Friday, April 25, 2014

The Camping Crafts Corner #1: Melted Bead Wind Chimes

Welcome to The Camping Crafts Corner!

When I was a little girl, Mom had a crafts corner in the kitchen of our home.  I was free to play, imagine, dream, create and make a mess to my heart's content so long as it was all cleared up by dinner!  I fully believe that the ingenuity and imagination I have today are grown from the seeds of craftiness that she planted in me so many years ago.  I dedicate this little corner of my blog to her as a thank you for her willingness to let us have a lot of fun (and make a little mess) all in the name of creativity.

Mom and Me in Denver, about to go on a Hot Air Balloon ride!

So, for our first Craft Corner, we turn to an idea I found out on Pinterest (oh, Pinterest, how I love thee!)  A Mom-blogger had taken plastic pony beads and melted them in the oven to create disks for a wind chime.  It was surprisingly easy, and surprisingly inexpensive (under $10 for the entire craft). 

You'll need the following supplies:

Multi-colored Pony Beads (Micheal's - $6 for 1 lb - used a half off coupon)
Foil Cupcake Pans (Dollar Store - $1 for 3)
Fishing Line (already had)
Drill and Small Drill Bit (already had)
(Grill, tongs, patience, a few lids/Frisbees to lay the beads out on, and a stick)

Preheat your grill to medium-high.  Give each camper a foil cupcake tray to call their own and pour out all the beads into your flat lids or Frisbees (we just used what we had on hand).  Let them go to town filling each spot with one layer of beads.

For some of our munchkins, "one layer" was a difficult concept, for others, it was simple.  We had age ranges from 4 to 8, and trays that had all 6 spots full, to just 2.  And for some, just playing in the beads was fun enough - no need to turn on the heat!

Once your kiddos have finished with their designs, carefully place the foil trays onto the grill - try to put them over direct heat (our grill has two burners, so I could fit two trays in at a time) but keep your eye on them.  If you over heat the plastic, it causes a lot of bubbles to appear. WARNING: the melting plastic is going to put off fumes - have the kiddos go play elsewhere and do your best to not stand directly near the grill while these are melting.  Watch the trays carefully - it doesn't take long for the beads to melt (maybe 5 minutes) but your grill setting may be a bit different, so keep your eyes on them.

Pull the melted bead trays out of the grill using tongs - they will be HOT.  I left them to cool a bit on the side platforms of our grill before putting them in the cooler to really bring the temp down.  Chilling them also makes them very easy to remove and gives you the opportunity for a cool science conversation around expansion and contraction. Not that we want to make this educational or anything.

Once they're chilled, pop them out of the trays and run the edges against something hard like the table (this will break off some of the sharp points caused by the folds and crinkles of the tray).  Use a drill and small bit to drill a hole in each disk and have the kids search for a stick to hang them on using the fishing line.

Minimal cost, minimal effort, and lots of fun!  And, if you're lucky enough to have "Martha Jo" come camping with you and bringing along her Camping Crafts Corner, you just might get a solid half hour to do, well, this:

Camp Cooking #10: Cinnamon Banana Nut Quinoa

By now you've probably heard me mention my rice cooker about a thousand times. I am in love with this little device; so much so, that I have one both for the camper and the kitchen at home!  It's versatile - for so much more than just cooking rice and grains. My Oster brand rice cooker also came with a steamer basket feature. For about $20, this has been one of the best additions to my cooking arsenal.

Cinnamon Banana Nut Quinoa is a quick and easy staple of our camping trips - using the rice cooker makes this a set-it-and-forget-it kind of breakfast.

First, gather your ingredients:

Nuts (pecans, walnuts, etc)
Cinnamon to taste
rice cooker, water, knife, bowls

I pre-measure out 2 servings of quinoa before we leave home and put it in snack sized ziplocks- 
again, its one more thing that makes this an easy throw together meal.

Add your quinoa, water, and cinnamon to the rice cooker.   Set to "cook."
While the grains are steaming, rough chop your nuts and slice your bananas.
(Wow, taken out of context that could sound really painful!)

Once the rice cooker pops over to "warm" and your grains are done cooking,
add in your pecans and bananas and serve.

Easy, peasy, delicious!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter Weekend at Texas State Rail Road Campground

Back to a favorite for this Easter - RDB and I invited The 5 J's and D&J+3 to join us for the long weekend at the Texas State Rail Road campground in Rusk, Texas.  (Finally, one I said we'd be back to, and guess what?! We're back!!)

We have so much fun with all these kiddos! And we did so much this weekend, it's taken me two days to write about it!

RDB and I arrived on Thursday night and got pick of the sites (in the dark). But, it turned out we picked the two best spots int eh park - we needed all the space we could get for the kiddos (and pup!) to run around.

When The 5 J's made it in Friday afternoon, we hopped on the Easter Egg Express - and spent a good part of the afternoon riding the train, running around playing games, hunting Easter eggs, and looking for LJ's shoes in the corn pit.  Found lots of interesting candy (Peas and Carrots Gummies, anyone?) but never found his shoes.

D&J+3 arrived while we were off on our train adventure but they found our site without too much trouble (yes, I had decorated, and yes, I made a few other random kids cry when they couldn't take my windmills and balloons with them as they walked past).  They've had an addition to the family since their last trip out with us - AM is 18 months old and is the sweetest little thing on the planet - at least, Diesel seems to think so!

Knowing that most of the activities for the weekend were kid-centered, I wanted to make sure that the adults had some fun, too, so we had a quick "Adults Only" Easter Egg Hunt now that D&J+3 were here.  Cadbury ain't got nothing on the way I fill my eggs!

We've seen all kinds of critters and creepy-crawlies in our camping adventures, but this was the first time we've ever seen so many strange flying bugs - hold on a minute, we saw a few thousand flying bugs at our first Easter trip, so maybe it's not so strange.  What was weird was the number of swarming termites we saw.  Ewwww is right. 

Saturday was spent enjoying the playground, the hammock, and various yummies for lunch.  RDB and I really like our black bean burgers from Costco.  I had mushrooms and garlic from my Greenling box to grill alongside them - but wasn't sure I was going to be able to get them cooked well enough.  I realized that I needed a press, or steam cover of some kind and sure enough the lid off of one of our smaller stainless pots worked perfectly.  Hey, its the little things that count!

Martha Jo made a stop in at our campsite that afternoon and we crafted a Pinterest idea: melted bead wind-chimes (and necklaces).  It was a lot of fun!!  Check out how we did it here.

Monday was going to be one of D&J+3's munchkin's birthdays, so I decided to surprise them with a cake.  I made it in my rice cooker.  Yep, a rice cooker cake!  It may have been small, but it made a big impact!

I think he loved it.  ;-)

We did our traditional egg hunt - lots of eggs, giggles, and fun.  And no funky candy in these, of course!  It's amazing to see how much these kiddos have grown since our first Easter camping trip.

Another one in the books.  It's hard to go back to work after such a good weekend.  RDB and I keep dreaming about the one-day when we'd like to leave the jobs behind and camp full time.  Until then, we'll just keep enjoying all the blessings and sunshine we have as we go on these trips.

We were in sites 13 and 15 at Texas State Rail Road Campground.  13 was extremely level and perfectly shaded, with a few trees spaced just right for the hammock.  Both sites together had enough space for 12 of us, one trailer, one pop-up and one tent, and two trucks and an SUV.  Close to the bathhouse and playground and a short walk from the train depot.

And yes, we'll be back again to this one! ;-)

For more camping photos, go here.

Camp Cooking #9: Rice Cake

Really?  You really thought this was about rice cake?  Wow, I love you for jumping on over to read then, because this is sooo much better than stale-as-air rice cake. 

This is a rice cooker cake.


Our Easter Camping trip coincided this year with one of D&J+3's munchkin's birthdays, so I decided to surprise them with a cake for the little guy.   It's a small cake at about 6 inches - the size of your cooker bowl- but we were able to stretch it to give 12 people (mostly kids) a taste.   I was thrilled with the results and hope you'll try this on one of your upcoming trips.

First, gather your ingredients.

For the Cake:
Jiffy brand White Cake Mix
3/4 c Milk
1 Egg White

For the Frosting:
Canned Frosting 
measuring cups, fork or spoon, baking non-stick spray

This one's about as easy as it gets - following the directions on the Jiffy Mix box, combine wet and dry ingredients and stir briefly.  I prefer the Jiffy mix because it makes a smaller amount of batter, but it only comes in white and yellow.  If you're in the mood for a different flavor cake you can certainly try this with a different box mix - but it may take longer to cook, and you may end up with a lot more batter than what fits in the cooker bowl.

Once you have your batter mixed, take a quick moment to grease the cooker bowl. I use a Pam spray for baking (flour and oil in one) but you could probably get away with a smearing of butter or oil that you already have on hand.  After your bowl is greased, pour in your batter.

Pop the lid on your cooker and press "cook."  Oh, and lick the spoon (or fork).  Very important step there.  Quality control and all.  ;-)

The rice cooker is designed to cook its contents until a certain temperature is reached and then turn itself to warm, but often that temp is reached before the cake is fully cooked.  Through trial and error, I've figured out that my brand of cooker needs three cook cycles to fully cook the cake but really, it's not that big of a deal.  Hit the button, go play a round of corn-hole, come back, turn the bowl, hit the button again, go play another round.  Repeat once more and you're done. IMPORTANT TIP: Be sure to rotate the bowl each time you reset the cook cycle - otherwise you'll end up with one spot on the cake that's burned.  Again, trial and error.  (Oh the things I do for you, my lovely readers!) 

As always, the tooth-pick test will let you know if you need to run another cook cycle.  This baking method does steam the top of the cake, so it's gonna be sticky to the touch (and stick to whatever plate you turn it out on) but the stickiness doesn't mean it's not finished on the inside.  Tooth-pick test, 'nuff said.

I took the easy route and used canned frosting for this one (why make it harder than it has to be, right?).  I do recommend a crumb cost first - though it's golden brown and firm on top (that used to be bottom closest to the heating element) since the to (now bottom) was steamed, it crumbles apart a bit.  A good crumb coat will make fully icing it much easier.  Personal preference on this, but since it's such a small cake, it didn't need the entire jar of frosting, in fact, there was quiet a bit left over and I still feel like the cake got a thick coating.

I'm a huge fan of simple and plain - so we could have left the cake just as it is above - luscious, thick, white vanilla frosting.  Yum!  But, since it was for a kiddo, it certainly needed to be adorned with fun and festive sprinkles.

I hope your camping adventures continue to be full of great food and good times - and that you'll attempt this awesome rice cooker cake on your next trip out!