Picture Sundays: An Altoid Box EDC

Altoid Box EDC

Reader Ben Wison sent sent an email about his EDC (everyday carry), along some photos,

Wanted to let you see my EDCs. enjoyed your posts, and figured I would share my improvised Altoids tin. The dividers are made from empty tins cut and riveted in place. My next addition is a iron thin envelope under the mints containing a mini survival kit.

Ben promises an update once the mini-survival kit is assembled.

Want to see more EDC “pocket dump” photos? Check out everyday-carry.com.

Got a favorite Altoid box project? Leave a link . . .

How To Make a Cotton Ball Fire Starter

In this video you’ll learn how to make a cotton ball fire starter. It’s easy:

Rub some petroleum jelly in a couple of cotton balls and store them in a pill bottle. That’s it. We got five and half minutes of burn time–most of that strong flame–out of the ball we made for this video. Them dead dinosaurs burn good!

Make some of these and the next time you need to start a fire in a hurry, or under less-than-perfect conditions, you’ll be a happy camper.

You can download a copy of this video here.

How to Cook Broadleaf Plantain

The last plantain in our yard–the only one which survived the long, brutal summer without water. The winter rains, which are just beginning, will have plantain sprouting all over Southern California soon.

We’re big fans of foraging teacher Pascal Baudar. He approaches wild foods like no one else we know–as a gourmet experience. Combining Old World traditions, Native wisdom and a good deal of culinary invention, Pascal and his partner, chef Mia Wasilevich push foraged food to “the next level.” In fact, together they run a website called Transitional Gastronomy dedicated to just this idea.

If you want to learn how to make your foraged food delicious, go see Pascal and Mia. If you live around LA or are planning a visit you can hook up with them through MeetUp. And you should definitely check out Pascal’s foraging website, Urban Outdoor Skills. Both of their websites feature “food labs” which have some of the most inventive wild food recipes I’ve seen anywhere.

On a recent visit to Urban Outdoor Skills, I was very excited to find he’d developed a cooking technique for broadleaf plantain (Plantago major, the common weed, not the banana relative). Though I know plantain is very nutritious, it is also bitter and heavily veined, so I prefer to collect it as a medicinal herb. I infuse it into oil that I put into salves and creams and I use it as a fresh poultice on itchy bites and hives. But eating it? Meh. I’ll put baby leaves in a salad. Erik has sprinkled the leaves on pizzas--and I’ll eat anything on a pizza. The seeds can be collected and used in seedy applications. But all in all, the flavor and tough texture of plantain left me uninspired.

Trust Pascal to figure out how to cook the stuff. He boiled it, testing often, and found a sweet spot: the exact time it takes to boil out of the bitterness, but still leave the leaf intact. The short story: 3 minutes for young leaves and 5 for old ones, so 4 minutes works for a mixed batch. This makes a tender cooked green with an almost seaweed-like texture. Go to his site for all the details and an extra bonus: an Asian-style sauce to make this dish sing.

What Preparedness Lessons Did You Learn From Hurricane Sandy?

We’re interested in hearing from our east coast readers about how they rode out Hurricane Sandy. How did the storm impact you? How did your preparations work out? Is there anything you would do differently next time?

Hurricane Sandy was a reminder to us to take a look at our preparedness. We may not have monster storms here in Los Angeles, but we certainly are overdue for a big earthquake. It’s been a long time since we’ve taken a look at our supplies and emergency equipment. I’m considering a drill–living without power/gas/water for a few days to see what we can improve.

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How To Dry Food With the Sun

Drying Apricots in Southern California–early 20th century style.

Dehydration is one of my favorite food preservation techniques. Drying food concentrates flavor and is a traditional technique in our Mediterranean climate. Best of all, drying food is one of the best applications for low-tech solar power. In many places, you can simply set food out under cheesecloth to dry in the sun.

But there’s a catch to sun drying: humidity. Food dries best when temperatures are above 85º F and below 60% humidity. If you live in a desert, humidity isn’t a problem. But in most other places in North America it’s simply too moist to set food out under the sun. It will rot before it dries. In Los Angeles, due to the influence of the ocean, it’s slightly too humid most of the year for sun drying to work well.

But there’s an easy way to overcome humidity: convection, i.e. hot air rises. Most solar dehydrators take advantage of the passive movement of hot air to lower humidity enough to dry food. Here’s a couple of solar dehydrators that harness this simple principle to dry food without electricity:

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Doomsday Preppers: Exploitative, Uninteresting, Unreal “Reality”

Doomsday Preppers, a series on the National Geographic channel, is part of a cloud of meaningless cable drivel that envelopes our national psyche like the smog that hangs over Los Angeles. In many ways Doomsday Preppers is indistinguishable from countless other low rent reality TV shows. Does anyone really sit down and watch this endless parade of house flippers, dance moms and custom motorcycle enthusiasts? Or is it all a kind of background, tranquilizing, electronic wallpaper?

I bring up Doomsday Preppers because many of its subjects are engaged in precisely the types of activities we write about on this blog and in our books: growing food, keeping livestock, building solar ovens, preserving food etc. And I finally got a chance to see the first episode and a few segments from later shows.

Of the three “compounds” profiled in the first episode, the most interesting was the family of Dennis McClung in Mesa, Arizona and the Kobler and Hunt families, who share a rural homestead. McClung has built an amazing tilapia farm in an old swimming pool in their backyard. They also have chickens and goats and have integrated the livestock into the greenhouse/tilapia project. It would have been interesting to see how the system McClung created works as a whole. But the producers were more interested in filming the family putting on gas masks and making duck weed smoothies. The Kobler and Hunt families operate what seems like a pretty normal rural homestead. What is unusual is their social arrangement: two families living together. It would have been interesting to explore that relationship. Instead the producers gave us endless scenes of the family shooting AR-15s.

Memo to the National Geographic folks: the internet has been bringing educational video content into living rooms for many years now, showing us how to actually grow tilapia, keep goats, etc. McClung, in fact, has his own website, gardenpool.org, which shows all the things I wanted to see on the TV show. Doomsday Preppers, on the other hand, has no redeeming educational content.

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Disconnect to Reconnect: Ditching the “Flushie” for a Composting Toilet

Image from the Wikimedia Commons

We’re lucky to have another guest post by Nancy Klehm (see a nice interview with her on foraging here). Nancy visits us at the Root Simple compound at least once a year. What follows is an account of a plumbing misadventure she had on her last visit. 

To give you some context, ever since we’ve remodeled our bathroom and switched to a low-flow toilet we’ve had periodic backups. We think there is a low spot just within reach of our turlet snake. The toilet flushes OK most of the time, but at least once a week I’ve got to deploy that damn snake.

Here’s Nancy:

I don’t use a flushie often, I made the decision to ‘go dry’ years ago, adopting the bucket toilet + sawdust system as it pairs nicely with my composting obsession and food growing habit.

I stayed at Erik and Kelly’s back in February. Their low flush toilet and antique piping can’t seem to handle even the most modest bodily donation. Once a flushing attempt proves unsuccessful, and immediately following the ‘oh no…’ guilty grimace, a light-hearted blame game plays out and then according to homestead rules, Erik snakes the toilet. The closet augur is kept on the front porch (to greet visitors?). Erik augers for a few minutes, flushes successfully, marches the tool back outside to air out and we settle back into our routines relieved that our burdens are flowing into the larger mystery of pipes and their soupy contents to the municipal waste treatment plant miles away.

But with Erik and Kelly out of town on one of the weekends during my stay, the daily chores of feeding the kittens, letting out the single hen to roam the yard and snaking, if so needed, fell on me. And yes, the toilet clogged and no, I did not assume the blame. I am regular enough (2-3x/day) as are Erik and Kelly for the record [editor’s note: the editors demur from either acknowledging or disavowing the hypothetical frequency of their natural propensities.] to avoid creating such monsters and yet, the flushie needs snaking every day soon after the post-caffeine effect.

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