Friday, November 30, 2012

Experiment #5: Curried Pumpkin Soup

Last night I made up a pot of soup with the intention of drying it to see how it 1) dehydrated and 2) rehydrated.  This is a recipe I make for myself for lunches often when I'm home alone because it's fast and easy...and Chris doesn't like it because he doesn't like curry, so I can't make it for dinners.

Curried Pumpkin Soup

1 small onion, chopped (you want fairly small pieces)
1 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup (half a large can) pureed pumpkin
1 potato shredded
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of red pepper flakes

Saute the onion in the oil for about 2 minutes.  Add the seasonings and stir to coat.  Add broth, pumpkin and potato.  Simmer 8-10 minutes.

Usually when I make this for home, I cube the potato, but for the sake of even drying and faster rehydrating, I shredded them.  You could use cubed and then puree the whole thing after it's cooled I suppose, if you like a smooth texture.

This makes a bit more than 2 cups worth of soup, which is one generous serving on the trail or 2 lunch size servings for me at home...okay I'd probably eat it all at home too...

Dehydrating: Ladle the soup onto a fruit roll tray, it should all fit on one, and dry for about 8 hours.  I slept in and mine went about 12 hours and it was over dried.

Rehydrating: Because I was doing this at home, I put 1/2 of the dried soup into a pot and covered water, brought it to a boil and let it sit with the lid on for about 20 minutes.  It didn't seem to be coming back fully so I added a bit more water and let it simmer for a few more minutes.  It might have been the pieces of onion and potato holding their shape that looked like unrehydrated bits though, but I wasn't sure.  It tasted the same as last night when I sampled a bit.

While this isn't a fully accurate test of the recipe (normal kitchen conditions rather than trail conditions) I'm convinced this will work well.  Next time I won't let it dry so long.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Experiment #4: Raspberries and cream oatmeal

My inspiration for this came from a really yummy looking recipe for raspberry cheesecake oatmeal.  To be honest, I was going to make it with cream cheese, even though I wouldn't be able to make it that way when camping, but to my disappointment, I didn't actually have any cream cheese in the fridge.

This recipe calls for large flake oats that cook in 4-5 minutes.  I did this because I wasn't sure how long it would take for the raspberries to rehydrate, and figured a few minutes of cooking would be better than eating berries with the consistency of styrofoam. (If you've never eaten a dehydrated raspberry, it's kind of nasty)  Also, I made this for 2 people, where normally I've been making a 1 serving sample.

Raspberries and Cream Oatmeal (2 servings)

1 2/3 cup water
2/3 cup oats (large flake)
1/2 cup dehydrated raspberries
1 tbsp powdered skim milk
1 tbsp granulated sugar

Put the raspberries into the water right away.  Once the water comes to a boil, add the oats and stir until cooked (should be 4-5 minutes) then stir in the powdered milk and sugar.  The raspberries will break up into individual little pieces, but that actually makes it better because it means you get berry flavour in every bite.

Conclusion:  I'm pretty picky about my oatmeal.  I can't even get through a packet of the instant stuff because the last few bites worth make me want to puke but I scraped the bowl of this.  Chris liked it too.  It starts off kind of tart, but as you eat it, it seems to get sweeter.

When I calculated how much water (okay there was no calculating. I totally guessed)  I figured the recipe on the oats calls for 2/3 cup water for 1/3 cup of oats (1 serving.) I doubled that and added another 1/3 cup for rehydrating berries and for the milk.  It seemed to work well and the end result was neither too runny or a thick glue-like glob, so yay me!  As to using large flake oats, yes it will increase fuel use to boil the oats for that long.  I'm not sure if letting them sit in a cosy for a few minutes would work, I imagine it would.  I don't have a cosy, but once I make one, I'll give it a try.  I prefer large flake oats over the instant stuff anyway, so I'm hoping it works out.

Tomorrow's experiment...Curried Pumpkin Soup...it's on the dehydrator now, so I'll let you know how it turns out.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Winter Prep for Next Season's Camping

We've been packing all of our camping gear up and putting it away for the winter.  It's my least favorite thing to do, because it means there really isn't a chance we'll try and get out one more time.

To keep myself from getting depressed, I've been thinking of things I can do to prepare for next summer, and there's actually quite a few things you can do.

1) Try out potential recipes.  Whether this means dehydrating something and seeing how well it comes back, or pulling out the camp stove in the back yard and seeing how easy it is to prepare a particular recipe with limited tools and space, winter is a great time to test drive a meal that you'd like to add to your camping menu.  Sometimes a recipe that you think would be easy to make at camp, is either a lot more work than you thought, or it just doesn't come together right on a less precise stove.  Things I've made at home that were simple, burned in seconds on the lowest setting of our camp stove, or boiled over on the lowest setting because I don't take big pots with me when camping.  It's always better to find out something won't work when you can easily find another dinner option (or head to the drive-thru.)  Also, I've made recipes that worked out well at camp, but the cleanup was a nightmare!  I'd rather not be scrubbing scalloped potato goo off a pot for twenty minutes, so over the winter, I might experiment with making them in a foil pan on the barbeque.  Red River cereal is another one that is easy to make at camp, but by the time we're finished eating, the seeds have cooled and hardened, stuck like glue to the pot.  I never remember to dump hot water in as soon as I dish it up so it can soak while we eat.

2) Stock up on camping foods you know you'll use.  I'll write another post on some of the things I'm going to watch for sales on.  The more camp-friendly things you have on hand, the easier it is to head out or a last minute trip.  If you have to head to a store and buy all your food, or spend two days dehydrating things, you could miss out on a great one or two night trip.

3) Treat yourself to a piece of gear you've been wanting/needing as a Christmas gift, or drop a few hints to your significant other. Even just making a "dream list" of gear you'd love is great for lifting the mood.  Then, if you've got some extra money and looking to treat yourself, you've got a list already prepared.

4) Book your trips early.  Few things get me as excited as knowing I've got a trip confirmed.  It gives me something concrete to look forward to, and when I'm feeling the winter blues, I can do some pre-trip planning like working out a menu.  Chances are I'll lose the notebook I made that menu in, but it gives me a bit of giddy-joy to do it.  Also, if you've always envied the people at one awesome site, you can book it and get to experience it for yourself since Ontario Parks lets you book up to 5 months prior to your arrival date. We try to do this when we have our hearts set on a particular site, or when we are camping with others and want to ensure we get side by side sites.

5) Browse the internet for potential new locations to try out.  If you've always wanted to try out a particular park or area, see if you can find someone's online trip log detailing their time there, or even better, if someone posted a video of their trip on YouTube.  (I waste  spend way too much time doing this, but it never fails to inspire me to see it for myself) You can also try your hand at using the MNR's land use atlas to find crown land for some free camping.  If you have a few potential places to go already found, and the maps printed out, you'll be ready to go without having to spend hours searching at the last minute.

So although it's depressing to count how many months until I can break the gear back out, I have lots of ways to keep the camping spirit alive over the winter.  There's always the option of hauling your snowshoes or cross country skis out and travelling around a nearby park, and trying to see what sites are the best.  I warn you, it's really hard to judge when there's a few feet of snow on the ground, but it's a good excuse to get out and get some fresh air.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Experiment #3: Peanut Butter Cup Oatmeal

Super simple.  The kids said it needed more sweetness, but I don't think adding more sugar to something that already has chocolate in it is a good idea for breakfast.

2/3 cup water
1/3 cup one minute oats
1 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp miniature chocolate chips

Bring the water to a boil, add oats.  Cook and stir for one minute.  Remove from heat, stir in peanut butter and chocolate chips.

I really like this one, but then I'm pretty much sold as soon as someone says chocolate.  Squatch agreed with me and ate his whole sample serving.  Bubbie ate about 1/16th of a teaspoons worth and said it was too bland.  I was watching her like a hawk and noted she had no chocolate in her nibble (it was way too small to call it a bite) and tried to get her to eat more.  You'd think she was two rather than almost twelve.

I tend to like my oatmeal a little less thick, and the peanut butter makes it almost pasty.  If you like your oatmeal on the runnier side, add a bit more water.

Yet again I didn't take pictures...but to be honest, it just looked like a bowl of brown goo with darker brown spots so you aren't missing much.

This was originally printed on the Better Homes and Garden's website.  Their picture is actually very nice...

Experiment #2: Noodles and vegetables

I've been having some good luck with my dehydrating attempts, but hadn't yet tried to rehydrate anything.  Today I finally gave in and threw a mixture of dried veggies into a bowl and covered them in boiling water.  They came back perfectly, and a lot faster than I had anticipated.  From everything I've seen and read, I thought it would take 15-20 minutes, but they were mostly ready in about 3.

I didn't do anything too exciting with them because I wasn't really prepared for it to actually work, so I just cooked up a small amount of rice vermicelli (takes 3 minutes) and added about 2 tsp of soy sauce and a drizzle of sesame oil.  As far as camping goes, the only thing you probably wouldn't take would be the sesame oil, unless you had a really small squirt bottle and planned to use it in a few dishes. (I love the stuff, but the rest of the family isn't quite so enthusiastic)

This is something that is pretty simple though, and quick, so I'm going to work on ways of making a better sauce for it, maybe a thai curry sauce.  You could also drizzle a bit of olive oil over it, and sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top.

The dried vegetables I used were:
broccoli
orange pepper strips
shredded carrot
tomato slices, broken into small pieces

The other day I made a really beautiful stir fry.  It was super colourful and I really wish I'd taken a picture.  Because I'd boughten some heirloom carrots, I changed things up and used a pale yellow carrot, an orange pepper, some broccoli, and some really pretty ruby chard.  The stems were bright red and the leaves dark green with lots of dark purple.  Of course, once I added the sauce, it wasn't so pretty, but still...  I know it's possible to dry chard leaves, but wasn't sure about the stems.  I'll have to look into that today and maybe do up the last of the bunch of chard before it goes bad.

More experiments coming soon.  There's a pot of soup on the stove I'm going to dry a serving of, then rehydrate and see how that works out.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Day HIke: Pigion River Headwater Conservation Area

Yesterday, Chris and I made a second attempt at finding this conservation area.  As per usual, whenever I am using my backwoods map book, where I wanted to go fell on the border of two pages, which makes it hard to use.  Thankfully, Chris's love of narrow dirt roads (almost an ATV trail) led to us finding the entrance otherwise I would have given up.

To get to the parking area, go south on highway 35 from Lindsay.  You want to turn right onto Gray Road, which is after 7A by a few minutes.  It will look like the road turns into a private driveway, but it's actually just a really narrow, bumpy road....so stick with it.  You can also turn right onto 7A, the left at Century farm road, then left at Gray Rd. You'll see the big sign for the conservation area after a few minutes.

There is a nice picnic shelter and an outhouse at the parking area, and a large board with a map.  Currently, you can't complete the main trail loop (2.9km) because the boardwalk section has been removed.  There is another option.  Head down the trail head just to the right of the picnic shelter, and when it branches, turn right.  I'll warn you now, it was really mushy in spots.  I'm talking spring run off muddy where you have to hop from log to log over black ooze and small streams.  There are lots of boards and logs thrown into the worst spots, but be aware of where you are putting your feet.  I can't imagine what this place would be like in spring, if it's this bad in late November.

Eventually the trail will come to a point where it juts back, or you can go a bit further towards a red gate and take one of the side trails, the Oak Ridges Loop.  This will take you to a 4 way intersection in a field where you can go to a really rustic outhouse (the doors had been ripped off), or you can get back on the main loop.  If you go to the right, you can go to where the boardwalk would have started (there's a rustic shelter overlooking the river) or you can turn left and head back to where the Oak Ridges trail and Pigeon river trail met and head back to your car.  We explored all these options, and the total hike was 4.3km

The trail itself was nice other than the mushy areas.  I liked walking in the open field part, except for the odd piles of animal scat.  It looked like a dog or coyote had done it's business smack dab in the middle of the trail, three times along this section, so watch your step.  There were also no garbage cans at any of the shelters along the trail.  This might be due to the late season, and wasn't that big of an issue, but carrying our Tim Horton's cups all along the trail was kind of annoying.  Normally we would have taken a bag with snacks and bottles of water, or a thermos of tea, but we didn't really think ahead this time.

For more information and for a map of the trail, click here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Recipe experiment #1 PB&J oatmeal

As I stated in my last post, I'm hoping to try out some recipes I've found for camp meals over the winter...and hopefully make a good list of things to take with us next summer.  This first experiment was from a comment I saw on a home economics blog about making your own oatmeal packets similar to the store bought ones, only for less money. I love this idea because you can also control the sugar, and you can try other flavours that aren't available any other way.  The author said her kids loved adding a dollop of peanut butter and a dollop of jelly to their oatmeal and I thought, well that would be easy to make at camp, even when back country camping.  If you have a wholesale supply store in your area, you can buy those individual serving packets of jams and peanut butter like you get in a restaurant.  If not, next time you go out for breakfast and get toast, keep the jam packet they give you.  Restaurants aren't allowed to reuse them even if they aren't used, so it would just get thrown out anyway.  You can take peanut butter in small containers, but I'm not sure how well jam lasts at room temperature.  Of course if you are car camping, you can keep a small jar in your cooler.

PB&J Oatmeal - 1 serving

1/3 cup quick oats
2/3 cup water
1 packet peanut butter
1 packet jam or jelly of your favorite flavor.

Boil the water and add oats.  The recipe on the package of oats calls for salt, but I never add it.  It takes like 30 seconds for them to simmer to completeness, or let them sit for a minute.  Add in the jam and peanut butter, stir well.

Conclusion:  Squatch, not surprisingly, loved it, but Bubbie isn't a big fan of jam so took one tiny bite and handed me the bowl.  I think she might like it better with just peanut butter.  I will also try it with Nutella for her.  As for myself, I thought it was alright.  I wouldn't want to eat a huge bowl of it, I don't think, but it wasn't horrible.  It was easy to make, and would be easy to pack for either car camping or back country.  I also like that you don't add extra sugar, just the jam.

The great thing about taking oatmeal for breakfast is that you can easily let everyone have their own flavour choices.  I have a big list of ideas for oatmeal and how to mix it up, so keep watching for more.

If you can't find a restaurant supply store, and feel weird about smuggling jam out of a restaurant, you can order them online. There are places that sell them individually, and some that sell in bulk.  I'm trying to find one that's in Canada so the shipping isn't astronomically expensive and will post links when I come across some good sites.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

November means...

...I probably won't be blogging much.  Not because of the weather, though I gotta say, it's not looking like this month will be any better than the last.  The reason I won't be around much is that I'm one of those crazy people who participates in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and hopefully will spend a fair bit of my time writing rather than hiking or exploring the wilderness.

This winter we are hoping to get the whole family cross country skis.  Chris has never tried this, having grown up within biking distance of a downhill ski hill, and he's really excited to see what the hype is all about.  I, on the other hand, did a fair bit of cross country skiing as a kid...and I pretty much sucked at it...but that's okay because it's not about technique or speed.  It's one of the best forms of exercise you can do, it gets you out exploring areas you might not be able to go with just boots on, and lets face it, it's pretty fun.  I can remember a bunch of aunts, uncles an cousins heading out on skis, and building a small fire to heat up soup or chili, and making hot chocolate.  As a kid, this was a wonderful way to spend a day.  It's not always possible to build a camp fire, especially when on a public trail, but a small camp stove would work just as well.

Finding equipment can be a little challenging, but that's one of my goals for the next two months.  If anyone has any ideas for where to shop for skiis and boots, I'd love some advice.  My mum has been buying some at yard sales, but it's a bit hard to find boots for the kids.

As I look into good trails for cross country skiing I'll post more.  I'm really excited to teach Chris and the kids, and to add another fun family activity to our winter agenda.