#16: Failure to Remember the Tools: My fabulous brother, Victor, taught me a long time ago to never skimp on the tools for the job. At the time, he was referring to the typical household tools one needs such as a hammer, screwdrivers, etc. However, given that’s he’s a persnickety culinary artist today, he would certainly agree that the same rule goes for tools which relate to our food preparation and serving. One of the most vital tools of any chef is their knife set. Take away a chef’s knife and you practically take away his soul. The same holds true when it comes to the tools that you’re planning on using to prepare and serve your food everyday and in the future—you know, when your life may rely on it. Don’t skimp on the tools and make sure you have back ups to your back ups. When you purchase something that you might need to LIVE off of, make sure you put in the time to research and make sure you’re getting the good one. For example, there’s no way in the world that I would ever purchase a Presto Pressure Cooker nowadays. Their standards have gone way down over the last decade and I simply would not trust it to be there for me and my family when I really needed it. Instead, I’m willing to spend 3 times more money for the BRK brand of pressure cookers or the Kuhn-Rikon. Recently I volunteered to make dinner for 70 people for a Cub Scout Blue and Gold Banquet. Why would I do such a crazy thing? To test my tools; to make sure that I had enough of them to feed an army if need be and to make sure that they would work suitably when preparing so much food. I found myself woefully inadequate in utensils that were long enough to stir inside my big pots. Lesson learned. I’ve now got several sturdy 38” wooden spoons—even better, I got them at the thrift store. *big smile* #17: Fall Into the Pigeon Hole: The term pigeon holing refers to isolating yourself for a single use and only a single use. For example, if I were to spend money on freeze-dried fried rise entrees from XYZ company, I consider that pigeon holing my food supplies. Instead, I’d much rather have rice, Spam, freeze-dried peas, eggs, soy sauce, and freeze-dried carrots than spend my money on something that could really only serve one purpose. I approach my entire pantry and most of my other self-reliance supplies the same way. As a further example, when I can my meats, I don’t season them in any particular way other than with a pinch of salt and that’s much more about the preservation of the meats than it is about the flavoring. I do this so that I can use my chicken for whatever the mood calls for without being pigeon-holed into one specific dish. Besides, canning products like that ensures that I don’t end up with a mushy and unappetizing component such as noodles in homemade, canned chicken noodle soup. As long as I have all of the fixings for it, I know that I have a whole lot of other possibilities. I would strongly caution anyone from purchasing food products that have only one possibility. That’s why I’ve yet to find a freeze-dried entrée that I would ever endorse. It would have to be a “holy cow this is too good to resist” kind of entrée in order for me to feel good about spending my money on it. In the long run, pigeon holing your food products costs you significantly more money just as it does when you go to a nice restaurant and pay for a meal as opposed to spending much less to actually purchase the items that you would need to cook that meal from home. I have some recipes that I love which call for some untraditional items such as anchovies. By way of being frugal, if I don’t have at least 3 other shelf-stable dishes in my repertoire which also call for anchovies, then it’s not likely you’ll find them on my shelves. #18: Failure to PLAN to Conserve Physical Energy: I love the sign that hangs in my mother-in-law’s kitchen. “Tonight I’m making my favorite thing…reservations.” We’ve all had those times where we’re worn out in one way or another and simply do not feel like cooking. In some cases, this nocookingitis is as extreme as to prohibit us from even putting something in the stove for a half hour or the microwave for a few minutes. And when nocookingitis comes in combination with appetite fatigue, it’s nearly a red alert status. So off to dinner we go, knowing full well that the service won’t be as good as we could do for ourselves, that the germs are more rampant in what we eat outside of our own homes, and we’ll pay as much as 10 times more for what we pay to eat out as what it would have cost us to eat at home…without the yummy leftovers. Why do we insist on torturing ourselves this way? Because, sometimes we just don’t have the mental or physical energy to cook. That being the case, I have a hard time agreeing with the efforts of some who prepare to make their lives miserable in the face of a crisis; who take no consideration for what kind of physical and mental effort it will require them to exercise to feed their family (and a few close friends...ahem…) several times a day. I actually heard a woman tell me the other day that she’s not going to spend money on a hand grinder when she can just get a rock. As I looked at the beautiful gold earrings hang from her ears and her perfectly coiffed hair and beautifully manicured hands, I couldn’t help but wonder if she has any idea what kind of energy she’d need to expel in order to grind the 9 cups of flour necessary to make a good batch of bread!? Every time I begin my self-defense class, I begin by informing my students that the average time of an assault is 5 to 7 minutes and that they need to mentally and physically be able to fight back for that entire time. So we start off by punching at the pillows that they’ve brought with them; nice and light; nothing too extraneous; while I time them. When I let them know finally that 30 seconds has just passed, you should hear the groans and moans I am subjected to! “That was only 30 seconds?! “I’m already worn out!” The fact of the matter is, there are very few of us who make everything from scratch nowadays, let alone do it for every meal for every day for an entire year. So as you’re preparing to take care of the nutritional needs of others, be sure you remember to take care of YOU and the mental and physical needs that you’ll have too. Embrace anything that you can find that will make your sudden thrust into 24 hour chief bottle washer easier and less taxing. That may mean planning on using the little Humless Roadrunner Solar Generator to run a food processor, select a hand grinder based on how many cranks it requires to grind an entire cup or flour, or it may be something as simple as ensuring that the recipes cards are readily taped to the bottom of the lid of every bucket in which you store your ingredients for a meal. Either way, if you’re not preparing with an awareness of conserving your physical energy, there will come a point in which nothing much else matters. #19: Special Diet Considerations: One thing you can count on, where there are people there will always be sick people, elderly, children and infants. As such, I don’t believe that any respectable pantry is complete without being mindful of these exceptions. While I may snub ginger ale as a necessity for my long-term pantry otherwise, I know darn well that when I’m sick to my stomach, Vernor’s Ginger Ale is the only solution for me. As such, I keep plenty on stock. I know that babies need baby food, elderly need easily digested food, and that there are many who have developed gluten allergies as well. As such, as a part of my Food Preparedness tactics, I make sure that I have possibilities to meet these needs. I have learned to make baby food, comfort food, “I can’t keep anything down” food, and even “I’ve lost my dentures” food. It may not seem important right now, but I assure you, the first time you hear the cry of a hungry baby, or see the stumbled pace of a dear elderly friend amidst a crisis, you’ll wish that you had the foresight in planning for these out of the norm scenarios. #20: Protect the Investment: I doubt that any of us would go to the store and say “Excuse me. Would you mind if I paid double for this package of ground beef?” And yet if we fail to view our food stores as an investment that merits protection, then that’s exactly what we’re doing. I’ve never understood why people will pay loads of money to protect their boats through the winter but not even invest in a simple dehumidifier to ensure that their food stores remain viable as long as possible. Even if you’re fortunate to walk out of a grocery store having paid only $5 for $300 worth of groceries as a result of couponing, those great deal items only continue to be great deals so long as you protect them and ensure that they remain viable for you and your family until you’re ready to use them. I’m often asked the question of how a person can preserve their shelf-stable foods when they live in the hot and humid southern desert areas of the U.S., in spite of the fact that the homeowner enjoys the luxury of air conditioning. All too often I am dismayed to hear of the “impossibility” of the task of having a sufficient supply of food on hand simply because the person fails to see the importance of preservation of their food investments. I literally had a gal who said that she couldn’t afford to put her air-conditioning down another 3 degrees to get on the high end of acceptable temperatures for long-term food storage. Good grief. If she just unplugged all of the plugs that were in the sockets that she rarely used she’d more than make up for the electricity it would require to cool the home 3 more degrees. There’s been more than one time in which I’ve consulted a client about the age-old problem of creating a more self-reliant lifestyle only to be confronted with the improperly perceived problem of space. In actuality, it frequently boils down to a problem of priorities. Learning to can, dehydrate, use PET containers, oxygen absorbers, mineral oil, cheesewax, using a FoodSaver or making quality foods from scratch isn’t about denying our decades of technological revolutions and modern-day progress, nor is it about “reverting back to the good old days” (they weren’t as good as we remember them sometimes). It’s about having a say in what our future holds for us—protecting a LIFE-SAVING investment—one that is literally worth more than any gold or silver or stocks and bonds that we could ever purchase, because as long as we protect its nutrition and comfort value, it will always hold it’s value no matter what happens on Wall Street, at our place of employment , the IMF, or in Washington D.C. That kind of value is certainly worth protecting and, I might add, worth continually investing in. (sorry for the dangling participle. *grin*) If you protect the food, you protect the family. It’s that simple.
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