Archive for September, 2010

The Appleseed Project: A Review

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend a two-day civilian marksmanship program called the Appleseed Project. In this article, I hope to shed some light on what the Appleseed Project is and why you should attend:

At first glimpse I thought it was going to be some anti-government militia movement, but after looking into it a bit more and actually attending an event myself, I realized it’s quite the opposite. Although there is a bit of a libertarian “don’t-tread-on-me” theme (which I’m perfectly fine with btw), no present-day politics are discussed, and there is no anti-government rhetoric. In a nutshell, the Appleseed Project is a mix of marksmanship and history. It’s mission: “to teach every American about our shared heritage and history as well as traditional rifle marksmanship skills”.

Taught by a cadre of volunteer instructors (who are chosen from former Appleseed graduates), the Appleseed Project is a nationwide event that is inspired by the riflemen of the American Revolution. Back in revolutionary times, the rifleman found his ranks among common, average, every-day citizens. These were farmers and craftsman, not career soldiers. However, many of these “commoners” could shoot a man-size target out to 500 yards with iron sights, using a standard rifle, and surplus ammo. This traditional “Rifleman’s Quarter Mile”, as it was called, is what the Appleseed Project enables (without scopes using only iron sights!), with the hope that you’ll pass this skill on to future generations.

Here’s a breakdown of the two-day event:

Appleseed Event: Day 1

Day 1 began bright and early at 8:30 AM. After a cursory overview of the coming weekend, as well as a thorough discussion into range protocol and safety, we are immediately thrown on the line to begin shooting targets out to 25 meters. This they do for two reasons: one, they want to see where everyone is as far as shooting ability goes, and two, they want you to be able to see just how much you’ll improve with just two days of training.

Learning the Fundamentals

After that first humbling experience (I did horrible), they began teaching the fundamentals of shooting: Natural Point of Aim, Sight Alignment, Front-Sight Focus, Bone on Bone technique, Trigger Control, Respiratory Pause, Follow Through etc. Similar to the Military, they use a crawl-walk-run approach by teaching a few principles at a time and then allowing you to practice, at which point a few more principles are added.

Throughout the first half of the day the instructors had continued to build upon our knowledge. We were taught how to properly use a sling for shooting stability (instead of just using it to carry your rifle), how to shoot from the standing, kneeling, sitting, and prone positions, and how to transition from one position to the next. We are also taught how to sight in our rifles and apply the MOA ( Minute of Angle) standard to adjust for range.

Since my Appleseed had around 20 people, there was a good instructor-to-student ratio which allowed for a lot of personal attention and critiquing.

The Appleseed AQT

We are also introduced to Appleseed’s version of the US Army Alternate “C” course, called the AQT, with targets scaled at 25 meters. The Army Qualification Test (shown at left with a quarter on the lower left target to show how small targets are) consists of 4 stages of decreasingly-scaled silhouettes representing 100, 200, 300 and 400 yards. Here’s the course:

  • 10 rounds standing, firing on a silhouette representing a man-sized target at  100 yards (for a maximum score of 50 points)
  • 10 rounds transitioning from a standing to sitting or kneeling position, including a mag change, firing on two silhouettes representing man-sized targets at 200 yards (for a maximum score of 50 points)
  • 10 rounds transitioning from sitting/kneeling to prone, firing on 3 silhouettes representing man-sized targets at 300 yards (for a maximum score of 50 points) and…
  • 10 rounds lying prone, firing on 4 silhouettes representing man-sized targets at 400 yards for a maximum score of 100 points (at 25 meters these things are super tiny!).

The qualification is as follows:

  • Unqualified: under 125
  • Marksman: 125-169
  • Sharpshooter: 170-209
  • Expert [Rifleman]: 210 or more

This course will be what’s used to qualify as a “Rifleman” by obtaining a score of 210 out of a possible 250 points. If you do so, you’ll earn the coveted rifleman’s badge as well as an opportunity to come back as an instructor-in-training.

A Lesson in History

After that heavy diet of training and shooting, we broke for a late lunch.  We gathered as a group and as we ate one of the instructors related to us the events leading up to the American Revolution: the signal from The Old North Church, the Revere and Dawes rides that woke up the American populace, and the shots fired at Lexington and Concord.  

Although I grew up in the Boston area where this all began, I never heard these stories in the watered-down version given by the public schools here. It’s a shame since many of these stories define the sacrifice those early Americans gave and were at the heart of the events leading up to the American Revolution.

In Search of a Rifleman

After lunch we fired course after course of the AQT. As mentioned earlier, those who score a 210 or higher on the course earn the Rifleman badge. Out of all of us, only one of our group earned this award. Surprisingly it wasn’t any of the adult guys (one of them being active military). It was a 12-year old girl! What a humbling experience that was! (It made me feel a little bit better when I found out she was a competitive shooter) But hey, that’s what makes this event so great, it’s open to all, young and old, male and female.

By the end of the day many of us came quite far. As you already know, I didn’t make Rifleman. But how did I do? Well, I started the day not even qualifying (scoring an 84) and by the end of the day I made Sharpshooter with a score of 186 — still a ways off of scoring expert (Rifleman) but pleased nonetheless.

To close out the first day, the instructors covered Meriam’s Corner, “Where the Revolutionary War really began…” It was there we learned that for the first time Americans, who had no direct connection to towns that had just been invaded, attacked, and looted, opened fire on British troops in support of other American militiamen. And thus began the fight for freedom…

Appleseed Event: Day 2

Unfortunately due to family needs, I was unable to stay for Day 2. But to give you an example of what Day 2 is about, I thought I’d make a quick note here.

Day 2 begins with a quick review of what’s taught in Day 1. Questions are asked and techniques are refined. Day 2 is also where attendees graduate from the 25 yard range and move on to the long range. Depending on the range that is hosting the event this may be from 100 yards upwards of 400+ yards.

I was surprised to learn that the same principles and shooting results transfer from the 25-meter range to the longer range. If you can hit the equivalent of a man-sized target at 300 yards on the 25-meter range you can actually hit it at 300 yards on the long-range (after any necessary sight adjustment of course). And again this is all with iron sights!

Parting Thoughts

All-in-all, the Appleseed event was amazing. The instruction is top rate and for a fraction of the cost of other marksmanship courses, you not only learn how to shoot but how to shoot well. Even former military guys are very impressed with the quality of instruction saying that they did not receive that kind of training in the Army.

As far as the price goes, it can’t be beat. Women and youth (under 21) are free and since the program is run entirely by volunteers, you get passionate people and excellent instruction at only $45 if you’re attending only one day or $70 for the entire weekend.

For more information on an Appleseed in your area, be sure to check out The Appleseed Project. You won’t be dissapointed.

Bulk Food on the Cheap: LDS Storehouses

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

One of my readers had sent me an email last week wanting to know where to find the storehouses run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (or the Mormon church as we’re sometimes called) in order to buy bulk food for long-term food storage.

I thought I’d answer this question in a blog post so that all can benefit from it. I’ll also provide some insight into what they are, what you can find there, and of course where you can find them.

What is an LDS Storehouse?


For those not familiar with the storehouses, I thought I’d explain what they are and what their purpose is.

The LDS storehouses (or Bishop’s Storehouse as we call them) were established as part of the welfare system set up by the Church which aims at providing assistance to needy families and individuals within (as well as outside) the Church.

The main purpose of the welfare program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to not only care for the needy but to teach principles that will allow needy persons to become self-reliant and retain their self-respect (it’s the whole “teach a man to fish” kind of thing which is missing in our nation’s welfare program). Welfare recipients are not only given education and job placement assistance, but they are also asked to work (if able) on Church farms, in the Church storehouses and so on. This helps them retain a sense of self-worth and prevents an entitlement program.

Funding for the welfare program (which includes the storehouses) is provided by donations from Church members. One Sunday a month, members of the Church go without two meals (a fast) and give the money they would have spent on food to the Church.

What Can You Find at the Storehouse?

The storehouses themselves consist mostly of food items — some being your basic groceries that needy families can come and “shop” from as well as a large portion of bulk foods (typically 25lb bags) such as wheat, rice, legumes, oats, dry milk, dehydrated vegetables and so on. Most of these bulk food items are grown by Church-owned farms that are run by volunteers. These are then processed and sent to distribution centers (storehouses) across the country to be distributed to families in need.

The other purpose of the storehouse is to help Church members obtain a year’s supply of food. To assist with that, within most of the storehouses is an area called the “cannery” where church members can dry-pack the bulk food they purchase. The facilities are usually equipped with #10 metal-can and mylar-bag sealers (or you can just leave with the bulk packaging if you want).

The prices of these bulk foods tend to be very cheap since the storehouses, farms, and canneries are all operated by volunteers, and the church doesn’t make a profit from them. To give you an example, a 25lb bag of hard-red wheat goes for around $6 at the storehouse whereas the typical online price for the same amount goes for around $20.

Here’s the current list of available bulk foods at the storehouse and prices in dollars as of today (for an always up-to-date list of prices you can click here):

Where Can I Find an LDS Storehouse?

LDS storehouses can be found throughout the world. Click on the map below to take you to the Church site which has the most up-to-date list of available storehouses near you:

Can Non-Members Purchase from the Storehouse?

One common question I hear is if non-members can buy bulk food from the storehouses.

Although there is no set rule (it’s probably storehouse dependent), of all the storehouses I’ve been in the United States, they have all allowed non-members to purchase bulk foods. The only restriction I’ve heard is that some storehouses allow it as long as you’re accompanied by a member. The best thing to do is to call the number of the storehouse near you. They’ll be more than happy to answer any questions you have (we don’t bite…hard that is :)).

Gassification 101: Video Lessons

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Piggy-backing off of the recent gasification article I wrote, I wanted to include in this post a number of excellent videos put out by Victory Gas Works.  These high production quality videos explain the gasification process in simple terms that the layman should understand.

While your at it, be sure to visit their site. They have an incredible amount of information and an active forum of members working on various DIY gasification projects for the benefit of all. Enjoy!

Gasification – 101

Gasification Lesson 1

Gasification Lesson 2

Gasification Lesson 3

Gasification Lesson 4

Gasification Lesson 5

Gasification Lesson 6

How to Identify Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Frustrated at your ability to learn wild edible and medicinal plants? This article will show you how.

Knowledge of wild edible and medicinal plants is an important asset in every survivalist’s mental toolbox. They allow you to supplement and extend your food storage. They provide a fresh source of vegetable and fruit matter that is full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants — much of which is diminished in bulk-stored food.  And they provide a source of medicine in an extended grid-down situation where hospitals and modern medicine might not be available.

However, when it comes to identifying wild edible and medicinal plants, many people become overwhelmed and intimidated by the “wall of green” that they see in nature. They don’t know where to start. And even those who are ambitious enough to purchase a field guide and get out there to try to identify their local plants, they quickly become disenchanted and frustrated at the difficulty in matching what’s in the field guide with what’s in the field.

Having a fair amount of experience with wild medicinal and edible plants — both in the identification and use of them — I wanted to share with you some of the methods and resources I use to break through that “wall of green”. This, I hope, will put you on the road to successfully identifying and using many of the wild edible and medicinal plants that grow in your area.

Resources

Field guides are probably the most commonly used method of learning to identify and use wild edible and medicinal plants. However, if you don’t have the right kind of guides you’ll only frustrate yourself.

When beginning to learn about edible/medicinal plants, most people will go to the bookstore and pick up the fattest field guide they see with a bunch of colorful photos. This is not the best option.  Before you go and waste any money on less-than-optimal guides or even some that could get you killed, let me clue you in on a few that I’ve found to be very effective in helping you identify and use the many plants around you.

As a side note, when it comes to identification, I feel that detailed drawings and descriptions are much more effective in helping you positively recognize plants compared to photos. Drawings (as long as they are detailed) provide an average representation whereas photos only capture one instance of a plant and, depending on the habitat, may look a bit different in your area. There are exceptions to this rule (see Forager’s Garden and Nature’s Harvest below) if the author depicts multiple good-quality photos.

A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and central North America (Peterson Field Guide)

The standard on Wild Edible plants. Not the best book for taking out in the field to do on the spot identification but it’s excellent for using as a basis for journaling since the drawings are excellent and the descriptions are thorough.

The Essential Wild Food Survival Guide

Linda is well respected for her knowledge of wild edible and medicinal plants since she lived for 13 years out in the wilds with her family living off of them! Although the drawings and photos have much to be desired, this book has great recipes, wonderful first-hand stories, and contains a solid collection of core plants that everyone should know. A good resource overall.

The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

Samuel Thayer hit it out of the ballpark with this book. It has excellent descriptions and photos, is well organized, and goes into detail on where to find the plants, when to gather them (missing in many books) and how to prepare them. Best of all, this book is not just a rehash of other peoples views and experiences — every plant in here that he talks about, he has had personal experience with (something that I value highly). This is highly recommended.

Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

Another home run for Samuel Thayer. This book is a continuation of his previous book (see above) which covers many more plants that he did not get into in The Forager’s Harvest. Excellent resource and again, highly recommended.

Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide

When it comes to going out in the field and identifying what you see, this book is king. It uses an ingenious system of identification that is based on natural structural features that are easily visible even to the beginner  (no more looking up all the plants with white flowers and hoping on finding a hit).

After using this book for a while, what I’ve noticed is, your ability to observe and distinguish differences among plants becomes highly tuned. This book helps to train your eye to see unique qualities of plants (very important to proper identification when your goal is to eat them). Note: This book is primarily for the North Central or Northeastern states but it still contains quite a bit of overlap

Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places

Although this book is not ideal for going out in the field and identifying new plants, once you do know the plants then it is an excellent resource to return to time and time again. I particularly like that the book is organized by season and the habitat within that season. This helps me to know what edible/medicinal plants I should be on the look for when I go hiking in a wetland area in the fall for example.

The Importance of Applied Knowledge in Learning Edible and Medicinal Plants

After successfully identifying a plant for the first time, your likely response will be a feeling of excitement since you now know the plant’s name. It’s at this point that most people make the error of stopping since they now think they “know” the plant. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I’m of the opinion that you never truly know a plant until you use it. When you use a plant, something amazing happens. It becomes a part of you. You go beyond mere identification since you now have seen it, touched it, smelled it, and in many cases consumed it. Studies have proven that when you involve multiple senses in the learning process, you’ll remember that thing so much better. This is very true with plants.

So next time you positively identify a wild edible or medicinal plant, bring it home and learn how to use it. This will forever be etched in your memory, so much that the following years when you see the plant again — instead of it being just a name — you’ll feel a real connection to it because you know it intimately.

Journaling as a Learning Method

Journaling is another fantastic way to learn wild plants. And best of all, you can do it in the winter when the plants are dormant!

What I do is look in the field guides for edible or medicinal plants that grow in my area (I like the Peterson’s Field Guides for this). I’ll make a list of them and organize them by habitat. After making the list I’ll then begin journaling these plants.

The best way is not just to copy the plant from the field or from a field guide but to use the minds-eye approach. Here’s how it works:

  1. Study the photo or drawing of the picture: Spend around 5 minutes studying the picture of the plant. Try to focus on the structure of the leaves. Do they grow opposite each other like a person putting out their arms to the sides or do they grow up the plant in an alternating pattern? Are the leaves round, oval, compound? Do they have serrated or smooth edges? Is the stalk woody, green, succulent or non-existent. Try to close your eyes and see the plant in your mind’s eye.
  2. Draw the plant: After studying the plant for 5 minutes, close the field guide and without looking at the picture or photo, begin to draw the plant based on what you see in your minds eye. Draw as much as you can until you’re stuck. If you can’t move on or forgotten a detail, refer back to the field guide to refresh what you saw, close the book, and continue drawing. Continue this process until you are finished.
  3. Imagine the plant’s habitat and general size and other characteristics: For this step, you’ll want to read about where the plant typically, its overall size, and any other attributes like fuzzy leaves, or woody stalks and so on.

    Then again, in your minds eye try to imagine seeing yourself in a location where this plant grows. Picture how tall it is relative to you and imagine bending down and touching the plant. How would it feel?

  4. Imagine preparing and using the plant: For this final step, I want you to use your minds eye to imagine taking the plant home and processing it into a meal. If you can eat it raw then imagine picking the leaf or other edible portion and eating it. Try to be as detailed as possible.
  5. I know a lot of this sounds like hokey new-age crap, but in reality, this method works. I can’t tell you the number of times I would be out in the field and “discover” a plant that I had already had experience envisioning during a previous winter! Try it for yourself.

Expert Mentors

A final way to learn wild plants is through expert mentors. While we may not all be lucky enough to grow up with an naturalist in the home, if you do a search in your area you’ll likely find someone offering nature courses on identifying wild and medicinal plants.

These classes are an excellent means to quickly learning plants in your area. One thing I do want to note is that these classes are much more effective after having learned a few wild plants on your own. This way your eyes will be trained to subtle differences that will make the class all the better.

If you live in the New York area, I would highly recommend visiting “Wildman” Steve Brill’s Central Park nature walks. Bill has a unique gift of teaching wild edible and medicinal plants in a memorable and fun way.

Biomass Gasification – A Primer

Monday, September 13th, 2010

I’ve been researching alternative energy sources that could be used during an extended grid-down situation for a while now but haven’t been able to find one that would work well in my situation (limited sun and wind).

Well just recently a good friend of mine had reminded me of one that I had long since forgotten (having originally passed over it in a Mother Earth News article a few years back): Wood or Biomass Gasification.

What is Gasification?

In a nutshell, gasification is the process of using heat to transform solid biomass, or other carbonaceous solids, into a flammable fuel much like natural gas. Basically, you can take practically any solid dry organic matter (wood chips, walnut/cherry shells, agricultural waste etc) and convert it into a clean burning, carbon neutral, gaseous fuel.  And with this resultant fuel you can burn it in your internal combustion engine, power your generator, light up your cooking stove, and fuel your furnace — all from using the trees and waste lying around your property.

Sound too good to be true?

Well, not too long ago during WWII over one million vehicles in Europe ran onboard gasifiers to make fuel from wood and charcoal, since gasoline and diesel were severely rationed or sometimes altogether unavailable. This was all made possible using simple gasifiers about as complex as a traditional wood stove.

Fortunately for us preparedness-minded people, these small-scale gasifiers can be fairly easily manufactured using basic tools and readily available resources. Here are some

Online Resources

Here are some online resources that provide more information into gasifiers as well as how to make them:

  • Plans to Build Your Own Gasifier: This was originally put out by FEMA (back when FEMA was cool). Since then many newer technologies have come out to make gasifiers more efficient.
  • GEK Gasifier: an excellent open source resource into all things gasification. There’s a great community their who have a lot of expertise on making their own. Lots of newer as well as older plans to make your own.
  • Gasifier Construction Plans: a good collection of different plans.
  • FundamentalForm.com: Some alternative gasifier plans as well as all-around great ideas about alternate energy.

Gasifier Videos

And here are some videos that demonstrate different gasifiers:

My Goals

Over the next year, I will be experimenting with homemade gasifiers — beginning with very simple, small models and graduating to larger ones as I gain confidence. My ultimate goal is to build a homemade gasifier capable of fueling a generator that can power my home — and as always I’ll be  recording it all for your benefit. So stay posted!

Wild Edibles: How to Make Elderberry Jelly

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Disclaimer: Eating certain wild plants can be deadly!!

Be certain to consult a professional (or a really good field guide) in order to positively identify this plant before trying this for yourself. The owners of this site will not be held responsible for any lapses in judgment or stupidity when handling or consuming wild plants.

With the summer coming to a close here in New England, one of my favorite wild edibles that I seek out in the late Summer and early Fall is the Common Elderberry (Sambucus nigra). In this article I’ll be showing you how to properly identify the Common Elderberry, where to find it, and how to process it into a delicious jelly.

How to Identify Common Elderberry

Here are the main things you’ll want to look out for in order to properly identify the Common Elderberry:

Compound leaves: Common Elderberry leaves grow opposite each other and are divided into 5-11 coarsely toothed, elliptical, pointed leaflets (each around 3-4 inches long).
Corky bumpy branches: Besides the bumpy “pimples” on the branches, if you crack open the branches or the twigs you’ll find a spongy, white pith.
Late spring/Early summer — white, lacy flower clusters: The flower clusters spread over 6 inches across and are flat-topped to slightly rounded.
Late summer/Early fall — purple-black to black berry clusters: Similar to the flowers they grow in clusters. Each juicy berry is about the size of an airsoft BB (1/4″ across) and the clusters are large and heavy enough to weigh down the branches causing them to droop. A note of caution: Stay away from the red elderberries (a different species of elderberry), these are toxic and will make you sick

Where to Find Common Elderberry

Common Elderberry can be found growing in large thicks stands. They seem to prefer moist places with a good amount of sunlight. You’ll want to look for it along roadsides and riverbanks, in marshes and in moist woods, and thickets in the eastern part of North America.

Here’s the range map indicating where Common Elderberry has officially been found:

How to Make Elderberry Jam

This recipe will make 3 pints (6 cups) of Elderberry jelly.

What You’ll Need

  • pectin
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 6 cups of elderberries

How to Make Elderberry Jelly

Step 1: Remove the elderberries from the clusters with a fork doing your best to make sure not to include any of stems or other plant materials. Wash these in cold water.
Step 2: With the heat set to medium/medium-high cook the elderberries in a pot crushing the berries with a potato masher until the natural juices are released. I’ll sometimes add a little water to this recipe (1 cup of water for every 6 cups of berries). Bring to a boil allowing it to cook for around 15 minutes.
Step 3: Pour cooked berries and juice In a colander lined with a cloth (t-shirt, multiple cheese cloths etc) allowing the juice to collect into a bowl. Since this will be very hot, let it sit for an hour to drain through and cool off.
Step 4: Once it has cooled off, begin squeezing any left-over juices through the cloth filter.
Step 5: Pour elderberry juice in a cooking pot, add sugar and pectin (for the proper amount of pectin, see instructions indicated on your packet) and bring to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Let it boil only about 1 minute.
Step 6: At this point it’s a good idea to test a small amount of the liquid to ensure that it’s setting properly (thickening into jelly). To do this, take a spoonful of the liquid and pour it into a bowl or a small plate and place it in the freezer. After a few minutes, if there is enough pectin, the liquid will have jelled up into the consistency you desire. If not, add some more and bring to a quick boil and test again.

If all is well, pour the liquid into canning jars and process those canning jars in a hot-water bath or as desired in order to make an airtight seal. Properly sealed jars of elderberry jelly will store for at least a year without issue. You’ll want to finish open jars within 2 weeks since there are no preservatives.

Elderberry Nutrition Information

Elderberries are very nutritious. They are particularly known for their immune boosting capabilities and can be made into an effective cold medicine (more on that in a future article). Here is a comparison chart with other fruits:

How to Make Cheese from Powdered Milk

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Here’s another recipe I wanted to test out that puts to use the buckets of powdered milk I have stored. Remember if you are constantly rotating your stored food (especially the 3-month food supply) not only will you greatly reduce the chance of anything going bad, but you’ll actually be learning to use your bulk-stored food and eating what you store — some of the most important rules in food storage.

To make cheese from powdered milk is an easy process (unexpected since I never had any experience making cheese before this). Here’s how it works:

What You’ll Need

  • Powdered Milk
  • Water
  • Cooking Pot
  • White Vinegar or Lemon Juice
  • Cheesecloth or Clean Cotton T-Shirt

How to Make Cheese from Powdered Milk

I used a small amount of ingredients so I could test it out first before using the full recipe. The full recipe calls for:

  • 3 cups powdered milk
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 cup plain white vinegar

In my instructions I quartered this recipe as follows:

Step 1: Mix together 3/4 cups of powdered milk with 1 1/2 cups of cold water in a cooking pot. Stir until dissolved.
Step 2: Stir milk over a medium-low to medium temperature until it becomes hot to the touch but not scalding (this should be around 140º if you’ve got a cooking thermometer)
Step 3: Maintaining the same temperature, stir in 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice. You should immediately begin to see the curds separating from the whey.
Step 4: Continue cooking to allow the curds to separate from the whey. After a few minutes there should be large globs (if that’s a real word :)) of curds in an amber pool of whey. If it’s still too milky, add another tablespoon of vinegar, stir and cook it on medium to medium-low heat until the curds completely separate from the whey.
Step 5: Pour the curds and whey into a colander lined with a clean cloth, cotton t-shirt or cheesecloth to drain off the whey (this sweet liquid can be used in the place of water in other baking recipes so drain it into a bowl if desired).
Step 6: Taking the cloth or cheesecloth (a t-shirt in my example) squeeze the curds to press out any remaining whey.
Step 7: Rinse the curds — which is essentially ricotta cheese (I’ve been informed that this is more a paneer style cheese and not ricotta. Ricotta is made by further processing the poured-off whey. For more instructions into this, check out the links in some of the comments below) at this point — under cool water and eat fresh or store in the fridge.

Conclusion

What you should be left with is about the same amount of curds as you measured out in powdered milk.

Since I used 3/4 cup of powdered milk in the above recipe, it resulted in about 3/4 cup of curds — so plan your recipes accordingly.

I was really excited when learning this, since I love lasagna. Pasta as well as tomato sauce — in the form of canned tomatoes (or powdered tomatoes) — stores very well, but fresh cheese doesn’t. Now that I know how to make fresh cheese easily from my stored powdered milk, even lasagna can be enjoyed during the end of the world. 🙂

Survival and Austere Medicine: An Introduction

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Piggy-backing off of the Where there is no Doctor/Dentist: Free Download post, I wanted to also include this free download for your reference and survival library:

Survival and Austere Medicine: An Introduction

Written by the Remote, Austere, Wilderness, and Third-World Medicine discussion-board moderators (made up of physicians, medics and EMTs), this book’s origin came out of the misc.survivalism Usenet newsgroup back in the late 90s. It was originally written in response to recurring posts asking the same questions since many of the answers given were often wrong and occasionally dangerous.

This version, revised in 2005, is completely rewritten from the original 1997 version with some completely new sections added. It’s main purpose is to provide answers to commonly asked questions related to survival/preparedness medicine. It does a good job at providing relevant information not commonly found in traditional texts as well as directing you where to find more information.

Enjoy!

Military Sleep System Review

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010


Just recently I had purchased two of the newer issue military sleep systems (one in the older woodland camo issue and the other in the newer ACU/digital camo) to upgrade some of my existing bug-out gear. I wanted to take some time in this post to do an in-depth review.

Overall Production Quality

First off, I love the fact that these sleeping bags are American made (made by Tennier industries). So much of the outdoor gear you find at many of the largest outdoor vendors is China made — which as a rule I try not to patronize if possible (not always easy I know).

What you’ll notice off the bat is the high production quality of this sleep system. The zippers are large and durable, do not snag and are designed for quick exits in an emergency. The material, made of resistant rip-stop nylon, is light-weight but does not feel “cheap”. Whether you’re looking at the straps, buttons, or fabric, you can tell that great care was taken in choosing the right kind of materials to support our soldiers in harms way.

Even with many of the higher-end vendors (TNF, Mountain Hardware, REI etc) most of the China-gear they sell — although lightweight (this seems to be the only important factor nowadays for outdoor enthusiasts) — much of it will not hold up to the rigors that soldiers or someone bugging out will put them through on a day-to-day basis.

The Components

The modular sleep system is made up of 4 components.

The outermost layer consists of a 100% waterproof Goretex bivy sack. For those not familiar with a bivy sack, it’s essentially an outer shell that acts as the most basic of shelters — protecting the user from exposure to the elements such as rain, wind, and snow. The next two layers consist of the Patrol Sleeping Bag (rated to 30 F) and the Intermediate Cold Weather Sleeping Bag (rated to -10 F).

Each layer is designed to be used independently of one another or combined as needed depending on the climate. For example, when you combine all three of these layers together, you have a sleep system rated for -30 F.

The final component is a compression stuff sack, which allows you to compress all the layers down to around a cubic foot as seen below:

The obvious advantage to this set up is the wide-range of temperatures and climates that you can use this system in. And since it includes a bivy sack, you can leave your tent at home — saving you extra weight when bugging out. It’s your one-stop shop to keeping warm and dry.

Assembling the Sleep System

Putting the sleep system together is a fairly simple task. If you’re sleeping in warmer climates (> 30 F) then just combine the bivy sac with the patrol bag. For temperatures ranging in -10 F to 30 F just the Intermediate Cold Weather bag in combination with the bivy would be used. And finally if you’re looking to sleep out in -30 F to -10 F then you’ll need to combine all the bags together.

To assemble, each bag is fitted with a number of snaps that allow them to be used with or independent of one another. This “mating of the bags” so to speak ensures that, when combined, they act as one unit. The advantage of this is that you won’t get tangled in multiple layers of bags through the night — very problematic if you’re needing to egress the bag in a hurry.

Testing and Ratings

One thing you’ll want to note is that all military gear is tested. Therefore the ratings and specifications are always candid and accurate. Unlike most other sleeping bags on the market that provide wildly optimistic temperature ratings, if the Army labs in Natick, Massachusetts say a product does something, you know it does.

Even with that, if you’ve been a regular reader to this blog you know important it is for me to test things personally. Since we are still in Summer here in New England I haven’t been able to give this military sleep system a fair shake. This I’ll do in the upcoming new year where I’ll put it through the rigors of a New England winter.

The Negatives

This wouldn’t be a decent review without pointing out what’s not so hot with these sleep systems. The biggest one for me is the weight. Pushing 11+ pounds these sleep systems are quite heavy compared to many of the ultralight bags you can find. Given that these bags are super durable, durability comes at the price of weight so I’m ok with that. Also, since I’d use these as my shelter (no tent required) their would be weight saved overall.

The second biggest negative for me is the size. When compressed, these systems are a bulky cubic foot. Still too big for most backpacks. However, they can easily attach to the outside or bottom of your backpack without issue.

The last negative (only a minor one for me) is the camo patterns on the bivys. I’m not a big fan of Woodland camo or ACU (they both stick out too much in my opinion) and much prefer Woodland MARPAT (Marine Pattern) or Multi-cam in my area. The reason this is not a huge issue is that since I’m not wearing these bags while mobile it’s an easy process to blend these systems into the surrounding landscape without much issue if discreetness was crucial.

Pricing and Where to Buy

Just a cursory look online and you’ll notice a wide range of prices these bags are being sold for. On the high side you’ll see them going for $600 (for a brand-new ACU issue system) and on the low side for around $120.

The key is not to buy them brand-new (the $600 ones). Instead, you’ll want to get the gently-used surplus ones which can be found at your local army/navy surplus store or on eBay. In actuality even the “beat-up” ones I’ve seen look pretty good. These bags hold up well. I purchased the ACU camo system for $160 (brand-new) on eBay and the woodland camo system for $125 (slightly used but essentially mint condition) at the local army/navy surplus store.

If money is not an option there are other sleep systems that are better such as the Wiggy’s FTRSS sleep system (also American made) or the Snugpak complete sleep systems — both are much lighter, very durable and excellent quality.

But for the price that the surplus military sleep systems go for you get a fantastic, quality-made sleep system at a fraction of the cost of other bags on the market — many of which wouldn’t withstand the abuse that these bags can go through.

How to Identify an Authentic Military Sleep System

On a final note, it’s important for you to be aware of the many copycats and supposed “military spec” sleep systems on the market. You’ll find many sleep systems being peddled on eBay and elsewhere for around $50 – $80 claiming to be “GI Sleep Systems” or “Military Sleep Systems” but in reality are nothing but cheap knock-offs.

What you’ll want to look for is the NSN — the National Stock Number (or NATO Stock Number as our allies call it). This will properly identify the bags. Each bag, compression sack, and bivy will contain these numbers sewn on them. Here’s an example:

Here are the NSN’s and details you’ll want to look out for:

Woodland Camo Issue (NSN #8465-01-445-6274)


This was the original updated sleep system designed and made by Tennier Industries. It’s a 4-part sleep system consisting of a black compression stuff sack, a black Intermediate Cold Weather Sleeping Bag, a green Patrol Bag, and a woodland-camo Bivy Sack.

ACU Pattern Issue (NSN #8465-01-547-2757)


This is the latest release in the updated sleep system designed and made by Tennier Industries. It’s a 5-part sleep system consisting of two foliage-colored compression stuff sacks (one large and one small), an urban-grey colored Intermediate Cold Weather Sleeping Bag, a foliage-colored Patrol Bag, and an ACU pattern camo Bivy Sack.