Monday, December 30, 2013

Mini Chicken Pot Pies

    
     Well it certainly is the middle of winter and like it or not we all find ourselves beginning to become mired in our 'cabin fever' activities.  Barb and I are in the midst of waiting on our trip to Alaska next Spring so we are redefining ourselves with reading, a bit of traveling, snowshoeing, and of course cooking.  I am trying a new recipe I found on Facebook that looked not only tantalizing, but easy to make as well.  Imagine the perfect combination of baking, holiday cooking, home cooking, and the ultimate in simplicity comfort food.......this is it!  So many folks make Chicken Pot Pie nearly every year and this scaled down version is even easier, but well worth the effort.  The best part of this recipe is it works well with many venues, be it dinner, snacks, hors dourves, camping, and even leftovers. 

                                                        MINI CHICKEN POT PIES

2 cups frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
1 cup diced cooked chicken
1 can (11 oz.) condensed cream of chicken soup
1 can (16 oz.) Pillsbury Grands Biscuits

MIX THE VEGEES, CHICKEN & CREAM OF CHICKEN SOUP IN BOWL

1) Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
2) Press each biscuit into 5 1/2 inch round muffin pan.  Place 1 round in each of 8 greased regular sized muffin cups.  Firmly press in bottom and up side, forming 3/4 inch rim.  Spoon a generous 1/3 cup of chicken mixture into each.  Pull edges of dough over filling toward center; pleat and pinch dough gently to hold in place. 
3) Bake at 375 degrees 20-22 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown.  Cool 1 minute; remove from pan, serve. 

ENJOY AND WAIT THE ARRIVAL OF SPRING! 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The (Very Nearly) Perfect Thanksgiving

    
     This is the first Thanksgiving since our retirements and I can't think of a better reason to be thankful.  Barb and I have worked 42 years each in order to achieve this and still look forward to many more adventures ahead.  Unfortunately Barb is in Missouri visiting her family (which was long overdue) so it is just me, Dharma, and Bodhi.  I have not enjoyed bachelorhood as much as I used to, but did enjoy the opportunity to create and enjoy many "Man Cave" dishes that I alone appreciate the past couple of weeks.  Thanksgiving will be no different and the way I cook, there will surely be leftovers for Barb to appreciate when she returns. 
     I purchased a small 3 lb. Wrapped Turkey Roast which consists of both dark and white meat.  I roasted this the day before Thanksgiving so it could cool and I could slice it.  On Thanksgiving morning I placed a slice of turkey on a platter, lathered a layer of crawfish, olive, and pimento stuffing topped with another slice of turkey.  I repeated the process throughout the entire roast, finishing with a meal that resembled a Giant Turkey Crawfish Club Sandwich.  I topped it with gravy and roasted it another 40 minutes to finish it.  I served this with the remaining Crawfish Olive Pimento Stuffing and even more gravy with Cranberry Sauce on the side. 
     A platter of Cajun Thanksgiving, fire, football on the tube, a happy cat n' dog, and a glass of Chateau Ste Michelle Chardonnay.  I count my blessings this year, probably more than I ever have before.   Although we miss "Mommy" and can't wait for her return in a day or two Dharma, Bodhi, and I wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving! 

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Last Days of Summer....and Fall

     Barb and I both recently retired and embarked on a 3 week Retiree Celebration trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Central Wisconsin.  It was planned so we could experience all the beautiful fall colors previously unavailable to us as we were working.  We also planned to hit a few casinos and get in some fall golf as well.  We began our trip in Hessel, MI and finished up in Hog Island, MI before heading home.  We camped out utilizing both 'boondocking' and service campgrounds.  We boondocked utilizing solar power for 11 of our 20 days on the road.

     As earlier blogs showed we enjoyed some very tasty Cajun, Pasties, Pizza, Walleye, Italian, and Finnish meals in Marquette, Ishpeming, Houghton, and Waupaca.  I even got to whip out a few mini-feasts myself making Shrimp Po Boys, BBQ Chicken Thighs, Clam Stips, and Pork Stir Fry.  We took the opportunity to stock up by vacuum-packing and freezing 10 lbs. each of Whitefish, Cudighi, Andouille, Polish Sausage, and German Bratwurst for our Alaska Pantry.  I am beginning to hope it all fits in the freezer next spring.

     We also experienced the first of which I am sure will not be the last RV maintenance adventures as we had to fix a broken leaf spring and a small water leak.  We had the leaf spring fixed in Escanaba at Hilltop RV, who got us in and out in a little over an hour at a reasonable $123.

     Our visit to Waupaca, WI brought us together again with our best friends (40 years next year) and the original  'Great Falls Gang'.  The three of us and our families were all stationed together in the US Air Force in Great Falls, Montana in the mid 70s.  We try to get together at least every other year and it always provides for a good bonfire and the same old stories that we never seem to get tired of.  The wives, however might have their own versions.

    We return home now to unload the winterize the RV for this year.  New tires, brakes, and an awning are on the maintenance agenda.  We anticipate getting things ready and once again journeying off on the road once more in the spring; this time on our adventure of a lifetime........Alaska!     
     Listed below are the campgrounds and sites we used, their prices, and a review:

Bay City Lake:  Hessel, MI  FREE Dispersed camping near  pond or in woods 2 miles north of town on Bay City Road.    Boondocking.  Casino & GREAT golf course. 

Pioneer Park Campground:  Escanaba, MI $22/night Elec/Water/Cable TV.  There is a dump station.  70 sites. Kids playground onsite.   DETOUR FOR RV MAINT.

Ojibwa Casino Campground:  Marquette, MI FREE with daily registration every day = free drink pass & $5 cash.  7 sites, no reservations.  Get there early in the afternoon to assure a site.  Electric only.  Close proximity (7 miles) to Marquette and Big Bay sights. 

Hancock Recreation Area:  Hancock, MI $22/night 57 sites.  Most have Electric (30/50 amps) and cable TV.  Only 10 have Elec/Water.  There are 14 tent only sites.  There is a dump site.  Firewood and ice available.  Free WiFi.  Right on the Portage Canal, close proximity to Houghton/Hancock/Copper Harbor & all the sights.

Imp Lake:  Watersmeet, MI $12/night US Forest Service Campground.  Well pump.  Boondocking  Casino & GREAT golf course nearby @ Lac View Desert Casino.

Our Best Friend’s Campground:  Waupaca, WI.  Absolutely free power and water.  Boondocked 3 days.

Island Casino and Resort Campsite:  Harris, MI $20/night for water/electric.  About 50 sites.  Free WiFI Included GREAT bathrooms/showers/laundry facilities as well as courtesy shuttle to and from casino.  Also, we were granted access to the hotel pool and sauna. 
GREAT golf course, but it rained & I was unable to play.

Hog Island Campground:  Naubinway, MI State Forest Campground $13  Well pump.  Boondocking.  Great view & beach.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Crossroads Restaurant and Lounge

     I love to cook and still orchestrate the galley in the RV, but part of what this blog is dedicated to is sampling the local regional cuisine and passing along our findings.  As such, we find ourselves at Marquette, day #2.  Don't worry, I'm cooking tomorrow night. 
     This could have easily been titled 'The Best Pasties in the UP' or 'The Best Fish Fry in Marquette 7 Years Running' or even 'Home of the Crab Stuffed Whitefish'.  The Crossroads is also famous for their incredible Prime Rib dinners each weekend.  They are featured in the Marquette Mining Journal's Best of 2013 Menu Guide.
      It is located at the intersection of Marquette County roads 553 and 480 within 7 miles of town and also within easy reach of the Ojibwa Casino, where Barb and I camped (with electricity) for free.  This is a down-home, family-friendly type of eatery that was recommended to us last year by Ann and Larry Chappel who used to live near here. It is not only a haven for many locals, but a 'must-stop' for the snowmobile and cross country ski crowd when the white shroud descends.  We were so thoroughly impressed we vowed to return this fall.

     I was thoroughly enamored with their pasty last visit so I decided to sample anew. I went with the Crab Stuffed Whitefish which was served with fresh, steamed vegees, mashed potatoes, and coleslaw.   Barb loved the Shrimp Extravaganza our last visit and true to her very small comfort zone stayed with the same.  It also came with coleslaw and a baked potato/sour cream.  We both ended up with 'to go' boxes; plenty of food!  The service is quick and efficient even on a Friday evening.  The food is second to none! 


     The Crossroads does not have a website, but you can view the Marquette Mining Journal's Menu Guide here:  http://extras.miningjournal.net/ads/MenuGuide2013/MenuGuide2013-19.jpg
     
    

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Lagniappe

     We're on the road again.  This trip is to celebrate Barb's recent retirement from the USPS and we're doing a several week Upper Peninsula Color/Casino/Golf Tour.  We began with a couple of days in Hessel; not much color, but some good golf.  After a detour to fix a busted RV leaf spring mount our second leg of the journey brought us to Marquette in the North Central UP. 
     There are plenty of places one would associate with GREAT Cajun food; Lafayette, Baton Rouge, even West Monroe.  Perhaps one of the last places anyone would place on this list would be Marquette, Michigan.  Located in the middle of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Marquette is sometimes known as the UP's cosmopolitan city.  Located downtown between Washington Street and the Jackson Cut, this might just be the best kept secret in Michigan! 

     Chef Don Durley has been an active force in UP cuisine for nearly 30 years.  Since that time a standard of quality food and service unsurpassed has been the basis for their authentic southern eatery. Stepping into Lagniappe is like stepping out of Marquette and into Louisiana. Every menu item and ingredient is made from scratch and in house. 
     The menu is quite expansive and diverse, from alligator and crawfish nacho appetizers to gumbo, creole, etouffe, into Cajun seafood and pasta that will demand your attention.  My wife and I visited the restaurant on a Thursday, which also included an authentic zydeco band, keeping the evening quite entertaining and lively.  The dining room was full, but the service staff was helpful, efficient, and quick to keep up with customer demands. 

     Barb ordered the Ham & Cheese Po Boy with her choice of cheeses ( 1 of their 18 Po Boys) and I went with my favorite 'wing man', the Crawfish Etouffe.  I often try to encourage my wife to expand her horizons and try something a bit off the chart, but she loves her comfort zone.  When the food was served, I was quickly converted.  The Etouffe was the best I have ever tasted outside of Louisiana, including my own!  Thick with a rich roux that complimented the crawfish, celery, onion, bell peppers, and rice.....the perfect amount of spice vs. flavor!
 
     Lagniappe is an establishment well worth visiting.  Atmosphere ranging from the VooDoo Bar to the Gris Gris Shop to the dining room, this place has it all.  But, above all it has delicious food.  Visiting Marquette and an evening at Lagniappe should be a shared experience not to be overlooked.  Outside of Cajun Country.......THIS IS A GOOD AS IT GETS!   
 
 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bear Hunting Trip

     Number 2 on my "Bucket List" has always been to hunt black bear.....with a handgun.  I have used a handgun for deer the past couple of years and wanted to expand my challenge.  I use a Ruger Blackhawk Single Action 45 Long Colt loaded with 300 grain +P loads built by Tim Sundles and Buffalo Bore in St. Ignatius, Montana.  These loads are within 20 fps and comparable energy to the 44 Magnum.  I also mounted a 2X-7 scope for nearly any reasonable range shot.  I did discover that inside a ground blind approaching sunset the only reasonable setting for clarity is 2X. 
     I applied for Michigan preference points for 7 years before I got my tag for the highly prized 'first week' in the DNR Lottery.  I contacted Mark Boulton of Sage River Outfitters in Newberry as I had no previous experience in locating or baiting bears.  I had met Mark the previous summer on a scouting trip to the Upper Peninsula.  Mark, his son Matt, and his wife Linda come highly recommended and provide a great guide experience.  I was also allowed to park my RV on site for free.  We were shown our sites, helped with a setup (I chose a ground blind), met with a bonfire and fed each night upon our return.  Our sites were baited daily and covered with logs.  This is to keep the other critters out of the bait as well as provide the bear with a time consuming challenge.
     My site was about a mile north of the RV in a wooded area immediately adjacent to the Tahquamenon River Swamp.  My blind was 38 yards away from the bait.  Each day I was dropped off and picked up by Polaris Ranger within walking distance of my area.
 
 
 
 
     Our hunting group for the first week of the season consisted of 6 hunters, none of which had gotten a bear before.  On the first night a local archer, Mike, harvested a very nice 300+ pounder which when measured by DNR will qualify for Pope and Young!  The second night provided even more action as Corey and Vince harvested bears.  The third night wrapped up with Corey's dad and Miss Becky earning two more very nice bruins. After 3 nights our party was an incredible 5 for 6! 
     I had seen nothing the first two evenings, but discovered on Day #2 that my bait was being 'hit' before I even arrived each afternoon.  We changed our tactics and waited to bait till 3 p.m. when I entered the blind.  The first night proved to be a game changer for me.  I watched a young bear nose around the bait for 30 minutes and then a much larger brute visited the site 30 minutes before dark, but never gave me a clear shot.  Night 4 provided no action on a beautiful afternoon/evening. This trail cam picture shows one of the animals that had been hitting my bait on regular basis, just not with me present. 
 
     I arranged with Mark to stay a couple of extra days just in case as I really wanted to keep trying and he wanted all of us to be successful.  I found bear hunting to be a real challenge even over bait as these bruins are very intelligent with a sense of smell about 7 times stronger than that of a bloodhound.  Even though I was hunting from inside a ground blind any small movement can be detected through the porthole so stealth on my part was essential.  I used a monopod to steady the pistol and kept my movements to a minimum. 

     Unfortunately this story does not have a happy ending, but it was the adventure of a lifetime no matter how it turned out.   On the evening of the 5th day I passed up another young bear about 6:17.  At 7:30 the large bruin I had seen 2 days earlier moved in like a cat and began to disassemble the bait pile carefully from the right side, putting him broadside to me.  I had plenty of light and what I thought was a good shot opportunity.  I waited till he lifted his head so as to give me the best possible perspective on shot placement.  I brought the crosshairs back just behind the front shoulder and squeezed the round off.  He jumped up, screamed, and ran off into the woods crashing through everything in his way.  For the next several hours, Mark, his son Matt, and a friend helped me track the bear through hundreds of yards of swamp edge. The blood trail was good, several times there were areas where it was obvious the bear had laid down.  But, he always kept moving.  We finally came to the conclusion that the bear, although leaking as well as he was, was not as well hit as I had hoped and was continuing into the swamp.   It was Mark's recommendation that we not pursue it further.  I can only hope he heals and lives to fight another day, wiser because of our encounter. 
    No hunter likes to lose an animal, but it happens.   It was the experience of lifetime.  I can honestly say that I accomplished much of what I set out to, but the ending remains bittersweet.  Mark Boulton and the staff of Sage River Outfitters are a tight knit family that provides everything a bear hunter is looking for in a package regardless of experience.  I highly recommend them and thank them for their hospitality.  I made some new friends here.  So, now it's back to the drawing board buying those preference points with DNR for another 7 years and beginning the adventure anew. 

 

Monday, August 26, 2013

American Brittany Rescue

   

     I have had Brittany Spaniels in my life for 40 years now.  From my first pup where I learned who is the trainer and who is the trainee to many quail, pheasant, and grouse shot over them to running a breeding and training kennel in Oklahoma City for 13 years they have always been a big part of my life.  We eventually disbanded the kennel operation when we moved to Michigan.  We brought our pup Britt with us who now enjoys a 'forever resting place' on our farm.  We also are the proud parents of 11 year old Dharma, who like all the other Britts I have known, has personality all her own.  Like so many others, our pets are our children, a part of the family. 
     I became familiar with the ABR a few years back and decided I wanted to be a volunteer part whenever and wherever I could upon retirement.  I wanted to help save as any abandoned, lost, or unwanted Britts as possible as well as help others enjoy the lifelong campanionship of a great friend.  I have volunteered for several transports and recently completed my first prospective adoption home inspection.  We intend to provide transport cross country as much as possible during our retirement as well.  The ABR has many great fundraisers and ways to help if anyone is interested.  The link is posted with their logo above. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Retirement Remodeling

      Nearly every RV owner starts planning what they would change the day after they buy their unit.  Part of our master retirement plan the past 2-3 years has to do some minor remodeling inside our RV.  We never really used our couch, which was mounted in the slide out room, next to the dinette.  The majority of a time a blanket was spread out on it for Dharma the "Repuplican" and Bodhi the "Democat" to lay on. Only twice in 9 years has someone been camping with us that slept on it. 



     First of all we removed the couch from the RV, which was a chore in itself.  It would not fit through the door whole so it had to be disassembled.  This is due to the fact that most RV furniture is loaded into the RV before the slide out room is assembled and mounted.  We have two Laz E Boy type chairs on our back wall under the picture window.  We moved the one from the door to the vacancy left by the couch.  In it's place we added two floor mats for shoes when entering and an overhead coat hanger.  This did leave approximately 30+" in the slide out which we planned to use by adding a small desk to house our computer, printer, and assorted retiree bills, medical records, and other crap.  We decided the best use of this space would be a smaller size roll top desk, which would allow the laptop and printer to remain in the desk securely by simply rolling the lid closed.  This proved to monumental task #2.  New factory desks were out of the question not only due to price, but weight.  I had to have a desk that would not only fit, but would not present an overweight problem for the slide out mechanism.  I finally dedicated my efforts to online shopping.  I did find several that would fit our requirements.  The first two were either sold or still too heavy.  We finally found a small size roll top on Craig's List downstate that only took a little driving and a day out with my bride to complete our mission. 

     The scaled down version does not include pedestal type drawers, but this was remedied by using a portable briefcase style hanging file folder case.  It fits perfectly, still allowing the chair to swivel to watch TV.  We still have a chair to add, but heck.....how hard can that be?    

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Four Happiness Pork


     A delicious, simple, healthy meal that is only 10 points on the Weight Watchers Scale.  I modified it by serving over Ramen Noodles dry as the sauce soaked in nicely providing a flavor blend benefit.  I also served fresh steamed green beans picked this morning from our own garden.  Enjoy.

1 pound pork
1 cup water
2 tablespoons sherry
6 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 slice ginger
1 scallion or green onion, chopped
Corn starch to thicken

Put pork in boiling water.  Boil for 1 minute.  Drain and rinse in cold water.  Cut pork into 2" cubes and return to pot.  Add 1 cup water and bring to high heat. Add the sherry, ginger, soy sauce, and scallion.  Cover and simmer over very low heat for 2 hours.  Return to high heat and add corn starch, thickening to taste.  Baste until gravy covers meat thoroughly.  Serve over rice, steamed vegetables, or your choice. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Breaking Down the Costs: "A Work in Progress"

     
     It has become our habit to camp on the Boardman River just south of Traverse City each summer for a week.  It is an incredibly scenic and fairly remote location minutes from town.  Barb can commute to work from here; in fact it's only about a 15 minute drive.  She enjoys to be able to work and come home to camp in the woods as well as a home cooked meal each night.  The fishing can sometimes be worth it as well if I can manage to outsmart a few 'brookies'.    This was a pretty typical Northern Michigan week in the summer as rain and overcast/drizzly conditions for 2 of our 6 days kept Dharma, Bodhi, and myself inside more than we would like.  
     I decided to 'run the numbers' for this trip and see how our costs boiled down with solar vs. generator power for 6 days.  Power consumption was used for lights, music, TV, DVD, water pump, showering, flushing, and recharging our electronics.  We were in camp 142 hours this trip;  120 hours on solar and 22 on the generator.  Honda generator power was utilized to top off batteries on both overcast days, provide A/C relief several hours one day, and to pump 40 gallons of fresh water midweek.  As such 22 hours of generator equals 3 gallons of gas (yes, the Honda EU-3000 is this efficient) totaling $10.95 (@ $3.65 per gallon).  This equates to 86% of our total power consumption from solar and 14% from generator power, resulting in a total power cost of $1.82 per day.  If we were to use solely generator power for the same services our total cost would be $25.55 or $4.25 per day. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Spiessbraten on the AusPit

    
     Never let it be said that I didn't want to create exceptional meals even when camping.  This trip is no exception.  This recipe utilized our AusPit Rotisserie and the best of German Cuisine.  The AusPit http://www.auspitbbq.com/ is a wonderful camping tool; simple to set up anywhere and battery powered off a single D cell that will last up to 90 hours!  It allows me to cook over wood, in this case maple, which is the best of all possible flavors.  This recipe is courtesy of Steven Raichlen's Primal Grill Website http://www.primalgrill.org/recipe_details.asp?RecipeID=160&EpisodeID=38  It consists of a single Pork Tenderloin butterflied, inside wiped with chopped garlic, and stuffed with sliced onion. In addition I added Turkey Pepperoni slices and several slices of Provolone Cheese and seasoned the outside with Ground Cloves.  Tie shut tightly with butcher's twine.  Skewered over the wood fire for about 3 hours. Serve to grateful wife after a hard day at work returning to camp;  voila! 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Boondocking Part 4: Technology & Communication

     Everybody wants to stay in touch while on the road just as much as at home and we are no different.  From email checking, to menu research and planning, as well as looking for that next campground, making business plans, and even social networking or maintaining this blog.  My wife and I both use IPhone 5s, but still wanted a laptop for our RV as a way to not only communicate, but to research, plan, and print.
     We purchased the DELL Inspiron 17R laptop with a 17" widescreen (NO notebook for us), the CANON OfficeJet 100 Bluetooth wireless printer, and utilize Verizon's Jetpack as our WiFi hotspot.  Additionally, we can tether our IPhones to the laptop as a WiFi hotspot if needed.  Powering such devices is not necessarily a difficult task, but it does need consideration.  All these have long life Lithium Ion batteries that will last for hours, but when charging is needed I try to coordinate it with running the generator for A/C, microwave, or topping off the main battery bank.   Of course hooking up to shore power at a campground solves this as well.  I keep them topped them off whenever possible.  Being online only a short time daily or when needed extends battery life.  We also utilize our SOLIO (see earlier post) solar powered mini-charger that will charge 3 phones, or any combination of (2) laptop, printer, or Jetpack.  A small power inverter can solve the DC/AC issue, but only a true sine wave inverter is the safest for electronics. 
     Of course the Jetpack is only as good as your cell phone signal strength as that is exactly what it is; another phone line.  Tethering our IPhones with the laptop costs $15/month and the Jetpack can supply WiFi to several systems for $20/month.  In the future I see myself investing in a directional WiFi antenna and possibly even a WiFi amplifier for those fringe areas.  Nothing, of course, beats logging on to report our travels, upload photos, or share menus at the nearest McDonalds or other free hot spot. 
     In the end though, being 'off the grid' means exactly that and as such we want to have the choice and power to communicate when and where we choose.  Joie de Vivre!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pork Shrimp Stuffed Eggplant

    
     This dish is somewhat involved to prepare, but inevitably worth the effort.  Eggplant is one of those vegetables that requires understanding or even preparation in order to pursuade the diner to begin, and ultimately enjoy, the entire dining experience.  This meal combines many of the concepts of a "twice baked" meal..  This entree is the complete meal of protein, carbohydrates, and especially fiber. It is a splendid combination of lamb/pork, oregano, garlic, ginger, fish sauce, orzo, and cilantro.  For us this recipe lasted two days.  You can download this recipe at http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/pork_shrimp_stuffed_eggplant.html

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Brock & The Two Hearted River

     Sparty's first adventure post-retirement was to venture north in Michigan's Upper Peninsula to the mouth of the Two Hearted River.  This trip was the maiden voyage of the new truck towing our RV as well as our grandson's first camping trip!   This campground is located 30 miles NE of Newberry, Michigan.  The final 16 miles is a well maintained dirt road.  The campground features roomy sites, vault toilets, and a well to pump water.  We utilized solar power and generator as it did rain 2 days.  There is NO cell phone service anywhere near here.  This is completely about sandy beaches, clear water, and scenery.  Get away from it all!   

    
     This river was made famous years ago in Earnest Hemmingway's short story, "The Big Two Hearted River" in the book "Our Time".   This river is known nationwide as a Blue Ribbon Trout Stream, but I tend to venture there to search for Lake Superior Agates and other gems at the vast river mouth. 

     Brock enjoyed the trip, working hard to discover any stone that caught his eye, which numbered in the hundereds!  We enjoyed 5 days of wonderful fun, good food, and family fellowship even though it rained the last two days.  Final totals for the trip included 1 agate, a dozen nice samples of Jasper and Unakite and 13.5 mpg for the new truck! 
 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Boondocking Part 3: Water

     If we are living the dream as we want to, then there will times when we are camping away from civilization, but still close to a water source.  By a water source I mean a clear running stream.  Lakes and ponds often contain far too much bacteria.  I have developed a remote pumping/filtering system that can provide clean water for the most basic functions while off the grid (OTG). 
     First of all such remote point of pumping systems should only be used for washing dishes, showering, and flushing the toilet.  There are, after all, the majority of all RV useage.  Drinking water is usually via bottled water or potable hook up.  This includes coffee preparation.
     The system begins with a series of hoses, several filter canisters, and a portable pump.  Although we are not talking purely potable water, non-white hoses can be used, but I still prefer the white ones.  At the point of pumping the first hose uses a drogue filter attachment entering the stream that reduces the debris often encountered.  I also cover the drogue with a microfiber bag for further filtering.  The point here is to place/mount the hose/drogue in a stream where it will remain suspended on a short lead while not allowing the drogue to touch or stir up the bottom. 
 
     Up hose the first filter is placed.  This is determined by the distance from stream to RV.  Try to avoid distances longer than 50 feet or 15 feet of elevation.  I use a series of 3 Culligan RFV-10 T-Filter canisters.  These accept the universally adaptable canister type filters.  The beauty of these is that they are relatively cheap and can be replaced when needed.  Each of these 3 filters increases the amount of filtering desired for reasonably safe water.  All are connected by several feet of hose. 
 
     Filter #1:  Culligan S-1  20 micron sediment filtering
     Filter #2:  Culligan CW-F 10 micron further sediment and purification filtering
     Filter #3:  Culligan D-10  5 micron final filtering w/Sodium Dichlor
 
    
 
     The last filter (#3) is also preloaded with 1/4 teaspoon of granulated Sodium Dichlor.  I add this prior to loading the canister filter and sealing.  It will last one 40 gallon pump cycle.  Sodium Dichlor is the basic chemical used to sterilize hot tubs and spas.  It will provide enough pressurized chlorination to sterilize the water and yet is safe for human use.  I chose this alternative over a basic chlorine bleach mixture.  Additionally I use the mixture seasonally whenever I sterilize the fresh water tank, after winterization, or just to 'reset' the tank. 
NOTE:  There are always finer filters that provide filtering down to .5 microns and also claim to elimninate Cryptosporidium and Giardia.  You need to know that with each level of filtering the line pressure will decrease resulting in longer tank fill times.  I believe that I have found the most reasonable combination. 
 
    Of course the entire system depends on a means to transfer the water from the remote source to the RV.  I chose the Wayne 1/2 HP Transfer Pump.  It runs off the Honda generator and provides pumping at 50 psi.  It provides effective pumping up to 15 feet elevation from the source.  This will fill our 40 gallon fresh water tank in about 10 minutes. 
      The last measure of purfication I use is to measure the purity of my water at the tap via a water purification tester.  Many different products are available.  I look for my water to be no more than 300 ppm.  I have never exceeded 185 ppm. with our remote pumping system.  You should always check your tap water even when hooked up to a potable source. You would be surprised at water purity sometimes. 
     Water use can also be further conserved by saving a gallon or two of your grey water drainage in storage jugs.  These can be used to manually flush the toilet w/o the pump.  You would be surprised that you use about a gallon a day for flushing.  I use a couple of old plastic ice tea jugs PROPERLY LABELED for this. 
     Also, never underestimate the power of a good rain shower.  Rainwater is a very pure form of water.  I have 6 small plastic buckets I place out in random locations away from trees when a good rain shower is anticipated.  You can collect up to 2 gallons of water with this simple method.  I prefer rain showers as a downpour will not only splash water out of the bucket, but often splashes debris into the buckets as well.  



 


Saturday, June 1, 2013

SOLIO Classic 2 Portable Solar Charger for your electronics

     Utilizing solar for portable camping use for your electronics is another matter.  I wanted something that I could use around camp or at the beach, in the mountains, or on the trail.  I have used the SCOSCHE Sol-Bat for several years with good results, but they burn out after about 2 years.  It provided a single charge for my phone, but took up to 4 days to recharge via solar so I carried several.   Cost:  $19.
     I recently purchased the SOLIO Classic 2 portable solar charger.  It will charge either via the USB port on your laptop or in sunlight in as little as 6-10 hours.  About the size of your wallet folded up and fans out into 3 Polycrystalline Solar Panels supported by a simple pencil, this unit will hold a charge for a year and provides enough storage to provide a single charge to your laptop or 3 charges to an IPhone.  Cost:  $80-$100 and is available at www.solio.com or you can purchase it much cheaper at www.amazon.com


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Spicy Stir Fried Crawfish

     This is an Emeril Lagasse Classic.  Extra Virgin Olive Oil Fried Angel Hair Pasta covered with a mixture of Crawfish, Onions, Peppers, Garlic, Chives, Sesame Oil, Snow Peas, Celery, and Chicken Broth. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Boondocking Part 2: Power (The sky's the limit)

     Sometimes it is necessary, or even desirable to spend a night or two in a more developed, commercial RV park or campground for the amenities and to dump tanks or restock.  Our goal is to explore as much of the country camping away from more developed areas.  Such living off the grid requires the ability to gather energy and efficiently store it for as long as possible.  Additionally, portability was the primary factor as I designed this system. 
     We have converted all of the appliances and several amenities to an AC/DC setup including the TVs, DVD, and even added an Engel 43 quart fridge/freezer that draws remarkably little power.  We even switched from a 120v drip coffee maker to Coleman's on the stove propane powered drip maker.  We knew we would never be able to power our A/C or microwave oven off batteries as these would require incredible amounts of power/space.  For such requirements the Honda generator will come into play.  This is the most efficient generator on the market. 
 
 
     The RV Battery Bank is the "heart and soul" of every OTG unit.  It requires the most planning and cost.  This is no place to cut corners.  I researched this thoroughly on my own and talked with many other bloggers about their setups.  I knew I wanted to utilize a 6 volt series/parallel setup using deep cycle batteries.  This wiring design uses the more efficient 6 vdc battery in a configuration wired to represent 2 additional 12 volt batteries.  Series wiring for more power, parallel wiring for longer amp hours.  I went with Trojan T-105RE batteries, a new version of the traditional T-105s designed to be used in a renewable energy environment.  www.trojanbatteryre.com  These batteries are a bit pricey, costing $700 for 4, but designed to last about 4000 cycles when discharges are kept to the 20% level.  I built a 4 battery setup utilizing 4 AWG interconnect cabling mounted in the back of the truck.  Cabling between the bank and the RV supply is 24 more feet of 4 AWG cabling.  This will provide us with nearly 585 amp hours of power.  At the 20% discharge level this amounts to nearly 24 hours of uninterrupted power without the solar panels. 
     I always knew we would begin with solar power.  There is a plethora of RV solar setups out there and the price ranges are wide as the Gulf of Mexico.  My best friend turned me on to a great starter kit from Harbor Freight www.harborfreight.com This bank of three 15 watt amorphous panels mounts on a 45 degree portable frame and provides 45 watts of power at 4 amps.  This kit, complete with charge controller and cabling runs about $170 online.  Setup is about 30 minutes.  I have used these panels to power my RV battery for 3 years.  They do a good job keeping the single RV onboard Trojan 12vdc battery charged as long as discharge levels are kept to no more than 50%.  I built an additional 30 feet of cabling to enable placement of the panels further away if needed due to parking issues.
 
     With the advent of the larger battery bank this winter I added another set of portable panels.  This time I went with CEA Solar http://offthegridsolar.com portable 130 watt polycrystalline panels.  This 2 panel setup comes in a high impact metal briefcase and sets up in about 5 minutes with adjustable fold out/tilt legs.  Again, I added another 25 feet of extension cabling.  The highly efficient total solar system now provides 175 watts of power at 7 amps, reducing my battery bank recharge time by 33%.  Total recharge time for a 20% discharge is about 11 hours daily. Price, of course, is higher;  I purchased these from the Quartzite RV Show on sale for $450.  The use of 2 setups allows for variable setup angles compensating for sun placement at different times of the day. 
 
     Any solar system depends totally on the availability and duration of clear sun power daily.  We all know this can be wishful thinking at times.  As such there will always be days where the battery bank will need man made help.  The Honda EU-3000 generator provides 3000 watts of power and will run up to 21 hours on a single 3 gallon tank of gas.  This will be used in tandem with the Deltran Battery Tender Plus System to top off the battery bank.  Some days the generator may be the only source of power, depending on weather.  OTG RV owners are always tinkering and experimenting one way or another and as such I may still add another 2 batteries to the bank and perhaps a portable Air-X Wind Turbine.  www.primuswindpower.com 
 
 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Boondocking Part 1: The Basic Package

    One of the most educational parts of planning for our retirement has been learning more and more about the ins and outs of boondocking.  I have utilized several of the designs seen on other blogs as I benefitted from others experience.  As such I plan on sharing some of the stuff I have learned and how we applied it to our own rig. 
     We have a 31 foot Keystone Cougar complete with 12 foot super slide.  Features I liked:  solid construction, aluminum framing, solid oak cabinetry, 2 doors, and plenty of room.  Features Barb liked:  comfortable living room, microwave/convection oven, and full size stand up shower.   It is a solid, but heavy trailer weighing just shy of 9000 pounds fully loaded.  It tows and backs easily. 

     We towed this unit for 8 years with our 2003 Chevy Silverado 2500HD.  Towing was a breeze, the gas burner averaging from 5-10 mpg depending on terrain/conditions.  With retirement looming I wanted a new vehicle and decided to go with the same truck, but this time converting to diesel.  Diesel engines have gotten their fair share of pros/cons over the years, mostly cons in recent years.  Chevy has significantly improved their quality with the new Duramax engine and Allison transmission combination.  It features a 2 1/2 inch hitch receiver capable of 13,000 towing capacity.  There will be some changes as this engine uses 13 quarts of oil (I plan on using Mobil 1 synthetic), and a Diesel Exhaust Fluid system.  This system is located just forward of an improved catalytic converter system.  It injects a fine mix of 90% de-ionized water and 10% urea into the exhaust that causes a chemical reaction that results in nearly 90% water vapor for exhaust.  A very green vehicle.  Gas mileage figures for non-towing has been right around 22.7 mpg @ 65 mpg.  We are hoping for towing figures to average around 15 mpg, another significant improvement.
    

    It is a comfortable truck.  It includes integrated brake controller, diesel exhaust braking control, trailering control, and full digital instrumentation including tire pressure monitoring.  Full front with extended cab and suicide doors.  60/40 bench seat split in the front with a 80/20 bench seat split in the back......perfect for our critters.  The rear windows are electric, not pop out this time.  First vehicle we have owned with Sirius XM Satellite Radio......I love it!  We went with the full 8 foot bed this time and added our usual Leer Truck cap for storage topped with the Thule Rack System for our canoe.  We haven't towed our outfit, but within the next weekend or two it will become a reality! 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Retirement, RV Boondocking, and Technology

     This week I finalized my plans to retire with the district and state paperwork.  It has been a wonderful career and I can never replace the memories I have created with some of the finest people God ever put on this earth, children. 
     Retirement brings with it the long awaited dream of traveling when and where we want in our RV discovering as much of the country as possible.  First for us will be the journey to Alaska next spring which will be an adventure all it's own.  I have been planning the logistical and technical phase of this for many years now.  Barb and I love the RV lifestyle, but will never be RV park people.  We will spend most of our time (and less money) boondocking.  I have spent considerable time and money preparing our rig for these years. 
     I have added 2 sets of solar panels totaling 175 watts to power our battery bank consisting of 4 Trojan T-105REs that will supply us with nearly 600 AH of power.  Monitoring of this system uses a Delray Battery Tender Plus setup to monitor/charge as needed.  This will team with the super efficient Honda EU-3000 generator that runs nearly 21 hours on 3 gallons of gas.  We also have an extra 40 gallon water tank, a water purification system, exterior water collection system (for rain), air compressor, collapsable ladder, tools, fabrication supplies, Engel 43 qt. AC/DC efficient fridge freezer, and a pure sine wave inverter to power nearly everything off our battery bank except the microwave and the air conditioner when needed.    We juggled the technology process for a bit, but finally decided on a wide screen laptop with wireless technology.  We can utilize our own 'hotspot' or our IPhones to provide internet access for contact with the outside world (when desired), planning, and updating this blog.  We also decided on a compact Canon Wireless Printer for our most basic needs. We are debating an additional antenna for WiFi support later on if needed.  We converted our TV to a flat screen plasma AC/DC with built in DVD.  We have an armada of movies on disk and care very little for the news.   We do have some interior remodeling planned to remove the RV couch (was always usually used by our pooch only) and replace it with a small computer desk and move one of the Lazy Boy chairs into the 'slide out' space which will create room near the door for a boot tray and coat rack.  There is so much more to learn about this type of lifestyle and so many designs and improvements I am sure I will be discovering in the years to come. 
    I will spend this intital summer testing this system in order to determine power needs, requirements, and solar capabilities.   It's going to be a learning process, but a fun one.  Everything from here on is an adventure.  I do want to thank the many people I have conversed with planning this.  There are many off grid boondocking blogs and sites on line.   Most noteworthy is www.rv-boondocking-the-good-life.com   I modeled several of my plans and systems from his experience. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Jennie O Cheddar Broccoli Stuffed Turkey Meatloaf

This recipe is always a crowd pleaser.  I have modified this recipe in so many several different ways it no longer resembles the original very much.  Although meat loaf might be the perfect comfort food; ethnic, families, heritage, spices/herbs, and even regional.....meatloaf is one of the finest comfort foods available.  Turkey, broccoli, cheddar cheese, and all the spices....serve it with mashed taters and green beans; nothing finer for the family. 
   

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Chicken, Brie, and Mango Quesadillas

Another recipe from the Chateau Ste. Michelle Vineyards.  Chicken, Peppers, and Onions topped with Brie Cheese on a Corn Tortilla with Avocado and Mango Slices. 
 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Moroccan Braised Chicken

A classic recipe from the vineyards of Chateau Ste. Michelle.  This Moroccan blend of chicken, spices, olives, onions, and peppers with a Sauvignon Blanc reduction simmers quickly and easily for 30 minutes while filling the house with a wonderful Mediterranean aroma.  Serve with a glass of your favorite white wine and a salad. 
http://www.ste-michelle.com/wine_food/recipeDetail/73

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Teriyaki Whitefish Wrapped in Cottage Bacon

An incredibly simple recipe that is robust in flavor.  Whitefish is one of the most widely available fish in the Great Lakes Region.  It's firm, white meat and neutrality lends itself to a wide variety of recipes. Cottage Bacon is actually sliced from the shoulder of the pig rather than the belly resulting in 33% less fat.  This one is courtesy of one of my favorite sites:  http://www.greatlakeswhitefish.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=179&Itemid=19

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The View from Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny was a term coined back in the 1840s to explain the measures and hard work by settlers to achieve their westward expansion.  This was their belief, the very mantra by which they looked at each and every day of their lives. As such I have lived my life very much how I was raised.  You work hard, save, learn from your mistakes, and in time all you want can be achievable.  In time.....this phrase seems to have manifested itself over the years as well.  As I reach the end of my second career I find myself so very grateful to be able to reap the fruits of all that Barb and I have worked for.  I find myself at times sympathizing with my younger colleagues just starting out how tough it is, how they can't have all they want now, and why life is so unfair.  In all fairness I look at the nearly 42+ years we have worked to get where we are now.  We have a lot to show for it and with my 60th birthday and retirement looming I feel only pride and satisfaction for what I feel is a job well done.  I also realize that I have been lucky; lucky to grow up in a good family, serve my country, find the right woman, be the father of fine children and grandchildren, live through far too many mistakes, and finish up in a career I have truly loved, teaching.  I look forward to the next journey: traveling, exploring the country, and enjoying my time with my bride and many of our favorite pastimes. This blog is dedicated to just that.  Life and all that it can be is achievable.  All it takes is hard work and perserverance.  Joie De Vivre.....don't waste it, live it. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

St Patrick's Day Dinner

Guiness Glazed Irish Lamb Chops with Cream Mashed Taters w/Chives and Ham, and Steamed Asparagus. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Crawfish Palmetto

I LOVE Cajun Food; it is my favorite to prepare and I believe I am getting pretty good at it as well.  Crawfish is a staple in this cuisine and I love to prepare it, and eat it as well.  Crawfish Palmetto is simply a Crawfish, Sausage, and vegetable sauteed topping for Catfish or any other fish you love.  
http://www.tonychachere.com/recipesapp/ViewRecipe.asp?RecipeId=203&RecipeName=Crawfish Palmetto

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Buffalo Steak Quiche

Quiche is one of the most versatile dishes available; you can adapt it to whatever ingredients or cuisine you desire.  Bison is a very lean meat that adds a lot of flavor without the fat.  This recipe can serve 2 to 4 depending......

1/2 lb thinly sliced or ground buffalo steak
1/3 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup low fat mayonnaise
1/2 cup skim milk
1/2 cup eggbeaters
2 Tbsp cornstarch (mixed with milk)
1/2 lb grated Swiss cheese
1 Tbsp Worchestershire Sauce

Brown meat in skillet.  Mix remaining ingredients and pour over meat in quiche dish or pie pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes.  Always good with a fresh garden salad. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ralph's Italian Deli

I know I wanted to use this blog for after retirement, but some things are just too good or too important to wait.  One of our all time favorites, Ralph's Italian Deli in Ishpeming, Michigan is one of the true "secret gems" of the Upper Peninsula.  An authentic Italian Deli in the immigrant YOOPER tradition, they serve some of the finest fare available anywhere.  Don't let the modest location, parking, or exterior fool you!  Not only do they serve a lunch and dinner menu and a meat counter, but they cater as well.  From fresh breads to meats to sauces to cheeses, you will not leave empty handed!  Everything is homemade and not a trip is made to the UP unless Barb and I stop and pick up some homemade marinara sauce, hot cudighi sausage, or grab a sandwich for the road.  Located on US 41 west of Marquette just across from the US Ski Hall of Fame, this one is a keeper! 
http://www.ralphsitaliandeli.com/

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Welcome to the Good Life...


Welcome to our blog.  I invite you to travel along with Barb, Dharma, Bodhi, and myself as we explore our great nation boondocking 'off the grid' in our RV.  In retirement we plan to hunt, fish, cook, travel, relax, and spoil ourselves as much as possible.  I will post adventures, restaurant reviews, regional treats, and my own culinary creations as well.  So buckle in, place tray tables in their full upright position, and prepare for takeoff!