Wednesday, 14 June 2017

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 minimising 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.

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. 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 by 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.

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.

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 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 by 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.

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. Get the sort 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.

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.

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 poundstore. 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 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. It 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.

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.
 

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. 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.

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. You will need a non-metallic cake slice 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”.

Food Processor, Blender, Liquidiser.

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

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Monday, 5 June 2017

Preventing Terrorist Attack.

The primary means to counter terrorism are policework and defence in depth. “Policework” encompasses the fields of surveillance, investigation, intelligence gathering and patrolling. Note that most of these activities are the province of law enforcement and intelligence agencies rather than that of the conventional military. To put it another way, preventing a terrorist action is achieved in the same way as the prevention of any other criminal activity.
It is interesting that many of the voices I see demanding that “something be done” after a terrorist attack are the same that so loudly complain about police and intelligence services attempting to do their jobs. A large chunk of our society wants to “cut off the nose to spite the face” and bend over backwards making excuses for our attackers.

Suppose, for example, an individual is suspected of being involved in terrorist-related activities. The first thing that needs to be done is to investigate if these suspicions have any veracity. The only way to do this is surveillance and investigation. It may be necessary to follow that individual. It may be necessary to investigate his friends, acquaintances and contacts. It may be necessary to read his mail or monitor his conversations.  Such things are necessary if terrorist attacks are going to be prevented. They are also necessary to establish the innocence of a suspect.

Think about this the next time you read the latest “scandal” that our intelligence services tapped a phone. How can you demand that they do their job when you simultaneously bind and blind them? After attacks there are often complaints that “known extremists” were operating, ignoring the lack of legal options that could have been used on them.

Do not misunderstand me. Civil liberties, freedom of speech and privacy are all important. A healthy society balances the requirements of the individual and those of the many. Our police and intelligence services do need overview and culpability. An overview panel should be drawn from all of the major parties. The panel would prevent information and resources being used for personal or partisan agendas. Unlike the public hearings in favour in certain circles the panel would not be used to generate publicity for its members.

In many worldviews criminal activity and terrorist activity are distinct. Organised crime groups can be just as serious a threat to public safety as terrorist groups. Certain terrorist groups are active in organized crime and many criminal groups will use terrorist tactics and weaponry. Criminals and terrorists can be countered using the same tools and techniques. In some countries the responsibilities for surveillance, investigation and intelligence gathering are spread between half a dozen or more agencies. There may be unproductive lines of demarcation between them and sharing of information may be variable.

Since terrorism and criminal activity can be countered in the same way it would be prudent for the relevant sections of police and counter-intelligence forces to act together. Ideally this would become a chimeric “corporation” that gathers and processes data from local, national and international sources. It would deal with both criminal and political threats. Personnel would be drawn from law enforcement, intelligence, military and civilian career paths.

More efficient support of investigation, surveillance and intelligence gathering will help prevent terrorist attacks. No human system can be expected to be perfect, however, which brings me to defence in depth.

As I have stated in my books and other posts, the reason shootings and stabbings occur at schools is that our schoolchildren are unprotected. Machete attacks occur in public places because the attackers know their victims will be unarmed. Gunmen shoot into crowds because they know no one will be shooting back. Bombs get planted because they can be. Soft targets invite attack.

In 1940 Britain lived in fear of sudden Nazi paratroop attacks. The solution was bands of local armed volunteers who were to become the Home Guard. If such attacks had ever occurred these men would have taken up their rifles and held the invaders until reinforcements could arrive. Incidentally, many Home Guard units kept their arms caches separate from the local police station since they knew the police station would have been a priority enemy target.

Modern “pop-up” terrorists attacks are actually a similar tactical problem to the anticipated Nazi paratroopers. The difference is these will emerge from the crowds rather than down from the sky.

Where is our “defence in depth”? Where is our local defence response? How often do you see even a single policeman walking around a public area? And if there is one, it is likely he has nothing more than a handgun or tazer. If something happened in your area right now, how long would it take an armed squad from the local station or barracks to reach you?



I recently visited a museum with my girlfriend. On entry her bag was checked but the cardboard box I had under my arm was ignored. It held a new laptop, but the box could easily have accommodated an AK47 and a few grenades. The “increased security measures” in this building at the moment are that an unarmed, overweight security guard asks for my photo ID.

Defence in depth is about effective security precautions and being able to back them up in a timely fashion.

Yes, it may mean more searches. It may mean random traffic stops. There may be more armed police on the streets, or even military.

I often hear bitching about police looking too military. I am more concerned with them not having sufficient means or dispersion to deal with threats. On the rare occasions I do see a police officer with an SMG I am more concerned that he does not appear to be carrying any reloads.

My suggestions have been misinterpreted as being that I am advocating martial law. Quite the contrary. I am suggesting that we make better use of available resources by using the military to support the police.

You may not like surveillance cameras. You may not like being delayed by a search. Weapons detectors at schools may make you “uncomfortable”. It is time to grow up to the facts that the alternatives are worse.

The Books

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