Saturday, June 10, 2017

Char-Griller Duo 5050

In today's terminology, I've "done a thing" and "this happened". And I couldn't be more excited. I finally decided on a barbecue grill and I made the purchase. In one more week I'll be on vacation at The Shack and will be cooking on my new grill.  I purchased the Char-Griller Duo 5050 dual fuel and I couldn't be more thrilled.


Cooking Off-Grid at The Shack


I've purchased land with a small hunting cabin that will someday be my retirement homestead. In the meantime, I go camping up there at every opportunity.  The previous owners left behind an amazing woodstove inside and a old, dilapidated propane barbecue grill outside.  I've been grateful for both.

In the colder months (yes, I camp up there in the winter) I use the woodstove for my meals. Learning to cook on/in a woodstove has been trial and error but between using hobo packs and finding a perfectly sized enameled cast iron dutch oven, I've been able to prepare some really delicious meals.

In the warmer months, I cook outside on the grill. The grill was so old and rusty that I had to replace the grill immediately, but that was a cheap and easy fix. However, the connections and knobs for the propane no longer function. I still used it as a charcoal grill/smoker and using apple tree branches for cooking gave my meals the most wonderful taste!

Imagine, apple wood smoked Delmonico steaks with a glass of wine. Mouth-watering!


Early spring camping - Delmonico steak, hobo packet potatoes, and a glass of wine


But the limping along with the little rusted out grill has lost it's appeal and I wanted a "real" grill. And the rusted out grill is so tiny. If and when I have camping guests, that size of that grill is not adequate.

But which model should I get?

After my adventures with the woodstove, the propane BBQ grill, and the grill as a charcoal/wood smoker, I knew what my criteria were.

I needed:

  • a side burner (for the times I just want soup, stew, etc)
  • a gas grill
  • and a smoker
  • an easy-to-read gauge (because I want to try baking while camping)


The Char-Griller Duo 5050


I've been window-shopping grills for nearly two years.  I will soon be camping for week. I needed to make a decision. Fortunately, when I finally decided to take the plunge, the grill I had decided on was on sale! Perfect timing.

I chose the Char-Griller Duo 5050 for several reasons.  It has the side burner I need. That side burner will be perfect for my little Moka pot of coffee. I will be able to barbecue using the propane side if I choose or I can use the charcoal side and add my lovely apple wood for smoking. There is a Char-Griller smoker attachment, but after using my old dilapidated grill for smoking, I'm pretty good at it without that added accessory and expense. 

Char Griller Duo 5050 


The Char-Griller Duo is not as heavy duty as some other brands. But at this point, the cost point is a priority for me. Also, I'm not sure I could move the heavy-duty grills around the deck by myself.

In the future, after I rebuild The Shack and have a real outdoor kitchen (off-grid summer kitchen) I will likely either purchase a higher end grill/smoker or I will have a custom stone BBQ/oven built. But in the meantime, I think this Char-Griller dual fuel grill is the perfect solution.

Of course I will write updates on whether or not I've made a good decision and the delicious test meals I'll be cooking.



*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you.  I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Roasted Beets!

I have just discovered roasted beets and they are amazing! There is a good chance that you are familiar with roasted beets but I was not. With my recent passion for roasted beets, I've done some research. Beets are reported to be a healthy food treasure. And a vegetable that I'll be able to grow and store.


Why Roasted Beets are Exciting


I lived portions of my childhood years on farms. We had gardens and my mom did a huge amount of canning. I am appreciative of those experiences and having learned the skill of storing food all those years ago. 

Unfortunately, my mom was not a good cook. Nor was she adventurous in the kitchen. She cooked many of the meats in a skillet with water. The only herbs or seasonings in our kitchen were salt and pepper. And I don't recall much use of the pepper. There were many things cooked in that kitchen that I swore I'd never eat again.

Beets were one of them.  We canned them. And we boiled them to heat them. They were slimy, mushy, and pungent. Somehow pungent but without flavor. Oh how I gagged trying to get those down while worrying about the starving and appreciative children in other countries. 

I swore I'd never eat beets again. Ever. No matter what.


Bringing Out the Best in Beets


The lesson: never say never. Roasted beets are amazing! I had them recently, by accident, in a salad served in the cafeteria at work (see the intro photo above).  At first, I thought the little dark red chunks were cranberries. Or something similar. But there was such a smoky, earthy, and only slightly sweet taste that I didn't think they could be cranberries or craisins.

They were roasted beets. And they were delicious.  I immediately wanted more.

Since then, I've had more.  I've roasted beets several different ways and have eaten them as a side. 

So far, I've roasted them wrapped in tinfoil and in a variety of dishes and pans. But so far the best method has been to roast them in my small enameled cast iron dutch oven.  

They are fairly easy to prepare. I prepare beets as follows:

  • cut the tops off, leave about 3/4 inch of the top
  • cut most of the root off, leaving a small bit
  • wash under running water with a vegetable brush
  • place them in my pan and drizzle a bit of olive oil
  • salt and pepper (using more than you usually would sprinkle)
  • stir to coat the beets evenly
  • cover and bake at 375 degrees 
  • bake until a skewer slides through easily (my biggest beets took about an hour - smallest took 30 minutes)
After they are baked, I let them cool until I can handle them. Then I use a paring knife to cut off the remaining stem and root. Be careful, they remain warmer under the skins. As I do cut off the tops and bottoms, much of the "skin" peels/slides off.  I then peel off any remaining skin.
summer couscous sala


Ways to Serve Roasted Beets


In a salad

As a side (they were great with pork chops)

As an addition to my summer couscous salad (I think I'll replace the tomatoes with roasted beets)

Health Benefits & Risks


I am not a medical expert or nutritionist. Research seems to show that beets have many health benefits. They are reportedly high in fiber, vitamin C, and potassium - all things I am in need of.  

There are also some slight risks to over-eating of beets for people at risk of gout and kidney stones. This is due to the beets being high in Oxalates (whatever those are). 

Finally, if you eat many beets, do not be alarmed if your bathroom visits begin to show a slight "beet" color. That can happen and is reportedly harmless. If it concerns you, please consult your doctor. I just wanted to include a blurb here so you aren't startled (as I was) if it happens to you.


Beets are for Me!


I will still never again can beets and serve them after boiling. Yuck. But you can be sure that I will find a way to grow these in next year's garden (whether it's my balcony garden or a garden at The Shack). And I will be finding more ways to serve these little vegetable treasures with my meals. 

roasted beets and pork chops

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you.  I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Treasures: Farm Fresh Eggs at Willow Valley Farm

Oh what a wonderful find! Farm fresh eggs are only a short drive away at a local farm in Baltimore County. If you live in the Baltimore area and are craving eggs straight from the farm you need to know about Willow Valley Farm in Glen Arm, Maryland.

Farm Fresh Brown Eggs


Why bother with driving to a farm when you can buy your eggs at the corner store? TASTE! That's why. Organic eggs that are more healthy for you come straight from farms. 

I've been so disappointed with the eggs from the store lately. They really have less taste. The last dozen I bought promised to remain fresher for a longer time. I swear there was no flavor. And then I was worried that whatever process that makes them have a longer shelf life is probably something I don't want to eat. 

I know that brown farm eggs have a rich taste and are healthier eggs in general. So I did an internet search hoping for eggs somewhere nearby.

Willow Valley Farm in Glen Arm, Maryland


It turns out that this farm is a bit of a drive from my apartment. But I had errands to do this morning and I'd not be too far from Glen Arm. So off I went.

Willow Valley Farm is very easy to locate. Just a few miles "north" of 695 on Harford Road. Actually, I think it is northeast of 695 and northeast of Carney, but the roads here never really run north/south and east/west so it is hard to describe.  Regardless, the farm was very easy to find. And Harford Road, off of Joppa Road, is a gorgeous drive. 

The farm is well-marked with a sign at the road. Turn in to the drive and head toward the barns. There you will find a small chicken coop/shed. That is where the self-serve eggs are located.

I made the mistake of actually going in to the shed.  Don't do that. I stood there for a minute, looking at the chicken boxes thinking "oh wow, this is the ultimate self-serve!"

Silly me. On the front of the shed is a smaller door with a black handle. The door is clearly marked with the egg prices. Behind that door is a small refrigerator. Inside are the eggs in cartons. You pay (honor system) in the container located in the refrigerator (so remember to bring a few dollars).  If you brought an empty carton to donate, you just leave it on top of the fridge. It was easy-peasy and I shouldn't have had any problems with figuring it out. I guess I hadn't had enough coffee yet.

And there I was, the very happy owner of 18 LARGE brown eggs.



Willow Valley Farm Owners


Mr. Jamie happened to be nearby when I entered the wrong door and exited. It was clear I was trying to figure out what I was doing. He greeted me, showed me the ropes, and talked for a minute about their lovely farm. In addition to eggs, they also have a variety of meats available; beef, pork, and of course, whole chicken.  

It was easy to see that their farm is well maintained. As far as farms go, it was very clean. The stock nearby (chickens, hogs, and cows) were all clean, healthy, and clearly well cared for. They were in large pens and they were clean. (Sorry, livestock cleanliness was my father's first rule of farming. And it is the first thing I look for when I am around livestock. Habit.)

I will return for more eggs. And likely make arrangements for some of the cuts of meats.  

Related Sites:


Click the photograph below for the Willow Valley Farm website. On that site you will find hours, directions, products, and a bit of information about the farm and family. Or find them on their Willow Valley Farm facebook page. On their facebook page they seem to update with egg availability (i.e. no eggs due to weather).


photo by Willow Valley Farm, Glen Arm, MD




Saturday, March 18, 2017

Treasures: Soothing Goat's Milk Soap

Rustic bars of goat's milk soap, made by hand locally, is a special treat I look forward to. It is a treasure that I purchase for myself each year. Typically, I buy a bar or two when I go to the local National Apple Harvest Festival and I use it when I'm in the mood to pamper myself. I have a favorite brand and a scent that I always look for at the festival. But more recently, I have discovered Etsy and am thrilled to have more options to purchase soothing bars of goat's milk soap with just a click of a button - any time I am in the mood to pamper myself. 


Stonefield Goat's Milk Soaps


Stonefield Soaps is the brand I always look for at the annual National Apple Harvest Festival. I impulsively bought a bar of Stonefield soap years ago and loved the feel of the lather and my soft skin afterwards.  

During my research to write this, I decided to look for Stonefield Soaps on Etsy. I did not locate them there, but I did find the Stonefield Soaps website. I am able to order these soaps online after all!  What a pleasant surprise.

Each chunky, little bar of soap comes wrapped in a thick paper, tied with a ribbon, and complete with a label to denote the fragrance. My favorite is the Lavender. 


Stonefield Soaps

Chickens In The Road Goat's Milk Soaps


There is a homesteading blog that I have followed for years.  Over those years I have read Suzanne McMinn's adventures after moving to a "slanted little house" and small farm in West Virginia. They eventually moved on to Sassafras Farm. At this farm she continues writing her blog but also gives workshops on things related to country/farm living. The workshops include soap-making. Someday I will attend one of the workshops and learn how to make my own soap - in preparation for retirement on my own homestead. In the meantime, I am super excited that Suzanne is offering her own goat's milk soap in her Etsy store.  

I want a sampler pack because I know I will enjoy all of Suzanne's soap recipes, but I am MOST excited about the Beer Me Babe recipe. I can only imagine how soft my skin would feel after the beer, shea butter, and coconut oil. And the orange and patchouli essential oils are a scent combination I enjoy (please refer to the listing for the complete list of ingredients). The Chickens In The Road bars of soap are large, unique, and rustic bars of soothing soap.


Chickens In The Road Goat's Milk Soap - Beer Me Babe


 Related Links:


The National Apple Harvest Festival is held in Pennsylvania each year. If you love apples, crafts, handmade items, bluegrass music, antique tractors and a car show (when it doesn't rain so much that the cars can't safely drive onto the field) and so much more, you would enjoy this festival.

Chickens In The Road is Suzanne's blog. There you will find all of the information about her farm, her book, recipes, the workshops, and her Etsy store. There are also forums for her followers to chat about their farms, gardens, and lives.

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you.  I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Camping Coffee Dilemma Solved

I am not a coffee snob nor am I considered by some as a "real" coffee drinker since I only drink iced coffee.  But I like my morning coffee. Oh who am I kidding? I MUST have my morning coffee.  I have developed a way to ensure I have iced coffee at home daily. However, making sure I have a morning coffee while camping at The Shack has been a problem.  Fortunately, I am reminded that a Moka coffee pot is the solution to most of my camping coffee problems!


My Process for Making Iced Coffee at Home Does Not Work Well for Camping


Some time ago, I had been buying coffee (and usually donuts) at a local coffee shop every day.  Determined to save money (around $1,800 a year!) and to get my iced coffee made how I like it (closer to black than the splash-of-coffee-over-creamer I often received at the coffee shop) I learned how to make my own iced coffee. The very summarized version is:

  • using a typical 12 cup drip coffee maker, I brew my coffee
  • I let it cool down sufficiently to avoid melting a plastic/lidded pitcher (I learned my lesson - pouring hot coffee into a glass pitcher is not a good idea)
  • I place it in the fridge over night
  • in the morning, I pour the cold coffee over ice and add my tiny splash of creamer

This method keeps the coffee from becoming diluted when poured over the ice. Then I use my AWESOME Bubba Tumbler to keep it cold and carry it safely with me to work or prevent nasty spills if I'm just hanging out at home.


Making Iced Coffee at The Shack


When camping at The Shack in cold weather, having cold coffee should be easy, right? I make the coffee as usual and take the coffee jug with me when I drive up there. Easy, right? Nope.  I tend to forget the coffee jug in the fridge. And once, I remembered the jug but I spilled a good portion of it in the Jeep because the lid wasn't tight enough. Maddening.


stove top percolating coffee pot
In cold weather, I can brew it in an old fashioned percolating pot. Easy, right?  Well, no.  My wood stove doesn't seem to get hot enough to cause it to percolate. 

I could use my BBQ grill. It doesn't have a side burner, so I have to sit the pot on the grill.  The fire of the grill gets plenty hot enough, but how clumsy sitting a little coffee pot over one of those large grill burners. Seems like a too much flame and propane for one tiny pot.  Not to mention that I can't seem to add the right amounts of coffee to water in my little percolating pot.  

However, I have had some successes with the grill and the stove top percolating pot method. Then, if it is cold enough, I leave the pot outside to cool. Not quite iced coffee, but close enough. 

Single Burner Camp Stove
I did finally figure out how to use a small propane single burner camping stove with the stove top percolator coffee pot. Propane camping stoves are awesome and work well for a variety of things. And they work well in all seasons. But that didn't solve the ratio of water to coffee problem I have. And the fact that the pot is so tall makes me a bit nervous on top of the propane bottle/stove set-up.


Moka Coffee Pot - The camping coffee solution


Just yesterday I found a Moka Coffee Pot review. Voila! My solution for making good coffee while at The Shack. I had already known about the Moka coffee pots but I had forgotten. Years ago I went camping with a friend who brought one on our camping trips. The measuring of the coffee and the water was almost fool-proof. The water heated quickly and the coffee "brewed" quickly.  

The only drawback is that it doesn't hold enough water for multiple large mugs of coffee. But that's okay.  I'm typically camping at The Shack with just the dogs and I. And thus far, they haven't asked for a cup of coffee. 

The Moka expresso coffee pot my friend used


Thank you Brenda at Culinary Favorites from A - Z for the Moka coffee pot review and reminder of the perfect coffee solution for making coffee while camping at The Shack. 



*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you.  I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.





Saturday, February 4, 2017

Bag Balm Soothes Dry and Cracked Hands


Even though I've known for many years that Bag Balm is the best way to soothe sore, dry, and cracked hands I had allowed myself to run out. In December, when I spent some cold days up at The Shack, my hands turned from dry and cracked to bleeding and painful. I drove down to the local pharmacy and bought a tub of Bag Balm. I felt immediate relief as soon as I applied it. 


Bag Balm - the Legend


I spent a portion of my childhood on the farm. Bag Balm was an ordinary part of farming and barn life.  My parents kept a tin of the stuff in the barn for the animals. It was then I learned to use it on my hands. But I had no idea the origins of this soothing balm. I just knew we always used it.

Please note - as far as I know, Bag Balm is not currently approved for use on humans by the FDA. Please be very clear about this and do  your own research as I am not a medical or dermatology expert. However, I do believe that because it is safe for use on cow udders, it is safe for my use. Besides, there are no warnings that the farmers should use gloves while applying this balm to the cow udders.

In preparation for this article, I did a bit of research about the origin of Bag Balm and how it came to be used on our farm.  The Legend of Vermont's Original Bag Balm is a fun and quick read. The very summarized version is that in 1899, in the "Northeast Kingdom" a pharmacist had created a soothing potion for cow udders. A farmer, John Norris, tried some on his cows and was an immediate fan. He bought the formula and the rights, and began marketing this healing balm.


Bag Balm Uses

I used the balm on my hands and feet. I've used it to soothe my dog's sensitive skin and on the pads of his feet. As a child, we used it on skin abrasions on the livestock. 

I buy a larger tin and store it either near my bed or take it along to The Shack in my supply tote. At night, I just spread some on my hands and go to sleep. In my opinion, it has a slightly creamier consistency than "Vaseline".  During those painful days at The Shack, I applied some to the cracked areas around my fingernails each time I was indoors for a bit. The balm soothed the pain and softened the skin.


My tin of Bag Balm
Uses reported by others include:

  • the care of the pads of the search and rescue dogs after 911
  • cow udders
  • livestock skin and wound care
  • tattoo care
  • athletes use it to prevent chafing

For more information, customers describe other uses in their reviews on Amazon and in the "tried and true uses" tab of the Bag Balm site. You will find a variety of packaging to choose from; tins,  a pail, and a travel tube size. I prefer the 8 oz tin size

Bag Balm - 8 oz Tin


Related Link:

While at The Shack, only my hands suffered during that cold December visit. My hands were already dry and cracked from frequent hand-washing at work and then I did one too many outdoor activities during my camping visit. Fortunately, I had sufficient firewood, sleeping bags, insulated coveralls, and a new Free Country jacket that kept me warm otherwise. 


*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you.  I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.





Sunday, January 29, 2017

Comfortable and Organic Buckwheat Pillows

My roommate had been hinting, and finally point-blank stating, that he wanted one of those weird little "as seen on tv" buckwheat pillows. I finally purchased one for him, boxed it up, and put it under the Christmas tree.  He was more excited about that pillow than the other, bigger ticket items. A natural Sobakawa Buckwheat Pillow is an excellent choice for those looking for organic, comfortable, and affordable pillow options.


What is a Sobakawa Buckwheat Pillow


The Sobakawa Buckwheat pillow is a small pillow filled with buckwheat hulls. It is listed with the following features:


  • 100% cotton cover
  • filled with natural buckwheat hulls
  • used in the Orient for centuries
  • the hulls have unique properties when used as a pillow that make them more comfortable, supportive, and therapeutic
  • it measures a bit over 12" x 18"
  • it is made in the US
  • In Oriental medicine, it is thought to assist with "ZU-KAN-SOKU-NETSU" meaning cool head and warm feet. Which is thought to be an important part of maintaining good health

Natures Pillows - Sobakawa Buckwheat Pillow


Why My Roommate Loves His Buckwheat Pillow


My roommate has significant back, hip, and leg pain due to an old, severe injury to his back. Finding a good position to sleep in is a nightly journey for him. He has used full length body pillows, feather pillows, foam pillows, and so on. A combination of pillows work the best for him. This buckwheat hull pillow is very helpful to him in this search for comfortable sleep.  

He reports that it is heavier than most pillows.  It stays propped where he puts it. I have "borrowed" it a few times when I'm reading in bed. I fold it and prop it under my head so that I can read and it does a fantastic job of staying in the position I placed it in. I always finished reading before the pillow flattens out.  

When I asked him to describe what makes him like that pillow so much, he said in his typically super succinct fashion "it does what people say they want pillows to do".  After asking him to clarify, he said:


  • it stays in shape
  • it supports you
  • it's a good size



What Other Reviewers Have to Say About this Buckwheat Pillow


At the time of this writing, the Sobakawa Buckwheat pillow had 4 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Many of the five star reviews are lengthy and detailed. you will have to read those for yourself. In general, they also report a high level of comfort and support, relief of pain, ability to form the pillow into the position you want, and that they pillow remains cool.

The low reviews complain about the pillow size (too small), the pillow firmness (too hard), and the pillow noise (the hulls make a crinkling sound, a bit like an old-fashioned bean bag chair).  Some people fear bugs or hygiene issues because the pillow itself can't be thrown into the washer or dryer. One person said that the lack of aesthetic shape of full sized pillows at the top of the bed was bothersome.


Summary


This is a wonderful, little pillow that provides a cool, supported nights sleep. It is small in size (about half the size of a large standard pillow) but heavy for it's size. The buckwheat hulls do make a crinkling sound (in my opinion) but only ever so slightly.  It is great for propping up on your regular pillow for reading in bed. Put it in a small, washable, 100% cotton pillow case to eliminate hygiene problem.

When I ordered this pillow, I expected it to come in a "as seen on tv" box. It did not. But that did not concern me. I placed it in one of those inexpensive gift boxes and gift wrapped it. And for years, it has been a gift that has given the gift of a comfortable sleep night after night.

Related Link:

Are you concerned about chemicals in your home and environment?  I have recently learned more about the chemicals in our textiles and have reviewed some of the reasons Organic Pillows are Healthier for You and the Environment.


*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you.  I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.