Compleat Idler, Preparedness

Idler’s tools — cutlery

(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

I have more knives than I really need. But it is better to have it than to need it. I could get by with a paring or utility knife, an eight inch chef’s knife and a boning knife. Also in the block are a couple of bread knives, spare eight inch chef and utility, an Ontario scalper, a six inch chef’s knife, a ten inch butcher, a small oriental cleaver, my grandfather’s butchering cleaver and some steak knives. I have a fine steel. The pairing knife gets quit a bit of use for odd jobs. When I am doing serious cutting I use the chef’s knife and when I do cuts on chicken the boner works. For a good discussion get The Supper of the Lamb( I disagree with Fr Capon in Swiss Army knives but I had been looking at a Huntsman for belt carry.

This afternoon I was downstairs and need a knife—if there is anything in surplus downstairs besides multi-bit screwdrivers it is knives. I can wear a fifty year scout pin—I have knives, axes, saws. I trained leaders in woods tools. So I was in the one room where nothing is accessible and will not be until we relocate the shelving temporarily stored there. I reached into a box in the cupboard and snagged the handle of a Russell Green River skinning knife. Have I used it in the past year? No. Am I going to remainder it? No. Am I planning a hunting trip? No.

A knife is a tool and it may also hold memories. When my mother died I got all the cutlery that was left from my grandparents and my aunt. There is a ten inch butcher knife whose blade would not survive a coat of naval jelly and the handle has been cut down to fit my grandmother’s hands—not exactly a professional job. But with the rest it will go on to my son when I s0ould hold out one or two big roasts and have a feast of the three households on the property. And that knife would be out and doing most of the work. I vaguely remember my grandfather butchering a sheep or goat in the kitchen, but I was under five. We did butcher chickens up until 1954 when the City annexed the property and we had to give them up.

In 1954 my grandfather gave me a Plumb hand-axe. I was 10 and my kit now included a two-blade pen knife, a three blade Case stockman, a KampKing scout type knife and a Plumb hand-axe. The other term commonly used is hatchet which has bad connotations from the 19th Century tong wars in New York and San Francisco which are, according to Carl Glick in Shake Hands with the Dragon, based on occidental stereotypes rather than fact. The Norse referred to it as a hawk and that word entered and apparently left the English language with persons making handsaw into heron-shaw. The traders of Hudson’s Bay Company and similar trading companies used metal axes as trade goods. There were fancy ones which featured a smoking pipe opposite the cutting blade. It is known that the Tomahawk was carried by trappers and soldiers as well as native peoples. Somewhere downstairs I have what is called a Hudson Bay Axe with a head shaped more like a tomahawk blade than a Michigan blade which is standard for camp axes. As I have gotten older I have gotten away from the idea of a hand axe as that essential item in my woods tool box. I discovered the ¾ size axe seems to fit my arms and give me greater control over the tasks I am dealing with. I also tend to use a saw when dealing with limbs. And a ¾ size steel Estwing rides in my truck box.

The date 1954 in the above paragraph is important. I had turned 10 in 1953. I was trusted by my grandfather to use all the woods tools that now require certification in the scouting movement to even carry. One of the more insidious tendencies in our society is the infantilization of youth. Think about it.

As to safety, another matter comes up. The Scout Movement, at least in my own council, came up with a rule that prohibits the carry of fixed blade knives—for reasons of safety. A non-lockback folding knife will, unless properly used, close the sharp side of the blade on the hand of the user. So we recommend the lockback configuration. I have had lockbacks fail. I have had non-lockback folders fail in the spine. I’ll be specific on this latter point. One was a USGI Camillus. One was a Victorinox red scale. There were others, but they were cheap. The only fixed blade knife I had break on me was a “survival” knife with a hollow handle that had everything Rambo needed but his crossbow and blowdrier. The only problem was no tang.

So whether you are in the kitchen or the field, you may need cutlery. Treat tools as tools.

I would have loved a bayonet when I was digging cattail roots.

Compleat Idler, Education

Idler’s kitchen — Cast Iron

(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

I thought I should talk a little bit about my preference for cast iron cookware, aside from my conservative if it was good enough for my grandparents it is good enough for me tendency. There are many ways of cooking and I tend to go with my region—my childhood was in the high plains more or less and all but two years of my adult life has been in the Southwest economic region. Cast iron was a fact of life in my grandmother’s kitchen and I got her stockpot when my mom passed. I own a number of skillets and three Deutsch ovens. The star of the show is my No. 7 skillet (which has nothing to do with Jack Daniel’s distillery license) by Griswold Iron Works. This brand is supposedly big with Buckskinners and the company has ceased to exist. The big name right now is Lodge which has introduced a line of iron-lined ceramic cookware for ceramic top stoves which my wife likes.

The advantages of cast iron cookware are consistency of heating, heat retention, and a better non-stick surface than teflon. The disadvantages are weight, time taken in maintenance, and the fact that my wife loves her ceramic top stove. I got around the stove a couple ways. I used to keep a two burner propane stove on the kitchen porch and now I have a one burner propane stove that I use on the counter. I also use this for other plans because gas gives better control.

So why do I use utensils that I cannot throw in the dishwasher or soak in suds and rinse clean which require that I have an extra burner that sets off the smoke alarm occasionally. The answer is results. I can scramble eggs at a low temperature without having to switch burners. I do not have to grease the pan when I brown meat or fix hamburgers. When I do a shepherd’s pie or blue cornmeal tamales, I can stick the pan in the oven without the handle melting. And I do not need to worry about aluminum and its ill effect on food—iron is a nutrient.

I do have some advice for my fellow cast iron users. Avoid the Chinese utensils. They cost less and are sometimes lighter—you can find them in proprietary brands. But the metallurgy is suspect and the Chinese use surplus ship hulls and vehicle hulls as sources of iron. I do not trust the metal.

Bon appetit.

Compleat Idler, Preparedness

Idler’s kitchen – cool weather

(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

It is hard to believe that fall is coming. It used to mean training events, camporees, campouts. All of these equate to food. And in cooler weather, we need warmth which means fuel. Granola is criticized for the fats—the fats are what your engine burns to keep your body warm inside that super insulated parka you laid out the big bucks for.

But while granola or preferably GORP is good for snacking you need a good breakfast. While my camp coffee requires an EPA permit for disposal, it is not enough to really warm up. Next to dessert breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And here I am going to discuss two, if you have enough time, get a couple bowls of both before you head out on your “trail.” Both require cooking which tends to turn some people off—it is one of my few outdoor activities left.

First we make a pot of oatmeal. No, I do not mean one of those little pots that come in the one or two-person cookset from Scout supply or and outdoor or Chinese goods outlet. A note here: Aluminum burns and burns nasty. I still have an aluminum GI messkit and a couple small pots, but I prefer Lexan or enameled plates. I used to use my enameled canner but it has lost some of the enamel and I do not remember whether I pitched it or remembered to save it to sterilize topsoil. If your group gets up to twenty or larger, use a big stainless pot. This also doubles for boiling water in wine or beer making and deepfrying turkeys.

Ingredients: Water, butter, brown sugar, rolled oats, chopped or dehydrated fruit. Remember that you can add more water, but you cannot reduce it. Leftovers do not reheat.

Equipment: Gas burner or campfire. The way things are going I would use the gas burner for more control and less fire hazard. Pot, depending on size of group. Steel, long handled spoon which can be used to both stir and serve. A towel to wipe your hands on is essential unless you have no qualms about wiping your hands on your jeans.

Procedure: Bring water to a rolling boil. Toss in the rolled oats—the generic rolled oats are packaged differently, but they are the same thing. As the oats begin to form, throw in a couple sticks of butter and chase them with at least half a bag of brown sugar, keep stirring while someone else pours in the fruit. I like raisins and apples. And add your cinnamon at the end and stir it in. My friend an mentor Richard Branson (The design professor, not the millionaire) would throw in a bag of red hots. Buy your cinnamon in the restaurant size. You’ll use it up in a couple trips. I am not much on measurements but a carton of rolled oats will serve 8-12. A half a bag of brown sugar will be enough. If you have 30 or so you add more of everything.

A note on sugar: I am sensitive to this issue because my wife is diabetic and I have the tendency on both sides. I have also had campers who tend to hyperactivity—a lower amount of sugar beat Ritalin as a countermeasure. There is a substitute called Splenda(tm) which measures about the same. Avoid aspartame.

At home in the kitchen: Use quick cooking oats and small quantities. The amount of activity is somewhat less.

Now we’ve dealt with my grandmother’s idea of a breakfast—although she would have real problems with the way I do it. So let’s cut to the chase with what I have heard described as Mountain Man Breakfast, farmer’s breakfast, arterial pollution, death at Lauds, etc.

I know people who believe the ads that say a particular coat or outfit will keep you warm. I have never in my retail career made such a claim. Clothes are like shelter—they ideally hold the heat in (unlike Oklahoma City) but they cannot create heat. In cool, say 30-50 degrees Fahrenheit, weather you need both shelter and heat. The oven is within and the fuel is protein and fat. When you are working strenuously in the cooler weather, the fuel burns easily—if you are sedentary and working in a temperature controlled environment, this can lead to coronary artery disease, stroke and morbid obesity. (I have never figured out why people who tip-toe around the crimes of battery, rape etc with the term “abuse” will refer to people as “grossly obese” when the term “morbidly obese” is less judgmental and is, in fact, used in medical reports—I have read it in post-mortem reports.)

So here is my particular approach that I jokingly called Prelude to Angioplasty—Southwest Style.

Ingredients: Sausage, lard or butter, frozen hashbrowns or finely chopped potatoes, dehydrated or freshly chopped onions, eggs, frozen or canned corn, cheddar cheese, black pepper, ground Ancho or Chamallo pepper and salsa (chile).

Equipment: Dutch oven(s) or cast iron skillet, large stainless steel spoon for stirring and serving, spatula for stirring and browning the meat. Iron sheet or “Lewis and Clark” cooking stand to hold charcoal and prevent fire from spreading. Shovel to move coals. Dutch oven tool. A gas burner can be used but it is less impressive. If you have a crowd, you may need a couple or three ovens full. Ditto on the warnings about aluminum—yes, I have been present when an aluminum Dutch oven caught fire. Mixing dish big enough for a dozen or so eggs. Fork to whip eggs.

Procedures: On this one I could go into detail on shopping, but suffice to say that you will get plenty of grief at checkout. Cast iron can and should be pre-heated. For each 12 or 14 inch Dutch oven you should use at least one of those pound wrapped packs of mild sausage (you’ll take care of the spice with the pepper and salsa). You start by browning the sausage—in the old days this produced enough grease to brown the potatoes and onions. Do not brown onions first because the moisture will cool the oven and retard the cooking of sausage. While this is going on, someone needs to break and stir the eggs—about a dozen per oven. You’re now browning the potatoes. Fresh onions would go with the potatoes, but I prefer the dehydrated variety which get mixed in with the eggs. Also a dozen eggs would get about two tablespoons of pepper. When the potatoes are looking brown, add the eggs. The heat from the cooking food will cook the eggs and the corn which follows the eggs in. Cover and move some coals onto the top of the oven—this is why I use only cast iron. The lip was invented by Benjamin Franklin who appreciated the Deutsch oven though he fought to eradicate the language from Pennsylvania. Let this sit about five minutes and then remove the cover long enough to dump and stir in about a pound of grated cheese. Cover for a couple more minutes and remove from heat.

Serve with salsa on the side. Use salsa from the Southwest or Mexico or make your own. None of that stuff from New York City. If you feel a need for more carbs, you can serve it with tortillas or make up some fry-bread.

Bon-appetit. Cardiologists are listed in the yellow pages.

Compleat Idler

Idler’s kitchen — French Toast

(c) 2012  Earl L Haehl

Permission is granted to redistribute this in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

French toast was rare when I was growing up. My grandmother preferred to throw a small can of corn into a few eggs, scramble them and call it an omelet. I do something similar but that’s another meal and another blog I may or may not get around to.

French toast is one of the few times I will get out the teflon* coated electric fry pan. I set the temperature and let it warm up to a constant 320-360 degrees, then start on the prep.

Ingredients are (for two people): Sourdough bread (the staler the better), five eggs, half and half and nutmeg. Butter or spread is also helpful in the pan to get that brown on the eggs.


Sourdough bread is what we use because it has lower glycemic index than the “Texas toast” stuff which appears to be only white bread. I have several recipes to make it myself, but in this instance fresh is not better. And leaving bread out to go stale is not a good idea if you have a Labrador. You can use raisin bread or cinnamon swirl if you like.

Five eggs is what I use, but you can get by with four.

The standard dairy product in our refrigerator is no-fat-no-lactose. You really need milkfat for taste and texture. My preference would be dairy cream, but my cardiologist does not agree. I just pour in what feels right.

Nutmeg was a controlled item at the penitentiary where I retired after serving a number of years in the administration. So that tells me it is a pleasure spice. I keep the spice to one and keep it simple. You cannot overdo the nutmeg—use plenty.

I mix with a fork because it is easier to clean than the whisk. Because I’m using a non-stick pan I use a plastic spatula that will not nick the surface.


While the pan warms up break the eggs into a square, shallow Pyrex baking dish—or whatever you have that fits. Discard the shells. Pour in the half and half and beat until smooth. Then as at least a teaspoon of nutmeg and beat until it is all through the mix.

Grease the pan generously. This is not to lubricate but to add texture to the final product. Dip the slices of bread and toss them onto the pan or a cast-iron griddle if you have a gas stove. Wait a couple minutes and turn. You can add more nutmeg while cooking.

Serve with your choice of condiment: syrup, butter and brown sugar, or jam/preserves.


I put an asterisk after teflon because I have no idea what the latest non-stick is. Having one of those ceramic top electric stoves, I cannot use cast-iron which is the original non-stick surface that you can reseason if you screw it up.

Compleat Idler

Idler’s Kitchen Mass Prep Burgers

(c) 2012  Earl L Haehl – Permission is granted to redistribute this in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

I spent much of the holiday in the kitchen. The objective is to go beyond making just enough burgers for the meal and not have to do this again until fall. Last fall I used beaucoup Cabela’s Club points and obtained a Gamesaver Silver vacuum sealer which has simplified meals. If I need something I can open the freezer. I can buy chicken thighs, pork chops or ground beef on sale and use it until it is once again on sale. The kids have not taken a deer since I got it, but it is going to happen. Now, the stuff you need for one of these burgerama moments in addition to the gamesaver is probably in your kitchen already:

*  A four or five quart mixing bowl or prep tray is essential. The bowls come in pyrex or stainless—stainless is much lighter and less cleanup if you drop it. Do not use plastic when dealing with meat unless you like cleaning with a lot of bleach and worrying if there is some food particle residue in the absorbent surface. The commercial prep trays come in stainless or a food grade plastic. The mixing bowls are available at your grocery or local discount store. The prep trays are available where they sell the better grade and commercial food processing equipment.

*  A burger press is nice. I am closer to 70 than 60 and have only used the press a couple of years. It has made a difference in the time I spend and added some uniformity. The 5/8 to ¾ inch thick patties cook best in cast iron which is my utensil of preference.

*  Wide aluminum foil or butcher/freezer paper to protect the counter from the processing and the meat from the counter.

*  A paring knife—okay I could use the BenchMade in my pocket, but there issues as to where it has been. This opens up a three, five or ten pound tube of ground beef. (Yes, I do have a grinder but time is money. See Einstein’s alternative E=MC2/C$=T$.)

*  Clean rubber gloves. I picked up a box of powderless nitrile gloves in the first aid pain control aisle.

NOTE: I had a bottle of water but the water of life should wait until the job is done. It boils down to the following principle: When offering a keg party for your students to paint your garage, do not open the keg until the job is done. I might also here note that while I foolishly bought some quart and gallon bags for the vac-sealer, the rolls are better for sizing bags.

If you are like me you will probably have dehydrated chopped onions and coarse ground black pepper. It’s better not to try grinding two tablespoons of black pepper or chopping fresh onions the night before.



2 – three pound tubes ground round. I use the leanest cut available. When Angus is on sale I use. Bison (Tatonka) is never on sale. 1½ cups of dehydrated chopped onions. According to my son Oso Penzey’s has some fantastic dehydrated shallots.

1 to 2 (or maybe 3 depending) Tablespoons of coarse-ground black pepper. My preference is Tellichery. Alternatively, you can use some ground Ancho for the southwestern palate.

Mix ingredients together in the mixing bowl.  Be sure that the pepper does not clump.  It is a good idea to use wax patty papers to keep the patties apart and the burger press clean.

As I wrote when I left the blood-bait on the desk of a friend (after asking the cashier if they had crackers to go with it), “Bon appetit!”