Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Summercamp: Camping Macaroni and Cheese


I think we have finally figured out this camping with young kids thing.  Really, we figured it out last year, but after doing it twice, I know that it wasn't a fluke.

First, location!  When we've tried to do the kind of camping trips that Thatboy and I used to do before kids we found that being in the middle of nowhere with just wilderness wasn't going to work anymore.  The kids just got too bored.  So now we go to a place with trails right off the campsite.  Near a town for exploration. 


Thatdog is not a morning dog apparently.  Too cold.  But he definitely keeps an eye out anytime one of his pack needs to leave the tent and go to bathroom.



The boys love being in their sleeping bags, and it makes for sweet morning cuddles.


Pro tip #2?  Bring a ton of activities.  When we've had absolute fails of camping trips its because I let Thatboy talk me into the "the kids should just sit and enjoy nature" school of thought.  My kids are too young to just sit and enjoy nature.  So instead or success depends on me bringing a bag of fun stuff for the kids to do.  Slime kits for while we set up the site (bonus since I don't allow them to have slime in our house - it gets everywhere), beads to make necklaces, journals to write or color, and foam dart arrows to keep them occupied in the morning.



We also make use of activities in town, instead of just hanging out at the campsite.  This trip we went to explore an honest to goodness goldmine dating back to the 1870s!



Thatbaby was a little nervous about going in.  I don't blame him, the idea of going down into a mine brought out a little of my claustrophobia.  I convinced him to take a couple steps into the entrance and once he saw it wasn't dark, he was okay with venturing all the way in.








They also got to try their hand at goldmining.  Even though they didn't get to take home the gold they found, they really enjoyed the actually mining process and seeing the gold in their pans.


They much preferred their gem mining experience though.  So much so that this was a repeat from last year.




Their favorite campsite activity is making their walking sticks.  I bring a bunch of washi tape and they wrap it around the walking sticks they find.  This also helps with splinters and cuts from sharp pieces of stick.


Then we use those sticks, along with a scavanger hunt I print out, when we go for family hikes,


The trail we picked this time was so cool and shady.  We got into a big fight with the boys when we suggested a 1 mile hike and they wanted to do a 3 mile hike.  I knew my kids would not make it on a 3 mile hike, and Thatbaby was complaining towards the end of this hike, so I know we made the right choice.





I picked up some color firewood packets to place in our fine.  It made for a really pretty fire at nights.


The most important tip I found to keep kids happy when camping is the food.  It needs to be made quickly.  Gone are the days of slowly cooking food over the open flame, or throwing packets in to be cooked and eaten later.  Of course, they always have patience for s'mores.


But everything else is precooked.  I make ham and cheese croissant sandwiches, freeze them, and then reheat them on our camp stove while I heat up water for hot chocolate.


Same with foil packet dinners.  They're made with cooked chicken, frozen, and then just reheated, which takes less time than cooking the chicken.


And the new trick from this trip was making macaroni and cheese.  If you bring the noodles with you, precooked, then it doesn't take long at all to make the sauce.  I use evaporated milk instead of regular milk because it comes in a can for easy packing, and you don't need to worry about refrigeration.  I also prepackage all the dry ingredients together in a little ziplock or tupperwear so they can just be poured in together.

My family likes breadcrumbs on their macaroni and cheese - I love the little crunch it gives, but since you're not baking it, your best bet is to toast it and bring it, stirring it in at the very end.

Camping Macaroni and Cheese
1 can evaporated milk
3 Tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 lb macaroni, cooked
1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
toasted panko breadcrumbs
  1. Combine flour, milk, salt and mustard over low heat, stirring.
  2. Stir in the macaroni.
  3. Stir in the cheddar cheese and continue stirring until the cheese is melted.
  4. Spoon into bowls and sprinkle with panko.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Beach Fourth: Summer Chili


Do you ever have an image in your head of how you'd like something to be in an ideal situation?  I think most of us do.  I know I imagined being a new mother as lying in bed with my husband while our adorable baby cooed at us.  Which is not how things actually go.

But sometimes. Sometimes those romantic visions actually do materialize.  Which is what happened with our Fourth of July.

My ideal Fourth of July involved having a hotel that overlooked the fireworks so we didn't have to camp out somewhere all day, or even deal with parking and traffic.   We tossed around a couple of ideas - traveling across the country, staying in town, but eventually ended up deciding on heading north to Dana Point.

We headed up a day early and checked into our room.  



The key part of the room?  The reason behind our stay?  Our front "porch"  looking right out onto Dana Point Beach where the fireworks would be.


After checking in and dropping off our bags, we headed to the beach.  Thatboy had picked up some Zinka for fun and decided they should REALLY have some fun putting it on.


The big boys went off for a little surfing while the little guy and I played in the waves.  Then Thatboy went off to surf himself leaving me with the two sand-monsters.




Eventually we all ended up sunning and playing together.




We were close enough to head over to Thatmom's for dinner, and then back to the hotel for some sleep.  When we woke up the next morning it was July 4th!


Before I even met Thatboy, I went to the Sawdust Festival every summer.  Once I met Thatboy we both went to the Sawdust Festival every summer.  So it only made sense to take our kids while we were in the area.


The boys got to make some Fourth of July art.


And watch some glass blowing.


We then grabbed dinner at one of the most touristy spots I could find.  It seemed fitting to be extra "vacation-y" with this vacation, so we went with some place with Mai-tais and a view of the water.


After dinner we grabbed some ice cream and headed back to the hotel to it it on our porch.




Then came the magic part of the evening.  The boys got ready for bed.  Baths, teeth brushed, and in their pajamas.  I set up a bunch of glow toys outside while they got ready and then they came out and played until it was time for fireworks.



And then we sat back and watched the show.










It was the most perfect way to do Fourth of July.  Thatkid even watched the last few minutes in his bed.  And after the show, both kids were tucked in and asleep.  No driving anywhere.  No going anywhere.  It completely matched the idea in my head.


It was a wonderful way to start off our summer.  I recently learned that some people are funny about summer.  Did you know that there are people who don't eat chili during the summer?  I know.  I was shocked too.  It doesn't heat up the house and chili in summer is so much better because you can use fresh tomatoes!  YES!  We all know that fresh tomatoes make everything so much better than the canned variety, so it stands to reason that chili with fresh tomatoes would be better than chili with canned tomatoes.  The other great thing about chili in summer is using the best, most sweetest, summer corn.  I like to make chili whenever I have leftover corn after grilling a bunch for dinners or a party.  But I'm also just as likely to grill corn just to make chili.  Especially when I come into a bunch of vine-ripened tomatoes.


Summer Chili
2 ears corn, shucked
6 Tbsp butter
6 onions, sliced
3 lbs ground beef
3 lbs fresh tomatoes, chopped
6 oz tomato paste
1 cup beer
1 Tbsp salt
1/2 tsp Tabasco
3 Tbsp chili powder


  1. Grill the corn about 2 minutes per side, until it is browned.  Remove kernels from ear of corn.
  2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  
  3. Add onions and cook about 5 minutes, until tender.
  4. Add ground beef and cook until lightly browned.
  5. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, beer, salt, Tabasco, and chili powder.  Cover and cook for 45 minutes.
  6. Add the corn and simmer for 15 minutes.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Sounds of Summer: Lemon Beer Bread


Summer for us wouldn't be summer without hitting up some summer concerts.  There is such simple joy in sitting out on the grass and listening to music as your children dance.  My family also uses this as an extra excuse to picnic-  something we all enjoy.

Our first concert of the summer was a repeat performer, and a repeat venue, but our first time seeing this performance at this venue!

Ruth and Emilia at the Botanic Gardens


Both kids enjoy this musical show about an alien who lands in a young girl's backyard, but Thatbaby especially loves it.


The space they used this year was a little different from years past.  With less sitting room for parents, and not a conducive space for picnics.


On the other hand, our local Arts Center started a new program this year with concerts every Friday night.  And there's much more space for everyone.


We attended a few of these concerts, everytime we were home on a Friday night.  They set out some chairs for people, but the rest of the space was open for you to bring your own chairs or blankets.


They also set up yard games and inflatables for the kids to play.  Which can make it even nicer for parents who want to just sit and listen while their children run around.




They also brought in food trucks every week, so that you could grab dinner while you sat and enjoyed the summer evening.

Sometimes we brought our own dinners, sometimes we picked up once we were there.  But we always end up with some kind of treat.


Speaking of treats, I picked up Trader Joe's new "Lemon Peal" malt beverage this summer, thinking it would make a nice evening drink for Thatboy and I.  It did not.  Honestly, neither of us could finish it.  It was harsh.  Not light and refreshing.  I started brainstorming immediately how I could use it.  I decided it would be best used in recipes that called for beer.  The lemon flavor there would complement the dish, and the maltiness would serve for the same use as the beer in the recipe.  I tried it with some chicken dishes, in the marinade, and it was successful.  But I knew that it would really shine in a beer bread.  I tend to think of beer bread as a great fall food.  Served alongside a nice roast, or soup, or chili.  But with a lemon-beer?  I was hoping it would add some lightness and brightness to make it more of a summer experience.  I was right here too.  Thatboy said this is the best beer bread he's ever had.  The boys loved it.  It's even worth buying a six-pack of Lemon Peal, just to make it!

Lemon Beer Bread
3 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp lemon zest
1 can of Trader Joe's Lemon Peal
1/4 cup butter, melted
  1. Preheat oven to 350.  Spray a loaf pan with baking spray.  Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, pepper, and zest.
  2. Stir the beer into the dry ingredients just until combined.  Pour the batter into the loaf pan. 
  3. Drizzle the melted butter over the top and bake for 50 minutes.
  4. Allow to cool in pan before slicing and serving.