadband internet access that’s not always available during or after an emergency. In fact, once you get through an emergency there can be a lot of time spent just waiting for normal to return.

In the spirit of You Always Have Other Options (YAHOO), here are the options as I see them:
  1. Physical books. The great thing about the dead tree format is that it doesn’t need to be recharged. However books can be bulky, and it can get expensive to keep expanding on your private library just in case a disaster happens. My wife and I love shopping in thrift stores for used books, and often they have a good selection of DVDs.
  2. Physical disks. DVD or Blu-ray disks are “old tech” at this point, but they last indefinitely if they are not all scratched up. These can be used with DVD or Blu-ray players and a screen, or they can be played on a computer, such as a laptop. Not every laptop comes with a built-in DVD drive these days, so we’ll look at that in a bit. We have a habit of shopping for bargains in the $5 bin at Walmart for DVDs or Blu-ray disks.
  3. Digital copies of books. A Kindle or e-reader can store lots of ebooks and last quite a bit of time on battery power. These are much more compact than the dead tree format, but are also a single point of failure if the device breaks. Erin wrote an article about her “Survival e-Reader” years ago. 
  4. Digital copies of visual media. You just store these as files on your local disk, or on your network attached storage device. If you set up a media server, like Jellyfin or Plex, you can even have the server handle transcoding duties to save battery life on your display device for movies and TV shows. If you don’t want to set up a home server you can use a USB drive of sufficient size to store the digital copies, and plug that external drive into a playback device.
  5. Digital music. I know there are audiophiles that would rather listen to the end of the world on vinyl than any other format, but for the rest of us it's very easy to rip our music to digital format and use an old smartphone as a playback device with cheap earbuds kept on hand. 
BCP isn't a tech support blog, so the hardware and software needed to build and deploy a home server that serves as network attached storage and media server is beyond the scope of this article, but a quick search on any search engine will show you many step-by-step guides to doing that particular chore. However, even as a tech guy I don’t recommend putting all your eggs in the digital basket. I realized quite quickly that a home server is a “nice to have”, not a necessity for keeping kids entertained.

Getting Started
My recommendation is to get started with physical disks, physical books, a low power draw/long battery life laptop such as an Ultrabook, and a USB disk player if you need one. This will cover the vast majority of entertainment needs for children of all ages, and most disruptions are measured in hours instead of days.

The next upgrade from there is the external USB storage device, but you’ll want a big one. A normal DVD contains about 4.7 gigabytes of data, so I don’t recommend drives less than 4 terabytes for spinning hard drives, or 2 terabytes for solid state drives (SSD). You will also need some method of recharging batteries, which can be as simple as a 12V plug into a vehicle accessory outlet, or as complex as an off-grid generation system. 

To “rip” media from disk to digital format you’ll want a more powerful computer than a low power draw laptop, but you’ll not need something bleeding edge tech either. You will need some ripping software like HandBrake or MakeMKV, and of the two I prefer MakeMKV (they release a free serial number every month for people using their beta version). Any 4th gen or newer Intel chip (Haswell or newer) with 4 cores should be sufficient for the task. You could get away with older CPUs, but it’ll just take longer per disk.

A word of caution about Chromebooks: while they have a very low power draw and generally a very long battery life, they will often be unable play DVDs through a USB attached disk drive. The version of Linux that ChromeOS is based on doesn't have the proprietary software enabled, which is why I recommend a good Windows or Apple laptop with long battery life for most people. If you are experienced with Linux, you don't need my advice on how to modify them. 

However, if you decide to go the home media server route, Chromebooks access those digital files through a web browser and work well as a cheap terminal for kids. If you have a machine that can rip those disks to an external disk drive using HandBrake or MakeMKV, then the Chromebook should be just fine as a playback device even through USB. A second word of caution about Chromebooks: if you buy them used you run the risk of getting an “end of life” product without any security update support.

What I Do
In my house we use all of these options:
  • If the internet goes down, but not power, we have a home media server.
  • If internet and power go down, we have laptops, disks, books, and the ability to use external drives. 
  • If we need to recharge, and our vehicles are functional, I have a 1500 watt inverter to recharge devices. 
  • My “to be read” pile of sci-fi novels keeps growing....
My wife has collapsed the disk collection we have down to boxes and books, minimizing the size/volume footprint for storing disks (It also means we dispose of the DVD jackets that take up a lot of space). After I rip them to digital format and put them on the Jellyfin server she has access to them as long as the house has power (or the UPS hasn’t died), but we still keep all the disks because it eliminates the server as a single point of failure. 

As Erin as said, “Morale is an important part of survival, and anything that makes your life better and takes your mind off boredom or miserable conditions is worthwhile.” This is especially true if you have children who are too little to be helpful, as keeping them happily entertained can keep you sane. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Rollin', Rollin', Rollin' with a Gear Cart

In a previous post I talked about disabilities and physical limitations. I mentioned that due to my current circumstances, I was focusing on bug in rather than bug out preps. However, since more options are always better, I started considering ways to make bugging out easier.

One of the things our lovely editrix has spoken of in the past is her deer cart for transporting items during a bug out situation. In fact, after I submitted my above-mentioned post, she brought it to my attention again.

While this is an excellent choice in many situations, a two-wheeled cart doesn't offer sufficient stability for me given my balance issues. But as it turns out, I had purchased a four-wheeled folding cart from Costco in August of 2022 for under a hundred dollars for a completely unrelated purpose. As is usual with my preps this particular model no longer seems to be on the market, though there are similar items still available.

The cart in open configuration

The cart is somewhat bulky to store, but it folds and unfolds readily with no tools required. The pull handle can be locked in both the collapsed and extended positions, and can also be latched to the frame of the cart.

The cart in folded configuration

With a 300 lbs maximum load its carrying capacity is lower than Erin's deer cart, but it's likely more than sufficient for our needs. I've filled it with firearms and cans of ammo and pulled across the gravel parking lot and ramps at a local shooting range, as well as packed it with boxes of books maneuvering through a parking garage and convention center, and its performance was stellar in both situations.

The cart can fit up to four large orange cats.

In conclusion, while bugging in may still be a better option for me under current circumstances, I now have a viable option in case bugging out on foot is required.

The Fine Print

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

Creative Commons License

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