Tuesday, March 31, 2015

TRAIL MEAL: Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki

This is not my first time sampling the Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki meal. It's one I've had before and enjoyed. Truth be told, I haven't encountered a Mountain House meal that wasn't acceptable. Their Macaroni and Cheese is a little uninspired, and I haven't heard great things about their egg-based breakfast (But I'm really not an egg fan myself, so this is no great loss to me), but every entree I've consumed has ranged from acceptable to excellent. Initially, in a post to Google+ almost a year ago, I rated the Chicken Teriyaki in the "Acceptable" category, along with their Beef Stew. I felt that compared to other chicken teriyaki I'd had, their offering was a bit bland. But I felt that the addition of a little extra sauce would fix that right up.

So, Today, I added a bit of inexpensive teriyaki sauce/marinade. I just used a bottle of the store-brand 'essential everyday' teriyaki that has the same consistency as soy sauce. The ideal form to carry on a backpacking trip with you would be packets like these. But I've yet to find a commercial source for them (and by that I mean I really haven't gone looking in any significant capacity). Alternately, I could see using a small bottle such as this to contain a small quantity of teriyaki sauce. 

Like most Mountain House entrees, it required heating up 16 ounces of water, and waiting 10 minutes  after adding the water. Bob wanted to see the BioLite in action, and in particular, to see if I could start the biolite with dryer lint. As with every time I've used the stove, it took more time to harvest and break the wood than it did to boil the water. I did have to re-fuel it once, mid-boil and it was a little reluctant to start, but that dryer lint works really well at jump-starting the biolite if it smoke-stalls. Once I had the water boiled, I dumped it in the bag, sealed it and mushed the bag around a bit to distribute the water everywhere. I also like to fold the top of the bag over a couple of times, shake it around to mix it up good, and invert the bag upside down. Makes sure the water gets everywhere in there.

After I'd finished waiting 10 minutes for the food to rehydrate, I opened it up and added the extra teriyaki. just a few shakes of the bottle seemed to be enough, then I stirred it in and taste-tested it. Even the cheap store brand teriyaki sauce put a lot of life into the meal. It meshed well with the very mild teriyaki flavor already included. I imagine that if I used the thicker more flavorful teriyaki that I usually cook with, it would have turned out even better. (usually the KC Masterpiece Honey Teriyaki Marinade is what I use. Even though it says marinade, I tend to just use it out of the bottle as a grill sauce, or in a frying pan with my meat). Either way, the additional sauce made for a MUCH more flavorful meal. I recommend you give the meal a shot without additional sauce, try a couple bites and if it seems weak to you, like it did to me, add a bit of the extra sauce, stir it in. I did not regret it.

Bottom line? Yes, I would recommend it. at $7-9 per meal (depending on place of purchase) it's more costly than yesterday's rice side and salmon, but it cooks up faster and requires less fuel to produce. If you're looking for the simplest dinner you can make on the trail, something like this is pretty ideal. With the addition of a little extra flavor, the Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki meal makes it into the "Excellent" category. You can buy this on REI or Amazon.com, or find it at your local suppliers.

Monday, March 30, 2015

TRAIL MEAL: Mushroom Rice With Salmon

Cooked some lunch out at High Cliff State Park today, decided I'd try a cheaper alternative to the Mountain House Bag Meals. I'd heard that the Knorr Pasta Sides and Rice Sides were a popular "trail food on the cheap" option. Most of the pasta ones talked about using a small amount of milk as well, so I figured I'd go for the rice, which didn't require any. I just don't feel right though, if I don't have some meat in a meal, and I've had good luck with single serve packets of tuna in the past, but I was curious how the salmon packets were. So I decided today, I'd mix the Knorr Mushroom Rice Side with a packet of Salmon after cooking.

The Rice called for 16 ounces of water, and I eyeballed it. I actually put a little more in than I think was needed, and I dumped the rice packet in as it called for bringing the water to a boil with the rice already in. Turns out that this titanium pot is just the right size for this serving, Lucky Me! I wondered if I was going to have to halve the serving or not.

The Stove did a great job of heating it, and as we'd seen previously, the heat goes straight through the titanium pot, and into the water. It wasn't long at all before we had a nice boil rolling

Most of the time, I actually had the lid on, to help hold heat in. The instructions called for it to simmer for 7 minutes while covered.

The rice DID foam up, and while I was reading on my kindle it actually did push the lid off, but after adjusting the heat down to the lowest setting, it remained in place after that.

Put my Kleen Kanteen Water Bottle ontop of the pot to hold the lid down tight while it sat for two minutes. After that I took a couple test bites to make sure the rice was done. It was pretty good by itsself, even without the salmon.

Adding the Salmon:

All mixed in:

Devoured! Cleaned the pot out with a splash of water, and then drank the dregs:

And then, for dessert as I walked the muddy trails, a Carrot Cake Clif Bar:

My verdict? Delicious. The salmon taste was pretty strong, but I liked that. I like salmon. It took a lot more fuel than boiling water for mountain house would. I'd be more comfortable cooking this over the BioLite where I can scavenge fuel for it, rather than my gas stove where I'm reliant on being able to find gas cannisters. Price-wise, even with the fuel consumption the Knorr+Salmon meal is still ahead of Mountain House, since most of those run $7-8, and this was less than $2 for the side and less than $2 for the salmon packet. Mountain House has the edge in speed, weight and fuel efficiency, but I could afford to buy a new gas cannister every two knorr meals and still come out ahead.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

PARK REVIEW: Yellowstone Lake State Park

This is a park review from memory, based on two separate trips in 2008 and 2009. Due to the fact a number of friends were (and many are still) living in Madison WI, I was looking for a park down in their neck of the woods. After a previous foray to Blue Mound State Park, closer to Madison I wanted to find something a little more distant from the city and definitely less raccoon infested. I'll talk more about Blue Mound, and the other park in the same hwy 12/18 corridor, Governor Dodge, in future reviews. I was drawn to Yellowstone in part due to it's name. Though it lacks the grandeur of the more well known Yellowstone, the name definitely stuck out and caught my eye.

Far smaller than the similarly named national park, Yellowstone Lake State Park encompasses a small lake with rentable motorized and non-motorized boats and recreational equipment. It appears to be a manmade or atleast man-regulated body of water, draining into the Yellowstone river. The camping area is located high upon a hill dotted with trees. It offers the same standard car camping experience you will find at most any Wisconsin State Park, room enough for a car or two, a couple of tents or screen shelters, a metal fire ring for your campfire, modern bathroom facilities and a playground for the kids. Due to it's hilltop perch, you do have to deal with some sloping sites, some less gentle than others, but with a little scouting and good placement, you can avoid the most severe slopes. Though the trees fight you for some access to the sky, it is a good place to get a look at the night sky, due to its remote location in the far southwest of Wisconsin, you are free from much of the light pollution you might run into elsewhere. I certainly saw some rather stunning skies. The boys from the next site over and I took some time away from our massive campfire the second night to observe the sky. After my eyes adjusted it was quite a stunning view between the trees.

If you're like me, and hate to buy firewood from a vendor, Yellowstone Lake is a good site for this segment of Wisconsin. It's more forested than some of the other campgrounds in the area like Governor Dodge and Blue Mound, allowing you the chance to scavenge for fallen dead wood to burn. You may have to scavenge away from your campsite though, the woods immediately around the camping area were pretty well picked over when I was there last. Firewood is also available from a local vendor, though on the first trip in 2008 we encountered some former scouts who had purchased their wood and it proved nigh impossible to ignite. After failing to get their own wood to burn, they came over to where Bob and I were encamped asking to trade firewood as we already had a blaze going. We invited them to just come and join us, make use of our already ignited fire. They said they'd give it another shot, but were soon back, sharing our fire. We attempted to burn the reluctant wood in our own blaze, but it was the most recalcitrant firewood I've ever seen, we had to heap good wood around it to FORCE it to burn. not coax, not induce, Force.

Despite two visits, I've never actually swam in the lake. Both trips were on rather mild weekends, the 2008 trip was warm enough that we COULD have swam, but it was busy enough that I wasn't inclined to. The 2009 trip was a rather chilly camping experience with a good deal of time spent in proximity to the fire. I had no desire to take a dip when 60F was about as warm as it managed to get.The lake didn't really look the cleanest either, kindof soupy, though not nearly so bad as something like Lake Winnebago in the summer.If I were to go in the lake, I'd probably prefer to boat than swim.

Yellowstone Lake does have some local trails which we spent a little time on in 2009 but the cold really did make us fairly sedentary, preferring the warmth of our fire. I'd love to go back and do more exploration down those trails though. In addition to the abundance of firewood the park provided, it also had another bonus in the form of blackberries and black raspberries. If you visit while those are in season, you will find a number of them growing right in and around many of the sites, as well as the road up to the sites. I remember bob filling his hat halfway with them, and having black raspberry pancakes for breakfast.

It's a good campground for basecamp-centric car camping. The lake is one of the few that I've camped by which allows motorized watercraft and the only one I can think of that rents them. Would I recommend the park? Very much so. It's my favorite park in that section of the state. Stands far above its neighbors in the corridor (the exits from 12/18 to reach Blue Mound, Yellowstone Lake and Governor Dodge are very proximate. Yellowstone is just one exit down from Blue Mound, save for the fact that you head north for Blue Mound and south for a greater distance to reach Yellowstone.)

The Lake itsself. You can see that it's not exactly crystal clear. Taken at the south-east shore:

As you can see, it's located in a part of WI that wasn't rolled flat by glaciers:

One of many Turkey Vultures we would see:

Manually Operated Water Fountain:

Cooking Barbequed Pork Loin:

Lakeside Ice Cream Store:

Photo Courtesy of Lindsey Biese:

Photo Courtesy of Tina Harpold. This was one of the outer ring of campsites at the back:

Photo Courtesy of Tina Harpold. Playing some Bocce Ball by the playground:

More Bocce, catching me mid-shot (Courtesy of Tina Harpold):

To learn more about Yellowstone Lake State Park, or book some time there, visit their WI DNR Webpage.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

GEAR REVIEW: Harbor Freight Firestarter

I've always been a big fan of preparedness, it's the main thing that stuck with me from my time in the scouts. I also distinctly recall a whole wilderness preparedness phase around the same time after reading a book about a plane crash in northern Canada, where the protagonist had to survive on their own in the wild for some time. Don't really know when I was going to get stranded in Canada, but I wasn't going to let that get in my way. I remember being given a magnesium firestarter as a christmas present at the time. I liked that, it seemed a good way to start fires in the absence of matches. Don't know where that first one got put though, I'll probably stumble across it some day.

They still sell them though. Any sporting goods place or general purpose store with a camping section, or outfitter such as REI will sell you one for $8-10. This struck me as a bit expensive for something so simple. I did some looking around, and it turns out that Harbor Freight, the cheap tool store has them for less than $3. That's cheap enough that I'd buy one for my hiking pack, one for my car, and one for my car camping supply bin.

They come with a little serrated striker tool. At first, I appreciated that, thought anything that saves my knife from wear was a nice inclusion. But in today's field testing, it didn't really hold up well. Yeah, you could make sparks on the flint strip, but it was awkward to hold and didn't strike them very well. It also sucked at trying to bite into the magnesium. Actually, everything I brought today had a hard time with that. After giving up on the little green striker they included, I tried a small multitool I had with me, figuring it was better to wear on that blade than my good knives, but even that proved difficult to strike good sparks from. It didn't want to shave off much magnesium either. Finally, I just gave up and resorted to using my Buck Pathfinder 105, which worked far better than either of those. I should have just used that to start with.

Fortunately, the dried beech leaves we harvested to catch our sparks caught very readily, and the magnesium part wasn't necessary. Now, I could swear that the block I owned two decades ago gave up magnesium very readily. I'm not sure if they changed to a harder material for all the firestarters, or if it's just the cheap harbor freight ones, but be prepared for the magnesium to be very reluctant. it may take some time preparing before you have a pile ready to catch sparks. Or bring some dryer lint instead.

Despite the very solid, even reluctant, magnesium block I would in fact recommend these. It's hard to beat that price.

Starting the fire:

Clearing at Plamann Park where we built our fire:

Boiling some water in my snow peak pot:

Available from Amazon.com or at a local Harbor Freight Tools.