Living Outdoors in the Pacific Northwest Style

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Live Outdoors!

My Style of Camping

Last year, on the eve of June’s first camping trip, I was so excited for her. I kept saying “we are going to live outdoors for a few days”. Referring to camping as “living outdoors” feels right. I never connected with the idea of “roughing it” and “glamping” has a trendy sense to it, but “living outdoors” is more my style.

June's first day camping.
June’s first day camping.

As a child growing up in Oregon, we spent weeks every year camping. Everyone in my family(except me) enjoyed hunting and fishing. But, I always loved any exposure to raw nature and if it meant fresh kill in the camp, so be it.

Last Child in the Woods

Fast forward to my modern, adult, city life and the pull of nature is even more intense. I, of course, love to hike and such. But, there really is nothing like staying multiple days outside in the elements.

When Caleb and I lived in Bend, we enjoyed hike-in camping. On a hot high desert summer night, without AC, we would load up our large backpacks, hiking poles, jet boil and some simple food stuff; along with a light tent, sleeping bags & mats and head to the high Cascades for the night. You can’t beat the beauty on those types of overnighters. But, even though the gear is simple, it’s still a great deal of effort for just a night.

Moving On Up

Upon moving to Portland we decided that we wanted to start car camping. We could stay longer, explore more areas of Oregon with a variety of people and really live outdoors. I decided to devote a Saturday in early spring to shopping garage and estate sales found on Craigslist, looking for a more extensive camp set-up than our hike in stuff. One estate sale proved to be the mother load. Apparently the recently deceased were Military Medical Personnel and enjoyed camping. I found almost a complete vintage camping set-up for under $60.00. It was a real score! Over the years we have added several key modern pieces to our set-up.

The hub of daily activity in our camp.
The hub of daily activity in our camp.

The Outdoor Lifestyle

What does live outdoors mean? It means, whatever activities you love to do, you do them in an open air environment. The past five years we have enjoyed the discovery of different hacks that allow us the best change of scene possible. Our camp sites tend to be a series of mini-environments that support relaxation, fun and gourmet meal prep in an environmentally conscious way.

It’s a good idea when camping with families including children to give special attention to a variety of activities that expend some energy and engage with the surrounding environment. Having things to do during active times and quieter times helps with the greater relaxation of the whole forrest. With June added to the mix, we’ve looked for ways to incorporate a baby in the camp.

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A few sheets of decorative paper, a glue stick and a pen help with quieter times.
Bring some string to hang items for baby.
Bring some string to hang items for baby.
Catching minnows in Wallowa Lake.
Catching minnows in Wallowa Lake.

Each year we aim to visit several areas around Oregon staying a minimum of three nights and up to a week. Food is important. And in an outdoor setting, it can be even more satisfying. A carefully thought out meal, prepped over a flame and shared along with the bounty of nature is memorable to all. Being gluten free and quality conscious, you won’t find a lot of packaged foods in our camp sites. Instead, we make hearty, traditional camp breakfast with excellent coffee and serious bloody mary’s. Simple, quick lunches that allow for maximum relaxation & activity time. And more complex group dinners cooked fireside with an emphasis on flavor. And of course, dessert!

Coconut curry over rice
Coconut curry over rice
Campsite Bloody Mary.
Campsite Bloody Mary.
Gluten Free blueberry waffles.
Gluten Free blueberry waffles.

This Is How We Do It

Over the years we have become pretty stellar at setting up a sweet outdoor living space with friends. At our last camp trip in 2016, my friend urged me to start a blog to share these tips/hacks and inspirations with others. This really was the push for Itsy Bitsy Beautiful to begin.  I decided to set the posts up under categories within the camp sites:

 

Camping Prep

Set-up

Food 

Fun

Comfort

Hacks

 

Juice Cubes

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I’ll try it!

In a few years I will be able to say that the majority of my life has been spent eating a diet full of holistic, natural, fresh foods with tons of benefits. In addition to all those lovely foods, I’ve tried a multitude of home remedies, cleanses and programs in an effort to optimize my daily sense of health. I browse the many ideas on goop and can say “check; check; check”. Been there done that.

Power Juicing

One thing that I have always loved and fall back on frequently is juicing fresh, raw fruits and vegetables. I’ve owned a juicer for almost twenty years. (not the same one). I think I’ve gone through three or four. The past ten years I have had two Jack LaLaine power juicers and feel like they get the job done.

One thing that everyone that juices can attest to is the work that has to go into it. Hence, in most cities, a fresh pressed juice will cost somewhere in the range of $7-11 a pop. Ouch! But, there is a lot of work that goes into it! So I get it.

Worthy Cravings

When I pregnant with my first child I went walking in Forest Park almost daily. It was fall and the air was still a bit warm, but the leaves were turning their various colors when I got the scent of fresh, green in the air. This green scent became my first official pregnancy craving. I pretty much ran out of the forest to my car in search of something that would impart that scent onto my pregnant palate. So I cruised down the street to a little juice stand I knew to be hidden between a floral shop and a conveinence store. Alas, a sign was posted on the door “back in 15 minutes”. Darn it all!

It’s hard to know what to do when you see signs that say that. If it said “back at 12:30” it would make my next move more clear. But, when it says back in 15 minutes you never really know when that 15 minutes started. And, as I know from employing millennials, fifteen minutes is in the mind of the beholder. Of course, I understand the people need breaks. But, I also was a pregnant lady experiencing my first legitimate craving and I know I needed a fresh juice!

I gave the employee the benefit of the doubt and waited in the car for fifteen minutes. To my dismay, no one showed up (millennial!) Plan C: drive to the co-op to purchase the fresh produce and juice at home. I hit the gas, now feeling the full impact of the craving, and proceeded to drive over a small, curb/island of concrete. The perfect fit for my low profile sedan, I easily bottomed out with a audible crack. Foot on the ignition, more plastic cracking. And away we go!

Cravings Rule

After that first experience, Caleb and I came to appreciate my cravings. They were few and actually pretty healthy. But, they were real and needed to be catered to almost immediately. Green juice, orange juice and turkey, mushroom, swiss cheese rolls from tula gluten free bakery had the keys to my kingdom for nine wonderful months.

Now, as I prepare for pregnancy number two, I wonder which things my body will crave. I know that fresh juice is bound to be one of the cravings, and I’m glad for it. But all the hassle of cleaning the produce, juicing and then cleaning the machine. Doing all that work while pregnant, with a toddler making demands sounds exhausting. So, I wanted to create a short cut that will help me get what I need, when I need it, without all the hassle.

Batch Task

I figure if I could juice in large quantities one time and easily preserve the juice, I could find a happy medium. This has led me to lovely green juice ice cubes.

Instructions:

  • Buy the produce of our choice (many juice recipes can be found on-line).
  • Juice it up in your juicer or high powered blender (adding a bit of water to the blender as needed).
  • Pour juice into silicone ice trays to freeze. (Silicone ice trays are important so the cubes don’t crack.)
  • Store in an airtight container in the freezer.
  • When ready to have a fresh juice or a smoothie with fresh juice in it, add 3-4 cubes to a blender with either unfiltered apple cider, concord grape juice or coconut water (for a green juice drink) or with smoothie ingredients like almond milk, a banana and protein powder. Blend until smooth. Enjoy!

This had ended up being so darn handy that I have also frozen a medicinal toddy of lemon juice, ginger juice, orange slice & a dash of cayenne. When we feel like we need a boost to our immune system, we brew some decaf black tea and add 2 cubes. A shot of bourbon and bit of honey can also be added to great effect. Super easy and super yummy. Just what the pregnant lady needs!

 

5 ways to get more fruits & veggies while camping

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5Breakfast Bowls – Fresh Fruit


On the sweet side of breakfast, it’s easy to add fresh fruit like blueberries or pit fruits. They seem to hold up well in a cooler and can be added to granola, cereals or pancakes. I also keep small jars of superfoods, like goji berries and protein powder, on hand to add a bit more punch.

4Breakfast Hash – Collard Greens

The options are literally endless here. But the basic idea is potatoes, eggs and ___. I suggest collard greens since they are cooler proof. Simply slice or tear them apart, blanch in a bit of boiling water for a few minutes. Drain (throw the water into your dish bin). Add the collards to your home fries or potatoes. Stir, cook for a bit longer & enjoy!

3Butter Lettuce – A Modern Miracle

It’s alive and will stay that way in your cooler for days. This is a true camping revelation! The container helps keep it from getting crushed and the roots keep it alive. Add this to a tasty tuna fish sandwich; make a salad; or if your like me just nibble leaves when you feel you need to freshen up on the inside.

2Canned Spinach – Popeye was right!

Easy to transport, easy to add to almost anything savory. I’m thinking potatoes and eggs; but I’m also thinking pasta or beans. How about with some with cut up fresh grilled sausages? Lovely with fish. Is there any reason not to bring a can of this along on your next trip? Just drain it well and be strong to the finish.

1Yum Bowls – A family favorite

In Oregon we have a homegrown franchise called Cafe Yumm. Years ago, when they were pretty new, someone passed a handwritten recipe of something like their signature sauce. We have been making it for our family gatherings ever since. It’s a crowd pleaser. The sauce is super nutritious and tasty. It goes well with so many things, but the usual dish is a rice bowl with protein, vegetables, cheese and salsa. Everyone makes their own thing. Prepare the sauce at home. It makes a great first night camp dinner if you buy a rotisserie chicken and shred it at home, then just lay out all the ingredients and everyone dig in. Just beans are tasty too. Suggestions for veggies:  red bell peppers, cilantro, avocado, cherry tomatoes, arugula.

 

Hell’s Canyon Camping

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The view from here.

Our Little Patch of Hell

The area known as Hell’s Canyon between the border of Oregon and Idaho is aptly named. Without the lifeline of water running from the Snake River and filling large man-made reservoirs between man-made dams, this place would be a good place to go if you wanted to test your personal stamina in harsh conditions. Which seems perfect for an extended family camp trip. My Dad, a true outdoorsman for life, doesn’t live far from the area on the Idaho side & for years he has made camp there just North of the Oxbow Dam on a stretch of land called Big Bar.

With my Dad, a true outdoorsman. Inspiring!

 

The Best Produce For Miles

What was once a thriving fruit orchard (circa 1910), to which people would travel from miles around during the summer months, is now a bit of an recreational oasis in the canyon. Unlike a few campsites that you pass on the road, there is no current irrigation in Big Bar. Which means a lack of the color green to help convince your body’s thermometer that you aren’t in something akin to a Dutch Painter’s (circa 1650) interpretation of Hell. And unlike the complex imagery of Hieronymus Bosch, Big Bar is a simple affair of a campground, boasting only vault toilets and few other amenities.

For what it lacks in lushness & potable water, Big Bar makes up for in a still thriving fruit crop of plum, apricot, apples and wild blackberry & wildlife sightings. When in season, it can feel downright paradisiac with all the fruit hanging around. It’s easy to get excited about a camp breakfast when it includes a fresh picked, fruit drizzled with a quickly made fruit syrup.

It’s not uncommon for people to come totally prepared to preserve fruits while in camp. One year we met a father and son team who came down with a ladder, a dehydrator and a complete canning set up. They didn’t even bother with a tent, but reserved any available room in their vehicle for the jars and bags of fruit they would bring home.

They chose wisely, since sleeping out under the stars in Hells’s Canyon pays big dividends in stargazing and overall personal comfort. The temperature doesn’t really dip below 55 degrees on a warm, summer night and the lack of electricity leaves a light pollution free sky viewing experience.

See that sun creeping over the rock? You will bake soon!

Although, the fruit, when ripe, does tend to bring a sizable population of small, brown bears to Big Bar, this is merely a side note and won’t require any Alaskan reality show skills. They are only interested in the fruit. Our timing for harvest was a bit early and our group had to make due with a handful of barely ripe apricots. But, that doesn’t mean we went without.

Fish Fry Here Too

The waters of the reservoir are teeming with fish that jump and pretty much skip about. A constant background noise that delights the young and old alike. My family enjoys fishing for bass and some trout while down there. A fish fry can pretty much be a nightly thing. Many folks bring boats to access the water’s various areas, allowing them to take in more of the canyon and fulfill a need for speed via watercraft sports.

Our shady little kitchen.

The Water is Fine (most of the time)

On a drought year you can be disappointed by the water’s plague of blue-green algae. Which, as you may know, is considered unsafe to swim in. A real bummer when your sitting in Hell’s Canyon summer heat. This year, water a plenty, we happily swam, floated and cliff jumped into the waters. It’s a good idea to check water quality annually before you make the drive.

And speaking of drive, it’s gorgeous. Give yourself a wee bit of extra time to stop in Baker City’s historical downtown and the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in between the canyon and the highway. Worth it.

Stay Cool!

 

Our “sassy beast” Land Cruiser taking in the view.

 

Chocolita Bars

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Layers of sweetness to enjoy under the stars.

Our Little Patch of Hell

The area known as Hell’s Canyon between the border of Oregon and Idaho is aptly named. Without the lifeline of water running from the Snake River and filling large man-made reservoirs between man-made dams, this place would be a good place to go if you wanted to test your personal stamina in harsh conditions. Which seems perfect for an extended family camp trip. My Dad, a true outdoorsman for life, doesn’t live far from the area on the Idaho side & for years he has made camp there just North of the Oxbow Dam on a stretch of land called Big Bar.

Hell has a view.

The Best Produce For Miles

What was once a thriving fruit orchard (circa 1910), to which people would travel from miles around during the summer months, is now a bit of an recreational oasis in the canyon. Unlike a few campsites that you pass on the road, there is no current irrigation in Big Bar. Which means a lack of the color green to help convince your body’s thermometer that you aren’t in something akin to a Dutch Painter’s (circa 1650) interpretation of Hell. And unlike the complex imagery of Hieronymus Bosch, Big Bar is a simple affair of a campground, boasting only vault toilets and few other amenities.

For what it lacks in lushness & potable water, Big Bar makes up for in a still thriving fruit crop of plum, apricot, apples and wild blackberry & wildlife sightings. When in season, it can feel downright paradisiac with all the fruit hanging around. It’s easy to get excited about a camp breakfast when it includes a fresh picked, fruit drizzled with a quickly made fruit syrup.

It’s not uncommon for people to come totally prepared to preserve fruits while in camp. One year we met a father and son team who came down with a ladder, a dehydrator and a complete canning set up. They didn’t even bother with a tent, but reserved any available room in their vehicle for the jars and bags of fruit they would bring home.

They chose wisely, since sleeping out under the stars in Hells’s Canyon pays big dividends in stargazing and overall personal comfort. The temperature doesn’t really dip below 55 degrees on a warm, summer night and the lack of electricity leaves a light pollution free sky viewing experience.

Although, the fruit, when ripe, does tend to bring a sizable population of small, brown bears to Big Bar, this is merely a side note and won’t require any Alaskan reality show skills. They are only interested in the fruit. Our timing for harvest was a bit early and our group had to make due with a handful of barely ripe apricots. But, that doesn’t mean we went without.

Fish Fry Here Too

The waters of the reservoir are teeming with fish that jump and pretty much skip about. A constant background noise that delights the young and old alike. My family enjoys fishing for bass and some trout while down there. A fish fry can pretty much be a nightly thing. Many folks bring boats to access the water’s various areas, allowing them to take in more of the canyon and fulfill a need for speed via watercraft sports.

The Water is Fine (most of the time)

On a drought year you can be disappointed by the water’s plague of blue-green algae. Which, as you may know, is considered unsafe to swim in. A real bummer when your sitting in Hell’s Canyon summer heat. This year, water a plenty, we happily swam, floated and cliff jumped into the waters. It’s a good idea to check water quality annually before you make the drive.

One thing about being in that hot, dry environment is that you don’t really crave a campfire. In fact, some days it’s about the last thing you want to get going. Which makes it hard to cook over fire or enjoy a toasty smores dessert.

This year, I came prepared with our dutch oven and a plan for making a sweet, layered treat that didn’t require a campfire. With a little home prep, it was surprisingly easy to whip up a batch of a tula favorite: Chocolita Bars. Although, I omitted the cinnamon and cayenne that these bars always had sprinkled over the top in the bakery. We used to call it “the tula cinnamon challenge”. When I thought of how dry and parched everyone already is in that canyon, it just seemed like unnecessary torture. Kinda like a Dutch Painting circa 1650.

Print Recipe
Chocolita Bars
A sweet, layered gluten free treat that can be made in a dutch oven. Great for when it's too hot to make a fire. A bit of pre-prep at home yields a yummy addition to your camp.
Prep Time 20
Cook Time 20
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 20
Cook Time 20
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
AT HOME:
  1. Measure the oats, GF flour, baking soda, cinnamon, brown sugar & sea salt into a sealable bag. Shake to combine. Label with tape & marker.
  2. Roughly chop the pecans and add to another sealable bag. Add the chocolate chips. Label with tape & marker.
  3. Pack enough butter to use in recipe; in addition to, other camp cooking needs. Pack caramel in the cooler (if you have a squeeze bottle, transfer to that for easier pouring). Pack parchment paper.
IN CAMP:
  1. Remove caramel from cooler. Line your dutch oven with a good size piece of parchment paper. Ready 18 pieces of charcoal in a chimney. While they heat, prepare the bars.
  2. Place butter in a small pan and melt on cooktop. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. Add dry ingredients to a mixing bowl. Create a well in the center and pour the melted butter into the center. Use a spatula or a large spoon to mix well. Chop at it if you need. Form a crumb.
  4. Take about two handfuls or about a 1 cup measure of this crumb and set it aside the pan used for melting butter.
  5. Place the remaining crumb mixture into the bottom of your dutch oven, on top of the parchment. Press down firmly & as evenly as possible with your hands. Sprinkle the chopped nuts & chocolate chip mixture evenly on top. Drizzle the caramel on top. Use your hands to clump bits of the reserved crumb and drop on top of the caramel. Place lid on dutch oven.
  6. Using tongs and in a fire proof, level area; place 10 coals in a circle on the ground. Place dutch oven on top of coals. Now add the remaining coals in an even distribution on top of the lid. Let bake for 15-20 minutes or until the top is bubbly.
  7. With a lid lifter to gently remove lid. Place lid and coals inside the fire wring for safety. Move dutch oven away from the bottom coals. Hang in a secure way to a tree or something to cool. Let cool for several hours. Slice into squares and enjoy. Keeps well for several days. Can add cinnamon and a dash of cayenne if wanted.
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Outside In

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Carefully remove the lid to reveal buttery camp, goodness.

Makes Sense

There are lots of ideas as to why food taste better when eaten outside. Some think it has to do with the simplification of cooking out of doors. Since we generally eat better when we eat simply, the food taste better. Perhaps.

Others think it might be that we engage all the senses on meals taken al fresco. Life outside is usually more dynamic that indoor settings. When we are out of doors, we tend to be on alert to more going on around us and this means using all our senses. This makes sense. (pun intended) In addition, outdoor elements can add to the intensity of a meal by breaking down food on a molecular level and increasing the aromas that make our mouth water. A fine line when serving potato salad, but I can see the logic in this.

One theory that “neatly packages” all of these other theories into one bunch, is that eating food outside generally stimulates memories of foods eaten outside during childhood. Our fondest food links are most likely to be traced back to our youth.  Neighborhood block parties, preschool snacks on the playground, brown bag lunches at summer camp with friends and family camp trips have all created positive food connections in our brain that read delicious.

Organic Ingredients

This is more a testimony to nature & the company we keep than to the food. As tender youths, we used to eat cans of hormel chili and little beanie weanie’s with our dear adopted uncle, Jim, during our weeks long stays in the tiny Northeastern town of Troy, Oregon. His two room house in the center of town had a simple, wooden porch overlooking a green yard with a giant, shade tree. Those cans of chili still tasted good to me right through my college years. This, I’m certain, had everything to do with first eating that fare outside on a warm summer evening, and very little to do with the actual quality of the canned food.

Eat Like a Local

Fast forward to 2015 when Caleb and I are planning a three week dream trip to France. We felt encouraged by Rick Steves to picnic for most meals; reducing time spent at restaurants and minimizing expenses, while maximizing exposure to French beauty and the local food market experience.

I found one of those nifty picnicking backpacks on Craigslist for twenty bucks along with a simple blanket that folds neatly into its’ own bag.  We set out to dine al fresco everywhere we ventured: the lush Loire Valley, on the sidelines of the Paris Roubaix cycling race in Northern France, throughout wine country in Burgundy and while exploring Paris. (In Lyon we mostly skipped the picnicking and dined in Bouchons. If you go there, you should too!)

Of course, the food tasted amazing. We were in France. But, we can say that we got an entire sensory experience with every meal. From shopping the local markets, then preparing our daily picnics and selecting the scenic locale to sit and dine while watching France go by in all it’s glory.

In addition, locals would pass by us, smile and say “Bon Appetite!” We felt like we fit right in and it seemed to us that the French were downright cheery. In fact, one memorable picnic in Burgundy ended with a local couple on an evening stroll inviting us to finish our epicurean experience with bottles from their personal cellar in the village down the road. They wanted to practice their English in anticipation of a trip they had planned to visit the United States in the coming months, and we wanted to practice drinking good wine in adorable French villages. A real win-win. The memories of the ancient grape vines, the sunset over the French country side, the spread of pate’ & cheese along vivacious Jean Pierre and Marie are stored tight in the minds of the entire group. Memories made possible by eating outside.

Which leads me to butter. It’s probably true that everything taste better when eaten outside. It is a solid truth that everything taste better with butter. Ha! Here is a great way to eat more butter and it bakes beautifully outside. So eat it outside, with a child and start making some good, real food memories that last a lifetime!

Creating positive food memories one bite at a time.

Bon Appetite!

 

Print Recipe
French Style Gluten Free Butter Cake
A lovely, easy to make almond butter cake that, with a little pre-prep, can be baked in camp.
Prep Time 30
Cook Time 25-30
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 30
Cook Time 25-30
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
AT HOME
  1. Cream together butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until sugar is dissolved and mixture is light in color. Tear a large piece of parchment and place flat on the counter. Using a rubber spatula, transfer the butter/sugar mixture to the center of the paper. Roll into a log and secure ends with a twist. Label with tape & marker. Store in freezer until packing cooler for camp trip.
  2. Measure dry ingredients into a ziplock type bag. Label with tape & marker along with any additional instructions you may want for camp. (temp & bake time for instance).
  1. Measure extracts and 2 TB of syrup into a small container with a tight fitting lid. Label with tape & marker. Be sure to account for enough eggs to make the cake, in addition to other eggs needed for camp. Select a syrup choice and store at least 1/2 cup for the cake in a bottle with a secure lid. Label with tape & marker.
IN CAMP
  1. Remove butter/sugar log and eggs from the cooler. Ready twenty coals in charcoal chimney. While coals heat, prep cake batter. Tear a piece of parchment and set the dutch oven lid on top of it. Cut around the lid to create a paper circle. Line the bottom of the dutch oven with this circle.
  2. Using a napkin or butter wrapper, lightly coat the paper and sides of the dutch oven with butter.
  3. Add butter/sugar mixture to a bowl and mix with a whisk or rubber spatula. Add eggs. Stir as well as possible. There will probably be a few butter lumps, but your camping so don't worry.
  4. Add the flour mixture a bit at a time and stir well. Now add the extract/syrup mixture. Stir well.
  5. Transfer batter to prepared dutch oven and smooth down the top with the spatula or the back of a spoon. Secure the lid onto the dutch oven.
  6. Using heat proof tongs and on a heat proof, somewhat level surface, place 8 hot coals in a 10" diameter on the ground. Place dutch oven on top of coals. Add the remaining 12 coals in an even pattern to the top of the dutch oven lid.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes depending on wind conditions. Use a lid lifter to check for doneness. Should be firm to touch and will not brown on top. Gently move coals from the lid into fire ring and set lid aside. Remove dutch oven from the coals. Use a shovel to move remaining coals to fire ring. Let cake cool for about 10 minutes.
  8. Place a plate, tray or wire rack on top of the dutch oven. Invert the cake in one quick movement. Use gloves to protect your hands if needed. Remove parchment paper. Pour about a 1/2 cup of syrup onto cake and let absorb. Slice and serve.
Recipe Notes

This cake lends itself well to fresh or cooked fruit. Plums were in season on a recent Mt. Hood camp trip. So we pitted & chopped about six up and set in a saucepan with a bit of water and sugar. It took about ten minutes of simmering to get a lovely sauce to drizzle the slices with. Left over syrup found it's way to pancakes the next morning.

Easy fruit topping on the stovetop.

A variety of delicious uses await!

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Camp Kitchen Organization

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With good organization, high quality camp cooking is a breeze.

The key to an organized camp kitchen is simple: reduce, re-use, recycle, re-purpose.

Making tasty food while living outdoors can seem like a challenge. All the ingredients and the multiple steps. This feels time consuming and complicated when not in the comfort of your own kitchen. I can see while traditional camp food is more along the packaged food route. But, if you are like me and don’t want to compromise while camping, simply employ some good menu planning and a few simple organization tricks and bon appetite!

I’m seeing quite a few good infographics lately on how to plan for camp meals. I like the handy charts that can be found at 50 Campfires. Sign up their e-mails and they will send you pdf lists.

Aside from meal planning, here are my suggestions for packing and organizing your camp kitchen:

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Use these liberally.

Masking tape & marker

Every professional kitchen has these items handy at all times for good organization and communication. A camp kitchen can become efficient in no time with the same practices that chef’s the world over use. Only pack the amount of each ingredient that you need for each recipe and nothing more. (see below for re-packaging container ideas). Clearly label with contents & any additional instructions if need.

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Free with purchase.

Mini Sealable Bags

 

Do you ever buy spices in the bulk foods section? Well, you should. Not only do you get a fresher product and save money, but you also get these handy little sealable, re-usable plastic bags. These bags are perfect for a camp trip menu. Simply add the quantity of whichever spice you need for the meals you are planning and not a bit more. No need to bring the entire bottle out into the woods. So head to the bulk section of your local market and buy some spices. You can easily wash the bags and air dry completely between each use.

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The perfect amount and nothing more.

Mini Bottles

Surely you know someone who is getting handy meal ingredients delivered by a food service like Blue Apron or Sun Basket. We tried this a while back when we were busy small business owners. We liked being introduced to new recipes and making them was a snap. But I hated all the wasteful packaging! Turns out that they have a life way beyond the food service. Use these mini bottles to bring just the right amount of oils, vinegars and other liquids. Of course, there are other ways to get mini bottles too. Save them for camping. Wash, air dry and re-use for each trip.

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Wide mouth allows for easy re-filling.

Wide Mouth Mason Jars

Any glass jar will do really, but I like the wide mouth type best since its easy to scoop things in and out. Use the jars to pack the right amount of ingredients and nothing more. Label them with clearly marked tape. Once you have used the ingredients, then they can become re-purposed for left over storage, a lightening bug terrarium or even a bloody mary glass for your campsite neighbor.

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These are the things of organizational dreams.

Hooks

Oh my word I love hooks in a campsite! With a good hook, it’s easy to keep things within arms’ reach, off the ground; off the little counter space there is; out of the reach of babes; and somewhat organized. Ikea has these metal hooks in their kitchen department for cheap. Highly recommended in both sizes.

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A must have for camp organization.

Clips

Wether you have plain old wooden clothes pins or fancy metal clips(which are seriously worth the price, will last forever and are so strong) these are a camp organizing must have. Of course they work to clip bags closed for freshness and for drying clothing. I also like to utilize clips in my tent to keep clothing organized. Hang a simple line of string from one side of the tent to the next and clothes stay out of the way but easy to see. This is especially useful in wet weather or with baby clothes.

Fruity Almond Cake

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Fruity. Nutty. Delicious!

Shared Values

Caleb and I are celebrating ten years of marriage this year. He was born and raised in suburban Las Vegas, which is a hair different than Oregon. But, since we focus on the things that we have in common and allow the differences to bring enrichment to our union, it seems to work pretty well. And I mean work. Marriage, like all things worth doing in life, takes work. Thankfully Caleb and I both had parents that instilled solid work ethics in us (before they divorced- LOL!)

Shortly after we were married there was a stunning revelation about Caleb: he doesn’t really like fruit. And could live without berries in particular. Wha- Wha – What???? Is it possible that I married someone whom fruit is barely a part of daily life? Someone who doesn’t get wide eyed and bushy tailed by a bowl of freshly rinsed blueberries peeping out at you in the morning sun? He would tell you that he likes apples. And that seems to be enough. I am aghast at the idea that one could settle for so little amongst such bounty. But, then I remember – Las Vegas.

Torturous Fun

Think what you will about Las Vegas, having lived and loved there, I can say that the lessons are many. Few places can boast of having such an effect on so many people. We really don’t need to get into the blatant details. We can set all that aside and think about Las Vegas from the perspective of a sweet child.  And then the comparisons of growing up in Oregon vs. Las Vegas become interesting.

One friend said that when her family moved to Las Vegas, she “mourned the summer for her children”. Playing outside all day on a summer day in the dessert is markedly different than the mild Oregon summers I experienced as a youth. Caleb recalls the metal slides on the playgrounds of the 80’s as “torturous kind of fun”. Of course, kids still play outside in Las Vegas. But, the climate can’t possibly lend itself to the kind of outdoor time an Oregon kid can experience during summer break. In the end, he has an attachment to air conditioning, movies at matinee times and ice cold beverages.

Summers in Oregon were way different. I only recall one family on our block with air conditioning. Whenever we went into their home it felt other worldly. The hottest days of summer were always dark inside our house, as Mom would draw the shades early in the morning, keeping the night time cool air in. We didn’t witness this curtain pulling thing, because we had already boarded a bus even earlier on our way to pick strawberries in a local field. Yes, we were farm laborers for a decent stretch of our summer break. To be fair, it was for only about six weeks. But, my how those six weeks each summer shaped and formed us in ways we can only fully appreciate now that we are surrounded by piss poor millennial work ethics.

Pick-a-thon

With a paper sack containing a sandwich, a fruit hand pie and a can of pop that had been placed in the freezer the night before; my sisters and I set out to make some serious school clothes cash (again, LOL). I started this task at a pretty tender age, so my hands were not the most bountiful of pickers. Sometimes I would toil all morning to yield only one flat of strawberries. But, the yield on work ethic and determination lessons were plentiful. With red, juice stained hands and dirty sneakers we would arrive home each day ready to embrace the heat of summer a la kid. Once we got cleaned up, we would join our friends at the community pool, knowing that on that day we gave our best in an Earthy sort of way. Contributors to the food chain of Oregon bounty.

After returning from my NYC experience I discovered that I had a special fondness for picking fruit. Wether on a bush, a tree or a vine, I think that I am at my most content with the sun on my back, fruit stains on my hands and a recipe in my mind on a pleasant Oregon summer day.

I can always think of a multitude of ways to use fresh picked, ripe fruit; if not just rinse and chew. Folding a summer berry into a cake and baking it in camp is a fine measure of your  summer work ethic. Here is a great recipe I found to work well in a dutch oven.  Credit to Danielle Walker Against all Grain.

I recommend pre-making the batter at home in your blender. Omitting a few key ingredients, of which you will tape instructions to the container for ease and then add them before you are ready to bake. Fold in any fresh fruit as the last step. We found some wild strawberries on the last camp trip and I’m looking forward to some apricots or blackberries soon. Play around. Or omit. Either way, this makes for a solid addition to your camp trip.

Print Recipe
Fruity Almond Cake
Moist, gluten free, paleo friendly almond meal cake.
Prep Time 25
Cook Time 35
Servings
Ingredients
AT HOME
IN CAMP
Prep Time 25
Cook Time 35
Servings
Ingredients
AT HOME
IN CAMP
Instructions
  1. Combine coconut oil, eggs. almond flour, sweetener, vanilla extract and sea salt in a blender. Blend until smooth.
  2. Transfer to a container with a tight fitting lid. Label with masking tape, adding a note on the amount of baking soda, vinegar and fruit to add in camp. Store in the fridge while home. Store in the cooler while at camp. Remove from cooler about 30 minutes before ready to bake.
  3. Cut a piece of parchment to fit in the bottom of your dutch oven using the lid as a tracing tool. Place the parchment in the dutch oven and liberally coat the parchment and sides with either coconut oil (to keep it DF).or butter. Prep 20 coals to achieve 325 degrees.
  4. Add baking soda to the batter and stir well. Now add the apple cider vinegar and stir well again. Gently fold the cut fruit into this batter. Transfer batter to prepared dutch oven. Place lid on top securely.
  5. Select a level area, cleared of debris and with sufficient wind block. Place 12 coals, evenly spaced, using tongs on the ground in a circle roughly the size of your dutch oven. Add the remaining 8 coals, using tongs and evenly spaced to the top of the lid.
  6. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Checking cake, with a lid lifter and heat proof glove, at about 25 minutes as to doneness. Remove lid and discard coals into fire pit.
  7. Use a spatula or knife to release the edges of the cake from the sides of the dutch oven. Place a large plate, cutting board or something of appropriate size on top of the dutch oven. With heat proof gloves on turn out cake in one quick twist of dutch oven. Gently remove the parchment paper and discard into the fire pit. Let cake cool for about 10 minutes. Slice and enjoy.
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Fireside Paella

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Moments away from a tasty meal in camp.

Camping Food Evolution

I’ll admit, growing up, when I thought of camping food it was the usual fare.  Hot dogs, sandwiches, chips, marshmallows and pop. Basic American crap. Of course we live in the Pacific Northwest, so there was a decent amount of fresh caught fish added to that menu. But, for the most part, crap.

Occasionally, there would be some cowboy beans cooked over the fire in a cast iron pan, but other than fish and marshmallows, I don’t recall using the fire for cooking. It was pure Coleman stove for this crew. Nonetheless, I have fond memories of the many camp trips our family took throughout the years. Food was just not that important to me then.

Food With Reservations

That last line couldn’t be further from the truth now. It took me a couple of decades to change this truth in my life. When I was twenty and moved across the country to attend school in NYC, food was still pretty far down on the scale of importance. I think it went something like; friends, fashion, exercise, water, dance, cigarettes, coffee, sleep, food.

In an effort to decrease a New York Minute to 45 seconds, I would down Tiger Milk bars and slices of pizza while hustling from work to school. Since my tiny studio apartment in Mid-Town Manhattan didn’t have a kitchen, I would muse to friends that “I didn’t make food, I made reservations”. I bought full on into the idea that The City was my living room and my kitchen. Eating out at restaurants or ordering take-out to consume with friends while watching Melrose Place was standard at that time.

Evenings would usually bring me in contact with some of New York’s finest dishes, at any number of swanky, hip or old school eateries. Each morning, before dashing into the N/R subway line, I would grab a large “regular” coffee(which means light and sweet) and a toasted bagel with butter on my way to the office. I really didn’t give food much thought. I was living the single girl dream in NYC. As long as I stayed thin, who cared?

My Oregon Trail Adventure

Fast forward a few years. I’ve moved back to Oregon. I feel frustrated because I’m an adult, but I can’t prepare food for myself. Well, at least not in the style that seems appealing. So, I start out on one of the biggest and most pleasurable undertakings of my life. I learned to cook.

Unaware of cooking shows, without a collection of cookbooks, pre-internet recipes and too broke to afford classes; I just looked for whichever recipe was on the box or package and made that. Needless to say, my food standards were pretty low. But, with time, as I honed both my skills and my knowledge of ingredients, my food bar was set pretty high.

Impress Yourself (and others too)

And I don’t lower the bar when I’m out and about….anywhere. When we started in on our camping kick a few years back, we brought our love of food with us. Enjoying a delicious, thought-out meal while in nature feels like the perfect expression of my love for those with whom we make camp.

If your thinking you’re ready to use food to express yourself fireside, a paella is the perfect way to start. Whether out on a multi-day group camp trip or just having a nice family dinner in the back yard. Where there is a fire, a paella can be. Enjoy!

 

Print Recipe
Fireside Paella
Camping take on the classic Spanish crowd pleaser.
Instructions
  1. PREPARATION AT HOME Cut chicken thighs in thirds. Devein & peel shrimp. Freeze your chicken and shrimp in separate containers or plastic sealable bags. This gives them a couple of solid days in your cooler. Measure Arborio rice into a quart size plastic bag. Measure sherry into small container with tight fitting lid. Use masking tape and a marker to label each item.
  2. IN CAMP 1 hour before cooking, prepare a fire. Once a fair amount of coals have been accumulated, move the coals to the side of the flame part of the fire. Adding more coals to this pile as time goes by. Place a grate over the coal pile (many fire pits at established campsites have them) or you can bring your own.
  3. Prep all remaining ingredients while fire is burning down some cooking coals.
  4. Chop onion and bell pepper. Trim the ends of the fennel and reserve the tops. Halve the fennel lengthwise. Remove tough outer layer and the base end. Thinly slice. Mince the garlic cloves. Thinly slice sausage.
  5. Brown chicken in paella pan, turning over once, until cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes per batch. While browning, add a sprinkle of salt and some paprika before turning. Transfer to a second plate.
  6. Move all ingredients fire side along with cooking utensils, heat proof gloves and an empty plate. Place a paella pan on the grill and add about a TB of olive oil. Swirl to coat the pan. Add chorizo and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon or tongs, keeping as much oil as possible.
  7. Add another good pour of olive oil to the pan. Toss in the fennel, onion, and bell pepper. Saute' until the fennel softens a bit, 8-10 minutes. Stir in garlic and a good sized dash of salt. Add about 2 tsp. of paprika. Cook, tossing to coat, until fragrant for a couple of minutes. Add the can of tomatoes and continue to cook, stirring until it thickens a bit. About 5 minutes.
  8. Now add the rice and stir it up until it is well coated. Add about a cup of water, the sherry, chicken broth, olives and chorizo. Stir. Add the shrimp. Reduce heat and simmer until the the liquid is almost absorbed, shrimp is cooked and the rice is tender. Maybe 25 minutes, could be a bit more. Add liquid if needed. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking. Add cooked chicken and fold the pieces into the mixture. Taste for salt. Chop up the fennel fronds and serve on top.
Recipe Notes

Cook once for two meals:

Leftover paella makes a great breakfast or lunch the next day. Reheat stovetop in a pan. Stir to avoid sticking. Perhaps add a couple of pan fried eggs, some chopped cilantro and a dash of hot sauce on top. Or serve hot or cold over some greens with a drizzle of olive oil for a lunch time salad option.

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People Love to Help

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Your willingness is the best tool for the job of creating community.

Pacific Northwest Community Gardening

The Pacific Northwest is a gardeners delight. Oregon in Particular has a bounty of great soil, mild temperatures and irrigation channels straight to the heavens. Most people raised up around these parts have childhood memories of Saturday’s spent shoveling bark dust, pulling weeds and mowing grass. We also have fond memories of freely picking raspberries straight from the bush, smelling an assortment of roses and shelling peas straight into our little mouths.  Work and the fruits of work instill critical life lessons in young and old alike.

Bacterial Exposure is Fun

June wasn’t even a month old when I took her out to the tulip festival farm in Woodburn Oregon. As a believer in the benefits of diverse bacteria colonization, I wanted her to be exposed to some of our good Oregon soil as soon as possible. Since we live in a second floor apartment downtown Portland, newborn soil options are slim. I love the dog park and recognize the benefits of canine exposure for a healthy gut, but I just couldn’t bring a new born there for bacteria exposure. Plus, I wanted to get some lovely newborn shots outside and the tulip festival seemed like the right place at the right time. Both flower and child were in full bloom.

In Full Bloom
June’s first visit to a garden: Age 7 days

While we were wandering among the crowds of tulips and people at the Tulip Festival, I was taken back at what a smart idea it was for that family farm to open it’s space up to the community. For generations they have been growing a truly lovely plant in a artistic way. Why not diversify their business by recognizing the plant as a public attraction and inviting the public to enjoy the spring harvest? It’s nice way to spend a mild spring day and we recommend it as an easy PNW family outing.

Open Up Your Space

Fast forward to fall of this same year. My sister, Torrey, has enjoyed her second growing season in her Portland home with an expansive backyard. She has dubbed the space, with it’s ornamental trees, raised beds, garden art and fire pit “the sanctuary”.

Torrey is a card carrying community creator and enjoys hosting all kinds of interesting people in her space on a regular basis. When it came time to put her garden down to rest for the winter, she jumped at the chance to make it a community based event.

Make a list
Torrey, ready to share the sanctuary.

We chose a late fall day that might be good weather wise, created a Facebook event and invited a handful of people who she knew would like to get their hands in the soil. Beneficial bacteria is not just for babies!

Feed the Help

Torrey took stock of her end of the season garden yield. It included: jalapeño peppers, green and ripe tomatoes, acorn squash, kale, rosemary and horseradish. Plus, her friendly neighbor Jay had some quince he was eager to share.

Menu Inspiration
The remains of a lovely growing season.
Fresh Quince Cider
Neighbor, Jay, happily sharing his fruit.

From this list, she worked with her good friend and personal chef, Jessica Callahan, to create a simple menu to share with the garden helpers. Jessica’s talents are in the kitchen, so she opted to come to the event with that intention: feeding the workers.

Since we had Jessica and her expertise, we went all out with a beverage, several appetizers, a soup and main course. But, this could be much simpler, if that helps get the event done. Just some tea and a soup with one appetizer would be sufficient. It’s nice if you can use your harvest as a base for the food. But, if you don’t have much in that department, choose some fall veggies that are plentiful at local stores. The idea is to create community while taking care of your Earth; not to overwork yourself or anyone else.

Fourth Circle Foods
Personal Chef Jessica Callahan

Divide and Conquer

While Jessica worked in the kitchen, we worked in the garden. Cutting back plants, mulching, digging up the remains and cleaning up the boxes. We worked from a list that Torrey had prepared, to be sure everything got accomplished. As appetizers were ready, they were brought out for the helpers and a thermos of cider was kept warm for refills. Keep everyone warm & well fed.

Mulching and munching.
Mulching and munching.
Coming together makes the job fun & light.
Coming together makes the job fun & light.

A Time for Relaxing Together

Many hands make light work. It didn’t take long for us to get the garden in good shape to rest for the winter. Jessica had the steak with horseradish sauce, acorn squash soup and zucchini tomato salad ready at the same time.

A well deserved meal from the fruits of our labor.
A well deserved meal from the fruits of our labor.

We all sat down for a outdoor fall meal under a canopy. Just in time for a serious rain shower to take over in the garden. Ah, Oregon!

 

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