Mon. Mar. 8, 2021 – did some cooking and cleaning

Cool again today, and hopefully dry.   It stayed cool yesterday and was sunny and bright.   A beautiful day.  A day for . . . yardwork!

Well, my wife did some planting, and I did some cleaning.   She got some new plants into the herb garden and replaced some of the decorative stuff that froze.   She cut back the stuff we’re hoping recovers.

I raked some more leaves, especially by the citrus trees.   I shook and knocked most of the dead leaves off the trees and then I cleaned up around them.   I didn’t quite get everything bagged, I’ll have to finish later.  In the back yard my wife planted some tomatoes (and the herbs) while I picked up debris and ran the lawnmower.   Put the fire pit cooker back in the middle of the yard.   Pressure washed some spots on the patio and a few things I’d missed, basically just to run  the gas tank dry.  And then, because the firepit was just sitting right there, we decided to have a little fire.   And if we’re going to have a fire, might as well use it to cook dinner, says the 9 year old… wisdom from the mouths of babes.

So that’s what we did.   The firepit is enclosed with mesh all the way around and has a cast iron grill that you can cook on.   We re-heated beef stew, put some mushrooms in butter in foil, and grilled some kielbasa sausages.  I put a can of red beans and rice on too and that made a real nice meal with the sliced sausage.   During the blackouts we ate a couple of cans of the stuff, and gave some to the neighbors too.   Recommended.   Tasty, hearty, and easy to make.

(And of course dessert was s’mores.   We had the fire going anyway…)

Canned and ‘instant’ versions of food and ingredients should be high on your stored food list.   They take less time and less heat energy to prepare and you might be short on both of those things during your emergency.   I’ve got lots of regular rice, but during short term events, I reach for the Minute Rice.  Everything we had for dinner had already been cooked, and really just needed to be heated.

Speaking of shortcuts, for breakfast I made eggs, and biscuits with sausage gravy.   First time for me and the gravy.   It was from a can too.  Biscuits from a tube, gravy from a can, and eggs (ultimately from a chicken, but yesterday just from the store.)   The gravy was pretty good, the family all ate it and my wife got seconds.   It was FAR better than the white goo I got from a gravy packet last time I tried biscuits and gravy.  Younger daughter also got fried sliced spam.  She loves it.

So breakfast was from medium and long term storage, and dinner was from the pantry but cooked over a wood fire.    Eat what you store…   and store some stuff you don’t normally eat so that you have some novel foods if you get bored.

Cooking over a wood fire is fun when you don’t have to do it.  Practice using some of the different ways you have stacked to cook, clean, heat water, etc.  MUCH easier to do so in the daylight on a nice day, when the indoor stove is there for backup…

And of course, keep stacking the stuff you need.


Thur. Jan. 21, 2021 – 012121 – yep, easily amused

Cool and damp, may be even damper later in the day.

Yesterday was pretty nice for mid-winter high with 60s and low 70s.  Overcast all day, but shorts and t-shirt weather for me.  I got a couple of things around the house cleaned up.  Finally got the last of the Christmas decor down and most of it put away.

Because I was at home in the afternoon, I cooked a lamb roast.   It’s a great example of saving money with a freezer, vac sealer, and buying in bulk.  I like lamb.  If you haven’t had it since you were a child, it’s different than it was.  Most of the ‘lamb’ taste, the mutton/gamey flavor is gone because of the farmers growing a different breed.   We enjoy it rare to medium rare.   Anyway, I buy the bigger roast and cut it in half.  Vac seal and freeze the resulting 2-3 pound roasts, and you’ve got a roast that is perfectly sized for two adults with leftovers, or a family like mine.  It doesn’t take forever to roast at that size either.    You can get a much better grade of meat in lamb roast for the same money, than you typically can for a beef roast.  Better living for less….

I buy hamburger in a bulk pack and repack it as 1 1/3 pound slabs.  I press it into a shallow square plastic food saver package then vac seal that shape so it will stack better in the freezer.  I used to do 1 pound packs but the kids are growing.

I buy pork roasts in the 10 pound tube, and slice into center cut pork chops any thickness I like.  I also cut a couple of 2-3 pound roasts out of the whole.  All get vac sealed and frozen.   The 10 pound pack is cheaper than smaller roasts, or pre-cut chops.  I usually season the chops in the vac bag with garlic salt and chinese oyster sauce.  The family LOVES the sweet brown sauce on pork and I don’t have to make a mess at cooking time, or worry about marinading it ahead of time.  Another win!

Beef ribeye roasts get the same treatment as the pork roast, some steaks, some of the best beef roast ever.  I season the steaks before vac bagging with Adkins seasoning.  It’s a nice mix of garlic, citrus-y something, and black pepper.   It’s a lot like Penzey’s Chicago Steak seasoning, without all the hate for conservatives.

Bacon in the bulk pack is 24c/lb.  It’s double that in smaller packaging.  I re-pack it in 3/4 lb blocks which is just a bit more than we need for breakfast.    It rarely lasts until lunch.  Vac seal and freeze into one meal portions…

I should note that I’m not Rockefeller.   The vac seal and freeze routine means the meat lasts as long as it’s frozen, so I only buy the stuff on sale.  I buy a BUNCH when the price is right and store it for later.  There are significant savings to be had if you shop this way.   There are shopping trips where I might not even buy any meat if it’s not on sale, because I have some at home in the freezer.

Another thing I do is freeze the leftovers from holiday meals.   I do the same “shape them into a flat block” trick of pressing them into a plastic storage container before freezing.   It’s easy to gauge the number of portions when it’s time to eat, just look at the bag.

If you want to vac seal something wet or squishy, put it in the plastic container and freeze it first, then take it out of the container and vac seal the block of soup, or chili, or whatever.

You can vac seal and freeze partially prepare foods too.   I like to sear the meat before using the slow cooker to make stew or pot roast or carnitas.  I don’t like the smell in the house (and I didn’t have a working exhaust fan) so if I’m going to get out the cast iron and make the mess, I like to do at least 2 or 3 meals worth.   After searing,  I put the meat and juices into vac sealed bags and freeze them.  The next time I want stew or pot roast, or pork carnitas, I defrost the meat and put it right into the cooker, no muss, no fuss.

I’m sure there are plenty of other people out there that have written or ‘tubed about the vac sealer more eloquently and more completely than I have, but these ideas should get you started if you are holding out.  I consider the vac sealer to be essential, so I have my daily driver, then another spare of a similar type, then two more  spares of the ‘seal a meal’ manual type.  I just picked up another one from goodwill this week to have on the shelf.  You’ll find uses for it, if you have one.

So that’s some ideas for stacking, get to it.



Tues. Nov. 17, 2020 – the wheel turns…

Cool, damp, but sunny and clear.  I hope.

Stayed cool and clear all day yesterday. It was 45F at midnight but 70s and maybe into the low 80s at some point during the day.  Cool in the shade though.

I got stuff done around the house.  Moved the rest of the insulation into the attic.  Broke down a whole bunch of scrap.  Messed with the pool liner so it will hopefully finally dry out.  Poked at a couple of other things.

It doesn’t sound like much but it was forward progress.

On the other hand, my cough and sore throat don’t seem to be getting better.  I’m going to try to get a test today or tomorrow.  I don’t have a fever, or any of the other serious and definitive symptoms, but I’m supposed to be driving to Florida to spend a week with my mom at the end of the week…  I’m still not comfortable with that, and especially so if I’m not feeling well.  Maybe I’ll try a rapid test this time, and pay for it.

I’ve been feeling tired and run down, but then I’m not sleeping enough either.  Being tired is a natural consequence of not sleeping.  Anyway.   Better to test if I can.  And if I can trust the results.  And if I can actually get a test.   To be honest, I stopped paying attention, and the pictures out of El Paso shocked me.  Daily Mail had this to say,

it has become a particularly heavy burden upon rural America.

Counties with fewer than 10,000 residents now have the highest rate of new daily coronavirus infections per capita of any size county, according to an Axios analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

These rural counties – referred to as ‘non-core’ by the National Center for Health Statistics and US Census Bureau are suffering an average of 60.4 new cases per every 100,000 people, whereas 35.4 out of every 100,000 people living in large central metro areas are being diagnosed a day.

As a result, the national rate of infections seemed to be climbing more slowly, but hospital systems are more likely to be imperiled now than they were during the first spring peak of the pandemic in the U.S.

Rural areas have fewer beds to begin with, meaning that they can quickly become overwhelmed, as El Paso, Texas, has. That means that even if the absolute numbers of new cases and hospitalizations remain low, facilities may run out of space and personnel to treat patients, and people may die faster than space an be made in small local morgues.

Aesop and others had mentioned this very scenario way back in the early days…  Other than total deaths, most of what was outlined before this became political has remained on target.  Waves.  Of decreasing size.   For years.  Rural areas with no resources quickly overwhelmed.

No one called the political aspects. Always there are second and third order effects.  Those are much harder to predict.

Violent rhetoric and  actual violence against conservatives are increasing.  The radical elements on the left are becoming emboldened (or the ones who are in the know are becoming desperate.)  If I was a conspiracy guy, I’d say we’re due for a major incident that will overwhelm the election stories.  Bonus if it kills Americans, bonus if it can be used to bludgeon Trump for not giving up and letting Biden in the door.  And if it looks like Trump might actually be successful in his challenge, expect someone to try for him.  It’s kinda amazing that he’s made it this long considering the forces aligned against him.  They’ve tried smears, they’ve tried legal action, they’re trying election fraud, what’s left?  And Harris is waiting in the wings to step in…   The flip side is some antifa/blm/black bloc kids get sacrificed to create a narrative that Trump’s nazzi white supremacist thugs are out of control and need more crackdowns…

Or dozens of other potential scenarios, most of which end in increased violence and lead toward civil ware…..

The good news is, if you are prepared for zombies, you’re prepared for most of the rest of the threats too.   Don’t get caught short this time.  Stack what you need.  Stack it high and deep.




Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Happy Birthday USA!

09:56 – It was 64.4F (18C) when I took Colin out at 0640, partly cloudy. We’re mostly taking the day off for Independence Day, although Barbara is volunteering at the Historical Society museum from 1000 to 1330 and I’m making up some chemicals for forensic science kits.

I suppose it’s human nature, but I always put off the most obnoxious ones until last. One of those is Kastle-Meyer reagent, which is a concentrated hydroxide solution that needs to be refluxed (simmered) for an hour or so, until the metallic zinc in the flask reduces the bright magenta alkaline solution of phenolphthalein to a colorless (or straw yellow) solution of phenolphthalin (note the different spelling).

The other obnoxious one, for a different reason, is the gentian violet solution used for detecting fingerprints on sticky tape. That one’s obnoxious because it turns everything purple. It’s a very fine powder that wants to go everywhere, and even the tiniest grain–literally one one-thousandth of a grain of sand–is enough to make large purple stains on everything: our skin, the sink, anything it comes into contact with. Fortunately the stain is fugitive. It wears off skin pretty quickly, and any oxidizer (like dilute chlorine bleach) renders it colorless.

As long as we’re making up stuff, I think we’ll make up a test batch of caramel/butterscotch sauce. Barbara used to buy it at the supermarket, but we haven’t had any in the refrigerator for quite a while. Here’s the recipe I intend to try, which was provided by a reader:

⊕ 6 ounces water (0.75 cup; 178 g)
⊕ 12 ounces white sugar (1.75 cups; 347 g)
⊕ 0.75 teaspoons salt (4.3 g)
⊕ 12 ounces evaporated milk (1.5 cup; 192 g)
⊕ 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract (7.5 g)

1. Combine water, sugar, and salt in a 3-quart pan over medium heat. Stir until syrup comes to a boil, about 3 to 4 minutes, then simmer without stirring until syrup is honey-colored, about 6 minutes, swirling to ensure even caramelization. Continue cooking until syrup is light to medium amber, a minute more.

2. Add evaporated milk and reduce heat to medium-low.

3. Stir constantly to eliminate foaming, and simmer until syrup reaches 225F, or for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla extract, transfer to a canning jar or similar container, and set aside to cool. Syrup will be thin and runny while hot, but thickens as it cools. Refrigerate the container for storage.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

10:02 – It was 57F (14C) when I took Colin out at 0645 this morning, gray, damp, and foggy. We’re to have rain on and off over the next several days. Barbara is volunteering this afternoon at the historical society museum.

When Barbara was down in Elkin a couple weeks ago with Frances and Al, she bought some fudge at the general store. I’ve been wanting to try making fudge ourselves, but was put off by the memory of the last time I made it, probably 40 years ago. Back then, I used a double boiler (which we don’t have) and a candy thermometer. Temperature was critical, and the procedure was pretty involved.

But I came across various “easy fudge” recipes on the internet, and decided to give one a try this afternoon. It’s indeed pretty easy, calling only for semi-sweet chocolate chips, a can of sweetened condensed milk, and part of a stick of butter. The procedure consists of putting everything in a microwave-safe bowl and zapping it several times on medium until the chocolate is just melted.

I’m making one change. Instead of sweetened condensed milk, I’ll use evaporated milk with sugar added. The materials are pretty straightforward:

4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup white granulated sugar
1 12-ounce can of evaporated milk
1/3 cup of butter

And the directions are equally straightforward:

  1. Combine ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium until chocolate is just melted (5 – 7 minutes), stirring occasionally to mix.
  2. Pour mixture into a greased 9×9-inch glass baking dish and refrigerate until set.

All of the ingredients except butter are suitable for long-term storage, and that can be substituted for with a third of a cup of oil (or even water) and four tablespoons of butter powder. We’ll cheat and use the microwave, but in an emergency we could easily use a pan on the cooktop instead. I’ll post tomorrow about how our fudge turned out.

* * * * *

Saturday, 4 March 2017

09:50 – It was 21.3F (-6C) when when I took Colin out this morning, with light winds. Email overnight from Jane, with the subject line “I copied you again”. She and Tom didn’t have any powdered eggs in their pantry, so she ordered six #10 cans of them, which is about 35 dozen worth.

We had dinner last night again from long-term storage; Keystone beef chunks in barbecue sauce over rolls. Actually, the rolls were store-bought, but we have everything we need in LTS to make them ourselves.

In a prepping fail that turned into a prepping win, it turned out that we didn’t have any bottled barbecue sauce in the pantry. No problem, we just made it up ourselves from an old family recipe that we just made up:

1-1/2 cups white sugar + 1-1/2 Tbsp molasses (or substitute brown sugar)
1-1/2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup prepared mustard (or substitute 2-1/2 Tbsp dry mustard)
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp liquid smoke hickory sauce
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat on medium until it just begins to bubble. Yields about one quart/liter.

We reheated the pound or so of frozen leftover Keystone beef chunks in a smaller pan, poured about a pint of the sauce over them, and then served the beef and sauce over rolls and froze the excess sauce.

I was expecting our sauce to be at least okay, but it turned out better than that. Barbara and I agreed that it was better than all of the name-brand barbecue sauces we’d tried. Yet another advantage to cooking with LTS foods. Homemade tastes better.

* * * * *

10:43 – I just finished getting Barbara’s Dell notebook up and running under Linux Mint 18.1 Cinnamon. It was harder than it should have been. The first time, I installed from DVD, told it to restart, and removed the DVD. It came up normally, but was missing some drivers, including the one for the Broadcom Wifi chip. I fired up Driver Manager and told it to install from the DVD. When I came back a little while later, it hadn’t installed the WiFi driver, and the DVD drive was just sitting there making seeking noises. I suspect the drive itself rather than the disc, but I’ll check that out.

So, without a DVD drive, presumably, I used USB image writer on my own system to create a bootable flash drive image of Linux Mint 18.1, and installed that on Barbara’s notebook. Everything worked normally, and I now had WiFi connectivity. The next step was to restore Barbara’s Firefox and Mozilla profiles. As I’d done in the past, I simply deleted the default profiles for both and copied over her old profiles from her Windows system backup. But when I tried to fire up Firefox and Thunderbird, both failed with an error message about profile errors.

No problem, I thought. I’ll simply remove Firefox and Thunderbird in Software Manager and then immediately tell it to reinstall them. SM refused to delete either of them. So I went in and manually deleted the .mozilla and .thunderbird directories and then fired up SM again. It thought they were both still installed, and refused to do anything about it. So I fired up apt-get to try uninstalling/reinstalling them from the command line, but with no joy.

At that point, it seemed the easiest course was simply to blow away the contents of the SSD and reinstall. I did that just before dinner yesterday and then bagged it for the day. This morning, I fired up her system, copied the contents of the new default profile directories to backup directories, and then copied the contents of her Windows backup profile directories to the new default directories. When I fired up Firefox and Thunderbird, both came up and worked normally. The only minor issue was that I had to reinstall Adblock Plus on Firefox, but that took only 30 seconds.

Barbara’s system is now fully functional except that I still have to recopy her spreadsheet and other data from the backup flash drive onto her new SSD. And, yes, the notebook is now noticeably faster running from the SSD than it was running from a 5,400 RPM hard drive. I’ll stick the old hard drive in a box and put it on the shelf to cover the remote possibility that I’ll ever want to run Windows on her system again.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

10:02 – It was 48F (9C) again when I took Colin out this morning. It’s to reach a high of 66F (19C) today, with colder temperatures and snow moving in this evening. Tomorrow the high is to be 34F (1C) and the low 18F (-8C).

A bit of excitement this morning. A couple of minutes after she left for the gym, my phone rang. It was Barbara. She was sitting up at the intersection of our road and US21, and said there’d been a minor accident. Her car wasn’t hit, but a guy trying to make the sharp turn off of US21 onto our road had almost hit her and then steered away from her and run down the stop sign.

She asked me to walk up to the corner. The other driver was an elderly guy with disabled veteran plates. He was unhurt and there was only minor damage to his car’s bumper and fender where it had hit the stop sign. Barbara had already called 911, so we stood around and waited for the cops to show up. While we were waiting, a guy driving a tractor with a hay fork came up our road and pulled over to make sure everyone was okay.

So we all stood around talking while we waited. It turns out the elderly guy served in Korea during the Korean War, and then in Viet Nam. He left Sparta at age 17 and finally got back when he was 38. I stuck around because I was concerned the shock of the incident might cause him to have a heart attack, but he seemed perfectly okay. He said there was no one we needed to call for him, and he didn’t even want to sit down.

As is the norm up here in Sparta among all us Deplorables, Barbara and I both thanked him for his service. So did the guy on the tractor when he showed up.

* * * * *

Barbara mentioned the other day that the next time she went down to Winston she could ask Al to take her to Sam’s Club. We were Sam’s members for a year back a couple years ago, but we ended up dropping that membership because we just weren’t using it often enough to make it worthwhile. Sam’s does carry some stuff that Costco doesn’t, and Frances and Al have often offered to take us  as their guests anytime we like.

So I was putting together a Sam’s Club list for Barbara. One of the things we use a lot that our Costco doesn’t carry is Campbell’s Cream of * soups. Between casseroles and skillet dinners, we probably go through 100 or more cans of this stuff a year. So I was going to add four or five 10-packs of the cream of mushroom and another two or three 10-packs of the cream of chicken. I may still do that, because canned soups are convenient. They require no preparation, and can be stacked in minimal space.

But it’s also easy enough to make cream of * soups from scratch, at the cost of a few minutes work and another dirty pan. The bulk of it is simply a standard white sauce, with whatever the name ingredient is added in relatively small amounts.

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (or substitute 1 tsp of dry garlic flakes)
  • 1/3 cup onion, diced (or substitute 2 Tbsp of dry onion flakes)
  • 1/2 cup main ingredient, diced or chopped (mushrooms, chicken, celery, etc.; fresh or rehydrated)
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup butter (or substitute 1 Tbsp of butter power in 2 oz. oil)
  • 1/4 cup flour (or substitute cornstarch or dried potato flakes)
  • 1 cup milk (fresh or reconstituted dry)
  • 3/4 cup broth or bouillon (chicken, beef, or vegetable)

Saute the garlic, onion and main ingredient (mushrooms, chicken, celery, broccoli, etc.) in the vegetable oil and set aside. Melt butter over medium heat, whisk in flour, and cook for two minutes. Add milk and broth, followed by the sauteed items. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring regularly, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until it thickens. Season to taste with salt and pepper and use as you canned condensed cream soup in any recipe.

* * * * *

Until two or three years ago, Barbara refused to watch any TV series that we’d seen before, even if it had been 20 or 30 years since we’d watched it. Nowadays, because of the dearth of recent series worth watching, we’re mostly re-watching series that we really liked the first or even second time around.

Neither of us has any interest in watching zombies or serial killers or cartoons or progressive propaganda, which seem to make up the bulk of recent series. My strong preference is for peaceful series set in small towns or rural areas, stuff like Heartland, Everwood, Gilmore Girls (the original series, NOT the crappy four-episode follow-on that Netflix made), and even Jericho.

We’re just finishing up re-watching Lark Rise to Candleford, alternating with Jeeves and Wooster, so I pulled out the Everwood discs. I love watching Emily Vancamp as a 15-year-old cutie.

One thing I’ve noticed about the series I prefer is that with minor exceptions the young women main cast members keep their clothes on, not just in the series I watch, but period. You won’t find nude images, for example, of Heartland’s Amber Marshall or Everwood’s Emily Vancamp or Jericho’s Sprague Grayden. They simply turn down roles that require them to disrobe on camera.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

10:45 – Barbara cooked dinner on her new propane cooktop last night. A pound of pasta, a pound of ground beef, a pound can of chili beans, a 6-oz. can of tomato paste, 1.5 cups of water, one tsp. of chili powder, and one Tbsp. of onion flakes. It turned out pretty well, although I’d boost the onion to 2 Tbsp and add a tsp. of garlic powder.

Barbara really likes her new propane cooktop, although she’s having to get used to the burners. There are four: 15,000, 12,000, 9,100, and 5,000 BTUs. Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Tweenie Bear, and Baby Bear.

I’ve been building our collection of cast-iron cookware, which is particularly well suited to use on a gas cooktop with a heavy cast-iron grate. I just ordered a Lodge P14W3 Pro-Logic Cast Iron Wok. We’re doing stir-fry more often. We have a cast-steel wok that works fine, but I want to have a reasonably full set of cast-iron cookware.

If electric power goes down long-term, we’ll have to do all our cooking on the propane cooktop. I’ve never baked bread in a Dutch oven on a cooktop, but there are numerous pages on the web that describe how to do so. The next time we bake bread, I want to try baking at least one loaf in a Dutch oven on the gas cooktop.

Email overnight from Brittany, who’s been following our progress on getting propane installed for cooking. They currently have an electric cooktop and oven, and have decided to switch to a propane cooktop. Brittany ordered the same cooktop we have from Lowe’s, and has contacted their local propane supplier to have a tank installed and connected up to the cooktop. They’re going to move their current electric cooktop down to the food storage area in the basement and use it primarily for canning. I plan to do the same thing with our old electric cooktop.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

10:26 – I’m closing the month. Barring any orders that come in today, we’ve done about 80% of the revenue that we did last November. I’m not too concerned. Sales by month year-on-year bounce up and down. One month, we may do 60% of the prior year’s revenue. The next month, we may do 150%. Unless we have a monster December, we’ll finish 2017 behind 2016 revenues, but not hugely so.

It’s been warm and wet. It was 57F (~14C) when I took Colin out this morning, and that’ll probably be our high for the day. There’s a cold front moving in and we’ll be returning to seasonal temperatures, with cool days and nighttime lows near or below freezing. Fortunately, we’re getting our rain out of the way while it was still warm. From Monday night through this morning we had about 2.6 inches (6.6 cm) of rain, with maybe another inch forecast for this afternoon and evening before things clear up. This rain was badly needed, not just because the whole area was getting very dry, but to help put out the wildfires that have been ravaging several states in the Appalachians. The closest they’ve gotten to us is 30 miles or so, so the only effects we’ve seen have been smoke and haze. Our house sits in the middle of large cleared fields with not many trees nearby, so we should be safe from wildfires generally.

But it’s still a relief for the whole area to get three inches (7.6 cm) or so of rainfall. That’s most of a month’s worth of rain in a couple of days, and will go a long way toward extinguishing the wildfires to our south and west. Unfortunately, the rains came a bit too late to save many mountain communities, including Gatlinburg, TN, which is just over the NC border. Our thoughts are with the Gatlinburg residents, who had to evacuate on zero notice. Three dead and hundreds of homes destroyed. It must have been a shock for Gatlinburg residents. One moment, everything was normal. The next moment, cops were knocking on their doors, telling them to evacuate immediately. Obviously, people who had a grab-and-go bag packed and ready to go were the fortunate ones. Many people lost everything.

We did make peanut butter fudge yesterday, and it turned out pretty well. Barbara isn’t a big fan of fudge, but she tried it and said it was good. The recipe reminded me of Calvin & Hobbes’ chocolate-coated sugar bombs: combine a stick of butter and half a cup of milk or half-and-half in a medium size saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil and add 2.25 cups (16-7/8 ounces or 480 grams) of brown sugar. Stir and bring back to a rolling boil. Boil for two minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in 3/4 cup (7-1/8 ounces or 203 grams) of peanut butter and one teaspoon of vanilla extract and blend thoroughly. Pour over 3-1/2 cups (14 ounces or 397 grams) of powdered sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat until smooth, and pour into an 8×8″ baking dish. Chill until firm and cut into squares.

I got email yesterday from a guy who’s facing a problem that many preppers encounter and asked for advice. Most preppers’ spouses think they’re at least slightly nuts, but sometimes it goes further than that. Some spouses are so affected by normalcy bias that they are actively hostile toward taking any prepping steps. I’ve been lucky in that Barbara is pretty much on-board with prepping, and gets more so each time she reads a news headline. Things are not normal in this country. Far from it. And they seem to get worse every week.

So what’s a guy like him to do? His wife doesn’t just look at him funny or make snide remarks. She literally pitches a fit, screaming and yelling at him if he buys any long-term food or takes any other steps to prepare for bad times. She’s convinced that there’s nothing to worry about, that all of these terrorist attacks, targeted assassinations of cops, etc. etc. are just aberrations and that things are completely normal with no serious threats on the horizon.

At first, he was buying cases of canned goods and so on at Costco and stacking them on the garage shelves. He had several cases accumulated, and one day arrived home from work to find they’d all disappeared. His wife had loaded them into her vehicle and drove them down to the homeless shelter, where she donated them. She told him in no uncertain terms that she wouldn’t have him hoarding food in her house. So he replaced them and hauled them over to a friend’s house who offered to store them in his basement. Now he’s afraid that his wife is going to start checking their credit card statements and freak out if she sees big Costco charges.

He asked if I had any advice, and about the only thing I could suggest is that he tell his wife that he’s going to continue stocking up whether she likes it or not. I think he’s afraid that she’ll divorce him, literally. I told him that many of my readers/commenters were in similar situations, if not quite as extreme and that I’d ask all of you for your advice to him.

I’m thankful every day that Barbara is reasonable about prepping. She thinks I go overboard, particularly in terms of the quantities of food we’re putting up for LTS, but she goes along with it anyway. As I’ve told her, I don’t really expect anything catastrophic to happen but there is a small but significant chance of a real disaster, maybe 3% per year, and that adds up to a scarily high chance of something really bad happening over the next five or ten years.

I don’t know what I’d do if I were in this guy’s shoes.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

11:51 – We had a blizzard last night, except for the snow part. The low was about 23F (-5C), with winds gusting to 60 MPH (100 KPH). That made the wind chill not far above absolute zero.

We’d run out of homemade bread, so we decided to bake a couple of large loaves yesterday. Since we were messing up the kitchen and heating the oven anyway, we decided also to make a chocolate cake. As usual, my go-to source for any recipe involving flour and baking is King Arthur Flour. We decided on this recipe. Originally, I planned to make the optional icing as well, but Barbara suggested we try it without the icing first. I’m glad she mentioned that, because as it turned out the cake was fine without frosting.

Here are the ingredients we used, all from long-term storage:

□ Flour, 1.5 cups (6.25 oz., 177 grams)
□ Sugar, 1 cup (7 oz., 198 g)
□ Cocoa powder, 0.25 cup (0.75 oz., 21 g)
□ Salt, 0.5 tsp
□ Baking soda, 1 tsp
□ Vanilla extract, 1 tsp
□ Vinegar, 1 Tbsp (0.5 oz., 14 g)
□ Vegetable oil, 0.33 cup (2.625 oz., 74 g)
□ Water, 1 cup (8 oz., 227 g)

Making it up takes only a few minutes. Here’s what we did:

0. Preheat oven to 350F and grease an 8″ square baking pan that’s at least 2″ deep.

1. Combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly.

2. Combine the vanilla extract, vinegar, vegetable oil, and water in a small bowl and mix thoroughly.

3. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and stir to mix thoroughly. Immediately pour the batter into the greased 8″ baking pan and place the pan in the 350F preheated oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.

The original recipe used all-purpose flour. We used bread flour, which is the only kind we store. I was initially surprised by how little cocoa was called for. When we mixed the dry powders, the result was a light tan color rather than the dark brown of a typical chocolate cake. But when it came out of the oven, it had turned dark brown as expected, and had plenty of chocolate flavor.

I’d also wondered about using bread flour, which is much higher in protein (gluten) than all-purpose, let alone low-protein pastry flour. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the cake had turned out brick-like, but it was just as good as the one Barbara had bought at the supermarket a couple of days ago.

We had four 24-ounce (680 g) cannisters of cocoa powder in LTS. Looking at them, I figured we might get a half dozen chocolate cakes out of each. As it turns out, each cannister is enough for 32 of these pan cakes, so we have enough for 128 of them. Well, 127 now.