Easy Peasy Camp Food

When we camp it seems that much activity centers around the food. The Pinterest search I did for great camp food brought up grills and skewers and lots of men standing around drooling while meat juices drip. I veered off on a completely different tack, since I had no desire to coddle a charcoal grill in 20 degree weather. I could have happily lived with cereal or protein bars for the duration, but I don’t like when people talk about how much their stomachs are groaning (Addy’s words) and it is equally disturbing when the polite child sidles up and whispers,  “Is there anything to eat?”

My game plan for this trip was to make a menu of Sustaining Foods, carefully think of portions, cook the dishes ahead of time, and not have any leftovers to bring home. At the last minute I threw in a bag of tater tots and a few packs of hotdogs with a bottle of ketchup just for a bit of  a buffer.  This turned out to be a smart move, because there were no restaurants close to the park and we were much too eager to get to our rental to spend time casting around for one. So the arrival banquet was just that. Hotdogs and tater tots. Yummy.

Here’s my Easy Peasy Camping Menu:

  • Breakfast One- Pancakes (just add water, thanks to Aunt Jemima) with some extra toppings like nutella and peanut butter, sausage patties, hot chocolate or coffee (Gabe cooked this meal. Gregory did the dishes. Win for me.)
  • Supper One- Baked potatoes with hamburger topping, lettuce, sour cream, fresh veggies-plain, because I forgot the Ranch dip. (I cooked. I mean I wrapped the potatoes in foil. The rest was precooked at home. Alex washed the dishes.) For a dessert/bedtime snack we made monkey bread, very dry because I forgot the extra sugar sauce, but tolerable when dipped in hot chocolate.
  • Breakfast Two- Scrambled eggs with cheese, cinnamon raisin toast, coffee, oranges
  • Supper Two- Taco soup with tortilla chips and shredded cheddar, assorted store-bought confections for dessert. (Is a double-stuffed oreo a confection?)
  • Breakfast Three- cereal and milk so that cleanup would be quick and easy before we had to check out.
  • Supper Three- a restaurant on the way home.

Maybe someone is interested in the snack list. Because we all know what happens with growing children. (What? You can’t be. We JUST ATE.) To minimize this frustration I took along a bag of apples, a bag of clementines, a jar of peanut butter, a hunk of cheese, some lunchmeat, extra bread and butter, and a few packs of Ramen. After we made the pretzel cabins, there were those to nibble on as well. If you didn’t like the selection, you weren’t hungry, and I heartlessly stuck to that.

This plan worked pretty well. I didn’t have to take any seasonings except salt and pepper because I had taste-tested everything in my home kitchen. Even so it seemed that we ended up with a ridiculous pile of supplies. There were just a few leftovers in the fridge after each meal, enough to drop into the cracks of the hungriest children. 🙂 Gabe thought to casually mention to me during our drive that he had invited his sister and her family for Friday night. She would bring extra food he said. That was great, only there was no cell service unless you hiked a few miles, so Ruby and I were not in touch. She brought whatever worked for her, and I heated the leftover potatoes and toppings and then she cooked our Saturday breakfast so that we were fortified with more than cereal on the drive home.

The drive home ended up being through Jonas the Storm. The restaurant meal plan was flawed, alas. “Oh well,” I told the children, “we won’t starve. We still have our cheeks.”

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And that is how it ended, our vehicle just barely off the road and a snowed-in weekend. 🙂

I have one more camping post, all about ways to make it doable with a family. Until tomorrow!

 

Underfoot or Out of Sight?

I sighed a private little gust of weariness when I saw those bags of apples on the front porch, still sitting there, getting riper and sweeter by the day. I mean, I don’t even like applesauce myself. Except maybe frozen/chunky/with cinnamon, and then only when I have pizza or casserole. I ate so much applesauce as a child, I completely filled my life-quota before I turned 16.

But my children love them some applesauce and it is about as cheap and easy a side dish as you can imagine. Not to mention “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and all that.

So there I was, walking past those apples every day and pushing them to the back of my mind because we needed to do school or we had to fold laundry or it was raining or the leaves needed raked or the seasonal clothes swap was more important or the canner was full of tomato chunks in the freezer.

This year, for the first time ever, I needed to do 3 bushels, because we had been out of applesauce for months, except for occasional batches of chunky stuff we made fresh. So yesterday I was out of stalling material, except that two of the children were mopey with sore throats and headaches. We decided to just get ‘er done anyway.

Friends, we cranked out 60 quarts in less than 5 hours. That included washing the dishes, even the nasty, sticky food mill and the canners. Just me and the kiddos. I couldn’t quite believe we were done at 3:30, but there it was. And I had flashbacks to about 10 years ago when I only did 2 bags of apples and had a 1 year old and a 3 year old who were constantly pushing chairs across the kitchen and taking bites out of random apples and sticking their fingers into the sugar. I remembered how I would be cleaning up the mess at supper time and feeling as exhausted as if I had been attempting to employ a lively flock of gophers all day.

I also recalled how tempting it was to shoo them away, the little ones who pushed chairs around me, everywhere I went for at least ten years. There were just always these chairs to trip over. The floor in front of the sink became a lake by the time the apples were washed. They wanted knives to chop and I had a special set of really dull ones with bright handles for them. They wanted cutting boards. They dropped apple snitzes on the linoleum with such regularity that I quit picking them up until we were all done and then just salvaged the whole lot of them. They insisted that they were big enough to crank the food mill, then strained and panted as they slowly turned the handle and watched, fascinated, as the applesauce squished out.

It just took really long back in those days. I am not going to pretend that I was always sweet about that. We all know better. It is a special sort of therapy for adults with an agenda to include little children in their work. If you have ever tried it, you know how all the squirminess inside you has to simply slow down and just chill, you know, because it will be all right and we have plenty of towels to sop up the mess.

Here is the thing I can’t quite get over. It only took a few years and now they can actually really help. If I had sent my oldest son out to play or sat him down with a movie every time I did a project, then yesterday he would not have known how to assemble the food mill and exactly which picnic table bench we always use to attach it to and why we do it. If I had never bought those brightly colored dull knives for them, my middle boy may never have graduated to whacking skillfully with my chef’s knife like he did yesterday. If I had never let anybody mess with water, then my girls could not have washed those apples like a boss (sorry, I just like that phrase) yesterday,  and without even needing to change clothes when they were done! I shouldn’t forget to mention that they hauled all 60 empty jars upstairs. Divided by 5, it’s not so bad!

This is an aspect that I didn’t really consider back when it was a trial to let the children help. I think I mainly involved them in what I was doing because then I could be sure they weren’t getting into trouble somewhere else. Honestly, I had no lofty goals about teaching my 3 year-old life skills. But that is how it works, and when I think back, I know that is how my mom taught me things. I have known how to make applesauce ever since I can remember because… we all had age-appropriate jobs when we made applesauce. The chicken butchering didn’t quite catch hold in the same way, no matter how much Mom said every girl should know how to butcher one before she gets married. :/

All this is just to say, you young mamas with your hands full and your long chore lists that you have to accomplish single-handedly and your small fry hovering around and breathing your air… Do you wanna work yourself out of a job? Don’t just hand them a device all the time and tell them to bug off. Let them “help”. Let them feel the importance of making a contribution in the household effort. One day you will pinch yourself when you realize that they are, indeed, making your life a lot easier and there is no need to dread applesauce day anymore.

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(Love, love The Family Circus)

Pumpkin Pots and Paint

We are walking in fresh sunlight these days. I do not take it for granted. I marvel at it and try to store it up. An art book we are reading describes warm colors as orange and red, and cold colors as blue and green. I have been working on a game plan for winter, because I know it is coming and I dread the chill and dark already. Our basement rooms have been the same color for 11 years. We drywalled and painted it grey just before Gregory was born. It’s a nice neutral color, but back then I couldn’t even imagine doing school down there with 5 children and a dog who thinks she is a child. I didn’t dream how much time I would spend in my laundry room.

I decided to liven things up a little, and I am glad I did it every time I walk into the laundry/bath room. Less than $20 dollars worth of paint (because I got one on the mistints shelf…I am cheap like that.) really made a difference. This room was off-white for 14 years. May I present to you Sunbaked Orange with the light off and with the light on. Hey, I saw you blinking. Isn’t it cheerful? This was not the mistint. I deliberately chose it while in my right mind. And yes, that space between the washer and the laundry sink is really small. When I was pregnant, it was uncomfortable. But I like my large sink for scrubbing things and rinsing bits of our property off small children, so I put up with the crack.

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(I did this painting while Gabe and the boys spent a week up north helping his dad dismantle a huge old barn. When they first talked about doing this, I weighed my options. I could sit and drink tea and read and write in a space of small appetites and little noise and bazillion paper snibbles, or I could tackle some projects on my list that I had despaired of ever getting done. I chose the latter and worked like a crazy woman. When Gabe got home, I had just finished showering off the last of the projects.)

The other room I painted Tavistock Green. I know. It’s not really a warm color, but it is a different color, and that is what I needed.

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I don’t have a clear photo, so this will have to do. Maybe you think this is still grey, but you should see the difference beside the grey wall. It just occurred to me that, being a mistint, this color swatch is not entirely accurate. I think the paint mixer person dribbled a little extra bright green into my gallon, because mine seems to be fresher on the walls.

This is one of my favorite colors in the world, and I picked it up when I saw it on clearance because you never know when you will want to paint something Tavistock Green. That was five years ago. See, I was right!

I did not go yard saling, even though it was Labor Day weekend and the roadsides were just littered with signs. I did not go shopping in Altoona, like I had hoped to do. But I did go up to Rome for 2 days to help out with cooking and whatever I could while the guys were so busily tearing down the barn. That was 8 hours of driving. And Olivia and I did our fall trek to Pittsburgh to see her specialist, so that was another 5 hours of driving after I counted in the detours and the missed exit and the bridge out at a very crucial point. One day I went to a party an hour away and back again for another 2 hours driving total. And I went to pick grapes 1/2 hour up the mountain, so I figure I put in at least 16 hours on the road in my “week off”. I also got pulled over by an officer for the first time in my life. Not that I never deserved it before, but this time seemed mild. I was just at the edge of a small town, speeding up now that I was through it, only I wasn’t through it. I was already past the “End 35” sign when I got pulled over for going 52. Bummer. There went that record. I got off with a warning because I looked harmless  wasn’t local.

The girls and I picked all our pumpkins. I wanted pie pumpkins when I bought the plants, planning to sell the extras out beside the road. This usually works out as a nice little cash crop for the boys. But this was the year for funny mistakes. Remember how the tomatoes turned out to be cherry-sized? Well, the pumpkins turned out to be Jack Be Littles. Ever so cute and decorative and… little. I roasted a bunch of them for pies and lattes, scooping out the minuscule bits of soft flesh and blending it. Then I made this one night:

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It was the prettiest dinner I made in a long time and I spent a good part of it coaxing the children to eat. What is with that?

I think I will spray paint a few of them for decor and give the rest away.

You haven’t heard the end of our mistaken identities in the garden. This was entirely my own fault. I wanted mini bell peppers because I heard that they turn colors quicker than the big ones and it always seems to take so long to grow a beautiful sweet red pepper and then it frosts on them. I bought plants labelled Cherry Bomb because the picture looked exactly like Mini Bells. When we cut into the first brilliant red baby pepper, it nearly blew us away with its heat. My mom said, “What were you thinking? Bombs? That should have been a clue!” And she was right. But they sure are pretty. My yellow Bells are ticked off about something, but the red ones have finally started turning sweet. Those are the bombs at the bottom of the photo.

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I turned a whole bunch of them into pepper poppers and they were fine, indeed. Then I called my sister-in-law Ruby for her hot sauce recipe. One bottle of Tabasco typically lasts us about 8 years, but last year Ruby gave us a pint of her homemade hot sauce, something I had never even thought of making. We are down to the last of it, in one year. It is that good. I used the Cherry Bombs for hot sauce, and in my humble opinion, I think it is even better than the stuff made with Habaneros. Still, we will need to convince the kids to join in if we want to consume 8 jars of it.

The garden is down to a straggle of late tomatoes and green beans, a total failure of a broccoli crop, some really slow pole limas, and lots and lots of sweet red peppers. And weeds. Unbelievable trees of weeds that helped themselves when we got all that rain in August and we couldn’t keep up with them. But in September we do not pull weeds. We mow them off. It is really fun.

Are you getting bored yet? Just one more quick story about this cabbage that Alex kept until it started to split. It was 18 pounds with three babies attached around the bottom. We sliced it up and packed it with salt where it is happily fermenting into sauerkraut, amassing healthful probiotics by the millions. The children don’t like kraut either, but Gabe and I don’t really care. That’s more for us. Hopefully if they see how much we enjoy the stuff, they can get past the stink. 😀

That is about all the creativity I could handle the last few weeks. We are hitting the books with renewed vigor, finishing out 25 days this week. Ahh. It’s a long road is a school term. Rita misses her carefree outdoor existence. “Do you mean I have to do this for twelve years?” she wept one morning when the flashcards overwhelmed her. Because she just turned six this summer, I am letting her off with half days, taking it slowly, letting her go pet her bunnies and look for caterpillars. She can read, and surely she will know her facts by the time those twelve years are over.

Addy, on the other hand, feels left out because she is the only one without real school books. I bought her some wipe-clean preschool materials and that helps, but still is hardly official enough for her. Yesterday she sighed gustily, “I am so tired of this ‘yong, yong’ week! Because I am still not five!” The child talks in italics. Really. Talk about drama. It is just hard being the smallest, especially when you are dead serious about something and the other people at the table smirk. And especially if you still can’t say your l’s.

Well, look at that. I have managed to stay up until my husband gets off work. Thanks for listening!

Yogurt, Simplified

Like way, way simplified. A while ago I posted a recipe that I used to make yogurt. Then I had a couple more children and life got more hectic and I didn’t have time to mess with gelatin and powdered milk. I learned a way to make it that takes one ingredient. Milk. Well, that and a starter culture from the last batch of yogurt.

When my husband was sick about three years ago, we briefly tried the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which he hated, but at any rate, I learned the only-milk method of making yogurt. (It had to be fermented/incubated 24 hours, after which the yogurt bacilli supposedly had devoured the milk sugars and left behind a product very gut healthy.)

Anyhow, here is what I do. I start with a gallon of milk, heating it slowly in a large kettle over low heat. I like to do this while I am working in the kitchen anyway, so that I can give it a stir every couple minutes. You do not want the milk to scorch.

I heat the milk to 180 degrees, F. This changes the milk proteins so they don’t curdle in the fermentation process. Then I set it aside to cool, giving it an occasional stir. A gallon of milk takes a while to cool. You want it to be about 115 degrees F. so that it doesn’t kill the yogurt culture.

If I don’t have any plain yogurt in the fridge from the last batch I made, I buy a good quality plain yogurt, making sure it contains live cultures (look on the label) and added acidophilus is even better. Once the milk reaches 115 degrees, I whisk 1 to 1 1/2 cup plain yogurt into an equal amount of milk. This helps to thin it so that it mixes easily with the rest of the milk.

I pour the mixture into quart jars, screw on lids, and set them into the oven with the light on overnight. (Shut the oven door, of course. This keeps the oven at a nice cozy temperature, just right for fermentation.) Usually after 12 hours the yogurt has thickened nicely. Plain yogurt, easy, peasy.

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Greek yogurt… that pricey stuff… is just one step away. Turns out it is more expensive because it is only half of what gets made into yogurt, and all you have to do is drain the whey to get the same result.

IMG_20150224_093457187_HDR    I set a colander on a bowl, line it with a  thin cotton cloth (in my kitchen, this is the yogurt napkin, used only for this purpose 🙂 ) and pour the yogurt in to drain. If you leave it exactly four hours in the fridge, the yogurt will now be very, very pluggy. Less time will mean slightly more sour yogurt, more time will mean you need to stir some whey back in so you don’t have to cut your yogurt with a knife. :O

I lift the napkin and gently coax the yogurt into a bowl. It peels right off, usually half of what I had before it was drained. The other half is the whey, which you can use for whatever pleases you.

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The last step is whisking the drained yogurt until it is smooth and happy. It only takes a minute, but makes your end product look really much like the Fage or Oikos that you buy at the grocery store. This gives me 2 quarts of yogurt from a gallon of milk at 2 dollars a gallon. Those little 6 ounce pots cost a dollar on sale. You do the math. 🙂

This is what my children think of the matter. With honey and peaches, of course.

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(I have no idea why some of my photos turned out so small. I am choosing to think of it as a little mystery, and leaving for choir practice now.)

Linky Love

My sister-in-law shared a link to an article that blessed my socks off and convicted my heart of ungratefulness at the same time. I have often pushed aside the thought that mothers, especially homeschool mothers, tend to whine about how hard life is, how busy, how crazy. That is because it is hard and busy and chaotic. I Signed up for This is an excellent article. I love how she points out that this is what it is supposed to be like. Only in the last century have women had so many choices to make life easier, and still we complain. After you read the first article, go here and be blessed by all the other things you signed up for. Thank you, Mrs. Gore, for the humor and logic you brought to this situation.

I have another link from a blogger friend who posted about her favorite therapy. The photos she posted of her work with pen caught my eye. I knew that my children would love trying it. They are incurable doodlers, at least three of them. Somehow they got a little confused and started calling their drawings “Pendoodles”. Gregory was learning about the ocean in his science, so he took off with that theme.

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He likes gel pens and has been drawing ocean life since he was a tot, but he never blended it quite like this. I like it.

The other son, who is getting to the age where he doesn’t like when I name him in posts, did some neat work with sharpies. Here is a sample.

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And now the sharpies are all worn out, but that is small price to pay for hours of absorbed concentration. I made a few doodles too, but I have to say that I am not a natural. 🙂

Last, but not least, I made some really amazing scones yesterday for my mom’s 60th birthday party. These are really easy, very petite, just right for a party where you want small servings. Find the recipe for Petite White Chocolate Cranberry Scones here.

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The only thing I did differently from the recipe was to make a glaze with lemon juice and powdered sugar instead of using the white chocolate. From past experience, white chocolate and I cannot come to agreement when it comes to drizzling. It is very humiliating to be beaten, over and over, by such a simple thing. Nevertheless, I wasn’t feeling top-notch and I played it safe. I am pretty sure the lemon glaze tastes better with the scone anyway.

Go ahead. You know you want them. 🙂

And that concludes the link love for today.

For a Cold Day

I am ready to switch gears here. It was quite surprising to me that our love story garnered such interest, but I thank you for hanging in there with me. 🙂 If I ever start a series again by writing in third person about myself, I hope someone smacks me.

With apologies to anyone who is on a diet, I have a recipe for you that I hope you will love. It is so cold, so snowy and blowy that even my children prefer to stay inside. This is the weather for comfort food. I really like brothey soups, but my children, little ingrates, seem to prefer creamy stuff. I decided today is not vegetable soup day (aka one slow spoonful at a time day), but creamy chicken soup day.

Years ago a tea shop served a light, creamy soup with bits of cooked orzo floating in it. When I was eating it, I kept getting a refreshing hint of citrus. I flattered the proprietor into telling me her secret; the recipe was laughably easy. She used canned cream of chicken soup, added a bit of orzo and some orange juice concentrate.

This morning I thought about that soup and decided the time has come to recreate it. It took two tries, but I think I nailed it after experimenting with various ingredients. May I present my very own

Creamy Chicken Soup with Orzo and Orange

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You start with:

2 1/2 cups chicken stock or, like I did, 2 1/2 cup water with 1T chicken bouillon

2 T orzo, (which is a pasta shaped like large rice grains)

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. onion powder

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1 shake paprika

Cook for a few minutes until the orzo is soft at the edges, but not cooked the whole way through. (It will disintegrate if you cook it too soft before you add the rest of the ingredients.)

Mix well with a whisk or in a shaker:

1 3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup flour

Slowly stir into the hot chicken stock until thickened.

Add 1/4 cup finely chopped cooked chicken.

Now for the secret ingredient:

1 T orange juice concentrate

Simmer for a few minutes, and adjust salt to taste. I didn’t add anything at this point except about a tablespoon of dried parsley. This makes about 4 small servings.

Savor with sour dough bread on the side.

Of course, you can always go the easy route like the tea room lady did, and just open a can of Campbell’s or Great Value or Fit and Active if you want.

Here’s to comfort food. May we all survive until the asparagus shoots appear.

I Can Do It Myself

My dad’s deck building business got a call recently from a highly educated professional woman who needed someone to come change a doorknob at her house. Even conceding that doorknobs can be very tricky things, you have to wonder if 8 or 10 years of higher education should not include the simple process of wielding a screw driver and reading directions.

Remember our washer deal, where the repairman gave us coupons for a new one, without even picking up a wrench or taking off a single part of the washer? My husband didn’t really have time to trouble shoot with the terribly boring repairman’s manual that was taped inside the washer frame, but he worked and worked at it, one computer panel at a time. After he replaced the transmission, there were still glitches, with it running perfectly sometimes and dropping the rinse cycles at other times, or refusing to spin, or even locking the lid and not opening it for 6 hours.

It was maddening. Our elderly neighbor had given us an enormous can of salted peanuts for Christmas. We stored them on the dryer so that Gabe could chew peanuts while he messed with that recalcitrant washer. He researched online a lot, while I, not unlike Job’s wife, kind of thought it was the computer and maybe we should give up. Just before he scraped the bottom of the peanuts can, Gabe replaced a simple little part that actually fixed all the problems. It was very, very gratifying.

I remembered this when the dishwasher started giving me grief, leaving many of the dishes on the top rack with a sandy, disgusting residue of food and detergent. I knew Gabe could probably fix it once he ever had a free weekend, but I decided to Little Red Hen it, with Youtube for my crutch. On Friday after the children were started on their lessons, I began to take it apart, one piece at a time. I found tutorials, and by lunchtime, I was down to the sump, digging my fingers gingerly in its bowels for anything that might be clogging it. Two toothpicks, about 7 popcorn kernels, a bunch of grapefruit seeds, some indescribable grey matter, and a shard of glass later, it was all cleared out. Alex helped me assemble it all and we loaded our dishes for a trial run that produced sparkling clean dishes! It was very, very gratifying.

It might be my imagination, but it seems to be louder than before. Think I should call the local deck builders about that?

Salted Caramel Sauce and Stuff

Last fall I decided the time had come to learn how to caramelize sugar and make my own sauce, seeing as my husband loves caramel. Truly, that was why I started messing with caramel. I wanted to bless him. I have never reached for the caramel sauce for my ice cream if there was chocolate available, and I never expected my experimenting to come back and bite me. My sister-in-law Becca is actually the one to blame for the whole deal, since she encouraged me to try for a perfect caramel and warned me that there was no going back.

My first batch turned out beautifully, not one hitch. The second batch burned. The third one seized up, which is pretty close to burned and inedible. Finally I produced another batch that still had sugar lumps, even though the candy thermometer was registering near-burn stage. I decided that I was beat. Too amateur in the kitchen. Besides, I was tired of washing masses of mess out of my sauce pan.

This fall I started seeing all these caramel lattes advertised and decided to have another go. I searched for a tutorial online, and found Sally’s Baking Addiction.  Following her step by step directions anxiously, I timed everything so very carefully. The result was Perfect. Caramel. With course salt mixed in, it is a delectable blend of sweet and salty. Unfortunately, it has turned around and addicted me instead of Gabe, who is more temperate than I am in many ways. He laughs at me. I cook another batch and give it away. But what if it was just a fluke? I try another batch since Fisher’s Country Store is having a sale on butter and I have lots of cream skimmed off the milk. Again, perfection.

Friends, I have nailed it! Now I can stop, wouldn’t you say? Or not. 😀

The only thing I did differently was to lose the candy thermometer and just go by the amber color to know when to add the butter. This does take some trial and error, but usually it is just right when the last of the sugar lumps are dissolved. I don’t worry about the bits stuck on the edges of the sauce pan. Oh yes, last fall I used a whisk. This fall I used a spatula and just stirred gently from the edges toward the middle. I did it exactly like Sally said because this is serious stuff. 🙂 If you have 15 minutes and those four ingredients, go try it. Do not become distracted and go look at something your husband is laughing about on Facebook. Make your children get their own drinks. Just stand there and watch that caramel. It is only 15 minutes of your life, but it will make your Christmas very merry indeed.

You are quite welcome. 🙂

Hiker Bars on a Budget

This fall I had a brain wave after I was once again disgruntled by the ickiness of a cheap granola bar, contents: oats, corn syrup, preservatives. If it is just you going hiking, you can go buy all the Clif Bars you want, but for a family of seven, this would be about the price of crowd-sized beef roast, and that isn’t how we roll around here. We love homemade granola bars, but I was wanting something not sticky, more in the line of a power bar with lots of protein. I needed it to be portable when we do outdoor sports. I needed it to be reasonably affordable. I needed it to be easy, because otherwise it wasn’t going to happen.

My idea was to combine homemade energy bites with a granola bar recipe. We loved them, but they were too crumbly to be practical except straight out of the freezer. Then the brain wave hit… why not get some quality dark chocolate and coat them, then wrap them individually, just like power bars? Now we were in business. May I introduce you to Hiker Bars on  a Budget, our not so top secret recipe that we made up all by ourselves. 🙂

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Combine in a saucepan and stir together over low heat until melted:

½ cup peanut butter

⅓ cup coconut oil

⅓ cup honey

Stir into this mixture:

1 cup rolled oats (we toasted them for 10 minutes, then chopped them up in a food mill)

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1 scoop protein powder, vanilla flavored

2 Tb. chia seeds or flax seeds/meal   (You could use more. Some of my people think seeds annoy their teeth so I go light on them.)

½ cup of any combination of chopped nuts, sunflower seeds, dried fruits, etc. Here is where I go with chopped walnuts.

a dash of sea salt and a splash of vanilla

Line an 8×8 pan with parchment paper then press the mixture into the pan with a spatula. Pop it into the freezer for about an hour so that it sets firmly enough to lift out of the pan. Cut into desired size with a sharp knife. I make 18 bars out of one pan.

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Use a double boiler to melt dark chocolate coating wafers (an 11 oz bag is ample, but you can stretch your chocolate with food grade paraffin that will also make the chocolate dry harder) then dip the pieces in it to cover the bar all around. (Keep them frozen until you are ready for this step, or you will have them disintegrating in the molten chocolate, which is not the worst thing that could happen, but just not what you are wishing for at the moment.) You don’t need more than a thin layer to hold it all together, but when you are expending a lot of energy and starving, nobody cares about 50 extra calories. Honesty compels me to say that these photos are milk chocolate and it was thicker than necessary. (Yum.) But the dark is the best.

Once the chocolate has hardened, wrap the individual pieces in parchment paper and store them in the freezer or they will definitely be all scarfed up long before the hike you are planning.

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This is not a low calorie food. For that you need celery, or you could just step off the trail and find some birch twigs to chew. According to Calorie Count, there are about 164 calories in one bar without the chocolate. They are small bars, which was the point. They don’t take up much room and they are nutrient dense. This is a power food, easily made, stored and transported in a backpack. These bars will cause the frisbee to fly higher and the bikes to pedal easier, but should not be given to children in low-key-let’s-all-just-play-go-fish-while-we-wait situations.

I have tried these with a number of variations. Gabe and Alex don’t like the sun butter ones. Once I tried sucanat to sweeten them because I was out of honey, but it was too dry and I ended up adding more goopy stuff. Gregory and I agree that any granola-ish stuff held together with nut butter and wrapped in chocolate is fine, just fine.

By my calculations, I can make a batch for less than  5 dollars. Of course, there is the time factor, but I have lots of that. 😉

Try them and tell me what you think. Better yet, add some original ingredients and tell us about them.

Life is Like That

I feel like the train derailed on this blogging thing, and now I don’t know how to hitch it back up. Oh well, maybe I will just start with this past week, in which we had our thirteenth anniversary. We believe that the best thing we can do for our children is to have a vibrantly happy marriage. So we went trotting off without any children. Do you want to know how it felt?

It felt really, really strange. And it was so much fun. You could even say relaxing. Five children seems a bit much to drop on one person, so we left the girls with my parents and took the boys up north to be with Gabriel’s parents, which was close to our destination at Watkin’s Glen. We have never camped without the children, so this time we decided to go all minimalist. One kettle to boil water for hot drinks, some cheese sticks and power bars. Apples. Ramen noodles, just in case we got too hungry before we hit a restaurant. I am not kidding. And high quality chocolate, of course. A duffle bag for each of us and bedding to sleep in the conversion van we borrowed from my folks. That was it.

We hiked the Glen and biked all the trails at the campground, then needing a little something, we shared a grape pie sundae. A few hours later we went out for Chinese. This is something you don’t know before your tots come along… Very quickly they will take up your hands wherever you go, or else you will be clutching at them to hang onto them in parking lots and stores. Taking your children to a buffet style restaurant is so… involved. The luxury of just having each other for a few days is just that, a luxury, only one hand to hold, and it isn’t trying to run away!

We slept as long as we wanted, which means that when Gabe asked me if I was ever going to wake up and it was 10:30, I actually wanted to get up. Did I mention that we relaxed? I missed the children like everything. It was so odd to read and read by the campfire and nobody complained about being hungry. Campfire cooking is really fun, but it is also kind of exhausting, keeping ice in a cooler and washing greasy pans in lukewarm water, so this was a nice contrast. On the second day we traveled north along the Seneca Lake to the vineyards, stopping enroute for dessert and coffee at  a funny little cafe, just because.

We picked 10 boxes of grapes to bring along home in just under 2 hours, then found the home of our friends, Nelson and Amy, who graciously served us a lovely supper and gave us a gorgeous guest room for the night.

The next morning it was time to collect the children in a 6 hour process that involved picking up the boys, stopping at an orchard and picking 3 bushels of apples, then coming on home for the girls. Life felt so do-able again, crazy schedules, complex responsibilities, needy people and all. It was good to get away, but it was even better to come back.

Remember the bit about the grapes and apples? There was no option but to don the apron and get to work. Half the grapes were for friends, but even so we steamed 58 quarts of juice. That should last a while. 🙂 While the steaming process was going on, I peeled a half bushel of apples for pie filling and to dry. It was a fun project, not one that I really had to do. By the end of the day, I was a little tired.

Early the next morning I lay in bed trying to decide if I had the stamina to make applesauce that day. It was a toss-up between wrapping up the canning all in one fell swoop or leaving it for another day when I wouldn’t feel like doing it either. I decided on the fell swoop, whatever that is. Alex got a day off school and we applesauced away. When the last batch was simmering on a cooker on the deck, I asked him to check on them while I ladled the sauce into jars. He thought they looked “almost ready”. By the time I checked on them, they were scorched into a brown mass on the bottom of the kettle.

It was the last rite of canning season… a hopelessly scorched kettle to scrub and soak and scrub and soak. I started in on it and quickly realized that this was the worst, horriblest scorched kettle ever. Google brought up a solution that turned on light bulbs in my head. I share this with you because I surely am not the only person who wants to throw kettles into the trash and slink away.

Just in case you ever have apples permanently stuck to your sauce pan, here is what you do: Pour peroxide into the kettle to about ½ inch depth. Sprinkle in a few teaspoons of baking soda and simmer it on low with the lid on for about 20 minutes. Touch the scorched spot with a wooden scraper and watch in delight as it lifts off the stainless steel bottom and floats gently upward.

Then you thank Jesus and pass the word along. Because nobody should spend hours scouring pans when they are dog tired from canning. Amen?

It is cold outside and the hot drinks are waiting. They are calling me to come play Settler’s. Cheerio!