Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cooler packing for living well.

Ok, now that I have a blog, and some readers, where to begin. Well obviously the most important thing to living well besides dry bedding and socks (and this will be confirmed as probably the most important by the folks that camped in freezing rain this Memorial Day Weekend in the Northeast) is food. I will come back to food often because it is really the easiest way to live well without increasing your budget substantially.

The first thing I should probably touch on since the summer camping event season is upon us is cooler packing. One investment that will pay for itself in short order is a "5 day" type of cooler. If you already have a conventional cooler, don't throw it out, the best way to make sure that your food is still good when you need it is a two cooler system.

The idea of the two cooler system is simple, you have one cooler for things that are thawed and things like drinks that you will be going into constantly, and your "freezer" cooler which has things like tomorrow and the next couple of day's dinner meat, butter for tomorrow, and anything else that you don't need within the next 12-18 hours that can be frozen. The two cooler system takes a bit of strategic meal planning to gain full benefit. For longer events (several days or more) you start with your least perishable meats frozen on the bottom, (either double bagged in freezer weight ziplock bags, or vacuum sealed) things like sliced cured  hams can survive thawing and being a little too warm. They are one of the safest meats as they are essentially cooked and ready to eat. It is important to safely seal all meats in a cooler, but especially it is important to seal something that could potentially be eaten without cooking to be absolutely sure to avoid cross contamination.
The next thing in would be beef. Steak or roasts are a great choice for camping, as they do not have to be cooked all  the way through to high temperature to be safe. Hamburger is not really a good idea, as the processing of hamburger makes it necessary to cook it all of the way through and it has a very short thawed shelf life. Pork is one of those meats that you can do if you are careful, but you either want to have it sliced thin before you cook it so you can eyeball it and have confidence that there were no thick spots that are still pink, or preferably carry an instant read thermometer with you and make sure that it is at the recommended safe internal temperature. Poultry, if you choose to bring it for camp food (yes, it is cheap protein and extremely versatile) should be very well contained and should go in your freezer cooler already thawed, and really if you are going to do poultry as camping food, you should have an instant read thermeter, good safety gloves, and bleach wipes in your kitchen kit. Perhaps I am a little bit overcautious on the food safety side of things, but having worked as a prep cook in a 4 star French restaurant, a grill cook at a college lunchroom, and then as a customer service rep and demonstration cook in the meat department at my local Wegmans supermarket, food safety is kind of important to me.

Probably now is a good time to provide a link to the government chart of safe cooking temperatures for meats and seafood

This is a good chart to print out and keep in your kitchen (and maybe laminate and velcro to your cooler too) being aware of your safe cooking temperatures is a good start to making sure you don't make yourself and others sick and ruin your event experience.

Anyway, back to packing the freezer cooler. I always start by making sure the meats are all safely double sealed to avoid the issue of leaking and cross contamination, especially if at some point loose ice needs to be added. I typically will freeze a couple of gallon jugs of bottled water in my downstairs chest freezer to act as block ice, and 1 liter bottled waters for smaller ice, then a day before it is time to pack the cooler I will start chilling it by rotating bottles of ice into it so that the cooler itself comes down to freezing. Then once the time has come for packing it, the last bottles and jugs that went into pre chilling the freezer cooler go into the thawed foods cooler, (as long as they are still frozen) and fresh bottles of ice line the bottom with a jug of ice on at least one end. On top if the layer of ice bottles goes the end of the week frozen meats (hams, beef roasts, steaks) followed by the meats planned for earlier in the week, usually frozen, followed by any poultry that I plan to cook the first day which goes in thawed on top of the frozen stuff and triple wrapped because I am paranoid.I try to make sure that things like extra butter and other items that freeze well that will be used towards the end of the trip get hard frozen and go into the freezer cooler. Things that do not go into the freezer cooler are eggs, cheese, fresh carrots and other items that get damaged easily by freezing.

This is a basic guideline, I have found these techniques, along with making sure the coolers are protected from direct sun work really well for being able to camp with great food even for long events (Pennsic for instance) without having to spend lots of money.

Next article, how to do steaks at hamburger prices.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

What is Living well in these modern middle ages?
It is a complex concept.

Those of us who are active in a Medieval recreation society called the Society for Creative Anachronism often refer to it as "the modern Middle Ages" as we are doing the best aspects of the Middle Ages and Renaissance sans plague, sans pestilence, sans dysentery, sans raw sewage in the streets.

We fight with swords, shoot arrows, play music, eat lavish feasts prepared from medieval and renaissance recipes, wear clothing drafted from historic patterns using fabrics that were in use at the time, and drink beverages brewed from period recipes, and we look damn good doing it.
You ask how can you look damn good wearing uncomfortable clothes, eating bland food camped in a field? that is where the living well thing comes in. Yes we are camped in a field.

Our clothing is comfortable and fits well, the food is great and, oh yes we are not spending huge amounts of money to go it. Are we glamor camping? no, not really (although sometimes it looks like it) our friend Danny, well, he is. We know how to do things with style, and how to have the important parts perfectly documentable at some level. It's the little things, like buying roasts and knowing how to make great steaks from budget meats. My wife wanted veil pins after reading that in period the Flemish pins were the most sought after in Europe, I found 14th Century Flemish pins at an antiquities dealer and figured out how to make them. There are many little things that go into living well, and I will try to share some of them in this blog.
This is my first attempt at doing something like this so be gentle with me. I will be sharing things like recipes (I will try to get the recipe for the lamb empanadas my wife made last week to start with) how to cut a tenderloin roast for making filet, how to make portable camp furniture that packs flat, great people I know  who make clothing, pottery, and other items that I deal with, and of course some of the solutions I make.

Welcome to my little corner of the known world

I am known in the Society for Creative Anachronism as Master John Michael Thorpe (OL)
In real life I am F. Page Steinhardt, proprietor of Sunshadow Design, I make jewelry, knives, and historical replicas