Friday, November 30, 2018

Basic Food Storage: DIY Instant Oatmeal

Throwing together a batch of instant oatmeal mix doesn't take much time at all.  It's healthier than the store bought stuff (what exactly is in those artificially flavored strawberry bits?), it's way less expensive, and it helps you rotate your basic food storage items.

The basic recipe is as follows:

8 cups quick oats
1 cup dry milk
1 cup granulated sugar

Whirl 6 of the 8 cups of oats in a blender to make them a little finer.  In a large bowl, combine the oats, dry milk, and sugar.

For flavored options, choose one of the following:

Stir in 2 1/2 cups of freeze-dried blueberries

Strawberry, Banana, or Peach
Whirl 2 1/2 cups of your choice of fruit in the blender a little bit to get smaller pieces, then stir into the oatmeal mix.

Apples and Cinnamon
Whirl 2 1/2 cups of dehydrated or freeze-dried apples in a blender to chop them up a bit.  Substitute brown sugar for the granulated sugar.  Stir in 2 tablespoons cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon allspice.

Store in an airtight container.  Or package into snack size baggies if your children have difficulty with portion control.

© 2019,  

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Tips and Tricks: Shelf-Life Extension Program

Disclaimer:  This is not medical advice.  The following post is for education and information only.  You should always consult your physician before taking any medication, whether over the counter or prescription.  It is unlawful to take any prescription medication that has been prescribed for another individual.  Only a licensed physician has the authority to re-allocate prescription drugs for use by another individual.

Have you ever wondered about those "use by" dates printed on the bottles of your prescriptions and over-the-counter medications?  Have you ever suspected that if, say, aspirin in a bottle labeled "use by November 2018" was safe to take on November 30, 2018, that it might also be safe to take on December 1, 2018?

Wonder no more.  About thirty-ish years ago, the US government began to wonder the same thing and financed some studies.   Basically, the government recognized it was wasting money if it threw away perfectly good medicines. (I'm totally in shock about this and still trying to wrap my head around it.  Since when has our government ever been concerned about wasting money?) Drug  manufacturers felt about the same.  The results of the studies have been published in a few medical journals, but there doesn't seem to have been much effort to disseminate this information to the general public.  They might not buy as many OTC medicines if they knew.

I highly recommend reading the articles yourself.  But in case you don't have time for that right now, the gist of the articles is that it's better to use new stuff, but if there is a bioterrorist attack, or a public health emergency like a massive earthquake, or an epidemic, then it's ok to use older stock. 


So, if it's going to save the government money (but not you, because they're going to take all they can get from you, regardless), or there's a crisis that the government can't handle with what supplies it currently has, then it's safe to use older stock.

Translate that however you wish.  Both doctors I took classes from said they had no problem with using older medications--providing that they had been stored properly.  Furthermore, there was no hazard per se to using expired medications, only that they gradually decrease in efficacy.   (But if you have a serious infection and your antibiotic is less effective, that could be hazardous.)  Both doctors stated this was true even for tetracycline family antibiotics (including minocycline and doxycycline, the latter being a drug of choice in treating anthrax).  While tetracycline family antibiotics used to become toxic soon after their use-by date, both physicians said that they have been re-formulated so that this is no longer the case.  According to The Medical Letter, a professional newsletter, "The only report of human toxicity that may have been caused by chemical or physical degradation of a pharmaceutical product is renal tubular damage that was associated with the use of degraded tetracycline...  Current tetracycline preparations have been reformulated with different fillers to minimize degradation and are unlikely to have this effect"  (The Medical Letter, Vol. 44, Issue 1142, 28 October 2002).

There is a major exception, and that is for liquid medications.  Those simply do not have the shelf-life of tablets and capsules.  But again, they don't generally become toxic; they just become less effective.  Epi-pens do decrease in efficacy, but even five years past the use-by date they still have 60% efficacy of dosage, and that may be enough to save a life.  One of my doctor-teachers said he heard of a patient that needed seventeen shots of epinephrine before he was stabilized--until the allergen was completely eliminated from his system. Save those out-of-date epi-pens.  And for those of you with insulin-dependent diabetics in your family, my husband has found that his insulin, one of the boutique insulin (can't remember which off the top of my head) decreases in efficacy about 18 months after its use-by date.  We've read that the cheaper insulins have a longer shelf-life, up to three years. 

Now you know.

© 2019,  

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Reviews: Mitten Season/Natural Animal Fibers

In a world where almost everything is made in China (probably not the best idea that we Americans have had) and a whole heckuva lot of so-called cold weather clothing and accessories are made of synthetic fibers, the mere mention of natural animal fibers seems almost archaic.  But who cares?  I'm going to do it anyway.

For Christmas 2017 I knitted mittens for both of my sons out of yarn leftover from sweaters, scarves, and other projects.  Jared's still pretty much housebound, so I don't think he has used his at all.  And 2017-2018 was almost a year without a winter here.  Luke didn't even put on his mittens until late February, when we actually got some snow.  As a matter of fact, it was a whole lot of snow, enough to make up for the previous few months, as well as the rest of the year and part of another year.

When we have a good snow year, the kids sled down the driveway.  In an excellent year, they get to create new sled runs.  And use previously untouched mittens.  Anyway, after the snow ceased falling in February, the kids were all out sledding the next day, which was bright and blue and clear.  And a little warm, so the snow got a bit slushy.  Having been robbed all winter, they were out for hours.  And Luke was floored.  His thick, hand knit mittens were soaking wet.  On the outside.  Inside, his hands were very warm and dry. I had to see for myself.  Indeed, he was telling the truth.  Not that he has a substantial record of telling tall tales, but it just seemed impossible.  However, my hands were perfectly dry and warm inside, but those mittens were definitely soaked on the outside.  I'm not quite sure how that works.

And I realized that I needed to make these kinds of mittens for everyone.  If you've got a grandma who knits, or if you think knitting would be a really good skill to learn (it most definitely is), here are a few things to keep in mind about hand-knit mittens.

Do not use Red Heart or any other synthetic fiber yarns for your mittens.  They are not water-resistant and they do not have the ability to keep you warm like animal fibers do.  Likewise, do not use cotton or cotton blend yarns, unless you want to freeze.

What you do want is The Good Stuff.  Wool, sheep's wool, is very hydrophilic.  It will hold a lot of water even as it wicks moisture away from your body to keep you warm.  Wool is the least expensive of the animal fibers.  It also has the most crimp, which means it will return to it's original shape after being stretched.

Alpaca fiber is more of The Good Stuff.  Unlike wool, it is hydrophobic, meaning it repels water.  It is four times warmer than wool, very durable, lighter in weight, and fire resistant.  It is more expensive than wool.  And it smells like wet dog when wet.

And finally, there is angora fiber.  Like alpaca, it is very hydrophobic.  And it is eight times warmer than wool, not durable at all, and much lighter in weight than the other two fibers.  It is said to be flammable, but I couldn't get it to light with a match.  And it is substantially more expensive than the other two fibers.

However, if you raise your own fiber, like we do here, you have an abundance of yarn at your fingertips.  Even if you don't raise your own, you can sometimes obtain fiber for free.  The US government did a great job of persuading some people to raise alpacas for profit.  People bought into the Ponzi scheme, and as always, the few at the top did pretty well for themselves.  The suckers at the bottom went bankrupt (yeah, I know a family that experienced this).  And there are some still trying to make it work.  But the market for expensive alpaca fiber never materialized.  So every once in a while as these alpaca ranchers retire or decide to move their flock elsewhere, they give their fiber away.  Some of it is very nice.  About once a year I'll get a few bags this way to complement the sheep and angora fiber we raise here.

Back to the mittens.  I wanted to knit the boys warm, durable mittens that would last more than a season or two.  I was not concerned about making them attractive or fancy.  After all, they are boys, and I guess I still think of them as children who might easily lose their mittens.  So for each pair, I chose complementary colors of yarns leftover from other projects and plied them together to make a pretty bulky yarn.  I opted for smaller needles than one might normally choose for yarn of this weight because I wanted the mittens to be dense enough to keep the cold and water out.  These mittens do their job well.

And I am happy to report that nearly one year later, I've got enough mittens for everyone in the family. 

Caution:  Some dogs seem particularly attracted to items made from natural fibers.  At least our Great Pyrenees are, while the lab mutt could care less.  She prefers real food.  Anyway, the Great Pyrenees would never harm a rabbit or a sheep--unfortunately they can't really distinguish between good rabbits (our angoras) and bad rabbits (all the jack rabbits and cottontails).  But any natural animal fiber item left lying around the house is fair game and will be chewed to shreds.

© 2019,  

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Conventional Medicine: Wound Closure Supply Options

Disclaimer:  This is not medical advice and I am not a physician.  These are options people need to be able to consider when there is no doctor available, and options to be able to offer a licensed physician when standard care is not an option.

Here at Prep School Daily, we want you to know that when it comes to wound closure, you have options.  Options that will fit your budget and desired level of pain and scarring.  (All of these options assume that only the skin is involved and that there is no damage to underlying muscles, tendons, bones, ... vital organs.)

Option 1.  Do nothing.  Yes, this is an option.  You do not have to close a long cut or a wide cut, even if you have a big chunk of skin missing.  Just keep it clean.  Of course, it will take a whole lot longer to heal, and you will have a much bigger scar than if you had closed it.  $

Option 2.  Skin glues.  You can only get Derma-Bond through a physician.  Vet-Bond, the veterinary equivalent of Derma-Bond, is still available without restriction.  It is chemically similar to superglue, but much less likely to cause a chemical burn, which is hardly desirable when you're wanting to fix someone.  It is ideal for closing smaller wounds on children and facial wounds when minimizing scarring is really a priority.  Vet-Bond does not go in the wound;  it goes above it.  The skin is held together and then the glue is spread on top while the skin continues to be pushed together until the glue dries.  $$$

Option 3.  Steri-Strips.  These are adhesive strips of tape usually 3-4" long and 1/10-1/2" wide.  They are especially valuable for older folks with paper-thin skin and for children on body parts that don't see a lot of action.  Do not buy knock-offs, if possible.  The adhesive usually is not as strong, and they often have square corners that catch on everything as opposed to the rounded corners of Steri-Strips.  If possible, paint on lines of tincture of benzoin where the strips will go to help them adhere better.  $$

Option 4.  Staples.  Ideally, the staples would come from an actual skin stapler rather than the one you got from Home Depot in your tool box.  Staples are best suited to use on the abdomen, back, and scalp.  They do not go over joints (too much movement) or on the face (too much scarring) unless you really want that Halloween look all your life.  They are used in the field because they are very quick, which is nice if you don't have anesthetic, and because it requires almost no skill to be able to use them.  $$$

Option 5.  Duct tape.  This can be cut into strips and used just like the Steri-Strips above.  However, some people have a reaction to the duct tape adhesive.  The Youtube video shows how to make what's called a combat bandage with duct tape.  It's not my favorite idea, but sometimes we need to be able to improvise, so it's good to learn about it and be able to keep it in mind.$

This Youtube shows how to make a suture that isn't actually a suture.  I don't like it as much as the one I included when I originally wrote this post in November 2018, but those instructions have disappeared completely.  This guy uses toothpicks where I would use synthetic yarn and a honking yarn needle and cotton string where I would use a hand sewing needle and thread.  One of the great advantages of this method is that you are not actually piercing the skin; there's no pain inflicted, no anesthetic needed, and no additional possibilities of introducing infection.  I like it!  Oh, and with all of that, because there is no needle and no medication, you can't be accused of practicing medicine without a license.

Option 6.  The medical world's answer to the DIY solution above:  It has the medical grade tape and uses tiny zip-ties to close the wound instead of a needle and thread.  $$$

Option 7.  Suture.  Hopefully you will never need a suture for yourself or anyone in your family, but you sure as heck want to have them if you need them.  Sutures aren't all that expensive, but a physician just cannot be expected to purchase and store them for an entire community.  There are all kinds of sutures out there, and they all have their pros and cons.  Unfortunately, sutures for people are only available through licensed medical personnel.  Amazon sells veterinary sutures "for training" that are not necessarily high quality--the needles may not be as sharp, thus inflicting more pain on the patient. sells sutures for "veterinary use."  They are sterile and available in a wide variety of sizes and materials.  There are absorbable and non-absorbable.  There are natural and synthetic sutures.  The needles vary in size, shape, and purpose.  The most commonly used sizes are 2, 3, and 4, half circle, reverse cutting.  $$

Option 8.  Needle and thread.  Yes, you can actually use a regular needle and thread.  If you're going to go this route, at least get some spools of silk and nylon or fishing line.  The risk of infection is going to be higher with this option, and so is the pain.  For a more pleasant suturing experience, choose quilting needles instead of yarn needles.  $

Option 9.  Hair.  If the wound is on the scalp (or I suppose, really hairy arms or chest),  braid or tie hair over  the wound to close it up.  $

Option 236.  Agave cactus needles and the attached fiber. $

Option 237.  Combat army ants.  Find the ants, pick one up and have it bite you with the jaws straddling your wound, then detach the head from its body.  (Oh, darn.  I'm out of luck.  We don't have those kinds of ants around here.) $

Option 238.  Herbs:  Lantana, plantain, and Usnea have shown great ability to help speed wound closing.  $

As you can see, we at Prep School Daily have suggested a number of options that can fit any budget and skill level.  It's up to you to decide what will work best for your situation.

Which options you choose for closing a wound depend on a number of factors.  What materials do you actually have available?  What is the age and mental status of the patient?  Young children can be difficult to work on.  Are you able to suture a screaming toddler?  After the child has had such a traumatic experience, is it really going to work to have him come back to have sutures removed?  Is the wound over a joint?  Then a regular suture or needle and thread might be your only effective options.  Do you have anesthetic available?  How skilled are you?  Can you tie a suture?  How much time do you have?  Glue is quick, staples are faster.   Sutures take forever unless you are very skilled.   Regardless, use the least invasive method possible.  I had a former ER physician tell me that a lot of the sutures he saw being placed in the ER could have been done with glue instead.  Why were sutures used in those cases?  Well, for one, if doctors use more glue, parents will use glue more at home as well, and be less likely to come into the ER.  Secondly, when they're going to be paying a hefty ER bill, they want to see something substantial, like a suture, rather than a dab of glue or some Steri-Strips.

Keep in mind, this was just a post about the supplies you want to have on hand for situations you might face.  How to clean a wound properly, how a wound should be closed, and whether a wound should be closed will be covered in future posts.

And here's hoping, again, that this is more useless information you will never need to use.

© 2019,  

Monday, November 26, 2018

Alternative Medicine: Juniper, Part 2

Last week in Alternative Medicine we covered the harvesting and medicinal uses of juniper berries.  But the great thing about juniper is that we don't have to wait for fall to use it medicinally; the needles can be gathered and turned into medicine at any time of the year!

Medicinal uses of the juniper needles:  Juniper is or has reportedly been used in the treatment of urinary tract infection, urethritis, cystitis, acne, arthritis, rheumatism, toothache, swollen gums, heartburn, bloating, loss of appetite, gastrointestinal infections, intestinal worms, sores, wounds, measles, smallpox, snake bites, insect bites, dog bites, Staphylococcus aureus, and scurvy. The needles may be of use in potentiating the efficacy of erythromycin and ampicillin.

As previously noted, unfortunately, all that is sometimes recorded is that an herb was used, without detailing how much was used, how it was prepared, or how often it was used.  While just using any herb that "someone said" was used to treat xyz disease is irresponsible at best when competent, licensed medical care is available, if there is no one else to help and all conventional supplies are exhausted, I guess if I'm throwing anything I can get my hands on at tuberculosis or tetanus, I'd rather try what Native Americans reportedly used to treat it than just trying to guess on my own.  Accordingly, juniper something has also been used in the treatment of  depression, fatigue, high blood sugars, insomnia, tuberculosis, herpes simplex 1 and 2, kidney infections, kidney stones, bladder stones, enlarged prostate, gout, eczema, dandruff, psoriasis, vitiligo, athlete's foot, warts, tetanus, diarrhea, nausea, hemorrhage, high blood pressure, and Aspergillus niger.

Tincture dosage: 5-20 drops, up to 3x daily, for a maximum of four to six weeks.  Begin with a lower dosage and increase, if needed.  Tinctures take several weeks to make, so having them on hand before an infection occurs is best.

Making the juniper needle tincture:  1:5, 75% alcohol (that's one ounce of juniper needles to five ounces of 150-proof alcohol).  Store the tincture in the dark and give it a good shake once each day.  After five days, blend the tincture in a blender and then put it back in the jar and store it in the dark for four weeks.  For the last step, strain the tincture through a coffee filter or cheesecloth to remove the herb and pour it into a clean bottle or jar.  Store in a cool, dark location.

Infusion:  Pour 2 cups of boiling water over 1-3 teaspoonfuls of crushed needles and steep for 10-15 minutes.  Take one cup in the morning and one in the evening for lower urinary tract infections and digestive problems.  Limit consumption to two weeks unless directed otherwise by a medical professional. If treating for scurvy, use new growth (lighter green) needles for their higher vitamin C content. 

Decoction:  Add one ounce of needles to one quart of boiling water.  Boil for 30 minutes, remove from heat, and let steep 12-24 hours.  It has historically been used as an antiseptic wash for sores, wounds, measles, smallpox, snake bites, insect bites, dog bites. A decoction is also used as a poultice on rheumatic or arthritic joints.  Furthermore, a decoction of the needles was historically used to sterilize brewing equipment, cooking utensils, surgical instruments (yeah, that could be helpful), hands, and counters.  It would seem silly to put this in buckets when I've got hundreds of trees here, but it is definitely one to keep in the memory banks for future reference.

Steam:  Boil four ounces of needles in one gallon of water; inhale the steam as it boils.  Use for upper respiratory infections. 

Poultice:  A poultice of the leaves is applied to the jaw for alleviating toothaches and sore or swollen gums. 

Medicinal uses of the juniper twigs:

Decoction:  Prepare as for the needle decoction above, using one ounce of twigs instead.  Use primarily for treating stomach aches and kidney complaints. 

Poultice:  Mash twigs and make a poultice to dress burns and swollen skin tissue. 

Smoke:  Smoke from burning twigs was inhaled by Native Americans in treating headaches and colds.  Juniper branches were used in sweat baths for alleviating rheumatism. 

Medicinal uses of the seeds:

The seeds were eaten to treat headaches.

Other uses of juniper:

Air purifier:  Simmer berries and water in an open pot.

Disinfectant:  Add juniper berries to dishwater or other cleaning solutions as a disinfectant.  Yes, it sounds a little far-fetched.  Read on.

Alternative to chlorhexidine:  Chlorhexidine is an oral rinse used in periodontal treatment; however, extended use can have negative side effects.  Juniper essential oil diluted in water had no negative effects.  (https://www.researchgate.netpublication277252482_Essential_Oil_from_Berries_of_



Wax:  Simmer fruit, skim off wax, use to make candles.

Slow match:  Crushed bark is twisted into a rope, tied with yucca, and coiled.  The free end was lit and kept smoldering by blowing on it infrequently.  In this way, fire could be carried for several hours.

Roofs:  The bark is used to thatch roofs.

Bedbugs:  Boughs were used to deter bedbugs.

Contraindications:  Juniper is a common allergen for hay fever.  It also affects blood glucose levels in diabetics.  Avoid juniper during pregnancy and while nursing.  

Cautions:  Large doses of juniper, like six cups of strong tea in a day, may cause vomiting, diarrhea, and increased urine flow.  Use juniper only for a month or so; then abstain for a week or more before using the herb again.

© 2019,

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Expanded Food Storage: Dehydrated Tomatoes

If you've been reading the blog from the beginning in October and really paying attention, you might have noticed the theme of Saturday's Expanded Food Storage posts is an all-American meal of hamburgers and fries.

And then you come across today's post of "Dehydrated Tomatoes," and you become a little teary-eyed.  Because you're depressed to see it's such a boring topic, or a little excited at the idea of having a tomato to put on your hamburger.

Now there is a whole lot you can do with dehydrated tomatoes, but in keeping with the theme, we're going to start with dehydrating tomatoes whose ultimate purpose in life is to be re-hydrated for putting on hamburgers.

It's important to note that there actually is a difference between dried food and dehydrated food.  Dried food still has some water content in it so it is much more pliable, and it has a much shorter shelf life.  On the other hand, dehydrated food has had as much water removed as possible.  It is crispy and has a much longer shelf life, which is what we as prepared people want.

I started with my garden tomatoes, the ones I had to pick super early (October 15th-ish because of super early freezing temperatures--sad), and that had been ripening in the atrium.  They got washed and then dipped in boiling water to  remove the skins from some tomatoes.  (I couldn't tell a difference in flavor between the skinned and non-skinned tomatoes, however, I must admit, I do not have super-sensitive taste buds.) I'm not entirely convinced that removing the skins is necessary, but I was wondering if the skin imparted a bitter flavor to the re-hydrated tomato, so I wanted to be able to do a side-by-side comparison.

dehydrating tomatoes
handy dandy tomato slicer--nice for making tomato slices of perfectly uniform thickness, in this case, 1/4-inch thick

I then sliced them up and put them on the dehydrator trays.  Now most instructions say to dehydrate tomatoes at 125-135 degrees, and of course the number of hours is going to vary depending on the thickness of your slices and your humidity.  But I don't want to cook my tomatoes at all.  I want to be able to use them as fresh--hopefully--and I want them to retain their beautiful color.  So I set the thermostat to 90 degrees.

And because I want as much moisture out as possible, I've let them go 18 hours now.  They are crispy.  They are done!

Because they are so crispy, they need to be removed from the trays carefully.  And because these beautiful babies are for hamburgers, they are stacked in a pint canning jar.  Naturally, there will be some broken pieces.  These are set aside for other uses.  More on that later.

Once the jar is full, it is vacuum-sealed (or you could use an oxygen absorber).  Glass jars and vacuum sealing are the only way to keep moisture out.  If you live in the desert, you might be able to forgo the vacuum sealing.  Everyone else better do it for sure.  Trust me on that.

Now, for the test.  How long does it take to re-hydrate?  Well, more than the few minutes it takes to make a hamburger.  If you are putting them on your hamburger, start re-hydrating before you do anything else.

I was really, really hoping the tomato slices would re-hydrate well and regain their original thickness and texture.  I checked them every half hour for about four hours.  Unfortunately, they never regained their original size and there was no difference between 30 minutes and 4 hours of re-hydration.  So they don't have quite the texture and juiciness desired for a great hamburger.

But you know what?  They look great!  No one else will know how thinly you originally sliced the tomato.  They'll just be amazed at your ability to slice a tomato so thinly.  Having a bright red tomato to put on hamburgers during the off-season will be greatly appreciated.  And in times of crisis, being able to maintain some normalcy is important to keeping up morale.  Being able to put tomatoes on hamburgers (and even being able to have hamburgers!) is a small, but very simple and easy thing to do.

What about the rest of the dehydrated tomatoes?  The broken pieces?  Or what about dehydrating tomatoes for other purposes?  Yes, I'm getting to that.

To turn your dehydrated tomatoes into powder, simply place them in your blender and give them a whirl until they are powder.  That's it.

However, some blenders may cause the tomato powder to get a little heated in the process.  If that is the case, spread your powder on a plate or tray and let cool completely.  If you have purchased tomato powder in the past, you will recall that it is a nice, tomato-ey red.

Can Tomato Powder Dehydrated Survival Food Freeze Dried | eBay
commercially dehydrated tomato powder

Your home dehydrated tomato powder will not have that same bright color, but will be of a more orange-rust color.  I'm not quite sure why that is, but anyway....  After the powder is completely cooled, transfer it into a glass jar that can be vacuum-sealed for long-term storage.  You do not want moisture getting in and spoiling all your tomatoes--and your work.
Natural Dehydrated Tomato Powder / Dried Tomato Powder / Lycopene Powder
home dehydrated tomato powder

Use your tomato powder to thicken tomato-based soups or stews.  As a general guideline, for tomato sauce, combine in a 1:4 ratio of powder to water.  For tomato paste, combine in a 1:2 ratio of powder to water.  But for best results, and for just the thickness you want, don't use these measurements.  Just begin with some tomato powder and add water until you get the consistency you want.

Copyright 2018, Jennifer Rader,

Friday, November 23, 2018

Basic Food Storage: Milk--Copycat Chick-Fil-A Peppermint Chocolate Chip Milkshake

To go along with our Expanded Food Storage theme of the 1950's American diner with hamburgers and French fries, we absolutely must have a milkshake, right?

I came across this copycat recipe for the Chick-Fil-A Peppermint Chocolate Chip Milkshake at  Now, I've only been to Chick-Fil-A once in my life, and it was in the summer, so I'm guessing this milkshake wasn't even on the menu then.  I don't have any basis for comparison. (Though in the interest of research, I might try to find the local Chick-Fil-A and order one.  Just for research purposes, mind you.)  But we're heading into Christmas, and now's the time to buy candy canes if this recipe's a winner.

As I look over the recipe, I'm more than a little skeptical.  There is no whipping cream.  There is no fat at all except what's in the chocolate chips.  How can it possibly be any good?  On the other hand, I've never tried anything from Store This Not That which wasn't good.

Store This Not That's Copycat Chick-Fil-A Peppermint Chocolate Chip Milkshake (recipe #1)

2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup dry milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
4 candy canes (mine were about1/2 oz each)
2 1/2 cups ice cubes
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Combine all ingredients except chocolate chips in the order listed in a blender on high.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Makes about three eight-ounce servings.

And, of course, in a grid-down scenario fresh milk might be a little difficult to come by (as might ice, but we'll cover that in a few months).  So I wanted to try two alternative recipes for comparison.  

I really wanted to write our observations in below the alternative recipes, but there's some stupid formatting problem that I can't seem to work around, so I'll include our notes here.  

I once again pressed my children (only three were available this time) into service as guinea pigs, and knowing that powdered milk was involved, they very reluctantly trudged into the kitchen.  I honestly could not tell a difference between the three recipes.  Luke favored Store This Not That's copycat, followed by recipe #3 below.  Charlotte and Lydia both favored recipe #3, followed by recipe #1.  We aren't actually huge peppermint fans here; everyone thought using a different candy, like Snickers or Milky Ways would be a huge improvement.

Alternative (recipe #2)

2/3 cup water
3/4 cup dry milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
4 candy canes
2 1/2 cups ice cubes
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Combine as above.

Alternative (recipe #3)

2/3 cup whipping cream (Trader Joe's carries shelf-stable whipping cream in eight-ounce cartons)
2/3 cup powdered milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
4 candy canes
2 1/2 cups ice cubes
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Combine as above.

Copyright 2018, Jennifer Rader,

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Cotton Ball Fire Starters

Whenever my family goes out camping, it’s always my husband or sons who start the fires and light the stoves.  They like making and playing with fire; I don’t.  They understand how to light the stupid camp stove quickly; I never will.  I can’t even light a lighter 99% of the time.  (Do I just always happen to pick up one that doesn’t work well?  I don’t think so!)  I do feel fortunate to be able to light a match.  However, sometimes it takes more than a match or two to get a fire going, whether we’re dealing with a little rain or dampness or wind.  

It’s important to be able to light a fire in case we’re out sometime and my sons are gone and married (stranger things have happened) and my husband decides to go chat it up with someone while I’m trying to get dinner on.  

I stumbled across the idea for these Vaseline cotton ball fire starters about a year ago and was immediately intrigued.  They were billed as cheap, light-weight, and most importantly, fool-proof.  Was it possible?  Would it be something I could actually light and use to build a fire?  Without causing some kind of explosion?

There are numerous sites online that provide instructions for making these, but only one goes into the science of why petroleum jelly cotton balls work and why they are safe and stable.  He does a really good job of it.  See

To make your own fire starters, turn a small Ziploc baggie inside out and scoop out about a tablespoon of any 100% petroleum jelly.  It doesn’t have to be Vaseline to work.  (But I’m going to stick with the term Vaseline.  It’s a lot shorter.)  Now turn the baggie right side out, with the Vaseline inside, and add a handful of large cotton balls.  (Make sure they are 100% cotton—synthetic fibers don’t light well.  And dryer lint, though popular in some crowds, tends to have synthetic fibers in it.)  Mush the cotton balls and Vaseline together.  You want to get as much Vaseline into the cotton balls as possible, without totally saturating them.  You need to have some dry cotton in the middle to be able to light the cotton ball easily.  If you only add a light amount of Vaseline to the cotton balls, they will ignite well, but there won’t be enough fuel in them to burn very long.  If you add too much Vaseline, you’ll have to work harder to find cotton fibers to light with a spark.  (Remember, if you looked at the website indicated above, Vaseline is extremely stable and cannot be lighted with a match.)  Add more cotton balls or Vaseline as needed.  

Before packing these little gems away, you should really try a few out to make sure you’ve done them right and they are going to do their job when you need them.  So pull one ball out and tease out some dry fibers from the middle.  Set it on some foil in a pan and light the cotton fibers.  The fire starters should light with the first match and burn for at least four minutes.  If it worked, then squeeze the air out of the baggie and seal it.  Store the fire starters in your camping gear and emergency kits.  If your fire starters didn’t burn long enough, work in more Vaseline.  If they were difficult to light, store a dry cotton ball or two with your starters so that you can add some cotton fibers to the starters to facilitate ignition.

If you don’t like the idea of using a baggie for your fire starters, you can also use film canisters, pill bottles, or straws that have been heat sealed on both ends.  

Some people suggest using a small piece of foil to make a bowl for the cotton ball.  Air flow can be controlled or the flame can be protected from wind by adjusting the opening of the bowl.  This can increase burn time substantially.  

And here’s a bonus:  If you forgot your lip balm, your Vaseline cotton ball fire starters can also prevent chapped lips.  No other fire starter can make that claim.

© 2019,  

Food Fatigue