Nutrition on the Go: Thermal Slow Cooker Recipes

A while back, in my post about thermal slow cookers,  I promised to give some recipes for the thermal slow cooker… Here they are!

Advantages to thermal cooking:

We use our slow cooker for entertaining, parties, camping, and just being on the go! My husband and I discovered thermal cookers (non-electric slow cookers) about eight years ago, and its a great way to save energy, and perfect for taking on the road, or even just to visit friends for dinner!

Another great benefit to it is that my children have special dietary needs. Since they require a gluten-free diet, they need extra calories to make up for not having bread or grains. I can make a pot of soup with rice, or a pot of buckwheat, quinoa or other gluten- free grains, flavored the way they like it. Then they can eat something before going into a restaurant.

Essentially, this little device saves energy and can be brought almost anywhere. Prepare it at home, put it into the outer thermos and let it cook while you’re driving!

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. Thermal cooking only requires a stove to get it to a boil, the rest of the cooking is done in the thermos!

Where to purchase them (using my Amazon shopping link)

Thermos Shuttle Chef

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

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

Read the Safety Precautions

Before trying some recipes, please make sure to carefully read all directions on your thermal cooking device before using. Your thermos will cook the food for you, but it has to be brought to the proper temperature. Each thermal cooking device is different and will come with different safety precautions as to how long the food can cook for, when it must be eaten and whether it can be reheated. You will also need to know the amount of food that it can safely cook and how full to fill the inner pot.

Some Recipes and Sources: Bon Appetite!

The recipes I’m sharing come from the Nissan Thermos Cook and Carry System instructions (the one I have been using.) However, I am excited to try other thermal cooking systems, and I highly recommend Mr. D’s Thermal cooking blog: http://www.thethermalcook.com/ You can go crazy on his website watching videos and learning all these wonderful techniques!

Onion Soup (Serves 12)

1 Tsp Olive Oil

3 Tbsp tomato paste

4 1/2 pounds yellow onion, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick

10 garlic cloves

1/4 pound shallots, peeled and quartered

2 pounds leeks, white part only, sliced 1/4 thick

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

2 1/2 tbsp fresh whole thyme leaves

1 1/2 cup red wine

2 quarts broth

1 tsp salt

2 bay leaves

3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Over medium high heat, brush a large skillet with the oil, add the tomato paste, and cook until the color darkens, stirring to prevent scorching, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the onion, garlic, shallots, leeks, cayenne pepper and thyme, and cook until the onions become translucent and start to carmelize, about 8 minutes. Stir in the wine and bring to a boil.

Transfer the onion mixture into the Cook and Carry system inner cooking pot. Add the broth, salt and bay leaves, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover the inner cooking pot and place in the insulated transport container and allow to cook for two hours.

To serve: ladle into individual bowls and garnish each with a tablespoon of parmesan cheese.

Poached Herb Chicken

1 four pound roasting chicken

1 cup assorted fresh herbs of choice (I like tarragon!)

1 tsp olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into 4 peices

6 medium red potatoes, well scrubbed, but not peeled

6 cups chicken stock

1 tsp salt

9 whole black peppercorns

2 cups fresh green beans

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

3 tbsp arrowroot

Wash and dry the chicken well, pulling off any visible fat. Stuff the cavity with the herbs and put in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Heat the Cook and Carry System inner cooking pot, add the oil and fry the onion for 3 minutes. Add the carrots and fry for two minutes. Transfer the prepared chicken into the inner cooking pot, on top of the onions and carrots, and tuck the potatoes in all around. Pour the stock over the chicken and vegetables and bring to a full boil. Add the salt and peppercorns, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. Place the green beans on top of the chicken, cover, place in the insulated transport container and allow to cook for 3 hours.

Just before serving, make a sauce: 3 cups of the stock from the chicken and our it into a fat-strainer cup. When the fat has risen to the top, pour the defatted liquid into a saucepan. Remove 1/3 cup of the defatted stock and mix it with the arrowroot in a small bowl to make a slurry. Stir the mustard into the saucepan and heat gently. Remove from the heat, stir in the slurry, return to the heat and bring to boil to thicken.

To serve: remove and thinly slice the chicken. Serve the meat with the potatoes and green beans, covered with the sauce.

“Are We There Yet” Prevention, Learning on the Go! Part One

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“Are we there yet?” are four words that parent’s ears should not have to deal with when traveling. And likewise, day trips to museums and cultural places should be filled with excitement and anticipation! Read on to see how to make these statements as reality in your family!

Stamps, stickers and passports:

Kids love to feel like grown-ups! Just like us, they love rewards and a sense of completion. These rewards should not be treats or toys; they should be acknowledgements. In fact, it makes sense to reward them for achievements outside of school; this way they understand that focus and discipline can help us in every day life!

When Sophia was at White Pine Montessori school her first year of preschool, they made a mock passport with her photo in it. I never dreamed how handy something like that can be! Here are some new ways you can use this idea:

  • For each trip you go on, whether its abroad or near home, make a mock passport.
  • for a long car trip, give them a sticker or stamp for each hour spent reading or learning in the car. (More tips on car learning time to follow)
  • Use rubber stamps or stickers to represent places they go. Some museums might use stamps or stickers for admission. You can ask someone to stamp their “passport”– they’ll probably be delighted to!
  • If you go to a cultural event, find a stamp or sticker that would represent that country. For instance, our 4 H group hosted an international night, and each child had a mock passport. Our group represented the Netherlands, so we used a windmill stamp.
  • If you can’t afford stamps, why not write something like “Hello” or “Welcome” in that language on their passport along with the name of the country.
  • Not traveling abroad? Get stickers of all 50 states, and use them, whether you’re on an adventure or just visiting the grandparents. I would love to have an accurate record of all the states I’ve been to throughout my life!

Learning Toys:

If you’re going to reward them for learning in the car, on a camping trip, or on the way back from a day trip, you need to provide them something to work with! My next post will continue this theme with some good suggestions for learning toys!

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: //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ss&ref=ss_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=wwwlittleshoe-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B00EI643D2&asins=B00EI643D2&linkId=37OGTT4KQF4HC6IU&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true“>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: //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ss&ref=ss_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=wwwlittleshoe-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B00EI643D2&asins=B00EI643D2&linkId=37OGTT4KQF4HC6IU&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true“>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!!!

Camping with Little Ones: What to Bring for Bugs

Camping always brings a sigh of relief for me. Living outdoors is refreshing. We’ve taken both our children camping when they were just four months old. I think that the biggest challenge is figuring out what to bring and getting into the car. Children always seem to sleep soundly outdoors, as I mentioned before– which was a big plus for me! And they are just fascinated with natural things; especially textures like rocks, sand, pine cones, feathers. They seem happier than ever to be outdoors, and that gives parents what they most need too– a carefree feeling!

Since the biggest hassle is what to bring and what to leave behind, I’ll have some recommendations for cooking, bug repellent, sleeping arrangements, and baby gear.

Bugs!

We’ve only had one tick in on a family member in all our years of outdoor activities: this summer, after our seven year old daughter spent the day learning to climb trees. Ticks are gross and a little freaky, but you’re far more likely to find them on a nature trail or in your back yard. The internet seems to say that ticks do not jump down from trees, but every doctor I’ve spoken to says they do. They can also jump up from tall grass–  but a campsite offers tick protection: frequent camp fires, shorter grass, usually away from trees. Just be informed, and you’ll be O.K. See below for more suggestions.

  • If you’re worried about bugs, don’t go camping during the hot, humid season. Why add complications? May/ June, or September/ October are better times to go camping in my opinion. Days are a more comfortable temperature, and cool nights can be good for sleeping. Most campgrounds open in April and stay open through October. Here is a good website to help plan for trips: http://www.allcampgrounds.com/articles.
  • Inspect your tent for small holes or places that don’t zip. Be sure to repair these areas.
  • Don’t put your tent near standing water, trees or light poles, as these things attract bugs.
  • Keep lanterns and flashlights away from the entrance to the tent, so as not to attract bugs. If possible get into and out of your tent before turning on the flashlight, or have a tiny pen-light for this purpose if you need it. We always hang a lantern inside the center of the tent if we plan on staying awake, but make sure everyone is in first.
  • Don’t eat or drink inside the tent or near it, so as not to attract bugs. You can store sealed food inside your tent.
  • A campfire or citronella candles don’t completely keep bugs away, but they do help.
  • You are no more likely to get ticks at a campground than anywhere else. The grass at a campsite is short so its more likely to get them on a nature trail or just playing outdoors. Nevertheless, it’s a good thing to check around in your tent and on yourselves before going to bed, especially if you’ve been hiking that day.
  • We’ve had success removing a tick with a tick key. Here is a link to Amazon’s tick removal section: tick remover We’ve only had one tick in our family in our lives: this summer, after our seven year old daughter spent the day learning to climb trees.
  • Carry activated charcoal with you for tick or bug bites. You will want to put it on dry and not diluted. It is helpful to remove toxins through the skin. It relieves itching from mosquito bites by pulling the toxins out. It is a good first aid for tick bites, once the tick has been carefully removed (you will want to read up on tick removal). Drawing any toxins out immediately removes a lot of fear and concern. Of course, first aid is first aid. You will probably want to follow up with doctor after a tick bite, especially if you see a rash. Be informed.
  • Bug repellents have various levels of effectiveness. We prefer natural ones, but have not found any type that works perfectly. Feel free to comment if you know of a good one!
  • If you still want to take some extra steps, here are some good baby bug products: Natural Repellent bracelet for babies All natural mosquito repellent bracelets (10 pack) for kids, Z Show pop up mosquito net tent for baby

As you can imagine, we were not quite this obsessive; ) and everything turned out fine : )

Fall Camping: Places to Go

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Take a deep breath and get ready to welcome fall! Less bugs, cooler evenings, changing colors– the perfect time for a camping trip! If your little ones are not in school yet, what a great time for a family trip. If they have started school, then take advantage of a long weekend, like Columbus Day, for family bonding.

Where to Go:

If you’ve had a busy summer, it might be nice to pick somewhere within three hours of home. Depending on whether you have children in school, this might make a difference too. It’s nice to slow down a little during the fall season, and pick peaceful places in which to enjoy the changing seasons. You may want to have some warmer clothes, rain gear, and hardier food choices, but I’ll go over what to bring in my next post.

Places to See:

Here is a list of the best places we’ve been camping in autumn:

  • Traverse City, Michigan: Beautiful colors, lakes, fishing, boats, vineyards, rolling hills, rustic scenery. Jim and I got up at dawn to photograph the sunrise over the lake filled with fishing boats.
  • Door County, Wisconsin: scenic lighthouses, and lots of activities to do here!
  • Galena, Illinois: a river town with historic sites such as Ulysses S. Grant’s home, and ghost tours of the city in late October
  • Cheekwood near Nashville, Tennessee: Leaves turn color later in October to November, so take advantage of the warmer weather! Cheekwood has a scarecrow contest, outdoor sculptures, historic buildings and beautiful gardens. Although you can’t camp at Cheekwood itself, there are many state parks and outdoor activities nearby.
  • Multnomah Falls, Oregon: cascading waterfalls, October still has the feel of summer, except that the salmon are running! (fascinating to watch these fish wrestle their way North into the hatcheries!) Scenic harbors, lots of hiking.
  • Leavenworth, Washington: Bavarian style renovated village in the mountains. We stayed in Wenatchee State Park and hiked in that area, then ejoyed the boutiques and restaurants, on authentic Oktoberfest weekend!
  • Amana Colonies, Iowa: historic German village built by settlers. Has art galleries, boating, cave tours, shops and authentic German food; really comes to life for Oktoberfest weekend!
  • Multnomah Falls, Oregon: beautiful all year and still warm in October, we camped nearby, hiked up above Multnomah Falls (shown in picture) and got to see the salmon running (when they return North to spawn in the fall.) Scenic waterways, hiking, good restaurants, and only two hours inland from the Oregon Coast.

Another thing we like to do in fall is to find Pioneer festivals and reenactments, to show the kids how people used to live. Some festivals can be quite elaborate and make a great learning experience. These tend to be hosted in or near state parks, and usually have camping and fishing opportunities nearby.

Camping with Baby, Under Tree Tops…

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Sophia 2 years old

Baby sleeps soundly, loving rain drops…

I mentioned in earlier in my blog how we took our daughter camping for the first time when she was four months old.  (I have a picture from this adventure– will post it when I find it!) Why do you think they like the song “Rock-a-bye Baby in a Treetop”? There’s nothing like going to sleep to the sound of rustling trees! Labor Day weekend held a steady downpour that year. But our baby fell asleep early, and slept through the night (such a thing was not heard of at home!) Mommy awoke well-rested, and that made for a peaceful, enjoyable weekend with friends.

There is nothing out of the ordinary being out in nature with a little one. Trees and rain are more comforting than night lights,  electrical things running, parents downstairs washing dishes and talking.

I grew up camping, (although not starting till we were older). So it was not new for me. But it was a fun challenge taking a baby, and made me look at life and duties as a mom differently. It was so peaceful.

Is camping only for “outdoorsy” people?

No, it doesn’t have to be. Our family likes hiking and canoeing, but that is not a complete picture of who we are. We like cultural events, festivals, quaint towns, and new places– as long as there is something worth seeing. We camp nearby to save money, and to have a connection with nature.

KOA campgrounds are nice for children because of their community feel, breakfast, mini-golf, swimming pools, and nice bathrooms. They are a good starting point if you’ve never camped, and its easy to find them. But there is nothing wrong with state parks and other campgrounds.

Why go camping?

If the above mentioned reasons are not enough, here are some more to think about.

  • It’s a good bonding experience for the family. When a baby is born, both parents are usually very exhausted. Home routines become rushed and perfunctory. Mommy and Daddy both have very different roles for those first few months, and Daddies even tend to feel excluded.
  • Since camping traditionally is more of a man’s role, it gives Daddy not only some relaxation, but a place of honor. He’d probably rather start a campfire and set up a tent than cook meals and make the beds at home. Its a great way for family to come together and put aside all the distractions.
  • Camping saves money, and if you don’t care for outdoorsy activity, you can camp near a festival, near a town where you’d like to do sightseeing.
  • You can make it a social event. It’s a lot less work than hosting a dinner party, and you can spend time telling stories and experiencing nature. It makes you feel freer!

Birthday Book Bash: Travel and Camping Theme

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Our birthday book bash was great fun! Thanks to all those who came out to celebrate our son’s birthday! Our little guy was so excited about his party, it took a while for him to fall asleep afterwards! He kept hugging me and thanking me for the great party! Although shy at first, he warmed up to all his friends and was thrilled about all the beautiful books! I will give some tips about camping with kids in this blog series. But first, I thought I would share a few birthday party ideas we tried.

How to Incorporate Books Into Your Child’s Party:

1. Put books on your wishlist to show you are seriously fun!

2. Scope out your spot. We picked a great outdoor location ahead of time. A beautiful park with big shade trees over us, a playground nearby, bathrooms nearby. The park wanted to charge us $230 to rent a picnic shelter (which is usually full of flies and bugs.) No thanks! Natural shade from the oak  trees was exactly what we needed! Besides, no one can gather around to hear good books at a shelter with rows of tables.

3. Bring picnic blankets, a tarp, and ask adults to bring chairs. In case it rains before you arrive, you don’t really want to sit on wet ground. We thought it best to bring a tarp and put the picnic blankets on top. (We also planned a back up indoor location.)

4. We read books that had to do with camping, outdoors, and adventure. The What If Monster story from Usborne, and the Shine a Light Books by Usborne– which have to do with learning about nature- we read inside our tent.

5. For older kids, you could do a variation on the learning theme, using books about wilderness survival and outdoor skills; even having one of the dads– or moms– demonstrate some outdoor skills.

6. We ate a s’more cake! Marshmallows were toasted on a propane camp stove. Read on for more information!

Which Usborne Books to Choose:

So at our party we read some great Usborne books! In the What If Monster story they pass around a little green What If monster. The book goes through all the bad scenarios that could happen. Each time the kids hear “what if” they pass the monster to the next person. Then the child in the story begins to change his thinking to good thoughts– What if I am successful? What if I meet my very best friend? The child who ends up with the monster at the end of the story wins a prize! What If’s can be a good thing– it just depends on your thinking! What a great concept for a real camping trip! Animally was another cute story we read. My son loved the pirate story

Why Make a S’more Cake?

Other than being just plain fun, it’s easy, cheap, and it all gets eaten! Think about it– you buy a really beautiful cake from Jewel or somewhere. It’s good for two minutes and then you have little paper plates with gobs of icing stuck to cake left over everywhere and you throw half the cake away. Adults don’t want to eat it for fear of gaining weight. Most kids are smart enough to know the icing is bad for them– they leave it behind. Our family can’t tolerate sugar very well and the kids are gluten intolerant. But we decided to have a little fun with s’mores. I arranged the Chocolate (which of course was left on ice until the right time), graham crackers, gluten-free snicker doodles, and marshmallows on a large tray in sections. The compartment in the middle of the tray had a bunch of marshmallows, and we stuck the four candles in the top marshmallows! It created a lot of excitement!

Safety tip:

A campfire was out of the question as this was in a public park. A big BBQ grill wouldn’t be worth the effort, and too hard for kids to reach. So we just brought a little propane camp stove and placed it on the picnic table. We formed three lines of kids and had adults to supervise while they toasted marshmallows. We had a hibachi charcoal grill too, but it took too long. The propane stove was easy to set up, and cooked the marshmallows quickly!

Flash Light Books:

After the s’more cake, kids came back to read the Shine a Light Books from Usborne. I only wish I had gone to the effort to set up a bigger tent. But the books work even in sunlight, just hold the flashlight close! Camping and good books just go together!