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 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!

Kids in Flight!

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balloon_moonI know what you’re thinking– Where are the kids? Next time! Some things take a little planning, and maybe parents want to go up first to assess the flight for their kids. Found out hot air balloon pilots do take children on board. Nostalgia Ballooning is the only balloon company in the Chicago area. According to Nostalgia Ballooning in Hampshire, Illinois, children under five squirm too much, but provided there is parental help, children above five are generally able to see out of the basket and follow directions– which is all that is necessary for them to be involved in this lovely adventure! So when our son turns five, then he and  his sister might go with us!

This time I went with my father for his birthday and we had a wonderful time. He is standing next to me and the guy to the far right is Art Moller, a pilot from New Mexico, where hot air ballooning is big! We drove through New Mexico last spring, and perhaps next year we will try it out there! Just looking at his website with pictures of balloons flying over the red desert is absolutely amazing: www.albuquerquehotair.com

We arrived at 5:30 a.m. (You can see the moon still out when we were up in the air in the picture above.) Morning is when the winds are most still. Evenings are the second best time. The crew helped the pilots spread out the balloons on the ground and hold them while they were filled with cool air. You can see the size of the balloon in my new header picture where it is still being filled behind the truck. Once the balloons were full, the pilots started blasting the propane and a little hot air made the balloons start to pull away. We climbed into the basket, which felt like an over sized picnic basket. Five adults fit comfortably, considering everyone had a beautiful panoramic view. If you like watching out a plane window as you ascend, think of how it would be to feel embraced by the sky and fresh air from a basket! Planes hit turbulence in the clouds as they ascend more than 4,000 feet. Hot air balloons stay below that airspace. It is still possible to distinguish houses and trees.

The balloon lifted off gently and moved at only about eight miles an hour upward. We reached 3,828 feet high, and could glimpse Lake Michigan and Chicago on the horizon, with the sun shining almost right out of it, meaning we were due West of Chicago. We traveled 8.02 miles and the trip lasted 1.07 hours. About half way through the trip we came to a lower altitude. We crossed over familiar roads, the I 90 expressway, and drifted East. There is no control over the destination– but the countryside is full of decent landing spaces. Since the fuel lasts only a little over an hour, the pilot begins scanning for good spots well before then. We touched some tree tops as we flew over! When the pilot found a good spot, we landed, but waited for the ground crew to get permission from the property owner. Permission granted; the ride was over but the excitement lasted. The entire crew helped push the air out of the balloon and it was crazy to see such a glorious and gigantic item stuffed into a seemingly small, plain bag!

I want to look into this National Balloon Museum more. Have any readers been there? Let me know about your experiences with hot air balloons!

Another opportunity I’ve been looking into and planning for is the Young Eagles Program. Kids over eight years old can ride for free with a pilot as an introductory flight. This happens at airports all over the country. Check for events in your area. Lake in the Hills, Illinois, and the Dekalb-Sycamore Airport of Illinois sponsor a Young Eagles Flight event every year.

Children’s Literature, Picture Book Chapter 3: Scrapbook of Travel Adventures

Sophia and her Momma spent the next morning looking at their scrapbooks while Sophia’s little brother is slept.

“So this was my baby shower!” Sophia exclaimed. I thought you had baby showers before the baby came out?”

“All through my pregnancy, we were trying to sell our home,” said Momma. “It was very important, and very stressful on me. So we waited till you came into the world. That way all our friends and family would get to meet you!”

“How old was I then?” Sophia asked.

“You were only a month old in those pictures,” Momma said.

“What was my favorite present?” Sophia asked.”Did I get any shoes?”

“Well, yes. As a matter of fact, our friend gave you the little pair of white bunny slippers.”

“I remember those,” Sophia said. “I wore them in Idaho.”

“Yes,” Momma said. “You cried every time you lost the ‘girl bunny’ or the ‘boy bunny! I’m not sure how you told them apart,” Momma smiled, “but when you asked where they were, I always told you ‘they went down the rabbit hole’ and then you’d find them under your sheets. But one time, you dropped the ‘girl bunny’ outside in the snow after preschool, and cried for three days till we found it! It was good that the snow in Idaho doesn’t stay all winter like it does here in Chicago!”

Sophia laughed. “I sure loved those bunny slippers. We still have them, right?”

(Painting of Momma and Sophia sitting together holding the scrapbook. Next to them are the tattered pair of bunny slippers.)

Did I get any other shoes?” asked Sophia.

Momma said, ” you did get a bag of shoes from Karla, the airline stewardess. They were her daughter’s old shoes.”

“Really,” Sophia said excitedly. “That means that those shoes came from someone who traveled! Karla traveled to different countries, right?”

“Yes,” Momma said, “She worked for an international company and went all over the world.”

“Wow!” exclaimed Sophia. “Are there any pictures of me in those shoes?”

“Those were the first shoes you wore outside. Here’s a picture of you in them at grandma and grandpa’s house.”

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“That must have been fun. But what about travel pictures, Mom?”

“Well, here is your first big trip. We went to Costa Rica with our friends.

(Art: next two pages show scrapbook up close with pictures of Costa Rica and captions of what was happening, ending with a little notation about how Sophia lost her sandal there at a church and cried.)