Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cell Phone Numbers for the New Year

A New Year's resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other ~Author Unknown
If you are considering resolutions to make for the New Year, permit me to add one to your list - add the following list of phone numbers to your cell phone address book.
  1. Poison Control: 1-800-222-1222. Of course call 9-1-1 for serious poisoning but suppose you just want to ask a question, "Johnny ate some fire ants, will he get sick?"
    [Urban Myth? A parent calls poison control about his child eating ants. Will he get sick? The answer is no. That's great news, says the parent, but just to be sure I fed my child some ant poison to kill the ants. Poison Control, responds, NOW we have an emergency...]
  2. ICE (In Case of Emergency) - first responders are now asked to check a cell phone for an entry called "ICE". It represents the person you want called in case you are incapacitated (or dead).
  3. Your Car Insurance Company - if you have an auto accident, call your insurer to find out what information you must collect and what actions you must take.
  4. Police Dept - for a simple accident with no need for an ambulance, call the police directly instead of using 9-1-1.
  5. Tow Truck Company or AAA - who you gonna call if your car breaks down? (NOT 9-1-1)
  6. Local Taxi Company - when the tow truck drives off with your broken down car, how will you get home?
  7. Your Boss - (continuing the auto accident theme) you'll want to call the office and let them know you'll be late.
  8. Your Next Door Neighbor - due to an accident or bad weather, perhaps you won't make it home tonight. Will your neighbor feed your cat?
  9. Your personal Doctor - your neck is sore after that car accident, better schedule an appointment.
  10. Power Company - you don't want to look up their number in the dark when you lose power do you?
  11. Favorite Take Out or Delivery Food - there are times I'm driving home and think, if only I knew the number of my favorite pizza place. I could order now and pick it up on the way home.

Bottom Line

Dial 9-1-1 when there is a medical, fire or police emergency, such as
• Life or lives are in danger
• A fire
• Serious injury
• Serious medical condition
• A serious crime in progress

9-1-1 is so convenient that Americans now call it for everything - directions when lost, to ask questions, etc. But this is WRONG. 9-1-1 is for serious emergencies only:
• Life or lives are in danger
• A fire
• Serious injury
• Serious medical condition
• A serious crime in progress

For all other situations use the phone numbers listed above and now stored in your cell phone!

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

911 for Special Needs

"Safety is a cheap and effective insurance policy" - Unknown
In the state of Connecticut, AT&T supports a 9-1-1 Special Needs program for your landline phone at home. Just fill out and mail this form to let 9-1-1 know of any of the following:
  • Blind
  • Cognitive Impaired or Psychiatric Impaired
  • Hard of Hearing / Deaf / TDD
  • Life Support System
  • Mobiliy Impaired
  • Speech Impaired

I have not found anything similar for other states but I did look at 9-1-1 services for the deaf.

Start with the website It has radio buttons to select the emergency - Police or Fire/Rescue and then a drop down box to select a state. I have not tested it beyond that since the site posts a warning against "prank" calls.

According to this article, the Los Angeles police dept is looking at ways to support 9-1-1 texting.

Bottom Line

According to National Emergency Number Association, 9-1-1, the government proposed an national emergency number in 1967 and AT&T began implementing it in 1968 with Alabama and Alaska as early adopters. (Was AT&T implementing it alphabetically by state?) Today 96% of the geographic USA is covered by 9-1-1. (I wonder where the gaps are?). Additional facts about 9-1-1 can be found at

Note also that while 9-1-1 works in the US and Canada, other countries use different emergency numbers:

000 Emergency phone number in Australia.
100 Emergency phone number in India.
111 Emergency phone number in New Zealand.
112 Emergency phone number across the European Union and on GSM mobile networks across the world.
119 Emergency phone number in parts of East Asia.
311 Non-emergencies telephone in US and Canada.
999 Emergency phone number in Ireland, Poland and United Kingdom (where it works parallel to 112)
108 Emergency telephone number in India.
192 Emergency telephone number in Macedonia

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Living Life to the Fullest

"To life! To life! L'chai-im! L'chai-im, l'chai-im, to life!" - Fiddler on the Roof
Two days ago I wrote about living life and not letting fears or paranoia hold you back. Yes prepare for the worst but don't live every moment anticipating the worst of all possible worlds. For some ideas on enjoying life, check out 15 Ways to Expand Your Horizons at Code Name Insite.
  • Try a new food (haggis?!?)
  • Attend a new event
  • Make money a new way
  • Do something your kids will love but you think is crazy
  • Dress radically different then you usually do
  • Try a new sport (like wall climbing)
  • Talk to someone you would not ordinarily speak with
  • Make something with your own hands
  • Teach someone
  • Learn a new skill
  • Achieve a challenging goal
  • Travel (esp to a foreign country)
  • Try a new diet
  • Become an expert in your field

Bottom Line

I highly recommend the list above. Try new things! As part of our family Christmas tradition we try to eat an exotic food each year, preferable something new. We have eaten lamb, rabbit, boar, venison, emu, goat, duck, buffalo, octopus, etc. We also have an unusual Christmas family dish - Lasagna with spinach. It is red, white and green - all the colors of Christmas.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Fall of the Roman Empire

"First the doctor told me the good news: I was going to have a disease named after me." - Steve Martin

When people today discuss the threat of Bird Flu, they often site the Spanish Influenza of 1918 (20-100 million killed) as an example of a pandemic. But today I learned of another much older example while looking up reasons for the Fall of the Roman Empire on Wikipedia.

Starting in 165 A.D. the Roman Empire suffered a severe and protracted pandemic, either of smallpox or measles, brought home by Roman troops fighting in the Near East. The epidemic claimed the lives of two Roman emperorsLucius Verus (d. 169) and his co-regent Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (d 180). This pandemic was named the Antonine Plague, because no one, not even the emperor Aurelius Antoninus, was safe from it.

The disease broke out again nine years later, according to the Roman historian Dio Cassius, and caused up to 2,000 deaths a day at Rome, one quarter of those infected. Total deaths have been estimated at five million.[1] Disease killed as much as one-third to one-half of the Roman Empire, and decimated the Roman army.[2] According to the 5th century Spanish writer, Paulus Orosius, many towns and villages in the Italian peninsula and the European provinces lost all their inhabitants.

The pandemic had drastic social and political effects throughout the Roman Empire. A plague weakened Roman army was unable to hold back the advance of Germanic peoples across the Danube in 169. Over the next few centuries the German tribes grew stronger in central Europe while the Roman Legion grew weaker. The death of so many citizens started a chain of events leading to the economic ruin of Rome. There were expensive civil wars in the chaos after the plagues and fewer citizens to collect taxes from. To pay the military, coins were minted with less silver and gold content resulting in inflation. A smaller Army busy with civil wars meant the roads were no longer guarded. Merchants could no longer safely travel to distant parts of the Empire for profits (and taxes).

Eventually the Roman Empire could not afford to support its large Army. Roman swords and armor grew older and shabbier, the soldiers fewer and fewer, until eventually the Germans were better equipped and more numerous than the Romans. In 406 and 410 the German Vandals and Goths were able to sack the city of Rome - a city that had been undefeated for 800 years.

Bottom Line

The Health of a nation can depend on the health of its people (and its military). While the death of millions might not result in an invasion of Goths, it can mean fields not farmed (less food), fewer police (more crime), fewer health care professions (more disease and death), and so on. Look at any natural disaster (like Katrina) and you'll find stories of looting and overwhelmed hospitals. Now multiply that by 10,000 and you can imagine a pandemic.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

New Year Predictions?

“When a distinguished but elderly scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he says it is impossible, he is very probably wrong.” -Arthur C. Clarke
It seems that everywhere you turn, someone is predicting the End of the World as We Know It. (TEOTWAWKI ) Some fear economic collapse and another great depression (Four really, really bad scenarios). Or a world wide pandemic of bird flu with tens of millions dead ( A terrorist dirty nuclear bomb? (PBS Nova) And so on.

Given the topic of this blog, Preparedness, I’m not going to say these fears are groundless. Any of them “could” happen. But if you live your life in fear and seclusion then you haven’t really lived at all. "Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once." - Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare.

While some may embrace Caesar’s quote as a validation for thrill seeking like bungee jumping, skydiving, and extreme sports, personally I’m risk adverse and prefer to find a balance between cowardice and extremism. Just like financial investment, the level of risk you personally should assume depends on your age and family situation. If you’re young & single and want to skydive – go for it. But keep in mind that many life insurance policies have exclusions for dangerous sports so if you’re married with kids and your parachute fails, your family gets nothing.

Preparedness can help you to live life more fully. Perhaps you can buy a special life insurance policy extension to cover your dangerous hobbies. Or you can “self insure” by building up a cash nest egg for the family to use if the worst happens. By taking actions to mitigate the worst cases, you can put them behind you and then move forward with life.

Bottom Line

I wandered a bit from my original goal for this post; a discussion about expert predictions. This article from looks at 10 famous predictions by experts like Bill Gates, Lord Kelvin, etc that were totally wrong.
Britain doesn’t need telephones, X-Rays are a hoax, TV’s won’t last, Computers
aren’t for home use, and so on.

So don’t lose sleep when you hear some expert predicting disaster. Take what precautions you can (just in case) and then continue to enjoy life to its fullest. What is life without joy?

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day

"Some boys are rich by birth beyond all wants,
Belov'd by uncles, and kind good old aunts;
When time comes round, a Christmas-box they bear,
And one day makes them rich for all the year." -- John Gay, Trivia (1716),
December 26, Boxing Day, is not about the pugilistic sport nor is it about tossing out empty gift boxes, returning gifts, or getting great bargains. Some historians say the holiday got started when servants, who were required to work on Christmas Day, got the following day off to visit their families. The day took its name from the tradition of presenting gifts of cash, food, clothing and other goods wrapped up in boxes to servants on Dec 26. Another theory is that church donation boxes were opened on the Feast of St. Stephen (Dec 26) and the money distributed to the poor. Wikipedia disagrees with both these theories and claims the day is named after clay boxes that served as a collective piggy bank for servants/workers in a shop or home. On Dec 26 the boxes were smashed open and the contents shared as a Christmas bonus.

Today Boxing Day is a British holiday for giving gifts to everyone who had rendered a service during the previous year: tradesmen, mail carriers, maids, butlers, doormen, porters, etc. It officially began during the reign of Queen Victoria during the middle 19th century.

Boxing Day is celebrated in Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, other Commonwealth of Nations, and Greece. It many of these countries it is a bank holiday (i.e. banks are closed). If Dec 26 falls on a weekend, the public holiday may be moved to Monday. So in a worst case, as a traveler in a British country, you could find yourself without access to a bank from Dec 24/25 thru Dec 27/28.

Bottom Line
Why an article about a holiday in a preparedness blog? As noted earlier in The Survival Encyclopedia and Protecting your Food Storage, few people can be 100% self-sufficient. We all rely on others, especially during times of crisis. It is always a good idea to build a social network and to say thank you to those that have helped you.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Buy Yourself a Christmas Present

“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other” -Burton Hillis

While it’s fun to get toys and games and electronic gadgets for Christmas, sometimes the gifts are more practical like socks and ties. For the ultimate in practical Christmas gifts buy something to help yourself or the family to become more prepared.

Here are two ideas for preparedness gift buying family activities:

  1. Assemble a family go-kit. Have each person contribute one or more items to the go-kit and place the completed kit under the tree. See Survival Kits and Red Cross - Get A Kit and What's in Your Go-Kit? for some ideas.
  2. Assemble a family food supply. Again each family member should add one or more items to the food box. Try starting with a one-month supply for one person. Then each year you can add one more box or replace an old one. See The Wisdom of Food Storage for a nice written blog written by a preparedness advocate in the Dominica Republic.

Bottom Line

A one-month’s food storage for one person can be purchased for under $25 and consists of the following:

  • Grains or flour - 30 pounds
  • Powdered milk - 6.25 pounds
  • Sugar or honey - 5 pounds
  • Salt - 1/2 pound
  • Fats and oils - 1-2/3 pounds
  • Dry Beans - 5 pounds

This list assumes you are comfortable cooking from basic ingredients; see The Value of Cooking. It also assumes you will get all your protein from the powdered milk and Beans, Beans, Beans... If you lack a collection of pioneer recipes, hate beans, hate cooking from scratch or want more variety in your emergency meals, then check out Meals Ready to Eat and other Options or try purchasing this list:

One Month, Shelf Stable Groceries for One person:


  • one box oatmeal (18 ounces)
  • 1 pound rice
  • 20 ounces pasta
  • 5 pounds flour
  • 1 pound popcorn

Fruit & Veggies

  • 34 cans (15 ounce) vegetables
  • 26 cans (15 ounce)fruit


  • 2 pounds Velveeta
  • 4 cans (12 ounce) evaporated milk
  • 3.2 pounds powdered milk (powder to make 4 gallons)


  • 1 jar peanut butter (18 ounces)
  • 4 cans (6 ounce) tuna
  • 4 cans (5 ounce)chicken
  • 4 cans (5 ounce) ham
  • 8 cans (15 ounce) cooked dry beans

Plus a month's supply of cooking oil/shortening, sugar, syrup, jam, salt

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Clever uses for Digital Cameras

"I have an underwater camera just in case I crash my car into a river, and at the last minute I see a photo opportunity of a fish that I have never seen.” - Mitch Hedberg (American Comedian, 1968-2005)

For those of us born during the Kodak & Poloroid generation, photos are static things. The were a fixed size in a shoebox and buried deep in the closet. But digital cameras let you carry your photos with you. And you can zoom on demand! I once chastised my niece for taking a digital photo of an object way far away. "You won't see it in the picture", I said. "Wrong Uncle Gary", she said. And then demonstrated how she could enlarge the image in the camera browsing window.

Another difference in photography now-a-days is that digital pictures cost "nothing" and can be easily disposed of. Go ahead and take four shots to make sure you get the best picture and then delete the other three.

Since many people will be unwrapping a new Digital camera this Holiday Season, I present here a list of clever ways to use your new camera for preparendess...

  1. Photograph a note saying "This camera belongs to (name). Please call (#). Reward!"
    Keep this photo as the #1 entry in your camera.
  2. Traveling? Photograph a map (google, subway, etc). You can use the zoom
    feature to view map details.
  3. Do you lose your car in large parking lots? Photograph the location marker
    (like H-25) near your car.
  4. Have you ever unplugged computer/TV cables and don't know where to put them
    back? Or disassembled some machine had trouble putting it back together?
    Photograph what you're working on BEFORE taking it apart.
  5. If you think the big van parked next you might ding your car or someone is
    driving badly on the road - photograph the license plate.
  6. Don't rip out a page from the Yellow book, photograph it.
  7. Legal defense. Do you see something that could lead to a lawsuit? Photograph
    it. Are you in a bad situation that could result in a ticket or fine - example:
    the parking meter is broken. Photograph it for self defense.
  8. Take out menus. Do you order take out frequently? Photograph your favorite
    menus with the phone number visible.
  9. Trying to match a color or paint? Photograph it. Or photograph the paint can
    showing the name and color #.
  10. Grocery shopping for a special recipe? Photograph the recipe first.
  11. When renting a car, photograph each side when you accept the car and when
    you return it. This could show that a dent was preexisting (before) or wasn't
    there when you returned the car (after).
  12. Is your camera too confusing? Photograph key pages from the user manual.
  13. Going a sports game or performance? Photo the seating chart so you'll know
    your way about the arena.
  14. Does the airline lose your luggage? Photograph it before you fly so they know what to look for and perhaps you'll recognize it too when it comes out.
  15. Hopefully you haven't lost your kids or pet? Photograph them now and keep
    the image on hand for "Lost" posters.
  16. In a foreign country and don't speak the language? Photograph your hotel
    and the street names at a nearby intersection. You might also photograph your
    travel itinerary and emergency contact info.
  17. Emergency flashlight. Use the camera display as a light in the dark.

Bottom Line

For examples of these clever ideas check out

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Camp Stoves - Sterno

The ultimate camping trip was the Lewis and Clark expedition.” -Dave Barry
The best know of alcohol cooking fuels is a jellied alcohol called Sterno. Two tablespoons of alcohol fuel will boil two cups (1 pint) of water in five minutes under ideal conditions (not windy). The flame is not hot and is best used to warm foods instead of boiling.

One 8 oz. can of Sterno fuel, about the diameter of a can of tuna fish and twice as
high, will allow you to cook six meals if used frugally. A can will last 2.5 hours but can be extinguished and relit for later use. Sterno is frequently used indoors to warm chafing dishes. But as this article notes, even Sterno can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if it is deprived of sufficient oxygen.
Sterno evaporates very easily, even when the lid is securely fastened! It is not a good fuel for long-term storage. If you use Sterno in your 72 hour kit, check it every six months for evaporation.
Sterno is more expensive than gas and liquid fuels but it is extremely convenient, safe (non-spill, not pressurized), and ultra-portable. It works in extreme cold and low pressure (like the top of Mt. Everest) when other stoves fail.

Bottom Line

"If you want the lightest, most compact, most reliable stove on the market, buy a can of Sterno. Yes, it takes 10 to 12 minutes to boil water ... My Sterno stove fits inside a 16-ounce cup. Throw a book of matches and a bandanna into the remaining space in the cup and the whole thing weighs 11 ounces and will serve you on a 6-day hiking trip. What's not to like?" - Kent Forrester

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Camp Stoves - Pressurized Gas

"Camping is nature's way of promoting the motel business.” - Dave Barry

A pressurized gas stove looks like a liquid gas stove - it has a flame burner with an attached fuel canister. The difference is the contents of the canister if it leaks. Coleman fuel (discussed yesterday) will leak as a liquid but Propane and Butane will escape as a gas. And while you can refill your liquid stove with fuel, for gas stoves you must buy fuel canisters already filled and pressurized.

Propane & Butane are "safe" for indoor use as they produce carbon dioxide (not monoxide) while they burns. Still you should crack open a window because it does consume some oxygen in the room. The primary hazard of using propane indoors is that leaks will "pool" in low areas since it is heavier than air. Your hot water tank could ignite an explosion if leaked propane pools in the basement.

Propane stores indefinitely, having no known shelf life. Propane stoves and small portable heaters are very economical and simple to use but the storage of propane is governed by strict local laws. Check out your local ordinances.

Like Coleman stoves, gas stoves and grills allow a fine control over cooking temperatures - just like a home stove. My wife and I often see Butane stoves used in cooking demonstrations at fairs.
The most difficult aspect of gas canister stoves is finding the right canister. They are non-refillable and often custom made for each stove manufacturer. Old canisters must be safely disposed of (they remain potentially explosive). It is also very difficult to know how much fuel is left inside a canister.

Gas stoves do not operate below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bottom Line

It will be interesting to see if Butane stoves replace the Coleman stoves in popularity. Less mess and easier to use but at a higher fuel cost.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Camp Stoves - Pressurized Liquid

"If you're not in New York, you're camping out.” - Thomas E. Dewey, NY Governor

Pressurized liquid stoves (like kerosene and white gas) are very popular with campers. When my parents camped, we used a Coleman two burner stove for cooking. Single burner stoves are great for hiking and survival. Some models are "multi-fuel", able to burn kerosene, unleaded gasoline, diesel, white gas, and even jet fuel.

Liquid "gas" operates well in very cold weather (sub-zero Fahrenheit) and is cheaper than pressurized gas like propane. It is readily available world-wide. Liquid gas stoves are the most difficult to get started. They must be pumped/primed/pressurized before starting. While white gas (Coleman fuel) is relatively clean, burning other fuels will create soot that will eventually clog
the fuel lines and require a cleaning.

Liquid gas is very flammable and so is anything it gets spilled upon. Do NOT use liquid fuel inside a tent and be very careful when pouring the fuel outside.

White gas stoves (Coleman) are fairly easy to use and produce a great amount of heat. However they produce vast amounts of carbon monoxide. NEVER use a Coleman Fuel stove indoors. Never store white gas fuels in the house or near a heater, it is highly volatile and can explode under the right conditions.

Coleman fuel has a tendency to evaporate even when the container is tightly sealed so it is not a good fuel for long-term storage. Because of its highly flammable nature great care should always be exercised when lighting stoves and lanterns that use Coleman fuel. Many serious burns
have been caused by carelessness with white gas.

Kerosene (Range Oil No. 1) is the cheapest of all the storage fuels and is also very forgiving if you make a mistake. Kerosene is not as explosive as gasoline and Coleman fuel. Kerosene stores well for long periods of time and by introducing some fuel additives it can be made to store even longer. Do not store kerosene in metal containers for extended periods - the moisture in it will cause rust. A 55 gallon drum stores in the back yard, or ten 5 gallon plastic containers will provide fuel enough to last an entire winter if used sparingly.

Bottom Line

I had no problem priming Coleman stoves and lanterns as a child. I continued to use Coleman in my college days as I traveled and camped and have fond memories of the meals I cooked.

Travel Notes

Always let the pressure out of the fuel canister when you finish cooking. Never travel with a pressurized canister.

Coleman has a web page about airplane regulations and trying to take your stove with you when you fly.
The pressurized fuel canisters are forbidden and must be removed from the stove. Some carriers will not allow any previously used fuel-burning appliance to be transported. Coleman fuel-burning appliances should be declared to the airline prior to transporting, whether checked in or with carry-on luggage.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

"I detest life-insurance agents: they always argue that I shall some day die, which is not so" - Stephen Leacock, Canadian Economist

I've written several times about the imporatance of having the right insurance. See Renters Insurance, Financial survival after a disaster , and When should you spend to save? If you are still not convinced then check out another great posting by Code Name Insite called Insurance 101. In it he covers the basics of insurance for Health, Home/Rental, Auto, Life, and Disability.

Bottom Line
Insurance is imporant for coverage in worst case scenarios like the complete loss of your house or car. But don't rely on it to cover every expense. Insurance companies are in business to make a profit. Statistically they expect you to pay more over your life then you will collect from them. Minimize your costs by raising deductibles and paying for minor events out of your own pocket.


Camp Stoves - Esbit

"Some national parks have long waiting lists for camping reservations. When you have to wait a year to sleep next to a tree, something is wrong.” - George Carlin

As discussed in my blog two weeks ago, there are four kinds of portable stoves that can be used for camping, during power outages, or when you need an extra burner. Some are safe for indoor use (kerosene, propane, Sterno) while some are not (Coleman fuel/white gas, esbit).

Today's blog will look at solid fuel like Esbit, hexamine, and trioxane tablets. These tablets have a high fuel density and do not liquefy while burning. They are light, easy to carry and there is no danger from "spillage". They can be extinguished and saved for re-use. They make excellent fire
starters for camp fires.

They are smokeless and ashless but not odorless. Solid fuel can emit noxious fumes like cyanide. Food should be cooked in closed pots. Hexamine should not be used in enclosed spaces like a tent or indoors. Solid fuel will leave a sticky dark residue on the bottom of pots.

Esbit tabs weigh 1/2 oz each and will burn 12-15 minutes. Using an aluminum foil windscreen or mini stove, Esbit will bring a pint to boil in 8 minutes. One and a half tablets will boil a liter.

Bottom Line

Esbit is ideal for back country hiking and camping. It is super light and safe (when used in open air). The heat is intense but small in size. Boiling water can be slow but an egg will fry fast. The high heat is suited for boiling not simmering. It is excellent for making hot drinks, stews, pasta and other one pot meals. Given the high cost and short life of solid fuel it is not suited for baking, grilling or roasting.

Esbit was created in Germany and stands for "Erich Schumms Brennstoff in Tablettenform"; i.e. Erich Schumm's Fuel in Tablets.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

BBQ: Charcoal vs Gas?

“Nearly everyone wants as least one outstanding meal a day.” - Duncan Hines (Cookbook author, 1880-1959)

Some people will argue gas vs charcoal cooking as passionately as they debate religion. I use charcoal since I'm personally uncomfortable with propane and the (very slight) risk it poses for explosions. Still there is no beating propane for ease of use and getting started quickly. I hate waiting for charcoal to heat up.
The following is summarized from


  • Charcoal grills cook hotter than gas and you can burn wood or wood chips in a charcoal grill for more flavor.
  • Charcoal is fussier and messier than gas, is less predictable, and gradually loses heat unless restoked every hour.
  • Each briquette will produce about 40 degrees of heat. If you are baking bread, for example, and need 400 degrees of heat for your oven, simply use ten briquettes.
  • Don't use starter fluid; get a chimney style canister instead. They’re about 10 bucks and will last through 2-3 grilling seasons. Fill the upper section of the canister with briquettes, stick a crumpled sheet of newspaper in the bottom section, and light. Your coals will be ready in less than a half hour without starter fluid flavor.
  • Charcoal is the least expensive fuel per BTU that the average family can store.
  • Charcoal will store for extended period of time if it is stored in air tight containers. It readily absorbs moisture from the surrounding air so do not store it in the paper bags it comes in for more than a few months or it may be difficult to light.
  • Fifty or sixty dollars worth of charcoal will provide all the cooking fuel a family will need for an entire year if used sparingly.
  • The best time to buy briquettes inexpensively is at the end of the summer. Broken or torn bags of briquettes are usually sold at a big discount.


  • 68 percent of American grill owners prefer and use gas. Gas grills offer push button lighting, constant and consistent heat with the twist of a knob, and cooking times upto 20 hours.
  • If you have flare-ups on a gas grill, NEVER use water to extinguish the flames. Just turn the burners off, move food to another area of the grate, and re-light the grill.
  • When lighting a gas grill, always open the lid before you start the flow of gas. Failure to do so can result in a gas build up and explosion.
  • Propane can be used indoors. It produces carbon dioxide (not carbon monoxide) as it burns and is therefore not poisonous. It does consume oxygen so be sure to crack a window when burning propane.
  • Propane stores indefinitely, having no known shelf life.
  • The storage of propane is governed by strict local laws. Some apartment complexes (especially in NYC) prohibit propane.
  • A hazard in using propane is that it is heavier than air and leaks will "pool" in low areas. Your hot water tank could ignite an explosion if leaked propane filled in the basement.

What to look for when buying a charcoal grill

  • A tightly fitting domed lid so you can do indirect grilling
  • Vents on the top and bottom for adjusting the airflow and, thus, the heat.
  • A hinged grill grate, which makes it easy to add wood chips to the coals
  • Front loading charcoal grills are good when you want to smoke a lot of food or grill over wood.

What to look for when buying a gas grill

  • At least two heat zones, so you can indirect grill.
  • A built in gas gauge and thermometer.
  • An easy to empty and clean drip pan.
  • A smoker box with a dedicated burner (optional, but a nice feature)
  • A rotisserie attachment with a dedicated burner (optional, but a nice feature)
  • A side burner (optional, but a nice feature)

Bottom Line
When buying any grill you want:

  • Sturdy construction and a good warranty
  • Side tables if possible (you can never have enough work space)

Never use a charcoal burning device indoors. When charcoal burns it is a voracious consumer of oxygen. It also produces vast amounts of carbon monoxide which is a deadly poison. If you try to heat your home or cook indoors by burning charcoal it could prove fatal to your entire family.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

BBQ Tips

"Some people say BBQ is in the blood, if that's true my blood must be BBQ sauce."
Following-up on yesterday's post, here is some BBQ cooking advice:
  • There are three officially-recognized kinds of sauce -- Mustard-based, ketchup-based, and vinegar-based.
  • BBQ sauces should usually be added at the final 5 or 10 minutes of the grilling process, especially sugar- or tomato-based sauces. Otherwise these sauces are likely to burn or cause flare-ups.
  • Always clean your grill ASAP after cooking. However if you forget and your grate has burnt-on food from the last go-round, warm up the grill for 20 minutes and then scrub it with a stiff wire brush. Grates are easiest to clean when still hot.
  • Spray the (clean) grate while it’s cold with a vegetable oil spray (such as PAM) to keep foods from sticking. NEVER spray toward the fire.
  • Use two plates when grilling meat. One for the raw meat, and one for the cooked meat. Raw meat may have bacteria that can make you sick. Don't let anything from the raw side touch the cooked meat - forks, plates, etc.
  • Use tongs or a spatula to turn meat. A fork will pierce the meat and you’ll lose those tasty juices.
  • Let your steaks and chops reach room temperature before putting them on the grill.
  • When roasting or grilling with the lid closed, try placing a can of beer over the hot coals. The beer will boil and saturate the air inside with water vapor and a light beer flavor, and will help keep the meat moist.
  • Keep your grill away from anything flammable like lighter fluid, fences, your house, etc..

Bottom LineNumbered List

For More information...

Food Channel

Flavor tips and equipment

Wood smoke flavors

BBQ Guru

BBQ Myths

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

BBQ Basics

"I had a bag of fritos, they were Texas grilled fritos. These fritos had grill marks on them. They remind me of something, when we used to fire up the barbeque and throw down some fritos. I can still see my dad with the apron on, better flip that frito, dad, you know how I like mine.” - Mitch Hedberg (American Comedian, 1968-2005)

To a skilled grill master, there are as many ways to cook as there are spellings of Barbecue: Barbeque, Bar-B-Cue, Bar-B-Que, Bar-B-Q, BBQ, etc. For the beginner there are two basic ways to grill: directly or indirectly.

- With direct grilling the bottom layer of food is cooked over the heat/flames.
- True "BBQ" like smoked brisket and pulled pork uses indirect grilling

  • Flames/coals cover only part of the grill.
  • The food is NOT placed over the flame but rather on a "cold" part of the grate.
  • The lid is closed and the food is slow cooked for 1 to 24 hours.

- If you grill over the flame with a closed lid you are using both direct and indirect heat. This is sometimes called dry smoking.

The whole art of grilling is knowing when to turn food and when things are cooked. Everything else is recipes and tricks.

  • An average gas grill can reach 500 degrees in a matter of minutes. You can't throw the food on the grill and watch TV until the timer goes off. You must remain ever vigilant.
  • Food will not cook faster at 500 degrees - it will burn! You must control the heat and allow time for food to cook at the center and not just char the edges.

Here are some useful temperatures:

  • Hot = 450º and above. Use this to char foods quickly (searing it).
  • Medium: 300º to 400º - after searing (optional), you finish foods by cooking at medium.
  • Low 225º to 275º - used to slow cook and render fatty meats.

I don't trust the thermometer on my grill. It won't tell you about hot and cold spots. Try the hand test instead. Hold you hand 3 inches over the grill grate and count how many seconds you can hold it there (don't be macho, be honest).

  • HOT = 1-2 seconds
  • MEDIUM = 3-5 seconds
  • LOW = 6-8 seconds

Outdoor cooking is an interactive sport - you vs the fire. Only with experience will you find the sweet spot where the heat cooks food quickly without burning.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Waiting to Be Rescued

Most people mistakenly expect that the government will quickly rescue them during an emergency. But a new study of Hurricane Katrina, Wal-Mart Way in Disaster Preparedness/Response: Policy Implication, states that,

"the temptation will always be for [bureaucratic] government agencies to want to be overly involved so that they can continue to justify their current budgets. Although agencies wish to avoid errors of commission, they want to remain involved to justify their existence. Thus, [government] agencies often move in after the fact in the most conservative ways possible." – (economist Steven Horwitz, Ph.D).
Slow moving, regulated, and bureaucratic agencies are the exact opposite of what people want and need during a crisis. The FEMA joint field office to coordinate the federal, state and local response was finally established 12 days after Katrina hit. In contrast, “Within 48 hours of Katrina’s landfall only 56 [out of 176 affected] Wal-Mart facilities were still closed.” With no power, Wal-Marts were accepting hand written IOUs for payment or giving away supplies for free.

Lack of government coordination was endemic for the first two weeks following Katrina. Wal-Mart tried to cooperate with the government in delivering supplies (Wal-Mart has one of the world’s best logistics and supply system). BUT the Wal-Mart’s Emergency Director, Jason Jackson, says he couldn’t identify who was in charge. “There was a lot of adversarialism among the governments. Louisiana wasn’t playing nice with New Orleans, who wasn’t playing nice with the feds. FEMA was in there saying one thing and the state was saying another thing and the county parishes were saying something else.”

Who should Wal-Mart work with asks Jackson, “Is it the city? Is it the state? Is it the DOD? We found ourselves trying to make inroads into a lot of different organizations.”

In some cases local government, in the form of police, had failed completely. Immediately after Katrina, Wal-Mart managers found stores being looted while police looked on unconcerned or sometimes joining the looting.

Bottom Line

The Horwitz study on Wal-Mart vs Government concludes, "Within the political process, … government agencies are more often concerned with pleasing other political actors and finding ways to expand their budgets and power. This often makes them less sensitive to the direct needs of the people who rely on them to get specific tasks accomplished."

See also To Rescue Our Economy Obama Should Follow Wal-Mart’s Example

This same theme of bureaucratic empire building was echoed recently in a story about Government budget bubbles bursting,

“As history has shown repeatedly, budget surpluses pile up in good times, allowing politicians to spend freely. They create new social programs and expand existing ones. They pad public payrolls, build more government edifices and otherwise squander the people's hard-earned money. But they dismiss talk of returning the surpluses to taxpayers because it's contrary to their philosophy of, to borrow a phrase, spreading the wealth around.

Since this government growth is incremental, its ruinous cumulative effect isn't fully apparent until the economy goes south and government revenues plummet. But in bad times, politicians vigorously defend their empire as more necessary than ever and argue further expansion is imperative if they are to help the people hurt by recession. This inevitably leads to tax increases that, to borrow a phrase, fan the flames of recession. But after the economy rebounds and surpluses return, the tax increases remain because politicians need the revenues to scratch their insatiable spending itch.”

So what is the answer? Two things – accountability and decentralization.

  1. People must hold politicians accountable for good government – not handouts but wise investments of the people’s money in infrastructure and emergency services.
  2. Disaster response works best from the bottom up. You should prepare your family as best you can. Then rely on and work with a neighborhood CERT team. The team will coordinate with the Town or City. The City will get help from the State. The State will receive assistance from the Feds. As you move up the chain of command, response time will get slower and slower and less and less reliable.
  3. Very few things work better from the top-down. FEMA is great for training and setting standards BEFORE disasters occur. It should establish universal communication frequencies. FEMA has selected the Incident Command System (ICS) as the national standard for emergency management.
  4. BUT during the emergency, the central coordinators need to let the ground troops respond and make choices as local situations dictate. Before Katrina hit, Wal-Mart told its managers, “A lot of you are going to have to make decisions above your level. Make the best decision that you can with the information that’s available to you at the time, and, above all, do the right thing.”
  5. Ideally the highest level in charge would coordinate resources and supplies but this failed miserably during Katrina. The Horwitz Wal-Mart study has recommendations for decentralized supply management.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Do you know the sound of your alarms?

"Bells, bells, bells - In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!"
- The Bells by Edgar Allen Poe
Today I recommend reading "Do you know the sound of your alarms?" by WHEN SAFETY FAILS. This quote captures the heart of the problem...

"a woman was telling my wife a story about how she mistakenly thought there was a large truck backing up somewhere in the neighborhood. It turns out that the beeping she heard was a smoke detector in her kitchen that was alerting her to a burning roast in the oven."

Years ago as I parked at a farmer's market and turned off the car, it beeped at me. I made sure the lights were off and locked the car. What I didn't know was that this particular beep was trying to warn me that my keys were still in the ignition. I was locked out of my car and it took over an hour for a locksmith to arrive. Now I check lights and keys when I hear a beep.

Bottom Line

"In the home we have smoke and heat detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, security systems and even baby and child alert devices ... if we don’t know which device is shouting at us, we lose valuable time trying to determine the correct response."

You should test your alarms least twice a year when changing the batteries during Daylight Saving days. Give everyone in the house a chance to hear the sound of each alarm.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Importance of Disease Vaccination

“Love is like the measles. The older you get it, the worse the attack.” -Rainer Maria Rilke (Austro-German lyric poet)

Health officials say Britain is at risk for a deadly epidemic with more than 1,000 measles cases so far this year. The problem is parents who refuse to vaccinate their children based on one (contested) report of a link between the vaccination and autism. Most experts believe the shot is safe and effective.

Around three million children and teenagers are believed to be at risk of a measles epidemic because they missed one of two doses of vaccine, or are entirely unprotected. Measles can lead to ear infections, pneumonia, and permanent brain damage, and may even be fatal. It is highly infectious and can be passed on without direct contact before the rash appears.

The failure to vaccinate also puts children at risk for mumps and rubella.

Bottom Line

Vaccines and public health programs are designed with the expectation that "everyone" will be vaccinated. When people decide to forgo vaccination, they become enemy agents in the public health system as possible carriers of the disease; infecting all others who are not vaccinated. For more details on the public ramification of not vaccinating, see As Diseases Make Comeback, Why Aren't All Kids Vaccinated? by Instapundit, Glen Reynolds.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Art of Fire Starting

Buttercup: "That's the fire swamp! We'll never survive!"
Wesley: "Nonsense! You're only saying that because no one ever has.”
-The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Sometimes you just have to start a fire without matches. Perhaps your single engine plane goes down while you’re flying over the Alaskan wilderness or you lose your backpack in a tussle with a bear. Or it can be as undramatic as an extremely windy or wet day which render your matches virtually useless.

For detailed descriptions of the methods below check out 9 Ways To Start a Fire Without Matches

Friction Based Fire Making
  • The Hand Drill fire method is not for the faint of heart. It’s probably the most difficult of all the non-match based methods. It requires bone dry wood, tireless hands, and gritty determination. It can take 15 minutes or more to build up enough heat.
  • With the Fire Plough technique you cut a groove in a plank and rub a sturdy stick up and down the grove to create enough heat to ignite some tinder.
  • The Bow Drill is a variant of the Hand Drill. The spindle stick is attached to a bow like device for faster and easier spinning. It is harder to set-up but easier to create the spark.
    Flint and Steel It’s always a good idea to carry around a good flint and steel set with you on a camping trip. They will work when wet.

Lens Methods

  • On a sunny day you can focus the energy of the sun with a magnifying glass, eyeglasses, or binocular lenses. You can intensify the beam by adding some water to the lens. Angle the lens towards the sun in order to focus the beam into as small an area as possible. Put your tinder nest under this hot spot to ignite.
    Note: reading lens or far sighted eye glasses will work. Near sighted lens won't focus light in a point.
  • You can create emergency lenses from a water filled balloon or condom. Keep the size small so you can manipulate the water lens to be as round as possible. The focal length is very short, you'll need to put the lens just 1 to 2 inches from the tinder.
  • You can also carve a lens from clear ice with a knife. The ice must be perfectly clear, about 2 inches thick in the center with tapering edges. Polish the surface of your ice lens with the heat from your hands.
  • Coke can lens. Polish the bottom of a soda can with chocolate, toothpaste, or ash to make it super shiny. Tilt the bottom of the can towards the sun and place your tinder about one inch away to light it.

Batteries and Steel Wool

  • You can ignite steel wool but stretching it out and then connecting it to both ends of a battery. A 9-volt battery works well for this.
  • Another battery solution: if you are in a broken down car your car's battery and or alternator can make a ton of hot sparks by causing an arc. Even a “dead” car battery will spark.

Bottom Line

Creating a spark, while vital, does not a fire make. You also need tinder that will ignite easily and hold the flame long enough for you to pile on small twigs to grow the fire. Excellent natural choices for tinder include tree sap, dry leaves, grass, pine cones, moss, and fungus. Man-made tinder includes charcloth or other fire starter products that you should carry in your survival kit. One survivalist recommends coating cotton balls with some petroleum jelly. Another person recommends soaking your tinder with an alcohol based bug repellent or hand cleanser to help it light. Dryer lint makes good tinder and I'm told you can light snack food like Cheetos and pringles chips.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Campfire cooking

"How is it that one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?" ~Author Unknown

The oldest form of cooking known to humanity is by means of a campfire. Yet despite being so old, campfire cooking can be amazingly complex and sophisticated.

  1. The first step is gathering wood, building a fire pit, and laying the wood properly.
  2. Next you must light it. This is easy if you have matches. If not, here are two with sites with ways to create fire using ancient and modern methods.
  3. Now on to the cooking. There's a lot more then hot dogs and s'mores. Campfires can be used to cook food by a number of techniques.
  • Roasting - Meat and large vegetables can be cooked on a rotating spit either over the fire or next to it. Roasting also includes hot dogs and marshmallows on a stick.
  • Grilling - Food is placed on a wire frame directly over the fire. This method picks up a smoky flavor and allows grease to drip away. Watch out for grease flare ups and burnt food!
  • Frying - Food is placed on a flat, hot surface. Typically a an open frying pan, but variations include wood plank cooking and cooking directly upon heated stones.
  • Boiling - Food is cooked in boiling water over a fire.
  • Dutch ovens and other pots. Pot variants include scouting favorites like cooking inside a scooped out orange, a banana skin, egg shell or paper cup.
  • Wrapped food - Food can be wrapped in foil, clay, or leaves and cooked on the coals. A variant of this is putting hot coals or hot stones inside the wrapper with the food. Mongolians would wrap hot stones and food inside an animal hide for cooking away from the fire.
  • Directly on coals - potatoes and ash cakes can be cooked directly on the hot embers.

Bottom Line

All cooking is an art and improves with practice. Campfire cooking is no exception. While the recipes may be simple the trick with campfires is finding the right heat and neither undercooking nor burning your food (or even both at the same time with burnt flesh and a raw center!)

To get you started here are some campfire recipes from KOA.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cooking with Cast Iron

“What a man needs in gardening is a cast iron back, with a hinge in it” -Charles Dudley Warner (American Editor and Author, 1829-1900)

I love my cast iron pots and skillets. We bought an expensive set of copper bottom, non-stick pans but they do stick and just don't give me the same satisfaction as cast iron. Also as noted yesterday, cast iron cookware can be used in Open Hearth fireplace cooking and in outdoor fire pits.

It is difficult to ruin a cast iron pan. You could crack it (maybe) by dropping it. But more likely your worst enemy will be rust. To avoid rust you want to keep your pans dry and well seasoned. See "CAST IRON JACK McGREW'S ULTIMATE METHOD FOR SEASONING CAST IRON COOKWARE"

Cooking Advice

  • Cast Iron pots get hot, always have oven mitts handy when using your cast iron cookware.
  • Remove food from cast iron as soon as it is cooked. Never store food in the cast iron pan or let it sit on the stove to keep warm. The acid in the food will breakdown the seasoning and the food will take on a metallic flavor.
  • To avoid fire soot from coating your pan, rub the bottom and sides with soap before cooking. DO NOT apply soap to the cooking surface of the pan.

Cleaning & Storing -

  • Scouring or washing cast iron in a dishwasher will remove or damage the seasoning.
  • Some people advocate never cleaning cast iron pans with soap. Instead scrape/wipe them out after use, or wash them with hot water and a stiff brush. Pans are easier to clean when still warm.
  • Others note that grease left on a pan will eventually become rancid. When (if) this happens, wash with mild soap and water and then re-season the pan.

Bottom Line

If you do wash a pan, dry it over a fire or stove. The pan is most susceptible to rust when damp. Even if you towel dry the pan, there is water in the microscopic cracks and dimples of the metal. Store your cast iron cookware with the lids off, especially in humid weather, because if covered, moisture can build up and cause rust. Should rust appear, scrub out the rust with steel wool and re-season the pan.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Choosing the right wood for your fire

"I have a microwave fireplace in my house. The other night I laid down in front of the fire for the evening in two minutes.” - Stephen Wright
Hearth Cooking and backyard fire pits require that you use the right kind of wood. The following is reprinted from and

Wood Quality
High quality, well seasoned firewood greatly influences fireplace efficiency and enjoyment. Well seasoned firewood starts easier, burns cleaner, and generates more heat. Green, wet wood can cause problems with smoke, odor, creosote build-up and flu fires.

Choosing Firewood
Freshly cut wood can contain up to 45% water. Well-seasoned wood ranges from 20-25% moisture content. Well-seasoned wood is easier to start, produces more heat, and burns cleaner. The important thing to remember is that the water must be gone before the wood will burn. In general, it takes about six months for wood to dry if stored uncovered, outside. Three to four months may be sufficient if under roof, cut in short lengths, and split for more air exposure.

NOTE: Wood exposed to constant rain or snow absorbs large amounts of moisture, and may rot. Store wood off the ground, protected from excess moisture, such as under a roof or in a loose-sided shed which allows for air circulation. But be aware: firewood attracts termites. Limit the amount stored next to the house or garage to just a one-week supply.
In olden times, on rainy days, when the wood supply got wet, it was brought into the house and stacked near fireplace. The heat of the fire would dry the wood out. While clever this is also a fire hazard. Be sure to place screens between the stacked wood and any fire sparks.

How can you tell if wood is seasoned?
Well-seasoned firewood generally has darkened ends with visible cracks or splits. It is relatively light weight, and makes a sharp, distinctive "clink" when two pieces strike each other. Green wood feels heavier, the ends look brighter and fresher, and they make more of a dull "thud" when bumped together. But, these visual signs can be tricky to detect. To be sure, buy your wood in the spring and store it until the following fall and winter. Test: If you're not sure if your wood is dry enough, lay one piece in the fireplace and try to light it with a piece of paper. If it doesn't ignite, it's too wet. If it does light, but sizzles and requires constant stoking, it is still too wet. A good dry piece of wood will fire easily and burn nicely without much attention in a normal draft.

What type of wood is best?

Pound for pound, all wood has about the same BTU, but hardwoods weigh more, and therefore have higher heat potentials. Hardwoods also burn slower, which means less trips to the wood pile! Hardwoods include oak, hickory, ash, apple, and cherry. Some softer woods, such as elm or maple, are also suitable for burning, but you should expect to pay considerably less for them. Don’t burn evergreens even if they are free for the taking. Pine creates little heat and throws off creosote when burned, the number one cause of chimney fires.

Bottom Line
Additional information on firewood:

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Open Hearth Cooking

"While rewarding in so many other ways, authentic fireplace cooking ... is a tedious, time consuming, physically demanding, dirty, and somewhat dangerous endeavor" -
At this time of year we sing about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. It's fun, it's beautiful, it's nostalgic, and it's inherently dangerous. Let's start with the Safety Rules before discussing Open Hearth Cooking.
  1. Never leave a fire unattended. If you must step away, place a fireproof screen to cover the fire place.
  2. Keep your chimney clean. Chimney fires, while rather infrequent, can be frightening and even result in burning down your home.
  3. Do not burn pine or evergreen logs. Pine emits creosote when burned, and creosote buildup is the main cause of chimney fires.
  4. Keep the area near the fire clear of any thing flammable. Sparks can jump many feet out of the fire place.
  5. Keep the hearth clean of grease to avoid grease fires. Use drip pans when roasting or boiling to prevent the grease from dripping directly on the hearth.
  6. Keep a bucket full of water and a fire extinguisher near the fire place.

The first secret to enjoying Hearth Cooking is building a proper fire. You must skillfully build and maintain a very hot fire using heavy hardwood.Don’t skimp with the wood when starting the fire because you want lots of embers and coals to develop. Don't skimp on time either. It can take a hour or more to get the right fire conditions with lots of ember, little to no flames.

Once built, you must maintain the fire by poking about it, shoveling hot embers to and fro, and feeding it from both the front and the back. Place the largest log against the back wall. When it burns down in size, pull it towards the front and replace it with another large log. The rest of the time you feed smaller replacement logs from the front.

Improvisation sits at the heart of hearth cooking. You can make stand for kebabs, a grill, a frying pan, a griddle, or a pot by placing embers between bricks. Many foods like Flat Bread and Roasted Onions can be cooked directly on the embers. Other foods can be baked buried in hot ash, either directly, such as potatoes or Ash Cakes, or wrapped in oiled paper, large leaves, or clay.

Don't use your expensive copper bottom stove set! It could melt. For Hearth Cooking you need cast iron skillets and pots. These are heavy and the handles are always very hot but they are nearly indestructible. The best pots are called "Dutch Ovens". You can buy them with feet so you can shovel embers beneath the pot and with flat lids with a raised lip so you can pile embers on top of the pot. Dutch Ovens are used to cook NEAR to the fire, not IN the fire. To cook over the fire itself you'll want a crane or fireplace hook from which you can suspend pots.

Bottom Line

Open-Hearth cooking was the way to cook for centuries before the wood burning stove was invented. But as the quote at top notes, Hearth Cooking can be dangerous both to you (scalds & burns) and to your house (fire). I don't recommend learning this by trial and error. Learn from past experience through books, The Magic of Fire, The open-hearth cookbook, and with classes at Historical sites like this one in Camden, NJ.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Cooking without power

"I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.” - chef Julia Child
The recent Survival Encyclopedia blog post got me thinking about cooking at home without power. We have an electric stove so if the power goes out, no stove! If you have a gas stove, it could be risky to use post earthquake and other emergencies where the gas lines might have been damaged. So what are your options?
  1. Don't Cook: Keep a food supply of peanut butter, tuna fish (with a manual can opener), crackers and other foods you like to eat uncooked.
  2. Use your fire place: If you have a fire place learn to use it for more than roasting hotdogs. Buy a dutch oven (a cast iron pot) and practice old fashioned cooking. Remember to cook over the coals, not the flames.
  3. Use your BBQ grill: a grill (either charcoal or gas) is a great emergency backup to your stove.
  4. Use a portable stove: these come in at least four varieties.
  • Solid Fuel Tablets - good for boiling a cup or small pot
  • Pressurized Liquid - Coleman fuel stoves
  • Alcohol Fuel - safer but not as hot
  • Pressurized Gas - Grocery stores now sell single burner Butane stoves that are just like cooking on a gas stove. This also includes a propane gas grill.

Bottom Line

For the next week I'll go into more details about these cooking methods. Try them out!

For more ideas on cooking without your stove see,

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Date That Will Live in Infamy

"The 7 December 1941 Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor was one of the great defining moments in history. A single carefully-planned and well-executed stroke removed the United States Navy's battleship force as a possible threat to the Japanese Empire's southward expansion. America, unprepared and now considerably weakened, was abruptly brought into the Second World War as a full combatant."

President FDR called Dec 7 "A date that will live in infamy" for the undeclared attack on Pearl Harbor. In our modern world with air planes, rockets, and missles, disaster can strike quickly and without warning. Survivalist are well aware of this and prepare accordingly. But you can also be an optimist yet still recognize the need to be prepared...

"Emergency preparedness doesn't mean seeing the world through the eyes of doom and gloom. It doesn't mean that there is a disaster looming around every corner. Having the proper disaster survival gear simply means acknowledging that the world is an unpredictable place, and that it's best to be prepared. After all, when you buy a box of Band-Aids and tuck it away in a cupboard, you don't wake up each morning certain that a loved one will suffer a cut or scrape; it just means that you have Band-Aids on hand if a minor injury occurs. The same holds true for disaster survival gear. Once you have it, you don't have to worry about it. Hopefully, you'll never need to use it, but if the need arises, you'll be prepared."
- stvnspeilberg172

Bottom Line

Preparendness is just common sense.

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Survival Encyclopedia

Arthur: "All my life I've had this strange feeling that there's something big and sinister going on in the world."
Slartibartfast: "No, that's perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the universe gets that."
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

On the web site Mt Athos, there is an article called the The Survival Encyclopedia. In it the author suggests that everyone create their own survival guide tailored to their needs. You should store it on paper in a ring binder. If you keep it on a CD you will need electrical power to read it. Do NOT rely on the Internet and the web to be available during an emergency.
Here is the list of recommended topics:
Food Storage:




  • Wilds Camp
  • Retreat
  • Expedient Shelters



Heating, Cooling & Light:

Disaster Preparedness: (List natural disasters common to your area)

  • Wild Fire
  • Flooding
  • Snowstorms
  • Windstorms
  • Financial Preparations and Documents
  • First Aid
  • Pandemic Planning
  • NBC Planning

Survival Skills:

  • Fire Building
  • Deadfalls and Snares
  • Direction Finding
  • Knot Tying
  • Hide Tanning


  • Firearms Care and Repair
  • Reloading Information
  • Axe Sharpening
  • Knife Sharpening
  • Tool Sharpening


  • Goats and Sheep
  • Pigs
  • Rabbits
  • Chickens, Ducks and Geese


Building Materials and Methods:

Bottom Line

I consider myself an urban survivalist and am not prepared to build and live in a little house on the prairie. If you can learn to build a sod house, raise chickens, etc - more power to you. But realistically, for most of us these are lost skills.

Learn what is useful to you. What can you cook without power in the home? (Wood, charcoal, camp stoves with fuel). How will you keep warm? (coats, blankets, fire, Hyperthermia). How will you protect your house? Where will you find clean water? (Storing Water, Water Filtration )

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Flash Foods

"Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does all the work"
- Mark Twain

According to, "Flash floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, and because of their unpredictability they’re the leading weather-related cause of death for Americans ... Unlike normal floods which arrive slowly and with more warning, flash floods are particularly dangerous because they happen so quickly, developing from thunderstorms that form in a matter of hours."

The ScienceDaily article goes on to show how researchers in Tel Aviv are using lightning strikes as a predictor of flash floods for "nowcasting".

FEMA describes flash floods this way, "flash floods can develop quickly, sometimes in just a few minutes and without any visible signs of rain. Flash floods often have a dangerous wall of roaring water that carries rocks, mud, and other debris and can sweep away most things in its path."

Bottom Line

Every state is at risk from this hazard. During a flash flood small streams, gullies, creeks, culverts, dry stream beds, or low-lying ground can become death traps. If you are outdoors when rain begins or you hear thunder, climb to high ground. Don't try to outrun a flood by running along the river bed! Don't walk through moving water. Six inches of moving water can make you fall. Escape to higher ground perpendicular to the stream bed.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Trees = Fire Trap?

"Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, how lovely are your branches..." - traditional carol

Have you seen the video of a Christmas Tree bursting into flame?
According to FEMA, Christmas trees account for 200 fires annually, resulting in 6 deaths, 25 injuries and more than $6 million in property damage.

To prevent your tree from burning down your house, the National Fire Protection Association site gives these safety tips:

  • Only use tree lights that are approved by a testing laboratory. Larger tree lights should have a reflector to keep the bare bulb from touching the tree.
  • Don't use old lights with worn, frayed or broken cords or loose bulb connections.
  • Don't connect more than three strands of push-in bulbs and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.
  • Always unplug/turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.
  • Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and extend their life.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate a tree, and make sure any lit candles in the room are placed well away from tree branches.
  • Try to keep live trees as moist as possible by giving them plenty of water daily. Do not purchase a tree that is dry or dropping needles. Check for fresh, green needles.
  • Safely dispose of the tree when it begins dropping needles. Dried-out trees are highly flammable and should not be left in a house or garage, or placed against the house.
  • Keep a watchful eye on children (and cats!) around the tree. Do not let them play with the lights or chew on the wiring.
  • Store matches and lighters up high, out of reach, preferably in a locked cabinet.
  • Make sure the tree is at least three feet (one meter) away from any heat source, such as fireplaces and radiators.
  • Try to position the tree near an outlet so that cords are not running long distances.
  • Do not place the tree where it may block exits.

Bottom Line

Keep a fire extinguisher near the Christmas tree. You might need it!

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008


"It'll be a hot time, in the old town, tonight! Fire, fire, fire." - song lyric

I don't think most people have a true appreciation for fire. We watch it burning peacefully in a fireplace or under other controlled conditions and bask in its warmth.

But last month Californians were reminded that fire can also be a monster. We "know" fire is "hot" but ...?
“It was a firestorm,” Captain Ruda said. “There were 50-foot-length flames streaking across the mobile home park. Fire hoses were melting into the cement and concrete. That’s how hot it was.”
And while we think of the hot flames as dangerous, the real killer is smoke...
“The smoke was so bad, I had to cover my mouth with a wet towel when we left,” Ms. Mendez said in Spanish. “I didn’t want to breath it in and hurt my baby.”
And most of us never learn just how fast fire can move...

“People really need to understand that because of these winds this fire can be upon you in a moment’s notice.”

Emergency crew members got a demonstration of how dangerous the winds were when, in the middle of the night, a wall of flames surrounded the Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar. Media reports said hospital staff members had worked frantically to remove critically ill patients as smoke seeped into the ventilation systems and backup generators failed.

A great example of the speed at which fire can spread is a Fire Safety video of a dry Christmas tree burning.
Within four seconds flames are up to the ceiling. Within 45 seconds the room has "flashed over" and is a total loss.

Bottom Line
When I lost power the other night, it took time for me to mentally adjust to what had happened and to respond by finding candles, matches, etc. With a fire you don't have time. You need to move quickly and assertively and you don't get a second chance to save something. NEVER go back into a burning house because you forgot something.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Give Peace A Chance?

"All we are saying is give peace a chance" - John Lennon

Peace is a good thing and I definitely prefer peace over war. But I also recognize that there is evil in the world and people with evil intent. Edmund Burke once said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Doing nothing, turning the other cheek, is a good policy up to a point. It is preferable to walk away from words spoken in anger, from a rash act or deed. History is full of stories of families and cultures trapped in a cycle of endless revenge (Romeo & Juliet, Hatfield & Macoys) for past hurts.

But there are other times when doing nothing is cowardice; a refusal to resist evil; or a selfishness that my life is worth more than others. I realize that cowardice is a harsh word and sometimes mistakenly applied. In the Kenny Rogers song, Coward of the County, a man tries to live by his father's dying wish, "Promise me, son, not to do the things I've done. Walk away from trouble if you can." Townsfolk consider this cowardice and fail to recognize the principles and moral courage involved. "Something always told me they were reading Tommy wrong." Tommy ignores insults to himself but when the bullies rape his girl friend he takes action. "Sometimes you gotta fight when you're a man."

A few years back I attended a class called "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior". He taught that fighting was always to be avoided when possible but sometimes was necessary. It was better to be a pacifist by choice and not because of weakness. He gave an example that anyone could be a fighter under the right circumstances. He asked the women in the audience, if attacked by a really large man (a professional boxer), would you fight back? Most said no, they were too weak. Then he asked, if this boxer attacked your teenage daughter who was with you, what would you do? The same women said, "Kill him!"

Bottom Line

I believe it is noble and virtuous to turn the other cheek when harm is done to you. But I believe it is wrong to do nothing when harm is done to others. While I admire the strength of belief of the Amish and Quakers to total Pacifism, peace won't stop evil.

In the recent novel, Ender's Exile. Orson Scott Card wrote, "Pacifism only works when the attacker won't murder the innocent." That is, peaceful resistance works only when the attacker has moral principles. When the attacker harms the innocent and oppresses the weak, that is evil in action and must be stopped by "good men."

I wanted to end the blog there but one more point is needed. Some people see Bush or the US as "evil" for trying to fight terrorists. War is nasty and ugly and often the innocents get hurt. But there is a difference between innocents dying by accident with a stray missile and deliberately blowing up schools, buses, crowds, etc. Our President expresses remorse when innocents are hurt, terrorists dance in the street with joy. If we walk away and "give peace a chance" because we fear the collateral damage we might do, then innocent lives will continue to suffer and die under the tyranny of evil men who will kill anyone to obtain power and dominion.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Earthquakes in Tennessee?

"The story so far: In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move"
- Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
When Americans think of the earth moving, i.e. earthquakes, most people will picture California and the San Andreas fault. But there is another large fault in America that is less well know but equally dangerous - the New Madrid fault.
FEMA has predicted a large New Madrid earthquake would cause "widespread
and catastrophic physical damage" across Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana,
Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee -- home to some 44 million
people. - Reuters

The San Andreas fault shakes frequently relieving much of the stress of two plates rubbing against each other in small earthquakes. But the New Madrid fault builds up pressure over a century or more and then snaps in a very large earthquake. When the New Madrid fault last snapped, 1811 and 1812, the course of the Mississippi River was changed and church bells rang on the East Coast.

Moreover most buildings in the New Madrid fault zone are not built to be earthquake proof. In California everyone knows about (and feels) earthquakes and so preventive measures are taken. But no one alive remembers the last New Madrid earthquake and it's a case of "out of sight, out of mind."

Bottom Line

It pays to learn the kinds of natural disasters that can occur locally to you. See my earlier post, Not in My Backyard!

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