A Panacea for Winter Skin

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Mmm … paste …

Thanks, climate change. When I first moved to Ottawa over twenty years ago, winters were long and dark and dry and COLD. Like, -30°C cold. Now they’re still that cold, but interspersed with warmer, sunnier days where everything melts, potholes form, and we start to believe that the worst is behind us. For like, two days. And then it gets really cold again. And our skin really pays the price for all this temperature variation. So here’s an easy, quick and relatively cheap solution to our winter skin woes, one that everyone in the house, including the baby, can make use of. If you have eczema you might find this a lovely soothing lotion.

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In a double boiler, or a heat-safe bowl over a pot of simmering water, plop 1/2 cup coconut oil and 1/4 cup shea butter. Let that melt.

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While that’s on the go, take a heaping 1/4 cup oats (rolled or quick, not steel cut), and use a food processor or spice grinder to reduce them to a fine powder.

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Once the oil and butter have melted, remove the bowl from the heat and let it cool for a while, until the sides start to harden. If you live in a cold place, pop some plastic wrap over the top of the bowl and chuck it outside in the snow for a bit. Or shove it in your freezer if you’re impatient. Full disclosure: I left mine outside too long and it froze solid. What you’re looking for is something mostly solid but still mixable. If it’s too liquidy then the oatmeal will sink before it’s properly mixed in.

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Sometimes having winter right outside your door is actually a convenient thing. Sometimes. But not very often.

Tip in a few teaspoons vitamin E oil and 5 drops each lavender and chamomile essential oil. The essential oils are optional if you’d prefer to go scent-free.

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Then plop in your ground oatmeal.

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Give that a serious whaz with a hand mixer until everything is uniform.

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Spoon it into a container and leave it for a few days to allow the oatmeal stuff to work its way into the oils. This lotion is a little grainy when you first rub it in, so I prefer to put it on at night, but it soaks in nicely.∗

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∗If you’re not a fan of the grains of oats, you could try a few options (I haven’t tried these but they seem logical): you could infuse the oats in the oils as you heat them and strain them out, or leave the powder in there and it might be a bit softer. Or you can take the oats out altogether and use oat straw extract – Avena sativa – instead, but this stuff is pretty pricey.

Plain ol’ Porridge

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When we were growing up, porridge was a warm breakfast treat in the mornings that my mother could whip up in no time at all.  We weren’t limited in the amount of raisins we could apply to the steaming cereal.  It was heaven.  When I met the Pie I learned that HE had been allowed to put brown sugar on his porridge in addition to raisins, and this level of indulgence is my favourite to this day.

Some people don’t like porridge (or oatmeal, as you Americans seem to call it), and that’s fine.  I remember reading somewhere that Scots can take anything horrible and turn it into a practical virtue, and eating porridge was one of those things.

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Because porridge is so easy to make, though, it always kind of blew my mind to see the varieties of “instant” breakfast oatmeals available at the grocery store.  When I tried them, they always tasted gluey and artificial.  And really, two minutes in the microwave is not that much faster than five minutes on the stove.  Granted, you have to remember to soak your pot afterwards, but that’s not really a big deal.

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Let’s get to it, shall we, so I can show you how easy it is?  I tend to add all sorts of other grains to my oats to jazz them up, but today (and because we just moved and I haven’t restocked my pantry yet), I’m just doing regular plain porridge.  For this, you will need rolled oats (I’m using quick oats here but I don’t find them much faster-cooking than regular ones), water, and a pot.

Porridge 1

Oh, and a spurtle.  If you don’t have a spurtle (basically a glorified stick), you can use a spoon for stirring but you will find it less satisfying.

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The magic ratio for porridge is the same as it is for making basic rice: two parts water to one part grain.  The magic serving size for the Pie and myself is about 1/3 cup each uncooked.  Once cooked of course the oats expand considerably.  So for a serving for two, start with about 2/3 cup rolled oats.

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Plop those in a pot and then pour over that 1 1/3 cups water.

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Heat on medium, stirring frequently, until the porridge begins to thicken and bubble (this can take between 5 and 10 minutes, depending on what kind of oats you have and how many you are making — for quick oats it’s about 5 minutes).  Make sure to keep stirring or the whole mess will stick horribly to the bottom of the pot.

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Serve in bowls, garnished with a bit of milk or cream, and a sprinkling of brown sugar.  We topped ours with fresh raspberries because we don’t yet have any raisins.  Some people like their porridge buttered and salty, but I prefer mine sweet.  I also like to toss dried coconut and fruit into the pot when I’m cooking the oats (just add a little extra water), together with some ground flax and cinnamon.  Yum!

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Big Beauty Box

Happy New Year!

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For Christmas, Teedz requested a repeat of the Beauty and the Beets package she received last year, namely, another couple jars of those luxurious shower scrubs.  So in addition to some more coffee sugar scrub and salty citrus scrub, I made a big beauty box with more aids to relaxation in it: bubble bath, bath tea, and a crowning achievement, homemade LOTION.  I’m not even kidding.  My major regret was that while every woman in my family got a jar of the luscious stuff, there wasn’t enough left over for ME.  I guess I’ll have to make some more.  Let’s begin, shall we?

Rose-Lavender Bubble Bath

We’ll start with the easiest one and get trickier, okay?

For a bubble bath, you need to start with a soap base.  You can use unscented dishwashing liquid, which is super cheap, but I like castile soap because it’s so cool and old-fashioned.  I bought a rose-scented one to use as my base.  Then you need some glycerine for slipperiness and good bubble staying-power.  I picked this vegetable glycerine up at a health food store in the beauty section, but you can also find it in the first aid aisle of your local pharmacy.  To get the lavender part of the rose-lavender scent, I also got some lavender essential oil and some dried lavender, both from the health food store.  And of course you need a container for mixing.

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Pour 1 cup castile soap and 2/3 cup glycerine into your container (I doubled this recipe because it was going to two people).

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Give those a stir, because they won’t automatically mix.

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Next, add a few drops of essential oil and stir again.

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For visual variety, add a few teaspoons dried lavender to the mix.

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Give that a stir and let it sit for a few days.  The lavender pieces will start to break down in the liquid, infusing it with more lavendery goodness.

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I decanted the resulting emulsion (you will have to shake it up a bit before using) into two glass bottles.  This is them sitting next to the new batch of salt and sugar shower scrubs.

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Bath Teas / Foot Soaks 

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These little sachets of salt are great for their versatility.  You can toss them in the tub, hang them from the faucet while it’s filling, or plop them in a little foot bath for whenever you have a few extra minutes to relax.  The epsom salts are a good healing soak for new mothers and the oatmeal and sea salt make for a skin-smoothing experience.

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I made two different flavours of these.  In the first, I started with a base of 3 cups epsom salts and 1 cup coarse sea salt.  Then a few drops lavender essential oil.

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To that I added 1 cup dried chamomile flowers and 3/4 cup dried lavender flowers.

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All stirred up!

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To the other one I started with the same 3:1 ratio of epsom salts to sea salt.

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Then I added in 3/4 cup dried peppermint leaves and 2 cups ground oatmeal.

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(To make the oat stuff simply chuck some rolled oats — not instant — into a food processor and give it a good whaz.)

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All stirred up too!

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Then I set up an assembly line.  I used some organza we’d rejected from our screen printing exercises, some hemp twine, and an old plastic easter egg as my container-holder.

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I scooped 3-4 tablespoons of the salt mixture into each little pouch and tied it tightly with the string, making a loop so that it can be hung from the faucet.  I used green twine for the peppermint ones and blue for the lavender.

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Luxury Lotion 

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This is probably one of the greatest things I’ve made.  I played around a bit with the original recipe from Girls’ Guide to Guns and Butter and came up with two separate flavours.  With the ratios I used, the resulting lotion is thick and creamy.  It will leave a bit of grease on your hands that absorbs relatively quickly, and the best part about it is that it doesn’t wash off very easily, which, during cold season when you’re washing your hands constantly, is a very good thing.  Anyway, I suggest you give the above post a bit of a read, just to understand the science of the whole thing a bit more.  I’m just going to plunge right in.

The below proportions make about three cups of lotion each, which makes them ideal sizes to give away as gifts.  If you’d like to be selfish and just make some for yourself, then adjust the amounts accordingly.

Rose Water Lotion:

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For this one I cut up a bunch of beeswax.  This is the emulsion that holds everything together.  You’ll need about 4 tablespoons beeswax.

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Plop the beeswax in a double boiler or a microwave-safe container (you can do it either way) and start adding in your other liquids.  Here I’m adding about 2 squirts of vegetable glycerine.  This is what makes the lotion all slippery-feeling.  Don’t add too much or it will be too slippery.

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Scoop out 3 tablespoons shea butter, which I didn’t realize was powdered until it got EVERYWHERE.

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Then 12 tablespoons (3/4 cup) sweet almond oil and 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) avocado oil.

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And then 3 squirts of vitamin E oil.  Not only is this good for damaged skin but it will also extend the shelf life of your lotion.

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Melt the beeswax/oil mixture in your microwave or double boiler until there is nothing solid left in it and it’s all mixed together.  Pour it into a tall narrow container (like a wide-mouthed mason jar) that will fit an immersion blender and leave it to cool for a bit.

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Basically, lotion is an emulsion of oil and water, and the beeswax is what freezes it into its emulsified state.  So now we need water for this to work.  For this first one I used 1 1/2 cups rose water (you can get this at the grocery store) and 1/2 cup filtered water (if you’re on a chlorinated city water system you’ll want to use filtered or distilled water).  The water and the oil have to be the same temperature in order to mix properly, so what I did was heat up the water to the same temperature as the cooling oil, which was about 130°F.  It just meant that I didn’t have to wait as long for everything to cool properly.  I’m not a patient person.

Now you stick your immersion blender in the oil mix and start whizzing it up until it gets light and foamy.  It will fly everywhere, which is why you should use something narrow to mix it in like a jar.  I used a bowl and things got messy.  I’ll show you a picture in a minute.  Anyway.  As you’re mixing, ever so slowly trickle in water and get it mixed in, a little bit at a time.  If you put them in at the same temperature, you can get all the water mixed in perfectly, though towards the end you’ll have to mix a bit harder to get it all combined.  I wish I had more pictures of this part to show you how cool it is, but I only have so many hands.

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It will look like rich, thick icing.  It looked so much like icing, in fact, that my mother walked past it and though that’s what it was.  So she stuck her finger in it and tasted it.  BAD IDEA.  Apparently it tastes awful.  So resist the urge to eat it.

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This is the still-warm lotion spread on my hand, so you can see the texture.

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Plop it into little jars for storage, or leave it in the jar in which you mixed it, if you’re that clever.

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But here is a dobble of the stuff after it’s cooled, and you can see how thick and rich it is.

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Orange Whip Lotion:

Here’s the mess I left after the second mixing session.  There’s lotion and oil everywhere.

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I didn’t take pictures of the mixing process for the second batch, but I’ll give you the ingredients here and you can go to town.  Just remember that the water and the oil have to be the same temperature (not exactly, but close) in order for the whole science thing to work.

In a heat-proof container, mix together and melt 4 tablespoons chopped beeswax, 2 squirts vegetable glycerine, 3 tablespoons shea butter, 8 tablespoons coconut oil, 4 tablespoons avocado oil, 4 tablespoons sweet almond oil, and 3 squirts vitamin E oil.

Add 8 drops sweet orange essential oil to 2 cups hot distilled or filtered water and drizzle into hot oil mix, blending to emulsify.

Store your lotion in a cool place, maybe in the fridge to be on the safe side.  I’m not sure how long this stuff lasts, with the antibacterial beeswax and vitamin E in it, but you’ll probably use it all right away because it’s awesome, anyway.

It’s relatively easy to clean up, as long as you wipe out your oily-waxy containers with paper towel before washing them in soapy water.

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Peach Blueberry Crumble

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I made this back when we were still in St. John’s, and I am so glad now that I have access to local produce IN SEASON.  In fact I bet you one of the first things I did upon arriving in Ottawa was scarf down some fresh Ontario fruit.  I bet you a million dollars.

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But anyway.  Summer, if you’re in many parts of Canada, entails lots and lots of amazing fruit: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, not to mention plums, nectarines, and gorgeous, gorgeous peaches.

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These blueberries are frozen and the peaches come from somewhere in the US but I think the sentiment is the same, hey?  The recipe is adapted from my mother’s apple crisp.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter a glass baking dish.

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Slice up about 7 peaches.  I had eight, but I ate one.  Sue me.

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Set about 1 cup frozen blueberries to thaw slightly (fresh are better, obviously).

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In a bowl, combine 1/2 cup softened butter with 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup oats, and 3/4 cup brown sugar (I only had granulated sugar, but brown is best).

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I used my hands (having packed my pastry blender) to mix the butter into the flour and oats and sugar. Sprinkle about half that mixture into the bottom of your baking dish and pack it down gently.

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Layer on your fruit however you’d like.  I went with half the peaches on the bottom, the blueberries in the middle, and the rest of the peaches on top, like a summery sandwich of fruity goodness.

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Sprinkle the remaining flour/oat mixture over top.

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Bake, covered, for about 20 minutes, then uncover and bake a further 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and everything inside is bubbly.

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Your topping will be more brown if you use brown sugar, obviously.

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Because we were enduring a heat wave when I made this (in St. John’s!  I know!), we let this cool completely and then served it with partridgeberry ice cream.

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EAT IT FOR BREAKFAST: Quinoa Oatmeal

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I love, LOVE reading Thug Kitchen.  Believe it or not, this is actually how I cook most of the time.  With very colourful language.  I tend to tone it down so as not to offend your more delicate sensibilities.  However, you may find that sometimes the tenor of my writing changes a bit.  Usually you can blame that on a binge reading of Thug Kitchen, or a quick episode of Epic Meal Time.  If I had my own internet cooking show, you can bet there would be lots of yelling and throwing of things.  And probably more dropping-things-on-the-floor-then-picking-them-up-and-putting-them-back-in-the-bowl than you were really prepared for.  Because that’s real life for me.

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Anyway, I’m a firm believer in breakfast.  Yup, I’m one of THOSE.  Don’t even argue with me.  And I love me my parritch, so this quinoa oatmeal with steel cut oats appeals to the hippy highlander in me.

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Start with 1/2 cup quinoa, and give that a good rinse in a sieve so that you wash off all the bitterness.

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Put 4 cups water in a kettle and set that on the stove to come to an almost boil (you’ll thank me for the shortcut later).

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Now you’re going to plop a bit of olive or coconut oil (1 teaspoon) in a saucepan, followed by 1 cup steel cut oats.

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Stir that around on medium heat until the oats start to smell nice and toasty.

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Chuck in the quinoa and the water and bring it to a boil (which will be almost immediately because you already almost boiled the water, remember?), then lower it to a simmer and let it cook as it is for about 20 minutes.

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Stir it occasionally so it doesn’t burn, but don’t fret too much about it.

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Add in about 1/2 cup of whatever kind of milk you like and turn off the heat.

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Serves 4, garnished with fruit and nuts or raisins and brown sugar or whatever floats your boat!

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Coconut Lime Oat-y Cookies

Happy birthday to Stef and to Thidz!Lime Coconut Cream Cheese Cookies 14

Papa John and Mrs. Nice are staying with us for a couple of weeks and Papa John is a cookie fiend so I figured I’d whip up a batch of something a little bit different to keep him occupied for a while.  This recipe is adapted from one I found in Everyday Food.

Preheat your oven to 350°F and line some baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.

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Then, in the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together 1 cup butter with 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 3/4 cup packed brown sugar.

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Beat them for about 4 minutes, until fluffy and pale.

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Slide in 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons vanilla, and 1 250g package plain cream cheese (at room temperature) and beat that up as well.

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Beat in the flour mixture gradually, then mix in 1 1/2 cups dessicated coconut (you can toast this ahead of time if you wish — I didn’t).

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And 2 tablespoons freshly grated lime zest.

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Aaaand 1 1/2 cups rolled oats.

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Get that all combined.

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Use a soup spoon to dollop quantities of dough onto your baking sheet.  They won’t spread too much but leave lots of space around them in any case.  Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, for 12-14 minutes.

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Leave on the pan for a few minutes after removing from the oven so the cookies can solidify, then carefully scoop them onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Seal in an airtight container to maintain freshness.

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Raspberry Orange Crumble – In the Woods

What do you do for a potluck when you’re in the middle of Gros Morne National Park?  You make a raspberry crumble, of course!

Will.i.am and Caramía gave the Pie and me a Backpacker’s Pantry Outback Oven (available as well from M.E.C.) as a wedding present, and we’d had no opportunity to use it in the two years since.  When we found out we were going camping in Gros Morne over Canada Day weekend we figured that there was no time like the present.

The day of the potluck dawned and we considered our options.  Miss Awesome and Ranger P (formerly P-with-an-E) had come pre-prepared with felafel and crackers and cheese, but we felt we should contribute something of our own as well.  We had flour, oats (from instant oatmeal), brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter on hand — why not create a crumble?

The problem was the fruit for the middle.  It turns out that fruit is nearly impossible to come by in any of the communities within Gros Morne, and we didn’t have the time or the resources to stretch our search farther afield.  Fortunately, the fates shone on us that day (as did the sun).  Miss Awesome’s Auntie, whom we visited while in the park, happened to have a frozen bag of raspberries on hand, which she graciously gave to us and thus saved the day.

So now to the crumble. Of course, in the thick of things, I measured nothing, so I’m just going to guess here.

Because the berries were still frozen, I set them to thaw in a pot on the fire.  I thought about adding a bit of sugar to the raspberries but changed my mind.  There was enough sugar in the crumble mixture, in any case.  I think I had about 2-3 cups frozen raspberries in this.

We had a random orange floating around, so I grated the peel from that and chopped up the fruit into small pieces and chucked that in with the raspberries.

Miss Awesome persuaded me to add a few drops of Cointreau to the mix.  That’s her foot there.

In a bowl, I mixed up the dry instant oatmeal (about 1 cup instant oatmeal) with about 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup butter.  Add in 1/2 cup brown sugar and a liberal sprinkling of ground cinnamon and mix with your fingers until it’s all nice and crumbly.

Spread half the crumb mixture in the bottom of your outback oven.

Pour the raspberries (now thawed, but not stewed) on top and spread it evenly.

Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture on top.

Seal up the oven, placing the lid securely on the pan and the little tent-thing on top of that and bake for a while.  This of course depends on the strength of your camp stoveOurs only really has one setting — hot — so we had to keep turning off the flame and letting the thing cool down before starting it again in order to prevent burning.  Here Miss Awesome checks on her couscous while the crumble bakes.And the Pie relights the burner for the umpteenth time.  I can’t be trusted near fire.Keep checking that little dial!

After a while, when the raspberries were bubbling through the crumb top, I took the lid off and let the tent-thing help me crisp up the surface of the crumble a bit.  I think that had I used less gooey fruit and real oats instead of instant oatmeal it would have been a crisper thing, but it was sure tasty.