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Phillosoph

Mess Kits for Bug-Out Bags

I was reading some pretty useful advice on how to collect water while minimizing the chance of sediment and other large materials.
Hold the mouth of your bottle a fist-width below the surface to avoid floating debris (and mosquito larvae!). Hold it off the bottom to avoid stirring up silt. If the water is flowing, point the nozzle downstream to reduce the change of solids being washed in.
Cover the water bottle neck with a section of bandanna to filter water going in. Use a clove hitch or slip knot to secure the bandanna. This also puts a safety lead on your bottle to avoid loss!
Cover your canteen cup with another part of the bandanna and pour the water in the bottle through the bandanna into your cup to filter it a second time. Pour a little of this water into the bottle, to rinse out any particles that got in. Now sterilize your water.
The flaw in these instructions is that most water bottles are at least a quart or a litre, and canteen cups generally about half that! Biggest that springs to mind is the British Crusader MK.II cup at 800 mls.
I will come back to this topic presently.
After you have filtered your water, you still need to sterilize/pasteurize it. One of the most effective ways to ensure water is safe is to bring it to a rolling boil. Many foods you will encounter in a survival scenario will need cooking to make them safe or more palatable.
While there are ways to cook and even boil water without a metal vessel, life is a lot easier with one!

What Is Wrong with the Canteen Cup?

In his recommendations for SERE, Robert DePugh notes “Such cooking as may be essential can be done in the canteen cup.”
Many preppers and soldiers wishing to lighter their load are of a similar opinion.
The catch is that as they come, most canteen cups are wanting in certain respects.
The most obvious of these is most lack a lid. Lids save fuel and time. They keep bugs, dirt, dust and rain out of your food. In an escape and evasion situation, a lid may reduce tell-tale cooking odours.
Most canteen cups also require a stove. If you have to cook over a fire, you will need to jerry-rig some form of pot-support, or wait until the fire dies down to coals.
Not only do the side handles get hot, but your hand comes dangerously close to the fire.
How simpler things would be if your cooking vessel had a bail handle so you could hang it over a heat source!
It is possible to make or buy lids for your canteen cup. Similarly, there are a number of ways to add a bail handle.


I currently have three canteen cups sitting on the work table awaiting conversion. Each month I do not seem to have either the money or the time to gather the necessary tools and materials.
There is an obvious need for a low bulk cooking vessel. Can we do better than a canteen cup?
Suppose I told you that there is a superior alternative that is widely available and ready to use off the shelf, complete with bail handle and lid?

“European” Mess Kits

Instead of a canteen cup, why not carry a mess kit?
Specifically, I am suggesting the sort of military mess kit that looks like a binocular case, being either oval or kidney shaped in cross-section. I have seen these called “European” mess kits, although the Chinese and Imperial Japanese Army seem to have used the design too.
The bottom portion of the kit is a billy, with a bail handle. The upper part typically is a small pan with a side handle. This pan also serves as a lid during cooking or transport.
Many of you will have a passing familiarity with these mess kits. Their potential may have escaped you.
For a camping trip, I typically prefer a more versatile cooking outfit.
For a bug-out bag, where most of your cooking will simply be boiling or reheating, a mess kit of this configuration is ideal.
I have used my Swedish set for winter day hikes, since it fits nicely inside a daysac. With the snow thick on the ground, I have paused to cook myself some hot noodles.
Swedish Mess Kit
The familiar British and American designs of mess kit are actually atypical. The British Army used a “D-shaped” mess kit during the First World War and back through most of the nineteenth century.
The armies of most nations have used “binocular case” mess kits at one time or another. Many nations continue to use this design.
Most of the kits of this type available are described as German or Austrian, or “M31 pattern”. Do not confuse these with the pair of cups that fit outside of the German Army M59 water canteen.
German M31 Mess Tin
The more recent Bundeswehr mess kit variants are to be preferred, since these have handles that can be locked upright or out to one side, away from the flames.
The German kit (and some other examples) includes a third part which is a metal bowl/insert. The hook at the end of the lid handle engages a slot in the bowl, so the two may be carried together, or the pair balanced across the top of the billy.
German Mess Kit with Indert
There are also Chinese manufactured kits that appear to be the same design as the German. These appear to be of new manufacture, rather than military surplus.
Russian, Romanian, Hungarian and Polish surplus examples are also stocked by some suppliers.
At time of writing, prices are comparable to those of many metal canteen cups that come without lids.
Most of these kits must be brought army surplus, so you roll the dice on condition and actual design. If you want something unused, the Chinese-made copies of the German sets are an option.
To these options, I will add the Swedish M40 AL/M44 mess kit set that includes a windshield and spirit burner.
The Swedish kits have become more widely known and popular in recent years. Prices have skyrocketed since I bought mine, decades ago. I am not sure if these are still issued or in production. One company makes a stainless steel copy of the Swedish kit. An aluminium version with a non-stick coating would be very welcome.

The Case Against:

• Let us get one objection to this idea out of the way! This is that a mess kit will not fit neatly around a water bottle in a belt pouch like a canteen cup will.
Firstly, while carrying some water on your person is prudent, you should minimize unnecessary weight. To my mind it is more sensible to carry a canteen cup or equivalent in your pack, not on your belt.
Secondly, water is better carried in a bladder than a bottle. Water in a bottle may slosh around, and that noise may give you away while hunting, nature-watching or in a tactical situation. Excess airspace is seldom a problem with a bladder.
If you do carry water in a bottle, repurposed soda bottles work fine, and are lighter and cheaper than military style rigid water bottles. Soda bottles are much more flexible than thicker bottles. If the contents of a bottle freeze, the ice can be broken up without damaging the bottle.
In sub-zero conditions, carry your water bottles and bladders in the warmest part of your pack. Invert them so that the drinking tube or cap is lowest. Ice floats, so the lowest part of a container will be the last to freeze solid. Ice expands, so leave some airspace within a container if freezing is likely.
If you expect freezing temperatures overnight, pour some of your water into a cooking vessel. Ice in a pot is easier to melt than snow or ice within a bottle.
In very cold conditions, when you heat water, use what you do not use to top-up/warm-up your water containers.
If you do not carry a canteen cup on your belt, and you do not carry a military canteen, it does not matter that your cooking vessel will not nest around a canteen!
• Second objection is that most of these vessels have bare aluminium interiors. If you wade through the media sensationalism, groundless opinion and scare-mongering, you will find the evidence on possible health risks of using aluminium cookware is still inconclusive.
The surface of a cooking vessel is actually aluminium oxide, which serves as a protective coating. Prudence suggests that if you avoid cooking anything particularly acidic in an aluminium vessel, avoid prolonged cooking, or a combination of the two, you should be safe. If you use a very abrasive cleaner on your cookware, leave a short interval for the oxide coating to reform.
For a cooking vessel in an emergency kit, or one that is only used occasionally for trips out, bare aluminium is a legitimate choice. Remember that actual cooking in a survival or E&E scenario will be fairly basic and unsophisticated. Mainly just heating and boiling.
• Third objection to the mess kit is that it is larger than a canteen cup.
In a survival or E&E situation, most of your food will be from plants. These tend to be low in calories, so you will need to eat a lot of them. Bear in mind that in a survival situation, you may have to also cook for someone other than yourself. A cooking vessel larger than a canteen cup may be an advantage.
As my introduction has suggested, being able to heat treat more than half a litre of water at once is useful.
While it has more bulk, a European-style mess kit is still compact enough to fit in most daysacs. The interior space of a mess kit may be packed with food and other useful items, so effectively becomes zero bulk.
Generally, a mess kit is heavier than a canteen cup too, but bear in mind this is for two or three cooking vessels rather than a single one. My German mess kit is 400 g. 350 g if the metal bowl/insert is left at home. My Swedish five piece kit is 875 g, including windshield, burner and empty fuel bottle. Billy and lid on their own are 450 g.
The billy of my Swedish mess kit has a capacity of about 1.3 litres. The equivalent part of the M31 is 1.5 litres. It includes a measuring indent each 500 mls. Oddly, the German kit looks slightly smaller than the Swedish. Both kits can boil more than a litre of water to sterilize it.
For completeness, the lid of my Swedish Kit holds 550 mls. Both the lid and the insert/bowl of the German kit hold 400 mls each.
My Polish mess kit resembles the German model but is smaller. There is no insert and the bail handle lacks any locking mechanism. The billy has a capacity of one litre and the lid 500 mls. It masses 300 g. There is a measuring indent at half a litre.
One odd quirk of the Polish set is that it is top heavy when empty.
To put these masses and volumes in context, my 650 ml Crusader Mk 1 cup alone is 250 g!
Note that masses and volumes on this page were measured using items I personally own. Figures may differ from those given by vendors.

The Case For:

To my mind, it is not a billy if it does not have a bail handle. The bail handle is a simple feature that makes a camping cooking vessel infinitely more practical and versatile.
The bail handle of a billy lets you hang it over a fire. If your stove is a bit wobbly, you can use a tripod or crane for added security of your vessel.
In a previous post, we looked at how useful a bucket might be. A billy is essentially a bucket you can cook in. It may be used to fetch water or to gather berries. You can use it to transport a meal, even while the food is still hot. If you expect rain, leave it outside your shelter to collect fresh water.
An effective cooking vessel should be one of the foundations of your bug-out bag, 72-hour pack or survival kit.
The capacity of a European mess kit makes it more useful and versatile than a canteen cup, yet still compact enough to fit inside a relatively modest capacity bag. Or, looked at another way, it leaves room for something else you will need.
The lid of a European mess kit serves as a pot. This is often described by reviewers as a “frying pan”. It will hold a rasher of bacon, a couple of sausages, or a small piece of fish! More practically, the lid may be used as a drinking vessel, saucepan, plate or bowl. It could also be used as a ladle for bailing water out of an Indian well, or as a snow scoop for adding the final touches to a winter shelter.
The handle of my German kit lid folds easily, so care must be taken when drinking from it. Perhaps hitting the rivets would tighten this up. but I doubt it. Alternatively, drink from the insert/bowl. The handle of the Polish kit is better, but will still fold if held at the wrong angle.
If your cooking ability is limited to warming a can, a mess kit is wide enough to accommodate at least one. Discard the water used to warm a can this way. It will be contaminated with whatever was on the outside of the can, the glue from the label etc.
There are ways to warm a can without using a vessel, but that is outside the scope of this article.
Swedish soldiers call their mess kit a “Snuskburk”, which translates roughly as “dirty bucket”, “filthy jar” or similar. Apparently soldiers often neglect cleaning them after use. I do not really see why this should be the case.
If you have large hands. you may find it difficult to clean the inside of a canteen cup. This is another advantage of the larger capacity of a mess kit.
Your cooking kits should include a small sponge, such as the sort with a nylon scourer page on one side. You can also use this sponge to mop up dew if you are short of water.
With the sponge, have a small bottle of washing-up liquid. I use a 50ml centrifuge tube such as a skirted Falcon.
If you have read my blog on a more efficient way to wash-up, you will know you only need a couple of drops of detergent and a few splashes of water to keep the inside of a mess tin clean. Should you lose your detergent, ashes from the fire may be used instead.
Since the main parts of the mess kit do not nest in anything, keeping the outsides pristine is not a priority. Once cooled, just give the outside a rub with some grass or similar to dislodge any loose soot.
Another advantage of a mess tin is that you get much more bang for your buck. For a similar outlay to a canteen cup, you get a pair of larger capacity cooking vessels. You do not need to buy a lid as an accessory, nor source a hanging device.

Packing and Carrying

Traditionally, a European mess tin is held together with a strap and carried on the outside of a pack or belt kit. Some armies issue pouches, but these generally follow the tradition of “an elephant is a horse built to mil-spec”.
A more effective solution is to make or buy a suitably dimensioned stuff sack. This sack can carry associated items you do not want to carry inside the mess kit, such as your stove and fuel bottle. Double-plastic bag the latter in case of leakage.
To this, add your container of washing-up liquid and your sponge.
Add a spork for eating with and stirring the pot. Since the mess kit does not have a non-stick coating, I use a metal spork that can also be used to lift a hot bail handle. The spork also serves as a can-opener, but I have these on my keyring and Swiss Army knife too.
A triangular bandage, bandanna, tenugui, or piece of old tee-shirt may be used to stop any parts rattling. This also serves as an “oven glove”, water filter and drying cloth.
Fill the interior of your mess tin with items such as a brew kit, packet soup, instant noodles, hot chocolate mix, quick-cook rice, porridge, OXO cubes, water purification tablets, a lighter or fire kit and so on. A bit of variety in your diet will always be welcome.

Stoves

There will be times when you cannot use an open fire to cook on.
The Swedish mess kit comes with its own stove in the form of a spirit burner and a windshield/stove.
Do not store fuel in the burner. It will eventually eat through the seals and leak into your bag.
The German mess tin is too big to use in the Swedish windshield. It will fit, but be too tight. Trying to remove the hot billy from the burning stove is not recommended!
European mess kits will work with a wide variety of other stove types. Some may need to be turned down a little to compensate for the pots' non-circular shape.
A hobo-stove made from a soup can will be of a good size for a European mess tin. Spirit burners may be easily made from aluminium cans, such as shown here and here. Some other homemade stove designs are shown by my pages here.
Many of the designs of stove intended for use with canteen cups or other designs of mess tin will work well with European mess kits. For example, the Crusader Mk II stove, which can use either hexamine solid fuel blocks or alcohol gel. The stove is designed so that the canteen cup nests slightly inside when in use. The mess billy is a little too big for this but will sit comfortably on top.

Improvements

As I have discussed in a previous blog, mess tins are not as widely used by the military as they once were. Many soldiers now make do with just a canteen cup. Most of us, however, do not enjoy the extensive logistical support most soldiers have.
One company is already offering a stainless steel copy of the Swedish mess kit, so I think there is a good case for commercial versions of the European style mess tins.
I think many of us would be interested in an aluminium version of the Swedish kit with a non-stick or hard anodized coating. Essentially, the same materials and finish as the Crusader Mk. II cup.
Some of us would probably prefer a Swedish mess kit that was a little more compact. On the other hand, I think there would also be potential users that want it a little bigger.
An improved version should probably be available in one litre and 1.5 litre variants. The most practical way to do this would be to have two billies which only differ in depth. All other components would be the same for both variants.
Features I like from the German mess kit are the measuring indents, the locking mechanism on the bail handle and the insert. An insert for the Swedish mess kit might be useful, particularly if available in alternate materials such as plastic.
The stove for the improved mess kit should be capable of taking several fuel types. For example, hexamine, alcohol gel and spirits. Something along the lines of a scaled up Crusader Mk II stove, perhaps.

 

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Phillosoph

Camping Frying Pan Set

Today, I thought I would have a little show and tell:
In a previous post I showed one half of my Kephart-inspired cook-set. Today, the other part.

First Photo:

The first photo shows the kit partially packed up.
Camping Frying Pan Kit  Packed
To the left is a heavy duty stuff sack that just happens to be ideal for carrying a plate-like object.
The frying pan sits on a repurposed, out-of-date triangular bandage. This has various uses, including as a tenugu-type dishcloth. In transit it is wrapped around the outside of the pan.
To the right are two bottles, one for detergent, the other for cooking oil.
In the pan we can see a spork and spatula resting on top of the cutting board. The white is the eating plate, and the green of the cleaning pad can be seen showing through.

Second photo:

The kit unpacked.
Camping Frying Pan Kit Unpacked
Top left, the cutting board, cut to shape to fit in the frying pan. This is a thin plastic cutting board sold as part of a set of several for kitchen use. Resting on this is a combined sponge and scrubber.
Top right, the spork and spatula rest on the plate. The plate is enamelled metal, and deep enough to hold liquids. Inverted it may be used as a lid or cover for the frying pan.
Botton, a view of the frying pan itself. Most frying pans sold for camping use are way too small.
Mine was made from a cheap non-stick item, and is just under nine inches in diameter.
The original handle was removed and replaced with a square-section fitting. This socket may be used to fit the frying pan to a pole or branch. It is also the mounting for the folding and detachable handle, which locks in the open position.

Third Photo:

The spatula and the inverted plate.
Camping Frying Pan Kit Spatula and Plate
The edge of the plate was drilled with a ceramic bit, and a hole made through the metal. This was used to add two wire loops made from paper-clips. These loops are used to lift the plate when it is used as a cover or lid.
The spatula serves as a turner, stirrer, scraper, server and many other roles. It is a cheap beechwood item that has been modified and treated with boiled linseed oil. Since the pan is non-stick, sport and spatula must be non-metal.
The handle has been shortened so that the item fits within the frying pan when packed. The cut end was reshaped for increased functionality. The cut notch may be used to lift billy lids or pick up hot billies.
A loop and hole was added so that the spatula may be hung up to keep it out of the dirt.
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Phillosoph

Some Thoughts on Possessions and Minimalism

Today I would like to throw out some ideas about minimalism.
This is more a collection of thoughts and ideas rather than a coherent article. I hope some of it will be of use or interest to you.
You may have too much stuff
My blogs have touched on this or related topics several times already.
Creating a capsule wardrobe in neutral and natural colours is an example of minimalism.
My friend Sam had the concept of “Sam’s Van”: that one should not have more than could be moved in a single vanload, an example of quantity-limited minimalism.
In all honesty, I cannot call myself a minimalist. My girlfriend is probably having a hearty laugh at the very notion!
I have, however, attempted to make use of some of its techniques.

Don’t Count!

A very useful piece of advice I came across was “Don’t Count!”
“I only own n number of things” makes for a great blog title, but if many of us try to apply this in practice it can lead to unhealthy obsessiveness, or goal-post shifting.
Well done to those who have reduced their belongings to just n-items, but bear in mind a more productive application of the exercise is to reduce your belongings to only the things you need, rather than an arbitrary number.
Some possessions naturally begat others. I have knives and other edged tools for my kitchen, hobbies, toolbox, camping and EDC. It would be very foolish for me not to own at least one other possession to keep them sharp, for example.
Sometimes a simple single addition may make a lot of difference.
I carry my keys on a carabiner. Not all of my trousers have loops in the best position for this.
I brought myself a robust key-hanger that fits on my belt. The hanger even has a couple of stout press-studs so I am able to place it on my belt without needing to unthread it. Now the keys always hang directly over the pocket. An additional possession well worth having.

Clear the Decks

Another good tip I have encountered is to “clear the decks”.
Ideally, nothing should be on your floor except your furniture.
Once you have relocated or discarded the stuff that was taking up your floor-space, move on to the other horizontal surfaces and declutter them.
How little do you really need?

Minimalism for Preppers

Applying minimalist techniques can be a very useful exercise, especially for preppers.
You can apply them just to your backpacking or bug-out outfit, or to your life in general.
I come across a lot of lists of equipment. Many of the “essentials” are actually only conveniences or “nice to haves”.
I have read a minimalist list where the person owned one bowl, one plate, one mug and one glass. Presumably their mates never came around for a cuppa or a drink. Or perhaps their mates were all minimalists too and were expected to bring their own cups!
The same list included a set of measuring cups for cooking. Perhaps a single measuring jug is more minimalist than a set of cups? Perhaps they could drink out of the measuring jug! I was rather pleased to see someone offering a graduated drinking glass!
Graduated Drinking Glass

Kitchenware

If you are on the move, your minimalist cooking kit is a spork and  canteen cup or mess tin. Many canteen cups now have non-stick coating, so use a non-metallic spork.
For a more leisurely camping kit, have a frying-pan, pair of billies, spork, spatula and a piece of plastic flexible cutting board. The latter is cut to size and shape to fit in your frying-pan. This is not a bad basis for your minimalist home kitchen.
Stephane Reynaud wrote a cookbook called “One Knife, One Pot, One Dish”. Not as minimalist as some would want, since the “pot” in different recipes may be a casserole, frying-pan, saucepan, baking dish, bain-marie or even a food processor.
If you want a very minimalist cooking outfit for home, a frying pan/skillet and a flameproof casserole is not a bad option.
Since you will be spending less money on kitchenware overall, you can probably afford quality examples of what you do select.
The casserole should be of the sort that you can use on either the hob or in the oven. If you use a halogen oven, you will obviously need a casserole that can fit inside of it and when filled is not too heavy for you to lift out.
An oven-baking dish is a useful supplement to the casserole. If you have a halogen oven, make sure your dish is of a size and shape that fits it. Most halogen ovens include a suitable baking dish with their accessories.
Select a spatula that can serve as a turner, server and a stirrer.
I like to cook and get a little creative in the kitchen, so I do not think it is too great a disaster if I have a couple of extra pots and spatulas.
A small saucepan will probably see lots of use. You will probably find you do not need more than two or three of varying size. Two frying pans of different sizes is sometimes convenient, although I use my wok and frying pans a lot less since I got the halogen oven.
If you do use a halogen oven, you will know that tongs are pretty useful for removing or turning hot food. You could use a pair of spatulas, I guess, but chances are your halogen oven came with a set of tongs, so why not keep these?.
You will need a chopping board and/or a set of flexible cutting board sheets for use with your knife.
I would opt for a Chinese cleaver, but you may then need a small knife for those rare jobs the cleaver is not good for. You should also have a serrated knife for cutting bread and fruit.
It is useful to have scissors and a spare penknife in the kitchen. Then again, my kitchen also has a buck-axe and Mora-knife!
I quite like the sets of measuring cups and spoons I have hanging up in the kitchen. I try to use them to stop over-serving myself portions. The minimum is probably a measuring jug.
Have at least one mixing bowl. Perhaps invest in an ovenproof one that may be used in the microwave or halogen oven.
Usually I drain food using the pot lid. A sieve, strainer or colander may sometimes be needed. The perforated steamer and mesh dishes from my halogen oven may substitute.
I could probably use a larger selection of storage boxes for the fridge, and make the ones I have more accessible.
For each person, there should be a bowl, plate, mug and drinking glass.
If you are a big tea drinker, you will want your mug made from glass. A glass mug is a good all-rounder for all kinds of hot or cold drinks.
For cold drinks you may want something taller with more volume and room for ice.
Ideally, have two sets of tableware for each person. You will need to wash-up less frequently and you can accommodate guests. If there are more than two of you, the extra plates and bowls are useful for serving. Bowls also get used for mixing, marinating and microwaving.
For each person, a set of utensils: knife, fork, spoon. All-metal, single-piece sets are more durable. The knife should be of a form that can cut cooked food and spread butter. Have a couple of spare sets for guests.
You may want a steak/cutting knife and teaspoon for each person or guest too. Personally, I like to have at least half a dozen additional teaspoons. A teaspoon is far better for spreading jam or marmalade than a knife, incidentally.
Adopt my methods of quick, economical washing-up and you will find it easy to maintain a stock of clean cutlery and dishes.
I have a dish-drying cloth, but seldom use it since letting washing-up drain and air-dry is cleaner and more convenient. It gets used more often to swat flies. Drying my hands is more common, and this only needs a small hand-towel. Same hand-towel is useful for handling hot dishes and pots.

What Do You Really Need?

It is foolish to think what applies to yourself is true for everyone else. That is quite a useful thing to remember in everyday life. Keep this in mind when you read minimalist lists.
Sometimes I find that I do not need some of the items on minimalist’s lists. Having a good penknife does away with the need for many other implements.
My girlfriend recently tidied-up a bedroom that had been used for storage.
“Transformed” is probably a better term. It was hard to believe it was the same room!
I was looking around for a rug with a two-metre high pile of junk swept under it.
One of the few items she declared surplus to requirements was a desk-lamp. She had absolutely no use for this, she declared. Neither had I, I realized.
My room has never looked quite this bad
I have two desk-lamps, both fitted with daylight bulbs. I only ever use them when I am photographing something.
I mention this, since several minimalist lists of belongings include desk-lamps or floor-lamps as essentials. Perhaps their home is considerably darker than mine and they do actually need them.
Most of us do our writing and reading on computers these days, so I would venture that many of us do not need a separate desk-lamp. I certainly do not need a lamp to “create mood”.
Sometime ago I got rid of a freestanding lamp since I never used it.
I think television shows create a false impression here. Often on the box we see an interior with multiple lamps, all of them lit in the middle of the day!
Don’t use lights you do not need, and reduce your energy bill. Sell or donate lamps you never use.
Another item that is surprisingly common on minimalist lists of “necessities” is bathroom scales. Personally, I have never owned a set of bathroom scales. I do not need a set to tell me I am carrying extra weight, I can see it! Similarly, weight-loss that the scale claims has no value. What matters is that which I and others perceive.
Wastebaskets? I have certain in-laws that cannot grasp not to use a bin without a liner. My rubbish for recycling goes into a repurposed plastic bag. This usually hangs from one corner of a kitchen chair, so I need no bin.
Foodstuff that might attract flies goes into a bag in the freezer until it is thrown out into the bins outside.
Not that I get many flies, since I fitted all the windows I might open for ventilation with insect mesh! Simple addition: big change!
Something I don’t see on many lists is a dressing gown. I spend most of my time at home wearing little else! One of the pleasures of a nice shower is drying off in a snuggly dressing gown!
My older dressing gown has fallen to bits, so I may replace it with a longer, hooded fleece gown for the colder months, and to wear when the other fleece gown is being washed.
The dressing gown is supplemented by a fleece blanket in the lounge. I spend most of my time alone, so heating the whole house if it is a little chilly is stupid. I often watch television or play video games with a blanket thrown over me. If it gets colder, I throw a poncho-liner over this too.

Constructive Minimalism

In an apparent paradox, if I have been reading a minimal list of belongings, it is more usual for me to think about buying something rather than discarding something.
This illustrates how minimalist lists can be a useful tool for making you concentrate on what are your essentials and highlighting where you might make improvements.
I have, however, taken to practicing a self-imposed “cool-down” period. I wait at least 24 hours before I click “buy”. I may miss the occasional bargain, but generally I save more money by avoiding spending it on stuff I can manage without.
Thinking of your possessions as “collections” or “kits” can be productive in rationalizing what you have.

Bedding

Considering bedding, it occurred to me my life would be a lot easier if I had two brand-new sets of sheets and duvet covers. Some of my older stuff did not quite fit the mattress I now have.
Two sets give me one new set on the bed while the other is in the wash.
I have an extra duvet and pillow, so I can use my older stuff for these, again giving a set in use and one in the wash.

Stationary

If I consider the topic of “stationary”, what do I actually need, compared to what I have?
Most writing is now done on the computer, so pens and paper are seldom used.
I have blank A4 paper for the printer (although the printer seldom behaves well enough to print anything! The device is mainly used for scanning.). That blank A4 paper can be used for various other things. A pad of lined paper and/or a notepad or two. Pad of post-it notes.
You may have uses for a highlighter, stapler or some paper-clips.
Seldom do I need envelopes these days. If I do need one, I can fold a piece of paper into one. I do occasionally send packages, so some tape is useful.
Ruler, protractor and a pair of compasses can be handy at times, and also serve in the “tools/DIY” category.
I have plenty of knives, so I could do without a pencil sharpener, although there is little point in discarding the couple I have.
I have some glue and blu tac, although these reside in my modelling supplies.
Erasers, pens, pencils, of course.
Go through your pens and discard refills or disposable pens that no longer work.
Some forms require you to fill them in in black ink, so make sure that some of your pens are black.
Recently I had to send a parcel and was unable to find a thick pen to write the address with. So I bought a pair of black Sharpies, adding one to my EDC and keeping the other for home use.
Sometimes it is a matter of organization. I had lots of pens and pencils, but distributed in various diverse locations. Pool most of your erasers, pencils and pens into a box or a large pencil case. You can still have a pen and/or pencil in places you are likely to need them, but if you do need something you only have to look in one place.
I have a pen and pencil in a box in the lounge, a pen and pencil in a kitchen drawer, and everything else in a large pencil case in my room. A handful of paper-clips form the zip-pull.

Scan It and Toss It

As mentioned, my printer is also a scanner. It can feed-in and scan whole stacks of papers automatically. Or at least, it did until Epson discontinued the software needed to do this for my model!
A scanner may be very useful for decluttering your life.
When I moved in with my girlfriend, I scanned scores of folders of documents, magazine articles and old papers. This allowed me to throw out several sacks of the old papers and makes it easier to find the information I want when I want it.

Bag and Box

Bag or box stuff when you can. You will save yourself time if these bags and boxes are transparent or mesh.
For example, stick all of your pairs of gloves that are not in jacket pockets in a mesh bag in a drawer or on a wardrobe shelf. When you need gloves, just one place to look, and no hunting for a glove hiding in with the socks.
Things that are wanted but seldom used may be tucked away on a high shelf or bottom of a wardrobe. Conversely, some things that you might make more use of may currently be hidden out of sight and out of mind.
Put your teaspoons in a small jar on the countertop rather than hidden in the bottom of a crowded drawer. Makes them much easier to find.
My final advice is to understand that decluttering is likely to be a “work-in-progress”.
Many times you will think that you are nearly done, but are not! Changing one thing will put other things in a new context.
Scanning the last of my old papers got me thinking about the various plastic and card folders they had been in.
I have lots of books and DVDs. While I like to call the exercise “decluttering”, there is no way my home will ever look uncluttered.
It might be argued that much of my minimalism is “below the surface”.
There is now less in the cupboards and drawers. What is in there is now more logically organized and more easily found.
It is quite probable that no-one will notice the difference except myself.
Psychologically, the place feels calmer.
Categories
Phillosoph

Save Time and Money Washing-Up

Watching the TV the other night, and an advert for washing-up liquid urges me to wash-up with cold water! Really? That's a new one, I thought.
On the other hand [pun intended!], I have been washing my hands in cold water for more than a decade. I got into the habit in Brazil, where it is common for sinks to have only a cold-water tap.
Money is tight and fuel prices have jumped. Anything that saves the use of hot-water is attractive both ecologically and economically.
I try to approach decisions scientifically, so I did a little research. I found this interesting article on the BBC website:
Washing-up detergent and scrubbing is more important than water temperature! As a microbiologist, among other things, I was already aware that washing-up water is generally not hot enough to kill many bacteria.
It just happens that currently I am reading Alexander Kira's fascinating study “The Bathroom”. This is recommended reading and some aspects from this book will doubtless feature in future posts in this blog.
Saeko washing the dishes
Kira notes that washing under running water generally uses less water than filling a hand-basin. He also points out that showering is more efficient at getting you clean than having a bath. Baths are primarily for relaxation, and you are actually soaking in any dirt that was removed. If you want to be clean after a bath, finish your routine with a shower.
There is an obvious parallel here: I expect we all know someone who continues to wash dishes in water that resembles weak chicken soup!
Another gem from Kira is that effective washing is in four stages: wetting/pre-rinse, soaping, scrubbing, and rinsing. Note that only the first and last of these needs running water. You can turn the tap off when soaping and scrubbing, so the tap is only running a few seconds for each item you wash.
Armed with new knowledge, I began washing the dishes.
Here, I must confess! I often eat alone, so cooking and eating often generates just four or five items to wash. Not enough to fill up a sink for, so I will often leave the job until there is more.
Very quickly, dishwashing becomes a big job, and one that it is temping to put off. Yes, I can be a bit of a slob when my lady is absent!
There were thus no shortage of items on which to try running cold-water washing! There was a baking tray, some plates, bowls, a cup and cutlery.
The first surprise was how much less time washing-up seemed to take. I seemed to have done it all in less time than it would have taken for the water to run hot and fill the sink.
All items were clean, some possibly cleaner than if they had been washed in a sink that had already cleaned other items. As a bonus, the sink was not coated in grease!
Effectively, you are giving your dishes a cold Navy shower!
Quicker, cheaper, easier and probably cleaner. What is not to like?
Even if you tend to put-off washing-up, you will know that you will save yourself effort in the future if you rinse the food off the plates before it dries. What “Rick and Morty” calls “schmutz”.
Consider this: By the time you have rinsed a plate and scraped the food off, you are already halfway through a running cold-water wash-up! Add a little washing-up liquid, another scrub and rinse and the job has been done. No more washing-up to do later for that item!
The speed of this method lets you prevent washing-up from piling up. You can wash-up a couple of items while waiting for the kettle to boil, or during the advert break of a movie.
An added bonus of this technique is that I find I tend to pay more attention to each item. Not only do they get cleaner, but the chance of breakages and chips seems less.
Another labour-saving tactics is to let the wet stuff drain and air-dry. Only use a tea-towel when an item is still wet when you put it away or need it.

Detergent

Running cold-water washing may result in you using more washing-up liquid than you used with traditional washing. You will need to experiment to optimize your use of detergent.
Placing the detergent on the sponge or brush may make it go further. Some items, such as a oily grill pan, seem to clean better if a pea-sized amount of detergent is placed on them directly and then worked around.
A running cold-water wash may not be ideal for all items, but works well for most of the items that you commonly wash.

Hot and Cold Soaking

Some items may need a hot-water soak. The heat can be beneficial in softening food deposits and melting fats. If you boil a kettle for tea or coffee there is usually some hot water left unused. Put this to good use on your washing-up.
Rather than fill a whole sink with hot-water and detergent, try filling a smaller bowl or pan and soaking the items in there. My only caution is not to place metal objects in a pot with a non-stick finish.
Do not hot-soak any vessel that has been used to make dough or batter. Flour and hot-water is effectively glue!
Soak the interior of such vessels in cold-water and you will find them much easier to clean when you wash them.

Greasy Frying Pans

In “Camping and Woodcraft”, Kephart gives us some valuable advice on how he cleaned his utensils deep in the woods. Game is generally deficient in fats, so cooking in the frying pan with bacon or bacon-fat was the norm:
“First, as to the frying-pan, which generally is greasiest of all: pour it nearly full of water, place it level over the coals, and let it boil over. Then pick it up, give a quick flirt to empty it, and hang it up. Virtually it has cleaned itself, and will dry itself if let alone. Greasy dishes are scraped as clean as may be, washed with scalding water, and then wiped. An obdurate pot is cleaned by first boiling in it (if you have no soap powder) some wood ashes, the lye of which makes a sort of soap of the grease; or it may be scoured out with sand and hot water. Greasy dishes can even be cleaned without hot water, if first wiped with a handful or two of moss, which takes up the grease; use first the dirt side of the moss as a scourer, then the top.”
You probably don't have a lit camp-fire at home, and we are trying to save fuel. A similar trick can be used at home, however.
Once you are done cooking, turn off the heat, and add a few mils of water to the frying pan. Adding a large volume may drop the temperature too quickly and may damage the pan. It is very likely to crack glass and ceramic vessels, so I will stress using a very small volume of water for this method, and usually for metal pans only.
A small amount of water, added in this manner, will “deglaze” a pan. This is a quick way to make sauces or gravies, but can also pre-clean a pan.
The water takes the heat of the pan, loosening food particles and floating fats. Give the pan a quick scrub with a soft-brush and discard the water, fats and debris. Let the pan cool down while you eat your meal.
Deglazing makes washing the pan later considerably easier.

And Finally

Some items are best cleaned with a brush, others with a sponge or fibre-pad. Have a selection of scrubbing tools available.
Once you have finished dish-washing, do not forget to wash the sponges, fibre-pads and brushes that you used for scrubbing. Work some detergent into them and rinse and squeeze-out as much grease as you can. Place them were they can dry.
Categories
Phillosoph

Less Plate, Less Pot, Eat Less

One of the interesting things I have learnt during lock-down was that I could be happy with much smaller portions of food than I was accustomed to.
Before lock-down, I had already stopped including pasta, potatoes or rice in my meals.
Meals at home would be just meat and vegetables.
During lock-down, many meals became just a portion of meat or fish (battered fish bakes very nicely in a halogen oven!).
Other nights, dinner might just be a bowl of sweetcorn with a dash of Tabasco. The roast potatoes I had left after Christmas dinner formed a couple of nights' dinners on their own.
While individually, many of these meals were not balanced, things seemed to even out nutritionally over a week or more.
Generally, these relatively modest portions satisfied me.
If I felt peckish later on, I would eat some fruit. If a fancied some desert, this would often be fruit.
Some nights, when I did not feel hungry, dinner might just be fruit.
Typically I only ate twice a day.
Breakfast/brunch was usually a serving of porridge with a few sultanas.

Less Plate, More Satisfaction?

I am reminded of this since recently I heard someone comment “People eat too much because plates are too big! Use smaller plates and they will eat less.”
Often when eating my modestly sized meals, I have used the small 21cm diameter side plates rather than the full-sized dinner plates.
When food does not need cutting up, I usually use a 16cm/ 500ml bowl.
My small meals had satisfied me both physically and psychologically. Enough really is as good as a feast!
I did a little research, and the idea of using smaller plates has some support.
I also came across the suggestion that plate colour may also have an effect on satisfaction. My small plates and bowls are black, which is a good colour for contrast. Red is apparently even better.
There seems to be something to all this.
The “first bite is always with the eye”, so there seems to be some logic that the presentation of a meal has some effect on psychological satisfaction with portion size.
If you want to drop a little weight, a few red bowls and small plates may be a useful investment. I would advise getting those that can be used within a microwave oven.
After you eat, it is a good idea to drink a glass of tap-water and clean your teeth.

Smaller Pots

To the above, I have an additional suggestion.
If you cook your own meals, try using smaller cooking vessels.
It is all too easy to increase the quantity you are cooking if you use large capacity pots. And once the food is cooked, it would be sinful to let it go to waste! Instead it goes to waist.
I have put my large pans back in the cupboard and dug out a couple of small saucepans, each about one-litre capacity and around 17cm diameter.
For meals for a single person these should be quite adequate for anything you need a saucepan for.
I have an even smaller “milk pan”, but this is in daily use cooking my porridge. Also milk pans generally do not come with lids, and a lid is often needed for more efficient cooking.
A smaller pan may mean you have to cook on a smaller hob than you usually used.
I have also noticed I need a slightly lower flame setting to prevent flames wastefully lapping up the sides of the pot.
Thus, using a smaller pot is saving me some fuel and money. Smaller capacity saves both time and water.
And if further incentive were needed, mastering cooking with small pots is good training for when you may have to cook in just a canteen cup or mess tin.
Categories
Phillosoph

Canteen (cup) Coffee

I have been using the past few months productively. I may not be able to go out much, so why not use the time to finally get around to all those little jobs that stack up? I have washed my down jacket, replaced the zips in two jackets and the cuffs in another.
It is also a good time for various experiments! I love my coffee, and I do mean coffee, not the horrible instant chemicals that masquerade under the name. It seems a great shame that our young men and women risk their lives serving their country and the last thing they may drink is such crap.
While researching how to made a decent cup of coffee in the field, I came across this interesting website. How you go about making coffee (or tea, for that matter) can have a considerable influence on the taste. Relatively recently my coffee machine broke down and I went back to using a cafetiere (aka “French Press”). The first few cups I made were unimpressive. It makes all the difference if you wet the grounds with a small volume of boiling water and let them “bloom” for 30 seconds. This is probably a good technique to try with coffee bags.
Coffee bags seem to finally be becoming more widely available. Your brew kit probably already includes tea bags, so there is not reason not to carry coffee bags instead of sachets of foul smelling instant muck. But what if you cannot get coffee bags?
This page has a very useful description of five ways to “Make coffee without a maker”. This includes ways to improvise filters and coffee bags. Adding a piece of cloth to your brew kit is worth considering.
Many of these methods work best if you have one vessel for boiling water and another for drinking or brewing in. Let us assume you have listened to all my advice on saving weight and just have a canteen cup.

Making Greek/Turkish coffee is a little involved, so the method of choice for canteen cup brewing is “cowboy coffee”.
How I did it was thus: Fill your (metal!) canteen cup to about a centimetre above the second mark. I am using a Crusader 2 and each mark is equivalent to about a mug-full. Try this at home in the kitchen. Put your canteen cup on to boil. I will assume you are only using your canteen cup. If you boil up the water in a more efficient vessel the volume you add to the cup will need to be less.
Wait for your water to boil. If you think a watched kettle takes ages, a watched canteen cup takes longer! Wait for a “rolling boil”. This is the point where the surface of the water gets stirred up by bubbles. Remove your cup from the heat and dump in about two and three-quarter tablespoons of coffee. Some say wait 30 secs before adding the coffee. Good coffee needs water at about 90-95 centigrade rather than full boil. Give each spoon of coffee a good stir so the spoon/ spork comes out clean each time. Cover your canteen cup and let it sit for about four minutes. It needs time to brew and it will be too hot to drink yet, anyway.
And it is ready! Ideally you can decant the coffee into another cup for drinking, but in our canteen cup scenario that may not be possible. Most of the grounds will have settled out. They will not be a problem unless you try and drain the cup to the bottom. In some westerns they mention settling the grounds by adding crushed eggshell to the coffee. Good luck finding one of those out in the field! “Jack Knife Cookery” also suggests you can use “spotlessly clean gravel” to settle the grounds. More practically, a dash of cold water will settle the ground and cool the coffee to drinking temperature. I don’t usually bother, but you may feel different if you have to drink direct from the hot canteen cup. Remember, a little bit of foil over the cup edge can save burnt lips.
“Jack Knife Cookery” gives a slightly different method for making coffee. Take a fistful of coffee for each individual and add cold water. Allow to sit for a while. Then bring your coffee just to the boil. Remove from heat and place the pot at a distance from the fire so that it is just simmering.
A couple of tricks inspired by Greek/ Turkish coffee are worth mentioning. This coffee is often made with coffee ground to very fine powder. This seems to help the grounds settle at the bottom. If you like your coffee sweet, add the sugar to the water before you make the coffee, like the Turks and Greeks do. Stirring and coffee grounds do not mix, or rather, it does!
The Scout Handbook of 1911 gives an alternate method for campfire coffee:
“For every cup of water allow a tablespoonful of ground coffee, then add one extra. Have water come to boiling point first, add coffee, hold it just below boiling point for five minutes, and settle with one fourth of a cup of cold water. Serve. Some prefer to put the coffee in a small muslin bag loosely tied.”
Categories
Phillosoph

Optimizing Canteen Cups

Yesterday I happened across this webpage.
This is a concept that I have encountered before: that the optimum proportions for a cylinder are to have it at a height equal to its diameter.
The non-calculus explanation for this goes something like “a sphere has the lowest ratio of surface area to volume and a cylinder of equal diameter and height is closest that a cylinder can get to a sphere”.
Optimum use of materials means less weight to carry. 
You would think there would be a special name for such a cylinder so proportioned, but if there is I have yet to encounter it. Update: Equilateral Cylinder.
This concept can be applied to the design of hiking and survival gear.
Yesterday I wrote a little about canteen cups and muckets. In a previous post I mentioned a idea that a good size for an eating vessel was around half a litre.
If you have to travel light, your main, probably only, cooking vessel will be a canteen cup, and this will also serve as your bowl and your mug.
Most of us have to make do with whatever we can get, which is usually a military design.
Perhaps our most important, most likely cooking vessel deserves greater consideration?
Let us imagine we are designing a better canteen cup. The above concepts may play a part.
The typical military canteen cup has a kidney-shaped cross-section. They are designed with the assumption that they will be carried with a water-bottle, and that that bottle may be worn on the belt.
Assumptions are always dangerous beasties, and should occasionally be tested to discover if they have gone rogue!
(Military water bottles of kidney or oval section date to at least the 18th century and therefore predate their being worn in belt pouches!)
Obviously, carrying a supply of water on your person is prudent. Depending on situation and other factors this may be anywhere between 500 mls to 2 litres. Larger volumes should be considered a pack item.
Your typical military water-bottle is not the best way to carry water on your belt. If you land on it when falling or taking cover, it can hurt or bruise you.
If it is only partially filled, noises of water sloshing may betray you.
Many designs have a cup that fits over the top of the bottle, meaning you have to remove this and keep it safe every time you want to drink from the bottle. That snap-link I told you to attach to your webbing can prove useful here, but this can still be a hassle when you are half-way up a windy hillside and trying not to drop your rifle or lose sight of your mates.
For the above reasons a lot of soldiers and outdoorsmen now prefer bladders with drinking tubes such as Camelback and Platypus.
Does the cup need to fit outside a water-bottle? That interior space can be put to use for lots of other useful items. A hank of cord, fuel tablets and/or tube of alcohol fuel paste, small medical kit, sewing kit, spare lighter, tea and coffee bags, instant soup, OXO cubes and so on.
Does the cup need to be on your belt?
Generations of British soldiers will probably disagree with me here, but usually a hot cuppa is not life and death.
Your survival gear should be at skin level and your belt/webbing reserved for immediate use items: ammo, a good knife, a couple of litres of water, CI-IFAK trauma kit.
Your canteen cup should be a pack item, preferably in a readily accessible side-pocket.
What is the ideal shape for a canteen cup?
A spherical vessel is not really practical for a number of reasons. A hemispherical bowl of around 500 mls capacity will be about 12 cm/5" across and 6 cm/2.5" deep. Such a bowl can be used for both eating and drinking from but may not be the best shape for a cooking vessel. Woks generally need to be wider.
A cube of around 500 mls capacity has 8 cm sides. The corners of a cube may be difficult to get clean with a vessel of this width.
Another space-efficient option is a half-cube, 10 cm square and 5 cm deep. This has potential. This might resemble a smaller, square-section version of the familiar British Army mess-tin. Plenty of tea has been drunk from these, but it is not the best shape for a mug.
This brings us back to a cylinder of equal diameter to height, or thereabouts. For a capacity of about 500 ml, height and diameter will need to be around 9 cm/3.5".
This seems wide enough to eat out of and keep clean, deep enough for cooking and drinking. On the other hand, this shape may be too wide for easy carriage in a back-pack side-pocket.
This suggests that our canteen cup should be flattened in cross-section, and if we take this route we might as well give it a kidney-shaped cross-section. Realistically, most end-users will probably not buy a canteen cup unless it is this shape!
There is probably an optimum ratio of height to end-size for a kidney-section vessel, but the calculus is beyond me.
The above figures are based on another assumption: that we want a volume of around 500 mls.
Looking at four of the metal canteen cups I own, there is a notable difference in sizes.
The British Crusader Mk1 is noticeably bigger than the US (actually Dutch) cup and the upper cup from the Bundeswehr M59 canteen. This may partially be so the Crusader can fit over the bottom of the Osprey waterbottle. The Osprey has a plastic mug that fits over the top (!).
Theoretically you can carry both this mug and the metal Crusader around the same bottle. In practice you are better leaving the plastic mug for kit inspections. Also notable is that the Crusader Mk2 has a larger capacity than the Mk1.
A quick exercise with a measuring jug and some water yielded the following approximate volumes:
  • German M59 upper cup: 450 ml
  • Dutch canteen cup: 500 ml
  • Crusader Mk1: 650 ml
  • Crusader Mk2: 800 ml
The Dutch cup appears closest to our theoretical ideal. This is about 13 x 8 cm across and 9.5 cm deep. I don’t know if that is optimal, but the basic shape has not changed since 1910!
The Dutch cup is a sound choice for your emergency kit, but the British cups are ahead on features such as non-stick coatings, measuring marks and accessories. 

Even more interesting was weighing the cups. The Dutch cup was 9.4 oz/266 gm, the Crusader Mk 1 was 9.7 oz/275 gm yet the larger volume Mk 2 only 6.9 oz/195 gm.
What this boils down to (pun intended) is that most of the commonly available choices are fairly sound, but there is room for improvement.
While issues such as lids and bail handles need addressing, optimizing proportions could save additional weight.
A smaller version of the Crusader Mk2 would be an attractive product.
Categories
Phillosoph

What's a Mucket?

Today I was woken from my slumbers by a hailstorm rattling against my window.
When I was a young boy, I was very interested in spiders and read many books about them. Even with this knowledge, it still impresses me that a flimsy looking cobweb caught so many hailstones, so they appeared frozen in mid air.
My day started with me being reminded of old knowledge, so I was pleased to discover something new while I drank my coffee:
I came across the word “mucket”.
Most sources will assure you that a mucket is a variety of bivalve, resembling a mussel. But it was also used for a much different beast.

Mucket is presumably a portmanteau of “mug” and “bucket”. Alternate names are “coffee boiler” or “boiler cup”.

The sites offering them for sale are mainly geared to supplying American Civil War reenactors.

Some of the examples offered us the original construction methods and materials such as soldered tin, which is less than ideal for actual use.

Others look the part but use modern construction and materials such as stainless steel.

I have been planning to write a post on canteen cups, but I am holding off until I can get around trying to make lids for mine.
At around 24 fl.oz (c.710ml) the mucket fills a similar niche to the modern canteen cup, but I have to say it is ahead on some of its features.
The mucket has a bail handle so that you can hang it over a fire.
And not only does it have a lid, but one that is attached by a hinge, at least in some examples I have seen!
The lids have a ring, allowing you to raise them with a stick or similar implement rather than burning your fingers.
Admittedly, it is not kidney shape in section, but since a canteen cup (or mucket) should be in a pack rather than extra weight on your belt, this is a minor issue.
Camouflage not being an issue, the Civil War soldier hung his mucket outside his ration bag.
Hopefully some manufactures will have a good look at the mucket and design more capable canteen cups.
Categories
Phillosoph

Lighter Kit and Stoveless Cooking

A friend sent me this video. Good timing, since I had just posted my article on ranger rolling and how it could be used to reduce the number and weight of stuff-sacks used.

I don't carry a lot of electronic gear nor do Iidolize my phone, so I had not paid much attention to items such as power banks. With a suitable suite of compatible devices this may be a step towards solving the problem of the soldier's load.
One topic touched on is that of “stoveless cooking”. My friend sent me an additional video on this: 
 

Years ago I encountered a technique that might be called the “ mobile haybox”.
The hiker would heat his food, or add boiling water, as appropriate. The food was then placed in an insulated container and stowed inside the rucksack.
Like a conventional haybox, the retained heat continued to cook the food over the next few hours. Ideally one used a “wide-mouthed thermos”, but those were not that easy to find in those days. More usually, you used a sandwich box or screw-topped container and wrapped your sleeping bag and other insulation around the outside. The wise hiker placed the container in a plastic bag in case of leaks!
The stoveless method is similar, in that you hydrate the food several hours in advance and give the water time to do its job.
The two methods can be combined. Providing it has a good seal, a sandwich box could be used.
Sandwich boxes, incidentally, make pretty good eating bowls for more conventional cooking. Remember that before you fork out a good chunk of cash on a specially designed backpacker's eating kit! Have a look at the supermarket shelves for other suitable containers. Buying them filled with food is often cheaper than attempting to buy an empty container. I have seen plastic peanut-butter jars suggested for stoveless cooking and this is a way to utilize that peanut-butter stuck at the very bottom.
Categories
Phillosoph

Sam's Van: Kitchen Equipment

Sam’s Van is an idea from a friend of mine from Tennessee. When he was in his late twenties he proposed that a person should only have as many possessions as could be transported as a single van load.
For a variety of reasons, I can no longer meet this ideal, but it is a useful concept to help you declutter and reorganize your environment.
There are some interesting websites about minimizing your possessions and these can provide useful inspiration. However, Sam’s Van is about optimizing what you have rather than minimizing it.
Recently I began to consider what I have in the kitchen.
This caused me to look at some lists of “essential” items of kitchenware, which did give me something of a chuckle. I quite like cooking so my kitchen contains some items I would not put on a basic start-up list.
The list below is a combination of what I have in my kitchen and items that appear on lists of essentials. If you are equipping a new kitchen or wish to declutter an old one, this list and my comments may be of help.

Plates, Bowls and Cutlery

At least four of each, with six preferable. The more you have, the less often you will have to wash up!
Bowls end up being used for microwaving veg and other uses so a few extra of these is prudent.
I found that teaspoons tended to be in short supply too so I brought a bundle more and released them into the drawer in the hope that they will breed.

Mugs

Extra mugs save on the washing up and let you be sociable.
Eight is a good number if you are on your own, twelve if a couple.
Mugs also get used as little mixing bowls for making sauces, instant gravy, mustard or similar.

Beer and Wine Glasses

You do not want to drink your beer and wine from mugs.

Pots and Pans

You will need two, maybe three, saucepans of a suitable size for your requirements. For example, if you are mainly cooking for yourself, a pot of about a litre size is going to be the most useful.
Make sure all the pots have lids and that they are of a configuration that you can use the lid to drain the pot.
Avoid steam-release vent knobs unless you like scalded fingers.

Wooden Utensils

You will need some spoons to stir your cooking and spatulas to flip frying or grilling food over. Since some of your cookware will be non-stick it is prudent to get non-metallic items.
If the local pound store does sets of wooden utensils, you can soon acquire half a dozen or more items of varying shapes and applications.

Frying Pan

If you are getting only one, get a non-stick one of reasonable width.
A frying pan can also be used for making and reducing sauces.

Mixing Bowls

A couple of bowls are useful for mixing stuff in, serving fruit or popcorn in and so on.
If you are smart you will select some that you can use in the microwave (and halogen oven). Some glass/pyrex bowls often have measuring graduations too.

Measuring Jug

I measure out the quantity of rice or pasta that I intend to cook using volume, so a measuring jug proves very handy. I also use it to fill the coffee maker with water.
It is used so often that it seldom leaves the draining board.

Chinese Cleaver

Something like 90% of cutting jobs in my kitchen are done by my Chinese cleaver. If I am using another knife it generally means the cleaver is in the wash.
Unlike the western cleaver, the Chinese model has a full bevel and a relatively thin blade. This type is sometimes called a vegetable cleaver but you can use it on anything you might wish to eat. As well as chopping, it can also be used for slicing, dicing and all sorts of fine cutting too.
Best place to get one is a Chinese supermarket, preferably one in a Chinatown district.
I have yet to cook anything the Chinese cleaver could not cut. Should such a situation occur, I have a Buck Ax in the kitchen too. The back of this gets uses as a hammer to break up frozen veg.
How to Use a Chinese Cleaver

Chopping Boards or Mats

Have at least one, and have it of a type that is easily washable. Use it to cut your veg before your move onto the meat or fish or use a different one for each.
If you want to have different boards for meat, vegetables and bread have them different colours.

Paring Knife/Knife Block

The other knife I use a lot is a “bird’s beak” paring knife. These are also called “shaping knives” or “peeling knives”.
This can be used for most of the jobs that a cleaver is not really suited for. Mine came with a knife block set. Its hooked blade is very useful for opening packaging.
I brought the knife block set to stop a certain “guest” abusing my boning knife.

Scissors

Modern packaging means that the scissors get used a lot too. I ended up putting a screw hook to hang them from inside the kitchen drawer so I could easily locate them.
Some lists of kitchen equipment have kitchen shears, which are presumably used for food preparation. Never used or owned these. The scissors or cleaver should serve.

Bread Knife

Whether you need a bread knife will depend on how you buy your bread and how much bread you eat at home. I have one as part of the knife block set and it sees occasional use.
Bread knives should also be used for cutting acidic fruits, so you should probably have one.
If you buy bread, have a cloth bread-bag to keep it fresh.

Carving Knife

There is one in the knife block set. Before I had that I usually used the cleaver.

Butcher’s Steel and Ceramic Rods

No point in buying a cleaver and knives if you cannot keep them in working condition.
I have a pair of ceramic sharpening rods and a butcher’s steel in my kitchen, ready to be used as needed.
See my book on how to use them.

Filleting and Boning Knives

I don’t have a filleting knife, and I find I have seldom used my boning knife.
Good ones tend to be expensive, so do not buy unless you expect to get lots of use out of them.
 

Whisk

Whether you need a whisk depends on your cooking abilities and style. If you have no idea on how to make a sauce or batter you do not need them.
I like the “magic” whisk type that look like they have a spring bent into a horseshoe-shape. I brought two or three of these to save on washing up.
Never felt the need for an electric mixer or blender.

Skimmer

This is a Chinese item like a cross between a ladle and a metal net. It is used to fish stuff out of boiling water or deep fat.
I have seldom used it.

Electric Kettle

You could get by with a saucepan if you have one clean but an electric kettle is worth having. Open flames and being half awake in the morning are to be avoided if possible.
Get the sort of kettle that will only boil the amount of water you need.

Toaster

The usefulness of a toaster depends on whether you have bread in the house. I had a friend staying with me who would buy bread for sandwiches so the toaster saw some use.
Since he has gone it has not been used much.

Garlic Press

I have not seen mine in over a decade.
When I need crushed garlic I simply flatten it between the cleaver blade and chopping board, which also makes it easier to peel. Then slice or mince further with cleaver as necessary.

Potato Masher

Use a fork unless you make a lot of mash.

Pizza Cutter

Just use a table knife.

Ice Cream Scoop

I seem to have inherited one! If you do not have one, simply use a spoon.

Can Opener

I don’t eat a lot of canned food.
When I needed something like canned tomatoes for a chilli con carne, I’d use the can opener on a penknife. A spare penknife is a useful thing to keep in the kitchen drawer.
A friend who was staying with me ate more canned food, so we brought a turnkey-type can opener from the pound-store.
Unless you are disabled or work in an industrial kitchen you do not need an electric can-opener. They are a waste of energy and money.

Bottle Opener/Corkscrew

You should have these. The penknife stands in reserve.

Pepper Grinder

Unsurprisingly, for grinding peppercorns.

Vegetable Peeler

I’m sure I have one of these somewhere but have not used it in years. Often you can simply scrape or wash fresh vegetables instead or use your paring knife.

Grater

I like grated cheese on my spaghetti, so I brought a grater from the pound-store. You can get by with cutting the cheese with a knife so this is an optional item rather than an essential.

Lemon Juicer

Lemon juice for pancakes gets brought ready squeezed. If I have to get juice from a fresh lemon, lime or orange I squeeze them manually or mash them with a spoon.

Pressure Cooker

I probably do not use this as often as I should.
It gets forgotten in the cupboard so I will try keeping it on a shelf instead. I eat a lot of rice and pasta and pressure cooking these does not offer much of a real time saving and the pot is large for the volumes that I cook. The pressure cooker is good for cooking rice or pasta with other ingredients.
Frozen veg is quicker and simpler in the microwave.
The pressure cooker does get used to make the Ham in Cola that I usually cook near Christmas.

Wok

I’m told that most people buy a wok, use it for a few meals then forget about it. I have been using mine for several decades for a variety of meals.
There are lots of things you can use a wok for other than stir-fries. If you do stir-fry, however, buy a chuan to move the food around with. This resembles a cross between a spatula and a shovel.
You will also need a bamboo brush to clean your wok with.
It is worth having a lid for your wok too. My lid got damaged in a move several decades ago and I have managed without, however.
You can buy a wok set in a nice box from many supermarkets. For a fraction of the price you can pick one up unboxed from a Chinese supermarket. Buy a cleaver, brush and chuan while you are there.
Don’t bother with non-stick or stainless steel woks. Get a carbon steel wok of 13-14 inches and season it.

Microwave

I use my microwave a lot but I really should use it more creatively. Mainly I use it to cook frozen vegetables. A bowl of frozen veg can be cooked in just a few minutes. I also use it to make polenta or mug brownies.
The microwave is used for defrosting too but it is less wasteful to let items thaw naturally in the fridge overnight.

George Foreman Grill

The grill in my oven is very inefficient, and the one in the microwave/grill is not that great either so I brought a George Forman grill.
I will admit I have used my wok and frying pan much less since I brought my George Foreman. Bear in mind it cooks both sides of the food at once so will cook quicker than a conventional grill.

Halogen Oven

This is a relatively recent addition to my kitchen and I probably use it more than any of the other cooking devices.
Make sure that your ovenproof bowls, baking pans and casseroles are of a suitable size and shape for use in the halogen oven.

Tongs

I don’t think I have ever owned kitchen tongs. The closest thing I have to them are cooking chopsticks, which I seldom use. A wooden spatula serves for flipping food.
This has changed with my use of the halogen oven. You need tongs (or chopsticks) to reach down into a hot halogen oven to turn or pick-up food. I also have tongs designed to pick up the racks or trays in a halogen oven.

Porridge Pan

If you like porridge, a small non-stick milk pan is worth having. It lets you make breakfast if the pans from the night before have not yet been washed.
I have a spurtle too, but you can use the handle of a wooden spoon instead.

Ladle

I have a couple of these but seldom use them. I do use one as a measure when pouring pancake batter.
You can also use some as very small saucepans for melting a few grams of butter, for example.
I would not class a ladle as an essential. I’d not throw my away but I’d not rush out to buy them if I didn’t have them.

Casserole Dish

Whether you want a casserole dish will depend on your cooking skills and inclinations.
It is a good idea to select one that can also be used in the microwave and halogen oven. I fill mine with tortilla chips and melt grated cheese over them.
A nice looking casserole dish can also be used as a serving dish too.

Measuring Spoons and Measuring Cups

I don’t own any of these and have managed without them. The scales, measuring jug and eating spoons get used instead.
I did, eventually, buy a couple of sets. Many recipes on the internet use volumes rather than weighing.
I also try to measure out high-calorie foods rather than serving myself too much.
Oddly, one set of cups I brought is based around a 200 ml volume rather than 236.6 ml, 240 ml or 250 ml.

Scales

Depending on your cooking style, these can be handy to have.

Timer

Handy to have, particularly if you are easily distracted or not that experienced at cooking.

Colander

Generally, I use the saucepan lids to drain pots. A colander can be useful for some other tasks such as washing fruit or veg. Can also be used as a well ventilated fruit bowl. 

Sieve

I seldom use mine but it is worth having one. A sieve can be used to drain stuff that would go through a colander. It can also be used to sift flour or icing sugar.

Baking Tin

If you want to use your oven, you will need at least one ware that can be used in it. You can use your casserole dish and get by using foil instead of a baking sheet. A non-stick backing tin a few inches deep can be used to make pies or toad in the hole.
According to at least one website a 9 x 13" dish will be the most useful. A square or round dish 8 to 9" across is more useful if there is just one or two of you. Round dishes are more useful for use in a halogen oven.
You will need a non-metallic cake slice (above photo) or knife to use with your non-stick containers.

Tupplewares

A few plastic boxes can prove handy.

Oven Glove and Tea Towels

My girlfriend’s sister took a dislike to my oven glove and it disappeared. Tea towels work just as well and are more versatile.
Towels are great for swatting houseflies from the air to keep your kitchen a “no-fly zone”. (Fitting fly-screen to the windows is a really cost-effective investment!)

Food Processor,  Blender,  Liquidizer

Personally I have managed to cook for several decades without owning any of these so I would dispute that they are “essential”.