Camping 2014

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It has become an annual tradition for the three members of Smithnet House to head out for a couple of nights in “the wilderness.” This being year two, we tried to learn lessons from year one, like buy less gear, or bring waaaaaaaay less packaging. We brought a simple dome tent, a couple of sleeping bags, a head lamp, and two coolers. One cooler was packed with food, the other one was empty until we hit the store for ice. I spent about four hours before we left prepping food and portioning it out into eco-friendly tupperwares. T was concerned about all the glass making for a heavy load, but it wasn’t terrible. The most important thing we learned about using the glass jars and containers was to make sure that the cart was well-balanced and secured. When the cart tipped and the cooler dropped to the ground, one serving of juice broke and spilled all over. Luckily, the glass was all contained, and the pieces were big enough to pick out.

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Other than that little mishap, the food prep turned out great! Here are some examples of what we prepared & brought:

Scrambled eggs with a bit of diced onion, butter, salt and pepper

Bell peppers and carrots, sliced into matchsticks

Pre-cooked bacon strips

Pre-toasted whole wheat english muffins

Grated cheddar cheese

A PB&J for hunger emergencies (with toasted bread to avoid sogginess)

Trail Mix

“Popcorn” Tofu

Fruit Salad with cubed watermelon, strawberries, blueberries and basil chiffonade

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At the end, we had very little garbage / recycling to dispose of. That was a pretty great improvement over last year, when I purchased many items specifically for the trip. Almost everything we ate (except for hot dogs, beer, instant coffee and graham crackers) was something we either grew or already had in the fridge. All I did to make it for camp-friendly was chop, cook, season, and pour into reusable containers like these. Or these. Or these.

The beauty of leftovers

While cramming our freezer full of berries, bananas, leafy greens, fresh pesto, roasted tomatoes, chicken, and fish, I found that space was at a premium, so I started to dig deep. Underneath a few layers of recent deposits, I found a frosty tupperware. Luckily, it was one of the air-tight glass varieties, and as it thawed a bit, I started to recognize that this was one of my soups. I didn’t know which one until I opened it and started warming it up. What a treat! I had unearthed two large portions of West African Groundnut Stew that I made last February. This was most definitely the foodie equivalent of finding $20 in the pocket of a Winter coat. It was a bit of a gamble, since I’d never gone that long or done much freezer cooking before, but the glass lock container and the stew recipe were a perfect combo for at least six months.

This was such a huge help on a night that I got off work at 9, and got home at 10. This brings us back to one of *my* Secrets of Adulthood (to steal a catchphrase from Gretchen Rubin): “Do your future self a favor.”

Refractometer

T was super stoked to use his refractometer to measure the sugar levels in our grapes (and grape juice.) IMG_5680

We put a couple of drops of our grape / apple / brown sugar blend on the little glass slide you can see on the right, closed the lid, and peered through the viewfinder on the left. By my reading, we achieved 17º Bx. This may mean nothing to you, as it did me, but here’s Wikipedia’s take on the subject:IMG_5683Degrees Brix (symbol °Bx) is the sugar content of an aqueous solution. One degree Brix is 1 gram of sucrose in 100 grams of solution and represents the strength of the solution as percentage by mass. If the solution contains dissolved solids other than pure sucrose, then the °Bx only approximates the dissolved solid content. The °Bx is traditionally used in the wine, sugar, carbonated beverage, fruit juice, and honey industries.

Grape Harvest 2014

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25.2 lbs of Canadice grapes. This does not include the <10 bunches that went to fresh eating or sharing. My instinct says that this yield is lower than last year, when the grape vines were on the side of the yard in an arch formation with more sun, but we didn’t harvest them all at once or measure, so it’s purely anecdotal.

As you might guess from the bucket, the next project is to make a tasty beverage out of the grapes. T loves science, so I figured I could cultivate his passion for chemistry and try a new method of preserving food if I got him a wine / cider – making kit. IMG_5655 IMG_5671 IMG_5672 IMG_5674

Juicing the Grapes

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T’s dad was in town, and “volunteered” (I’m not totally sure how this detail went down, since I was at my day job) to pluck all 25 pounds of tiny grapes from their stems. That was an enormous help!IMG_2284

T set up our largest containers for the pulp extruder and the juice spigot. We could have stopped there, and had about three gallons of delicious juice, but no. . . . IMG_2288