Friday, June 27, 2014

My $1 Burrito

I was chiding one of my co-workders for going out every day and arguing that they spent a lot of money. They asked me how I was really saving by bringing my own lunch and while I was sure it was cheaper, I could not really quantify the savings. However, my recent stay at Ft. Lee for an Army course, gave me the chance to do just that and the savings were pretty impressive.

The Finds

 On average, I spent $2.22 per meal (total money spent on food divided by the number of meals cooked). The next cheapest option would have been to eat at the Army’s dining facilities (DFACs) where the average cost for three meals per day would be $3.95 ($2.55 for breakfast and $4.65 for lunch and dinner). That’s 44% savings. For the 21 meals that I made in my room that means I saved a little over $36. Not huge change, but not bad for two weeks.

Those figures are also a conservative estimate. In this little experiment I bought some food that I never ate. Had I to shop over again I could have gotten to $1.79 a meal. And of course, the DFAC is the best eating out option – an Army subsidized (nearly) all-you-can eat smorgasbord. Many soldiers opt to spend more money for less food – probably $6-8 for lunch at one of the food courts or even food trucks that can be found on post.

A Chance to Experiment

 At home it is hard to calculate the cost of a meal. Even if I do the shopping, it’s hard to parse out the cost of any one lunch mostly because I do not have time to examine what percent of each line item on the grocery receipt goes to which meal.

2 burners, pots & refrigerator
When I got to Ft. Lee’s lodging though I found that the room was equipped with a refrigerator, microwave, two-burner stove, a 12” skillet, 2 and 4-quart pots, a serrated knife, and a two-dish set (plate, bowel, fork, knife and spoon). I realized this was the perfect opportunity to  try some simple dishes and see how much my meals really cost.

Modest selection of dishes

I settled for simplicity but stuck to fairly standard meals. For breakfast I did oatmeal and lunch burritos. For dinner I went for spaghetti and stir fry. I also got some apples for snacks and salad to add onto lunches or dinners. All told I spent just under $47.

I then parsed out the ingredients by meal to that I could further see the cost per meal. I also kept track of how many times I made each meal.

Costs per Meals


Not surprisingly oatmeal wins by a lot. When I was deployed to Afghanistan and felt like eating break in my room, I discovered that plain oatmeal worked just fine for  me. While it was filling, it also did not sit heavy on my stomach. I can easily eat a cup of plain oatmeal and then go for an eight-mile run. At $2.16 oatmeal worked out to $0.27 per breakfast.


Next was the burrito. For mine I used:

Burrito Lunch

Black beans (2 cans)
Tortillas (Large 8 count)
Brown Rice (1 lb)
1/2 Bell Pepper
Salsa verde
1/2 Onion
No. Meals
Cost / Meal

Start with the rice and green chile sauce

I threw in black beans, onions and peppers

I found mixing it up was a nice finishing touch

Stir Fry

My wife suggested this one and it was a great idea. Admittedly, a little research could probably improve this one immensely but what I did worked well enough. It had the added advantage of using rice which meant I could make a pot of rice every few days and use it for both the burrito and the stir fry.

I went with a pretty basic approach. I first browned the tofu in some hot oil. At the same time I defrosted some frozen vegetables (about 2 min in a bowl in the microwave, stirring halfway through). Then I put the vegetables on the oil. Then I added the tofu and cabbage back in.

Stir Fry

Brown Rice
Frozen vegetables
Soy Sauce
Olive oil
Extra Firm Tofu
No Meals
Cost / Meal

The ingredients assembled 
After browning the tofu I threw everything else in

Just a dap of sauce

Add a few peanuts for garnish


For the spaghetti dinner, I tried mashing peeled tomatoes (to get less sugar and salt that traditional canned sauce). I neglected to use spices. I think next time I will just get one or two dollar spice packs of Italian seasoning. The cost of this per meal could have been lower but I ate out with friends a few nights and never got around to making a second meal.

Spaghetti Dinner

Bell Pepper
Tomatoes (for sauce)
Olive oil
No Meals
Cost / Meal

Closing thoughts

The 1-quart zip-lock bags were great for covering the open cans and storing the vegetables, rice and leftovers. I almost did not get these but a friend asked me to pick up a few for his meals. I was really glad he did.

What was interesting was that I found that I was not hungry between meals. The food was filling as well as less expensive. Those that know me know that this is not a small feat. I was still running between six andnine miles per day this entire time. But with a burrito the size of two fists managed to keep me happy all afternoon.

I was also less stressed than others who had to drive around post, wait in lines and barely had time to make it back to class. I went back to my room, fixed up my lunch and then read for about 20 minutes before heading back to class. I am calling that another win.

Overall it was a fun and successful experiment that I will repeat next time I am at a hotel with a kitchenette. And I can now answer my colleagues with my $1 burrito.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Running to the Crater

Ft. Lee and the Petersburg National Battlefield


As part of my other career, I got a chance to go to the Army Logistics University at Ft. Lee, VA. As is my MO for these trips I did a recon on Google Earth. I was thrilled to see a national park right adjacent to Ft. Lee. As I learned from a trip to PA, historic sites often have great trails.
Ft. Lee is to the east

My next step was to research where we were staying. I looked up the location of Ft. Lee’s lodging and downloaded the map from the NationalParks.

When my fellow soldier and I got to Ft. Lee, I pulled  up where we were staying and made the very pleasant discovery that I appeared to be right next to the battlefield.

While it was later in the afternoon, I none-the-less went out on a recon jog and found that the parking lot / trailhead on the map was indeed less than a quarter mile from post lodging and could be access on foot. I carried along my military ID as I would be going on and off post. But no car was required. Nice

A 5.5 mile random wander through the Petersburg Battlefield

General Overview of the Trails

Trailhead from the Ft. Lee Parking
You can make most any loop here from one to twenty miles (although you would start to repeat yourself a bit after 10 miles). The yellow and red coded trails are dirt trails. Most of them are old dirt roads. A few of them are single track for short distances and a few are mowed grass.

Typical Dirt Road Section

Typical Trail Section
The only trail that was not that fun was the Mortar Loop Trail in the north part of the battlefield park. This overgrown road was rutted but overgrown with grass. This feature made it rather easy to twist your ankle .

The trails system has multiple orientation points that also show up on the park map. Were you in charge of a morning’s PT here you could make it a fun running / orienteering challenge.  Even short of this game, it makes for a good way to remember your route.

Orientation Marker
 For those looking for a bit of winding single track the Buell Trail near the Crater was just the ticket. The stretch between points P and Q was also fun.

The green trails on the park service maps are basically paved waking paths. These are still worth taking though since they often lead you past some of the neatest historical features.

One of the paved Green trails
Here is a complete Google Earth file of the trails, orientation makers and trail names.

Some good routes

 There are enough trails that you can make a loop (or semi-loop) of almost any distance. For those looking for a short foray, you can stay fairly close to home for a 5k Loop.

5k Loop
If you want to do the perimeter of the main park area this will get you around 10k. If you want to get closer to 8 miles, you can tack on a loop around the crater and run the winding Buell Trail.

10k Loop


Beautiful trails can be found where you go in the world, but not all of them are steeped in history - hence I did many stops on my runs. Petersburg was a multi-month siege (or sorts) that happened just before the end of the civil war. Among its prominent moments was an infamous moment in engineering history – “the crater” when Union sappers bored under confederate lines and on June 30th 1864 they blew a hole in the confederate lines. Sadly (for the Union) "rehearsals" were poor and the follow through did not match the execution of the breach. The hole and the main location of the charges can still be seen today.

For those from Maine it is also the site of another I-will-never-be-that-much-of-a-man Joshua Chamberlain story. While leading a charge against the confederates, Chamberlain was shot through both hips. Refusing to fall in front of his men he propped himself on his sword until his brigade had passed. Then he collapsed from lack of blood. Grant, believing he would die (a view shared by most who were on-scene), promoted him to brigadier general – the only such battlefield promotion of the war. He gave the finger to death and went on to accept the confederate surrender as the 5th Corps Commander.

Sunrise over the crater

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Cold Spring Campgrounds

Memorial Day Weekend Camping with a 5-month-old
24 – 25 May 2014

We finally took Knud Peter “Little Man” Hermansen on his first camping trip. I had been talking about camping as a family for several months but it was Alita who, so to speak, took the tent and ran with it. We really enjoyed the campsite and had a fun camping adventure with the growing family and friends.

Group Photo at the top of the Vista Hike

Choosing the Campsite

We settled on Cold Springs Campground in the Arapahoe National Forest near Black Hawk, CO. This modest campsite contained a mix of RV, car and walk-in sites. But the first thing that drew us to it was that it was less than an hour from Boulder. While we did not intend to bail, it was nice to know that if little man decided that he really no longer liked camping we could finish the night in our own bed. The campsite was also very close to Golden Gate Canyon State Park which gave us some great options for hikes (which we did not take advantage of . . . this time).

We stayed at Site 23 which was a surprisingly good choice. There were enough trees around to provide good cover as well as anchor sites for our tarp.

While not as fancy as other set-ups, the tarp performed well
We liked the far end of the campsite. Even on Memorial Day weekend the foot and vehicle traffic around this end of the campsite was pretty light. We camped with some friends and found that sites 19 and 23 made a good pair if you choose more than one. Even though they do not appear to be next to each other they were actually pretty close and easy to walk between

For the far end of the campsite I should point out that locations show on the reservations site map are approximate. For this end of the campsite I put down my own locations on this Google Earth kml file.

The campsite is also pretty family friendly. There is a playground but we did not use this – we had a thousand-plus acre playground all around us.

Hikes from the Campsite

The group of us that came up decided to do this hike that started from a "Vista" trail marker on the far end of the campground. It was a quarter mile round-trip hike that brought one to a beautiful vista that looked over the surrounding peaks and Highway 119. Rarely do you get such reward for so little effort. It was also very doable for the herd of kids that we had with us.

Vista Hike
Calling it a trail may be a bit generous. While it was easy to find a safe way to the top, it was not a well worn path.

As this picture shows, the Vista hike is more of a route than a trail
The other nice walk from the campsite was an old road the departed from near Site 20. It must have been part of the campground at some point because there was a bounty of old campsite markers and even an old toilet. We went about a mile down the road to where it intersected another dirt road. It was an easy walk even if you are carrying a baby (a rugged stroller may even have done the trick).

As a closing gear plug, we found  REI's Hobitat 4 to have ample space for two adults, a pack-n-play and a dog.

Suffice to say we'll probably pitch a tent here again.