2012 summer trip update

Several months ago, I wrote about my intentions to visit Lapland again this summer. For a number of reasons (particularly our house move, vacation in the States and previous lack of a childcare solution), a trip to Lapland was/is not possible this summer. :(

I have, however, been able to arrange for a short trip closer to home in the complete opposite direction: Estonia. “Estonia?” you ask? Yes, Estonia! It’s a beautiful country full of nice people, lush forests and great outdoor opportunities. It’s unfortunate that more people don’t know much about this small Baltic country, because it has a lot to offer.

I am lucky to once again have access to a piece of private property, this time on the beautiful island of Saaremaa, so in about a month I will be heading there for three full days and three nights for some hiking, camping and fall foliage photography. I might also do some sightseeing in the island’s capital town. Although I have been to this island before, I have never done any outdoor activities there, so I’m really looking forward to it.

So be on the lookout for a multi-day trip report from the Weekend Woodsman in Estonia in a month or so!

(Linked image)

Biscuits and gravy: A viable camp food?

Having recently been in the American South, I’m hankering for some of the foods I enjoyed there. In this post, I wrote about a sweet tea recipe I tried (and enjoyed very much). Another very common Southern food staple is “biscuits and gravy”, a popular breakfast food. For the better understanding of my readers from the UK and elsewhere, let me say that by “biscuits” I don’t mean the crunchy and sweet biscuits, or cookies, you might be thinking of. In the US, a biscuit is like a savory scone. Anyhoo, I searched the Internet for biscuits and gravy recipes and mixed and matched them a bit to come up with my own recipe. I had to make a change or two due to the ingredients we have (or rather, don’t have) here in Finland, but the end product was very close to standard biscuits and gravy.

Biscuits

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (4.75 dl) of flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons of cold butter
  • 1 cup (2.4 dl) of milk

Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 450*F (230*C).
  • Mix flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl.
  • Put the butter into the bowl and cut it up until the pieces are about the size of a pea.
  • Pour in some of the milk and mix with a spoon. Repeat until the ingredients form a dough that sticks together.
  • Lightly flour a flat surface and knead and fold the dough a few times, but not too much, or the biscuits will come out tough.
  • Break off pieces of the dough with flour-dusted hands, roll them into a ball and place them on baking paper on a baking tray so that they touch each other, as shown in the pictures. I like to flatten them just a bit before putting them in the oven. As for the size of the biscuits, it’s up to you. I like making smallish ones. A standard size is 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter and 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick.
  • Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. I accidentally let mine go a bit too long because I was busy with the gravy, so they’re just a tad overdone.
  • Take the biscuits off the baking tray as soon as you take them out of the oven.

Gravy

Ingredients:

  • 0.4 pounds (170 kg) of bacon* (see comment below)
  • 1/4 cup (0.6 dl) of flour
  • 2 cups (4.75 dl) of milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  • Cut up the bacon into very small pieces and cook it in a frying pan (don’t dump out the bacon grease).
  • Making sure the heat is on medium-high, add the flour and the desired amount of salt and pepper (you can also add the salt and pepper later on, if you’re not sure how much you want).
  • Stir the mixture until the flour is browned.
  • Add the milk and stir until the gravy becomes thick.

*I used a 170 g/0.4 pound package of bacon, which is commonly available here. Normally, a certain type of pork sausage would go into the gravy instead of bacon. I’ll have to dig a little deeper to see if I can find an acceptable type of sausage here. The bacon I used gave it a different taste, but it was still good. :)

When the biscuits and gravy are done, break a few biscuits in half (I forgot to do this for the picture), spoon some gravy on them and enjoy! (Sweet tea optional.)

There was plenty left over for later. :)

After finding out how easy they are to make, I’m starting to think about how feasible it would be to transition from making them in the kitchen to making them in the woods. Instead of baking the biscuits in a dutch oven or other contraption, I think I might try making them the same way I make bannock, i.e. in a pan. The ingredients are very similar, so this should work. As for the gravy, all I’d really have to be concerned with is keeping the meat, butter and milk (unless I use powdered milk) cold until I need it, which actually isn’t a problem in Finland for most of the year. I hope this recipe will end up working well as a camp food, because it’d be perfect for cool- and cold-weather trips up here in the far north thanks to its hearty and filling (and high-calorie) nature. :)

A quick flint striker tip

Last winter, I was given a forged flint striker and a piece of flint by blacksmith extraordinaire Mr. Seikku.

I have used it to light charred cotton cloth, and I find it to be a lot of fun to use. Seeing as how flint and flint-like rocks are not found naturally in Finland, I was curious to see if quartz would work, as quartz is found in abundance here. So, using the poll of my hatchet, I knocked off a small piece of quartz from a boulder at my old campsite and tried it with the striker. I was happy to find that it worked just as well as the flint! I’m pretty sure a piece of quartz wouldn’t stand up to this kind of abuse for as long as a piece of flint, but it certainly has shown itself to be a viable alternative. So if you also lack flint, obsidian etc. in your area, give another type of stone a try!

My three favorite bushcraft/camping items

There’s a video tag going around on YouTube where folks are telling about their three favorite buschraft/camping items. Although I haven’t been tagged (kind of hard when you don’t have a YouTube channel), I thought it would be fun to make a blog post about my three favorites. So, in no particular order:

Custom BushProwler from Ilkka Seikku

This knife is based on Ilkka’s BushProwler design, but features a number of changes I wanted him to make, such as a thinner and longer blade, a one-piece handle on a hidden full tang, a cow horn bolster and a redesigned sheath, among other things. This item is one of my favorites because it is so versatile, strong and looks/feels great, too.

.

Modified Swedish M39 rucksack

I bought this pack at a consignment shop and have made a few modifications to it. I really like this pack for its older styling, ruggedness and versatility. For day trips, I can throw my shoulder bag, food and other stuff inside, and for multi-day outings, I strap my bedroll and sleeping pad to the outisde and throw in things like cooking equipment, food, tent etc.

.

German army poncho tent

I made this tent last year using two German army ponchos, some modern tent material and a few snaps. The ponchos are extremely rugged and versatile in their own right, but when combined and modified, they make a compact, versatile and very effective shelter. It can be left open at one or both ends, one side can be propped up as an awning to allow air flow and warmth from a fire or it can be closed up completely.

I’d like to tag The American Woodsman, The Florida Steampunker and OutdoorEnvy to show us their three favorites (if you guys aren’t interested in doing this, don’t worry about it!). :)

My latest Swedish rucksack modification

On and off for the past few years, I have used a Swedish military rucksack as my main pack for trips ranging from an afternoon to several nights. To make this pack more useful than in its original state, I threaded a length of paracord through the slots at the top of the frame (for holding a sleeping bag, pad etc.), changed the strap configuration and added foam padding to the shoulder straps and lower portion of the frame to make it more comfortable to wear. This weekend, I finally finished the latest modification to this pack: I covered the shoulder strap pads and the pad on the lower portion of the frame with canvas for added strength and fire resistance of those parts (the exposed foam would have been prone to damage and would burn QUICKLY if hit with a spark from a fire).

Here’s how the pack originally looked:

After adding foam padding to the shoulder straps last winter:

Here’s what it looked like after covering one of the shoulder strap pads with canvas:

Both finished:

The padded and covered lower portion of the frame:

And all three together:

I used part of a military surplus canvas laundry bag for the materials for this project. These laundry bags cost about 1 Euro here in Finland, but I didn’t even have to pay that, as mine was given to me by Finnman (sorry to cut up your gift, but thanks for the materials!). ;)

Like most of my projects, these mods aren’t going to win any beauty contests, but they don’t have to. As long as they work, I’m happy. :)

The Weekend Woodsman in Florida – Part 2

I had hoped to publish two more blog posts while we were still vacationing in the States, but just didn’t have the time. We were very busy visiting with friends and relatives, so other stuff was put on the back burner. Now that we are back home and settling in, let the blogging continue…

***********

In my last post, I showed you pictures from a piece of jungly land in East-Central Florida. Here are a few shots from the nearby area. I love the big, beautiful palms and the live oaks covered in Spanish moss.

In this picture, you can see a sliver of Lake George, Florida’s second-largest lake. The land you see on the right-hand side is an island in the lake.

The following morning, the Woodsfamily hit the beach before it started to get too hot.

Here’s the Woodsboy contemplating life…or maybe just lookin’ at some stuff.

Later that day, we were treated by the Woodsparents to a nature-themed boat ride on an intracoastal river. We were able to see plenty of birds (herons, among others) and dolphins, in addition to the local flora, most of which consisted of mangroves.

These were the best shots I could get of the dolphins.

A few days later, in another area, we saw this alligator lurking in a retention pond. Needless to say, the Woodsboy loved it. :)

By this point in our trip, I’d almost had my fill of sweet tea, okra, BBQ pork, biscuits & gravy and chicken & dumplings and our time in Florida was winding down. We’d soon be leaving, but weren’t ready to head back to Finland just yet. The second and final leg of our trip took place in another state, and I will report back to you again soon with some more pictures from a different part of the US.

But while we’re still on the topic of Florida, I’d like to draw your attention to a blog by a guy born and raised in East-Central Florida, The Florida Steampunker. He writes about his outdoor adventures, old knives and other items, EDC and much more.

Finally, I’d like to share with you a recipe for one of my favorite summertime drinks, which is a popular refreshment in the American South: sweet tea!

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups (7 dl) of water in a pot
  • 6 tea bags (black tea)
  • 1 cup (2.3 dl) of sugar
  • 7 cups (16.3 dl) of cold water

Directions:

  1. Boil 3 cups (7 dl) of water in a pot.
  2. Put the 6 tea bags into the boiling water and let boil for 1 minute.
  3. Remove the pot from the heat and cover it (with the tea bags still inside).
  4. After 10 minutes, remove the tea bags.
  5. Pour the still-warm tea from the pot into a pitcher and then add the 1 cup (2.3 dl) of sugar to the pitcher, stirring until all the sugar dissolves.
  6. Add the 7 cups (16.3 dl) of cold water to the pitcher.
  7. Serve with ice and enjoy!

Here’s my first batch, which is going fast:

There are lots of variations, this just happens to be the one I tried. Hope you try it and like it!

The Weekend Woodsman in Florida – Part 1

As I write this, the Woodsfamily is on vacation in east central Florida. Despite it being orders of magnitude hotter than the weather we left in Finland, I’ve spent a good deal of time out of doors enjoying the near-tropical forests, beaches and rivers of the Sunshine State.

On Tuesday, I drove westward away from the Atlantic coast toward the stifling interior. I passed palm-dotted cattle and horse ranches, fern farms and citrus groves on the way to a piece of jungle-like land (well, at least it looks jungly to me after living in Finland for a while) near one of the largest lakes in Florida. Although I am lucky enough to have full access to this private land, I only had enough time to look around and snap a few pictures here and there. So no “jungle bushcraft” this time. ;)

I’m not super familiar with southern flora and fauna, so I’m hoping one of my readers can help me identify some of the plants and trees I’m not sure about. But first, a few shots of the land.

I think these are either slash pines, loblolly pines or longleaf pines. Anyone know?

A beautiful magnolia.

Is this some kind of maple? I know it’s hard to tell from the pics. The leaves look a lot like maple.

Don’t know about these, either.

How about this?

Anyone recognize this bark? The leaves were too high up to get a good shot. They were small and ovalish.

I believe these are sabal palms.

Anyone able to identify these plants?

Is this the beloved kudzoo?

A bit o’ moss.

The pictures below show what is commonly known as Spanish moss. It is actually a flowering plant, and not a moss, and is usually found growing on live oak trees, cypress trees etc.

I found a few lichens on the property as well.

Besides the plant life, I saw (and was feasted upon by) mosquitoes, flies and ticks. Silly me for not wearing insect repellent! I also saw some some pretty nasty-looking spiders, including a red, black and white one a little less than the length of my finger (almost landed head-first into its web…). After about an hour at the property, I was drenched in sweat and covered in bites, so it was time to head back.