Family Trip Report: Sequoia National Park

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Our track record of planned camping trips at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks trends towards immediate chaos upon arrival then tapering into blissful adventure despite the continual need for a sudden change of plans. You can read about our previous experiences here: Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Forest. It’s bound to happen someday that our well-laid plans will work out, right? It’s true. Although in no hurry, “some day” finally came at Sequoia National Park.

Spacious campsite above the river

Spacious campsite above the river

Last Labor Day Weekend we were miraculously able to get a site at Lodgepole Campground. I mean, we were able to stalk the reservation website enough to snatch up a cancelation and make the reservation our own. Ah, two nights in the campground above the river, during the afternoon of the summer camping season. Things are already off to a good start.

The garbage truck is just as fascinating in the campground as it is at home.

The garbage truck is just as fascinating in the campground as it is at home.

Out of the federal land in the area, it appears to us that Sequoia National Park is the most heavily visited. Perhaps some of the reasons are because of the reservable campsites, accessibility, and even folks who thought they were making their way to Yosemite but really stumbled their way into this park.

2015-02-18 Sequoia National Park Lodgepole Campground Picnic Table

As recovering wilderness backpackers, we like to go to the outdoors for solace and recovery. With a baby the wilderness is still accessible, minus a good night’s sleep. The peace and quiet is still attainable while hiking through the backcountry, since the baby is sleeping all day in the kid backpack. We’ve always steered clear of the National Parks in the past because of the swarms people and no dogs allowed on the trails.

We now have two toddlers.

Hanging out in the campsite while the dog tries to steal food

Hanging out in the campsite while the dog tries to steal food

National Parks like Sequoia are a dream come true for an outdoors family vacation, if you get the campsite reserved. We drove up Generals Highway upon entering the park, made our way to the campsite, and parked the truck. It stayed there the entire weekend. There was no need to worry about coasting out of the park to the nearest gas station, fighting other cars for a parking spots at all the beautiful places to see, and of course, no need to worry about additional crud pumped into the air by our 16 miles per gallon beast. The park has a bus system. Genius.

Can't help but spy on the campground neighbors

Can’t help but spy on the campground neighbors

We went everywhere on the bus. The kids loved it! No climbing in and out of the truck, getting kids in the carseats, vulturing for a parking spot, fighting traffic, or figuring what to pack with us and what to leave in the truck. Pre kids I loved the fact that less pollution was being pumped into the beautiful view and fresh air. We’d drive our vehicles to experience a preserved area of our country that citizens and those around the world come to enjoy. Driving cars everywhere in the park seems to be working against what we’re trying to preserve. The seeming inconvenience of abiding by the bus schedule or carrying your stuff on is easily accommodated by proper planning. Planning is needed for car rides too.

Rocks near our campsite. They never cease to entertain.

Rocks near our campsite. They never cease to entertain.

So what in the world is there to do in Sequoia aside from just enjoy ourselves?

Lodging in Main Area of SNP
We stayed at Lodgepole Campground, as mentioned earlier. Campground has flush toilets and sinks, is reservable, near the visitor center, has an amphitheater, an inviting stream for kids to play in, its own bus stop, and overall was a great place to stay. If we went again I’d attempt to reserve a spot on the outside of the loop, as we had this time, for increased privacy. Another campground in the area includes Dorst, which was dry due to water shortages. Wuksachi Lodge is also available. My daughter and I took a bus ride there to check out the lobby since it’s the only place in the park with wifi. From talking to folks who have stayed there, their reports were that it was fairly unimpressive for the price, difficult to accommodate for meals since the in house restaurant is the only source of a meal nearby, but a good location for being close to the outdoors.

New camp cuisine: chicken and green bean masala with naan and chopped mango for dessert. Kept us warm during the cool evening.

New camp cuisine: chicken and green bean masala with naan and chopped mango for dessert. Kept us warm during the cool evening.

Buildings To Look Around In
The main visitor center is very close to Lodgepole Campground and includes it’s own bus stop. There’s also a general store, cafe, and post office in the same location. Aside from the little shop and backpacking desk, it also has a mini museum with interesting information and videos about the area.

2015-02-18 Sequoia National Park Kids at Visitor Center

The Giant Forest Museum is also a great stop for history and information about the trees and area. The park has done a lot to de-commercialize most of the park and provide a more accommodating atmosphere for the trees, which are what the people are coming to see. The kids had fun watching a video they were showing, or perhaps they were just tired and wanted to sit on the floor. Maybe that was me.

Stonework in one of the Sherman Tree Viewpoints

Stonework in one of the Sherman Tree Viewpoints

The line to wait for the bus at the Museum was hours long by midday. We overheard from some of the workers that the bus system had the most riders that day in the history of the buses running. It was a lot of people but I’m thankful that all those people were “carpooling” on the buses rather than all driving their own cars. It would have been a madhouse!

Hikes and Trees

2015-02-18 Sequoia National Park General Sherman Tree Trail 5
The buses have several stops and a mixture of loops to connect the popular trees and scenic hikes. We did most and all were excellent for our small kids to hike along with us. Some parts were dangerous, like on Moro Rock, where I can imagine curious kiddos looking a little too far over the railing or going around it to their detriment. We were able to hit several stops on the one day we took the bus around to all the hikes.

2015-02-18 Sequoia National Park General Sherman Tree Trail 2

Sherman Tree – This half mile trail may be the most popular. That is my guess because out of all the hikes we did over the weekend by far this was the most crowded one.

Looking up at the General Sherman Tree

Looking up at the General Sherman Tree

There’s also a special wheelchair accessible bus stop and parking lot. The trail is wide and paved to accommodate for wheelchairs (and strollers!).

2015-02-18 Sequoia National Park General Sherman Tree Trail 1
Crescent Meadow – Delightful walk around the meadow with beautiful woods, meadow, and downed logs for the kids and husband to walk along.

Crescent Meadows. Down logs are irresistible to walk across

Crescent Meadows. Down logs are irresistible to walk across

There are other trails spurring off the main trail, but with the two little squawkers we stuck to the main trail. There’s a very pleasant picnic area near the parking lot where we had our lunch and then set out for our hike.

Crescent Meadows Trail

Crescent Meadows Trail

Moro Rock – This is a steep stairway climb, at places narrow, totalling about 0.5 miles round trip. 2015-02-18 Sequoia National Park Moro Rock Trail 5It had beautiful views covering half the park as well as the Great Western Divide. Kids did very well.

View of Generals Highway from Moro Rock

View of Generals Highway from Moro Rock

The crazy one was in the baby backpack, but the other we kept close and were continually giving instructions.

On the way up Moro Rock

On the way up Moro Rock

Other trails that are available but we didn’t go on include: Wolverton, Tokopah Falls, The Big Trees Trail, and the High Sierra Trail also runs through the park.

2015-02-18 Sequoia National Park Moro Rock Trail 3

The park has many activities and places in addition to what we experienced. We love to hike so we tend to focus on that during our times camping. Other things that can be done in the park include cave tours, horse back riding, rock climbing, snow sports, backpacking, auto touring, dry camping, etc.

View from the top of Moro Rock

View from the top of Moro Rock

Sequoia National Park was well worth the time, and the reservation. We’re hoping to go back to visit the Mineral King area of the park.

I also broke our favorite mug which has a picture of the Generals Highway and Kings River on it. We will need to replace it sometime soon, right?

2015-02-18 Sequoia National Park Broken Mug

What are some great National Parks you’ve been to that you want to visit again?

USEFUL LINKS

Federal Website
Sequoia’s 2015 bus schedule and info

Family Trip Report: Sequoia National Forest

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Where there are California campgrounds, there is a mad frenzy to secure a spot. Yes. Apparently the day after New Year’s Day is like the Black Friday for Independence Day campground reservations.

He wants to put up the whole tent

He wants to put up the whole tent

Checking the campgrounds mid morning on January Second is the same as completely missing the boat. Well fine, California campgrounds. We will be sure to have a grand adventure anyway. First come first serve during a holiday weekend is always exciting. Guaranteed.

Sequoia National Forest Princess Campground Campsite "backyard"

In the midst of deciding what we should do during our holiday weekends this year, a fond first come first serve trip memory comes to mind from the inaugural-weekend-of-summer-camping, Memorial Day Weekend. A few years ago we went to Sequoia National Park just to discover the campgrounds were full the night BEFORE we showed up. Racing daylight, we rushed to the Grant’s Grove area of King’s Canyon National Park to find a place to pitch our tent. You can read about our adventure here. Sequoia National Forest Princess Campground CampsiteThat weekend ended up being a great trip with some memorable snafus. Last Memorial Day we actually returned with the intention of going to the canyon first come first serve campgrounds of King’s Canyon National Park to see that area of the park again. We did it again. A memorable snafus that is, not King’s Canyon National Park.

Sequoia National Forest is black bear country but the only bear we saw was "Snowy"

Sequoia National Forest is black bear country but the only bear we saw was “Snowy”

There must be something about this region of California that dissolves any sort of plans we make. Seemingly synonymous with the effect the outdoors has with dissolving our daily worries into fresh air, clear minds, a crackling campfire, and the sound of our feet padding down a trail. This trip was not going to be an extension of the last trip but a new, unexpected adventure to Sequoia National Forest. It was the trip we should have planned.

Snow plant found near Princess campground

Snow plant found near Princess campground

Due to our observation of unfilled campsites in the King’s Canyon canyon-area campgrounds over the previous Memorial Day Weekend, we decided to dive into the valley with our tent, gear, and high hopes of hiking through the canyon’s meadows and soaking in sun beside various points along the river. Apparently the rest of California noticed this opportunity also and arrived a few hours before we did. One thing we have grown to love, and really be thankful for, is the higher concentration of federal land in this particular area: Sequoia National Park, King’s Canyon National Park, Giant Sequoia National Monument, and Sequoia National Forest. Without this multiplicity we would perhaps have been sleeping in the truck along the side of the road, much to the hubby’s joy of “adventure.”Sequoia National Forest Princess Campground Campsite Backyard The Grant’s Grove Ranger Station pointed us in the direction of Princess campground in the Sequoia National Forest. With the mass influx of campers we were feeling the intensity of the race for a tent spot. Thankfully, Princess was a real lady and had plenty of spots available. Strategically the campground was on the way to Hume Lake so it appears many potential spot-takers sped on past for a place by the lake, leaving us to take our pick.

PRINCESS CAMPGROUND AND INDIAN BASIN INTERPRETIVE TRAIL

Sequoia National Forest Princess Campground Gathering Wood

Princess is 3 miles northwest of Hume Lake in the Indian Basin Grove. The campground has 88 campsites with 19 tent-only spots. There is a good mix of campsites, but not all are created equal in terms of level ground and space to run. We chose a spot near the camp host that left us with a lot of room and a lot of privacy.

Camping equivalent to the Sword in the Stone

Camping equivalent to the Sword in the Stone

The campground was not supposed to open for another month, so with the hustle of the campground hosts the Forest Service was able to open the campground for overflow camping folks like us. There were stumps and downed trees for the kids to climb on, the Indian Basin Interpretive Trail head close by, and best of all, our dog could go on the trails with us as we were in a National Forest instead of a National Park. Sequoia National Forest Indian Basin Interpretive Trail 2The Indian Basin Grove Interpretive Trail takes a half mile accessible loop, and additional dirt trail half mile loop spurring off it, through some huge sequoia stumps and smaller still-standing trees. It was perfect for our little critters and we ended up hiking the trail a couple of times.Sequoia National Forest Indian Basin Interpretive Trail 1

HUME LAKE

Hume Lake makes for the perfect day trip from Princess. There’s a 2.6 mile loop around the lake. We uncharacteristically skipped it and headed for a spot on the beach near where a creek fed into the crisp water. The kids had a great time splashing and playing in the water. We were able to picnic, enjoy the shade, and pretty views. We got there midmorning, which was crucial for snagging a parking spot. There was a pit toilet available in the parking lot, which interestingly enough had rebar strung in a grid about 3 feet below the seat. Not that I was studying it or anything, nor loosing my grip on the kids as they did their business.

Snake we saw while hiking

Snake we saw while hiking

Early in the afternoon the beach was getting crowded so we left with the intention of having nap time/quiet time back at the campsite. On the way out, we visited the gas station area/general store (there’s a large camp set up next to the lake) and got some ice cream. Sure enough the kids downed the ice cream before it could dribble too far down their arms, and then they were out like little incandescent light bulbs. Our drive back to Princess ended up being a tour of the Hume Lake campground, which was packed, to scope out the good spots. Hey, the kids were asleep. We might as well make the most of it.

Sequoia National Forest Campfire

BOOLE TREE TRAIL (GIANT SEQUOIA NATIONAL MONUMENT)
To occupy our last morning in the forest, we decided to hit the Boole Tree trail. On the way to the trail head, the dirt road passes through Stump Meadow that was once a forest of giants, part of the Converse Basin Grove. The interpretive signs placed there gave an interesting history of the area. One factoid given was that immediately after they fell all the giant sequoias, the water table rose so much that it flooded the area. There were no more trees there to drink up all the water.

Sequoia tumps are great for jumping off

Sequoia stumps are great for jumping off

There is no water at the trailhead, so we were sure to fill our water bottles and the dog’s water jugs before leaving Princess. The kids were exhausted after several days of play and they were not going to walk any further. We got a little ways up the 2.5 mile Boole Tree trail, and foregoing carrying the kids, we turned back.

The Boole Tree stands on it’s own as one of the largest trees in the world. It is one of a few that were passed over during the intense logging of the area in the late 1800s/early 1900s.

Sequoia National Forest Boole Tree Trail Sign

At the trailhead we ate lunch at the truck, changed into our traveling clothes, and headed off down the mountain towards civilization. Thankfully we did not need to coast to the nearest town with a gas station this time.

Lunch at the Boole Tree Trailhead

Lunch at the Boole Tree Trailhead

We’ve found with kids it’s OK and sometimes more enjoyable to just take activities as they come. A little relaxing in camp, or at a trailhead, is OK too. Our kidless, backpacking selves from five years ago would have guffawed at this, but clearly there are many ways to enjoy the outdoors.

Rather than recreating a list with more ways to enjoy Sequoia National Forest, check out the link below. It is a list provided by the Forest Service with links to all sorts of activities: hiking, camping, snow sports, four-wheeling/4×4 driving, checking out sequoia groves, etc. We spent three days in the National Forest but a family could easily spend many more days exploring and enjoying.
Recreation Guide for Sequoia National Forest

OTHER USEFUL LINKS

Princess Campground, Sequoia National Park
Hume Lake Campgrounds
Fed site with Boole Tree Info
Sequoia National Forest Visitor Guide

Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park

One great thing about living in Southern California is being able to camp year round. While almost an unheard of practice in our home state of Washington, we’ve made a habit of setting aside the Thanksgiving holiday long weekend each year as a time to spend outside camping, enjoying cooler weather, and friends who share the same love for celebrating a favorite holiday in gratefulness of our surroundings of flora, fauna, and friends. We were actually surprised by the delightful time at this unexplored park, and, if you’re in the area, encourage you to take a weekend there as well.2014-12-10 Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park Setting Up the Tent

Agua Caliente Campground San Diego County Park Description
The park is located directly south of Anza Borrego State Park and about a one hour drive from Julian, CA. It is surrounded by some foothills and known for its geothermal heated hot springs. There are also several trails out of the campground going to overlooks, nature hikes, and local geographic features. The campground has 140 campsites consisting of tent sites, partial hook-up (electrical) sites, full hook-up sites, a group camp, and also has seven new cabins equipped with temperature controls, two queen beds, and a bathroom.2014-12-10 Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park Campground Aerial View

The park takes advantage of the hot springs through three spring fed pools: an indoor adults-only (age 14 years plus) jacuzzi-jet therapeutic pool heated to 102 degrees Fahrenheit, and outdoor cool-pool that produced violent shivering from all my family members while they were in it, and an outdoor kid pool that happened to be under construction while we were there. And of course the kids took advantage of the warm pool runoff stream by playing in it as they would any other small creek.2014-12-10 Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park Digging in the Creek

Family Activities in the Park
The Pools: This is one of the main draws to the park. As mentioned above the only pool open for the whole family to enjoy together was the cool pool. I’m not sure what the temperature was supposed to be but it was even colder than the local swimming pools we have at home. All ages had trouble getting in and staying in the pool. Especially teenaged campers we observed  would anticipate the colder water temperature by daring each other to be the first to jump in as if they were making a suicide jump off an ocean cliff. Our kids, aged two and four were in love with the idea of swimming but spent most of their time clinging to the wall, too cold to move, while my husband danced around in the pool in an attempt to not lapse into hypothermia. Our camping friends who stayed in the tent site next to ours would also sit on the stairs leading into the pool with their children clinging to the handrail. The mom several times waited until her husband was parked next to the kids in the cool pool and would take off to the indoor adult pool to thaw out for a half an hour and then come back to extract her popsicle children and husband from the pool. The outside temps maxed low 80s, furthering the gap of the water temperature differential, rather than creating a refreshing effect that perhaps the pool water was intended to be.

Sorry, no pictures of the pools, but here are some potato pancakes we ate for breakfast one morning!

Sorry, no pictures of the pools, but here are some potato pancakes we ate for breakfast one morning!

The pool facilities were almost immaculately clean and it was clear the rangers were hard at work several times a day to keep it that way. The indoor adult pool has a communal changing area attached to it, complete with separate rooms for individual showers, toilets, lockers, and a couple of sinks. The showers are controlled with Chicago faucet push buttons that only emit the warm spring water. There are other bathrooms in the campground, also extraordinarily clean, that have quarter showers where the temperature can be controlled. Also, the pool house and the campground restrooms all had soap with the sinks! I can’t remember when the last time I’ve seen this in a city, county, state, or national park campground!

Barrage seen on the ridge from our campsite

Borrego seen on the ridge from our campsite

Hiking: There are several trails leading out of the campground into the the surrounding landscape. Many are easy enough for our small kids to tackle. After nap times and before dinner each evening, the kids and some adults would take a hike as the temperature had cooled to pleasant (even in November the temps get into the mid 80s!), amply working up a dinnertime appetite. The campground trails are as follows:2014-12-10 Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park Campground from Viewpoint
Desert Overlook Trail – 0.25 mile (considered steep)
Ocotillo Ridge Trail – 0.5 mile loop
Marsh Trail – shares part of the Ocotillo Ridge Trail then connects with a trail that follows the wash out of the campground. Maybe it’s 0.25 mile+
Nature Trail – 0.25 mile
Store Trail (Yes, there’s a general store that sells mainly ice, ice cream, and alcohol) – 0.25 mile
Airport Trail – Not indicated on the county’s trail map, but the airport is about one mile from the park. The airport is 160 acres with one runway. The kids loved watching the small planes take off and land.
Moonlight Canyon Trail – 2.5 mile loop
On Sundays there are ranger led trail hikes.2014-12-10 Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park Fork in the Trail

Playground: Remember the tall slides with minimal handrails and long swing chains that give enough momentum to launch yourself 15 feet in the air if you bail out mid-swing? Well, you too can now relive your childhood and so can your kids. The playground does consist of a very tall slide, one long chained swing, and a metal bar jungle gym. Our kids had a lot of fun with no incident.2014-12-10 Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park Old School Slide

Potential Proximity Adventures: Both Julian and the southern entrance to Anza Borrego Desert State Park are an hour away, in different directions.

By the last day, the kids were slowing down with their play

By the last day, the kids were slowing down with their play

Hanging out at the campsite: This is always an option at any campground. I think because we went over Thanksgiving weekend a lot of the other campers chose to do this too so the campground was actually pretty noisy most of the time. We had a big advantage for the kids with the stream flowing between the two campsites we reserved. All the kids in our group spent the majority of the time in the creek. 2014-12-10 Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park Repairing the DamThe adults were then able to munch on snacks not allotted for kids and play board games. As we have kids who are still napping, our afternoons were spent inside our popup camper with “napping” kids (they were really just antagonizing each other, reading, or resting a bit). Because it’s really dry the shaded areas were very pleasant even when the sun was intense and hot.2014-12-10 Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park Hanging Out in the Campsite

General Thoughts About the Place
People definitely pushed the allowable noisy hours, but thankfully we didn’t have to suggest to anyone to quiet down. The campsite next to us blared ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger, Fleetwood Mac, The Beach Boys, etc. I was kind of disappointed they didn’t play any of The Eagles. Surprisingly our kids slept through several nights of really loud music being played outside the trailer. Perhaps it’s a testament of all the fun they were having during the day that exhausted them to this point. One fellow from our group felt like he was in the wrong campsite as he danced along with their music. Perhaps more bushes need to be placed between the campsites as a couple from the noisy neighbor campsite stumbled into ours looking for whiskey. They were disappointed.2014-12-10 Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park Tent Trailer in the Campsite

I wouldn’t call having noisy neighbors a bad experience. I overheard them complaining a few times about our children crying in the mornings. Perspective, right. Nonetheless, the campsite we had is one we would try to get next time we go.

Useful Links:

San Diego County Website for Agua Caliente
Agua Caliente Park Map
Agua Caliente Campground Map
Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Julian, CA

Chocolate Companies’ Plans To Eliminate Child Labor and Slavery

Last week we started a mini-series on s’more chocolate. The topic and title of last week’s blog, Is Your S’more Chocolate Made using Child Labor and Slavery, covered a small summary of child trafficking and child workers on cocoa farms. We are continuing on the topic of s’more chocolate this week by looking into what the large s’more companies say they are doing about the issue.

My family is a little intent on eating ice cream in somewhat regular intervals, so it was no surprise when I get a phone call on my way home from errands one day to swing by the store and pick up some ice cream. While I was at the store, I thought I’d check out the candy aisle to see what fair trade chocolate was available. The chocolate candies stretched down half an aisle. After looking up and down the shelves, all I could find was ONE chocolate bar that had any resemblance of fair trade certification. It was a “silky smooth Dark Chocolate Dove” bar, of all things, with a “Rainforest Alliance Certified Cocoa” seal on the wrapper. There were no other chocolates with a fair trade certification or even a claim to sustainable farming practices. None. I was amazed. It had been thirteen years since the big boys in chocolate signed the Harkin-Engel Protocal to start on a path to eliminate child slavery on cocoa farms. I was expecting a little more than one type of Dove bar (Dove is made by Mars).

When I was explaining to my husband this candy bar was the only one in the grocery store with a certification, he grabbed it from me and ate half before I could finish my sentence.

When I was explaining to my husband this candy bar was the only one in the grocery store with a certification, he grabbed it from me and ate half before I could finish my sentence.

Hershey bars are usually what pops into everyone’s mind when the topic of s’mores chocolate comes up. In recent years we’ve expanded our tastes and have tried Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Ghirardelli salted carmel, white chocolate, cookies ‘n’ creme, mint chocolate, etc. My favorite two are Reese’s and Ghirardelli salted caramel. That is, until I started researching the chocolate industry. Now I’m not sure (tune in during the next couple weeks as I’ll be hopefully finding a new favorite!). In light of last week’s post, briefly summarizing the atrocities of child labor and slavery used to harvest cocoa, I really do want to give big chocolate the benefit of the doubt, see what they’re saying about this issue, and see what sort of plans they have laid. I’m just going to hit a couple of the big companies that source s’more chocolate that we have used, as of course, we’re a little biased as to what chocolate around here should be used for.

HERSHEY

S’mores chocolate bar options (at least what we’ve tried out): traditional milk chocolate bar, Cookies ‘n’ Creme, Special Dark, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

“Bringing sweet moments of Hershey happiness to the world everyday” is Hershey’s Mission, as shown in the July 2014 Fact Book by Hershey. I’d like to believe that is true for everyone from the farm workers to the consumer. Hershey is a consumer-driven company, and engages in manufacturing, distribution, and sale of consumer food products, as also stated in the fact book. Even with this statement, the pushback from society on to Hershey to reevaluate the farming practices of where their cocoa is sourced, has forced the company to look further up the supply chain rather than just from whom they are purchasing the imported cocoa products (cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, and cocoa powder). The Fact Book is very detailed about the market information that is directly in their control, but the section on the cocoa supply I find ambiguous by only stating, “The cocoa beans utilized by our suppliers are imported principally from West African, South American and Far Eastern equatorial regions. West Africa accounts for approximately 70% of the world’s crop,” as found on page 52 of the July 2014 fact book. I would like to know the percentage of cocoa products originating from West Africa used by Hershey rather than the world’s percentage, but from reading between the lines I am guessing a large amount of Hershey’s cocoa comes from this region.

On page 24 of the fact book there is line item 107 that does address the use of child labor in the West African cocoa producing countries. “In October 2012, the Company announced that it will source 100 percent certified cocoa for its global chocolate product lines by 2020 and accelerate its programs to help eliminate child labor in the cocoa regions of West Africa. Certified cocoa will be verified through independent auditors to assure that it is grown in line with the highest internationally recognized standards for labor, environmental and better farming practices. As Hershey increases its use of certified cocoa, the company will also continue to support community-based programs with local African partners, national governments and development agencies. These projects include village school construction, mobile phone farmer messaging, literacy and health programs and training in modern farming techniques.” Here is a link to the press release of this initiative.

I am disappointed that Hershey did not resolve to do this following the signing of the Harkin-Engel Protocol thirteen years ago, but I am thankful they have this one on the books. I am in doubt as to whether it will actually happen, but I am hopeful. If a company as large as Hershey (Top 10 chocolate companies Wordwide) starts sustainably and responsibly sourcing their cocoa, that can make a big difference in the lives of thousands and thousands of people. Hershey has not only said they would do third party certifications, but have also developed a program to aid farmers with their business growth as part of its $10 million commitment to improve farms, healthcare, and community growth. In 2012 it started out by targeting the Assin Foso district in Ghana’s central cocoa region to, “help more than 1,000 farm families and 5,000 cocoa community members improve their livelihoods by learning the latest in modern farming techniques and agricultural stewardship, including appropriate and inappropriate uses of labor,” (source).  

The good news is, it appears Hershey has continued to expand on this program. In October 2014, they issued another press release about the Learn to Grow’s spread into the Ivory Coast. By 2017 Hershey plans to have enrolled 19,000 more farmers in the program. Here’s a quote taken from the press release: ‘“This significant expansion of the Hershey Learn to Grow Cote d’Ivoire farmer training and community development program is another example of how public and industry partners, who have deep expertise and a commitment to cocoa sustainability, can positively impact the lives of farmers and their families,” said Terry O’Day, Senior Vice President, Chief Supply Chain Officer. “Through skilled trainers, we help farmers raise their income by adopting modern agricultural practices, while also investing in schools and infrastructure projects, important to local communities.”’ It is encouraging to see Hershey covering multiple aspects of the farmer’s and workers lives to help improve their way of life, income, and options they have.

Even though the poor Dove bar is alone in the isle at the grocery store, it appears it will soon have some fair trade friends. “Hershey is committed to buying 100 percent certified cocoa for all of its products worldwide by 2020,” a statement found in the 2012 as well as the latest 2014 press releases. Hershey appears to be addressing the issue directly on the farms, raising the quality of life for not just the farmers but for  the workers, the children (even building schools!), and providing much needed updating to farming practices. “A major benefit of the Learn to Grow Cote d’Ivoire program will be to accelerate Hershey’s purchase of sustainably grown cocoa. Hershey is working with Fair Trade USA to certify many of the farms participating in this Learn to Grow program,” as stated in the same press release mentioned above. My hope is that soon buying a Hershey bar would not just mean more s’more enjoyment for us here in the states, but it would represent that even the farmers and workers in West Africa are also benefiting from sweet moments of Hershey happiness in their life everyday.

Hershey Links of Interest:

Hershey’s latest press release on expanding the Learn to Grow program to the Ivory Coast October 22, 2014
Hershey’s latest press release on the CocoaLink Program September 29, 2014
Hershey’s initial press release of the Learn to Grow program in Ghana April 26, 2012
Learn to Grow/CocoaLink Program website
Hershey’s Cocoa Certification Programs (from Learn to Grow/CocoaLink Program website)

I was also planning on covering Lindt & Sprungli (Ghirardelli) and Trader Joes this week but the information on Hershey is more than I was expecting. Expect to read about these two companies in next week’s post. See you then!

Is Your S’more Chocolate Made Using Child Labor and Slavery?

This week we stepped into the Twilight Zone. No, not the TV show or the Tower of Terror in California Adventure, but IKEA. Have you ever tried to leave halfway through the showroom? On our way out of the checkout line were big stacks of boxes filled with three different kinds of chocolate bars, then surrounded by various other similar stacks full of boxed chocolate, Christmas advent calendars with chocolate, and a plethora of other variations of chocolate. Aside from contemplating the life story of the furniture we just bought, I began thinking about the labor used for the gobs of inexpensive chocolate that lay before us in aisles.

As a camping family we look forward to our times around the campfire as a family, and specifically for roasting marshmallows and stacking the gooey mess into a s’more. However, in an effort to make special memories and have bonding time with my own kids, am I subjecting other kids, who are potentially permanently separated from their families, to a life of slavery? This is a hard question and definitely causes rain on the parade. Even so, I have decided to do a little more looking into the state of the cocoa industry and formulate a conviction of my own chocolate eating practices. Africa is a long way away and has a lot of cocoa farms there, but the thought of my own children (and any other children!) being kidnapped, trafficked to another country, and forced to work without pay, education, access to medical supplies, abused, and not allowed to leave, is heart wrenching and sickening. My stash of s’mores chocolate in the pantry is no longer calling my name in the late afternoon, before a camping trip, or any other time.

Here’s some basic information to get you started:

  • The chocolate industry is expected to be making $98.3 billion per year by 2016.
  • Most cocoa comes from Ivory Coast and Ghana (73% of the world’s cocoa), but is also sourced in Latin America and Asia.
  • In 2001, the Harkin-Engel Protocol was signed by all the big boys in chocolate to voluntarily remove child labor and slavery from chocolate making in accordance with International Labor Organization Convention 182 by 2005. The deadline has been extended to 2008, then 2010,…etc. Before it passed, among other things, it required companies to include a “child slavery free” label on their chocolate or something of that sort. After an uproar from the chocolate companies, that part was eliminated, and in the end there were no consequences written into the Protocol if companies do not comply with the final Protocol that was signed by the parties involved.
  • Tulane University did a recent study concluding the big chocolate companies are not tackling child labor as they agreed, and the problem is still very present.

So…we’re back where we started.

As I started looking into information about child labor and slavery the content of the information was overwhelming as was the quantity of information.  I was hoping to find some recently hard numbers but most of the information has trickled in over the past several years as the issue has gotten more light. The closest information to what I was looking for is the Tulane University study referenced above. Even so, it appears governments, farmers, and conglomerates alike are uncooperative with the world as we are now glimpsing at their labor force practices…or forced labor practices rather.

The children working on the cocoa farms are in general 12 – 17 years old, some older and some younger. They are forced to work, given no pay, cut off from their families (and may never see them again), provided no access to education, are working with pesticides without protection, have no access to proper first aid or healthcare, given beatings for slow work and for trying to escape, and so on ( http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/). The farmers themselves only make a small income through their business that provides no incentives for them or their children to continue in the trade, make improvements to working conditions, equipment, etc., (http://responsiblecocoa.com/the-challenge/), not to mention hardships from crop pests and diseases, wars, and unsupportive governments (http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2014/03/20/hersheys-mars-sweeten-market-cocoa-farmers).

Business and money making aside, the problem also appears to run culturally. Families live in poverty and are desperate for money are basic provisions for daily living. Parents or relatives may sell their children, send them away with expectations that money will be sent back, or the kids are simply kidnapped while walking along side the road. Some are lured into a car with the promise of money to send back to their families. Children are kidnapped in poverty stricken villages located in neighboring countries and trafficked across borders to the cocoa farms. A girl rescued at the Mali border while attempting to be trafficked to the Ivory Coast, as shown on the documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate, gives off the distinct impression that she is not happy, to say the least, about being sent back to her parents without money.

I can only imagine that a life lived in this way would truly be like the Twilight Zone, but with no exit door hidden in the corner like at IKEA. The issue runs deep and is multi-faceted. I don’t feel like anything I write could do the situation justice or paint the picture that needs to be painted. I encourage you to click on the links in this blog to read for yourself some of the information. I don’t know what the best solution is for this, although I do think the big chocolate companies need to really step up and address the issue. How am I personally going to address the issue? When I buy chocolate I want to make sure it is legitimate fair trade chocolate. Chocolate isn’t a necessity but a special treat, and if the cost is a little higher for fair trade, that’s OK. I am sending a message through my purchases. I can encourage companies to have a positive social impact, or I can be OK with getting what’s cheapest just because the cost and availability while turning a blind eye as to why it’s inexpensive. The price really isn’t cheap as children’s lives are being used to provide me with this chocolate. Thankfully, there is a growing amount of legitimate fair trade chocolate companies to choose from (List of Fair Trade Chocolate to Buy).

In coming weeks I plan on discussing the fair trade chocolate, what our favorite makers of s’mores chocolate are doing (and not doing), about the situation, and my favorite, a review of different fair trade chocolates available to be used as s’more chocolate.

What is your favorite s’mores chocolate? How are you going to address the situation?

Some more interesting links worth reviewing:

http://www.worldcocoa.org

http://responsiblecocoa.com

http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/
Organization Set Up as Part of the Harkin-Engel Protocol
Here’s a brief info graphic on the cycle of cocoa by CNN:
Cocoa-nomics Explained Infograph.
Here’s another
info graph with some interesting pricing information from “bean to bar.”
CNN’s Special Series on the Cocoa Industry and Child Labor and Slavery

Kid’s Play in Anticipation of Being in the Outdoors

As I’m sure you’ve already figured out, we LOVE to be out camping, hiking, and enjoying God’s beautiful creation. Our kids soak up the whole experience each time: birds, critters, sounds, smells, sights, rocks, dirt, whatever it is creating the present experience for their little minds to become enthralled and absorbed in. However, we have our everyday life to attend to between outings. So what do we do when the kids are itching to get into the outdoors? We don’t really have any tricks up our sleeve, but we try to make our everyday fun activities into play with an outdoor slant to it. Here are a few of them. You too can join us in these fun things in anticipation, or even in preparation of the next camping trip.

Daily walks always involve picking up sticks, rocks, observing bugs, flowers, etc.

Daily walks always involve picking up sticks, rocks, observing bugs, flowers, etc.

1. Take daily walks. We need the exercise anyway. The kids are starting to get old enough where they don’t want to ride in the stroller anyway. They are usually asking to go hiking or camping every so often, so to motivate them, and me, I suggest we go on a walk to help keep our bodies in shape. That way when we do go for a hike we can enjoy our time in the outdoors rather than having to turn back before we’d like to because of tired little legs.

2. Pitch a tent. I’m not meaning an actual tent (although that’s definitely an option). I mean ye ol’ blanket fort in the living room. We can pretend it’s a tent. Add some flashlights and the kids keep entertained for long enough for me to do the dishes.

3. Read books. We love going to the library anyway. When we’re missing camping a lot we’ll check out books at the library that have to do with camping. We’ve exhausted the supply of camping and outdoor themed children’s books at the local library, but we do have some favorites we go back to.

By no means is our list exhaustive (as these are the titles we’ve checked out at the local library), but these are a few the kids have enjoyed reading:
Because Your Mommy Loves You, by Andrew Clements
A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee, by Chris Van Dusen
Sally Goes To The Mountains, by Stephen Huneck
Monk Camps Out, by Emily Arnold McCully
The Berenstain Bears Go To Camp, by Stan Berenstain

and their favorite one, is
Three Bears of the Pacific Northwest, by Richard Lee Vaughan.

We didn’t get it at the library, but it was lovingly supplied by Nana and Papa, along with three stuffed bears who resemble the three bears in the story. They only get to read it when Nana and Papa visit, which really usually only happens when we go visit them at their home or when we meet “half way” between our homes at a camp ground. Nonetheless, they’d love to read it between camping trips if they had the opportunity.

4. Go through past pictures. We keep all our pictures digitally, and many times after we come back from a trip we don’t have time right away to go through them to delete the blurry ones, or the ones where we have our eyes half opened, or whatever. The kids love seeing these pictures from past trips and remember the fun we had, along with coming up with ideas of what to do on future trips. While they’re reminiscing I’m able to sort through the pictures.

Casper's Wilderness Park Adventure Great Horned Owl

Casper’s Wilderness Park Adventure Great Horned Owl

5. Go to a local ranger talk, star party, or other outdoor activity. The local county parks have ranger talks every Saturday that are open to public, not just campers. The only fee is for day parking, but it’s a fun, educational evening out with the family when the camping hankering comes along, or if we’re just looking to do something. Some of the parks have once a month “star parties” where local amateur astronomers bring in their high powered telescopes and let the attendees check out the stars. A lot of the county parks have playgrounds that are outdoorsy themed. Occasionally when we want a change of scenery we’ll go visit the park playgrounds.

I keep thinking of things we love to do in the county parks as I type away. Maybe I should just write up another blog post on those things.

Of course a few other things we do are have s’mores for dessert occasionally in our fire pit on the deck. Even if you do not have a fire pit, many local or county parks, or the beach, have fire rings that can be used to make s’mores.

What are some things you do when you miss camping and being in the outdoors?

The Base Camp That Is Home

You may or may not have noticed the constant sounds of crickets coming from Family Base Camp over the last month or so. The crickets were most likely accompanied by owls hooting, frogs croaking, and the sound of a creek rushing by. At least that’s what I like to listen to when all is quiet.

Manzanita Lake at Sunset, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Manzanita Lake at Sunset, Lassen Volcanic National Park

I wish I could say that in that span of time Family Base Camp got an overhaul, advancements were made on the social media front, and I have a treasure chest full of posts ready to go. Nothing of the sort has happened. Rather, the family behind Family Base Camp has packed up and moved to a different campsite. Yup! We moved.

Kids and dog walking behind out new "base camp"

Kids and dog walking behind our new “base camp”

Although no advancements were made to Family Base Camp, our everyday base camp, ie our new home, now has more room to accommodate for our growing family, and of course all our camping gear. Unfortunately the trailer is still tucked neatly in the garage, but that’s OK, we don’t need a special space for everything in our house, just someplace to put it.

Bridge over "creek" behind our new base camp

Bridge over “creek” behind our new base camp

One thing about being an outdoor family is that our frequent experiences “roughing it” in the outdoors made the whole process of moving more palatable. The timing of our escrows closing gave us exactly one day to move. “Why just one day?” You ask. “You’re crazy!” Well, because we had a camping trip planned months prior that we were set on making. Rather our campground reservations just happened to be perfectly timed. It added an extra edge and urgency to our packing, but it was the best set up for our family.

Paved trail nearby new "base camp"

Paved trail nearby new “base camp”

Before packing up the house we packed everything we needed for the camping trip. No need to worry about that anymore. Food? We brought a grocery list and a cooler with us so we could just purchase what we needed on the way. The kids? Wow, who would have thought the anticipation of going camping would be the needed distraction in what could have been a very upsetting experience for them.

Throwing Rocks into Shadow Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Throwing Rocks into Shadow Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Really, I think it ended up being a great distraction for us adults too. While in the heat of packing up, moving boxes around, not being able to find anything we need at the moment, and eating eggs for the seventh time in even less days, we could take a deep breath and imagine the lake we’d be reading next too, or the stream we’d be throwing rocks into, or the meadow we’d be hiking through the very next week. Moving, escrows, late nights, scrambled eggs again, and tired children soon won’t even matter anymore because we’d be camping.

Walking on the Logs at Emerald Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Walking on the Logs at Emerald Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park

I think I will actually recommend to anyone who is moving to plan a camping trip immediately afterwards. There’s nothing like the outdoors to diffuse any stress or worries and smooth out any big transitions.

Hiking between Terrace Lakes and Shadow Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Hiking between Terrace Lakes and Shadow Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Even upon our return, the kids were so tired it took them a few days to realize we were not going back to our old house. They asked a few times but I think they are now content to know that our old house is occupied by someone else and we now are blessed with this one.

Hiking in the Woods near our new base camp next to a dry creek

Hiking in the Woods near our new base camp next to a dry creek

That’s one thing I love about camping. Unlike a permanent address, there is always the potential to go back to a beloved campsite. We’ve done it before. It’s like going back to a second home. Settling in is always quicker: I know where the bathrooms are (or the best bush or tree), what water spigot won’t spray all over my shoes, which dumpster has the best bear latch that won’t pinch my fingers, and of course where the best views are, what loop is most enjoyable to walk around with the kids, and so on. A chapter may be closed when it comes to which roof is over our head, but the outdoors is always there. Regardless of where we are at in life, the smell of the woods, sound of water, a chilly breeze, and time spent in the great outdoors is always like going home.

Kids at Manzanita Lake at Sunset

Kids at Manzanita Lake at Sunset

Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe

With the little kids we much prefer the convenience of having them sleep to their normal waking time, feed them at a table, then get them out the door for the day. We don’t always have this luxury when there is a long travel day ahead of us. Living in southern California provides us with a lot of “nearby” hiking and camping options that are three hours or less of a drive, but the state is awfully long, so our traveling quickly becomes seven hours plus to get where we’re going. That means no leisurely breakfast or well rested kids. So what do we do? Toss the kids in the truck still in PJs, and have breakfast ready to go for when the hunger pangs start growling.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Knocking Down Lemons Portrait

After some experimentation we’ve narrowed down our preferences of traveling breakfasts. We try to stay concerned with what we are feeding ourselves, not just what happens to be convenient. Even on trips we try to eat real foods that we would also eat at home, as determined by taste, nutritional value, and variety. However, after a stressful and busy week we have been known to break our own rules and hit the McDonald’s drive through on our way out of town. I try not to think about what is and what isn’t in the food as we eat it.

Here’s our most typical travel day menu:

Hard boiled eggs
Scones or muffins
Fruit – usually bananas or blueberries
Coffee and water

Sounds simple but thrown into the mix of everything else going on to prepare for a camping trip, the scones/muffins can get forgotten or pushed to the last minute. Making them ahead a week or two in advance and freezing them is a great alternative. Another alternative is to get store bought scones or muffins, but these are usually not the ideal nutritional specimens.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Broken Scone Display

Scones are something that I’ve been working on for awhile to try to perfect for our particular set of taste buds. They’ve become a tasty treat for the family as we munch away in the truck. Any that aren’t eaten for breakfast end up as snacks later on in the day.

And now, how to make “Excursion Scones…”

So of course we have got to do inventory on ingredients. I commonly will start to make something only to realize critical ingredients are not present in my house.

DSC_0017

Add sugar to flour in a large bowl. Biscuits are similar to scones, but scones have 2 tablespoons of sugar whereas biscuits do not.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Flour plus Sugar

Add the baking powder.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Flour Plus Sugar and Baking Powder

Zest two lemons. An orange does a great job too. Just be sure to wash the fruit before hand and make sure there’s no bird poop or dead spiders stuck to them. These are side effects of having a lemon tree in the backyard.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Lemons Ready to Zest

I wish these pictures were scratch and sniff because this part smells so good.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Zested Lemon

Add zest to dry ingredients and mix together. Make a well in the center.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Flour Plus Sugar, Baking Powder, and Lemon Zest

Add wet ingredients to the well: egg and milk/cream/whatever milk like substance happens to be in your fridge at the time. Beat eggs and mix with milk.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Flour Mix Plus Egg and Milk

While your hands are still dry, be sure to line your jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with parchment paper, dust with a layer of flour, and set aside a cup of craisins.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Floured Parchment Paper and Craisins Ready

Use your hands to moisten the dough, making it into a shaggy looking dough. The less handling the better as more mixing makes for tough scones. Transfer to the sheet and fold in craisins.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Shaggy Dough Ready to Fold Craisins

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Folding In Craisins 1

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Folding In Craisins 2

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Folding In Craisins 3

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Folding In Craisins 4

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Dough Folded and Ready to Cut and Shape

Look at those layers of nummy goodness!

Look at those layers of nummy goodness!

Cut lump of dough in half.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Batter Cut In Half

Flatten and form into the shape you want. Dough should be 0.75 – 1″ thick.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Batter Patted Into Two Discs

Cut into rectangles if you shaped the pieces into a square/rectangle, or if you prefer wedge shaped scones the cut like a pie. Depending on how you cut will determine how many scones you get. I like to make my scones a little smaller to accommodate the little squawkers that will be munching their way through them.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Round Batter Cut Into Scone Size

Separate scones to give them a chance to rise without bumping their neighbors.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Cut Scones Ready for Freezer Top View

The dog is always looking on, finding the right time to steal something when I’m taking pictures…

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Cut Scones Ready for Freezer

When the scones are ready for the oven, don’t put them there. Put them in the freezer uncovered for 20 minutes. Thirty minutes is too long because the butter will freeze. We just want the butter chilled.  After you slide them in the freezer preheat the oven.

Twenty minutes will chill the butter enough to make 'em nice and moist after baking. Mmmmm.

Twenty minutes will chill the butter enough to make ‘em nice and moist after baking. Mmmmm.

When you chill the scones prior to baking, the outer layer of the scones create a slightly harder crust on them as they rise a bit that will be retained after cooking. During baking the chilled butter with evaporate in such away that the inside of the scone is extra fluffy and moist. This step gives the scones the extra wow when it comes to texture and scone eating experiences.

There's some good rise here. See the yellow specks from the lemon zest?

There’s some good rise here. See the yellow specks from the lemon zest?

Bake for 22 minutes, rotating half way through. After pulling them out of the oven, leave them on the sheet for a few minutes then pull them off. I have a feeling one of them won’t make it to the cooling rack!

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Display Scone on Plate Front View

EXCURSION SCONES (you know, since we’re leaving on a camping excursion whenever they’re made)

Yield: 8 – 15 scones (depending on how you shape and cut)

3 cups all purpose flour
2T sugar
1T baking powder
zest of two lemons
0.25 lb unsalted butter, cubed
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 cup heavy cream (or whatever milk you happen to have available)
1 cup craisins
egg wash: 2 large eggs eaten with 1T water)
2T brown sugar

Toss dry ingredients and zest together in a large bowl, beat egg and cream together in a small bowl
Cut in butter and make a well in the center
Pour egg and cream into well
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, and flour
Mix by hand to make a shaggy dough, less handling the better
Transfer dough to lined sheet and knead in craisins gently until just incorporated
Cut dough in half and pat each lump into 3/4″-1″ circles or rectangles
Cut to desired size of scones, being 8-12 pieces when done
Spread pieces out from each other so none are touching
Place in freezer for 20 minutes, right after placing in freezer preheat oven to 325 degrees F so it’s ready when the scones come out of the freezer
Brush tops with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar
Bake 22 minutes, rotating halfway through. Cool slightly on sheet when done.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Finished Scone on Display

Sneak one when it’s still warm! They taste excellent when reheated in the microwave for 10 seconds also if you’d like.
They’ll keep up to three days in an airtight container, and can be frozen if cooled completely and put in an airtight container.

What’s your favorite travel breakfast?

Homemade Tortillas

Homemade baked goods: the smell and savor of these items is like no other. Thrown in the mix for us is the unexpected homemade tortilla. It doesn’t have the hours and hours of anticipation like a loaf of bread, or the need to finish ALL of our dinner first to get a slice of pie for dessert, but rather the anticipation and satisfaction are short and sure.

The tortilla perhaps isn’t one of the first things you’d think of as an item high on the list of thing to make at home because of how readily available they are at the store. However, once you try a hot, homemade tortilla, I think your mind will change (especially with honey butter slathered on it…mmmm). We started making our own tortillas after reading the contents of what the store bought ones had included, and doing a cost analysis. I can make them with three ingredients and for a fraction of the cost.

2 cups flour = $0.34 (I used organic whole wheat)
0.25 cups butter = $0.96 (I used organic salted)
0.5 cups water = negligible $ (I used unfiltered from the tap)

Makes the total cost $1.30 for eight tortillas, or $0.16 each. The cost may differ depending on the materials you use. At the store a pack of 8 can be several dollars depending on which kind you get.

So how can tortillas be used in camping? One of our favorite campsite meals is pollo asada or carne asada. Tortillas made at home, packed in the cooler, then reheated in camp to be used with fajitas makes the meal that much tastier…and healthier. We’ve also used them with our breakfast burritos, as “pizza” crust, for cheese quesadillas, and for just munching on as snacks. There are so many uses for tortillas. We’ve even taken them backpacking and ate them for breakfast.

Hubby and the Sous Chef Firing up the Backpacking Stove to Cook Tentmade "Tortillas" for breakfast at Cottonwood Lakes, Sierra Nevadas

Hubby and the Sous Chef Firing up the Backpacking Stove to Cook Tentmade “Tortillas” for breakfast at Cottonwood Lakes, Sierra Nevadas

Well…I can’t say it worked out so well in this setting. I didn’t have a rolling pin or hard flat surface to make them nice and flat, and it so happened that while I had to put them together I was also nursing a baby inside a two man backpacking tent while my husband was heating up the stove on a rock outside the tent. We had only brought the flour and oil (instead of butter) since my husband didn’t want to carry the water weight from pre made tortillas and was convinced the crisp alpine stream would provide a delightful taste to the tortillas.  As you can imagine our tortillas really just turned out like little flat cakes roasted in the pan. And even though I used hand sanitizer, I can’t say all the dirt was off my hands prior to making the tortillas. After patting the tortillas and mixing the ingredients they were nice and clean.

We not only brought tortilla makings backpacking, but we also brought a six month old baby and crossed an icy stream to get to our camp.

We not only brought tortilla makings backpacking, but we also brought a six month old baby and crossed an icy stream to get to our camp.

Thankfully at home we have indoor plumbing, which is delightful in itself, even if it doesn’t produce crisp alpine water. I can wash my hands prior to making the tortillas.

As listed above in the very detailed and complicated cost analysis, there are only three ingredients. However, with these ingredients a lot of interchangeableness is possible, as described below.

Finished plate of eight tortillas.

Finished plate of eight tortillas.

INGREDIENTS
2 cups flour: all-purpose works great, as does flour with the germ not sifted out. Whole wheat makes it more crumbly and difficult to work with but usually I’ll compromise by doing 1 cup all-purpose and 1 cup whole wheat
0.25 cups butter: if it is unsalted I’ll probably dump a few shakes of salt in the flour
Alternate: 0.25 cups oil: Oil makes tortillas a lot more crumbly and hard to deal with. We think butter tastes better and heats up better than oil tortillas.
0.5 cups water: you can use crisp, alpine stream water if you’d like, or from the tap will do

DIRECTIONS
Put flour in a good size bowl (add salt here if using unsalted butter).

Start with the flour. Here it's whole wheat.

Start with the flour. Here it’s whole wheat.

Chop butter into smaller pieces to prepare to be cut into flour.

You'll need a quarter pound of butter. You can use 0.25 cups of oil instead if you'd like.

You’ll need a quarter pound of butter. You can use 0.25 cups of oil instead if you’d like.

Slice the butter so it's easier to cut into the flour.

Slice the butter so it’s easier to cut into the flour.

Add butter to flour and cut in with hands until texture is mealy and course.

Drop sliced butter into the flour.

Drop sliced butter into the flour.

Toss flour over the butter to prevent your hands from getting gummed up by the butter while cutting it in.

Toss flour over the butter to prevent your hands from getting gummed up by the butter while cutting it in.

Cutting the butter into the flour.

Cutting the butter into the flour.

Make a well in the middle and add water.

Butter has been cut, and well is ready for the next ingredient.

Butter has been cut, and well is ready for the next ingredient.

2014-07-08 Homemade Tortillas Pouring in the Water
Mix water in with flour and butter to create dough.

Push flour mixture into the water.

Push flour mixture into the water.

Push more flour mixture into water well - prevents hands from getting as gummed up with the water.

Push more flour mixture into water well – prevents hands from getting as gummed up with the water.

Mixed dough ready to form into a ball.

Mixed dough ready to form into a ball.

Form dough into a ball.

Dough ball is ready to go.

Dough ball is ready to go.

Cut ball into eight pieces.

Cut dough ball into eight pieces

Cut dough ball into eight pieces

Roll cut pieces into eight little dough balls.

Roll cut pieces into eight little dough balls.

 

Dough balls can be put back into fridge until later, or stored here while rolling them out

Dough balls can be put back into fridge until later, or stored here while rolling them out

Sprinkle pastry board or other flat surface with flour. Place a dough ball in center of surface and press down with your palm. Use rolling pin to roll out a tortilla that’s 7″-8″ in diameter. Set aside and repeat with remaining seven dough balls.

Use flour on pastry board or flat surface while rolling out tortillas to prevent sticking.

Use flour on pastry board or flat surface while rolling out tortillas to prevent sticking.

 

Flattening out dough ball.

Flattening out dough ball.

 

Roll out the tortilla. Looks like this one thinks it's going to be square.

Roll out the tortilla. Looks like this one thinks it’s going to be square.

When all tortillas are rolled out, or as you are rolling them out, heat a fry pan or skillet on medium heat. Spray with oil. Cook each tortilla approximately 20 seconds on each side. When a side is done tortilla will start to bubble.

Spray fry pan with oil before each tortilla cooks.

Spray fry pan with oil before each tortilla cooks.

 

When tortilla starts to bubble it's ready to be flipped.

When tortilla starts to bubble it’s ready to be flipped.

 

Cooked already on one side and finishing up the other.

Cooked already on one side and finishing up the other.

Set cooked tortillas aside.2014-07-08 Homemade Tortillas Finished Plate of Tortillas  Side View

And here it is without all the photos in between:

INGREDIENTS
2 cups flour
0.25 cups butter
0.5 cups water

DIRECTIONS
Put flour in a good size bowl (add salt here if using unsalted butter).
Chop butter into smaller pieces to prepare to be cut into flour.
Add butter to flour and cut in with hands until texture is mealy and course.
Make a well in the middle and add water.
Mix water in with flour and butter to create dough.
Form dough into a ball.
Cut ball into eight pieces.
Sprinkle pastry board or other flat surface with flour. Place a dough ball in center of surface and press down with your palm. Use rolling pin to roll out a tortilla that’s 7″-8″ in diameter. Set aside and repeat with remaining seven dough balls.
When all tortillas are rolled out, or as you are rolling them out, heat a fry pan or skillet on medium heat. Spray with oil. Cook each tortilla approximately 20 seconds on each side. When a side is done tortilla will start to bubble.
Set cooked tortillas aside.

STORAGE, REHEAT, and SERVING
Store cooled tortillas in a ziplock or other airtight container to bring to the campsite.
If you want to save them till later, they can be put in the freezer. I’d recommend putting parchment or wax paper between each tortilla and include a paper towel in the container to absorb moisture and prevent them from sticking together with ice incase of condensation.
They can also be stored uncooked either as dough balls or flattened dough balls separated by wax paper, or already rolled out and separated by wax paper. I have found that the rolled out dough sticks to the wax paper easily and I end up having to reroll them out because the tortilla doesn’t want to come off the paper. Flouring the tortilla seems to help with this issue.
In camp, fire up the stove and with a fry pan, toss each tortilla on with medium heat and reheat each side about five seconds and serve immediately.

We don’t just like to eat these tortillas in camp, but at home too. Whenever we have a dish calling for tortillas, the family is calling for homemade ones. They’ve tasted the difference and don’t want to go back to store bought ones.

In so many blog food pictures the food appears to have been set down in an idyllic circumstance with calm and appetites ready to be satisfied. I find it amusing as to what’s going on around my blog photos as they’re being taken:

Nutmeg looking to be an official taste tester.

Nutmeg looking to be an official taste tester.

Hubby chopping wood while I take blog food pictures.

Hubby chopping wood while I take blog food pictures.

 

What do you like to eat with your tortillas?

The Camp Kitchen

One of the essentials in camping: the camp kitchen. This needs no fancy written introduction or hook because the camping experience starts with this, because, hey, camping and food go hand in hand. It may come in the form of a plastic tote, cardboard box, or just packed here and there amidst the rest of the camping stuff, be a store bought set up, or be a homemade beauty. No matter the form, it’s there with you in camp. It’s there at all the meal times, when your kid spits up or pukes on your shirt, when you need a trash bag, when you want to roast marshmallows, make ice cream, stash random things you don’t know what to do with, or even just need a surface to put stuff on.

Setting up the kitchen area with the camp kitchen and bear box in Sequoia National Forest

Setting up the kitchen area with the camp kitchen and bear box in Sequoia National Forest

When we started out car camping, we had a tote, keeping the bare essentials in it. What this really means is that all our “camping” food equipment really was just all our backpacking food equipment put in a box. We did have a cast iron skillet that my husband picked up somewhere. But hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, right? Over the years we’ve gradually accumulated more car camping appropriate items. We have found the best way to get items is to keep our eyes on sales and to wait until parents clean out the attic (thanks dad!). We are able to keep a set of equipment specific for car camping and keep our backpacking equipment ready to go for when we’re backpacking.

Camp kitchen set up in Onion Valley. Terrain was too steep next to the trailer so it went next to the bear box. Very convenient location.

Camp kitchen set up in Onion Valley. Terrain was too steep next to the trailer so it went next to the bear box. Very convenient location.

The tote’s nice, but a designated unit as a camp kitchen is even better. Does this seem more like the evolution of our camp kitchen? It does to me. My intent is to give you ideas for your own camp kitchen, see examples of what we’ve done, and perhaps you can pursue fine tuning of your own equipment stash and camp set up. It’s taken us ten years to go from backpacking cooking equipment to a designated camp kitchen.

Camp kitchen located next to bear box.

Camp kitchen located next to bear box.

Many folks end up with a store bought set up. We’ve taken many strolls through many campgrounds observing pretty impressive structures, some looking like a real kitchen. Six months after we were married a family invited us to go camping with them in Yosemite Valley. They had a structure that accommodated the stove, room for the cooler underneath, plenty of counter space, and even morphed into sinks afterwards to do the dishes. There were then hooks and racks to hang up pots and dishes to dry.

I did a google search for “camp kitchen” and a lot of interesting things came up: ovens, modular buckets for washing, storage, etc., utensils, cast iron cookware, and so on. Camping seems to be becoming more of a mainstream activity so the number of products available are becoming more numerous and more akin to our kitchens at home.

Here are few links to camp kitchen set ups if you’re interested. The first is more unique as it is made out of wood and the rest appear to be metal fab structures all very similar to each other: The OutdoorsmanCabelas, REI, Grub Hub, Kelty, and Bass Pro Shop.

Ours is a creation of it’s own. The ones in the links above are made to be an all in one structure to accommodate and anticipate for all kitchen needs in camp. Since we do a mixture of tent and trailer camping, we found that it would be redundant to have the extra structures for the stove, dishwashing, etc. So our set up is essentially a kitchen cabinet, holding all necessary items to be used in camp. With our trailer the stove attaches to the exterior of the trailer so we can strategically place the camp kitchen adjacent, using the counter surface to aid in preparation and cooking, as well as having the contents within close range. When tent camping, everywhere we go there are bear boxes that triple our counter space and act as a safe place to put the stove, BBQ, etc. because it is made from metal plates (we have very persistent bears in CA). Once again, the camp kitchen is set up adjacent to the bear box creating an excellent, functional work space.

He not only makes great camp kitchens but also makes great bacon!

He not only makes great camp kitchens but also makes great bacon!

Are you convinced yet that you need a camp kitchen of your own?

Unlike much of the rest of our equipment, we did not wait for this one to go on sale or wait for the parents to clean out the attic. Rather, we waited until my parents retired. Just kidding – the timing just happened to work out that way. Camping while growing up my parents had a similar camp kitchen but smaller. The formica on top even matched the formica on the kitchen counters at home. As soon as my husband saw it he wanted one of his own. My husband claims I try to sweet talk him to get something, but if there was any sweet talking done it was here and by him to his father in law. After what was dozens and dozens of hours, a lot of fine materials, and hard work, plus some improvements such as the additional counter top wings, and rectangular shape, instead of square like my parent’s original (downside is that it is heavier and takes up more space, but we can fit more in it).

Our camp kitchen has it's place in the garage. It's easily accessible so we can load it up easily for camping.

Our camp kitchen has it’s place in the garage. It’s easily accessible so we can load it up easily for camping.

It also includes two spice boxes, a paper towel holder, and a cutting board.

Being a cabinet, it ends up being like our cupboards at home: they start out organized and tidy and end up messy with everything out of place.

Cut cardboard boxes were included for easy organization, and I added two coats of chalkboard paint on the exposed end so we can quickly see what is in each box and even change the labeling as necessary.

Waiting for the chalkboard paint to dry.

Waiting for the chalkboard paint to dry.

Items we’ve included in the camp kitchen:

TOP CABINET

  • Papertowels and Holder – In Door
Top Cabinet organization with labeled boxes and convenient paper towel dispenser

Top Cabinet organization with labeled boxes and convenient paper towel dispenser

  • Spice Boxes – Miscellaneous landing place – can opener, potato peeler, cheese slicer, bottle opener, wire whisks, clothes pins, picnic table pins (for holding down the table cloth and pinning garbage bags to the counter wing), bandaids, deck of cards, shims, heavy duty foil
After taking inventory of the spice boxes for this post I'm thinking we need to reorganize this stuff again. We've never used a tape measure while camping, so not quite sure how it got there.

After taking inventory of the spice boxes for this post I’m thinking we need to reorganize this stuff again. We’ve never used a tape measure while camping, so not quite sure how it got there.

  • Box #1 – hand towels, washcloths
You'd be surprised at how fast we go through towels and washcloths while camping.

You’d be surprised at how fast we go through towels and washcloths while camping.

  • Box#2 – coffee mugs (one for each family member), steak knives
  • Box #3 – Eatingware: paper plates, paper bowls, plastic utensils, metal utensils, table cloths, napkins

BOTTOM CABINET

  • Cutting board attached to door

    Built in cutting board holder on door of lower cabinet.

    Built in cutting board holder on door of lower cabinet.

  • Box #1 – Meal Prep: plastic cutting board, hot mitt, hot pad, measuring cups, measuring spoons, cheese grater, ladle, spatula, stirring spoon, spoon rest, long matches, lighters, roasting sticks

    Contents of the food prep box.

    Contents of the food prep box.

  • Box #2 – Cookware: saucepan, small fry pan, cast iron fry pan
  • Wash bin – shammies, dish soap, hand soap
  • Percolator box – percolator, filters

    Lower cabinet organization and labels

    Lower cabinet organization and labels

We do not store spices, oil, coffee, and food in camp kitchen because of the bears. The soaps we remove when getting to camp to keep in the bear box too. The wash bin just makes a nice container to transport and store at home in case of leakage.

Likewise, all our food ends up in a clear plastic bin or the cooler.

I’d like to eventually move to no disposable eating ware or table clothes in camp just because of the waste. It seems counter to the idea of enjoying the outdoors. Since I’m usually doing dishes to clean up the pots and percolator, the dishes and utensils aren’t that much extra to do. However, if we haven’t set up camping as a base camp for several days, there is a great advantage in terms of time and fuss to use disposables when daily the camp is being taken down or set up.

We are also unable to fit in our BBQ utensils and the ice cream ball due to their larger size.

What sort of camp kitchen set up do you have? What are your must have items when it comes to camp cooking?