I love camping. This surprises some people. I didn’t grow up camping. My family didn’t and doesn’t camp. The Briggsy’s were always more of the cable tv, hairdryer, rental condo types when we went to our vacay destinations. Some of them were classically midwestern destinations. Did anyone go to Destin, Florida or Hilton Head, South Carolina who wasn’t from the midwest? I’ve yet to find anyone.
Anyway, not me. Ever since I lived in NYC, I’ve loved being out around rivers and trees, grilling my food, peeing in the woods drinking beer and swapping stories. Now don’t get me wrong, the ocean is cool and all, but there’s something about a river. It’s interesting, I grew up swimming in nothing but my grandma’s pool. AKA, the best place ever and site of awesome memories like cannonballing off the diving board (and slide!) to the tune of “Summer of ’69” and “Don’t You Want Me” (those stand out for some reason), but living in the state famous(y) for the mighty Mississippi, which is really boring to a kid. Mark Twain, dialect, steamboats. Yep, fascinating. I first saw the ocean at 19. Then in the seven years I spent in NYC, I was close to the Atlantic, but was too hipstery to venture out of pants into shorts and out of the bar too often too visit. Now I live surrounded by water and bridges. Namely, the Puget Sound, which is kinda the ocean, but not. I don’t know, I tune out when people try to describe what the Sound is exactly. Do I have to know everything?
So my current love is rivers. The gorgeous, crashing, mountain-fed rivers of Washington are amazing. I remember when I really fell in love with rivers though, and it was on the Current River in southern Missouri. This happened on what people in St. Louis would call a “float trip.” You know those Facebook quizzes, “You Know You’re from _____ When…” Yep, you do. Well, the standby for St. Louis, MO, goes a little something like this. You Know You’re From Miz-ur-ah when everyone in your family has been on a “float trip.” You coasters don’t know living till your asses go on a float trip. Yeah, people may go tubing in Anytown, USA, but that shit ain’t no float trip. A float trip is getting a bunch of friends, camping in stifling heat and humidity where you basically have to stay in the water until you go to sleep because it’s just that hot, floating down a REALLY slow moving river all day, drinking 12-18 beers out of a beer tube with your beer snug in its cozy, complete with neck strap. You do NOT want to waste a beer, watching it float slowly away down the river.
MO float trips are like this…
For a better sense of a MO float trip, I draw your attention to this, the second picture that comes up when one Google image searches “Missouri float trip.” Awesome!
When I did my only (for shame!) float trip back in ’05, I have a vivid memory of stopping on the side of the river while a barely moving speed boat blasted Nelly (this was at the height of Nelly mania, which swept the country and left St. Louisans swollen with pride) and everyone danced and sang along. Good times. I mean, come on:
That’s a good-ass song, amIright folks? Plus, the Arch! Missouri’s unfortunate teal license plates…cuz nothing says Mississippi River like the color teal! Rams and Blues jerseys! Cute STL kids bouncing on big wheels! And a big ass jar of Maull’s bbq sauce for some St. Louis style BBQ! I’m from da Lou and I’m proud! True story.
Anyway, I flew into St. Louis back in the summer of ’05, frustrated with the city, relationship-less. Days later I’m in a tube, arms rubbed raw from paddling my old truck tire tube, looking at trees, floating and drinking beer. Not hearing or smelling or dealing with a NYC August. I had stars in my eyes. I realized that I needed nature. This is where it began. Fast forward a couple three months and I meet Double S (Tres romantique!), and 14 months later I land in Seattle. So now, even though I can go to the coast and the Sound and a mighty Lake, I choose rivers. So this is what Double S and I (and Double S’s kid bro) did this past weekend. And it was awesome.
For our fourth annual camping trip together, we headed to the Yakima area, where we camped at Cottonwood Campground. I hate to give this secret away, because this place is truly river-side nature at it’s finest. One, it’s hot. Two, it’s sites are all adjacent to the Naches River. By the way, y’all really need to grow a pair and swim in cold water. It’s good for you. Three, you can float in a tube tied to a tree, or you can be adventurous and float down the river. We did, and found a swimming hole! Just don’t go there and take my favorite site when I want to be there.
Why is someone welding during Mr. Money’s video shoot? And hey, listen to more Eddie Money. Dude is sure ugly, but his songs are pretty effin’ sweet.
I like to not let the fact that I’m outdoors stifle my food obsessed leanings, so I usually go all out. Double S and I are at an advantage because before we resided at the homestead, we lived in a 325 sq foot apartment with a kitchen that basically had a two burner hot plate and no oven. So often we were out on our stoop (Can I call something in Seattle a stoop? It wasn’t a deck, wasn’t a patio, wasn’t a porch. Anyone?) cooking up delicious fineries on our Coleman propane stove. I took this camping trip as an opportunity to get my chillax on AND to make some of my faves and to try out a few new recipes I’d had bookmarked for awhile.
First, I did some leg work at home. I had previously made Smitten Kitchen’s Watermelon Lemonade, with much success, with added vodka, but this time we tried it straight. You have got to try this. It’s actually better without alcohol, and perfect for an afternoon by the river. It’s summery and ultra refreshing. It kind of makes you feel better just for drinking it. Perfect for camping and the great outdoors. Double S guzzled this like it was going out of style! I made a ton of it and thus sprayed watermelon puree all over the kitchen at 9am on Friday morning–do not overflow your food processor. Do I ever learn? This juice is easy to make for a group, well, except for all that lemon squeezing. Puree half a watermelon, squeeze a bunch of lemons and strain out the seeds. Add water and simple syrup or agave nectar to taste–you actually need less than SK calls for. Chill. Exclaim with glee at how good this stuff is!
I had also been wanting to try cold brewed iced coffee. I found this recipe in the NYT and went to town. I wanted enough for 3, so I used the NYT’s proportions but upped it–I used a full cup of coffee grounds. You simply add coffee to water and put it in a big mason jar. Let the jar sit on the counter or in the fridge for some set of time. Your choice. I read anywhere from 3-24 hours. Mine steeped for about 14 hours. Then strain. Have something else to do, because this takes a while. I first strained it through a mesh sieve, then through coffee filters. Yes, filterS, as this process used about 3-4 filters and took awhile. Upon later research, friendly interweb commentators recommend making this in a french press, which I deem genius, but obvs you cannot make it in the large quantities that people want to drink iced coffee while camping, so figure it out. Much has been written about cold brewed iced coffee. It has less acid, so those with bad stomachs (Ed’s Note: that’s me!) can guzzle it without problems. It kinda fits the aesthetics of this blog. You make it in advance, let it sit in a jar on the counter and hope for the best. Hot coffee is just an instant kind of coffee, not the only kind. Cold brewing is just another way that takes longer. And cold brewed coffee only gives you about 15% of the acids and oils that are present in hot coffee. I can’t say I had my flip-flops knocked off (Camping!) or anything, but I like getting less acid. Verdict: More experimentation needed to see if this will work for me in the long run, but great for having iced coffee readily available while camping, because that’s just something I need, ok?
And, because I’m insane, I also made chocolate chip cookies. I originally typed choco chip cookies, and I declare that I prefer this name for these perfect specimens of all that is or has ever been right with anything.
I have previously made the NYT recipe for cookies, as blogged by Orangette. This time I tried Alton Brown’s recipe. Alton is the man! The main diff is that Alton melts the butter and uses all bread flour and majority brown sugar, and he isn’t so strict with the chill time. Results: Chewy and delicious! Problem once we were camping: We ran out of icy cold mild. Jokes about how wholesome it was to run out of MILK while camping ensued. But these choco chip cookies were good, yos! Note: Watch these suckers carefully if you make them. They can burn in a matter of seconds. Even the overly browned ones (two trays worth–I suck!) were good, just a little dry and not as visually pleasing.
Beyond this prep work experimentation, we also made some camping classics. As I’ve blogged, I love Thundering Hooves ground beef. So we made my favorite burgers in the world, this time on charcoal, to awesome results as usual. Again: Thundering Hooves beef (or your own local grass-fed beef) rubbed with a quality steak seasoning, a GOOD bun/roll rubbed lightly with butter or olive oil and fresh garlic, good dill pickles, fresh or grilled onion, little bit of mayo and mustard. Aww yeah! But we didnt stop. Double S and I watch a lot of Chopped, which btw is way better than this season’s abysmal Top Chef. Down with Angelo! And with Alex! These two d-bags make Stefan from a few seasons back seem like Mr. Nice Guy. Anyway, we were channeling Chopped as we improvised new recipes at the picnic table. I made a quick pickle that turned out well: fresh cuke, radish, and a brine of white wine vinegar, touch of sugar, salt, fresh red onion and garlic, after the cuke had sat for a bit in some salt and olive oil.
I also made an improvised massaged kale with kale from the homestead. I massaged it! And added olive oil, lemon, kosher salt, and lotsa fresh garls. Delish! Use up that kale! Ours is huge!
Plus we made picture perfect baked taters. Do you know how? Scrub your Russet potatoes (the best choice for baking)and pierce each tater 8-10 times, all over said potato. Coat liberally with olive oil and lotsa kosher salt. If you’re at home, back unwrapped in a 350 oven (right on the rack) for one hour. If you’re camping (and you should be!) do the same prep, then wrap them in foil and set them over hot coals, not over the flames, rotating them early and often, for about 45-60 minutes.
Don’t forget how to ready them for the table. Make a slight slit in the middle, then squeeze ’em. For toppings, my fave is to mix a good sour cream with fresh chives (preferably the tops of the onions from your garden) and salt. Nature’s sour cream and onion chip! That’s all you need. But Double S also carmelized some onions and added ‘shrooms. This was a delicious addition to the sour cream and chives.
Double S also made another dish that’s become a standby on our camping trips, tandoori chicken. Saying this never fails to impress. OK, it’s tandoori style chicken. Chicken marinated overnight in yogurt and tandoori seasoning, lemon and salt. Double S then grills it up on our grill plate on the Coleman stove, adding lemon and salt to taste. We use Rajah tandoori spice, which you can find at your local Indian grocer. We could make our own tandoori seasoning mix from toasted herbs, and I’m sure that would be better, but we haven’t gotten around to that yet. We often eat this with naan or parathas (easily grillable on the Coleman griddle), but this time we had rice.
I also made a salad where I (in Chopped fashion) improvised a delicious dressing with coriander chutney we brought as a dipping sauce. Oil, fresh garl, white wine vinegar, lemon and chutney to taste. Thundering Hooves burgs, baked taters and quick pickle and massaged kale. Sweet!
Last year I read Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life. I was reading the beginning of it during a camping trip to Lopez Island, so I decided to make her recipe for her dad’s (Burg’s) french toast. I highly recommend it, and it has since become a camping morning staple. The batter involves eggs, whole milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and salt, and cooking it in quite a bit of oil. Read the book, and make this recipe!
Are you camping this summer? Any campground tales of food experimentation and success? Favorite Washington campgrounds? Cottonwood is pretty sweet, and you drive home through Naches and the Yakima area, so you can pick up a flat of fruit on your way home, so make room in the back seat! I recommend McIlrath family farms, whose farm stand you’ll hit on your way out of town on Highway 12. They grow organic cherries and use mainly sustainable farming practices, and they are the only stand we saw that was organic, so thanks to Double S’s little bro’s awesome driving and my eagle eye, we hit the stand on the way home. I picked up a flat of apricots. Stay tuned for what I did with them!
Happy Friday everybody, and get out there and camp!