Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Potential Camping Recipe - Finally!

After several failed attempts to find a recipe that everyone in the family actually liked, that can easily be dried for back country trips.  Sort of.  Bubbie ate a little of it, and said she kind of liked it, but then went and had some Mr. Noodles.

The recipe came from the back of a box of Minute Rice.  I don't know why I bother buying cook books, so many good recipes can be found on packaging and product websites.  Minute Rice is such a good camp food, I don't know why I didn't think to check their website before.

So, the recipe itself is fast and easy to make at home.  

Southwestern Beef Skillet

1 lb ground beef
1 tbsp chilli powder
1 cup medium, chunky salsa
1 cup water
1 cup frozen corn 
1 cup frozen green beans
1 1/2 cups Minute Rice.
Shredded cheese

Brown beef and add chilli powder, salsa, water, corn and beans.  Bring to a boil.  Stir in the rice, remove from heat and cover. Let sit for 5 minutes.  The recipe says to add the cheese before it sits, but we added it to each serving.

So, next step is to try drying everything and see if I can figure out the easiest way to put it together at camp so as to use as few dishes as possible, in as few steps as possible. Something tells me I'll be eating this for lunches quite a bit until I get it right.  I'll post instructions when I figure it out.


Snow Day Fun


With two snow days so far this week, I'm pleased to say we managed to do some fun outdoors stuff on one of our extra days off.

Monday brought a few inches of snow, so we stuffed the kids and skis into the car and headed to Ken Reid Conservation Area for a test run.  I'll admit, I was nervous.  The first attempts at trying our kids with activities like this always end with the kids fighting and me reaching for the Tylenol.  My mum told me the first time she took me and my brother skiing, my dad swore it would be the last time.  Back then, the skis you could get for kids didn't require special boots, you had a spring that went around the back of your ankle to hold your foot in, and it didn't actually work too well.  Dad spent most of the day putting skis back on us because they kept falling off.  Luckily we didn't have that problem, but that didn't mean it was all clear sailing...or skiing I suppose I should say.

Squatch had his skis on and hadn't even tried to move before he fell over.  I didn't take this as a good sign.  He fell about every 4 feet for the first 3/4 of the 1.2 km trail.  Then it was like it just clicked and he was getting the motion down.  Bubbie's first fall resulted in tears...I'm not sure if she actually did hurt her ankle or if she was embarrassed.  She did great too, getting more detailed advice on technique from Chris, (apparently he's an expert even though this was only his second time out.)

The good news is that both of them liked it enough that after a quick snack of hot apple cider and snickerdoodles, they wanted to do a bit more so we strapped on the skis once more and did another kilometre or so.

Yesterday brought rain, freezing rain, and more rain, so we stayed inside and mourned the loss of Monday's snow.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Brrrr.....

Gotta love the Canadian Winter, eh?  One day it's +11 and all the snow has melted, then the next it's -38 before factoring in the wind chill.  It's not surprising a lot of people have been hiding indoors.  I know I have.  Just taking the kids to the bus stop is torture.  Whoever said Canadian's love the cold probably wasn't talking about this kind of cold.

When the temps rose last week, I got all excited.  I mean, it felt like we could have gone camping, (in the boler...and with a heater at night.)  I know there are people who camp in the winter regardless of the actual temperature, but I'm not one of them.  I spend half the summer in a sweat shirt, in the winter I usually have so many layers on I feel like a kid in a bulky snow suit.

Even though I don't like the cold, I dislike the fact there's only a few months of the year with good camping weather even more.  (The only thing I hate more than being cold is being eaten alive by mosquitoes and black flies...and deer flies)  You can cover yourself in a bug suit and take a screen tent for spring camping, but winter camping requires a whole separate pile of gear....and that equals a big pile of $$$.  In case you missed it, we're all about having fun but still being able to pay the bills for the month.

Last week, I was looking into those canvas, winter tents made by Snowtrekker and I confess...I want one.  The idea of snowshoeing into someplace like Algonquin or Killarney when there's pretty much no one else around sounds awesome.  So quiet and peaceful. And the thought of increasing the camping season makes me giddy.

Unfortunately, the price tag on those tents is way out of our budget.  Very depressing.  But then I started thinking about it, and really, if you go on youtube you can find tons of videos about how to make your own little box stove.  You can also make your own tent if you have a sewing machine and some patience.

I have a sewing machine...my patience isn't so great, but I'm willing to tough it out if it means more camping, so one of my projects for this year is to make a winter tent to try out next year.  I wish I could aim to have it done sooner, but even though I'm convinced I can make one for less than the $2000 or so it would cost to buy one, I still don't know how much it will cost.  It's not like there McCalls sells patterns for them.

As this is going to be an ongoing project, I'll post updates as I go.  Hopefully I'll manage to produce something that is actually usable.  If anyone has ever tackled a project like this, I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Winter Festival at Algonquin Park - February 16, 2013

Just saw the scheduled events for this years Winter Festival at Algonquin.  Looks like lots of good stuff happening between guided hikes, seminars, skating, demonstrations, a wolf howl and a BBQ dinner.  I'm hoping we get up there this year.

For the details, check out the Friends of Algonquin website.

So Much For Skiing!


As luck would have it, now that we've gone and bought the whole family the necessary gear for X-country skiing, as well as snowboarding...there's no snow.  According to the weather forecast for my area, we won't be getting any for a few days at least. 

I don't think I've ever seen a January like this.  We usually get a bit of warm weather around mid month, usually lots of rain, then it goes back to super cold and wintery.  I guess we didn't have a whole lot of snow to begin with this winter.

I wonder how a lot of tourist businesses are doing.  I know last weekend, Haliburton was hosting the Pond Hockey Tournament (or something like that) and I honestly don't know if the lakes would have been safe for it.  Snowmobiling is going to be limited with so little snow on the trails, and I think I heard Sir Sam's Ski Hill closed until we get more snow.  All in all, not a good year for towns in the area relying on winter sport fanatics to boost their economy. 

So, today, I'm thinking of dragging Chris out for a hike.  The sun is out, there's probably ice on any trail we might go to, and it would be a great time for me to fall on my butt so he can laugh at me.  Sounds like a great way to spend a semi-wintery morning.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: Lipsmackin' backpackin'


I bought Lipsmackin' Backpackin', as well as the vegetarian one, a month or so ago.  So far, I've only tried a few of the recipes but I thought I'd give my thoughts on them.

First, they are full of a ton of good ideas, with easy to follow instructions, and each recipe has the nutritional information as well as weight of the dried meal.  This is really cool.  I've book marked a lot of them to try out, and the ones I have tried were both yummy (Koolau Ridge Granola and Baja Burritos)

I love that the meals aren't fancy, or full of exotic ingredients, but my one issue with them books is that they call for several things I don't think they sell in Canada.  Mostly, this is a brand thing.  The problem is, without knowing what the product looks like I don't know how to find a suitable substitute.  I find this all the time when buying magazines like Taste of Home.  There are products we just don't get up here, or maybe we do but only in the city.  We don't even have tuna or chicken sold in foil pouches in our stores and I've gone to every grocery store in several surrounding towns with no success.  

Anyway, the complaint is fairly minor, and probably easy to get around with a little time and effort.  There's a good variety of recipes covering all three meals as well as breads, drinks and desserts.  There's even some interesting thoughts on "meal systems"where you don't pre-mix your meals into one bag.  Instead, you have bags with each type of vegetable, meat and carbs, as well as a variety of spices, then you can mix and match on the trail. 

If you aren't too sure of your ability to modify your own recipes for drying or are just looking for some good ideas, the books are definitely worth buying.  I can't wait to try out some more of the suggestions. 

A bit of catching up

Whew, finally got all the new camping gear put away, and realized I forgot to post my opinion on the Bob's Red Mill 5 Grain Rolled Cereal.  Like I mentioned before, it looks like large flake oats, but in reality has 5 grains, as the name implies.

Taste wise, it was a little different than oatmeal, but not jarringly so.  Depending on the flavour additions you choose, you might not notice a difference at all.  I only added some brown sugar and chopped pecans.

The texture was a little different.  Some of the flakes obviously soften more than oats do.  It wasn't a negative though.

I'll eat it again, no problems.  The only issue some might have with it is the instructions say to simmer 10-15 minutes.  I don't think I cooked it that long (it would have burned if I had) but for anyone on a longer trip, who's worried about fuel consumption, it might be a concern.  The increase in fiber (20% of your daily recommended amount) and the addition of flaxseed boosts it's nutritional value compared to many other hot cereals, so its worth trying.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Trying to outfit a family with X-country skis for cheap


It shouldn't have been such a big deal.  My mum already had several pairs of skis for us to choose from, one's she'd bought at yard sales over the past few years, so really, all we needed were boots to fit the family.  (She had bought 1 pair that fit Chris and a pair that might have fit Squatch, but then they moved and now those boots have disappeared.

I just want to say that someone should slap whoever's idea it was to have about a dozen different type of bindings for X-country skiing.  When I was a kid, there were the 3 pin kind that had shoe type boots that looked like they had a duck bill on the front.  Now there are all these ones with bars on the front, which look almost the same, but have enough small differences that finding a match between boot and binding leaves you feeling like Prince Charming on a search for Cinderella. 

We started our search last year, and it didn't get very far because the skis were still at my parents and we didn't know what they had...this fall we brought home the skis and started hunting second hand shops for boots.

It took two months, and finally we ended up buying one new pair of boots for bubbie, a pair of used boots with skis for me (the only pair that fit me came as part of a set), and used boots for Squatch.  The process required switching bindings between 8 pairs of yard sale skis, and a whole lot of headaches.

So yesterday, Chris and I went out for a short trip around Ken Reid in Lindsay.  He spent a lot of time down hill skiing as a kid since they lived minutes away from Sir Sam's Ski Hill in Eagle Lake but had never tried X-country.  I was a little worried, after all that effort, and expense (more than we'd planned) he'd decide 5 minutes in that he really wasn't fond of it.  The trail conditions weren't great for an introductory trip.  Ice would catch at the ski every few feet and either one leg would slide out sideways or it would just jerk you to a stop making balance difficult.

But Chris isn't one to give up and our short loop ended up being much longer than we'd planned.  I hadn't skied since I was about 12, and was huffing and puffing like I'd just hiked a steep incline, and he looked like he'd just been standing around. (Needless to say, I need to get into better shape) and he probably would have kept going if it hadn't been for me dragging myself along behind him.  

Now we just have to introduce the kids to the sport...and that is a prospect I'm half dreading.  Anyone have any advice for getting kids into X-country skiing?  Other than being patient?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hot Cereal Options

In perusing various blogs I've noticed that oatmeal is a breakfast staple when camping.  I'm assuming it's because it's easy to buy already portioned out, and is cheap, light weight, and easy to make when at camp.

If you've been following my posts you'll see I've been experimenting with mixing up oatmeal (not from packets though...) and have had mixed results.  The thing is, in attempting to eat oatmeal every morning for those experiments, I've come to the realization that if I was on a week long trip, or longer, I'd come to hate oatmeal pretty quickly.

At home, I like a variety of other hot cereals, and wonder why they rarely seem to show up on people's lists of camp meals.

Cream of Wheat - You can buy this in single serve pouches just like instant oatmeal, but lets be honest...it's not all that tasty.  I usually drop a few scoops of blueberry baby food into it, and it's much better. I don't see why you couldn't dehydrate baby food into fruit leather so it's good for the trail.  Or you could mix in some jam from a little packet.  The draw back?  Apparently, it's severely lacking in fibre, so it's not such a great choice.  I remember at one time there was a whole wheat option, and Bob's Red Mill has Organic Whole Wheat Farina (which is what Cream of Wheat is...) so I'm going to give that a try and see if it's any good.

Red River - (or variations on the theme...) You can get lots of mixed grain hot cereals, from 5 grain to 12 grain and they are a favourite of ours (except Bubbie of course.)  Squatch will eat two or three servings of it himself.  This one is the highest in fibre of the hot cereals (24% of your daily requirement I think.)  The drawback for this one is that clean up is a pain in the butt.  I'm going to give the Ziploc bag/cozy method a try with it though.

Oat Bran - I tried this for the first time when I was in the hospital after having Squatch and loved it.  A little brown sugar, some chopped pecans and yum.  It's also super healthy, high in fibre and it's really easy to make as well.  I'll give it a try with the bag/cosy too.

Granola - Normally, I only eat granola on top of my yogurt, but I also love it with milk, and I know you can make it a hot cereal as well, and there's a ton of ways to make your own to your own tastes...plus you can eat it plain out of the bag, which makes it extremely versatile.

After browsing through the Bob's Red Mill website I've found a ton more options, including one that's definitely going on my must try list - Peppy Kernels Hot Cereal.  Also, there's one that's like large flake oats, but it's also got other grains in it (5 grain rolled hot cereal)  I had to try five different stores to find this, and will let you know how it was tomorrow after I've tried some.

I know there are recipes for breakfasts using millet, quinoa, rice and pretty much any grain you can think of...kind of makes me wonder why you'd want to eat instant oatmeal every morning...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Day Trip: Snowshoeing and skating at Arrowhead Provincial Park

New Years Eve at Arrowhead...in one word...busy!  The place was packed with skiers, and families checking out the skating trail.  We didn't want to have to try and rent skis since the gatehouse was packed with people trying to do just that, so we stuck with our snowshoes and did the Stubb's Falls Trail.

If you'll remember, we hiked to Stubb's Falls from our campsite last Mother's Day and spent forever there taking pictures.  It's just as awesome in the winter, in many ways maybe more so.  The water level hadn't gone down at all, which was a bit unexpected.  There was lots of it frothing over the ledges and cutting it's way through blue tinted ice.  We took a whole bunch of pictures again.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  The trail can be accessed at one of two places, either the first parking area after the bridge, or the next road which also is an access point for ski trails and the skating trail.  We chose the first, and crossed the road and followed the trail until we came to where the Stubb's Falls Trail meets up with the second parking area.  For a while, skiers, skaters and snowshoers are all going side by side, but after a bit, the skate trail turns off and then further down the official ski trail does as well (though other trails meet up with it again by the Falls them self.)

Point of irritation...the stairs you must descend to get to the bridge over the falls means you have to take off your snowshoes.  Now, this wasn't a problem for the adults.  Our snowshoes are relatively quick to get done back up, but Squatch's took us ages since they are just a bit too small, so Chris opted to carry him down the steps.

The truth is, you don't need snowshoes.  The trail is packed and easy to walk on, at least it was for our trip.  We ended up carrying them for the last half of the loop since we were always passing people in sneakers and felt kind of stupid.

After we got back to the car, we decided to try out the skating trail.  The trail is 1.1km of flooded road looping between road two and three of the Little East River Campground.  Bubbie had to rent skates, and swears they were dull as a kitchen knife, so it took us forever to make one circuit.  Chris and Squatch made two more after us girls limped our way back to the picnic tables to sit around the fire and get warm.

There were a few handy warming shelters where you could sit and eat your lunch.  The one we stepped into was full so we didn't stick around but I did notice there were racks hanging over the wood stove for people to put their hats and mitts, giving them a bit of drying time.

Unfortunately, the tubing hill was closed but I don't know why.  There seemed to be lots of snow, but the girls at the gate house were looking pretty harassed so I didn't want to bother them for details.  I highly recommend making Arrowhead a destination for winter fun though.  The skating trail was very cool, and there are certain nights the loop is lit by tiki torches which would be very awesome.  There is also a lot of cross country ski trails ranging from beginner to expert.  Rentals are available, and the cost of entering the park ($14) is included in the cost of your trail pass (something like $33 for a family of four) so it's a bit more expensive to ski than the other options.

I am a little surprised they charge extra for trail use though.  I did a quick check to see if Algonquin does, and found there's no extra charge.  I'm wondering if maybe they need to charge to justify having staff on at times other than Christmas holidays.  Algonquin is going to have a fairly steady flow of people, but I'm guessing not many people know about the trails at Arrowhead.  It's too bad because for people coming from the city, it's easier to go up Highway 11 and get to Arrowhead than it is to get to Algonquin.

Personally, I prefer it when there isn't a ton of people around, so I'm hoping we get back up there on a random weekend to see how busy it is.  It would be nice to be able to take pictures of the falls without having to try and frame it to keep a dozen strangers out of the shot, or to have every skier we passed tell our kids to not step on the ski trail with their snowshoes (when I'd already told them that before we got out of the car, and they weren't near the ski track anyway.)  It would have been nice to have been able to sit in the warming shelter and eat lunch (not that we packed one...Mum brought a bag full of peppermint patties, and that was all we had, not even drinks.  We're really going to need to work on preparing for these trips better)

All said though, Arrowhead is a nice place to spend a snowy winter day, and I highly recommend it to anyone.

On a side note, I have pictures to post, but am having trouble getting them from iPhoto to the blog on my new computer...I'll figure that out and post them separately.