Thermal Cooker: Energy Efficient Slow Cooking– At Home, Traveling, or Camping!

Wow! I keep seeing all the face book pictures of children going back to school (I actually get teary eyed looking at other people’s kids starting a new year of school!) Here in Illinois, the weather went from hot and sticky, to cold and rainy overnight. First, you wish summer would last forever, then you get the urge to go apple picking, and next you’re craving heartier meals and thinking about your favorite fall recipes. At least that’s how I am. Our bodies do need a little more sustenance as the weather changes, and most people spend  more time in the kitchen– which adds to the electric bill. My husband and I discovered thermal cookers (non-electric slow cookers) about eight years ago, and it’s a great way to save energy, and perfect for taking on the road, or even just to visit friends for dinner! Here’s an example of one: //“>Thermos Shuttle Chef

Primitive societies discovered how to get a pot of food boiling over a fire, then place a lid on it and bury it underground, where the temperature is retained and it continued to cook. Go into an Asian store and you can usually find a modern thermal cooking system. It’s an inner pot that fits into an outer thermos with a handle. Essentially, a slow cooker that doesn’t need electricity!

We’ve brought our “Cook and Carry” with us to friend’s houses, pot lucks, concerts in the park, and of course, camping! People always ask me, “how long does it keep things warm?” I always smile because that’s not the right question to ask! “No,” I say, ” We actually cook our food in this. Then we bring it with us. It is not just staying warm, it’s cooking. When it’s ready, we eat it!”

Yes, you can take a small chicken, throw some onions, carrots and rosemary or tarragon (love it!) on top, fill it with water up over the food, bring it to a soft boil, put the lid on. Take it off the stove after it has reached the soft boil, and put it into the outer container, flip the lid, and voila! Six hours later, you have a finished meal! If you’re skeptical, bring a thermometer and check the meat temperature! Be sure to bring a stainless steel ladle too– I’ve ended up somewhere with plastic silverware and paper plates, but nothing to serve the food with. Be sure to bring bowls too; we usually take stainless steel bowls for camping and other activities. You will want to enjoy the broth from the food along with it, and paper plates just don’t work for that!

If you’re at a campground, you can use the thermal cooker over a propane stove. You can start oatmeal the night before and have it ready the next morning! You can start lunch before you leave for the day’s activities and leave it in your tent (it’s sealed) to come back to. Or you can bring it with in the car.

Or you can start it on your stove at home– it makes preparation easy if you’re invited for dinner. (I can actually get the kids ready, clean the house, or get myself ready without having to keep an eye on the stove.) I don’t have to worry about transferring it into another dish to bring, because it just stays in the pot. By the time we drive to our destination, socialize for a while, and sit down to eat, it’s ready! You can make side dishes or main courses– I will include some recipe ideas next time!

Here are some new thermal slow cookers I would like to purchase, although our old one still works fine, I like the innovations of these newer ones!

I like this one, not just for the color, but the size of it, and the great reviews it got (five stars), and the cost. It’s made by Thermos, the same brand as my first one: //“>Thermos Shuttle Chef

It comes in a smaller size too, and is very economical compared to some of the other brands listed on Amazon. Here is a link to some other brands available: non-electric slow cookers

Stay tuned for those fall recipes!!!

The Kids Are Planning Our Next Vacation!

Are your kids planning your next vacation? Would you even want them to? Ha! Ha! I’m only partially kidding. Just like the Sophia in my fictional story, my real daughter has a sense of adventure. I’m pretty sure she came with it– but we’ve definitely chosen to encourage it!

Stuck at Home?

Not ready for a road trip right this minute? Well, this post may give you some tips about things we do to foster the adventurous spirit in our kids (and us parents!) while we’re at home.

We’re at home today– my two young children and I. My blog ideas start in the kitchen… we like to eat healthy, which is why I spend so much time there. But when my stainless steel pots hanging from their pot rack begin to feel like stainless steel prison bars– and I can’t escape to the open road– I escape to the computer to write. So now, when the family is wondering why our healthy food is burnt–at least  I’ll have a healthy blog to show for it! But… how to engage my kids?

How to Escape, even if you are stuck at home!

1. Revive Recent Memories

We like road trips. This March we left the Chicago area for Tuscon, Arizona– my husband’s favorite place. But we didn’t begin in a direct way at all! We started South to Tennessee to visit friends, took route 40 all across Texas, into New Mexico, then into Tuscon in Southern Arizona– where we also stayed with friends… then North to the Grand Canyon for a brief lookout, then through the Four Corners into Colorado, through Durango and on to Denver to visit family– then, so many cups of coffee later– back home to Chicago. I’ll have to share more with you in future posts about our adventures, and how well the children adjusted to the drive! But for now, just know they’ve recently seen a big portion of the country and it’s still fresh in their minds…

How to reinforce your children’s travel memories:

Start a discussion of places you have been recently, or in past years. When I was three, my Mom and I accompanied my Dad on a business trip to France. I remember it vividly. I remember actually being there– which is one of my earliest memories. But my parents also helped to foster my memories by frequently having slide shows of places we had been. Today, a Power Point slide show on a “stuck at home” day, or looking through the family scrapbook will encourage discussion.

2. Do a Learning Activity:

Right now we have Dino’s Illustrated U.S. Map on our kitchen table and the children are on a visual road trip! These maps are awesome! You can hang them on the wall, but right now we have the U.S. one across the kitchen table as a semi-permanent fixture (a table pad underneath, and a clear plastic table-cloth over the map.) The map has a border around it with icons of famous people and sites to locate– so it becomes a scavenger hunt for all of us! We are listening to a CD called Train Songs– a compilation of historical folk songs having to do with trains. The last song on the CD is a cross-country train trip highlighting the different cities– and the industries they were known for back in the day. I know my little boy is learning a lot because he is interrupting me to get me to look at the map! He likes the many pictures of airplanes and learning about the most famous flights; he likes the race cars in Indianapolis; and the Golden Gate Bridge! His big sister is helping read it to him. And I think as the kids are marveling at the U.S. map, they are actually planning our next vacation!

3. Do a Project:

Maybe it’s time to update that scrapbook; and rather than you doing it all yourself, show your children how to create a design and the proper way to insert the pictures. Have fun thinking of captions for them. Or maybe it’s time to write a letter to people you visited or met on your trip. Have your children think of things to write, or have them write part of it themselves. Include a recent picture. My parents stayed in touch with the family we met in France, but I never had a chance to take part in it. Or have your kids take part in cooking a meal from another country or another part of the U.S. Or have them try painting a picture from someplace they’ve been. It makes a great keepsake to hang on the wall!