IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR
Editor’s Note: Together with her husband and young son, Monica Bennett seeks out non-stop RVing adventures and culinary discoveries in the Pacific Northwest. Her travels on the road inspires her work as a photographer and writer for her blog, “Just 5 More Minutes,” where she shares her passion for cooking in her RV, demonstrates creative d.i.y. crafting projects and writes about mastering the art of RVing domesticity. The RVing lifestyle is Monica’s escape from her 9-5 as a graphic designer in busy corporate America.
From the East Coast to the West Coast and all across our land, there is no question that the holiday season is upon us.
The anticipation of holiday celebrations are enough to make children, both young and old giddy with excitement. There are cakes to be baked, gifts to be wrapped, decorations to be hung and lights to be strung. Traditions both old and new run strong this time of year.
One of our family traditions is adventuring with our trailer here in the Pacific Northwest, specifically to the San Juan Islands of Washington state. We board the ferry, sit back and if we are lucky, have some pretty incredible wild life viewing opportunities. If you ever come, make sure to bring your binoculars. It’s an experience you wouldn’t want to miss.
Odlin County Park on Lopez Island in the San Juan archipelagos is a beautiful park offering up some of the finest waterfront RV camping. It is the off-season now which we truly enjoy. The summer campers have all gone home leaving the entire park for us. We revel in the peace and tranquility found here. Our campsite is set with comfortable chairs, warm woolen blankets and a thermos full of piping hot cocoa.
We celebrate the season and our time away with each other. We snack on a simple cheese platter and fresh fruit. Decorations are hung in the trailer with holiday music playing softly in the background. Firewood is chopped for the evening fire and everyone is happy. All is calm and all is shiny and bright.
Crafting during outdoor adventures with our trailer has become a given. One holiday craft that’s great for kids young and old is creating personalized gift tags to adorn the presents loved ones will receive. This is such a simple craft that’s made with a big heart and lots of love.
I found the manila shipping labels at my local office supply store. They are 4-3/4″ and 2-3/8″. Choose your favorite travel photos and crop them to an exact 2″ x 2″ square. If you’re an Instagram user, you can copy your photos and paste them into a Word document to print. Glue your photos onto the label and decorate your label with punched out shapes and fun holiday festive ribbon or string. Found at your local craft store, Japanese washi tape is great for decorating your tags too. However you want to decorate your tags, the most important thing to remember is to have fun.
Our family tradition of RVing during the holiday season continues as we visit local markets picking up fresh, island grown organic goodies to cook up in our trailer’s kitchen. Root vegetables are bountiful this time of year and I feel the urge to prepare a comforting meal for the boys. A culinary adventure when we travel is always my favorite part — beautiful food is pure inspiration for the adventurous cook and the islands deliver big on their goods.
Back at camp I begin to prepare a celebratory holiday dinner of comforting chicken stew full of goodies from the local island market. A one pot wonder I call this meal — easy to prepare and even more delicious to eat as the fresh flavors of the local ingredients shine through.
To complement the comforting chicken stew are these beautiful pink peppercorn popovers. Baked in my trailer oven in a cast iron drop biscuit pan, these turned out light and airy on the inside and crispy on the outside. A cast iron drop biscuit pan is the perfect pan for the RVer who loves to cook as it’s very versatile from baking off drop biscuits to individual pies, pizzas and so much more.
After hubby and I toast the holiday season with a delicious and festive pomegranate sparkler cocktail and our son B toasts with his hot cocoa, it’s time to sit down to our holiday feast.
We spend our days exploring the beaches of the San Juan Islands. This is South Beach on San Juan Island and is one of our favorites. It offers up a two mile stretch of a pebble beach and is full of fun adventures. B enjoys collecting driftwood to make shelters while hubby and I sit back and admire his hard work. We watch him carefully pick and choose which piece of wood he will use. As we watch our boy play on the beach, I couldn’t help but get teary eyed thinking that one day, maybe, he will bring his family here and possibly, just possibly share his stories — his RVing memories with us — with his family for his children to remember.
One of the memories I know that B will forever keep are the times spent together cooking during our adventures.
“I love cooking with you mommy,” he tells me, and of course, my heart melts.
We make our traditional shortbread cookies, a recipe we perfected together a few years ago.
These are delicious on their own or filled with a white chocolate ganache filling and then rolled in miniature chocolate chips. A simple and fun recipe to make with the ones you love this holiday season.
As we call it a night and hit the sack, all of us snug as bugs in our cozy trailer under the moon and stars, I feel thankful for this life. The RVing life and the world of adventures it has opened up for us. Our travels have become solid happy memories. Our travels have become traditions. But most importantly, our travels have brought us closer together when we have been away and for that, I am wholeheartedly thankful.
Wherever you may be this holiday season, I hope you can find your Away and revel in the magic of the holiday season.
Happy travels and happy holidays!
Recipes follow below:
Comforting Chicken Stew
Here’s a one pot wonder that’s sure to be a hit.
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into bite size pieces
1/4 cup of red wine vinegar
1 heaping tablespoon of all-purpose flour
2 cups low-salt chicken stock
1 medium potato cut into bite size pieces
2 medium carrots cut into bite size pieces
2 ribs of celery roughly chopped
3 sprigs of thyme
1 cup of frozen peas
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Hot pepper sauce
Heat your oil in a medium size pot over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until most of the sides are browned.
Once the chicken is nice and caramelized, add your onion, pinch of salt and sauté for two minutes taking care to scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of your pan. To further along the deglazing process and to add a bit of flavor, turn down the heat to low and add the red wine vinegar (slowly) to your pot. Continue to scrape up any brown bits blending their flavor into the rest of the ingredients.
At this point, add the potatoes, carrots, celery and thyme along with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to your liking. Sprinkle the flour on top and give everything a good stir distributing the flour around evenly.
Turn the heat back up to medium and slowly pour in the chicken stock while stirring for a minute. Bring to a boil, cover and turn down to medium low heat simmering for 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes, remove the lid and add a splash or two of water if it looks dry.
Add your frozen peas (no need to defrost, the heat from the stew will cook them up in no time) and a splash of hot sauce. One last gentle stir and a taste test — adding more salt and pepper if needed.
Serve with pink peppercorn popovers
Pink Peppercorn Popovers
I adore a cast iron drop biscuit pan for baking popovers as the they come out like little perfect popover bowls, ready to be filled with whatever your heart desires. A muffin tin would work well too.
Room temperature ingredients are quite important as well as a super-hot pan.
2.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided and cut equally to fit in each cup of your pan
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 cup whole milk at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon of pink peppercorns finely ground
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat your oven to 425° F.
Place your pan into your oven for 10 minutes to get it nice and hot.
Using an immersion blender, in a small bowl, mix the eggs, milk, flour, peppercorns and salt until combined and no lumps remain.
Using oven mitts, carefully take your hot pan out of the oven, drop a piece of butter into each cup. Once the butter has melted, immediately divide the batter amongst the cups.
Bake for 20 minutes or until the popovers have puffed up and their crusts are a beautiful golden brown color.
Shortbread Cookies with White Chocolate Ganache Filling
Bake these up all at once, or keep the log in the freezer for those times when a hankering for a fresh baked cookie strikes.
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375° F.
In a medium bowl, cream together butter, sugar, salt and vanilla until light and fluffy. Gradually stir in your flour until it is well blended.
On a sheet of plastic wrap, place your dough and roll it into a log about 2.5 inches in diameter (if using a cookie press, make sure the diameter of both your log and press match up) twisting the ends tight. Chill in your fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Slice the logs into 1/3 inch thick discs, arrange on a parchment lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart and bake for 15 minutes or until the edges become a nice light brown.
Remove your cookies from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. Proceed to enjoy as it or fill with white chocolate ganache:
White Chocolate Ganache:
1 cup white chocolate chips
5 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bring the heavy cream and vanilla extract to a boil in a small saucepan on the stovetop.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and pour the hot cream mixture over the white chocolate chips in a bowl. Stir until the chocolate chips are smooth and melted. Allow mixture to cool slightly (it will thicken).
Place mixture in a piping bag (or a zip lock bag with one corner end cut off).
Reverse your cookies on their backs and pipe the ganache in a circular motion to cover the base.
Top with another cookie to create a sandwich. Roll the cookie sides in mini chocolate chips.
Repeat with all of the cookies. Be gentle because they are fragile!
Store in an airtight container.
This holiday cocktail is not only beautiful and festive to look at but incredibly refreshing.
1-1/2 ounces of Vodka
2 ounces of pomegranate juice
7-UP or Sprite
Rosemary sprig for garnish
Fill a glass with ice half way
Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds over the ice
Pour in the pomegranate juice
Fill the rest of the glass with ice, all the way to the top
Slowly pour over the vodka and 7-up/Sprite taking care to keep the pomegranate juice at the bottom.
Garnish with a rosemary sprig