Sunday, May 25, 2014

Family Retreat on Vancouver Island

We spent the Victoria Day long weekend away at a family retreat with a huge group of families from Walter's Out of School Care group (in Canada Victoria Day falls on the last Monday before May 25th - this year that was May 19th).  There must have been over 300 parents and kids relaxing, challenging themselves and each other, and eating.  Occasionally, they let us sleep!

Be warned, this is photo-heavy ... but oh so beautiful ...

Camp Qwanoes, near Crofton, on Vancouver Island.

There were various accommodations to choose from.

Cabins ...

Treehouses (unfortunately, not open at this time of year) ... 

and dorm rooms ...

The advantage of the dorm rooms was that they were heated, had indoor plumbing (including showers), and relatively comfortable sleeping ... they were made up of multiple bunk beds, but heah, this is a camp that tends to see a huge number of teenagers each year and bunk beds hold a lot of people.  We chose a dorm room.

For me, it was about the beauty of the surrounding area.  Despite my height-induced vertigo these stairs led to a beautiful expanse of ocean.

The view beyond the stairs ...

With the tide out it was a great place for wandering and gazing off ...

From Manuel's perspective it was all about the climbing challenges.  He managed three quite different, but way-up-in-the-sky ones.

First up, the Elevator challenge, so called because of that rectangle floating way up in the sky (an old elevator shaft metal frame).

Manuel climbed up it so fast ...

I barely had time ...

to frame my pictures.   And then?  He had reached the top!  Apparently, he broke their record :)

After coming off of that he decided to try a simpler wall climb.

After climbing the easy and medium walls on this, the difficult wall defeated him because the stones were so far apart that he wasn't tall enough to do it.  I think, with practice, he would learn how to overcome that kind of obstacle.

He took the rest of the day off (!), but was back at it again the following day with the Sky Scrapper challenge.  Because of my height issues another parent partnered up with Manuel (you had to be in pairs to ensure you clamped on and off properly).

Not sure which of these pictures shows just how high up they went.  There were three levels.  Originally, they were going to start on level three and work their way down, but Manuel's partner realized how daunting it was once they got to the second level, so they worked their way around that one.

Crazy!  Manuel said it was really hard work and doing just that one level was good enough.

We were exhausted, and coming home to a softer bed was heaven.

Walter wants to go again next year ... I guess we have a year to re-energize.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dehydrating Apples

A friend of the family has an apple farm in the Okanagan.  We always purchase a few boxes from them, and they generously let us pick several more boxes for free.  Last fall we ended up with 12 boxes of apples.  I don't know if you can appreciate how many apples that is.  We are just now on our last box.  We've given a lot away, eaten an apple a day every day all winter long, made pies, applesauce, apple crisps, lately we've thrown out way too many bad apples (so sad), and recently I pulled out my dehydrator to see what I could do to save some of those apples.

You can, of course, make fruit leather with a dehydrator.  I didn't.  I was too lazy, which is likely why it's taken me this long to get the dehydrator out.  I could make excuses - there was lawn furniture in the way all winter long.  But really?  It just seemed such a bother.  In any case, I finally got out my handy-dandy Nesco dehydrator.

I bought it a few years back when I had big plans to dehydrate everything we were getting from the family farm (which was so much produce a lot was going bad before we could use it).  Dehydrating is a great concept.  Simply slice your fruit or vegetables into similar sizes/thicknesses.  Place in your dehydrator and let the machine slowly dry the food.  The problem is, of course, how long it takes.  You have to realize - I'm used to waiting a bit when making bread.  It's not like I don't have some patience.  But dehydrating?  Man, it takes forever.  I did have a great piece of equipment for peeling, coring, and slicing my apples (10 seconds per apple!).  Another Lee Valley item, the apple peeler (catchy name, eh?).

The nine apples that I could fit in the dehydrator were ready in a couple of minutes.  Laying the apple slices out on the six trays of the dehydrator was another few minutes.  Plugging it in.  No problem.  Then, waiting.  A whole day later (from 6 PM Saturday night to 6 PM Sunday night).  24 hours is what it took.

They look pretty, in a dehydrated kind of way.

But ... that's a lot of time listening to the hum of a dehydrator for two jars of dried apples that likely could be eaten in a single afternoon of snacking.

Would I dehydrate apples again?  Yes, but likely not a boxful since that would take a full week of running the dehydrator to get it done.  Perhaps 2-3 days tops is all I could likely stand.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Popcorn Without a Microwave

If you are of a certain age you will likely remember making popcorn on the stove top.  Some oil in the pot, add the kernels, put the lid on, and start shaking vigorously so those kernels wouldn't burn.  If you were smart, you would start the butter melting before beginning this process so that it would be ready to pour over your popped kernels.

Nowadays, most people just grab a box of microwave popcorn while doing their grocery shopping.  Those microwave popcorn bags are so easy - a couple of minutes in the microwave and you have a piping hot bag of popcorn, all self-contained.  Eat and toss the bag.  Nothing to wash up except, perhaps, your fingers.  And, as long as you don't eat too many bags a day, likely fairly safe.  Not great for the environment, but oh so tempting.

Except, we don't have a microwave.  Yes, you read right.  We don't have a microwave.  When we bought our house it didn't come with one.  Although we had one in the townhouse, it wasn't used too much ... except for making popcorn.  Once we read about popcorn lung, we really didn't want to use it for that either.  So, new house, no microwave.  No problem.  After reading how little difference there was between heating water on a stove or in a microwave (we're talking 0.087 kWh for a microwave compared to 0.095 kWh on a stove top), it wasn't about money savings.  Time is certainly a savings from the microwave perspective, but if you plan things right there really isn't much difference there either.

Does this mean we no longer eat popcorn?  Of course we do!  In fact, a couple of Christmas seasons back Santa gave the family the best present ever - he got us the Lee Valley Whirley-Pop popcorn popper.  With this popper we can have popcorn in approximately 3 1/2 minutes.

1 tablespoon oil, and 1/4 cup popcorn kernels into the Whirley-Pop.  On the stovetop, medium-high, turning that little handle ever so slowly.  The sizzle of steam, and a few seconds later the kernels begin to pop.  At that point, we just turn the stove off and we're done.  It's that simple.  I'd show you how much we get, but it gets eaten so quickly it's hard to even capture some of the finished product (those orange bits are grated cheese!).

We make popcorn at least once a week.  Friday night is popcorn dinner night :) ... by Friday I just don't have it in me to be creative in the kitchen.  I want a break, but I don't want to order in.  Popcorn is a fairly nutritious food source, if made right.  High fiber, high protein.  The grated cheese adds more protein and dairy.  We often have this with a fruit smoothie to balance everything out.  The perfect lazy end to the week.