Friday, May 29, 2015

Cooking in the Wilderness Part 1: DIY Cup and Pot Cozies

My husband and I dated more on the trails than we did in restaurants or movie theaters, and we are trying our hardest to pass our love of nature down to our four kids.  We take them hiking or backpacking on pretty much every free weekend with tolerable weather. 

Friends often ask what our "secret" is to getting our kids to go along with our adventures. How do we get them to not whine the whole time? Do the kids carry their own stuff?  And probably the most asked, "What do you bring to eat??"

Hundreds of articles, blogs, books and discussion boards are dedicated to troubleshooting feeding your family--while under the comforts of your own roof.  Take away the comfort and the roof, and the task may seem downright impossible.

For us, the learning curve has definitely been steep. Hopefully I can take some of the elevation gain out of your learning curve by sharing our knowledge.  On our last couple of backpacking trips, we actually looked forward to each and every meal we brought to eat. Real food IS possible on the trail or at the campground. Man cannot live by granola bars alone.  

I am going to share some of our discoveries in my blog post series: "Cooking in the Wilderness."  
  1. First, (in this post) I will share a DIY project for making what should be the 11th Essential when packing for a camping trip:  CUP AND POT COZIES. 
  2. Second (in a soon-to-come post), I'll share what we have learned making and using HOMEMADE ALCOHOL STOVES.
  3. In a third post, I'll share tips and recipes for PLANNING MEALS FOR CAMPING AND BACKPACKING with your family.

Cup / Pot Cozy Tutorial 
Most trail food that you will cook will be in a pot. Why? Because most of it will need to be boiled or re-hydrated to become edible.  I'll cover more about this in my meal planning post, but trust me on this. Hot cocoa, oatmeal, soup, rice, pasta----all of these require a POT of boiling water to make.  But so often it is windy and cool and by the time we all get our meal into a cup or passed around to us to take a bite out of, it has already cooled down (yes, we sometimes eat out of the same pot--you'd do it too to avoid cleaning dishes when it's 40 degrees outside!).  

However, NO LONGER are cold camping entrees a problem for us! We made pot cozies from rolled foil insulation, so as soon as our food is ready, we put the lid on it and place it in its custom pot cozy! Hot meals do the body, the spirit, and the psyche good in the wilderness. 

We went a step further and made each of us a cup cozy. When we aren't all eating out of the same pot, we each have our own cup (made from a re-purposed steel vegetable can, sharp edges removed), and each cup has its own cozy!  It is AMAZING how long our food stays hot now! No need to eat quickly. It stays so warm, it actually slows us down--a good problem to have! 

You will need: 
Permanent Marker
Good Scissors
Metal Pot or Cup

1. Mark the height of the cup, minus 1/4 inch, on a straight edge of the bubble foil insulation.

2. Roll the insulation around the cup and mark the circumference, plus 1/4 inch, with the marker.

3. Connect the marks with straight lines and cut out the rectangle.

4. Measure and cut a piece of foil tape the same length as your bubble foil rectangle.

5. Foil tape has a paper backing that must be removed to expose the sticky side. Overlap the bubble foil onto half of the width of the foil tape and carefully peel away the paper as you stick the tape to the bubble foil.

6. Fold the tape over the bubble foil and smooth out.

7. Measure and cut a piece of foil tape by folding it around the width of the bubble foil rectangle.

8. Carefully place the width of the rectangle over half the piece of tape, leaving half the width exposed.

9. Wrap the bubble wrap around end to end to form a cylinder and stick it to the exposed tape. Wrap the rest of the tape around to the inside of the cylinder to close the open seam. 

10. Place the cup into the cylinder.

11. On a new piece of bubble foil, trace a circle around the circumference of the cozy with the cup inside. 

12. Cut out the circle.

13. Place the circle on the bottom of the cup inside the bubble foil cylinder.

14. Measure and cut foil tape around the bottom of the cylinder.  Carefully peel away the paper as you stick half the width of the tape to the base of the cylinder. The other half of the width will be exposed and sticking up (with the cup upside down). 

15. Cut slits every inch or so around the exposed tape, creating little tabs.

16. Fold the tabs down over the bottom of the cozy. 

And you are done! You have a completed cup/pot cozy. 

Here is one of our pot cozies.  The method to make a cozy for a pot is exactly the same, except you need to measure and cut out notches for the handles of the pot. 

See how the pot rests nicely in its cozy with the handles free to move? 

Finally, an action shot taken in the actual wilds of Washington. :)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Natural Energy Bites

Summer is coming, and if your family is like mine, we will be on the GO! Vacations, camps, swimming lessons, hiking and camping are all on the agenda.  

So I developed these yummy and nutritious Natural Energy Bites. I've seen similar products in the health food section at the grocery store--Aussie Bites, Simple Bites, Somersaults--and all are yummy. But we can devour lots of money's worth of those in a short amount of time. 

You can make these bites and store them in the fridge or freezer all summer long. My family loves them. My neighbors love them. I took some to my physical therapist today--they loved them!  Have I convinced you yet? 

If not, here are more reasons to love these nutritious morsels: 

* Refined Sugar-Free
*Made with Coconut Oil (a healthy fat)
* Gluten Free
*Wholesome, Natural, Easy-to-find Ingredients
*5 Grams of Sugar and 85 calories per FOUR snacks

Here's how to make 'em: 
The healthy winning line-up. Many, if not all, of these ingredients are probably staples in your pantry. 

The tools used to make the cute little uniform bites: 
Wax Paper or Parchment Paper and an Apple Corer.

Beat coconut oil and honey. Add the egg and mix well.

Put nuts and dried fruit in food processor and pulse until... looks about like this. It's okay for a few larger chunks to remain.

Stir the processed fruit and nuts into the oil and honey mix.

Measure 1 cup of old-fashioned oats into the food processor or blender. 

Pulse until mostly milled into "oat flour."  Add baking soda and pulse a few seconds more. (No need to wash your food processor between the fruit/nuts and the flour--it all ends up together in the end!)

Mix oat flour mixture, remaining 2.5 cups of rolled oats, vanilla, seeds, and coconut (if desired) into the wet mixture until well incorporated.  Dump entire bowl onto wax/parchment paper.

Place a second piece of wax/parchment paper over the dough and roll to 1/2 inch thick.

Here it is all rolled out.

Use the apple corer to place the "bites" onto a prepared cookie sheet. 

Bake at 350 degrees for 7 minutes. Check at 6 in case your oven or pan cooks faster than mine. 7 was perfect for me. They should rise just a bit and be light brown around the edges. Cool completely.

No "empty calories" here! Full of goodness!

Natural Energy Bites
Makes 168 bites

1/2 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup honey
1 egg
1/2 cup nuts (if using roasted and salted, omit salt)
1/2 cup dried fruit (dates, raisins, dried cranberries, apricots, etc)
1 cup oatmeal ground into flour (grind in blender of food processor)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup chia, flax, or other seeds of your choice
1/2 cup coconut flakes (optional)
2.5 cups old fashioned oatmeal

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Beat coconut oil and honey. Add egg and mix well.
3. In a food processor, process nuts and fruit together until chopped very small. Stir this into the oil and honey mixture.
4. Stir oatmeal flour and baking soda together. Add to wet mixture. Stir in vanilla.
5. Stir seeds, flakes, and remaining oatmeal. Dough will be thick.
6. Dump dough onto wax/parchment paper. Place another piece of parchment on top. Use a rolling pin to flatten to a uniform 1/2 inch thickness.
7. Using a apple corer, cut out the "bites" and place 1/2 inch apart on cookie sheet.  Bake for 7 minutes. Cool completely.
8. Store in a zipper seal bag in the pantry, fridge or freezer--depending on how quickly you expect to eat them. Recipe doubles well. :)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Ruffled T-Shirt Tutorial

I have a confession: I'm a bit of an online boutique junkie. I can shop for me, my kids, my mom, sisters, friends, neighbors--all from my home! And the styles are always so hip and trendy--so I (hopefully) don't look like I haven't been in a mall in over a year!

I have another confession: I'm a bit of a cheapskate.  If I see something at an online boutique that I could make fairly easily for a fraction of the price, I'm not buying it. This was the fuel behind my desire to make this trendy, fun, and flattering shirt. 
I saw similar shirts last week at an online boutique for $24. Not a bad deal, but I had a pretty good idea that I could make my own from a shirt and fabric I already had--so it would cost me $0!

Here's what you need: 
  • A solid-color, fitted t-shirt. (TIP: This is a great way to make use of any shirts that have little mouse-holes in the front around the bottom of the shirt.) 
  • 1/3 yard flowy/silky fabric--chiffon, modal, thin jersey knit, or poly-blend (You won't use all of this yardage, but if you are buying fabric from the store, I'd get this much. If you have scraps already, look ahead to the measurements to see if you have enough).
  • Chalk
  • Corresponding thread, scissors/rotary cutter, measuring tools, pins, sewing machine

1. Put on the shirt and mark your waistline (at your navel) with chalk on the front of the shirt.

2. Mark the back of the shirt just above your bum. This will achieve the slightly high-low look (so the shirt falls lower in the back). 

3. Cut the back of the shirt from side seam to side seam.Then cut the front of the shirt starting at the side seam and curving up to the chalk mark and back down to the other side. 

4. Prepare your ruffle fabric. Measure the front of your shirt width. Multiply that by 4. This is how long your ruffle piece should be. Cut an 8 inch wide piece of fabric. If you need to piece two strips together, just make sure they are the same length. The seams can be lined up with the seams on the shirt when you attach it. 

5. Sew right sides together at the ends to make one big loop. Finish the edges of your fabric (if you are using a fabric that frays), with a rolled hem. 

6. Sew a gathering stitch along one edge of the fabric. Pull the bobbin thread to gather the ruffle to the same width as your shirt. 

7. Pin the ruffle to the shirt, wrong side of ruffle onto the right side of shirt.  Be generous with the pins. Be sure to match the seams of the ruffle to the shirt side seams. Sew a zig-zag top stitch across the pinned gathers to attach the ruffle to the shirt. I made two passes to make sure it was sewn securely. 

8. Measure and cut a 4 inch by 5 inch piece of fabric for the pocket. 

9. Press and pin a 1/4 inch double fold around the entire pocket back. I used one factory-finished edge, so I only did one fold on that side.  

10. Top stitch what will be the top of your pocket. 

11. Pin the pocket to your shirt. Again, be generous with your pin usage. You want your stitches to be small and close to the edge.

Done!  You have a fun and frilly shirt! Cute with jeans or shorts, pencil or maxi skirts! Great way to accentuate your true waistline and hide any "extra" you don't want to show off underneath!