Stoney Creek, Day 1, Wednesday

On the first weekend of June, I had the experience of a lifetime. I got to relive history! On June 6 1813, 205 years ago, the British Redcoats engaged the American army in what we know as The Battle of Stoney Creek, a small but decisive conflict that was a part of The War of 1812.

I was given the opportunity to go work at the reenactment of the battle, as a ‘sutler’, or ‘merchant.’ I was working in the kettle corn tent, selling bags of the good stuff to all kinds of people as they went by on the way to the battle or to look at the historic sites. My boss, Dana, is a real history buff, with about a million and five (at least) stories to tell about everything under the sun. He’s my kind of guy, and the kind of boss you actually want to hang out with.

Here is the story of my adventure, which I will release in a number of segments so that it is a bit more reader friendly. If you have any questions please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Enjoy!

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Stoney Creek, Day 1, Wednesday:

At around noon, Dana drove up to my house in his big red truck, pulling an equally large silver enclosed trailer. The trailer was jam-packed chock full of popcorn making equipment, supplies, corn, sugar, oil, salt, the whole deal. The truck was loaded high with canvas, coolers, and camping supplies. Somehow we found enough room for me to ride shotgun, and I threw my bag on top of the precarious pile already threatening to topple in the back seat.

The drive was about an hour and a half or so, which we filled with yakking about Dana’s service over in Afghanistan, which I found really interesting. I had just read Dana’s book – if you want to hear a firsthand account of what it’s like to be right out there where the fighting happens, you definitely should read it, click here – and so Dana was able to tell me lots more stories about some crazy stuff. What an experience to have.

When we got to the Stoney Creek Battlefield House Park, we began unloading and setting up. On the right side of us, Jeff, or ‘Sutler Cyrus,’ sells the very creative (and delicious) Cartridge Candy, and is currently running a political campaign for Willy the Weasel, an aspiring rodent politician who doesn’t mind admitting that he’s only in it for the money. For more about Willy, head over here.

On the left side, was Four and Twenty Blackbirds, a period bakeshop that sells amazing baked goods of all shapes and sizes, including… butter tarts! Oooh those tarts were good! They also sold lemonade in green glass bottles, which was a huge hit when it got hot.

Since the vendors are part of the reenactment, everything had to be period accurate, or in other words, everything must look as if it was from 1812. All the guys wore button up pants with suspenders, and all the ladies wore long dresses. The tents were of real canvass, with wood pole supports and blacksmithed tent pegs. Everything modern got tucked away in the back of the supply tent.

After setting up everything, I met all Dana’s reenactor friends. One guy, Mike, was an amazing photographer, and since I had brought my camera along, we naturally started chatting. We talked about everything from photography tactics to the history of the War, and everything in between.

Dana and I then walked to a nearby restaurant for a fantastic fish and chips supper. When we returned we got a campfire started and all the sutlers pulled up lawn chairs, and sat around chatting until it was time to turn in. And that was the first day!

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An Introduction to Charcoal

 

 

 

‘Charcoal by the bushel, charcoal by the peck, charcoal by the frying pan, or anyway you lek!’

“It was an era of charcoal and a time of disappearing trees”

Oh the wonderful things you can find at secondhand stores. My mom was once at a used goods store, and knowing my love for history, bought me a book called A Reverence for Wood, by Eric Sloane, © 1965. It had a price tag of $1, half of its original price of $2. I started reading the book, and was intrigued by the wast variety of wood related subjects covered in this compact but dense manuscript. One of the things that caught my attention was the portion written on the charcoal makers of old.

‘The charcoal burners were always a strange breed, living a lonely life in the forest, almost like wild beasts.’

Charcoal was used widely for a great number of applications. It was utilized for making Iron long before coal was widely employed for the purpose, but it was also used to store meat, make printing ink, gunpowder, and medicines, brush teeth, and even purify water. As you could imagine, something with such a wide variety of possibilities really piqued my interest.

‘At its best, the job of making charcoal was not for any normal human being. The time required for charring a small mound varied from one to two weeks, but with mounds of wood thirty feet or more round, a month was average. During that time, through every kind of weather, the maker of charcoal lived with his mound, sleeping only in dozes for fear a flame might start and explode into a full fire which would demolish the mound.’

Now, if you don’t know what it is already, I’ll try to explain charcoal really quickly.  *Stay tuned to this blog, and I’ll likely post something more detailed about the science of charcoal later on.* Charcoal is different from ashes, which is the grey/black stuff found after a fire dies. I like to think of charcoal as wood that has burned as much as it can without actually breaking down. You’ll see in my instructions below, that all the flammable gasses from the wood burn, but it burns outside of the container and doesn’t break down the wood, leaving it charred, not burnt.

Instructions for homemade charcoal:

You’ll need a metal can and its matching metal lid (any size is great, but the bigger it is, the more charcoal it makes, and the longer it takes) and a bunch of sticks, preferably all the same kind.

Cram the can full of as much wood as you can fit, and before placing the lid on top, poke a small hole in it (the lid). Close the box tightly, and put it in your fire pit with the lid facing upwards. Build a fire around the tin, and keep it going as hot as possible. In a couple minutes you’ll see a small flame pop up out of the hole in the lid. This flame is all the gasses from the wood. As soon as this flame goes out, you can let the fire die down, and once cooled, your charcoal is done. It may take an hour or two, depending on the size of the tin.

This is a fun and interesting project, that costs almost nothing, and is easy to do. And to find out what kinds of wood are best for different purposes, the internet is your friend.

Also, if you try this and use it for something cool, let me know in the comments below.

 

One final note:  I am interested in finding out the old method of making charcoal in huge mounds covered with sod and dirt.  If you know anyone with information about the old methods of doing it who would be willing to share what they know, please let me know by commenting below.

 

 

Pancakes

Pancakes are for sure one of my favourite breakfast foods, especially when topped with fresh maple syrup! Pancakes are so good, but often leave us feeling sick afterwards because of all the sugar and flour. Here’s a recipe that will satisfy, and leaves us feeling good. I got the original idea from this recipe book, but have changed a few things around to fit my tastes.

You’ll need:

1 cup old fashioned or quick oats

1 cup (or about 4) eggs

1 cup cottage cheese

2-3 tsp baking powder

generous dash of vanilla

Using a blender, grind together the oats and baking powder until powdery. Dump that into a bowl, and the blend the cottage cheese. Use a spatula to scoop the cottage cheese into the bowl as well, then blend the eggs and vanilla. Mix all ingredients together well with a whisk, and you have your batter.

This pancake mix is quite thick, so you can mix in some milk to thin it out. Cook on a greased griddle or pan as you usually would.

This recipe makes enough pancakes for about 2-3 people, but I often multiply it up to 6 times depending on how many people are eating.  Start by making a regular batch to get a feel for how much you get, then go on to experiment around.

Enjoy, and feel good!

Water Boiling Over the Fire

Bottle Boiling

You’re lost in the middle of nowhere. You have a source of water but no suitable container with which to boil it in. You need to purify your water, but how? Here are a couple cool alternative water boiling techniques that actually work!

#1. Plastic Bottle Method:

If you’re in a situation where you have to boil water and don’t have a metal container to boil it in, this is a great option. Since plastic water bottles are common even as litter on the side of many trails, there’s a good chance you might be able to find one on the ground if you don’t have one with you. Simply fill the bottle with water, take the lid of, and suspend it above the fire. It’s crazy, but it does work. It won’t take long to boil, then let it simmer for about 10 minutes if you’re trying to purify it. As long as water is touching the plastic on the inside it won’t melt. Some plastics release chemicals faster when heated, so this method isn’t recommended for regular use unless you need to. Try it out at your next campfire, and have fun!

#2. Heated Rock Method:

Start by finding 10-20 dry stones that will fit in your water vessel. I say dry, because if you choose rocks from a riverbed or wet area, the rocks may have absorbed water, which, when heated could result in an explosion (which you don’t want). Put all the stones in the centre of your fire, and maintain the fire for about 30 minutes with the rocks inside it. After this time, take a couple of sticks to use as tongs, and very carefully take the rocks out of the fire, blow off the ashes, and place in your water. Do this with all your stones, and pretty soon your water should be boiling. KEEP YOUR TOES AND FINGERS AWAY FROM THE ROCKS! These rocks when heated like this can be over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit (about 530 degrees Celsius)! Using this method you can boil water in many different types of containers that can’t be put over a fire, such as wood.  Here’s a great video on how to correctly do the heated rock technique.

Have fun trying out both of these out, but remember to be careful, because you’re dealing with very hot stuff!

Sourdough Bread

img_0111Sourdough is easy to make, it just requires some preparation time and a sourdough starter (which you can find out how to make here). I have mentioned sourdough before in my post A Pretzel Attempt.

Our friends (whose blog can be found here) who got us started with sourdough, gave us a recipe that works well. I have changed a few things around, so here is how I do it:

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I start by putting 4 cups water, 2 cups sourdough starter, and 8 cups whole wheat flour in a large bowl, which I then place at room temperature (or by the fireplace) for about 4 hours. This part of the process is called the “sponge.”

DCIM100GOPROG0047884.img_0088After that, in an even larger bowl, I mixed the sponge, 5 cups water, about 16 cups flour – I like to play around with different combinations of white and whole wheat flour; the more whole wheat, the healthier, the more white, the fluffier – and a couple tbsp of salt. Once this is kneaded together, I mix in either some molasses, cinnamon and raisins, or whatever I want to have the bread taste like.

DCIM100GOPROG0057970.I divide it into loaves, put them in buttered bread dishes, and let them rise overnight. The dough also works well for buns. In the morning I baked the loaves at 400° f for about 45 minutes.  Sometimes it will take longer or shorter depending on the size of the loaves.

img_0110The instructions I above will yield six regular sized loaves, so be prepared for large quantities.

Brownie Birthday Cake

img_0124I made my own birthday cake this year. I doubled this brownie recipe, and added some shredded coconut to spice it up a little. I baked it in two square pans. I then doubled this recipe for healthy chocolate avocado icing. Both of these recipes are sugar free and gluten free.

I made a cake platform out of cardboard and aluminum foil, and once the brownies finished baking I put the first one down as the first layer. I then spread some of the icing on it, and lay the second brownie on top as the top layer. I used the rest of the icing to cover up the sides and top of the cake. The result was this nice simple chocolate cake.

A Pretzel Attempt

img_0004While some friends were visiting from Thunder Bay, they gave us some of their sourdough starter and showed us how to use it. Sourdough starter is a bacterial culture (like a ginger bug) and is used to make healthy fermented bread products. You can look up all sorts of recipes on what to do with it, and you can also look up how to start one. Our starter is made from Rye flour, and I feed it a cup of Rye, and a cup of water every week to keep it going. There are other types of starters too.

Originally my sister was in charge of feeding the starter, but she moved on to some other things and passed it on to me. My first idea was to make pretzels. I found a recipe online, and prepared the dough. After following the instructions right up until I had to shape them into pretzels, I started to find that the dough was very sticky (apparently the rye starter is what made it sticky) and when I would try to make it into a shape, it just sort of morphed back into one big blob.

I was getting slightly annoyed because it wasn’t working very well, but my Mom encouraged me to try something else with the dough instead of the classic pretzel shape. So, I just cut of little lumps of dough and made bite sized pretzel nuggets, which actually turned out really well. They didn’t look very appetizing, but they tasted great.  Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of them to post here.

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This is the pot I boiled the pretzels in.

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I made about half the dough into those, and with the other half made a couple of loaves of bread (I added a bit of maple syrup and cinnamon to make it a cinnamon loaf) which were fluffy and tasty.

img_0005It’s fun to try new stuff, even though it doesn’t always work out.  When something goes wrong, it can be easier just to give up, but when we try to improvise and make something good out of a bad situation, we can often end up with something really good, even if it wasn’t what we were expecting.