Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Clarifying Butter for Backpacking and Long Term Pantry Storage and Use a Sealer to Make Individual Packets with Video

I love butter.  I often say that butter makes everything better, and unless you are vegan or have some aversion to dairy then you probably agree. I am not talking about that nasty food product impersonating butter - margarine (yuk!), but real sweet cream, lightly salted and churned until it solidifies into a little concentrated piece of heaven.

Salted butter can Butter is graded by the USDA based on aroma, flavor, and texture.  Grade AA is the best, then Grade A, with Grade B reserved only for cooking or industrial purposes. The flavor of butter can vary depending upon the diet of the cows it came from, as well as the amount of fat and milk solids the butter contains.
backpacking butter
Clarifying Butter for Long Term Storage
While I am an unabashed butter fan, there are a few downsides to butter.  First is that good quality butter is quite expensive compared to artificial margarine. The price of butter can fluctuate with the national milk supply, which is impacted by weather and demand for other dairy related products like ice cream. Furthermore, those with cholesterol issues probably shouldn't overindulge in a source of pure animal fat like butter.  Fortunately for me, this isn't an issue.  :-)

Clarifying the butter is a process that removes the milk solids and water from the butter.  The milk solids include casein and lactose, so clarified butter can often be tolerated by those with milk allergies. Clarifying also renders the butter shelf stable and increasing the smoke point to 485* vs. 350*, so it's more suitable for frying. 

Filter Your Clarified Butter to Remove Small Particles

Sooo, technically, once butter is clarified, it's not really butter anymore!  The term for the oil that remains once the solids are removed is actually called butteroil.  The good news is that butteroil contains fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.  And of course you can store it in the pantry instead of the fridge!  In the following video, I mention that the jar pictured above is over 6 months old.

Once your butter is clarified, you can package it in individual serving sizes for use in your lunchbox or on the trail.  The same technique is useful for peanut butter, oil, or any small package you may want to enjoy away from home.

Small Happy Packages of Buttery Goodness

If you want to see the process every little step of the way, here is a video from my Youtube channel!  Enjoy, and Happy Hiking ;-)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Wild Trail Foods Series : Wintergreen, Gaultheria, with Video

Winter is a great time to go skiing, snowshoe, or test the limits of your cold weather sleeping gear, but not such a great time to be a forager. The pickings are pretty slim in the winter months. Other than the occasional scraggly greens on the roadside, such as dandelion, cat's ear, or dock (and then usually at lower elevations), a forager has to endure five or six months of dreams of fresh greens and berries.
For several years I wandered around the woods from November to March, hopeful to find anything other than pine needles to feed my hunger for wild foods. Just to be clear; there is nothing wrong with pine needles. They rock. Not many other wild foods have so much vitamin C. It's just that pine dominates the woods near my house, so while I am completely appreciative of the towering, needled, scurvy-preventing evergreens, I get a little tired of them as my only wild plants for months on end.
So what is a weed eater to do in the winter? Other than staring at plant identification books for hours on end, we can go in search of the elusive winter edible.  One such edible is the tea berry.  Also called wintergreen or creeping wintergreen, this wild edible is about as under appreciated as the pine tree.
Wintergreen, or Gaultheria procumbens, has tasty leaves that can be dried and crushed in a tea.  The Colonists used the leaves as a tea substitute during the British taxation of black Indian tea in the 1700's.  The berries, little red pearls of minty goodness with the mildest hint of sweetness, are excellent as a trail nibble.  The plant also has medicinal benefits for the aching hiker, containing methyl salicylate, a relative to aspirin.  Native Americans used the plant as a treatment for aches and pains.  The plant can be used as a tisane (tea), tincture, or poultice. 
Gaultheria is prolific along many trails from the southeastern U.S. and north to New England.  The procumbens species is found in the eastern U.S., although other species is found all over North America. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dehydrating Liquids in the Excalibur Dehydrator

I really love my Excalibur, but not so much the flat trays. While circular dehydrators (like the American Harvest) have a small rolled edge that prevents a small amount of liquids from dripping off, the Excalibur Paraflexx tray liners are completely smooth and flush with the edge of the tray.  I prefer the Excalibur for a lot of reasons, but the flush edges means anything that is not solid will run right off the tray :-(

I have been dying to find a way to dry soups and stews, but the mess just isn't worth it!  So far the only suggestion I have found is to use parchment paper to make a bowl, but almond milk (and a lot of other foods) stick to the parchment, making a huge mess and wasting a lot of the food.

Finding a way to dry liquids has been a special challenge, but I have finally come up with an easy way to dry any liquids with the dryer! Using the Paraflexx liners (or the generic ones from Amazon), and a few binder clips at the corners of the flexible liners, you can make a "bowl" that will fit your tray perfectly!

A Paraflexx Liner and four binder clips is all you need

Simply pinch the corners and clip to make a bowl as deep as you like

Now you can dry liquids very easily with no mess!

In this video, I demonstrate drying almond milk and an awesome mushroom and beef gravy.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Winter Backpacking Gear List for the Very Cold Sleeper

I love having my own blog. I can talk about whatever floats my boat.  Right now I have a little bone to pick with forums.  I really dig discussion forums; they are an incredible resource for the beginning backpacker.  I have been active and lurking on several different forums for years, notable Hammock Forums, Whiteblaze, and Backpacking Light, just to name a few. The information gleaned from other, more experienced backpackers is invaluable. I love learning from the mistakes of those who have trod the forest before me!

Additionally, whenever contemplating a new piece of gear, the forums are the perfect place to find firsthand reviews.   You can also find hiking partners, ask about the "best" campsites on a specific trail, and (my fav) get some new recipes.  My husband appreciates the fact that I can have meaningful discussions with other people and don't have to discuss backpacking or hiking with him morning, noon, and night. When I talk about camping, what he hears is "blah, blah, blah."  Forums are the perfect place to hang out with "my people."

Monday, April 14, 2014

First spring forage hike 2014

I went for my first plant walk of the season this week, and at the last minute decided to record how many wild edible plants I could identify in a few short hours.

I was delighted and surprised to fine 19 of my regular edibles available for foraging, or in fruit and soon to be available! 

This entire video was shot with my S3, so please excuse the shakiness and wind noise while on the approach trail...

Monday, April 7, 2014

Pennsylvania's Black Forest Trail - Thrills, Chills, and Spills: A "Plan B" Backpacking Weekend on

Known as the "Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania," the Black Forest Trail (or BFT)  in the Tiadaghton State Forest in north central PA lies three hours south of the Great Lakes.  Blazed orange along its 42 miles, the BFT features about 8000' of elevation gain, lots of streams, and lovely views.  The trail also features rugged wilderness terrain, treacherous stream crossings, and bears.  The name supposedly comes from the dense coverage of hemlocks and pines that once prohibited full light from penetrating the trees, hence the "black" forest.

Hiking the entire trail at once meant we would have to hike 20 miles on Saturday in order to fit the trip in a weekend, not to mention a 12 hour round trip drive.  I know there are some very hardy souls who think 20-30 miles a day with a loaded pack is a blast, but when backpacking, I usually hit my "fun threshold" after about 14 miles.  The posting mentioned that I had never been on this trail, so a sense of humor and a great attitude was a prerequisite to RSVP for this hike.

Craig and Becky at the Trail head

The Mid-Atlantic Hikes Website (which is an amazing resource for backpacking and hiking trips in the area) outlined two different backpacking trips for the trail; the BFT North and the BFT South.  The northern route is the roughest with 5000' of elevation gain, but offers the best views.  The southern route is slightly less challenging with total elevation change of about 3500' up and down.

We originally planned to hike the northern circuit, but after some emails back and forth with someone who already hiked the trail, and who described the potential for a very hairy stream crossing over Slate Run during periods of high water, we opted for a southern circuit.  The total mileage would be about 23 miles, with a breakdown of seven to eight miles each day.

Being early spring in the mountains, and only three hours south of the Great Lakes,our group prepared for the worst, but still hoped we would have the warmer spring weather we craved.  The week prior to the hike, the weather report turned ominous; instead of 50* days and 35* nights, the outlook was

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

MLD Mountain Laurel Designs Gaiters Long-Term Review

I love these things. For anyone considering gaiters in general, or the MLD gaiters in particular, here is a video for you!  Please leave any comments regarding your thoughts here.  Happy Hiking :-)