One young Catholic family on a Journey towards Intentional and Communal Sustainability. One Artist, one full time Mama and two babies, we'll tell you about all our successes, and failures, as we try to make it in our overly Consumeristic society on just the bare necessities.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Survival for the Fittest: Inexpensive Nutrient Dense Survival Stores

The other day I gave my criticism of a prepper's guide to "Survival Food for the Poor." As I mentioned in my critique the biggest problem with the suggestions given in the guide boiled down to lack of nutrient density and an over abundance of carbs.

Rather than leaving you with a mere criticism I promised that I would provide an alternative list of foods to stock up on while still retaining the budgetary spirit of the original list.

My suggestions follow:

1- Water: It truly cannot be overemphasized. Water is necessary for life, plain and simple.  The minimum needed is about half of a gallon per person, per day. However, you truly cannot have too much water as, even if you have more than you can drink (unlikely) water can also be used to cook, clean, grow foods etc. I recommend storing at least 2 gallons of water, per person, per day for a minimum of 2 weeks. This sounds like a lot of water but water is very cheap. It is cheap to buy, even cheaper to bottle/can tap water. Don't forget to have an alternative water collection source beyond your stores be it access to a body of water coupled with water purification methods (tabs or filters) or even a rain barrel or two.

2- Brown Rice: This is one of the few carb rich foods you will see me recommend in this list but I do so never the less for a few reasons. First of all, rice coupled with beans will provide the range of amino acids. Not as good as meat, fish or fowl, but very good and additionally, very cheap. As I mentioned in my last post, don't let the reduced shelf life brown rice has compared to white rice trick you into opting for the latter as it literally pales in comparison. Furthermore, the shelf life of brown rice if properly stored is still about 2 years, which is more than enough. An added benefit to storing brown rice beyond the fact that it contains more nutrients than its white counterpart is the fact that you can actually plant it and expect something to grow later (given you live in a moist enough climate.) As it turns out, most places which you can buy both brown and white rice, they tend to be the same price. Well... kind of, they are the same price per pound, by per nutrient, brown rice is actually cheaper.

3- Dried Beans/Lentils: A necessary counterpart to brown rice. Together you will be getting a complex amino acid profile with a food that stores indefinitely and is tremendously inexpensive. I recommend a variety of dried beans and lentils as each provides a slightly different nutrient values, but more importantly you can enjoy a variety of flavors, textures and colors which will assist in keeping up morale. If you want to get the absolute most bang for your buck, check the nutrient labels and stick with the beans and lentils that afford the highest amount of protein and fat per unit. Typically this will be things like split peas and garbanzo beans.

4- Nut Butters: These will be a valuable source of both fats and proteins while giving a unique flavor addition to your stores. There are dried options of things like peanut butter which can store for many years, but if properly canned and stored, just the nut butters themselves can last upwards of 15 years too. My same reasoning as with brown rice (if you are still eating your stores out of necessity years from now, you need an additional food allocation plan in motion) applies with non-dehydrated nut butters. In addition, the dehydrated forms actually contain less fat and require water and preparation time and effort. When picking nut butters select options that contain as few additional ingredients as possible, particularly sugars. Instead, opt for "natural" versions which should contain nothing more than the nut in question, and salt. These will store longer, be more nutrient dense, and contain more nutrient value per dollar, even if they are slightly more expensive at face value.

5- Dehydrated Eggs: This may be slightly less palatable than the fresh versions, however they are pretty inexpensive and will provide you with the top tier protein available, even if you have to reconstitute them. Honestly, most people can't tell the difference as many of the eggs consumed in restaurants are reconstituted from dry.

6- Dehydrated and Canned Dairy Products: Most people are familiar with dehydrated milk, but you can also get dehydrated cheese, sour cream and even butter. Canned versions of each of these if you can fit it into your budget as they taste better and have more fat retained. This is where I would have ended my commentary on this category, but thanks to the wonderful world of other preppers on the internet I found viable ways to can milk,  butter and cheese so perhaps you can get the best at an inexpensive price after all just for exchanging a little bit of labor.

7- Fish Canned in Oil: Canned fish in general will be the best, and likely cheapest, source of "meat" that you'll be able to find. There are certain options which are better than others (eg. whole albacore vs. chunk tuna) but this will boil down to price and preference. Even if you get the bottom of the line versions of canned fish, the nutrients will still be very high. Canned fish will also be a source of nutrients like iodine, which will likely be lacking from the rest of your food stores. I recommend choosing oil canned fish rather than water, simply because the price is typically the same, but you will be adding additional fat content. If possible and within reason of price, try to get olive oil rather than canola oil or soybean oil, but this is about emergency rations, not ideal diet, so the fat afforded by even substandard oils such as soybean oil is still a good idea to get for your stores.

8- Bone Broth: This is likely to be the most unique suggestion on this list simply because it really isn't something that you can go out and buy. Bone broth is a tremendously healthful food as it contains readily assimilated nutrients. While you can't go to the store and buy a pallet of bone broth, you can gradually accumulate it for your stores (a strategy you should employ to satisfy all of your food stores by the way). Each time you eat something with bones: chicken, ribs, thanksgiving turkey etc. throw the extra bones in a freezer bag, once it is full, boil the bones with enough water to submerge them and a tablespoon or two of vinegar for 2 or 3 days. This is most easily achieved by means of a crock pot as it will keep a low but constant heat with minimal power. After straining the bones and lil bits of leftover meat, cartilage and fat, can the remaining bone broth. Don't fret if the contents gel, that just means its good for you. 

9- Dehydrated Dark Leafy Greens: This is pretty much the only "veggie" that you'll see on my list. Part of the reason for this is that the more nutrient dense dairy, egg, and fish you eat, the less necessary many vegetables actually are.  Another reason is that most of the vegetables you consume should be sourced from your garden. However, for sake of variety and just to be certain about getting vitamins and minerals it is a good idea to include leafy greens, basically the most nutrient dense vegetable option. This is another suggestion that will require some work on your part however, but yet again, the work is minimal and affords huge pay off. You can buy greens and dehydrate them, but if you aren't yet gardening (shame on you) creating food stores may be a good excuse for you to start since leafy greens are pretty easy to grow and usually have a very high yield. I recommend in particular kale, chard and turnip greens. Each of these have an enormous amount of vitamins and minerals per unit, turnip greens in particular even offer a high calcium profile. To prepare these for storage either use a food dehydrator, or lay leaves out on a few baking sheets and leave in the oven at 200F until they are completely dry. They will be very dry and crumbly at this point, which is good because you can then crumble them into swing top jars and fill them quite densely. Try to limit the amount of stems put in as these contain less nutrients and are more bulky. To use these dried leafy greens you can just sprinkle them into soups etc. to increase the vitamin and mineral content of a meal.

10- Unrefined Sea Salt: "That sounds pretty fancy" you may be saying to yourself, and yes, compared to industrial refined iodized salt, it kind of is, if by fancy you mean "nutrient dense" that is. Unrefined sea salt contains trace minerals which will benefit you while still serving the versatile purposes of salt such as flavor modification, preservation, sanitation, and providing much needed sodium. Is unrefined sea salt more expensive than industrial refined iodized salt? Yes it is, but we're talking salt here so its still really cheap. This is a store that I really can't imagine you storing too much of either. 100 lbs of salt sounds like a lot, but remember that its cheap, versatile, and stores easily. The worse case scenario with storing "too much" salt, would be that you could use it as a much sought after trade commodity in a post-collapse scenario.

11- Honey: This could be classified as a "luxury" option. But honey is an important addition to any food store. For one its sweet, and thats actually a good thing, sometimes its good to have sweet things around to help keep up morale. However, honey is more than just empty sugar calories. It has a strong anti-microbial quality that will actually assist with immunity from disease. Additionally if you are consuming honey which was created locally, you will receive a reduction in allergy affliction.

12- Dried Spices/Teas: Again a "luxury" option at face value, but don't underestimate the importance of WANTING to eat the food that you've stored. I don't' care how much variety you've dried to build into your food stores, you will start to get a little tired of the daily fare. One way to fight against this malaise is to literally spice things up. More importantly, many spices contain additional benefits than simply flavor. Dried chile flakes and powder will provide capsaicin, a chemical which helps a variety of ailments for example. Teas are another good idea as they will give some flavor variety to your drinking options while providing additional benefits. I suggest in particular: chamomile, red raspberry leaf (particularly for women), ginger and peppermint. However, go check out your local tea selection, many of them list the ailments for which they will benefit the imbiber on the packaging.

13- Vinegar: If possible, get apple cider vinegar with a mother. I suggest this because it is contains more benefits which can be easily assimilated by the body than refined white vinegar affords. The reason I suggest that you get vinegar "with mother" is that if emergency situations are greatly prolonged, you can actually make more vinegar since you have the mother culture in the bottle too. Whatever kind of vinegar you end up getting, don't skimp on amounts. While the average person may not use a lot of vinegar day to day, you mustn't forget the nutritional benefits of adding vinegar to food and drink, nor the preservative and sanitation qualities vinegar possesses. Vinegar is yet another store that should be stored in large amounts due to its versatility, inexpensive nature, and potential future as a trade commodity.

14- Cheap Vodka: Don't be confused, this suggestion is not intended to be drunk as you might think but rather to release nutrients from foods, aid in food preservation and assist in sterilization. I won't get into the non-nutritive qualities of vodka here, but there are many. I would suggest that you add a splash or two of vodka to various meals to release more nutrients from the foods. Many nutrients are water soluble (easily achieved, any meal you will prepare will contain water in some fashion) some nutrients are fat soluble (this can be achieved by use of the oil from the canned fish as well as the dehydrated dairy products) and some are alcohol soluble (these are the ones that you won't be able to take advantage of without the assistance of the vodka). While vodka is useful, even in its cheapest forms, it is still more expensive per unit than basically anything else on this list, and you could do without it if you must. Leave this as one of the final additions to your stores, after you've satisfied the rest of your needs.

15- Whole/non-gmo/non-hybrid dried seed foods: This could contain some of the above suggestions such as beans and rice. However, this category could also include: wheat berries, whole oats, quinoa, peas, sunflower seeds, whole peanuts, heirloom corn etc. I would suggest storing much smaller amounts of these than the rest of the list because they will be part of a long term food procurement strategy ie. growing your food. However, most of these dried seed foods can be bought in bulk at average grocery stores so instead of a handful of them, you could have several pounds of each on hand. If you have to eat some, there will be enough to supplement the rest of your food stores you can, but try to not eat these outright.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Survival of the Weakest: Poor Survival for the Poor

In my recent re-invigoration with prepardness I came across a post at UrbanSurvivalSite showcasing a video someone else posted entitled: Survival Food for the Poor.

The reality is that most "preppers" are actually just geardos with an excuse. There is a glut of survival advice that boils down to little more than "buy this cool expensive thing." In light of this phenomena I was excited to see preparedness approached from a more economically aware angle.

After the first minute or so of the video, however, I was less enthusiastic about the incoming advice because of comments such as, "rice, pasta and bread: very very very important to existence", and "on top the unimportant stuff: fats, oils and sweets." Both of these comments, and the rationale which guides them is in direct contradiction to the research and reading which we have been embarking on lately regarding health and proper diet.

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Regardless of my personal opinions about the deficiencies of FDA suggestions, in any given survival situation fats and proteins are greatly prized. Sure, if all you have to eat some tree bark to survive, eat it, but its a bad idea to eat that bark preferentially over a fish that you just caught. Similarly, if you are preparing then that means you should prepare the best you can, not the marginal and mediocre.

Sure enough, after viewing the entire clip I found myself disagreeing with the majority of the suggestions in the video, for one fundamental reason: nutrient density.

Nearly everything that was showcased was not as much inexpensive as it was simply cheap, cheap because it was nutrient deficient.

Here is my critique of the suggestions given in the video, but stay tuned for my own list of Nutrient Dense Survival Food for the Poor.

1- Water- Good, this is something that can honestly never be overemphasized. In addition to the needs of water outright, many foods which will be kept in long term storage will need to be cooked and rehydrated, a job which water is yet again essential to perform.

2- Dry Milk: Not a bad suggestion actually. I would never suggest that this be something which is regularly consumed because the process by which milk is dried can lead to some carcinogenic dangers long term. However, in a survival situation this is likely to be one of your few sources of any sort of dairy vitamins and minerals. Dried milk will also come in handy as a flavor modifier for drinking as well as a component in meals.

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3- White Flour: At first I want to suggest whole grain flour over bleached white, but the more I think about it, the more I'm compelled to say: forget the flour all together. It would be better to stock up on protein and fat rich foods rather than a VERY simple carb like white flour. Not to mention the fact that it requires some amount of preparation before consumption. The suggestion about the Australian damper bread is interesting, but while someone is fooling around with a blob on a stick I'd rather be eating rice and beans.

4- Dried Food/Canned Food: Canned potatoes? I don't get that at all. White potatoes can be fine, but first of all they store well just in a cool dark basement, they needn't be canned. Secondly, the industrial canning process tends to wreck the nutritional content of most veggies, way too high heat etc. If you are going to get canned foods I would recommend you can them yourself, but if you can't/won't then go for the nutrient dense canned foods such as spinach and leave the simple starches to the dried food category.

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However, his suggestion of beans and lentils is great. I often hear all kinds of preppers say "don't forget to store a variety of food" I'm not really sold on that advise. A variety of nutrients, maybe, but there are a handful of things that I will preferentially stock, even if it is at the cost of other items. That being said dried beans and lentils is a category in which you can add some variety of flavor/texture/color without adding any cost or complexity of storage or preparation.

5- Pasta: Pasta is cheap, sure, but its just glorified white flour. His tri-color pasta suggestion is...better but still I consider pasta a waste of space/time/money that could be used to supply important nutrient dense foods with protein and fat.

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6- Spam: At this point, he has been suggesting starch, starch, starch. Flour, potatoes, pasta. Starches provide reasonably simple carbohydrates and as such don't have very many calories per unit. Not to mention the depleted mineral and vitamin content given the nature of the processing of these foods. I was glad he suggested a canned food that wasn't a veggie or a starch, but spam is both expensive and not as nutritionally dense as other foods such as canned tuna and salmon. Spam contains starches and sugar as binding agents and to modify the taste, these again are more simple carbs and won't benefit you as much as the proteins  and fats found in canned fish.

7- Tabasco Sauce: I don't disagree with the notion of flavor modification in the case of the Tabasco. However I think it would be better to utilize dried seasonings since they are cheaper, lighter and store longer. In addition you could get a variety of spices rather than relying solely on the flavor of hot sauce which will afford some of that variety so often suggested when it comes to stocking up on food.

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8- Salt: Yes, very good suggestion. Some food hippies in the circles I run in probably wince a little bit at his comments regarding the necessity to get iodized salt as you can get sufficient iodine (as well as other trace minerals etc.) from unrefined sea salt. But in a pinch (pun, yes) refined, iodize salt is pretty darn cheap. Whether you splurge on the unrefined salt and get the added minerals or go with the cheap industrial version, salt is a versatile addition to your food stores. It helps with flavor, it helps preserve, it is an essential nutrient, it assists in cleaning and disinfection and it lasts basically forever.

9- Vitamins: Another very good suggestion though I must confess that in light of the nutrient deficient foods he suggested up until this point his reasoning made me laugh. He cites the necessity of vitamins to supplement for the times when you will need to hunt and forage, when the irony is that the foods you get from those endeavors will likely be far more nutrient dense than any of the foods he has suggested you stockpile.

10-Hard candies: I understand his suggestion and it is coming from a good place, but the practical manifestation of it is wrong. DO NOT waste your money on candy. Its good to have something sweet to help spirits and its also good to have SOME sugary things to help boost energy quickly in certain situations. However, instead of candy I would suggest honey as it lasts indefinitely, has a more complex sugar index  than high fructose corn syrup and also boasts certain added benefits such as an inherent anti-microbial nature and allergen resistance if local honey is consumed. It is also more versatile than hard hfc candy as it can be added to foods to modify flavors, and can be added to drinks to give that quick energy boost mentioned earlier. I won't say that honey is inexpensive, however, pound for pound I'm sure its cheaper than candy.

11- White rice- Rice is good, especially when coupled with beans. However, white rice is yet again, a nutrient deficient option. Ideally brown rice is a better option. Now, many survivalists will say at this point "yes, but brown rice spoils faster." Technically, yes, the added oil content (which is partially why it is more nutritionally dense) also reduces its shelf life. At the same time, I don't see this being a huge issue  as the shelf life of brown rice is still something like 2 years if stored in cool, dry conditions. White rice can store for upwards of 10 years, but honestly if I'm in a situation where I'm still eating food stores 2 years later, I really should be moved on to my alternative food allocation plan. Plus, if you've stored enough rice for your family to still be eating it 2 years from now, you've got more space than I do.
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8- Vodka- This is a case where it is a good suggestion, but for bad reasons. You don't keep vodka around to help reduce stress or whatever he suggests. You keep vodka for its disinfectant qualities. Additionally there are some nutrients which are alcohol soluble and not just water or fat soluble. So on occasion it may be a good idea to put a dash into a meal to get more nutrients from the food.

So, if you shouldn't go store up on empty carbs and store them in bulk in your house, what is an economically viable food storage plan? Come back and I'll make a post about that just for you.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Life Changes

Fun ceramic things in part of the Kinder-Garden
Summer has been wonderful to the Kerlin family, this year.  I have really enjoyed our new "kinder-garden" (as I have dubbed it) in our front yard.  Instead of trying to resussitate the dry, hot, sunny,  dusty, goatshead filled back yard into a play area for our 2 toddlers, who love to run around barefoot and at least one burns just by saying the word sun, I moved our play yard to the front yard!  Ok, we have to be careful because of stupid ordinances in our city that hate to see kids, but really, our neighbors love us, so we're ok for now.  I just make sure the toys are all reigned in as best possible at the end of the day.  We have a sand box, a pool, a swing, and a few ride on toys, and other than that they help me in the flower garden box I saved for them, some fun ceramic things that Joey gave them to play with, and generally just muck around in the (mostly) green grass in the (mostly) shady yard.

"I found a grass seat!"  Beatrice
With that, the wheels in my brain have been turning.  Ok, we have had some INCREDIBLE heat this summer, which locked us indoors for about 2 weeks, but really, other than that, why do I need to have them play indoors at all?  For my sake?  So I can get work done?  P-shaw!  And honestly, even when it gets nasty outside, why do I need babysitters for my babies?  You know, the kind that keep them from gnawing at the furniture and ruining your cell phone while your back is turned trying to type?  Really, what I need is to be ever more present in their lives.  Really.

from our very impromptu rainy day walk on the only known rainy morning we've ever had in Colorado
So, I gave up Facebook.  I KNOW!  I have been on Facebook since it began, and actually before. When my school wasn't part of the original FB network, some computer science nerd put one together for us, and then FB bought it from them.  Cool, huh?  It was when I was 19 and 20, but really?  Two kids and I still need to feel "connected" to all those friends and people I knew back then?  Sure, I still have a lot of friends from college, but honestly, I'm sick of the gossipy and stalkery nature of facebook.  Really?  I haven't talked to you in 10 years and you know how many kids I have, you've seen all my wedding photos, and you could recite all the jobs I've had since High school?  Nope.  I need to be done.

Oh, and it's not easy.  I've  been trying to quite FB for about a year now.  It's an addiction!  So I've gone cold turkey, and perhaps on the hardest day of the year for me.  Yes, call me crazy.

Along with that, I canceled our Netflix subscription. We only had instant on the Wii netflix, but really, if I was busy, or trying to clean, what did I do?  I turned on the babysitter to entertain Charlotte (and maybe Beatrice) instead of showing them how to clean, and letting them help.  Or better yet, waiting until nap to do whatever i needed to do (like type this blog post).

Dirt painting requires nothing, and provides hours of entertainment by all!
We're also cutting out cell phones (except for 1 that will go with the car) and I'm reverting to a "dumb phone" from my current G2, and getting an old fashioned house phone instead.  But that will take a few months to phase out since our contracts are all over the place during the year. 

All of this, plus we're seriously downsizing.  I'm getting rid of half of everything we own.  I want to fit our house in a house half the size because, eventually, and soon, I want to move to a house half the size.  Clothes that don't fit me any more?  GONE!  No more hopeful jeans for me.  I'm forward driven, not back.

And on that vein, Joey and I have taken a turn in our eating habits after reading (ok, we're ALMOST done) "Why We Get Fat, and What to do about it" by Gary Taubes.  While the girls aren't going without their daily bread, we certainly are.  Or at least, Joey is mainly because, well, seeing as I'm pregnant, I will be making the move a little less suddenly than he is.

Yup, I said it, I'm pregnant with number 3.  (See, blogging world, you get to know thing before Facebook sometimes.)  Hence the lack of serious posts over the last several weeks.  So maybe all this is just early nesting, or maybe it's born from a serious desire to REDUCE our home to the basics before we add anybody else to the mix.  In a permanent, visible, way that is.  (Baby's due early next year, but I won't give specifics because my children have proven so far to never obey due dates anyway).

Sunday, July 8, 2012

How on Earth Did I do THAT? a cheesy, cheesy story.

Friday night I wanted to make spinach calzones.  I pulled out the leftover kefir cheese that Joey had made, only to find it less than desireable.  Bummer.  I was going to use it like Ricotta.

Oh wait!  I know how to MAKE ricotta.  AND I had almost 2 gallons of older, raw milk that I needed to use up pronto.  So I pulled out my nice, big enameled cast iron pot, and double checked the directions online one last time, and set to work doing what I knew to be super easy.  I lost my dairy thermometer to the chickens (yeah.... probably shouldn't ask about that one) but no biggie!  I have my handy-dandy finger, which can generally tell when the temperature is right.  It's never lied to me before!

Step one, put milk in the pot.

Step two, heat milk until my finger says it's between 165-185 degrees.  Usually that means I can just barely keep it in while I whisk it quickly around the circumference of the pot once.  My mom could probably take a bath in that temperature, but I'm a lot more susceptible to heat, and she's the crazy woman who takes pans out of the oven with her bare hands and stuff.  Oh, and she also fights off bears on regular occasions.  Yes, multiple.  Yes, I'm related to super woman.

(love you Mom!)
My wonderful, beautiful Mama playing "train" with 3 of her grand kids on her latest visit to Colorado.

Anyway, back to Step 3.  Add an acid.  Lemon juice, white vinegar, butter milk, etc.  I used white vinegar, even though I usually use lemon juice, because the website I checked (here) said it gave it better flavor.  For the record, I DID NOT use the microwave method he suggests.  It was just the first website to load, and I only needed the basics reminded to me, right?

Step 4- a quick stir  just to make sure it's all mixed together and wait for the curds..... Wait a minute.  No, really, wait a minute, that's not curds....that's mozzerella!

I have no idea how I did it, or why it happened, but yup.  I totally made mozzarella.  Tasted, looked, acted, sounded, etc, etc, JUST LIKE mozzarella.

By the way, Mozzarella was a much better choice than Ricotta for our calzones anyway. :) 

Oh, and in case you're curious, here's how your SUPPOSED to make Mozzarella cheese.  Don't try my method and expect it to work.  The Mozzarella fairy just liked me a lot that day, I suppose.