Thursday, February 19, 2009

Camp Belly-Full

Ah, the joys of camping: impossibly starry skies, long walks, mesmerizing campfires, hot dogs on a stick.

Umm. No. Not for me and mine. Yes to the stars, the walks, the fires. But the food, as always, has to be Real (not that we never eat a hot dog in our house, but that's a breakfast or a snack, not a dinner--and it has to be of the highest quality).

When we camp, as whenever we travel, we cook real food and find great pleasure in it. And we continue to use what we have and let nothing go to waste--the Frugalista part of me does not "go on vacation" (or, to be more accurate, she goes with me on my vacation.) Depending on your roughing-it sensibility, you may think that we take a ridiculous amount of kitchen equipment with us, but if you were to come camping with us, I'd bet real money that you'd be among the group that ends up at our site enjoying the wine and cheese and homemade crackers. And maybe staying for the Moroccan chicken . . .

Last weekend we went camping with the kids and another family. We had planned to share the cooking of a few dinners, but I brought lots of extra food, as there is something in me that can't do food in any way except in abundance. I do always sketch out the main meals, but I like to leave room for little serendipities by having an array of choices for lunches-- including leftovers, a few items that keep (such as dry chorizo and canned tuna), and hoping for the kids' fishing expeditions to be blessed by the Cane Pole Gods. My friends brought several dozen of their amazing eggs and some of the bounty from their garden (remember, February is peak growing season in SoFLa).

Our dinners were lovely standby dishes: grass-fed beef chili, Moroccan chicken--with figs, dutch oven chuck roast with dried and fresh mushrooms. All with salads that had Mary's fresh greens with her wonderful salad dressings (inspired by Nourishing Traditions). We also served other vegetables swimming in raw butter. We had flowers on the table, thanks to my sweetheart and Valentine's day. While dinner was simmering, we did have that wine and cheese, also some Belgian beer and pate brought from Europe, and a bowl of Mary's tomatoes and radishes (with raw butter, as I remember from my student days in France).

By bringing the foundation fixings and being flexible, we end up with some great daytime meals. I baked some coconut flour crackers the night before we left, using the bread recipe in Bruce Fife's Cooking with Coconut Flour (when it is cool, I slice it thin and dry in a low oven overnight). I brought a leftover roast pork shoulder, some bacon, lots of eggs, coconut flour and seasonings. There was plenty of fruit: apples, bananas, clementines, strawberries, and Mary's homegrown papaya. In addition to the tuna and chorizo, lunch-y stuff included cheese, hard-boiled eggs, nut butter and raisins.

The deities must have been smiling as the fish were hoppin' this trip:
the kids caught 13 fish between the time we arrived at the campground and breakfast the next morning. This is what we ate for our first breakfast: I cut the pork shoulder, fat and meat, into 1/2" pieces and fried them until really crisp. These got scooped into a bowl and the fish got a turn in the wonderful fat left by the carnitas--dredged first in seasoned coconut flour. I should point out that the kids all clean their own fish, so what I was working with were whole clean small fish, minus the heads (which I did not save because it was so warm the ice was rapidly melting and I was nervous to put anything so perishable into my coolers--normally I would have made stock from them). After the fish were brown and the tails crisp as chips, I fried eggs in the leftover fat. We ate all of that with a fruit salad and tea. Mmmm.

Sunday we only had one fish--a bigger one, so while I did fry the rest of the pork shoulder the same way as the day before, I also made a dish of sauteed green apples and onions, accompanied by scrambled eggs (and the one fish). By Saturday, the dads had arrived--they hadn't come with us the first day due to work obligations. So we had coffee out of the camp percolator pot Sunday--a rare time I allow myself coffee because it just seems to be right, standing next to last night's smoldering campfire.

Our final breakfast was eggy coconut pancakes (no measuring, always different) with local honey and raw butter, bacon, strawberries and papaya. And coffee. Which does not make me jittery at all when we camp--interesting, no? I spent the afternoon sketching and painting--so serene in the breeze. The more intrepid amongst us hiked to the spot where Rick had found a large Diamond-back rattlesnake and got a taste of the Wilderness That Will Not Be Tamed (despite the only 50 or so miles to Miami). I contented myself with the photographic evidence and that fact that I didn't end up driving anyone that 50 miles for antivenin. Yikes. Are pancakes enough fortification for that?

Lunches are more relaxed at Camp Belly-full, as the kids come and go from fishing and the grownups graze between walks and reading in the shade. The little ones (7 and almost 4) made themselves "ants on a log" (nut butter in celery sticks topped with raisins), the grownups had leftover-fish-turned-into-salad and hard-boiled eggs, the teens had cheese, chorizo and fruit. I soaked some calabaza (a winter squash) seeds in salted water the first night and pan toasted them two days later for a nibble. We had crackers, cheese and pate for afternoon tummy grumbles. Somehow, all the bellies did get fed.

A couple of highlights particular to this trip:

Mary brought black-ripe plantains, which she and Sammy proceeded to roast in peeled sections over the campfire each night like marshmallows on sticks, until charred and caramelized. Though they lost a few into the blaze, it was both treat and entertainment--something I need to remember for the future. I know the kids want me to bring my homemade marshmallows on a trip sometime, but this was so easy, real food, and even GAPS-legal. Now, that's a treat!

The other cool thing was a miserly-healer-mama's dream: the kids found that our fire ring was surrounded by fire ants. How fitting. And they found this out the hard way, as kids will, with multiple bites to their feet and legs. Ouch. As we were pondering what to do to relieve the pain for our screaming little ones, we remembered the papaya--or more specifically the seeds. Crushed to a chunky paste between two small cutting boards, the seeds made the perfect dressing for the inflamed bites. Did you ever hear of the Florida Cracker remedy to use Accent on bites? The enzymes in the Accent "digest" the toxins that insects leave behind, relieving pain and perhaps preventing the little pustule that red ants bites always seem to create. Well, papaya has these enzymes naturally.

I did get a head-shaking response when I saved the calabaza seeds, but the papaya seeds were acknowledged as a wonderful use of something that would have been thrown away. They actually had been saved to use as papaya "pepper" once dried (see Nourishing Traditions), but the kids were very glad they had such odd and frugal mamas once the seeds were commandeered for first aid purposes.

I really don't want you to shake your head wondering "how does she do it?" because in reality it ends up easier than cooking at home. I bring a camp-stove and a small table, one large cast iron skillet, a dutch oven, and a light enamel pot (for veggies, tea water, etc). I have two picnic hampers with seasonings, tea, coffee, the percolator, a tablecloth, utensils, flatware, cups and enameled tin dishes. Two medium coolers held the perishable food for five people for almost four days, with lots left over, and there were two cloth bags with dry things (the wine, olive oil, tuna, chorizo, nut butter, raisins, etc). Yes, it involves some planning and preparation, which I did the day before we left. But once we are there, I just make the meals we have with us, none takes too long, and anything eaten in the outdoors is delicious.

You may have to come with us to believe me, I know, so let's plan a trip to the Outdoors. We can leave our kitchen perfectionism behind and enjoy real food, however it turns out, under the stars.

And don't worry, there were no snakes in the campground. Really. Gators, now that's another story. . .


Justine said...

From Susane-

I have to say that I truly enjoy your writing.... it mentally "transports" me to where you were with a feeling of "I wish I was truly there"!

The only thing missing here was to say "where" you enjoyed this beautiful and delicious time all together!

All the best!

Your admirer/fan Susane! :-)

Justine said...


You are a very sweet fan!

We were at Big Cypress Preserve, where the kids love to fish . . .


FoodRenegade said...

We camped a LOT when I was a kid. Now that I'm an adult, I wish I did this more with my own kids.

Justine said...

Funny, I grew up in New York City and camping was an alien thing for me. Now I love it, though we don't get to do enough of it. It really is such a great family time, which we really started only a few years ago. The kids beg to go . . .

Anonymous said...

Ooooh, Justine. So delicious. I really need to stop reading your posts at lunchtime...

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