Category Archives: Outdoor Life

The Fine Art of Camping

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Howdy campers! The season is nearly upon us for some good old fashioned tent camping! I grew up camping in lieu of a lot of vacations (and think I came out ahead in comparison to some of my friends). It’s good, dirty and inexpensive family fun to tent camp, once you have the equipment investment done and paid for. Do you and yours partake in this fun-for-all excursion? The breeze has warmed up in the last week and I can smell the campfire and bug spray in the air, taste the sausages cooked over the fire and the s’mores toasting over the coals. Heaven!

N and I bought a new tent this year, and are headed out this weekend to go get us some cots (no sleeping on the ground for us), and I’ll drag out our camping bins to take inventory and stock up for the season. We also have a new camp stove, some great new spatter ware plates and mugs and bowls, and a lantern given to us by a dear neighbor. With the addition of some camp grub and beer we’re about set for our first trip, scheduled for the end of May.

There are several different levels and types of camping out there to be enjoyed.  First up is backpack camping, whereby you literally drag in all of your worldly goods on your back and therefore must be a healthy, stealthy, serious type with a mean set of packing skills. And did I mention strong? I don’t subscribe to the backpack sort of camping, my knees and back can’t take it and I need more stuff than that in order to properly rough it. Wherever would I put my french press?

Another popular type of camping is drive-in camping, state park style. This is more my speed. You pack the car with everything that will fit, and back yourself into your chosen spot at your favorite campground. Unpack car, set up tent, set up kitchen, and you’re about done. Well, almost. For me this also includes putting my tablecloth out on our picnic table, unrolling the outdoor rug outside the tent door and a wildflower hike after my first beer to forage for something to make a centerpiece out of. A girl has to have standards.

Then there’s Type 1 Glamping. My aunt does this type of camping and for the first time we’re going with them this year. It’s a solid notch above tent camping. They have a 10×20 tent that has a living room (to include a bistro set and couch) and two bedrooms, and she has martini glasses for cocktail hour, to list just a few of the things she brings. You can only imagine the set-up and tear-down that must go in to this but it sounds like a hoot (and it sounds like we’re camping with the Royal Army, what with the tents and rugs and china). I personally can’t wait, her camping trips are legendary. I’m just glad she brings her own sherpas (my uncle, namely) so all I have to do is set-up and tear-down my own spot.

Type 2 Glamping is one that I want to try when our pocketbooks are a little more flush. This is where you pack your hiking boots and overnight bag and head to a campground with tent cabins. These babies are canvas tents on a steel or wooden frame with a real floor and a real bed with sheets, an electric blanket and heated mattress pad, electricity and a heater. Some also have real windows and doors, and one ‘campground’ I read about has nice folks with a jitney that not only bring you firewood every day but will set your fire for you if you ask real nice. Meals are taken at the Lodge. Sound like your cup of chai? Check out this article in the June issue of Sunset magazine. They captured it best and I couldn’t have said it better: camping for people who love nature and indoor plumbing. Another campground I read about on the ol’ internet had comfort stations complete with saunas and heated floors. We’ve stayed here, but in the lodge, not the campground, and we seriously want to go back and camp!

I’ll have a couple more posts over the next month about provisioning our camping boxes and packing up food for our trip, and will keep you posted on our adventures over the summer. I’m hoping it’ll inspire a couple of you to get out there and try it!

Marshmallows

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Marshmallows are an integral part of the camping experience. Honestly, what kind of camping trip doesn’t involve making smores at some point in the evening (or for breakfast, or a snack…)? They’re one of the first things on my provisions list, followed by Hershey bars and graham crackers, when I’m planning to head out.

Several years ago I ventured into the territory of making my own marshmallows to accompany jars of homemade cocoa mix as Christmas gifts. The results were astounding, as far from the grocery store marshmallows as one can get. The texture is softer, lighter, almost ethereal. Dropped on top of a steaming mug of cocoa they immediately melt into a layer of marshmallow fluff, all vanilla and smooth and luscious.

N had the idea when we were staying at the cabin one weekend to actually TOAST the marshmallows. I was unsure at first, what with their extremely supple and melt-worthy quality in the cocoa. Surely they would just liquefy and fall off the toasting fork! Well, there was only one way to find out. We poured a glass of wine and dove in.

These marshmallows, when toasted over a bed of hot coals, are tricky. The outsides toast to an amazingly crunchy, caramelized coat, but the insides nearly melt. You have to work VERY quickly (and when toasting these with the kiddies watch them carefully so as not to end up dropping them in the fire) and have your chocolate square and graham cracker ready to go for prime eating and less dropping. The effort though is worth it, I promise.

Don’t be dismayed if you’ve never sallied forth into making candies. These sound daunting at first if you’ve never ventured into that realm of cooking. You don’t even need a candy thermometer if you have an instant read. Just stop and check your temperature on the sugar syrup every so often and when you have the temp, pull it and go!

Marshmallows

From Gourmet Magazine via Epicurious.com

Makes 96 (although when I slice mine I like big fat ones, so it makes closer to 50)

  • about 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 1/2 envelopes (2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup hot water (about 115°F.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large egg whites*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Oil bottom and sides of a 13- by 9- by 2-inch rectangular metal baking pan and dust bottom and sides with some confectioners’ sugar.

In bowl of a standing electric mixer or in a large bowl sprinkle gelatin over cold water and let stand to soften.

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, hot water, and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240°F., about 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.

With standing or a hand-held electric mixer beat mixture on high speed until white, thick, and nearly tripled in volume, about 6 minutes if using standing mixer or about 10 minutes if using hand-held mixer. In a large bowl with cleaned beaters beat whites (or reconstituted powdered whites) until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat whites and vanilla into sugar mixture until just combined. Pour mixture into baking pan and sift 1/4 cup confectioners― sugar evenly over top. Chill marshmallow, uncovered, until firm, at least 3 hours, and up to 1 day. ** I don’t actually chill mine – I cover it with plastic wrap and leave it on the counter. **

Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert pan onto a large cutting board. Lifting up 1 corner of inverted pan, with fingers loosen marshmallow and let drop onto cutting board. With a large knife trim edges of marshmallow and cut marshmallow into roughly 1-inch cubes. Sift remaining confectioners’ sugar into a large bowl and add marshmallows in batches, tossing to evenly coat. Marshmallows keep in an airtight container at cool room temperature 1 week.

After making them the first time, I have branched out and made flavors, swapping out the vanilla extract for orange, lemon, spearmint, peppermint, Lillet, amaretto, you name it. I have also taken the wonderful dried raspberry powder from Just Tomatoes, Etc., and stirred a cup of that in at the final moment before pouring them into the pan to set. The world is your oyster with these babies, and I strongly encourage you to try them.

I’m back.

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Hi there.

I know, I know. I haven’t been here in a while, and I apologize. I have been a busy bee, and so tired in the evenings after work and life and the dishes. I also haven’t had a lot to say: the weather has been finicky so any of my projects that I want to embark on have been on and off hold, because of the finicky weather my yard isn’t quite up to snuff and I haven’t been able to start my planter box garden yet, which I want to tell you all about once I get it going.

That weather, though, has finally decided to give us a 10 day stretch of loveliness (10 days and counting, might I add) so I’m back in the yard. You can’t keep a busy girl down for too long!

Our garden fountain sort of came unglued last year. It was a molded plastic type, the kind that you can just get all-in-one at your local hardware store for a low price. After what I can only assume has been a long time here at our happy rental (we’ve been here 4 years and it greeted us on our arrival), it literally fell to pieces. And then there was a hole on our otherwise lovely patio.

After driving to some of our local garden shops, looking on line and just not finding the perfect fountain without spending the rent on it, I decided to embark on making my own. It can’t be that hard, right? And I already had the motor and hoses from the previous fountain, the still-beating heart of our former water feature.

A trip to the hardware store with Nick netted some great results, which we pieced together over a short hour in the pottery shed there. Before long we had great fountain that was not only really fun but budget friendly and unique. See for yourself;



What we used:
-One large unglazed strawberry pot (you can use a glazed one if you prefer)
-One wide, fairly deep “bulb pot” – riff on this with whatever grabs your eye or falls in your budget, just make sure it’s glazed or it won’t hold water.
-One unglazed standard pot, ours was a 10″ pot to fit well in the bottom of the large pot and make a good seat for the strawberry pot.
-One glazed pot saucer – make sure it’s glazed because it also needs to hold water, and it needs to fit just inside the rim of the top of the strawberry pot to conceal the hose and inner workings (ours was 6″)
-One underwater pump (also called a fountain pump)
-One 24″ length of clear hose that fits the end of the fountain pump
-A tube of aquarium glue or waterproof caulking, whichever is easier to find.
-Assorted rocks and seashells, from your travels or your local dollar store/aquarium supply/hardware store (ours was a combination of all these things)

When “building” your fountain at the hardware store, take time to find a good fit for the glazed pot saucer into the top of the strawberry pot. You want it to rest fairly flush with the rim but be able to remove it for cleaning and adjustments. You also want to make sure that the strawberry pot sits firmly on the top of the standard pot when inverted and resting inside your largest pot, acting as the bowl, so you don’t have any wobbles.You’ll need to play with the height of the pots so your strawberry pot sits up high enough but not too high inside of the main bowl of your fountain. Take your time, this is the part that takes the longest and good pots are an investment.

When we got our parts home, we started by filling the holes in the bottom of the large bulb pot with the caulking and let it cure/dry for a few days before fully assembling the fountain. That was the hard part – waiting for it to dry!

In the meantime, Nick filed a notch in the top rim of the regular, unglazed flower pot for the motor’s power cord, so the pot could be inverted over the motor and not sit at an angle, as the strawberry pot sits on the top of the inverted pot and it should be level to avoid disaster.

Together we threaded the length of hose through the bottom of the inverted pot, the bottom of the strawberry pot, and coiled the hose into the main strawberry pot cavity. Using a masonry bit, Nick drilled a hole in the middle of the glazed pot saucer, just wide enough for the clear hose to fit through snugly. We didn’t caulk the hose into the saucer so the whole lot could be disassembled if needed.

Once the caulking in the bowl was dry, we laid the pump motor in the bottom of it and attached one length of the clear hose to the pump, threading the hose through the bottom of the pot, and laid the inverted standard pot over the top of the pump, taking care to get the notch in the rim over the power cord. Next we threaded the clear hose through the bottom of the strawberry pot and rested the pot on the top of the inverted pot, making sure it was firmly seated. After threading the hose through the hole in the bottom of the glazed saucer, we filled the fountain, plugged in the motor, and placed our pretty rocks and shells in the saucer on top and in the bowl below, around the inverted pot.