Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cool Survival

What I’m writing about in this post is not a long-term survival strategy. I have never, thank God, been in a long-term survival situation; but I am in short situations all the time where I can’t depend on any outside power. It’s just one of the down sides of living in the country. The power goes out, sometimes for an hour, sometimes for days. I am pretty well equipped for power outages. We have a propane cook stove, wood heater, kerosene lamps, bottled water dispenser, hand-crank radio, and a good generator with plenty of fuel.

When we crank up the generator life is almost normal except for one thing. Cool air. You see, our house, like most these days, has central air; and our generator is not powerful enough to run a central air unit. Now if you’ve never been in hot, humid, muggy, East Texas in July and August; you probably think air conditioning isn’t all that important to survival. And you’re right. You can survive without it. I lived here for quiet a few years without any air conditioning, and I survived. But here’s the thing. I enjoy being cool, and if I can be cool without too much trouble I’m going to be cool. So, when my local hardware store put their little Frigidaire window units on sale for $100 dollars, I went down and bought one. There’s no installation other than sitting it in the window and pulling out the little side curtains. It runs on 110v. current and it only draws 515 watts of power, well within the capability of my generator. It is not a big unit, but it is enough to cool down one bedroom very nicely.

Yesterday I got the chance to try out my new toy. It had been overcast and muggy all day, temperatures in the 90’s. Just before sundown a storm blew through bringing some much needed rain, unfortunately it also knocked out the power. The house hadn’t really started getting hot yet, but I wanted to see how my new A/C would work; so I cranked up the generator, plugged in the window unit, and turned it on. Ah, cool air. The power was only out for about three hours, but at the end of that three hours the rest of the house was getting noticeably warm. My bedroom was as cool as a fall day. I was pleased with this trial run, and the next time we lose power for 4 or 5 days in the summertime I’ll know that I can sleep cool.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Food Storage - Dried Tomatoes

When the tomatoes start coming from the garden they can just overwhelm you. You can only eat so many fresh tomatoes, and then you have to start figuring out how to store them. Of course you can always can tomatoes, and we do a lot of that. Stewed tomatoes, salsa, stewed tomatoes with jalapenos, and canned spaghetti sauce all find their way into our pantry. But still, we have tomatoes. A lot of tomatoes can be stored in a small space by drying them. I have a small counter-top, electric dehydrator that my daughter and son-in-law gave me three years ago, and it is really convenient for drying tomatoes and other vegetables and meats. My dehydrator is made by NESCO, and I have been very happy with it. This little dehydrator only takes up about a square foot of counter top, but because of its stacking-tray design it will hold from 15 to 20 medium sized fresh tomatoes at one time, and it will dry them in a day. Pictured below: NESCO food dehydrator.

Drying tomatoes couldn’t be easier. You just slice the tomatoes about a quarter inch thick and lay the slices out on the trays. Try not to let the slices touch each other so that you can get maximum air circulation. Stack the trays, turn the dehydrator on, and check it periodically to determine when the tomatoes are dried just right. You want to drive enough moisture out of the tomatoes so that they won’t spoil, but you don’t want them to be so dry that they are brittle. They should be about the consistency of dried fruit leather. Dried tomatoes will not re-hydrate to the point that they are like fresh tomatoes; but they will work great in soups, on pizza, in casseroles, or just to munch on. Pictured below: Dried tomatoes on dehydrator tray.

When my tomatoes are dry, I seal them in clean canning jars and store in the pantry. They will keep all winter long. Pictured below: Fresh Arkansas Traveler tomatoes and a one quart canning jar with 16 dried tomatoes in it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Food Storage - Homemade Bread

Nothing beats the smell and taste of a good loaf of fresh homemade bread. The ironic thing is that none of the ingredients in “fresh” bread is really all that fresh. They can all be stored in your food storage for months at a time. This is my recipe for homemade bread. It is the easiest recipe I have ever come across, and it is virtually foolproof. Where I list flour in the recipe, you can use whole wheat flour, all purpose white flour, or a combination for both. Sometimes I substitute a quarter cup each of cornmeal, quick oats, millet, and buckwheat flour for one of the cups of wheat flour. This makes a nice multi-grain loaf. For the milk I you can use fresh milk, buttermilk, or instant powdered milk. If you don’t have any of these, just use plain water; you’ll still get a good loaf of bread.

• 1 cup warm water
• 1 pack dry active yeast
• ¼ cup canola oil
• ¼ cup honey, molasses, or sugar
• 1/3 cup milk (I have used regular milk, and instant milk and water with equally good results)
• 1 ¼ tsp. salt (I use sea salt)
• 4 cups flour
• 3 tsp. wheat gluten
• 2 more tablespoons of canola oil
• 1 tablespoon Crisco

• Pour 1 cup warm (not boiling) water in large mixing bowl
• Add 1 pack dry active yeast and stir to dissolve
• Add oil, honey, and milk and stir well
• Add 1 cup flour and stir
• Add 1 ¼ tsp. salt and 1 tsp. wheat gluten and stir
• Add 2nd cup of flour and 1 tsp of wheat gluten and stir
• Add 3rd cup of flour and 1 tsp of wheat gluten and stir
• Add remaining flour a little at a time while working it in by hand. You may or may not need the entire 4th cup of flour. Let the consistency of the dough be your guide. Kneed ball of dough for about two minutes. Dough ball should be only very slightly sticky. If it is too sticky you may need to add a little more flour, but don’t over-do it.
• Remove dough ball from bowl and set aside. Rinse out bowl thoroughly, dry, and add two tablespoons of oil.
• Use your hand to coat inside of bowl with oil
• Place dough ball in bowl then turn it over once so that entire ball is coated with oil
• Cover with a clean dish towel and set in a warm place to rise until dough is doubled in size (about 1 to 1 ½ hours)
• Punch dough down and kneed in bowl for about a minute
• Turn dough out onto a floured cutting board and press down fairly flat (dough will be like a big tortilla that is about an inch thick)
• Fold sides of dough to the center and fold the ends in to form a loaf
• Place loaf in a bread pan that has been well greased on bottom and sides with Crisco
• Set uncovered loaf in a warm place to rise
• When dough has risen 1 inch above the sides of the bread pan, place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven
• Bake for 25 to 35 minutes until top of loaf is browned
• After removing bread from oven, turn it immediately out of the bread pan onto a cooling rack
• Allow bread to cool, slice, and enjoy.

Pictured Below: A fresh from the oven loaf of homemade bread

I think that you will really enjoy this bread, and the nice thing is that you can make it entirely from ingredients from your food storage. I do not recommend that you try to store a large quantity of whole wheat flour, as it will go rancid on you. If you want whole wheat, you will need to buy sealed buckets of hard red wheat for storage and then grind it fresh when preparing to make bread. White flour will store for much longer periods of time, but of course it doesn’t have the nutritional value of whole wheat.