Thursday 01/06/17

Knives are tools. Yes, they can be used as weapons, but their primary function is to be used as a tool. Owning them doesn’t make you a monster, or mean you’ll go on a killing spree (but I don’t recommend carrying them in public; and I’m sure your local law enforcement agency would agree with me). Owning good quality knives is an essential part of life. Think about the knives you own and have owned over the years. A good quality knife should serve you for many years. How many knives have you thrown away (or put into permanent storage) because they couldn’t do the job you bought them for? A cheap or poor-quality knife is a waste of money.

A good quality knife is an essential tool for the outdoors. In a survival situation, having a knife can get you out of a lot of trouble. There are two categories of knives: Fixed Blade and Folding Blade. A folding blade (ie: pocket knife) is a compact tool that fits into your pocket. It is good for lightweight, basic jobs, but the section where the blade folds is weak, and can break if you apply too much downward pressure on the blade. A fixed blade is the best choice for heavy duty cutting, and general-purpose field work.

The length of your knife is very important. This breaks down into three categories: the overall length (from the tip of the blade to the pommel/butt), the length of the blade, and the length of the handle. A knife that is too big to store in your pack, or comfortably carry on your belt, is no good to you. I know people who won’t use a knife that is less than 14-16 inches in length. I know others who won’t use anything bigger than a fruit knife. I prefer something in-between. I’ve found a knife with an overall length of 12 inches works well in most situations.

Anatomy of a Knife

knife 2

1. The Tip/Point: A knife with a rounded tip has no capacity to penetrate the material you are working with (such as gutting a fish). But; a pointy tip will snap if it is subjected to too much pressure. You should select the tip based on the type of work you will be doing with your knife. There are many different types of tip available; most of them are designed for specific purposes. I could write a whole blog on that subject alone. But, you’re not here for a lecture on minute details. From a practical stand-point, the three different tips I prefer to use are the Clip Point (as pictured above), Straight Back (like a cook’s knife), and the Drop Point (like the large blade in a standard pocket knife). These three tips are similar in design, and are the most suited to all-round field work.

2. The Back/Spine: The unsharpened edge of the blade.

3. Edge: The edge does most of the work. Blades can be smooth or serrated. I prefer using a smooth edge, because it is less likely to get lodged in material such as wood (while making tent pegs).

4. Guard: This stops your hand from slipping down the handle, and onto the blade. Not all knives have a guard. I do not like using knives that don’t have a guard. Accidents do happen. Surgery and physiotherapy aren’t as fun as they sound.

5. Handle: First and foremost, the knife has to sit properly in your hand. You won’t be able to work for very long with a knife if the handle is too big or too small for your hand. The handle needs to be made from a non-slip material that won’t rub and cause blisters. Blisters reduce your capacity to work, and can get infected. You don’t need me to tell you the sorts of problems this can lead to out in the field.

6. Pommel/Butt: Can be used as a hammer for minor hammering tasks (but only as a last resort. I do not recommend doing this, as it can damage your knife).

7. Tang (this knife has one, but it is not able to be seen in this photo): A good quality knife is made from a single piece of metal that extends from the tip of the blade, to the butt/pommel (you can clearly see the tang in many good quality chef’s knives). If you apply pressure to a knife while cutting, it is the tang, not the cosmetic outer layer of the handle that takes the pressure of the load. Half tang knives have a tang that only goes halfway into the handle. A half tang knife is likely to split or break the handle if too much downward force is applied while cutting (such as whittling wood). You don’t require much imagination to understand the fragility of hollow handled survival knives. Their blade is bolted onto the end of a thin, plastic tube that serves as the handle. (I received one as a teenager; it didn’t last very long). Experience has taught me never purchase a fixed blade knife without a full tang.

Knife blades can be made from a variety of different materials; but carbon steel and stainless steel are the most common. Both of these metals are suitable choices for field work.

Before heading out to your local camping goods store I advise you to sit down and make a list of the things you expect to be doing with your knife. Under no circumstances should you go to the store and expect the shop assistant to make your decisions for you. People with a sound knowledge of knives aren’t very common. A disinterested shop assistant will sell you whatever they are standing closest to, or stock they have been told to get rid of by management (ie: “the latest in-store promotion, for today only”). A dishonest shop assistant will sell you any piece of crap they can’t trick anyone else into buying.

Price isn’t always an indicator of quality, but I can guarantee you a $5 knife isn’t what you’re looking for. In Australia, you can expect to spend $120-150 on a good quality knife; but think twice before spending any more than this. A larger price tag doesn’t mean the knife will be any better quality, (the store just has a higher mark-up price on their stock).

This blog is only an introduction to the subject, and I strongly encourage you to do some research so you can find a brand and model that will suit your requirements. I hope I have reduced some of the anxiety you might have had about selecting a suitable knife for your kit.

Knowledge is only useful if it is shared. I’ve shared my knowledge with you, so now it’s up to you to share it with your friends and family on your social media page.

Thursday 04/05/17

Yes, you read that correctly; Mexican Lasagne. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and this story certainly qualifies.

Many years ago, we used to have friends over once a week for dinner. A select number of recipes formed the regular rotation of dishes we enjoyed. One night, our friends decided to break with tradition, announcing they would bring dinner to us. Ninety minutes after placing their order at the Mexican restaurant they arrived at our place with four take-away containers of Mexican lasagne. As we peeled the lids from our meals, their pride turned to raw fury. Instead of some exotic lasagne dish, each container contained a scoop of ‘brown’, a scoop of ‘green’, a scoop of sour cream, a half dozen corn chips, and a scattering of yellow rice. To add insult to injury, top dollar was paid for these questionable culinary delights.

Over the years I’ve known some interesting characters with colourful vocabularies, but they couldn’t hold a candle to the unstoppable tirade. Most of the conversation that followed implied the restaurateurs were born out of wedlock, and should perform sordid acts on themselves that would require the talents of a double-jointed contortionist. To avert World War 3 (or an expletive riddled phone call that would probably result in a visit from the local constabulary), I asked everyone to calm down, promising that this fiasco could be turned around. When asked how, I told them next week they would dine on Mexican lasagne, and they would love it. At the end of the night as I bid our guests farewell, I realised the clock was ticking, I had one week to make good on my promise.

And make good I did. Mexican lasagne is a dish that is enjoyed regularly in our house.

Mexican Lasagne

Ingredientslasagne

  • Minced beef 750g
  • Onion: diced x 2
  • Taco seasoning – 35g packet
  • Cheese – grated
  • Sour cream 250g
  • Tomato salsa: chunky – 375g jar
  • Tortilla wraps: jumbo – 450g packet
  • Corn Chips – 1 packet
  • Olive oil

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180° C.
  2. Grease a deep ovenproof dish with butter (not cooking spray, it tastes awful).
  3. Cut tortilla wraps to size (these replace lasagne sheets).
  4. Heat olive oil in frying pan.
  5. Brown onion in frying pan, place into bowl.
  6. Brown mince in frying pan.
  7. Mix onion and taco seasoning through mince. (Add water as needed, to allow seasoning to mix evenly through mince).
  8. Remove frying pan from heat.
  9. Layer ingredients into oven dish: tortilla sheets, mince, salsa, grated cheese, and sour cream. Repeat until you run out of ingredients or space in the dish.
  10. Spread sour cream on top of the final layer, then cover with shredded cheese and crushed corn chips.
  11. Cook in oven for 45 minutes.
  12. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Are you looking for a new dish to add to your menu plan? Why not try Mexican lasagne? Go on, you know you want to.

As always, please share this blog with your friends and family on your social media page. Recipes are only useful if they are used, and shared.

 

Thursday 06/04/17

A weekend camping trip can be a lot of fun if you’ve done your homework; or two days of discomfort and insomnia if you fail to prepare. Planning your trip isn’t rocket science, but it is a little more involved than grabbing your sleeping bag, a can of baked beans, and heading off to the nearest cow paddock to pitch your tent. If you’re an experienced camper, then good for you; class dismissed. However; if you are keen to spend time in the outdoors, but don’t know where to begin, this month’s blog is for you.

When you pack for your camping trip, there is a grey area between “You’ve brought nothing with you! You’ll have to sleep in a ditch to keep warm”, and “You’re being ridiculous. We’ll need a semi-trailer to haul all of this crap”. This month, I’ll share my own camping list with you. When writing your own list, feel free to remove or replace any items not relevant to you. My list is broken up into four categories: clothing, equipment, food, and toiletries.

Clothing (always choose natural fibre where possible. Synthetic materials are highly flammable):

• Thick socks (1 pair per day, + 1 spare pair).
• Underpants (1 pair per day, + 1 spare pair).
• Good quality boots,
• 1 pair of sneakers (if you wade through water you’ll still need to wear shoes of some description while your boots dry).
• Long pants (jeans are highly recommended).
• Long sleeved shirt (t-shirts are ok, but long sleeves can be rolled up or down as weather dictates).
• Jumper, or zip-up jacket (yes, even in summer. You’ll be grateful you did if the weather turns cold).
• Hat with a wide brim.
• Gloves and balaclava (only in winter, or in cooler climates).

Equipment:

• Torch & Batteries (for goodness sake, turn it on before you pack it. Actually turn it on and make sure it works. Don’t just assume it works). Take the batteries out to transport. Many a torch has arrived at the campsite with dead batteries, because it was accidentally turned on during transit.
• Spar batteries for torch.
• Camera & batteries (most smart phones have a camera, but you might not have anywhere to recharge your phone, so it is probably wise to conserve your battery).
• Backpack. It needs to be big enough to carry your gear, but not so big that you can’t pick it up and put it on your back without help.
• First Aid kit. A basic kit will cover any minor accident (notice I said minor, not loss of limb).
• Sleeping bag. Don’t buy the cheapest one you can find. Make sure you can comfortably fit inside (if it is skin tight, you aren’t going to get much sleep).
• Pillow (you can try using your backpack, or a rolled-up jumper, but they aren’t very comfortable).
• Swag, foam roll, or airbed.
• Spare plug for airbed.
• Wet weather gear (yes, really. Think of it as insurance).
• Towel (you’ll need it if it rains – and for drying your hands after you wash them).
• Good quality, sharp knife with a full tang (don’t waste your money on any of those hollow-handled “survival knives”). Buy quality, if you find yourself in a genuine survival situation, your life may be dependent on your knife.
• Pocket knife (as a back-up, in case you lose your primary knife).
• Compass (Lensatic or Orienteering).
• Fire steel.
• Storm matches (in a waterproof container).
• Insect repellent (squeeze bottle).
• Sunscreen.
• Small shovel/folding shovel (you don’t want to use your hands to dig your latrine).
• Newspaper (in case kindling is scarce).
• Binoculars (not strictly essential, but always handy to have).
• Roll of duct tape (not the cheap stuff; it isn’t waterproof, and it doesn’t work).
• Tent (do your research to find one to suit your needs. The less it weighs, the easier it is to transport).
• Camp chair (sitting on the cold, hard ground isn’t as fun as it sounds).
• Folding table (not essential, but more civilised than eating on the ground).
• Plastic washing tub (for washing the dishes).
• Billy/pot/saucepan (for boiling water).
• Book (if it rains, you’ll need some way to kill time while you’re stuck in your tent).
• Deck of cards (something else to do if you chose the wrong book).

Food:

• Drink bottle. Stainless steel is preferable, plastic is acceptable, but leave the fancy glass drink bottles at home.
• Esky. If you’re taking meat with you, this will keep it cold until dinner time on your first night.
• Canned food with pull rings. (No cooking required).
• Tea/coffee.
• Long-life milk.
• Instant soup powder (just add boiling water).
• Two minute noodles.
• Bottled water. (2 litres per person, per day). Allow an extra 5 litres per day for cooking and washing up. Also include an extra 2 litres per person in case your return home is unexpectedly delayed.
• Sugar.
• Salt/pepper.
• Knife/fork/spoon.
• Cup/bowl/plate.
• Dishwashing liquid.

Toiletries:

• Toilet paper (besides the obvious, it can also be used as tissues, and tinder for your fire).
• Soap.
• Dental floss (can also be used as cordage).
• Toothbrush. (yes, really. Camping isn’t an excuse to neglect your dental hygiene).
• Toothpaste.
• Deodorant.
• Moist towelettes.

This list is a basic starting point, and by no means complete. I’m sure you will have specific items or gear that you deem necessary for your camping trip. As always, please share this blog with your friends and family on your social media page. Knowledge is only useful if it is shared.