Family Backpacking Food Prep, Dehydrating fruit

Good morning!

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Family Backpacking Food Prep

Here’s a sneak peak at what has been happening in our kitchen the past few weeks….

LOOOOOTS of dehydrating going on! Because we’re packing up and heading to Shackleford banks, NC with the kids! We’re super excited about this trip, but in all honesty it is a LOT of prepping and planning. So, I just keep my eye on the prize…. the gorgeous stars at night over the ocean, the shores of shells and not just any shells CONCH shells…. wild horses…. opening up the tent and being on a beach on the Atlantic…. nighttime camp fires with kids sipping on hot cocoa while I read Misty of Chincoteague Island to them so they can dream of horses and beaches!

But, there is very little information on packing food for a FAMILY out there. Individuals? Absolutely, no problem…. but families?

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Elliott (3.5yo) sporting his brand new Deuter kikki bag for our upcoming family backpacking excursions.

It’s like crickets…. and I wonder why that is…. is it because it’s hard? Lots of work? Kinda scary to take kids places without food, water, stores, etc? Has that stopped millions of parents from traveling and touring their kids through Disney World every day before? So, on I trudge. We’ve always been a camping family…. we’re just taking it to the next level now that all the kids are old enough. So, Christmas theme this year was all about backpacking…. lightweight sleeping bags, packs, hydration packs, etc etc. (Yes, even my 3.5yo. ;-)) It’s like a dawning of a new era….

To start out the food planning and prepping, I made out a menu…. refined it, refined it again and again…. made sure it was meeting all the nutritional needs…. and then started separating ingredients into items to dehydrate. Then when it’s all done, we combine items into bags, combine bags of things together to make meals and vacuum seal it all into a neat little package. The difference from what we can find on the web and what we’re doing is…. size and weight. My one concern is heating it all… the largest pot that we’re bringing is a 2L pot, so we want to make sure everything can always fit in there…. and one of our biggest obstacles was the form of stove to bring. We finally jumped through a few hoops and were okay-ed the transportation of “hexamine” on the ferry to get to the island…. so we ordered an esbit stove and tablets, but the pot that fits it is only a 20oz pot…. so we can boil water in 2C increments. That’ll be fine for breakfast and coffee…. but for lunch and dinner we’ll likely be boiling small amounts, adding to food, and then just having to wait for more water….. but if we had a traditional stove with us we’d be fine with our 2liter pot, so…. yeah…

For the fruit then! I decided on a variety… and I also dehydrated blueberries, but they were a pretty big pain, lol, so I’m not sure I would ever do it again. I took a whole bag of frozen berries, poked them, and it still took about 24hours of drying and when I packaged them all with oatmeal I noticed a little juice from a few yet…. so they’re in the freezer and we’ll eat those first.

As for the rest! I dried apples, pineapples, peaches, strawberries, and bananas!

I didn’t bother treating the apples or bananas…. we’re good with the color. So, since these two were the most “prep” I’ll start here! I peeled the apples, cored them, then sliced into 1/4″ slices. laid out on the sheets and dried them at 135*…. I think they took about 8 hours. Bananas, peal, slice, lay out, and dry (all fruit was dried at 135*). Recommendation for bananas would be to use parchment paper…. but my trays have a flexible mat so I was able to pop them off.

Strawberries, I used a few bags of frozen strawberries. Recommendations: Cut them thicker then I did, lol…. I think maybe 1/2″ sections…. I didn’t realize there was as much water in them and when I took them out they were (are) pretty paper thin, lol. 1 large bag of frozen berries became 1 cup worth of berries…..

Peaches and pineapples…. well I cheated. We have an Aldi by us and they sell organic canned foods for cheaper than non-organic at any other grocery store…. so…. I think 4 cans of pineapples, 2 cans of peaches. Again…. leave the peaches, I sliced mine in half and they reduced to nothing. I left the pineapple and they’re perfect. Both remain a little sticky…. but that’s okay, it’ll pair perfectly with salted nuts! (sweet and salty…. always yummy!)

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Dehydrated Fruit for our upcoming Family Backpacking Trip. Pictured are the results of 2 large bags of frozen strawberries, 10 apples, 4 cans of pineapple, 2 cans of peaches, and 8 large bananas. Additionally we dehydrated a bag of frozen blueberries (which reduced to about 1/2 cup) and we’ll purchase raisins and craisins for a total of 8 different fruits to add to oatmeals and for snacking on.

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100% Fruit “Rollas”

I make this a lot for my kids…. adults around here like it too…. but really it’s intended for the kids. It’s easy to pack in lunches, it’s not going to get juice all over, doesn’t require a container, won’t get their hands dirty and will hopefully help keep their clothes a little cleaner before the end of the school day. Plus, it’s a quick thing to pop in… and it fits the bill for “snacks” allowed at school, because it isn’t an actual fruit roll-up with hardly any fruit in it…. it’s actually 100% fruit, no sugar, no anything additional added. We call them “Fruit Rollas” because that’s what Elliott, my almost 3 year old calls them… and the name has stuck.
DSC_1026The start of the process goes like this: roughly 6 cups of apple sauce, a quart of strawberries (or a bag of frozen strawberries), a pint of blueberries (or about half a bag of frozen), and 2 bananas.

None of those amounts is set in stone, use whatever you’ve got…. but I like that combination because it gives it kind of a pretty reddish/ purple color. The bananas and the applesauce are both needed for the right consistency though.

Okay, so throw those into a gallon sized pot and turn on the stove to high-med heat and bring it up to a boil. Turn the heat down to med and just let it boil until everything is quite soft and squishy. Maybe 15-20 mins. Cooking it this way REALLY helps the end product to not be too thin, and not be too sticky….

Then, carefully spoon it into a blender (I say carefully because it’s hot and you don’t want to burn yourself… that hurts.) Once it’s all in the blender, just blend til there’s no more chunks. Little bits of blueberry skin and strawberry seeds are inevitable and add to the charm.

Line your dehydrator trays with parchment paper. (This is where you really do need parchment paper and not wax paper…. it does make a difference and wax paper isn’t as nice to peel off.)

Then pour onto the trays in a rectangle and using a spatula, gently spread into the center. You want the whole thing to be roughly 1/4″ thick…… and it helps a little to have a bit more on the exterior than in the middle. Leave a good inch around the perimeter between the edge of the rectangle and the edge of the parchment paper. Don’t go all the way to the edge or it will be quite difficult to remove. I think I shoot for my total rectangles to be about 12″ x 9″ give or take… it’s all eyeballed.
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Then, add your trays to the dehydrator and set for 135* for about 8-9 hours. With this amount, I almost always end up with 6 trays…. and I cut each tray into 6ths, so I end up with 36 fruit roll ups. Not too shabby! (Considering I can usually get all the fruit for about $5….  and if I were to purchase these it would cost $3/ box x4… so the $7/ week savings throughout the year is probably worth a good dehydrator by itself because it pays for it, hahaha…. see that…. justification! 😉

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Half way through the time frame, I do turn my trays 180* so that they dry a bit more evenly…. you don’t have to, but I feel like it ensures there will not be any wet spots at the end.

Once they are all dry, they should not be sticky to the touch. They should feel dry. Gently pull the parchment paper off the racks and take them to a table along with some nifty (and clean) kitchen shears.

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Then, gently peel back the parchment paper. typically I kind of release it all the way around the edges and the center peels away super easily. The exterior peels away easily too, but if some gets trapped in the little wrinkles that happen with the heat and the drying, it might start a tear, and it’s like packing tape where the tear just wants to keep on tearing…

Once they’re all separated, feel free to admire the beautiful stain it leaves behind on the parchment paper….. Every time I’m like, It’s so pretty!! And then you will have 6 very large fruit roll ups just waiting to be turned into the snack of children’s dreams.
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So, this next part is also super easy. Basically just cut down the middle lengthwise with the kitchen shears, double up, then cut into thirds…. and now each of those really large fruit roll ups has turned into SIX. It’s quite magical how that works….

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Look at that beautiful pile of snacks for my kids! This will be gone within a week….. and then the process gets repeated. Each of those delicious nutritious rectangles is one serving of fruit for them as well…. so nobody feels guilty.

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Then, the last step is optional. They do actually pack into a smaller space flat…. but… I like to roll them up. I don’t do anything to keep them held into a roll, after a little while sitting that way they just hold it themselves… and I don’t add anything to keep it from sticking, because they aren’t sticky… because of the pre-boiling process. If you were to skip that to keep them “raw” you’d have a stickier product on your hands and would probably need to do something to keep them from sticking to each other.

DSC_1023So, that’s it! Just roll and set into a container…. and keep in your “snack” cupboard. Add them to lunches, send for school snacks, grab on the go, hand to a screaming toddler…..take it along backpacking or camping…. whatever you need it for. Just remember, while it’s boiling, you are doing other things…. plus that’s only like 10-15mins. Then, blender, spread, and you are not involved during the hours it dehydrates. Peel, cut, and roll. Your time involvement is pretty minimal for a yearly savings of nearly $364 if you make this once a week. Seriously…. very few DIY kitchen projects actually produce that kind of savings…. and it’s FRUIT…. it’s a win win win.

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Cantaloupe Seeds.

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Seriously….. I have never ever thought about this before today…. but I was cutting up a cantaloupe for our lunch and scraping the seeds out and plopping them into a bowl totally planning to put them in the compost when…. I stopped. We eat pumpkins seeds…..and cantaloupe are part of the same family… could it be that we could do the same thing to cantaloupe seeds and eat those too?

So, I dropped what I was doing and immediately googled it. (Do you ever look back and wonder how you figured things out before google?) And sure enough…. not only is it possible…. but they’re HEALTHY! They are loaded with protein. Looking at the fat content and the protein level…. they look quite comparable to nuts… except they aren’t nuts…. and if you’re already eating the fruit, well then it’s like FREE protein.

Here’s what you do, using your hands gently “slough” off the seeds from the gooey stuff…. and then toss them in a frying pan with some olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika… and just cook them on med-high heat until you hear them starting to pop. And if you’re worried it’s going to be too time consuming… I had all my seeds separated, and cooked within 10 minutes…. so…. it’s a lot easier then separating pumpkin seeds. (and a LOT less slippery)

So…. now you too know….. unless you already did…. in which case…. maybe I’m just not very observant and totally missed the cantaloupe seed memo, lol. Either way…..I hope give it a try!!!

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Tomato…. powder! A quick and easy way to store extra tomatoes when you are all canned out.

DSC_1012This is my tomato powder….  it’s what is left of 20 tomatoes. With this, I can do lots of things, add a TBLS here or there to boost flavor, or make tomato sauce or tomato paste. I will likely use it mostly for tomato paste or adding in to soups to flavor the broth because I don’t buy “cubes”.  And in terms of making into tomato paste, this will make the equivalent of 8 6oz cans of store bought stuff. (Or a cost savings of  about $4.5)

Now, in terms of cost savings…. it’s not much. So, I strongly urge anyone curious about their own veggie garden NOT to think of it as a way to save money, especially not upfront. I do save money…. probably all in all about $200 a year…. but that is no where near enough motivation if that’s all it is to you. Gardens require work, weeding, watering, cultivating, pruning, harvesting, attention, and time… and when bunnies or bugs get to your stuff it will drive you crazy if all you care about is money. If we don’t do it for the money….what do we do it for?

Well, glad you asked! First and foremost…. I enjoy having a vegetable garden. I like to sip on my coffee while inspecting the garden in the morning. I love to get my hands in the dirt…. to plan the layout…. to watch things sprout and grow…. to witness the amazing process of something going from a tiny seed into a giant pumpkin. It gives me utter respect for our planet, for our food, and for our lives. And it may take a while for your palette to be able to discern the difference in “fresh from the garden” and “from the grocery store” but there is a HUGE difference. Not just in flavor, but color, texture, smells….. it’s 100x the quality. Garden produce might not always be as big and tempting as what you see at the store, but I would venture to say it has more nutrients packed in there for you. (and I know what’s not on my plants!)

Tomatoes are (in my opinion) one of the best tasting things straight from the garden. I like to pick and prepare my tomatoes within hours to maintain that…. but at the moment, I have created enough sauce, eaten enough fresh, and added tomatoes into just about every meal we’ve had for the past month. And I still have a lot of green tomatoes to ripen up yet. Practically every day I go out and pick another large bowl full…. additionally, I am out of cupboard space for storing, out of the right sized jars for sauces, and out of freezer space….. SO…. it is time to utilize the power of the dehydrator!

I actually think this might be one of the more efficient methods to storing tomatoes…. there is VERY minimal waste of the fruit.
Just wash them up in cool water and slice them into 1/4″ slices. Lay them out on the dehydrator sheets, dehydrate at 125* for about 8-12 hours and then, move them to a freezer bag, freeze, and toss into a blender and turn it into a “powder”. As an additional “precaution” I spread the powder onto a parchment layer on a dehydrator sheet and give it another couple of hours in the dehydrator.

Other than that, just jar it and add it to water as needed!
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Ratios of tomato paste to water
Paste: 1:1
Sauce: 1:4

What do you enjoy about gardening?

Gluten-Free Oat-Free Vegan Cereal Bars

I came up with this recipe after looking over TONS of other people’s yummy recipes…

I sometimes get so annoyed about not being able to eat certain things, I’m almost willing to just pretend like it doesn’t hurt me, lol…. but oats…. really do pose a problem for me. I guess it’s normal in a small percentage of people with celiac. My Dr. just answers with “Huh… I don’t know…. did you try gluten-free oats?” YES, of course I did!! But oats cause an almost instant reaction that is similar, but not as intense as gluten. So…. all those wonderful gluten-free recipes that use oats for it’s “wonderful chewiness” or oat flour or oat anything….. make me almost want to cry. (especially when I am trying to figure out a way to make gluten-free seitan and the nearest recipe I could find includes oats and the author sites, “Oats really make this, so I don’t think it can be done without.” Grrrrrrr

BUT, this is one thing that I HAVE been able to do without oats…. the kids love them, the husband loves them…. I love them…. they are super easy…. and on mornings when I have these available, I wake up with a smile…. because I don’t have to bake anything!! 😉 I’ve made these lots lots lots…..

DSC_0917 (2)Gluten-free Oat-free Vegan Cereal Bars:
2 cups dates (all blended up in a food processor to make a nice big “mash”)
3-5 cups of gluten-free rice crispies or gluten-free corn or rice chex (I kind of think I like rice crispies better because I don’t have to crunch them up…. but both work wonderfully!)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 cups cashews (not soaked)

Start by mashing up those dates. Move those to a bowl. Melt the peanut butter and mix well with the syrup (either on a stove or in a microwave, take your pick.) Mix in the rice crispies or corn or rice chex to the date mash…. really squish and squash to mixed it up well (clean hands are pretty important at the start of this.) Start with less and add more in if the mixture seems to gooey. If you feel like the mixture is too dry…. add in more pb or more mashed dates. A lot seems dependant on the dates, some packages are just more dry than others and I don’t know why. Toss in those cashews to your date dirtied food processor and chop them up to bits. Add in the melted peanut butter/ syrup goop and the cashews and just do more squishing and squashing until it’s all nicely mixed up.

Using a 9″X13″ baking dish, line it with wax or parchment paper up over the sides so you can pull it out later. Then squish all of the mixture into the pan…. press FIRMLY and even everything out. It’s kind of like making rice crispie treats…. only much, much less sticky.

When everything is packed in all nice and tight, put it in the freezer for about 30 mins.- 1 hour. (If you go to pull it out and it seems a little flimsy, put it back in the freezer til it pulls out like a firm brick.) Just pull up on the parchment paper to pull it out and lay on a surface. I like to cut the lengthwise center first, then cut the “bars” about 1-1.5″ wide….. usually I get 18 or so.

IF you get a few that fall apart on you, squish them together into a shape of sorts…. they’ll still taste good. Then, I just place these in a freezer bag, and keep in the freezer! You can eat them straight out of the freezer…. no thaw time needed. They are perfect… and on busy mornings, or running late…. you can’t go wrong. I believe I typed in all the ingredients to a “nutrition” calculator and got about 4-6g protein per bar. Not so bad!!

Enjoy!!