Thursday, February 23, 2017

CHOWMAGEDDON: Post Apocalyptic Author Ann Christy

As part of the ongoing Chowmageddon series, I talked to Post Apocalyptic Author Ann Christy about doomsday dining.




1. How long have you been writing post-apocalyptic fiction or non-fiction?

Since July 2013. I happened on writing almost by accident. I spent almost 29 years in the navy. As a naval officer and navy scientist, I never thought about writing, but that but can bite anyone and it got me good. 

2. What kind of apocalyptic event do you find most interesting?


They’re all interesting, aren’t they? I mean, so many ways to die. Which do you pick? Personally, I think technological ones are the most interesting, because we’re adopting new tech so quickly and it’s bound to go wrong at some point. I’ve written a series with a sort-of-zombie apocalypse created by medical nanites. Because I happen to know quite a bit about them, it’s super scary to think about what could happen with them. That said, I like to end the world in many ways. I’ve got a series with tailored bio-weapons (Texas launches them against the US and world, very sneaky like), and my shorts/novellas have some truly dreadful ends in them.


I think it of it as warding. If I write it, then it can’t happen.

3. What kind of apocalyptic event do you fear the most?

Economic. Those are the worst ones because it turns people into something other than what they want to be. It’s almost like they are the zombies. Nothing is out of bounds when the world is starving. 

4. Are you a prepper? At what level do you consider yourself?

Yep, but I’m not as intense about it as before. I actually de-prepped a large amount of stuff (I’m sure the trash pickup folks wondered what was going on.) I’m advanced in my knowledge, but less comprehensive about my actual prepping now. 

Even so, I’m ready for what’s most likely to come my way.

Also, I have learned over a few apocalypses that there is one very common element to most long disasters and that is this...they are dreadfully boring. I’m not kidding. It seems to be a common element to those that survive well that they found ways not to be bored, because boredom makes you think about how horrible things are. 

Think about it. You’re getting your gear up and ready, you’re stashing your ammo within easy reach, and setting up watches. But what then? You’ve got a month, a year...a lifetime...of this. No more Netflix or free Kindle books. 

You might say that you’ll be busy gardening, doing patrols, or fashioning a rudimentary lathe (2 points if you get the reference). But no, that’s actually unlikely to fill all your time. Most apocalypses have ebbs and floods and every hour can seem like a day. It’s not good for morale.

So, I have prepped boredom relievers too. I have enough watercolor paper and tubes of paint to paint for years if I take time with each one. So stash some colored pencils and card stock, grab a few zentangle books and some micron pens. Whatever floats your boat, but avoid boredom at all costs. Attitude is the best prep of all.

5. Where do you think the ideal place to live is prior to an apocalyptic event? 

Well, I was learning a program we use in the military and decided to create something real to get better at it. I created layers with all sorts of factors involved (natural, chemical, geological, historical, meteorological, etc.) and came up with a series of spots along a rough line in the US, plus a blob or two in places way too cold or dry for me. I immediately checked my results, called a land agent, and bought property in one of those spots. While I don’t live there, I like having it in my back pocket.

But the important thing from that overly long story is that there are almost NO good places to be before a catastrophe, because all catastrophes have their own ways and areas. That said, I live on the Chesapeake Bay (Inner) so I can leave by boat if land gets dicey. It also has a chokepoint over land (it’s a tiny peninsula) so that no one can approach without being seen. One or two shooters can cover all approaches. I aint’ dumb. 

My advice is live where you have two ways out, but others have just one way in.

6. Shelter-in-place, or bug out?

SIP if I can, BO if I have to. I want to keep on cooking great food and would much prefer to do that at home. Those Mountain House pouches get old fast. Plus, I want to stay home and paint the apocalypse.

7. What do plan to eat in the apocalypse?

I will not just eat...I will enjoy dining. Seriously. One of the main reasons I de-prepped so much stuff was that I knew I would never eat it and if I did, it would be yucky and no fun. That’s no way to experience TEOTWAWKI! 

When I retired from the military and went to full time writing, I decided that I would make a concerted effort to create food that is prep- and pantry-friendly, while still being amazing to eat. I was surprised to find that this has been a truly enjoyable experience and it is both more economical to eat better, while also keeping preps in rotation. Without prep prices. 

I subscribe to Blue Apron, and one of the things I do is try to adapt favorites to being prep or pantry friendly dishes that will delight the palate and make any mealtime (even without a disaster) a beautiful experience. I share them sometimes on Facebook, but I only recently actually put on up on my blog. I don’t think my readers (who are largely Science Fiction fans) read it much, but I’m going to keep putting them up because it might help someone who also hates pinto beans as much as me.

8. What foods do you regularly stock in your home that would be adaptable to a post-apocalyptic situation?

I’m a fresh and whole food junkie. I love fresh greens and veggies and all that jazz. That said, I also try to be smart. Anything that’s not a fresh veggie is likely okay for prepping in my house. And even the stuff in my freezer and fridge is almost all canning or dehydrator friendly should the need arise.

Some things that are prep friendly and also awesome to have on hand are tomato powder (ditch those metal-tasting cans of paste and sauce and store just one can of that to make your own quick-like), dehydrated onions (these are powerhouses and I can’t say enough great things about adding onion), and dehyrdrated mushrooms (I carry shiitake and white ones). 

Just these three - which I call the holy trinity of flavor preps - will save you money, untie you from last minute grocery trips, and elevate your prep meals. 

I have dozens of these...truly...that I have tested and tried in myriad ways. My pantry is happy and my meals glorious. Someday, I will get fat, I think. 

9. What is your preferred preservation method for post-apocalyptic foods?

To do myself, I like canning and dehydrating. I like dehydrating because of the compression factor and lower weight. I love my Excalibur! Canning in jars means some danger should things get rattled, but I do love to can. Opening up a jar of tomatoes or corn sends out a smell like a hot morning in July. 

I like freeze-dried meats for storage, but I only used them for testing recipes due to cost. I like that they’ll last forever, but they take up so much darned room!

10. What's the primary factor for you in deciding on a survival food? Taste? Weight? Nutritional Value? Ease of preparation?

I balance all of those things, but I include cost and replacement potential as well. Some things can have less nutrition if they have high satisfaction levels. Other things are high on nutrition, but harder to fold into tasty food. It’s all about balance with me.

11. What's the worst "survival food" you've ever tasted?

Any non-breakfast MRE. OMG, those things are from the devil. I actually used to get nauseous when they were passed out. I just can’t do it. So gross, like salty glue.

12. What's the best?

What I call Indian MREs. On one deployment, I figured we might have some issues with resupply, but couldn’t know for sure, so I replaced a lot of my non-essential items on the ship with those Indian pouches. Punjab eggplant over jasmine rice was my favorite. My roommate and I ate well on the ship when things were nasty after so long with no supply. Of course, I also created a fancy coffee station in my crew’s workspace so they could have good coffee and mochas and stuff during deployment, so I’m not a good example. 

But if you’re a prepper, check those out. They last a very long time (I did some testing over a 7 year period, so they *do* last a long time). They are less hassle than almost anything else and extremely tasty. Also economical to prep and keep in rotation.

13. Any special survival recipes you have up your camouflaged sleeves?

Oh sure, about a hundred. Seriously, probably more now. If you want my absolute favorite, here it is:

Thai Inspired Chicken with Soba

Makes enough for four very hungry people (adjust chicken for protein needs, 1 cup minimum)

Ingredients:
½ package of soba noodles (1.5 bundles). 
1 cup reconstituted freeze dried chicken (chopped into chunks). 
Chicken broth crystals to make 6 cups. 
Rehydrate the following: 2 scallions worth, ½ cup shiitake mushroom dice, 2 tbsp ginger mince (or use dried ginger, but it’s not as good), 1 green pepper worth of dice, 2 stalks worth of celery cuts. 
If you have dried garlic mince, use about 3 cloves worth, otherwise garlic powder to taste. 
Dried cilantro flakes. 
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce.
Red curry paste to taste. 
Lime powder. 
(If you don’t have dried scallions, using 2 tsp of dried onions will work fine).

In a big pot, brown the chicken briefly in oil, then set aside. Saute your mushrooms, green pepper, celery until it warms up and looks normal. Add the ginger, garlic, and scallions and saute for just a minute. Add curry paste to taste and let it brown and grow fragrant for about 30 seconds. Then add the Worcestershire sauce, broth, chicken. Bring to boil, then simmer until the liquid reduces and flavors incorporate for about 15 minutes. Add soba noodles and let them cook. Remove from heat and stir in about 1 tbsp of prepared lime juice (or enough sprinkles to make that much, which is a very small amount so be careful). Sprinkle a few cilantro flakes on each bowl. Enjoy!


14. What's the best survival food tip you've ever heard? 

It’s silly, but it’s correct. If you pretend it’s salad, eating weeds isn’t so bad, so carry vinegar and spices, even if you have nothing else, to make dressing.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

CHOWMAGEDDON: Post Apocalyptic Author Marcus Richardson

As part of the ongoing Chowmageddon series, I talked to Post Apocalyptic Author Marcus Richardson about eating after the End of the World...



1. How long have you been writing post-apocalyptic fiction or non-fiction?

I’ve been writing PA since 2003. I started writing an online story I’d been kicking around since 9/11 and found an audience at Frugal Squirrels. The story continued off and on for ten years. I finally finished it and put it into a whopping 220,000 word book before publishing it on Amazon as Alea Jacta Est, which later became book 1 of a series after I had several fans ask me to continue the story. There’s three books in the series now.

2. What kind of apocalyptic event do you find most interesting?

To me the most interesting PA event is a supervolcano (Yellowstone)—or at least it’s my newest fixation. Once I write about one type of event, I move on to another…so right now, it’s a supervolcano eruption. I’m doing all kinds of fun research in preparation for writing a new novel/series.


3. What kind of apocalyptic event do you fear the most?

The event I fear most is a CME [Coronal Mass Ejection]. Lots of people will rant and rave about how bad an EMP would be for America, but I think a CME would be orders of magnitude worse since it has the potential to affect the entire planet, thus rendering overseas aid unavailable. If the US government is willing to admit a CME/EMP event in the United States would lead to 90% fatalities in the first year, imagine what that would look like on a global scale and you’ve got something far more scary than even something like the Black Plague (which only killed 50-70% of Europe).

4. Are you a prepper? At what level do you consider yourself? 

I am most definitely a prepper. I’m not of the opinion that you have to be one to write about it, but I think it definitely lends a certain amount of realism you just can’t get if you don’t really know what you're talking about. As to what level, I’d say it depends on what type of prepping you’re talking about. I consider myself pretty prepared for natural events like snow/ice storms, hurricanes, etc. (I wrote AJE while living in Florida and survived the crazy 2004 season, riding out 4 hurricanes in 2 months). Do I consider myself prepared for a CME? Hardly. There is always room for more food storage, more water storage—not to mention solar power, backup generators, fuel storage…the wish list goes on and on. However, my family is a one income household with three small children, there’s only so much dough to go around so I have to be smart about what I prep for and everything has to serve multiple purposes. As far as mental preparation and learning skills, I’d give myself a moderate level. I’m no Crocodile Dundee, but I know enough to survive out there and make sure my family can get home from wherever we are if the balloon goes up. Can I survive for a month, living off the land? Well, there’s always more to learn.

5. Where do you think the ideal place to live is prior to an apocalyptic event?

The ideal place would definitely be a working farm close to a natural water source, a decent ways away from major cities but close enough that if you had to walk to—say, find a doctor—it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I think you should always strive for the balance between being out in the boonies and close enough for creature comfort (and power lines). 

6. Shelter-in-place, or bug out?

That’s a good one. I’ll fall back on my law school training and answer: it depends. It depends totally on your prep level, situation, and skill set. If you live on an island and your TEOTWAKI event is a Cat 5 hurricane direct hit, bugging out is a no-brainer. If you’re up in the mountains in a sustainable log cabin near a lake with plenty of game to hunt in a secluded forest preserve and an EMP hits, sheltering in place is more prudent. For the average Joe out there, living near major cities (maybe in the suburbs) sheltering in place is probably going to be the best bet until you determine it’s time to leave (maybe because the local population has switched from a “let’s wait and see what happens” attitude to a “let’s burn this mother down and take everything because there’s no cops!” attitude. As with almost everything re: prepping, situational awareness is critical.

7. What do plan to eat in the apocalypse?

Food. Seriously though, I plan to eat what I store while trying to get more from whatever resource is available. For me and my family that means a combination of canned and dehydrated foods, things easily prepared with a minimum of boiling water. In the beginning, we’ll eat the stuff in the fridge and freezer to keep waste to a minimum. Depending on what type of event and how long it lasts or how long I think it will last will determine what happens as the stored food starts to run low (hunting, scavenging, trading, etc.). Food is less of a worry for me long term than water. Luckily we moved into a new house near a pond with lots of trees to fuel fires to boil water, but a month ago, water was very high on my priority list to store. After all, it only takes 3 days without water to bring you to the point of death but most people can probably afford to live without food for three days.

8. What foods do you regularly stock in your home that would be adaptable to a post-apocalyptic situation?

As I mentioned before, I have an average budget, meaning everything I stock has to be multi-purpose. So I store what I eat and eat what I store. We have lots of canned goods (the sodium isn’t great, but as long as you balance your meals, it’s not too terrible) and dried legumes and rice—the common staples for beginners. We’re moving into wheat and flour storage, yeast, salt, the kinds of things you can use to make dozens and hundreds of other meals. It’s fun to experiment by making things in a grid-down drill to see the reactions of my family (I do most of the cooking in our house so they have little choice!). It serves to broaden their experiences and give me a heads up on what might cause trouble if the event were real.

9. What is your preferred preservation method for post-apocalyptic foods? 

My preferred method of storage is a combination of everything. I’m a firm believer in the “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” theory. I have some dehydrated, some freeze dried, some canned, some preserves…

10. What's the primary factor for you in deciding on a survival food? Taste? Weight? Nutritional Value? Ease of preparation?

This is another one that depends on the situation. For my get home bags and car kits, everything is based on nutritional value and shelf life (they’ll be stored in some of the harshest conditions in my house, namely the car/garage). In those kits are layers though—stuff that will stay with the car, so weight is no factor, and stuff that remains in the bag in case we have to ditch the car and hoof it—in which case weight is the primary factor. Food won’t do you any good if you don’t/can’t carry it with you. For storage at home (assuming I’m bugging in) I go with shelf life and nutrition, followed by cost (obviously weight is much less of a factor if you have a basement and sturdy shelves, etc. but if you are in a small apartment and have to store stuff under a bed, then size and weight might be more important than shelf life—just eat what you store and rotate new stuff). If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my studying and reading and writing is that in a TEOTWAKI situation (and especially in preparing for such an event) you have to adaptable. 

11. What's the worst "survival food" you've ever tasted?

I don’t dislike much when it comes to food (unfortunately) but I’ve heard some real horror stories about certain MREs. That’s on my list of things to do this year—start trying MREs, which have been until now, prohibitively expensive. Of what I have tried, I’d have to say Campbell’s Cajun Jambalaya was the worst. I grew up in Louisiana and had an honest to God Cajun as a neighbor (his legal name: Bubba). That Campbell’s stuff is just plain nasty compared to what Miss K (Bubba’s wife) use to make from scratch (luckily I was too little to real know what went in it and I probably don’t want to know now…).

12. What's the best?

The best survival food? What you have. Seriously though, I don’t know if it’s classified as “survival food” but there’s a dehydrated chili mix called “Darn Good Chili” made by Bear Creek that is labeled to last for about 9 months or so…you add water and boil and it tastes fantastic. I’m going to experiment by putting the mix in a mason jar and vacuum sealing it to see if it will last longer without air.


13. Any special survival recipes you have up your camouflaged sleeves? 

I wish I had some special recipes! I’m still somewhat of a rookie when it comes to the food preparing from storage department. I’m trying to kick the flavor up on my rather boring staples to keep the family happy so it’s a learn by doing thing.

14. What's the best survival food tip you've ever heard? 

The best tip I’ve come across is to use a Ziplock hand pump vacuum sealer with the FoodSaver Mason Jar adapter of your choice to seal jars by hand. Hey, if the power goes out, that FoodSaver will be a paperweight, but with that little $4 hand pump (that I can only find on Amazon, not in stores) you can continue to vacuum seal stuff (I’ve been using it for a few years and now and while it takes more time and elbow grease, it seems to work great for up to a year…I haven’t tested it for more than 12 months so far).

You can find out more about Marcus and his Post Apocalyptic writing at: marcusrichardsonauthor.com

Marcus has two series out for all your literary prepping needs:





Monday, February 20, 2017

CHOWMAGEDDON: Cheese for the Apocalypse!

Are you prepared for the apocalpyse? Will you be scrounging for scraps in an irradiated wasteland or dining on delicious doomsday dinners in the comfort of your fallout shelter?

Chowmageddon is a series of articles where we'll taste test the rations of tomorrow today, so you can make the decision on what to stock for the End of the World...





EXPERIMENT #2: 
CHEEZ WHIZ vs. EASY CHEESE vs. CANNED CHEESE



I'll admit it, I'm a cheese-a-holic. There are very few meals I eat without cheese. Imagining  a world without cheese (because the dairy cows all got irradiated or eaten by zombies) is terrifying to me. So I wanted to see just how long I could enjoy Cheese after civilization collapses...

When it comes to long-lasting cheese, the first thing I think of is Cheez Whiz. This delicious, pasty, processed snack with a consistency similar to peanut butter is a delicious addition for any kitchen. I like to spread it on toast for a quick-and-dirty "grilled cheese" sandwich. And it enhances a good Turkey sub when smeared on the bottom bun (leaving the top free for Miracle Whip).  Cheeze Whiz has SO MANY uses. Of course, it's good for quick nachos, too. Or pouring on canned Ravioli for what I like to call "Bachelor's Lasagna". It has lots of uses. 

In the store, you'll notice that like Velveeta, it's not kept in the refrigerated section. Air tight, room-temperature seems adequate for this American milk product. But just how long can an unopened jar of Cheez Whiz last?




Internet tall tales claim that jars as much as ten years old have survived intact, and edible. And unlike Velveeta, once opened, Cheez Whiz can be sealed up again thanks to a handy-dandy jar it comes in. Of course, like Velveeta, it should really be refrigerated after this. 



Cheez Whiz has what I like to think of as a little cousin--Easy Cheese. Also made by Kraft, Easy Cheese is a cheese-paste in an aerosol can. Unlike Cheez Whiz, it seems to last pretty good outside of a refrigerator after first use. When I was in the USAF, I snuck several cans of Easy Cheese into the field on a training exercise, enhancing my MREs with cheesy awesomeness. There was no refrigerator for miles, and I flourished on my pasteurized diet. 




But is there another way to store cheese? I suppose you could get it in powdered form, like what comes with Mac n Cheese dinners. But then you need water, milk and butter. 

As it turns out, you can buy cheese in a can. And it's not that bad...




For our experiment, we purchased a can of Bega pasteurized cheese--a delicacy from Down Under. I was a little concerned when it arrived, the can marked in English and what I guess is Farsi. I mean, I've never heard of cheese being all that big in the Middle East (no doubt due to the heat). 

About the size of a tin of Tuna, the Bega cheese also looked a little worrisome when opened. Why wasn't it orange? Did those crazy Aussies forget to put in food coloring? Was this really made of milk?



There was only one way to find out... by tasting it. 

Turns out, Bega's tin of cheese, running about $8.95 a can as I write this, is pretty good. It's thicker than Cheez Whiz or Easy Cheese. But not quite as thick as pre-sliced American cheese. It can be cut in slices for bread, or with a modest amount of heat, I imagine it would melt nicely. 

Taste-wise, it's not bad. It lacks the tangy Cheddar bite most cheeses I'm used to have, reminding me of the paste in those cracker sticks and cheese snack packs you can get. 

Cold, I imagine it would be pretty good--a lot like the blocks of Marble Cheese I like to get for a movie night of snacking fun. 


How do they stack up, cost-wise?

Currently, Cheez Whiz runs about $5 a 15 ounce jar around my area. Our local grocer, Kroger, carries a knock-off/generic brand that isn't as tasty, but which also comes in a resealable jar and is a buck or two cheaper. 

Easy Cheese comes in an 8 ounce can, and runs a little over $3, if I remember (I can't look on Amazon, because the prices there are ridiculous). 

And Bega's 7 ounce can cost me $6.25 when I ordered it (apparently, the price fluctuates). 

That's $.38 an ounce for Easy Cheese, $.33 an ounce for Cheez Whiz, and $.89 an ounce for Bega's pale, white cheese. 


Nutritionally, how do they stack up?

There are 6 servings in a can of Bega. Each serving has:

Total Fat 8g
Cholesterol 30mg
Sodium 490mg
Carbs 2g
Sugars 0g

Protein 6g
Calories 100

Cheese whiz has "about 13" servings in a jar. Each serving has:

Total Fat 5g
Cholesterol 5mg
Sodium 410mg
Carbs 5g
Sugars 3g

Protein 3g
Calories 80 

EasyCheese has "about 7" servings:

Total Fat 6g
Cholesterol 10mg
Sodium 420mg
Carbs 2g
Sugars 2g

Protein 4g
Calories 80



Overall, I think Cheez Whiz is the winner--you get far more nutritional value per dollar than with the others. The jar is also reuseable. Once you consumed your hoard of semi-liquid gold, you could store something else. All you could do with the Bega can is seriously cut yourself. 

Of course, you can't eat a slice of Cheeze Whiz, and it doesn't spread as good as Easy Cheese. Bega did get points there. But it lost them because in the end, I expect cheese to be orange, dammit!

Still, if Bega's Aussie tin was all I had, I sure wouldn't be complaining... 

Oh, to hell with it--buy all three! You can never have enough cheese!






Check back in one week for another review of disaster dining...

Monday, February 13, 2017

CHOWMAGEDDON: Post Apocalyptic Author Leo Nix

This week on Chowmageddon, we talked to Post Apocalyptic Author Leo Nix about eating after the End of the World...




1. How long have you been writing post-apocalyptic fiction or non-fiction?
6 months - 2 books published and one in final stages of first draft and loving it.

2. What kind of apocalyptic event do you find most interesting?
Terrorists, destruction of social structure

3. What kind of apocalyptic event do you fear the most?
An asteroid

4. Are you a prepper? At what level do you consider yourself? 
Yes and no. Myy mind leans that way and I have plans if there is a catastrophe and talk with friends about where to go and what to do etc.

5. Where do you think the ideal place to live is prior to an apocalyptic event?
A farm, for sure.

6. Shelter-in-place, or bug out?
Bug out to the countryside and escape heavily populated areas.

7. What do plan to eat in the apocalypse?
Home grown food, but in the early stages I will have to scavenge and loot from houses and shopping centers.

8. What foods do you regularly stock in your home that would be adaptable to a post-apocalyptic situation?
Dried foods: nuts, mueslie, flour, beans, grains, seeds, rice etc.

9. What is your preferred preservation method for post-apocalyptic foods? 
Dried for sure--can be stored forever. Freeze dried is too expensive unless you know how to do it at home. Dried foods can be home made with a simple dryer.

10. What's the primary factor for you in deciding on a survival food? Taste? Weight? Nutritional Value? Ease of preparation?
Has to be nutrition first then taste and ease of preparation.

11. What's the worst "survival food" you've ever tasted?
None really, I wouldn't eat something that didn't taste nice anyway.

12. What's the best?
Beef jerky and nuts/mueslie. And in fact, you can cook just about anything given raw ingredients and water on a gas cooker or wood fire.

13. Any special survival recipes you have up your camouflaged sleeves?
Easy recipes, just mix and add water. In fact, home made bread is perhaps the nicest.

14. What's the best survival food tip you've ever heard? 
Swiss army knife/leatherman, good shoes and clothing if you have to live in them for any length of time. There's heaps of tips out there.


If you'd like to check out some of Leo's work, he has 2 post-apocalyptic novels set in the Australian deserts country in south Australia, Queensland and Northern Territory, with a third on the way:

Sundown Apocalypse - http://a.co/2XZVlQ1
Sundown Apocalypse 2: Urban Guerrilla - http://a.co/bF3Vhwv

Coming Soon:
Sundown Apocalypse 3: Homeland Defense - should be on Amazon by the end of February




Thursday, February 09, 2017

You have to Play to Lose

If you live in the Midwest, you might have seen the Kentucky Lottery's slogan of "You Gotta Play to Win". The logic is that if you want even a slim chance to win the lottery, you have to play to win. 

On the face of it, that makes some sense. You can't win if you don't buy a ticket. Of course, buying a ticket isn't a guarantee you will win. 

I've played many contests in my life, and rarely won any. A few years ago, I won a Twitter contest with EA Games. Not for the BMW they were allegedly giving away. Nope, I won a copy of one of their driving games, a satchel/book bag monogrammed with "Need for Speed" and a PC copy of a game. If I hadn't tweeted, I never would have won. 

Even further back, in the 1990s, I happened to be at a fundraiser at Indiana University Southeast. I entered the drawing for door prizes. I happened to win a baseketball autographed by Bobby Knight and the whole Coaching staff for IU. If I liked basketball, I probably would have been thrilled. Instead, I was like "Cool", and kept it until years later when I made a friend of a super IU fan. My pal had tons of memorabilia, but no autographed ball. I dug through my boxes of junk from over the years and gave him the autographed ball I'd won. He appreciated it a LOT.  

To get the ball, I had to play. Sort of. I really just attended. My pal didn't have to play, and he most definitely won. 

Somewhere in between my racing games and gifting a signed basketball to a friend, my wife won a raffle for a new flatscreen TV. She surprised me with it as an early Christmas present. We still have it, and it's been a great TV. She of course had to buy a raffle ticket to win the TV. 

These are great stories of playing and winning, but what about the times you play and lose? Does anyone ever talk about that? More importantly, does anyone talk about the feeling of losing?

If you've ever been to a carnival, you probably know the burn of not winning. Carny games are designed to be not winnable. And how many times have you bought a scratch off ticket only to make a mess and end up just a buck or two poorer? 

We may hand out participation trophies to kids these days, but in real life, when there's a winner, there's a loser--or in these cases, losers, plural. Losing isn't fun. it's like rushing down on Christmas morning to open presents and finding that instead of toys, you got a sweater, or a sleeping bag. 

You can keep on entering contests, waiting for Ed McMahon to show up at your door with one of those giant checks, or you can decide to quit feeling downtrodden when you inevitably lose. Who wants to be a loser, after all?

My point is, it's true you have to play to win. But it's also true you have to play to lose. Losing sucks. I hate losing. Luck isn't something you can improve (that's Karma). If I sucked at a sport, I'd practice until I got good enough to win. But I just can't do that with games of random chance. 

For me, every time I see there's someone giving away a car, I get excited, then flash back to all the cars I haven't won. I didn't win the Tim Burton Batmobile MTV gave away in the 90s. I didn't win the Speed Racer Mach 5 Corvette given away when the live-action movie was released. I didn't win that BMW EA gave away I mentioned above, nor did I win the Ford Raptor pickup given away for the HALO game. I also didn't win the Call of Duty Jeep a few years ago. Both Cabelas and Basspro have given away pick up trucks. I didn't win any of those. 

If we go really far back, my first disappointment in not winning a car came from a local auto parts store. They were giving away a brand new 1980-something Ford Ranger pick up. I was super-hyped. So hyped, I bought a bunch of blank index cards and painstakingly filled them out to put in the drawing box. When I say a bunch, I mean six-hundred and seventy-two. That number is burned into my memory as I hand wrote them all out.  But I didn't win the truck. 

My solution is simple: avoid the frustration of repeated losses by not playing. Save up all that Lottery scratch off money for a nice burger--at least you can get a warm feeling for a little while after you eat it. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

CHOWMageddon!



It's the end of the world and you've got an empty belly. What are you going to do?

That's just one of many questions preppers (survivalists) have planned for. But what about regular joes who aren't hunkered down in a bunker, waiting for an asteroid/zombie uprising/nuclear terrorist attack? Are you prepared for when hunger strikes?

Over the past few weeks, I've been researching the prepper lifestyle for an upcoming novel I'm working on. I've always found survivalism interesting. Maybe because I grew up in an area that has tornado seasons. I remember when I was younger everyone had a "storm closet" with canned goods in the event of a major storm or some other calamity that might prevent trips to the grocery store. These days, it seems like most people shop for less than 2-3 days worth of food, and "fresh" food is all the rage. 

I was raised on canned foods and TV dinners (and pizza). I'm fine, with no major health problems. I still eat frozen foods, canned foods, and pizza. I don't eat very much fresh food. So my house is kind of well-stocked for a disaster anyway. 

But in the course of my online research, I've come across a lot of interesting foods popular among preppers. Personally, I don't get it. Canned foods last for years. Why all the hubbub over speciality "survival" foods. 

Well, the only way to know that, is to try it. And that's just what I aim to do...


EXPERIMENT #1: 
PILOT CRACKERS OR BREAD



So the first thing I thought of when contemplating a post-apocalyptic situation where food would be scarce was bread. I love a good sandwich. And I love bread with most of my canned foods. 

Whether it's a Carrington Event, EMP, or zombie uprising, if I can't get to the store after the first week of the apocalypse, I'm going to be craving some bread. Sure, we have a breadbox, and we could keep frozen bread lasting in our chest freezer connected to our portable generator, but to be honest, bread goes pretty fast in our house. We run out all the time. 

So I began to wonder... do they make bread in a can? As it turns out, they do. But in the course of finding bread in a can, I also learned about Pilot Crackers... which I'd never heard of before. 


For our taste test, we ordered a 30.58 ounce can of Mountain House Pilot crackers for $18.75 on Amazon. The can comes with a plastic lid, so in case you don't eat the 62 crackers in the can all at one sitting, you can reseal them for later use in the Apocalypse.



Using our apocalytic measuring device (U.S. Bills are 6 inches long), we see that the crackers (which Mountain House says will last thirty years in their unopened coffee-sized cans), are a little under three-inches across. 

The canned bread, which comes in 16 ounce cans (2 for $13.89), is a little bit bigger across. 


But how do they taste?

Basically, a pilot cracker is a thicker, denser cracker, that reminds me of animal crackers, but not as sweet.

Now, I've never had canned bread before, either. I was hoping for something like Outback Restaurant's brown bread, which I am convinced contains trace amounts of cocaine, or some other hyper-addictive controlled substance as I sincerely believe I could eat myself to death if I could just get them to keep bringing me fresh loaf after fresh loaf until I exploded. 

Alas, B&M's canned bread is not a devilishly-good treat from Down Under. It's a molasses-infused rye bread. Which, as rye breads go, is okay. That surprised me as I despise rye bread. It's also very moist--not something you'd find in a cracker. At first, there's little taste to this bread which the internet tells me is a New England treat, often served with baked beans. After a little chewing, the molasses starts to register as an after taste. Not great, not bad, it's just bread. I might enjoy it more if it came out of the toaster (assuming we had the generator fired up). 

Would I make a sandwich out of Pilot Crackers or Brown bread? No. And I suppose I could soften the crackers up in water if I wanted to pour something like chili or canned roast beef over them, getting a vaguely bread-like taste. But there's no need. Pilot crackers are delicious as-is. Canned bread is... an acceptable post-apocalyptic substitute for bread, when dipped in something else.



(Easy cheese on Pilot cracker, Plain Pilot cracker, and Peanut Butter on pilot cracker)


How do they stack up, cost-wise?

The pilot crackers end up at $.61 an ounce. Brown canned bread is $.43 an ounce (if you slice it to the serving size suggested: 2 ounces)


Nutritionally, how do the crackers and bread stack up?

There are eight 2-ounce servings of bread in a can, versus sixty-two 15g crackers in the Pilot can. So, roughly, 4 pilot crackers equal one serving of sliced, canned bread:

130 calories in the bread slice vs. 240 calories in the crackers
.5g of fat vs. 8g
55mg of sodium vs. 220g
10g of carbs vs. 40g
1g of sugar vs. 4g
1g of protein vs. 4g

Overall, I think that makes the Pilot crackers the winner. They seem like they'd fill you up more, although the increased sodium means you'd need more potable (drinkable) water. 

Factor in that the crackers come in a reusable can with a lid, and the bread you have to cut both ends off to get it out, and despite the slightly-higher cost, I think we'll be stocking a can or two of Pilot Crackers in our storm closet for this year's tornado season. 



Check back in one week for another review of disaster dining...

Friday, December 09, 2016

MOVIE REVIEW: SPECTRAL (2016--Netflix)

What could be cooler than the military kicking ghosts spectral asses? Nothing. That's why when SPECTRAL was announced several years ago, I was beside myself with joy. I love this kind of stuff. 

Hellboy was awesome, as it featured monsters working for the government fighting other monsters--with a supernatural bent. And of course, the Winchesters also fight the supernatural weekly on their show. But what has always bothered me is the lack of fiction with military heroes. 

When you think about it, it would only make sense for the military to fight supernatural threats. The military has fought nazis, communists, and terrorists. In the movies, they've defended make believe citizens from giant monsters, giant robots, aliens, mutants, and extra dimensional invaders. Why wouldn't the military fight an army of spirits?!

Unfortunately, despite some amazing visual effects, SPECTRAL takes a nose dive in the third act when we learn that --SPOILER-- those disembodied specters that can fly through walls and are only seen with special, high tech headset cameras are, wait for it.. NOT GHOSTS.

Oh, my god. It's Shutter Island all over again...

Our story starts with this DARPA scientists who's invented those super vision headsets for Spec Ops types. They do more than see in the dark, they reveal all kinds of things--like non-solid entities that can kill with a touch. 

Science guy (thankfully not a science geek) is flown around the orld to try and figure out what's being seen. He brings an amped up, more powerful super camera, mounting it on a vehicle to help see the mostly-invisible enemy better. 

A team goes out and everything goes pear-shaped in spooky redo of the Colonial Marines' defeat in Aliens. Science guy and his surviving Delta Force buddies have to fight their way across the city, improvising weapons when they observe that the spookies are effected by some things. Things like IRON powder.

Now, at this point, any fan of Supernatural cheers. Of course iron affects the spectral beings. Iron messes up ghosts. 

Alas, like studio execs, our characters refuse to use the word ghosts, and try coming up with alternative origin theories. 

Action ensues, and the heroes eventually escape to a last refuge in the war-torn country now invaded by spookies. In this fortified steel-and-concrete shelter, science guy announces he's figured out the mystery of the spookies... their condensate. No, not water formed from water vapor. Rather, it's supposedly an artificial state of matter Einstein predicted. 

From here, the story just goes right into the crapper. But the action and effects remain top notch. By the end of the movie, while thoroughly disgusted that once again I've been cheated out of ghosts, I'm at least not as bummed out by the depressing ends of military flicks like Black Hawk Down or Tears of the the Sun.  

All in all, I'd say SPECTRAL is a good flick, worthy of 4 stars. But since they lied about the ghosts, I'll deduct a half star and say 3.5.

Check it out--just don't expect any actual ghosts.