Monthly Archives: August 2016

Trail Mix and Match

Trail Mix 03 690pxToday is National Trail Mix Day. Known by many names, I grew up calling it GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts), trail mix is a type of snack mix, specifically a combination of dried fruit, nuts, and sometimes chocolate.

Trail mix is considered an ideal snack food for hiking and camping because it is lightweight, easy to store, and nutritious, providing a quick energy boost from the carbohydrates in the dried fruit or granola and sustained energy from fats in nuts. Trail mix is also perfect for sporting activities, field trips, and other high-calorie burning adventures.

The combination of nuts, raisins and chocolate as a trail snack dates back at least to the 1910s, when outdoorsman Horace Kephart recommended it in his popular camping guide. In the 1960s, trail mix was popularized by Paul Hadley of Hadley Fruit Orchards, who developed energy-boosting blends of dried fruit, nuts and seeds and marketed them to hikers in the neighboring San Jacinto Mountains.

However, in recent years, I feel that trail mix has become less of a high energy snack and more of a camp candy, which is a far departure from its original purpose. For trail mix to pack the energy punch that it’s supposed to, it can’t just be all candy. It needs to be primarily carbs, proteins and fats, with a little sugar for that sweet treat.

So long as trail mix includes the key three, the sky is the limit as to what to put in it. That’s another great thing about trail mix; it is definitely not a one-size fits all. It’s very customizable.

So, what makes a great trail mix?

Well, as we’ve already said, it needs to have carbs, proteins, and fats. It needs to have some crunchy bits and some chewy bits. It needs to have some sweet and some savory. And, above all, it needs to have flavor and stuff you like; otherwise, you’re not going to eat it no matter good for you it is.

Let’s explore the world of possibilities. When building your trail mix, include ingredients from each category and you can’t go wrong.

Nuts or Seeds

Good nut choices include almonds, pistachios, cashews, peanuts, and walnuts. Higher-calorie macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, and pine nuts are also good options in moderation. Nuts are loaded with healthy unsaturated fats, protein, fiber, antioxidants, vitamin E, and other essential vitamins and minerals. Raw or roasted, go for unsalted, unsweetened nuts to keep sugar and sodium in check.

For those with nut allergies (or just looking to mix things up), seeds provide many of the same nutritional benefits as nuts and many are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, gamma linolenic acid, protein, zinc, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium. Good seed choices include hemp, sunflower, sesame, flax, and pumpkin.

Fruits or Berries

Good choices include dried apricots, pineapple, cranberries, blueberries, cherries, figs, apples, dates, raisins, banana chips, goji berries, strawberries, and mango. Fruit can be a great source of fiber, antioxidants, calcium, and vitamins A, C, and K. Look for dried fruit options with as little added sugar and preservatives as possible (some varieties, like cranberries, are naturally quite tart and almost always sweetened with cane sugar or apple juice). It’s also pretty easy to make your own dried fruit at home in the oven.

Crunchy Bites

For that little bit of crunch try granola, toasted oats, sesame sticks, pretzels, tortilla chips, shredded wheat squares, air-popped popcorn, puffed rice, corn flakes, whole-grain cereals like Cheerios or Chex, bran flakes, and whole-wheat crackers. Grains add complex carbohydrates for extra fiber, which boosts overall energy and helps to keep you full. Choose whole grains whenever possible and avoid highly processed cereals that add unnecessary sugar and sodium.

Sweet Bites

Round out your trail mix with a sprinkling of something sweet, including M&Ms, chips or nibs (dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, peanut butter, carob, butterscotch), gummy candies, chocolate-covered coffee beans, yogurt-covered raisins, mini marshmallows. When choosing chocolate, remember that dark varieties have extra antioxidants. A little bit of sugar is perfectly acceptable and, according to Mary Poppins, “helps the medicine go down.” Just remember to add sugary treats sparingly. They should not be a main component.

Unique Mix-Ins & Savory Extras

Kick it up a notch with coconut flakes, wasabi peas, candied ginger, pork rinds, coffee beans, and seaweed rice crackers. Adding spices is a great way to change up the flavor a bit. Season the mix with sea salt, curry, ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, or cayenne pepper.

Some Assembly Required

Start by choosing just a couple ingredients from each category. Keep it simple. Don’t pack too many flavors in, but have enough variety to make every handful a little different. Don’t be afraid to mix it up once and a while and add something new or come up with new combinations.

When you’re ready to assemble, combine ingredients and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place to prevent spoilage.

When making trail mix for a camping or hiking adventure, sporting activity, or urban experience, allow each family member to build their own. Set out ingredients, grouped by category, and give everyone a resealable bag, mason jar, or plastic container. Guide little ones so they don’t load up on all the sugary stuff and leave out the nutritional building blocks.

Trail mix is a power hitter when it comes to snack food and is not just for hikers. I pack a little trail mix to work every day for a nutritious energy boost for when I hit that afternoon slump. And, yes, I have Craisins in mine! What’s in your mix?

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Baby Steps and Baby Bites


picky_eater_02_690pxLearning to like something can be hard for adults and especially hard for kids, whose pallets may not be fully developed. It could be taste, texture or, sometimes, it’s both. Take onions for example. When you bite into a large chunk of onion, there is a lot of texture and a strong flavor. It’s a powerful bite and can easily overwhelm a young pallet.

I spent many of my early years not liking onions but, as an adult, I was surrounded by many people who did like them, who wanted to cook with them, and who wanted me to cook with them. One day, I just decided that I was going to try to learn to like them. But where to start?

I started with baby steps and baby bites. I started by using a little onion powder in my cooking. This gave me flavor without the texture and I found I liked it. Gradually, I increased the amounts of onion powder until I reached full strength. Next, I started swapping out the powder for dehydrated minced, which is tiny, tiny bits of diced onion that have been dehydrated, which provided me with a little texture. From there, I started using fresh onions, dicing them very small (and I mean very small) at first and working my way up to larger dices.

This same method could be done for many other foods. You may not be able to find the food in a powdered version, but you can still mince it or chop it very small and use it sparingly at first. Allow everyone to become comfortable with it before stepping up to the next size.

Over the years, I have made great strides toward liking onions and, while I’m not quite ready to have a thick slice of raw onion on my burger, when we went out to dinner a couple of weeks ago, I actually ate a couple of onion rings, and I liked them!

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Let’s Talk S’Mores


Today is National S’Mores Day! Who doesn’t love a good s’more?!

Some time ago, I ran across this infograph on s’mores by REI and I loved it so much I saved it to share here.

20160810 smores_infogram

For most folks, it’s just not camping without at least one evening campfire and s’mores, songs, skits and stories.

While the classic s’more consists of graham crackers, chocolate squares and toasted marshmallows, it’s okay to break from tradition and put your own spin on it.

We love to swap out the chocolate bars and graham crackers for hazelnut chocolate spread and shortbread cookies (yes, we use Girl Scout shortbread cookies). We’ve dubbed them gourmet s’mores.

My daughter loves to add a layer of peanut butter to hers or swap out the chocolate bars for a peanut butter cup. Do you have a favorite candy bar that would get all melty and gooey and compliment the marshmallow and graham crackers?

Adding a layer of sliced strawberries to your classic s’more is simply divine. Blueberries and raspberries are yummy, too.

Channel your inner, evil mad scientist and experiment once in a while. Besides it gives you an excuse to have s’more than one!

Now the question is: When do you pull out the s’more supplies?

I think a lot of people make the mistake of saving s’mores for the end of the campfire and I understand why. The campfire has died down and you are left with a nice bed of embers on which to roast your marshmallows, but now we’re sending everyone off to bed on a sugar high and expecting them to settle down and go to sleep. Uh, ya, not gonna happen.

I would recommend starting your campfire with s’mores. One way to do this is to ignite a small bed of coals on the outer edge of the fire for toasting your marshmallows. This provides your campers with their choice of glowing embers or full on flaming fireballs!

Once everyone is all sugared up, begin the skits and rowdy songs. You know the ones: The jump up, dance around, make crazy hand motions songs.

As the sugar wears off and the fire starts to die away, shift into the quieter, softer songs. On scouting campouts, we love to end our campfires with taps and vespers. Now everyone is ready to go brush their teeth and shuffle off to their tents for a good night’s sleep.

If it’s going to be a cold night, we might include a little protein snack near the end of the campfire. A little protein before bed can help you sleep warmer because your body stays warmer digesting the protein.

All this leads to a perfect campfire on a perfect campout and sends them home wanting to do s’more camping and cooking outside!

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Fresh Herbs or Dried Herbs


I love to cook with fresh herbs and spices whenever I can; however, on long camping trips, sometimes it’s just not practical to pack and store a bunch of fresh herbs. Can you substitute dried herbs for fresh? In most cases, you can and the conversion of fresh to dried is super simple.

On the flip side, if you have a recipe that calls for dried herbs and you’d like to use fresh instead, it’s easy to substitute fresh herbs for dried herbs using this same conversion.

When cooking with fresh and dried herbs, there is a general rule when it comes to the ratio of fresh to dry. Because dried herbs are generally more potent and concentrated than fresh herbs, you’ll need less so the ratio of fresh to dry is approximately 3:1 or 3 portions of fresh herbs to 1 portion of dried herbs. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano, you need only 1 teaspoon of dried, since 3 teaspoons equal 1 tablespoon.

For the most part, this ratio works for all herbs across the board; however, there are a few where the ratio needs to be adjusted or they have their own, unique conversions.

Basil: 2 teaspoons finely chopped basil (about 5 leaves) = 1 teaspoon dried basil

Bay Leaves: 1 fresh leaf = 2 dried leaves

Garlic: 1 clove = 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic or 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

Ginger: 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger = 1/4 teaspoon dried ground ginger

Onion: 1 medium onion = 1 teaspoon onion powder or 2 tablespoons dehydrated minced onion (to rehydrate minced onion, soak in twice as much cold water for about 10 minutes then drain)

Parsley: 2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley (about 3 sprigs) = 1 teaspoon dried parsley

Sage: 2 teaspoons minced fresh sage (about 7 leaves) = 1 teaspoon dried sage

And, just like the pirate’s code, these are “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” It is always important to use your taste buds and adjust the seasoning when necessary. Add the minimum amounts; let them work in for a few minutes and taste. You can always add more, but if you over season at the start, it’s hard to back it down.

In most cases, you can substitute dried herbs in recipes that call for fresh herbs; however, there are some exceptions. If a fresh herb is a focal point of the dish or the main component, then it is not a good idea to use the dried version. For example pesto, which requires large amounts of fresh basil leaves, cannot be made with dried basil.

It also matters if the herb is going in the dish or on top of the dish. When I make my scalloped potatoes, I sprinkle dried parsley in between the layers of potatoes and béchamel, but if I want to sprinkle some parsley on top before I serve then I would definitely want to use fresh.

Dried herbs tend to do best if they’re added during cooking so their flavor has time to infuse the whole dish. Fresh herbs are best when used at the end of cooking, to finish a dish. This way the flavors are still fresh and bright when you start serving. I also like to use fresh herbs in sauces, salad dressings, and other quick dishes since dried herbs don’t have enough time to really infuse these kinds of dishes.

Whether you’re using fresh or dried herbs, packing and storing your herbs for camp is really not that hard. Fresh-cut herbs can be wrapped in a paper towel, stored in resealable plastic bags, and then put into the cooler. Place them on top or, if your cooler has a tray, put them there. You don’t want them to get crushed by the ice or other foods. Dried herbs should be stored out of the light and in a cool, dry place. So a clear plastic tote sitting in direct sunlight is not the smartest choice for your dried herbs.

Being able to cook with herbs, fresh or dried, allows for more scratch cooking possibilities in camp. You’ve heard me say this many times: For the most part, whatever you can make in your home kitchens can be made in your camp kitchens. Sometimes you just have to be a little creative and figure out how to do that.

So, get outside and cook something delicious!

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