Friday, 29 January 2016

Using our noodles!

Our gazebo has had a lot of use.  You can see that the cover has wear marks in the pics at right.  Although it is not intended as a permanent structure, we have it set up most of the time due to limited living space in the van.  (The area beneath is laid with our camping mats and one gazebo wall offers some privacy between us and our neighbour).

Rain collects in the stretched areas at the corners of the cover, so the water needs to be tipped off regularly.  If too much water pools on the gazebo cover, the weight can break the gazebo frame.  That's how our very first gazebo was broken, within days of it's initial use.  Yep, we've learned the hard way!

(The manufacturer does not sell replacement frames, so we kept that one and use it to effect repairs on our other two gazebos).

I belong to several FaceBook caravan and camping groups.  There have been suggestions of using pool noodles to prevent water pooling on gazebos.  It wasn't till someone posted a photo that I understood how the noodle was to be used.  Hah!  Nick bought a pack of three from BigW and has rigged them to counter today's rain.  I'm not sure they'll stay in place all the time but they seemed to work this afternoon.

Watt bargains!

You know the old saying "nothing lasts forever"?  Well, my $1.00 hotplates are now retired.

The plates still worked but the plastic moulding which supported the legs had broken, so the unit was no longer stable.

Our local op-shop had a set of $5.00 hotplates the other day and I brought them home. It's hard to go wrong at that price - especially with a money-back guarantee!

There is no kitchen in the van.  I cook outside, using one of our folding tables as a bench.  It stays set up against the van as there is not a lot of room under our gazebo.  (Of course when it rains, I need a Plan B)!

I cook most of our meals using a large electric frypan.  It's quite versatile and I've made a variety of meals in it.  We don't have a microwave.  Rice is cooked in one of our thermal cookers (using the hotplates for the initial heating).  From time to time, I use one of our Cobb Cookers for BBQing or cake-baking - if I'm not in a hurry!

I was looking for an easier oven option though and had been researching turbo ovens.  The cheapest was the Kmart version - $45.00.  Nick and I were out yesterday.  We visited our favourite tip shop and spotted a great turbo oven - for $5.00!  How good was that?!  It didn't come with a money-back guarantee but had seen very little use.  Once home, it was washed and put into service!

I had a cake mix, so made that last night.  It was jazzed up a bit with some chunks of white chocolate.  The turbo oven did fine work and we all appreciated slices of warm cake as a late supper.  Yum!

The cake mix had been on special at our local IGA for 69c, only slightly dearer than a generic brand.  I prefer to bake from scratch but my limited "kitchen" facilities make that a bit tricky at the moment, so I'm allowed to cheat!  The IGA has a small range of baked goods but the prices are around $7.00 for quite basic offerings - yep the oven has already paid for itself!

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

500 finds!

We chalked up another milestone today - our 500th geocache find!

It's been around 18 months since our 400th find.  (On checking geocaching stats, our longest slump was from April to September last year, when obviously all our efforts were spent on culling/packing)!

Vaughan recently commented that we never meet any other cachers when out. Very soon after that, Nick and I were chatting to guy who spoke of geocaching and recommended a cache in a forest local(ish) to us.

Given the special nature of the cache, we decided to save it for our 500th find.

At that stage our tally was 450, so over the past couple of weeks we've exerted ourselves to find the extra 50.  It's been good school holiday entertainment and involved several fairly energetic 3-plus kilometre bushwalks.

Term 1 starts tomorrow, so our holiday finale was today.  It was a fantastic adventure - driving along skinny, steep forest tracks before scrambling downhill (on foot) to explore an abandoned gold mine and log our 500th find!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Lacing the window ...

I removed our Christmas decals on Friday.  (The solar lights were taken down just before moving the van for a week-long house-sit over Christmas).

The caravan looks very bare without it's decorations, even though we still have our fairy lights inside - cos we all enjoy how pretty they are!

Without it's stickers, the door window is clear and offers little privacy.  I've been pondering how to remedy that.

At the time of hanging the caravan curtains, I spoke about making a blind for the door.  I completed that project a few days later but the sticking point was how to attach it over the door.  The van is old and we were hesitant to put too much pressure on the wood paneling around the door, so the blind remains packed under our Princess bed.

There's a box of fabric under the bed (a selection from my infamous "stash") and while rummaging in there I found a small lace curtain - which matches the tiny one used for our kitchen window.  I unpicked the lace find this evening, gave it a quick wash and later ironed out the hemming creases.  It was the right size to replace the very daggy flyscreen mesh of the inner door window - as Nick had done for our bathroom window when we were still living at Hamby Home(in)stead.

Nick is on night-shift and I wasn't able to remove the screen to work on a horizontal surface, so I installed the lace with the screen in it's usual position.  The process was fairly easy.  The tricky part was starting off, so Erin helped me tape the lace along it's top edge to hold it steady while I worked the tubing back into it's channel.

I trimmed the edges when I'd finished securing the lace in place.  I'm pleased with the end result.  It's definitely a vast improvement on the worn-out flyscreen!

Saturday, 16 January 2016

1000th Post!

Given the anniversary theme of my most recent writings, it seemed appropriate to mark another important milestone - yep, this is the 1000th Happy Hamby Campers post!  Wow!

When I started this blog (my first) just over five years ago, I was new to blogging and wanted a broad theme that allowed plenty of scope for writing.  There was a lot going on in those days and heading into the nearby forest for day-trips or longer stays was our stress-relief. We all enjoyed the outings - and they were cheap therapy!

We already referred to ourselves as the Happy Hamby Campers, so naming the blog was easy - and I had plenty of starting material as we'd had a number of trips.  I decided to document them all, even though there was a bit of catching up to do.  (I later learned how to back-date them to their correct order, even though it pre-dated the blog's inception of November 2010).

Why blogging?  For a few years before starting the blog I'd included an annual newsletter with our Christmas cards.  I had a private webpage and would upload a colour version of the newsletter there.  I couldn't publish both pages though and there was no archival function - ie each year's newsletter replaced the previous one.

The best solution seemed to be a blog.  Even so I had hesitations regarding our privacy and initially the blog was only accessible to our extended family and friends.  Over time it became public and grew to include the various pages you now see. We even have a YouTube channel (in need of more "footage")!

We are not expert campers but have racked up a reasonable amount of experience and hopefully that knowledge helps others.  My main motivation for writing though is to record our adventures, so we can appreciate how far we've been - in spite of life's challenges and interruptions.  As the song goes, accentuate the positive!

Until we lived at Hamby Home(in)stead, all our rental homes had been on normal suburban blocks.  We lived in pleasant areas but definitely enjoyed venturing into the great outdoors with more space around us.  These days we are living in our van in a caravan park, so have an even keener desire to explore further afield!

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Stepping into the next ten years!

We've had some good use from our $10.00 wooden steps.  They were sturdily built, though not of the most suitable material.

I took a tumble down them the day prior to Christmas Eve (while carrying our small tree).  The tree survived intact but I received a large bruise on one thigh. I examined the steps and saw that the side supporting panels were starting to deteriorate (due to being constructed of non-weatherproof chipboard).

The bargain steps were decommissioned and we reverted to using a milk crate, which obviously wasn't ideal.  Vaughan has fallen twice, Erin has also fallen and I stacked in spectacular fashion last night.  My offspring rallied to my assistance. They were all for hauling me up immediately but I needed a few minutes to catch my breath.  I put a pack of frozen peas on the worst area and the changing colours provided much amusement - when I recovered my good humour!

Not surprisingly the milk crate was also decommissioned and we didn't bother using a replacement overnight, preferring to step in and out of the van carefully rather than risk further injury.  My mission today was to buy a proper step - without driving all over the countryside to do so.

After a few false starts, I found a heavy duty caravan step at SuperCheap Auto - and it was on sale!  Given our recent celebrations, I made another stop on the way home and had a simple plaque engraved for our new "anniversary step"!

The step has been in use for two hours and is very much appreciated by all!

Friday, 8 January 2016

Spargo Creek Mineral Spring

On the way to Mount Franklin yesterday, we saw signs for the Spargo Creek mineral spring.  We were keen for our celebratory picnic, so didn't stop.

We went back today. It was novel to be able to drive right up to the spring!

As has become standard practice, we sampled the water.  Erin was the first taster and didn't screw up her face, as we half-expected.  We were pleased when she declared the taste "almost pleasant" - and we then shared the cup with more enthusiasm!

According to the information boards, the reserve had been popular for sporting events and picnics as early as the 1870s.  We tried to picture where the cricket ground had been, given all the current blackberry and other overgrowth.

Mt Franklin views ...

Nick and I were married ten years ago at Frying Pan Point on Lake Macquarie's shoreline. We're a long way from there these days, so originally planned to take a picnic dinner to the local-ish Frying Pan Hill for our anniversary celebrations.

It was a great idea but on closer inspection of the map, we saw that Frying Pan Hill was on private property!

Plan B was quickly devised.  We would visit nearby Mount Franklin and view Frying Pan Hill from there.

While our cake was baking, I prepared a Thai green curry and rice in one of our thermal cookers. Asian Home Gourmet spice paste was on special at our local IGA.  I bought two packs, as one was suitable for 350 grams of chicken and 100 grams of vegetable.  As rump steak was a mark-down special, green beef curry was on the menu!  

Fortunately I noted the "hot" symbol on the sachet as I prepped the meal.  I only used one sachet for close to 1 kilo of beef, an onion, one large capsicum and 500 grams of frozen vegetables.  It was hot enough for us!

Given there is no liquid reduction in thermal cooking, I only used one can of coconut milk.  I also added a few teaspoons of cornflour to thicken the liquid.  I rinsed the coconut milk tin and included that water when cooking the rice.

Our dinner went into the thermal cooker at around 4:00pm and was enjoyed at Mount Franklin Reserve.  Erin was our drinks waitress and served everyone with Mount Franklin mineral water, flavoured with some very nice lime cordial!

(Smokey) Caramel Mud Cake

Yesterday was our tenth wedding anniversary.  We felt we definitely needed a bit of fuss - and some cake!

There is no oven in the van (or any cooking facilities) so I chef outside using our hotplates and a large electric frypan.

According to Google it is possible to bake a cake in an electric frypan but I haven't yet tested the theory.

Instead I chose to use one of our Cobb Cookers.

Our wedding cake was a chocolate mud cake, baked by us as a group effort.  I adapted that same recipe to make a caramel version.

White chocolate buttons and brown sugar were used and the result was quite good, albeit a bit smokey from extended time on the Cobb Cooker (using BBQ charcoal rather than heat beads). The smoked flavour wasn't completely unpleasant but I'll use heat beads next time I'm baking!

This is the modified recipe:

250g chopped butter
180g white chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup hot water
1 1/4 cups plain flour
1/4 cup SR flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
dash of vanilla

Preheat oven to moderately low 160 deg. Grease a deep 23cm round pan with butter and line the base with baking paper. (I used a heavy pan and three layers of baking paper to offer the cake base more protection during cooking).

Place butter, 180g chocolate, sugar and hot water in a pan. Stir over moderate heat until melted. Allow to cool.  Add remaining ingredients to cooled mixture. Stir until they're thoroughly combined.

Pour into pan and bake 1 hr 15 min to 1 hr 25 min - or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Allow to stand 5 in before turning onto a wire rack to cool.

I checked the cake every half hour and added more charcoal during cooking.  The cooking time was longer than stated above, which I expected - in total a bit over two hours.