Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Camp Cooking #8: Overnight Oatmeal

Not everyone aspires to be a camp-fire chef.  Not everyone enjoys being on KP after every meal.  For those of you who are looking for something wholesome, quick, and easy to clean up after - look elsewhere.

No, just kidding!
I fall into both of those categories - not wanting to cook and not wanting to clean - I can't tell you how many times we just pack up the dirty dishes and throw them in the back of the truck to wash when we get home.  I'd rather spend my last few moments enjoying the sunrise and fresh air.
With that in mind, I started looking for creative ways to 'cook' the morning's breakfast without having massive amount of dishes left to do (and I know, cereal and milk and plastic ware would solve this, but come on! It's camping!) I use my crockpot a good bit at home, and didn't really want to lug it along camping - but I've found that I love it just as much at the campsite as in my full kitchen at the house.  I've since pulled a few recipes off of Pinterest, and have been working on adapting them for our camping needs.
So, you're gonna need a crockpot. And I'd highly recommend the crockpot liners, too - that's part of the appeal to this breakfast, that you don't have to scrub a bunch of pans - but if you forget the liner - you're gonna be scrubbing till the cows come home.

Gather your ingredients: AT HOME.  Yep, there's a bit of pre-work, but it's another part of what makes this dish so easy at camp:

Dry Ingredients:
1 Heaping cup Steel-Cut Oats
2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp Cinnamon (or more, if you want a stronger flavor)
1 Tbsp Ground Flaxseed
1/4 tsp Salt

Combine all of these in a bowl with a lid and give a good shake.

Wet Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup Milk
1 cup Apple Cider (or apple juice)
1/2 cup water
3-4 Apples
Combine the liquid ingredients in a jar and shake well.  The apples you'll want to wash but keep whole - they'll get prepped in the next few steps.
You might like to take along a few toppings - we love chopped pecans, fresh cut apples - you might like cream over the top once it's cooked - that's entirely up to you.  I think you'll find, though, the oatmeal itself has plenty of flavor and taste all on its own.
Here's how it'll play out the night before:
Chop (the apples),

 combine (wet +dry),
 stir (everything),
 cover and cook. 

That's it!  Set it on low for about 7 hours and you've got a hearty, healthy ready to eat breakfast without having to do a lot of work in the morning.  You've already done most all of the work at home ahead of time.  And clean up should be a snap!
I've really fallen in love with this one and I'm not normally a big fan of oatmeal.  We've done it several times with just apples, but I'm thinking on the next few trips out I'll branch into other fruits - blackberries, peaches, etc - and see how they hold up to the overnight treatment.

PS - since this has become a staple for us, and I'm all about making the prep work easy... check this out:  a small yogurt contain has become my dry ingredients holder (with a copy of the recipe on the lid)

and my empty peanut butter jar (Remember Camp Pudding? It's the same jar I use for that recipe) for all my liquid ingredients.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Thursday, May 16, 2013

That Ain't Stock #4 - A Few More Misc Mods

So, our second camping season is drawing to a close.  We'll have one last trip up to Gladewater on Memorial Day weekend and we'll put this one in the books.  Now that we've gotten settled into the camper a bit, and a few mods (one, two, three) have already been completed, I thought I'd share just a few more of those little things that make our home-away-from-home just that much better.


Remember how I complained about the door not having a handle at normal height?  And originally I fixed it with a bathroom handle and some Velcro?  Well, that didn't last too long.  The velcro wasn't strong enough to hold the handle on when you pulled the door shut - so, I replaced it with a Command Hook turned sideways. Where I was in love with Velcro on the last set of mods, on this one, it's all about the Command Hooks.
 Leash holder for the pup's stuff - also put on with a Command Hook.  (What I love about these hooks is that you can leave the base still attached, store the hook, and then fold the camper down without any trouble.)  I put his leash attached to the door, so that when he gives us, um, Diesel Bombs, we can just open the door, grab a doggie-bag off the leash, and clean up after him pretty easily.

Jackets and hats laying around, by far, are one of the most annoying things in the camper, to me. (I love you RDB!)  Wandering thru the isles of a local CVS, I found these cheap clips with hooks.  This is another one that will probably get re-worked - maybe better clips, cheap = they break often.

We always pick up a camp map (or trail maps) when we check-in, and they always seem to float around the camper till I end up throwing them out.  I devised a way to start hanging these from the curtain using and s-hook and a binder clip.  I've got two clip-sets up there, so I can hang the maps like artwork in the camper (can't tell you how many times this has come in handy with visitors - where are we? Where's the bathhouse? Where's the lake?)  The map comes down at the end of the trip, but the clips are so unobtrusive, they stay attched.

There's a few things in this one - but the newest is the hand washing station.  The last trip out with kiddos resulted in a very quick depletion of our babywipe supply, so I started hunting for another idea (thanks Pinterest!)  The blue aqua-tainer is filler with clean water, and has a roll of papertowels (holder from Target) bungee-corded to it for easy removal and storage.  There's a pump-bottle of hand soap on the table (clear with a blue top, hard to see in this photo) and then our 'dish pan' under the spigot to catch the gray water from handwashing.  To the right is our collapsiable trash can, and to the left, back on the table, is our potable water for drinking, doggie bowl, and coffee in the morning.  It makes for a pretty nice set up. 

In the background, you might notice the red and black five gallon bucket.  That's my Pickle Bucket.  You know - when you need to visit the girl's room in the middle of the night and the bath house is a half a mile away, and you don't have facilities in your camper... well, you're in a pickle.  You need a bucket.

The 5-gallon bucket comes from FireHouse Subs (just $2 in-stores, and it supports a great cause).  Obviously, any 5-gl bucket would do, but there's just some humor in calling it my Pickle Bucket (and I'm not sure I could offend an orange Home Depot bucket this way.)  The seat/lid is a Lugable Loo.   I use 13-gallon kitchen trashbags for liners - much cheaper than the 'branded' ones - and then carry a supply of cat litter for absorption/odor control.  And TP.  Always, always, always check the TP supply before you leave.  Otherwise, that campsite map you just hung up on clips earlier....   I swear, guys, ya'll have it easy.  Us girls have to think about things like this!!

Well, that's about it.  Thanks for stopping by and have a great camping season!!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Texas State Railroad

Engine 300.   Build for WWII service in Europe, but never making it overseas, this old war-horse was used to transport freight, lumber, munitions, and now tourist and rail fans after becoming a part of the Texas State Railroad in 1996 celebrating the railroad's 100th anniversary.  This would be our chariot for the day's excursion from Rusk to Palestine and back again.

 RDB and I were camping at the KOA in Rusk, TX - about 10 minutes from the train depot.  We arrived shortly before our 11am departure (RDB had to ask me to slow down - I was skipping thru the parking lot, I was so excited!)  We purchased our tickets and settled into the adults-only air-conditioned Car #40 for an hour and a half ride thru the piney woods of East Texas to Palestine.  Once there, we'd have a break for lunch, then follow the same path back to the Rusk Depot before heading back to our campsite.
First stop on the trip was the town of Maydelle, TX  - home of the railroad's only turntable.  The town was established in 1910 specifically because of the railroad, however, it declined passenger service once the rail was up and running.  Now, it houses the TSRR's maintenance headquarters.  This is also where we met the Eastbound train, Engine 316, on it's way across to Rusk.   This train was hosting a rail fan photographer's event - so we saw many passengers hanging out the windows, or down on and around the tracks, waiting to take photos of our train as we crossed paths.  Interesting Fact: the Westbound train always yields the right of way to the Eastbound train.  Meaning - we have to move over to the sidings to allow the Eastbound train access to the main line.


We continued along thru the woods, crossing various small country roads, and the occasional pasture and cows.  At each crossing, the engineer would blow the whistle, giving warning that we were coming through.  Many of the crossings didn't have crossing arms or lights - simply Railroad Crossing signs, with the hope that drivers would "Look, Listen, and Live."  Interesting Fact:  The number of whistle blows can determine your direction of movement: Two whistles - forwards, Three whistles - backwards.  Rich and I got a first hand experience of this at the lunch break - we were taking photos near the engine and two whistles (two very loud whistles) warned us that he was about to start moving towards us). 

As we came up to the Neches River, the engineer began to blow off steam. No, he wasn't venting about something - he was clearing the engines of excess pressure created as they boiled the water to created steam.  Doing this right over the river crossing, with the afternoon sun shining down clearly, created the perfect conditions for a double rainbow.  Interesting Fact:  The Neches River bridge is the longest bridge on the rail line: 1,100' long and 35' high.  The original construction was wood, but is now concrete.

We made it into the Depot at Palestine around lunch.  I had packed a small picnic basket for RDB and myself (sometimes cheese and crackers and fruit can be the absolute best!).  We spent some time walking around the campground and picnic area while Engine 300 was being refueled and maintenanced.  Interesting Fact:  It takes 2 hours and over $400 just to get the engine up and running and to the station, before a single passenger steps on board.


The trip back was just as nice, if not even better.  We were quizzed by our car attendant on all things railroad and Texas - and didn't do nearly as well as the car with the kiddos who had just gone through Texas State History.  She took pity on us either way, and we each received a DVD of "Great Scenic Railway Journey: Presenting The Texas State Railroad" and a very nice keychain to commemorate our adventure.  Interesting Fact:  the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in North Carolina is the sister line to the TSRR.   I bet you can guess where RDB and I will be heading to next....

 And, one last Interesting FactDallas, The Early Years was filmed, in part, using the trains and the rail system.  Which means they play the Dallas theme music. A lot.  Don't be surprised if you find yourself humming it the rest of the afternoon.
For just a few more rail fan photos, go here.

Happy Mother's Day (and Post #100!)

And yes, for now, the four-legged fur-baby counts!

Kamping - KOA Style

Don't let the photo trick you: it's not an RV parking lot. 

See the little black car/truck on the road to the left?
It's right next to our spot. (Photo: Google Maps)
You can park your Pop-Up there, too.  Or a tent.  Or heck, forget all of that and just rent a cabin!  (Mom almost did!) We met Walter, the KOA campground host extraordinaire, at the RV show in Houston earlier this year.  His friendly demeanor and great humor really made us feel at home before we even got there (of course, the free night's stay didn't hurt either!)  We drove up to Rusk Friday evening - boy, are we loving the late sunsets these days! - to spend the weekend in site 41. 
We were right along the edge of the campgrounds, facing west - so we had an amazing view of Comanche County. (Walt told us we were in the second highest spot in the county - beat out by about 1 foot from the camper beside us!)  The sun rose to our backs, so it made for a great morning.  The only major downside would have to be the mid-day sun overhead with no shade.  But you know what? The sunset more than made up for it!
Photo courtesy RDB
We were really pleasantly surprised with the KOA.  Having never stayed at one before, we were under the false impression that it would just be a parking-lot full of RVs, noisy kids, and way-too-close neighbors, but this little spot nestled in the piney woods of East Texas was a true treasure.  (And by far, it had some of the cleanest bathhouses this side of the Mississippi!)  They had events going for Mother's Day but even at that, it wasn't intrusive to the quiet and peaceful atmosphere that we long for when we go camping.
We even found a place to hang the hammock for a bit.
Less than 10 minutes from the campground is the Rusk Depot of the Texas State Railroad.  This park was a part for the Texas State Parks System up until 2007, when it was branched off to become a part of the railroad.  Both RDB and I were excited to spend the day riding the steam-engine powered train from Rusk to Palestine.  Enjoyed it so much (and took so many photos) it deserves it's own post - you can read about that adventure here.
Mom joined us for dinner Saturday night (and then coffee Sunday morning, before heading back home).  It's always such a pleasure to have company when we camp - and to get to treat Mom to a sunset steak dinner for Mother's Day? I don't think it gets much better than that.  Of course, I think she mostly just wanted to come play with the Grand-dog....

Once again, it was a wonderful weekend.  Honestly, I think it was one of the best we've had all season - I'm not sure anything can come close to getting to ride a real-live train all day.  It's been something I have always wanted to do.  And to get to go camping, too?  With my best friend? And my Mom?  I think she said it best: 
I am fortunate.
For more camping photos, go here.