Thursday, August 12, 2010

Setting up Camp

Those who know me know that I'm not exactly a roughing it kind of girl.  Despite having a crunchy hippie side I am most definitely a city girl who's preferred vacation excursions involve posh hotels and fancy restaurants.  That's partly because I am a spoiled brat who was lucky enough to have parents who treated me to these fancy vacations.  "Roughing it" meant going to our beach house that doesn't have a dishwasher.  My husband had a decidedly different upbringing.  His parents own a trailer that they drove (and still drive) all around the U.S., and would set the boys up outside in a tent.  When he was old enough to go on his own, he spent many weekends taking backpacking and canoeing trips.  But he hasn't done that in years, certainly not since I came into his life.  The closest he's gotten to camping was our New Zealand OCV, which was basically our apartment on wheels.
A few years ago, my parents returned to their hippie roots (being crunchy is in my blood) and started camping again.  For several weekends every summer they rent a site on Moon Island in Squam Lake, New Hampshire.  The island has no electricity, a composting toilet and is reached via kayak or canoe.  When they told me they wouldn't be using one of the weekends they reserved this summer, I knew I was in trouble.  It took me several weeks to tell Derek about the available site and he got so excited that I quickly needed to come to terms with the realization that I was going camping.  Real, dirty, roughing it camping.

Of course the only way for me to really get excited over this weekend was to approach it as I approach most life events - Top Chef Challenge!  Cook for 5 friends for a weekend using only what you can carry in 1 cooler cooking everything over a camp fire!  Does anyone doubt that I could pull this off?

There was a lot of preparation that went into this weekend, starting with hauling lots of boats.
We invited Lucy and her husband, Jon, and our friend Seth to join us for the weekend.  The plan was to row over with 1 canoe and 5 kayaks, 2 of the kayaks being towed so we could paddle around with them on Saturday.  

Turns out, we needed every single inch of boat space to haul all our stuff.
We battled some choppy waters but arrived safely on the island.  And I had to admit, it was really pretty up there.
While everyone unpacked and assembled tents, I started setting up my kitchen.  We picked up a great camp kitchen at REI, on sale for only $30, and my dad had a kitchen setup as well.  So we brought both!
Seth happily started a fire while the rest of us started drinking.  That's a camp activity I can get behind.
Per usual, I was cooking for a variety of food tastes.  Seth is a vegetarian, and I was happy to accommodate him.  For our first night, I heated up some of my dad's gumbo over the fire for the carnivores and a very seasonal veggie stew for Seth.  I also heated up some cheesy cornbread on the side.
My parents got those camping pots as a wedding present 40 years ago.  They're still going strong (the pots and my parents).
A little in-studio shot of the veggie stew

Dessert that night was, for me, the highlight of the trip.  Campfire s'mores made with my own homemade graham crackers.  God bless Smitten Kitchen for posting this amazing recipe.  Unfortunately, we were too busy toasting marshmallows in the dark to take any pictures, but I got some glamour shots at home. Turns out, you can make a mean s'more under the broiler.

Check out these fun marshmallow flavors I ordered from Whimsy & Spice in Brooklyn.

Saturday morning I whipped up our usual weekend breakfast - blueberry pancakes.  Lucy picked wild blueberries on the island to add to the pancake batter I made the night before we left.  Leveling the griddle over the campfire proved a bit of a challenge, but the boys were up to the task.
Well fed, we suited up and set off for a day of kayaking.
Quite a look, huh?  My sunglasses broke just before we left the house, but luckily Seth had these back-ups in his car.  They're very Daisy, don't you think?

We spent the day exploring the other little islands on the lake.
And stopped to eat ham and cheese sandwiches on a tiny island Seth declared his own.  We called it Blueberry Clam Island.  For the blueberries and clams on it.

Then back to the site for more eating and drinking!  I'm starting to like this vacation.  For Saturday night dinner, I faced a piece of beef shoulder tender that required me to slice off the thin layer "silver skin" on either side.  I definitely need to work on my butchery skills.
We grilled some corn over the fire and threw some potatoes wrapped in foil in with the coals.  Then grilled the beef with some delicious chipotle-cherry BBQ sauce I made.
Jon taught me the very scientific technique of testing the meat's doneness by poking it with your finger.  Well, it worked.  The meat was perfect with a nice crust from the sweet and spicy BBQ sauce.
My favorite part of this meal was the delicious panzanella I made by grilling leftover cornbread and tossing it with tomatoes, grilled onions and arugula.  Give it a shot!

Cornbread Panzanella
adapted from Epicurious
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

4 large tomatoes, chopped
1 small bunch of arugula, roughly torn
2 medium onions
olive oil for brushing
  • For Dressing: whisk together, vinegar, mustard and honey.  Slowly pour in olive oil while whisking to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Can be made a ahead of time and stored in fridge.
  • For Salad: Light a grill or get some coals going on a campfire.  Halve onions and brush with olive oil.  Brush both side of cornbread with olive oil.  Grill onions and bread until lightly charred.  Be careful not to burn the bread!
  • Thinly slice onions and toss in large bowl with tomatoes and arugula.  Slice cornbread into bite-size pieces and add to bowl.  Toss with dressing and serve.  Can be made up to an hour ahead time and kept at room (or campsite) temperature.
Dessert was gooey brownies warmed by the fire.  And Sunday morning it was time to pack up again!  But first I scrambled some eggs and threw in whatever was left in the cooler.  One pan scrambled in a little bacon fat with corn, tomatoes, potatoes and steak and the other in olive oil with just the veggies.
Please ignore the day 3 greasy hair.
Lucy and Jon brought this amazing Peanut Butter and Co. Dark Chocolate Dreams.  Pure chocolate peanut butter heaven.  Then it was time to pack up once again and paddle our way home.  Derek stayed hydrated as he towed.
And almost lost one more hat in the lake.

So how was my first real camping experience?  Overall, I had a lot of fun.  Yes, I accumulated more dirt under my fingernails than I thought possible but I got to share good food with good friends, enjoy some gorgeous scenery, and see more stars than I knew existed.  And we most definitely ate well.  We even came home with some watermelon-tomato gazpacho that we didn't get to eat!  But you definitely should.
This is great for camping because it can be eaten cold (or at whatever temperature your cooler is) and is a wonderful hot weather dish to make at home because no cooking is required.

Watermelon-Tomato Gazpacho
2 cups watermelon cubes
4 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 medium cucumber, peeled and chopped
2 medium bell peppers, chopped
1 small sweet onion, diced
2 Tbs red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
a few dashes of sriracha (or hot sauce of choice)
salt and pepper
  • Add watermelon to blender and blend until pureed.
  • divide tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and onions in half.  Place half of vegetables in a large bowl, and add other half of vegetables to blender and blender until pureed.
  • Add vinegar, olive oil, sriracha and salt and pepper to taste in blender and blend until combined.  This dish needs a bit of heat, but don't go overboard on the hot sauce.  You can always add more.
  • Pour blended vegetables into bowl over chopped vegetables, cover and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.  Serve chilled.


  1. Crazy Naked Bucket ManAugust 12, 2010 at 10:33 AM


  2. Wow, you really roughed it... I definitely could not have done it. Wicked proud of you! And yes your glamor shots look delicious!!!

  3. Oh before I even saw my shoutout I thought - i love her shades, I need a pair in that color. This is a great post, it looks like so much fun and I am very impressed at all the meals prepared while roughing it. I love Lake Squam, the little islands, and the stars are definitley one of the best parts!

  4. You're kind of my hero; who goes camping with a panzanella salad?! LOVE IT!!

  5. What a fun (and delicious!) trip. Wish I could have tried that gazpacho looks lovely!

  6. Poking it is testing the firmness of the meat I learned it from watching Hell's Kitchen lol

    Rare is soft and spongy and well done being very firm, with Steak.

  7. Can't believe you did 'in studio shots'!! Unreal. Looked awesome. You survived the wild!