Sunday, August 9, 2015

What's easier than pie? Bake a galette!

A lot of people don't like to bake because best results come from your ability to follow a recipe in exact detail. The right kitchen tools, ingredients, and techniques are essential. A lot of hope and a little luck don't hurt either. LOL. Baking is truly a science unlike cooking which can be anything from a science to pure improvisation. Know that saying "Easy as pie?" In the world of baking pie is, in its own way, easier to make than many other desserts. But the galette? It's even easier. It's a free form pie so no fancy crust to make, just roll out your pate brise, fill, fold the edges upward, and bake. I found I was even able to improvise the filling recipe with good results. (How to pronounce galette)

For years I have wanted to learn to make one and this past week I made two! This is the second one. it was made of red and golden plums because they're currently in season. As we took it to share with Fred's family the scent of the galette filled the car with the sweet smell or plums, summertime, butter, and all things wonderful :)

I knew what they should look and taste like as I'd sampled many over the years while living in the SF Bay Area. The photos above show how different galettes can be. The apple galette from La Bicylette in Carmel by the Sea had a folded crust that almost completely encased the spiced apple filling while the strawberry rhubarb galette, made and sampled at a cooking demonstration at Relish in Sonoma Wine Country, looks more like a traditional pie but with a heavier crust. The petite, individual sized, mixed fruit galette, edged with crunchy raw sugar (at bottom) was from The Pasta Market in Berkeley, CA. So, as you can see, I had a well rounded idea of how I'd want my galette to be if and when I ever made one.

Plum Galette Recipe

I did a Google search and after reading several found this Plum Galette recipe by Jacques Pépin on the Food & Wine website. There is a recipe at the preceding link so I won't list it here. Instead I'll show you how easy it was to make in pictures. The only thing I left out was returning the crust over and over to the freezer for a few minutes at a time to keep it firm. Keeping the crust cold is key if you want a nice crust.
  1. Make pate brisee (aka pie crust)
  2. Use a food processor to grind down almonds and mix with sugar
  3. Cut plums into 1/2" slices
  4. Roll out crust, spread almond sugar mixture, pile fruit on top, and sprinkle fruit with more sugar
  5. Fold up crust
  6. Bake
I did make a few alterations to the original recipe that I'll share at the end of the post.

Both were taken to the homes of friends, which is always a bit nerve wracking to take something you've never made before and just put it out there like that. I knew they passed the appearance test but how would they taste? Would the crust be ok? Nothing like finding out together :)

Happy to report both were successful! They were fresh and delicious in a way that only homemade can be. You could taste exactly how fresh and ripe the plums were and they weren't too sweet, masking the flavor of the fruit behind too much sugar. I am not a huge pie crust fan so I opted for less crust and to spread the fruit out more.


First review of my first galette. All gone.

Add a little whip cream or ice cream and you're set.

And here's an extra bonus. My friend Irvin Lin at Eat the Love just shared this Blueberry Strawberry Galette recipe over on his blog. I think I'll have to make it right after I make the nectarine galette out of the nectarines already in my fridge. Houston, I think we have a problem. If I have it my way I'll be baking a new galette every other day or so.

I wrote this post to inspire those of you who may be intimidated by baking to give it a try. Or try cookies, they're pretty easy too. I hope if you make a galette it turns out to be both fun to make, a feast for the eyes and delicious to eat!

And here are those extra tips I promised earlier of how I altered the original recipe I used:

1. I split the dough and make two instead of one. One would be HUGE.

2. I roll the dough out on a Silpat and slide it onto a baking sheet to put the dough back into the freezer every time it starts to soften and warm. If you keep the dough cold you don't need to add much extra flour to roll it out plus it will bake better if the dough is cold. That means back in for a few minutes about 5 times including a final set before adding the egg wash and sugar to the crust and going into the oven.

3. I omit some of the sugar you sprinkle over the fruit (my plums were ripe and plenty sweet on their own)

4. I omit the cubed butter you drop over the fruit just to be healthier

5. I added an egg wash (yolk with a tiny bit of milk) to the crust before adding larger chunky sugar instead of the regular sugar the recipe recommends

6. I bake for 50 minutes instead of 1 hour

7. I also baked both on an aluminum air-cushioned baking sheet that torks when it gets hot. This (imo) turned out to be a good thing. It lets a lot of the extra juice (sugar) and butter run off the baking sheet and into a small pan I put in the corner on a lower rack (pictured below) so maybe it make the galette a little bit healthier? Plus the crust doesn't have to sit in all of that extra liquid as it bakes. The first one still came out plenty juicy and sweet so it works, but does make a mess on the baking sheet.

8. Be sure to immediately (but carefully) loosen the galette from the baking sheet with a large, thin spatula as soon as it comes out of the oven or it will be locked to the sheet by all of that liquid syrup and sugar solidifying around its edge as it cools. See below:

Don't worry about all of that burnt juice and sugar. It stayed with the pan and was easy to clean.

9. You don't have to but I almost immediately slide the galette off the messy hot baking sheet and onto a very thin tart pan bottom to lift it over to a new clean baking sheet set on a trivet to cool.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Recap of the Tearjerkers' CRA2015 tiny trailer rally

This past week and weekend Fred and I attended the largest tiny trailer gathering east of The Rockies. The Crossroads of America (aka The CRA) gathering is held every other year in Spencer, Indiana at McCormick's Creek State Park. It's hosted by the "Tearjerkers" a large (but close-knit) group of international teardrop and tiny trailer owners who congregate at gatherings in real life and on the Tearjerkers' forum online.

Word is 147 trailers and 289 campers made the 2015 CRA a smashing success!

I was able to meet in person friends I'd made on the Tearjerkers and Teardrops and Tiny Travel Trailers forums as well as new friends who don't actively participate on either forum. Some I got so caught up having fun talking with I forgot to take pictures of their trailers (like Jessy and Bob Henry) for this blog post :(

Though there were many activities available at the State Park, I came to see the trailers. For a northerner (like me) it was really hot and terribly humid but I slogged around (albeit at a snail's pace) to see as many trailers and to meet as many people as I could.

Want to make one too? Awning Tutorial Here

The Glampette was there with her new domed awning and mosquito net sidewalls that I sewed together last Monday. The new awning is a huge improvement over the cotton table cloth one I made in 2013 because it's made with water resistant outdoor canvas, the domed shape will keep water from pooling in the center if it does rain, and I can stand upright beneath it.

The mosquito net side walls are self-explanatory. They cover all three open sides as well as frame the doorway to create a bug-proof enclosure. I also brought along two Thermacell® mosquito repellent devices and some lemon eucalyptus oil bug spray for my arms and legs. Between the three methods they did the trick keeping me safe from bug bites at base camp.

I'll also be creating a velcro strip with rip-stop nylon sidewalls for privacy and to shield my doorway from wind and rain. I'll make a DIY tutorial once it's done to show you how the whole thing goes together. The basic concept was from a forum thread written by Doug Hodder where he outlined how to create the domed top. Once I bookmarked the thread it only took almost two years for me to acquire a sewing machine capable of sewing though 7 layers of canvas and one layer of velcro :P

And that's Fred's Northern Lite Traveler which you may remember from The Flirty Blog back when we attended the Camp-Inn Camp-Out in Mausten, Wisconsin and camped Michigan's UP in the fall of 2013. While we couldn't share a spot at this particular park we did get sites that were end to end so we could camp together.

These were two stunning trailers. The Wild Goose (top) and Cabin Car (bottom) are both vintage reproductions built by their respective owners. Their quality and craftsmanship were self evident.

The Wild Goose is one of the few teardrop trailers that converts into a standy when you lift the tailgate. You can actually walk into it and stand up indoors to dress and cook.

The Cabin Car combines a huge bed with an actual sit shower and small bath tub! I'll admit, it was so hot out, when I saw the little tub I wanted to fill it with cold water and a few bags of ice and just sit in it all day long. LOL

If vintage isn't your taste there were also modern trailers both small and large.

The myPod is a tiny bed on wheels. There isn't a galley kitchen so you'll need to set up your own camp kitchen once you arrive at your destination.

The TAB and Alto are larger teardrop shaped trailers but aren't technically teardrops because the rear tailgates don't open to outdoor galley kitchens. You can stand up in them and they are quite spacious so they're a popular choice for those who want a little more room for comfort. The Alto in particular has both a shower and fixed toilet for those who don't want to make do with a porta potty.

The BoatTrailer is just that a boat+trailer that come as one nifty set. At the rally was an actual vintage trailer combined with a modern, reproduction boat as the original boat had been lost somewhere in time. The rear storage area is larger than it looks in photos and can be converted to have protruding shelves to create an easy to access kitchen/prep area. If this could be your dream trailer it's now easier than ever to acquire one since the American Dream Trailer company recently began reproducing the BoatTrailer on the West Coast using an actual vintage BoatTrailer to create their molds from.

Two of my favorite trailers there were these small, vintage, canned hams. I would be happy to have either a 10' Shasta or Scotty if I ever travel the country for extended periods. They have a bed, table, seating, indoor kitchen, and even room for a porta potty. If you get creative you can set up a shower station as needed. I've seen people do so in articles and videos I've read and watched online.

The vintage canned hams are where I got the idea of adding a rope and pole awning to The Glampette.

And these were two of the most unusual trailers I spotted at the CRA. The teardrop above was painted with chalkboard paint on its exterior so creative types could color and draw on the exterior walls or you could use them as a message board. So clever!

The lower is a Vardo-style trailer that includes a bed towards the front and seating and counter space just inside the doorway. There's even a composting toilet that fits beneath the bed with plenty of room for storing other gear.

If you need a trailer that is extremely lightweight and/or budget conscious a "foamie" could be your best choice to be able to have a trailer sooner vs. later. Made of rigid foam board and covered with canvas they can be a unique entry level trailer. They just go to show if there's a will there's a way!

While some go all out decorating (ahem, like me) others add more subtle fun touches that allow their personalities to shine through. From "Life is Good," to "Family Guy," to "Tweety Bird" I saw several trailers with cute graphics added to their exteriors.

I was very happy to see in-person the trailers of two builders I'd talked to on the phone back when I first began my search for a trailer of my own. Frank from Vintage Technologies (above) and Dan from Whetzel Trace Travel Trailers (below and now retired) were in attendance. If you've ever been on my Pinterest trailer board you'll have seen the tiny Whetzeldorf I shared there. Sadly, both trailers were too heavy for my car to tow which is what led me to doing more and more research until I decided to design (and have built) The Glampette.

Of all the trailers at the rally I have to say that Joe's all aluminum construction, 400 lb, tiny motorcycle teardrops were the ones that really caught my eye. Though longer than The Glampette they were definitely shorter and (I think) also a foot more narrow.

Joe said he didn't design the trailer at the outset but rather figured it out as he went along which, to me, just made his work all the more impressive.

His craftsmanship was impeccable and I was floored by his ingenuity. Space was utilized to maximum efficiency and each trailer was equipped with an awning, sound system, two rear storage compartments, a swiveling light post, a nice prep shelf, a long horn beneath the rear bumper, and decorative touches like the metal window awnings and window boxes of flowers.

He's not a member of either trailer forum which is a darn shame because other builders would definitely be inspired by his work.

One of the things I love most about the tiny trailer community is the can-do spirit everyone who seems to be a part of it shares. Whether purchasing a finished trailer and customizing it with our own touches or designing your own build from scratch, restoring a vintage trailer, or modeling a new trailer to build from a classic vintage profile there's room for all and something for everyone. Two great examples are the trailers above.

The top is a home-built, Benroy-style trailer. It's clean, classic, and shows how to put a mosquito tent to good use over the rear end of the trailer. Greg came all the way down from Connecticut to attend the rally! His campsite also highlights why it's nice when people keep their campsites tidy for photo ops :)

The lower was a father-daughter build. I have to say one of my regrets was briefly saying hello to Lauren Saturday evening and telling her I hoped to make it back Sunday before she left for a tour but dang, there is just never enough time at the rallies to see every trailer up close! I hope we are both at another gathering again in the future so I can meet her and get a closer look inside her beautiful trailer.

Aside from wishing I had a gorgeous classic car to tow my trailer with, two other things that inspired me at the CRA were to add a colored light beneath my trailer to gently illuminate my camping area in the evenings before going to bed like the American Wanderer teardrop above, and to finally add a solar panel to the roof of The Glampette as she's already wired for one and has roof-top mounting tabs to the rear of her vent/fan.

I'd be remiss to not mention that this was an incredibly dog friendly event. Since losing Kitai I always welcome the opportunity to pet other people's dogs. At the CRA there were dogs of all shapes and sizes including these two gorgeous huskies (who loved to be petted).

For this trip I was just happy to glamp up coffee time each morning with my new, collapsible, silicon, Xpot and Espro French coffee press. I'll be reviewing each of them along with the tasty, raw coffee beans I ordered and roasted myself from Mojo Roast online.

While some trailer kitchens look like incredible, miniature versions of home kitchens with microwaves, induction burners, small refrigerators, toaster ovens, and Keurig coffee makers, Fred and I go classic setting up his Coleman stove on a picnic table and cooking there.

Part of my fun was finally using the vintage, Danish, cast iron, Aebelskiver pan my friend Dana found for me at an estate sale in California. It was a little rusty, dirty, and sticky so I had to clean and re-season it.

Before we left Michigan I gave it a test run on the gas kitchen stove to see how the Aebelskiver (aka Ebelskiver or as Fred calls them "Eagle Poppers") would turn out. I discovered the pan doesn't heat as evenly as the non-stick aluminum Ebelskiver pan I started with.

But I'll be bringing the cast iron pan camping from now on. It was great for keeping the finished Ebelskiver warm while I cooked the rest of breakfast. I just popped them onto a metal camping plate then set that on top of the still very hot cast iron pan and they were still warm when we sat down to eat.

These were filled with an apple-pear filling spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon. I'd made the filling before we left home so it was easy to simply add a spoonful to each well as I made breakfast. I also pre-measured all of the dry ingredients and put them in a small container so it was like using a box mixed made from scratch.

Speaking of cast iron I was honored to part of the Dutch Oven cast iron cooking seminar hosted each year by Bob Henry. What began as a group of 17 attendees quickly grew to more than 34! Bob had asked me to be his "Vanna White" assistant handing him all of the different items he would be describing to the audience. Since I know my way around cooking utensils I said sure. Turned out it was really easy because Bob was very organized. We sailed through the presentation.

The science behind Dutch oven cooking is to place hot coals both below and on the lid of the pot which replicates an oven heating it from top to bottom. It's basically baking without an oven.

To kick things off he made a "Cooler Clean-out Casserole" which is where you take all of the leftover food in your cooler Sunday morning, toss in some grated cheese, pour in some scrambled eggs and bake the whole mess, um I mean delicious combination, in a Dutch oven. His included sausage, meat, potatoes, and beans.

His volunteer taste tester gave it a thumbs up after his first bite!

Not only did I learn how to cook with a Dutch oven, I was really excited that Bob showed how to make a DIY charcoal chimney! You can make one as small as whatever sized cans you use. I need a teeny tiny one to light three briquets at a time for my 5"x5" cast iron hibachi!

The license plate windscreen is another idea he's shared on the TnTTT forum before. You can prop it up around your stove to break the wind or around your Dutch oven to hold in the heat.

IMO Bob Henry is THE most resourceful and frugal member of the TnTTT forum.

Every rally has a huge Saturday night potluck dinner. It's always a lot of fun but sometimes can take a while to make it up to the food. At the CRA they tried something new this year: Two long rows of tables with four rows of hungry campers all heading down the lines at the same time. It worked out great. It cut the start to finish time from the first to last campers in line dramatically from previous years.

There were lots of other activities some I tried and some I missed out on. Apparently there was a hoola-hoop contest, karaoke, some type of giant underwear race (lol), a builder's seminar, a backing up seminar, a silent auction, a Dutch oven cooking contest, outdoor movies, a group breakfast provided by our hosts, and more. You can participate as much or as little as you'd like but you better come prepared to be social because meeting people and making new friends is what these rallies are all about.

Each year the directors of the CRA ask for suggestions to improve the event the following year. From a participant's standpoint there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of room for improvement. The event was very well organized. I guess the only suggestion I'd make is if name tags could include forum avatars and forum user names as that's how I would quickly and easily recognize most people. If I come again I'll even volunteer to make them ;)

Thank you so much to Kurt, all of the Chapter Directors, and volunteers. Your hard work and effort to make this a great even was obvious at every turn and very much appreciated.

For any of you who (like me) are unfamiliar with high humidity here are some tips you might find useful to make your camping experience as enjoyable as possible.
  1. Only camp where electricity is available at the campsite. See the following three reasons why.
  2. AC. If your trailer doesn't have one built in but you have room in your car and can afford a small unit, bring a small air conditioner that you have rigged up to blow cold air in through a trailer window or vent. Small pet AC units designed for dog houses work perfectly for a teardrop. You'll be especially glad to have one if you want to take a nap or rest comfortably midday.
  3. If you don't have an air conditioner bring an electric fan of any type, especially for when you're sitting outdoors. If you don't have a built in vent/fan an additional small fan in your trailer also comes in handy. Though it cooled down every evening some nights took longer than others.
  4. I will invest in a portable ice maker if I ever camp somewhere with a similar climate again. A batch of ice in 15 minutes and up to 33 lbs of ice production per day. . . Um, yeah. Sign me up. I was running to the local grocery each day to buy bags of ice for our coolers, rubbing myself down with ice cubes throughout the day, then using the ice cold water I drained from the coolers each night to bathe in. LOL The last night I didn't even bother going in the trailer. I just left my clothes on, sat on my metal chair outside my trailer inside my mosquito tent, and drenched myself basically pouring  the water over me while scrubbing with a wet washcloth. I didn't use soap because it wasn't needed. It wasn't quite Flashdance style, but you get the picture.
  5. Even though the campground had showers they lacked adequate ventilation so even taking a cold shower wasn't as refreshing as it should have been. By the time you turned off the water, got dressed, and gathered up your belongings you would already be hot and sweating before you'd even make it outside. Though it would be an extra expense and packing I would bring a solar shower and shower tent in the future. I am planning on making nylon, privacy sidewalls for my awning so all I have to do is figure out the best way to elevate the shower bag above my awning and find a suitable plastic container/tub to stand in to catch all of the water so as not to muddy up the campsite or allow soapy water to run off onto the ground. I'll also attach four connection points to hang a shower curtain from the awning ceiling to minimize splashing.
  6. I will pack a large ice pack of some type so on hot days I can keep it filled and lay it on any part of me at any given moment. Anything to help lower your core temperature will make you more comfortable even if only temporarily.
  7. At this particular park it is worth noting that there were fewer mosquitos towards the center of Loop A than out along the tree line. We didn't see any mosquitos or biting insects during the daytime where we were parked but when I attended the Dutch oven seminar which was up near the thicker treed area I was bitten several times at 11:00 AM.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Becoming an amateur Ornithologist

For weeks I've been watching one of the three occupied birdhouses Fred built this spring and hung in the yard wondering what kind of birds are nesting in it. In house #1 (aka "The Tree House") the occupants are small, grey, have black beaks, longish tails, and shoe-button, black eyes. I searched Google images several times over but to no avail. Today I spotted one of the chicks for the first time and finally figured out what kind of birds they are!

See that little tuft on its head? That was the clue they are Tufted Titmice!

This is how I'd seen the parent birds for several weeks now. One is up on the branch to the left above the house as the other entered the nest box.

After sitting outside for quite some time with my camera on a tripod I finally got the most clear shots of the adult birds that I've been able to capture. While there are only a couple of images of Titmice on Google that resemble this bird, without its signature tuft coming off the top of its head, it was good enough to finally confirm their species.

What a cutie! Moments after I took this picture he or she leapt from the nest box and flew away following the parent that had just left and landed in a nearby bush.

In house #2 (aka "The Post House") the occupants are a pair of Tree Swallows. They are beautiful! One day several seemed to be competing for the same house. There was already one bird in the nest box while these two displayed outside.

I'm not sure if this is courting behavior but it seems like it could be. LOL. Actually, adult breeding age male and female Tree Swallows are identical in appearance. The one exception being second year females are more brown than blue. Which means the bird to the left is definitely a second year female while the two on the right could be males or after second year females. Confused? Here's where I learned the differences on the Tree Swallow Projects website.

This pair spent weeks building their nest bringing in one blade of grass at a time. Eventually I knew they were almost done when they began to show up with large white (most likely swan) feathers to line their nest with. I'm assuming the chicks have hatched but the house is so high up the post I'm not 100% certain.

And in house #3 (aka "Garden West") I do know this little House Wren's eggs hatched because yesterday I heard a cacophony of tiny "peeps" coming rom the house. I'd guess there are at least 5-6 chicks in the nest. And funny I would hear them before the Swallow chicks because the parent birds, most specifically the father Wren, often sits atop the garden posts and yells at me. LOL

He's a tiny little guy but so full of personality. I read the male House Wren will begin building up to a dozen nests then courts a female allowing her to choose the one she likes best. I'm definitely hoping to get pictures of the babies once they begin to peek out of the doorway.

Out of the five boxes Fred built three are occupied! It seems like that has to be a really good result! We'll move the other two and see if we get any new occupants if and when any of our neighborhood peeps decide to nest a second clutch of eggs this summer. In the meantime I'm learning so much more about the birds of Michigan, their courtship habits, how they nest, and what they eat and am loving every moment of it!

Edited to add: I can't stress enough to do your homework when building or purchasing birdhouses. Things I learned:

• Hole size matters: As little as 1/8" can deter some species from using your nest box

• Hole placement matters: Our holes are all at least 5" from the base of the house

• No perches: Birds do not like perches beneath the holes as they allow predatory birds to stand, reach in and eat their babies

• We used cedar but didn't know we should have turned the rough side inward on the front facing panel to allow the babies some traction when they're ready to climb out and fledge

• There is ventilation at the top and bottom of the house to allow heat and condensation to dissipate

• Make sure the roof or a sidewall opens so you can clean the box out between use

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Glamping in Michigan

I love my tiny canned ham, rv, travel trailer to bits! I named her "The Glampette," a petite spin on the whole glamorous camping trend. Because teardrop and canned ham trailers became popular in the 1950's I've enjoyed keeping a bit of vintage charm when it comes to decorating my trailer even though you're just as likely to find cutting edge, modern amenities tucked away inside of her.

The past few days it's been pouring rain out so I spent some time doodling on my computer. I designed a graphic that I'm considering either printing as a decal to put on her aluminum skin or turning it into some kind of sign that I can put up while attending tiny teardrop trailer rallies. Though she's usually one of the few non-teardrop trailers at the gatherings she fits right in due to her small size. I may even turn the design into fabric and make a cushion cover for my yellow chair or remake the window curtains inside the trailer. What to do, what to do. . .

Over the holiday weekend Fred and I took our trailers out camping. Kind of a break-in to the 2015 camping season trip.

The days were sunny and warm but dusk brought out swarms of mosquitos. As the sun went down the sky turned a beautiful blue reflected here in the trailer's baby moon hubcaps.

I was prepared for bites but thankfully my Thermacell repellent device kept them at bay.

We also may have scared the mosquitos away the second night when we had a huge campfire! That's Fred's trailer to the left, and my glampy retro chair beside my side table and my Dad's Coleman lantern he handed down to me.

You can't see it but I also tested out the lantern storage case Fred made me for Christmas. He is so clever! It holds the lantern, two fuel containers, extra mantles, and doubles as a small stool or side table.

The first night the temperature dipped to 35º (F)! Brrrrrrrrrr. Just a few days earlier it was 88º (F). When it comes to Michigan's weather I've learned to be prepared for anything.

I'll leave you with this rather cool photo. It was an accidental shot I didn't even realize I'd taken until later. I'm pretty sure if I had tried to take a long exposure of sparks coming out of the fire pit it wouldn't have come out like this. That it was a beautiful accident makes it more special :)

Fred and I are looking forward to camping all summer and fall long. I may be turning in my long-haul trucker, traveling the interstate ways for some peace and quiet out in nature. That won't be so bad. In fact, I'm kind of looking forward to it.