Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Incredible Value of Spices, Especially for Preppers


  There are many times, during emergencies, power outages, flu pandemics, or even during civil unrest that eating out becomes unwise if not dangerous.  Yet, many American families have stocked kitchens, and live a life that requires that they eat out multiple times each week.   This post is one of a several pronged attempt to examine this practice and gradually make some changes which allow eating at home as a safer, less expensive, and potentially a more pleasant experience.

          In the last post I explained that learning to cook was not a skill set I mastered early in my marriage.  Consistent with that, I thought that a collection of spices was an extravagance.  I did not learn until much later how important having a supply of spices and knowing how to use them, really can be.

            In the US, in the past twenty years or so, families have developed a bad habit of eating out with their children at least once a week, and often much, much more. We tell ourselves that we don't have time to cook, but often, we eat out because the food simply tastes better than something we think we might make at home.  Proper seasoning of food may be one of the reasons we might have this misperception.

           In addition, spices are not simply an extravagance. Spices not only can provide an interesting an appetizing draw to food, for only a few calories, if any, but they can provide vitamins and significant amounts of trace minerals.   Nutmeg for example is metabolized as magnesium !  Most of us could use additional dietary magnesium.   Many studies bear out the great value of dietary spices.  Although I am not personally a fan of Indian food, we know that many cancers are quite rare in India, in part because they spice their food with a particular set of spices which are now proven to benefit health.

The following is a listing of just a few spices and how you and your family can incorporate these in your normal diet


In reasonable amount used as a seasoning, many cultures from Asia to Europe use it.   I like to use it on top of hot chocolate and on baked custard, but many cultures use it on vegetables also.  Some cultures use it on potatoes, and other on vegetables like Brussel sprouts.  In any event, you are taking on additional magnesium while you are enjoying a tasty treat.


   Cumin is also a spice which has bee widely used throughout the world for hundreds if not thousands of years.  It can be used ground, as I do, or in the seed form also.  It can add an earthy, warm taste to soups, stews and even chili.  There is scientific data which suggests that it is mildly antibacterial and antiviral and aids with digestion.


       This spice is used in South East Asian cuisine in both vegetable and meat dishes.  India also uses it broadly. There are too many health benefits to list in the form of a brief blog post, and so I will encourage you to research these yourself.


         From French toast to flavoring your own oatmeal and healthy oatmeal cookies cinnamon  is of great benefit.  Some use cinnamon on certain potato, sweet potato or carrot dishes also.


         From flavoring meats, poultry, to salads, ginger can provide that inexplicable something that the Asian restaurants know so well.   Ginger is also said to be an excellent way of settling a stomach.

Chili powder

              The important take away point is that being able to produce tasty food which makes eating in public during difficult times less of a necessity is an important preparedness skill.  Going out to eat should be rare, and the times you do it should be chosen.  Not only is eating out costly, but it does eating increase your exposure to the hazards of other people in difficult times (like civil unrest, for example). It exposes us and our families to potential for food  poisoning.   No matter how nice a restaurant might look, there is always the potential for food poisoning.


               A fairly expensive spice, this is used in teas. It is also a fantastic addition to certain breads. There are positive health uses.

               This post does not encourage you to build a spice cabinet for hundreds of dollars by Friday.  What I am saying is that bit my bit, preppers especially should begin, one by one, to gather salt, pepper, ginger, chili powder, freeze dried chives, and all manner of spices you believe you would use.  I have also bought large long term containers of powdered chicken gravy and beef gravy.   CVS and Wahlgreens also stock some low priced spices.  I am quite sure that these may not be the very best of spices available, but sometimes, when we wish to try something we have never used before, a dollar or two is all that we should spend.    Badia is also a brand of spices sold fairly inexpensively in grocery stores.  Sometimes it has a stronger flavor than other brands, but it is inexpensive and is especially good value if you enjoy spices often used in Mexican food.     There are also combinations of spices which you might invest in.  I am particularly fond of Montreal Steak Seasoning, and now there is a Montreal Chicken Seasoning also.

This was a coca cola bottle holder turned into a spice rack.

                In the interest of good health and in spending more time eating at home, for both economic and practical reasons, we owe it to ourselves and our families to begin to gather spices and experiment as to how to properly use them.   Some time ago my husband returned from a business trip in Mexico with a wonderful recipe he learned from the hotel.  A chicken breast is split and fried gently in olive oil and salt and pepper.  Then cumin is shaken on front and back of the chicken and it is cooked until it is golden brown.  Unusual and delicious !   We owe it to ourselves to learn more about spicing.

If you are unable to locate a spice you would like to try, this is an excellent source of all spices:

Regarding Reporting Food Poisoning After Eating Out   (A State by State Reporting System)

Regarding Food Poisoning:

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Why Learning to Cook from Scratch and Why Making Your Own Dinners Makes Sense


(Photo:  )

             This is an incredibly timely post for those considering preparedness issues, as inflation, civil unrest, and other factors may make older habits of eating out less attractive.  These are some of your alternatives.


              I used not to put much thought, time or money in making food when I was first married.  Since we both worked, we ate out a lot.   Cooking has also not been a skill I acquired early in my marriage.  There were other things which interested me, and I was quite happy in those early years to eat crusty bread, cheese and fruit and then go out to dinner a couple of times a week. I baked a cake once a month or so, and keeping the kitchen clean was more of a priority for me than making it dirty.

              As our family grew and we became even busier, eating out wasn't really an option as much.  With four and then five children, it also became more expensive an option.  In addition, we might be willing to take the chance on food poisoning ourselves (a statistical possibility at most restaurants), but we were not willing to take such risks with our children.

               When we moved out to the country, eating out wasn't even an option.  There were no Chinese restaurants in our rural county.  Pizza delivery wasn't available. There are no "Mom and Pop" restaurants for fifty miles.  We needed to make tasty food ourselves.  Homeschooling also took a lot of time and sometimes we weren't finished with studies when I really needed to start dinner.  We found that one or two days a month, the kids and I could make our own family dinners from scratch. We would freeze them in a large freezer and then we had "healthy convenience food" for almost the next month of dinners.  This also allowed our children to learn something about cooking and about nutrition.  Because one of our sons had some food allergies, it also allowed us to carefully select some of the ingredients in order to stay on the safe side with him.

Kids will make some irregular looking pizzas at first, but they will quickly catch on.  (Picture: )

                In those years, we took a trip with the minivan to Sam's Club and bought the correct flours, tomatoes, sale foods, meats, and everything else, and then another day we would cook all day.  On those days we made the following:

Green peppers stuffed with beef with rice
Quiche Lorraine
Broccoli and Cheddar Quiche
Pizza Quiche
Cabbage stuffed with beef
Chicken parmigian with spaghetti
Cheese Pizza
Pepperoni Pizza
Pizza with green pepper and chicken
Shepherd's Pie    (the kids use beef as they are not big fans of pork or lamb)
Turkey meatballs in Italian sauce (for use on long rolls for sandwiches)
Pancakes and sausage (these freeze quite well and they like "breakfast for dinner every couple of weeks)
Broccoli and cheddar casserole
Cheesy rice and spinach casserole
 Beef stew
Hearty chicken noodle soup stew
Lighter macaroni and cheese casserole
Red Meat Sauce for Spaghetti
Lemon Cod and Fries
Meat pie
Chicken Alfredo
Homemade hamburger helper

On days when we don't need to pull something ready made from the freezer we would occasionally cook steaks on the grill, make hamburgers, a shrimp salad with garlic toast or tacos.

cheesy broccoli and cheddar casserole  (this picture:  )

Some of the recipes were adapted from family traditional recipes. All of the recipes listed above are available on quick internet searches, just as I did when I found I needed to make quick food and wasn't a big fan of the cooking process. Note also that the calorie count per serving and other nutritional information is available on many of the recipes found on the internet.   When you like a recipe, print it out and place it in a plastic protective sheet in a three ring binder.

      Sometimes, while the stove and the cook top was running, we would be using two slow cookers on the counter for beef stew and chili.

    The other clear benefit to cooking two days a month with your kids is that you will have time to bake an apple pie or two as you learn to coordinate how to cook rice while cooking pasta and prepping one thing while waiting for another. Over time, this will teach your children, and yourself how to better time the coordination of the cooking of different dishes.

       After cooking, you can double package the food in freezer wrap and mark and date it, so that you can pull the oldest frozen dinner. This also allows you to avoid the plastic containers that many prepackaged foods come in.   We really don't know the potential effects of plastic food packaging which is in direct contact with your food, and is microwaved from frozen.  I suspect that it does deliver some chemicals to our systems particularly in the long term.  Making and packaging your own allows you and your family to sidestep such chemicals.    I usually add frozen vegetables and/or salad at the last minute to each entree when it is served.

      The part that I like best is that we really only significantly dirty the kitchen and the oven and stove two days a month, so it saves on at least some of the daily kitchen cleaning.

         Last, you would be surprised as to how much money a large family can potentially save by forsaking Stouffer's and Lean Cuisine, and learning to make your very own frozen meals.  You can also make some individual servings of special foods if they need to be decalorized or specially made due to allergies.  This can also work well for families with a member who has gluten or casein allergy.   Did you know that cupcakes and decalorized mini chocolate pound cakes can be frozen and are fantastic even  when defrosted ?

       Best of all, I haven't had a headache due to MSG (Monosodium glutamate, which is in almost all prepared food and mixes.) in years, except when I forget and taste something at a tasting station at Sam's Club !

         If you are interested in prepping then this method of pre-making dinner can be especially helpful.  It puts you in better tough with meal planning, with using up what you have rather than letting it age.  It incorporates your children into at least one aspect of preparedness, which is meal preparation and sensible food shopping.  It puts your attention, at least monthly when you cook on food rotation.  It will also help you see what items need to be purchased in larger quantities at your house, and what you might wish to abandon altogether.  We learned that we use an awful lot of oatmeal at our house, but very little in terms of creamed soups. We use a variety of beans but not as many as I thought we needed to stock.   I hope this endeavor is as helpful to you.

The next post deals with the value of spices, especially for preppers.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Defining the "Bubba Factor"

(Photo: )

   US Law Enforcement, State Police, Special Forces, and even the Central Intelligence Agency have all periodically mentioned something they call  "The Bubba Factor".   I actually dislike the term because I think it can be misleading, and I would prefer a more precise label, if a label needs to exist at all.   The "Bubba Factor" does not actually refer to the idiocy of the common man, as many think it does.  The way this is defined among law enforcement and CIA operatives is that a group of men who own their own weapons and who embrace the US Constitution as they understand it with limited education, and who are willing to help protect their counties and home areas, even if it results in actions which would be considered illegal by federal standards. They would also consider dying for the US Constitution as they understand it. These men are sometimes involved in local militias.  Some of them have been helping Texas ranchers prevent illegal aliens and drug dealers from using their properties with some effectiveness.

               The concern by Special Forces and the CIA is that groups of organized armed men who might not understand law could be dangerous in situations where during a major protracted disaster or perhaps an economic crash in the US were to occur.  They have concerns that in an emergency, such men would consider that the federal government no longer has jurisdiction in their area, or that the federal government is corrupt or  is anti-Constitution.   There are furthur concerns that former soldiers who swore to defend the US Constitution, and then came home to a nation in which the Constitution appears to be frequently discounted or ignored, make take seriously their solemn vow to defend it against all enemies.   There may be "bubbas" who consider the present regime an enemy of the US Constitution. (There are days I think that myself)  They don't fear "bubbas" as much as they fear vigilantism.

           Of course, it is the job of elements of the federal government to create contingency plans for many things that will never be.  My own family invested in a basement shelter in the 1960s which was never used, as anything other than canned food storage . Many things simply never come to pass but a plan for them needs to exist nonetheless.  There are a few things we all can do to help to quell some of the "Bubba Factor" concerns.

1.  If the Federal Government fears it's citizens then it needs to think again.  It works for the people who legally inhabit the United States.  The government for and by the people needs to reflect what is right for them.  When the government finds the need to do something that might not be accepted well, then a policy of transparency needs to exist.  Americans are entitled to know where their tax money is going and why.  A little more transparency on the part of government will result in a lot less loose talk on the part of the citizenry.  This would contribute to much more comfort and perhaps confidence,on both sides.

2. Militia members need to have trusted contacts in their local law enforcement and in their state police departments or equivalent.  If you are known to law enforcement as a reasonable person, then you are less likely to be wrongly investigated, feared or inappropriately detained.  Fear breeds misunderstandings, and misunderstandings also breed accidental shootings.  Most officers travel with a round chambered all the time.  It doesn't take much more than a scary situation and some adrenalin pumping, for an accidental firearm discharge to occur. Networking and cooperating with law enforcement can be a very wise choice. Knowing law enforcement personally also helps us to realize that although there certainly are some bad police officers (and some bad lawyers, some bad nurses, and some bad doctors) that the bulk of them are good people professionally and deserving of our respect and cooperation.

3. In many communities in the US, the sheriff must approve a concealed weapons permit following a background and criminal check of the citizen, as well as examination of his firearm training certificate.  Intelligent sheriffs like this plan.   Vetted concealed weapons carriers are known to him (or her) to have a clean criminal record, and in the event of a dire emergency or a disaster, surviving concealed weapons permit carriers could be deputized to aid the sheriff, especially in areas where very few law enforcement officers or back up exists.  Rather than collecting weapons, perhaps we should be making sure that vetted persons actually have them, and carry them.

4. A firearm is a tool, just as a steak knife, and a hammer is a tool.   In my early nurses training I met several patients who had killed people using knives or hammers.  Tools do not have a mind of their own. They exert no control over individuals.  People who are misguided or insane can use anything from a clothes line to a swimming pool to kill someone.  The paranoia regarding handguns and long guns needs to stop.   Don't we wish to have trained citizenry able to use firearms competently when ISIS hits "soft" targets ?

            I think we would also do well to remember that a lot of the real work of this country is done by people who would be considered to be "bubbas".   Perhaps we should fear their not working.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Considering Quality Surge Protectors and Power Strips

Sadly, these don't last forever.

            There are many things on which I spend as little as possible.  Disposables such as facial tissues, isopropyl alcohol, peroxide, powders, cosmetics, aluminum foil, paper plates, cleaning supplies, etc. are often obtained here from the Dollar Tree when I make the long trip to the suburbs from here.  However, there are some things that should not be scrimped upon because their functions are so essential.

There are many options for excellent surge suppressors.

              In each room we tend to have a power strip or surge protector or two.  Before we had whole house lightning arrestors, it was important to have the protection of a surge protector. We lost several fax machines over the years prior to investing in a surge protector.   Traditionally, I have not worried too much about the type and quality of the power strip or the surge protector, especially since we do now have the whole house lightning arrestors and I have been feeling slightly safer. Surge protectors are also nice to have because certain rooms can have the power turned off at the site of the surge protector, saving you at least some electricity.

               This week I learned exactly why you should invest in good quality surge protectors, and perhaps mark them with the date they entered your service so they can be replaced every few years as is the reccomendation..  I have a small refrigerator on the farm which is stocked with immunizations and animal meds which benefit from being kept under refrigeration.  I used to keep some veterinary suppositories there also.   It is simply a good practice to keep medications and immunizations away from human foodstuffs.    I also have several refrigerator thermometers in the animal med frij to ensure that the temperature remains about 40F.  I also do check those temperatures about weekly.  At some points in the year, very little is stored there, with the exception of  some ophthalmic antibiotic cream for horses and alpacas, but at other times of the year, hundreds of dollars worth of immunizations are stored there as they were this month, in anticipation of horse and alpaca Spring immunizations.  This morning, I went to get something from the room in which the animal med frij is located and I noticed I didn't hear the compressor sound which normally runs intermittently.  I decided to look at the light on the surge protector which serves it.  The light signaling its use was off !   I opened the frij to find that it was not only off, but fifty degrees and that it had been off for some time !    A bit more than a week ago, we had a power outage, and when everything else came back on, for some reason, the surge protector serving the barn phone and the refrigerator did not.  I tested it and found that the surge protector, which is now four years old has failed !

               I don't think that I can use the immunizations in the frij with any expectation of their being effective now. This is a terrible shame because I have lost a hundred and fifty dollars worth of Potomac Horse Fever immunizations,  twenty doses of rabies shots,  (state law does not allow a non-veterinarian to administer rabies vaccines to dogs or cats, but does allow me to immunize my horses, and  alpacas.) The rabies shots were about eighty-five dollars. A vial of CDT (clostridial and tetanus diseases) was about twenty dollars.  I also lost a few doses of dog immunizations, a combination vaccine of distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza and parvovirus, for a bit less than ten dollars per each dose.  I will also toss the injectable veterinary antibiotic which would have expired in September of this year anyway.  In all, these were some expensive losses.    I am fortunate that I had not yet ordered the Spring horse immunizations which included both the Eastern, Western, and Venezuelan encephalitises. the tetanus vaccines I use for them, the rhinopneumonitis vaccines and others we use for them annually here.

              So, my message for today is that if you have a device which is mission critical, like a frij which houses immunizations for use once or twice a year, then consider the purchase of a good quality surge protector.  You might do this in order to protect the device itself, or you may do this to protect the contents of a refrigerator etc.   The other aspect of this is that although I try to purchase immunizations in multi-use vials because they are often cheaper, that it may actually be more intelligent only to purchase what you will use, administer them, and then nor have the burden of storage and the potential loss of the biologicals down the line.

A small medication refrigerator can be very helpful, and because it is opened so rarely stays very temperature stable.

             I am heading out to find a quality surge protector, and then I will mark it with purchase date, and replace it when it exceeds its recommended lifespan.  Oh goodness, I wonder what the lifespan of the animal medication frij  itself really is ?