Swing Into Spring

It was a year ago yesterday that I got the Reverend elfLiza off the ground for the first time. This was over at Kings Mountain Park in NC in my 11′ Dutchware Hexon 2.0. [Note that she figured out the diagonal lay for comfort right off]. Since then she has gotten in two nights at the New England Hammock Hangers Assoc. Lobster and Lighthouses Hang, won some gear in the raffle, and is excited that I just sold her Hennessy and a complete ENO setup for enough moolah to grab a new Dutchware “Chameleon” when he starts taking retail orders in June.

 

I took off to another hang with the NEHHA gang down at Ashby, MA over last April weekend. I think the total number was 43 folks. Wonderful to see what are now old friends and make a bunch of new ones. Group hangs are simply the best way to find out what you need to know to make your hammocking experience what it ought to be.

Here we all are on Saturday evening after consuming far more food than anyone should be allowed.[I’m dead-center in the back row with my full belly hanging out of the brown plaid] Five kinds of stew [including venison], a dutch oven full of chili, Penne Putannesca, about three other tubs of pasta casseroles, a couple of veggie things, fire-baked potatoes in their skins, a rump roast cooked right on the coals, bacon wrapped chicken hearts, breaded cod loins…. and we never got to the four pounds of burgers. Don’t start me up on the breakfasts, I’ll give out the hint that fresh made doughnuts featured heavily… and BACON.

We had tree-climbing rigs set up, a slack-line 35′ up in the air, map and compass training, I did an “instuctable” on making the Flaming Dragon T#rds fire starters, and we did a show-and-tell walk to see all the different hammock setups folks had brought.

I also got to use my Loco Libre Gear “Ghost Pepper” 30° top-quilt for the first time out in the wild.Worth every penny. The chevron baffling that they use to keep the down from shifting is just incredible. One of the best things about the 30° top quilt is that I can match it up with one of my Costco down throws and easily get down to 20° or below… likely to be a rare occurrence, but the option is nice to have.

 

 

A stream running behind the grove was our sound track for falling asleep.

 

 

 

photo by BranMayo

 

 

And then my friend Iuri [aka BrazilianGuy] did this highly professional video about “why” and “what”… check it out!  >> VIDEO <<

Camping Food (pt.3): Something Small & Tasty

On the heels of (pt.1), I wanted to follow-up with some small package items that are easier to carry along in your pack.

I got all of these over my Fell-Off-A-Truck Stop. They went for about $.13 cents each.

[you can see that the Walkers have already been out with me a couple of times and didn’t get consumed… I always take more than I need and enough to share in case anybody else has a sweet tooth, too].

Like the cookies in the larger packages from the original post, these are all “hard” baked cookies, and consequently have a longer shelf life. That’s a nice factor to consider if you’re buying things consume over an entire camping season. All are recommended.

Camping Food (pt.2): Little Packs for Breakfast

The other morning I went grocery shopping and I almost committed a capital shopping sin: I was about to go food shopping while hungry.  For me, this is a disaster. I’m almost certain to get home and discover I bought a 24 pack of pop tarts, Hot Pockets™, or some other ridiculous food that just “looked so good”. Buyer’s regret is almost inevitable.

Before I did any of the rest of my shopping, I picked up the package of Nature Valley Blueberry “Biscuits” that are mentioned in the first part of this series. I opened up the box, and ate three of the four biscuits in one pouch to take the edge off my appetite and save myself from stupidity. Ordinarily I would’ve purchased the green packaged NV “Oats ‘n Honey” crunchy bars, but they didn’t seem to be in stock. The biscuits turned out to be a nice alternative to also have on hand when I put together a weekend’s camping food. Sometimes stupidity has side benefits.

Well I got home, I opened up one of my packages of the Justin’s Maple Almond Butter, and tried it out on the fourth biscuit. I was little disappointed. The Almond butter itself is pretty good, but the maple flavor was quite lacking, and the biscuits themselves have a nutty enough flavor that the nut butter was pretty much wasted on them. As I mentioned in the other, earlier review, these are very dense and the “natural” blueberry flavor comes through well.

The Nature Valley “Biscuits come in at 230 cal for a four biscuit pouch; 80 cal come from oil.

My usual pairing for the “Oats ‘n Honey” bars is to crumble them up into a squeeze pouch of “Ready GO Greek” * shelfstable yogurt. The bars [2 to a pack] have 95 calories each, and a yogurt pouch adds a decent 130 cal. [as a comparison: the CliffBar™ and the NV Almond granola bar that I have on hand come in at 260 cal add 130 cal respectively, but they seem much sweeter and too sugary to me]   I really like this combo as an alternative to a pop tart or granola bar for a field breakfast. It is quick, delicious, and I will gladly do a spot of cleanup on my silicone bowl for the upgrade. When my hiking season is over I also do this pairing up right around the house to finish my supplies of the yogurt [however, it does seem to come dated at least a year out at time of purchase]…  the Oats ‘n Honey Bars are so dense that they seem to have a nearly indefinite shelflife. I’ve eaten them as much as two years after purchase, and they were perfectly fine.

When I have them, since they are also a somewhat come-and-go item over at the Fell-Off-A-Truck Stop, I will sometimes add eight or 10 of these strange little freeze-dried fruit balls. One of the nice things about them is that they come in a resealable zip top bag… as long as you squeeze most of the air back out they seal up very tightly and stay nice and crunchy for quite a long time.

If you will let the crushed up oat bars and the fruit balls soak in the yogurt for a few minutes, they will start to soften up… Too long and they get mushy.

Both of these and the Nature Valley “Biscuits” are also really good as a “munch while you march” snack.

However, you don’t want to add the fruit clusters to a trail mix unless you’re going to eat it all that same day. They will soften up from the moisture in the nuts and raisins.

 

 

* the link I found shows a much higher price, which makes them a lot less bang for your buck, but I picked up my Ready GO Greek yogurt as a four pack for only $2 over at the Fell-Off-A-Truck Stop… It is generally available there in a couple of other flavors as well.

 

 

Camping Food (pt.1): Something Sweet

Biscuits… Cookies…”Biscuits”?  Breakfast bars?    Whatevz…  I like them. I have a sweet tooth, and I indulge it. I’m a 1950s kid, raised in America’s heartland, so they will always be cookies to me. Biscuits are what you get at Carl Jr’s™ with a sausage patty inside.

Once I got past that “Sugar-coated Captain Choco Blasters” stage of childhood, I discovered I far preferred the somewhat less sickly sweet european-style cookies. The ones that the British dip in their tea and do call “biscuits”… and of those, the type I like the best are referred to as butter cookies. Relax, the good varieties taste nothing like those cheap Danish ones that came in a blue metal tin, and that your grandmother always had under the Christmas tree.

I wanted to talk about the “good ones” a little bit as they are perfect additions to take along camping and hiking. Because they are in general quite crisp, they don’t melt and crush nearly as badly as most American cookies tend to do. You can put a few in a zip lock baggie, and have every expectation of them still being intact when you get to wanting one.

The closest US product to a butter biscuit is probably the Pepperidge Farm™ “bordeaux” cookies. [These we’re always my mother’s favorites, and I’ve been eating them since the 1960s].

Together with the chocolate-coated HobNobs and the Biscoffs, they are almost always up on the refrigerator here at the Château.

That last box from Nature Valley is certainly the odd man out… Those are pretty much breakfast bars that they have now chosen to call “biscuits”, and are certainly not recognizable as biscuits by our usual American standards, however, they are a pretty good cookie.

 

I’m sure most people are at least a little familiar with Pepperidge Farm™ cookies. They cost a bit more then Keebler’s and Nabisco, but I think that they’re infinitely better. Their “bordeaux” cookies are a classic take on a butter cookie. They are perhaps cooked a little darker than some other butter cookies, but they have a crisp crunch that melts quickly on your tongue. It’s hard not to eat these like potato chips. There is a certain quality to them that reminds you of a very crisp graham cracker… but not at all the same flavor. The “bordeaux” are a much more adult taste.

The Nature Valley™ Biscuits [here in blueberry flavor] are found in the breakfast food aisle at the supermarket, but they eat far more like an American cookie. They have the same crispness and crunch as all these others. Interestingly, the blue stripe on the box has the very curious phrase, “Naturally flavored with other natural flavorings“. Seems like something out of the Department of Redundancy Department, but WtF? They are pretty good. The blueberry flavor comes across light but distinct and there are actual bits of dried blueberries in the matrix; they have a nice texture that probably derives from the fact that they are made of a combination of wheat flakes, oats, and barley… not your average cookie dough here. Maybe that is why they chose to refer to them as biscuits. I find the texture and flavor reminiscent of a mouth full of Wheaties™.

McVities is an old mainline British/Scottish baking firm established in the early part of the 19th-century. They make an incredibly wide and very wonderful selection of cookies. They were the the first to develop what is called a “jaffa cake” [this is a sponge cake ” cookie with a spoonful of marmalade [or other jam] on it and a chocolate-dipped top. It Is a dear familiar to any British child]. They have Ginger Nuts which are like a hardtack ginger cookie with a 50 year shelf life and an incredible snap of flavor.

I believe a lot of what makes the McVities cookies unique is their use of golden syrup, another British product, whose closest American relative is Karo syrup. Golden syrup however is actually derived from cane and I think is closer to molasses but without molasses’s heavy richness.

Of all the McVities offerings, my easy choice favorite is HobNobs. Introduced only in the 1980s, these are a combination of rolled oats and whole wheat with a milk-chocolate coating on one side that is reminiscent of Cadbury’s… It is the kind of chocolate that melts all over your fingers almost instantly [when you take some camping, the trick is to put pairs of them chocolate sides together… a lot less mess that way]. These have an interesting texture that comes across like really good whole grain bread that has been toasted crisp… but that has a bit of added sweetness… AND that chocolate covering. They are ridiculously good.

Biscoff” has apparently become something of a generic/varietal name. They seem to be made by a number of different companies, but are nearly identical no matter their source. I believe that the originals were actually made by the European company Lotus Foods. They have come to people’s attention over the last few years because they are given out of snacks on a number of airlines. Delta even has them branded with their own logo. If you look them up on the Internet there are a lot of different suggestions as to just what they taste like. Some people find a hint of cocoa, or ginger, others describe them as a browned butter cookie. One elegant review by Francis Lam in Salon magazine said they were cookies that “taste beautifully and comfortingly of warm spices, caramel, and wheat”[…if you already like Biscoff, you really have to go read this review].

The truth is that they apparently only rely on soy flour, oil [not butter], and cinnamon for their unique flavor. The rest of the ingredient list is not particularly complex. The bottom line, as you know if you have them, is that they are delicious. You can dunk them in your coffee, you can spread them with nut butters or jam, you can eat them plain, and Lam claims that if you put a little lime juice on them they taste just like key lime pie! That’s some pretty good mileage for any cookie.

I know that everybody has their own favorites of things to take along as little luxuries when they go camping. These are a few of mine.

[small] Random Acts of Kindness

Almost anyone who has occasion to go through any sizable inner city these days has seen the indigent folks with the cardboard signs… “Will work for food”… “Homeless veteran with PTSD- anything would help”.

What the signs will never tell you, of course, is that they are also quite possibly an alcoholic or an addict. It just goes hand-in-hand with both ending up in a hopeless situation, and preventing you from being able to escape or change. I speak from experience. I have been clean and sober for something over a quarter of a century now. No brag, just fact. While I did not end up in a burned-out tenement, or sleeping in the weeds, I did end up indigent and homeless, sleeping in the front seat of a pickup truck.

My bottom took me far enough down that I always look at people begging at stop light intersections with a “junkie’s eye”. For me at least, your contribution wasn’t going to buy food …it was going to take care of my Jones. A bag or a bottle…  so I will not give money to street people. I will feed them.

Whenever I find myself with more dollar store consumables that I can consume… which is pretty much constantly… I make up packages of those exact same things that I would take out hiking.

I keep a few in the car. These I can then pass out to the indigent, and needy at a stoplight. Jerky, crackers, cookies, breakfast bars… there is a decent caloric weight in each bag that can keep somebody going for a day at a time.

 

I pray that none of us ever has to deal with homelessness or dereliction, but if it did happen, think what a little kindness, and a little bag of food might mean to you

 

Tomorrow I need to go “down Babylon”, so I just made up four new packs out of my extra stuff for those I might encounter who can’t leave it behind as easily as I will.

 

 

[Random Info Tidbit: one of the other things that the indigent and homeless can always use is a new pair of socks… they have them at the dollar store, too]

Laguiole “Picnic” Knife

Last fall I got a wild hair and finally bought a Laguiole style knife. I say “style” because these are one of the most heavily cloned knives out there. “Laguiole is like “Kleenex”… It has passed into common usage for any similar sized, folding pocket knife with a similar sweeping blade. I was under no illusions when I ordered this that it was an actual, handcrafted knife from the village of Laguiole, France, or even the adjoining town of Thiers. For one thing, the Shepherds Cross detail on the handle is upside down, and the rivets are not perfectly aligned. While it actually did ship from France, it is certainly a generic version. And, quite frankly, there is nothing wrong with that.

Here’s a quick link to the Wikipedia entry, and it contains other links at the bottom if you want even more information>>  The Laguiole knife

I have quite a number of what I consider to be decent knives suitable for a variety of purposes, but I lack the money to do any serious collecting of fine blades. This is where my 90%/50% criteria is often used.

The classic Laguiole pocketknife was what you took along to cut up your  fruit and cheese, your baguette and sausage on a picnic in the French countryside. If you had one of the units with the corkscrew, you could open your bottle of cheap vin ordinaire.

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One of the hallmarks of Lagouile knives is the semi three-dimensional bee on the spine of the knife over the ferrule. A second is the engraving along the spine. [the photo at the left is clipped off the Internet, but shows both of these features] Even on the non-handcrafted knifes, the the finer the detailing of these, the better chance of the entire knife being higher-quality. These were two items that I looked for when I started shopping around and comparing the offerings. I was lucky, and the knife I purchased was even more finely detailed than the one shown.

 For my purposes, that is quite enough. This one comes branded “Laguiole L’ Eclair”. It is reportedly made in China of an unknown quality of stainless steel, but takes a very fine, sharp edge with minimum effort. Certainly fine enough for preparing food, and use as a “picnic” knife. The blade opens with a satisfying “snick”, but this is not a locking style knife. However, it does take a firm push up against the back of the blade to disengage the back spring.

The slim blade makes it ideal for slicing. This is why I chose to add one to my camping cutlery. I have big, heavy knives; I have pocket knives and pocket tools. I can dress out a deer carcass, hack up some kindling, and take care of most ordinary camp chores. But none of them have the long, thin blade to finely slice an onion, or to make it a real pleasure to deal with that plate-sized, porterhouse steak that just came off the flaming hardwood coals of your open fire and render it into thin, juicy morsels. The Laguiole does.

It it is also the perfect size to go with my titanium dining set, and carries around perfectly in their mesh bag. Together with the SnowPeak spork, I’m covered. I can prepare and consume in perfect grace, dignity, and high style… while out “roughing it”.

I like using “nice” stuff. That’s how I roll.

Return of the Prodigal Spork

18 months ago I lost my sweet SnowPeak titanium Spork.

I broke camp in the middle of the night because of the appalling nature of the coked-up junkies in the next site. They had returned at 1 AM, started a screaming match, and were being abusive to a three-year-old child. I left to go to the police department and turn in a CHINS report.

When it came time to sort my gear out down cellar after I got home, I discovered I must’ve left my spork behind. I knew it had been sitting out on the picnic table, and I pretty much assumed that I had just overlooked it in my hurry to be gone. I wrote it off as “Oh,well…” and eventually got around to ordering another one off of Amazon when they went on sale.

I was really fond of that little sucker. So fond that I actually used it around the house on a daily basis. [I am on my own since my wife passed away, and using the spork for a lot of things made it easier to just stay caught up on my dishes]. That’s why I sprung for a second one.

For under $10, I highly recommend these. They are available from Snow Peak and several other folks in basically identical form factors. You can even get them heat-anodized into various colors. The prongs are just long enough and sharp enough actually hold food, and the”spoon” is decently sized for scooping up liquids. If your broth is really thin, you are probably better slurping it up over the edge of your cup bowl and using the spork to clean up the chunks. And it’s just long enough cannot leave your fingers completely grotty if you were dipping down into a freeze-dry bag. It’s a great choice if you want to hold your carry down to a single eating utensil. With a good knife to cut things up, It’s really all you need.

Anyway, for all those reasons, I was really delighted when I put on my hunting vest recently and found it tucked in a pocket. I hadn’t “lost” it after all.