Shopping for Camping Gear on the Cheap – Worth It? #1

So occasionally I get these ideas (Ok..it’s often I get these ideas) to see how I acquire a nice product, but save some cash while doing so.

Take this for example.  I’ve been thinking about getting a pack-able down sleeping bag that would work in cool weather (30-50F).  The problem is I’m not so sure I’d like to spend $150 to $500 for something I’m going to only use a couple times a year.  So I start looking around online and found something that seems a little too good to be true.  It’s advertised as a Autumn Adult Outdoor  Envelope Duck Down Sleeping bag.  Ok, I’m intrigued.  The brand is AndesMountain and it had free shipping from China.  It was a 1/4 the cost of several I looked at and it says it has 12.3 ounces of white duck down fill.  Hmmm, not sure how to gauge that part, but I’m still looking.  Well it did arrive all safe and sound and I am VERY impressed!  Overall the weight is 1 pound 13 ounces and that’s when it’s packed down in it’s little stuff sack.  It’s put together very well, has a nice feel to it, and looks like it would fluff up nice.  The zipper works great and the bag packs easily back into it’s stuff sack.  If anything it will be a great top quilt or something to use during weather that’s not too cold or for just hanging around the campfire.  The sleeping bag is rectangle which I like and it also has a cord that allows the top to be cinched down around your head if needed.  There are also two loops at the foot where it can be hung up to dry if needed.  I’m very impressed and look forward to using my new bag on a trip I have planned in October.  I’ll be bringing a separate bag…just in case the temps get too chilly!

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Back To Where We Come From

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Mom, me (the little one) and my cousin Mike.

Growing up in the 1960’s through the 1980’s weekends and summers were spent at the lake. Nothing fancy like what we see today, but it was a cabin built by my dad and it was perfect.  From what I remember it was a design and floor plan that they saw in a magazine for Jim Walter Homes.  The plans were tweaked a little I think and what would have been two windows on the front turned into three very large bay windows looking out across the lake.  The siding was not your normal hardie board siding, but was rough cut cedar. There were two bedrooms, bathroom, and a kitchen.  The side front porch was eventually closed in and a fireplace was added.  The cabin was built weekend to weekend, pay check to pay check.  It wasn’t fast, but it was all theirs and they built it from the ground up as funds were available.

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The siding was cedar and I do remember us repainting every couple of year. The kitchen was small with a little bar separating the den from the kitchen. At meal time I always had my favorite seat at the bar on on a Arthur Umanoff style wood slat swivel bar stool. Weekends meant fishing and evening meals usually meant fried catfish or bream with all the fixings! Going fly fishing with my Dad was always a treat. Getting up before the sun came up so that we could be down the Coosa River to our favorite fishing spots before the sun came up. Fast forward 50 years and a condo complex sits at the spot of what used to be some good fly fishing. Now all the bank cover is gone…and so are the fish.

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The view from the house towards the Coosa River, before the dam was completed.

When my parents bought the property it was a 1-2 acre piece of land a good ways back from the Coosa River. Once the dam at Logan Martin was completed it all became water front property. People thought my parents and my relatives next door were a bit out there since they built retaining walls and boat houses out in the middle of a cow pasture!
Little did they know that Alabama Power had surveyed the property and they had a good idea of where the water would be once the dam was competed. The dam was completed in 1964 and the water started to rise.
We spent many a summer and/or weekend at the lake. I miss it so much that I wish we still owned the property. I still keep an eye on it from my Aunt and Uncles home next door. Maybe one day I can take custody of it once again.

Here’s my special place. I made this video when we were visiting family for the 4th of July this year.
[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQGJKFf8ShU[/embedyt]

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Cooking in a Hay Box – Venison Stew

I’m stepping out here a little bit and venturing into the art of cooking in a hay box.  What is a hay box?  Think “slow cooker – unplugged”.  Researching the concept of slow fire-less cooking I found that the idea is not new.  I’ve been able to find newspaper articles and research papers mention using a fire-less cooker as far back as the 1890’s.  The idea is that you get your pot of food (broths, stews, vegetables do best) up to boiling and then put the closed container into an insulated box and let it simmer in its own heat for hours slowly cooking.

In the past the cook would have used hay for insulation, but towels or quilts will work fine too.  They would have used a wooden box, basket, drawer, trunk or other closed container to keep in the heat and keep critters out of the cook pot.

For my test I used a cooler for the hay box, and a sheet of insulation that came with a box of frozen food I ordered.  (I knew that stuff would come in handy for something!).  My pot was too wide, so I had to turn my cooler on its side so the pot would fit inside and the lid would close.  A tight fitting lid is needed so steam doesn’t escape.  I also used a grill thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature.  Since I didn’t want everyone getting sick I made sure the stew stayed a consistent temperature.  For the most part mine remained around the 150F range for about 6 hours.  When I opened the cooler to check it at the end the stew was still steaming and I had to use pot holders to remove the pot from the cooler!

If you want to read more on cooking with a Hay Box here’s an article you can read from the Win the War Cookery Book and a article written in 1907 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Here’s the can cooker that I used for this recipe. This cooker also comes in handy for camping too!

Here’s my recipe for Venison Stew.  Enjoy!

Serves 5
Prep time 45 minutes
Cook time 7 hours
Total time 7 hours, 45 minutes
Meal type Lunch, Main Dish
Misc Serve Hot

Ingredients

  • 28 Oz Can Crushed Tomatoes
  • 2 -14.5 Oz Can Stewed Tomatoes
  • 8 Oz Package Sliced Fresh Mushrooms
  • 32fl oz Beef Broth
  • 1lb Venison – Cut in Small Cubes
  • 1 packet Stew Seasoning Mix
  • sprinkle Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • Vegetable Oil
  • 2 Bags Frozen Stew Vegetables (The packages I bought were about 16 ounces each. Large chunks of carrot need to be cut into smaller chunks so they cook quicker.)

Directions

Step 1
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Cut venison into small 1/2 inch cubes. Season with salt and pepper. Brown meat in a skillet with a little vegetable oil.
Step 2
In a stew pot that has a lid which fits tight combine the tomatoes, frozen stew vegetables, sliced mushrooms, beef broth and the browned venison meat.
Step 3
Bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in the stew seasoning mix. Let the stew boil for 20 minutes. Stir to keep from burning the vegetables on the bottom of the pot and keep from sticking.
Step 4
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While the stew is boiling prepare your Hay Box. I used a cooler that my stew pot would fit into and I could still close the cooler lid. Get some material for insulation so that you can surround your stew pot once you place it into the cooler. Towels can be used, small blanket, anything that will keep in the heat and provide insulation.
Step 5
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After your stew mixture boils for 20 minutes, put the lid on and carefully place the pot into the cooler. Surround the pot with insulation and place something heavy on the lid to help keep it closed. I used my “Can Cooker” and the lid has clamps that hold down the lid. If you are still afraid to try the Hay Cooker method, at this time use a slow cooker on low for 8 hours.
Step 6
Once your pot is placed in the Hay Cooker, close the cooler lid. Don’t peek in as you’ll let heat escape.
Step 7
Venison Stew

Let you stew simmer in the Hay Cooker for at least 6 hours before checking. It was late when I started mine cooking and didn’t want to get up at midnight to check at 6 hours so I removed the pot from the cooler and put it in the fridge for over night. At lunch the next day I heated up the stew and it was ready to eat!

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