About the Author

Wendy Almeida has been writing about enjoying the outdoors with kids in her monthly Kid Tracks Outdoors column for the Maine Sunday Telegram for 10 years. Her kids have grown up exploring the trails of Maine on foot, skis and bikes as well as through the geocache and EarthCache games. The family has found treasures of all sorts while out on the trail and the journey continues to be as much fun now that the kids are teenagers as it was when they were preschoolers.

On Twitter and Instagram at @wea1021.

Previous entries

Wednesday June 20, 2012 | 05:17 PM

When I get home tonight I am going to be particularly happy about opening a bottle of my homemade lemonade ginger beer. It's been "smoothing out" in my fridge for a few days and I anticipate it will be a refreshing way to kick back in this crazy heat.

 

I sought out this beer (it's more like a wine cooler) recipe after watching an episode of the River Cottage show. Celebrity chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, is not your typical high drama American reality TV chef. He's a low-key British guy experimenting with modern-day rural sustainable living  and cooking. My kids are always fascinated by his simple cooking techniques and his Dorset cottage happenings. When Hugh is on, everyone is glued to the computer screen (we watch whatever BBC episodes we can find online). He's an interesting guy with some really great, practical ideas about cooking with simple ingredients.

In the show Hugh made lemonade ginger beer using 2-liter plastic bottles. The demonstration highlighted that it only took two days to ferment into a nice carbonated, alcoholic drink. I thought, yes, I can do this!

Tuesday June 05, 2012 | 03:55 PM

My daughter is really into fiber. She has her own sheep and spins their fleece into yarn. A friend suggested she try dyeing her white roving with a packet of Kool-Aid because it offers great, permanent color.

 And she did get some nice colors with Lemon & Lime, Cherry and Orange Kool-Aid.

The wool absorbed all the color after 30 minutes of soaking and left only clear water in the pan. It was remarkable... and gave me pause about what these dyes are sticking to inside our bodies. 

The roving absorbed all the Kool-Aid color and left the liquid clear in the pan.

Sensory science - a scientific method to analyze and interpret a response through a person's sense of touch, taste, sight, smell or sound - is a really interesting field of study. A lot goes in to taste testing new food products before they hit the market. I am not sure I fully understood this process until my kids attended a 4-H workshop with Dr. Beth Calder from UMaine's Food Science program to learn about sensory science. They were looking forward to the class because it involved Oreos.

The object of the "blind" sensory test was to determine which of the three Oreo cookies was different from the others. Dr. Calder encouraged the kids to pay attention to every little detail of their cookie - from the crunch of the bite to the overall texture and taste as well as any other nuances they could uncover with all of their senses.

To make the test unbiased, each Oreo was labeled with a number. To make it a scientifically accurate blind test, not all the numbers were the same for each taste tester. This was to discourage the kids from influencing each other. So even if a tester wanted to check out their neighbor's results, they couldn't because they didn't all have the same sample numbers to compare.

Cabela's hosted a BBQ cook-off this past weekend and I was lucky enough to be a judge. I had never been a judge at a taste-testing like this one so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. It was fun and I ate some amazing barbecue! But, I also learned a few things about judging a barbecue cook-off..

• Judging is not as easy as it looks. Yeah, it's fun to take a bite of some really good barbecue. But because everything is so good, you have to get critical before writing down a score even when you're eating something you think is delicious. My score card required a numeric score for three aspects of each entry – appearance, taste and tenderness. Many entries received high marks from me.

• Ask ahead of time how many teams you'll be judging. Cabela's had 13 teams and there were 6 rounds of different meat to taste. Even with only taking a single bite of each entry adds up to a heck of a lot of meat consumed by each judge (13 x 6 = 78 bites). Which leads me to the next learning....

I have a friend who raises dairy goats at her farm. I was not a fan of the livestock-ish taste of goat milk I have purchased previously at the grocery store. But then I had her goat's milk. It was creamy and sweet (and naturally homogenized) without a hint of livestock to it. The kids and I actually downed the full quart of milk in my friend's driveway with some bickering and nary a drop to share with my husband at home.

This was last year. My girls have since learned how to milk a goat and are now thrilled it's a regular part of our diet.

But when tackling anything new, there is a learning curve. Milking an animal for the first time is a humbling experience. You might think it looks easy, but there is a knack to expressing the milk that takes a while to figure out. And then there is the fact that a goat is a living creature that moves and sometimes has an opinion about whether she is in the mood to be milked, or not.

We've had a couple of accidental hoof-in-the-milking-bucket scenarios during our learning curve. That milk is, for obvious reasons, not drinkable. But our goat friend told us to freeze that milk to make soap. My family has tried making soap previously out of lard (from rendered pig fat we made previously) with OK results (i.e., room for improvement was the refrain).