Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Retro Recipe: Campsite Quickie

There's so much to say about this Betty Crocker recipe. I love that they couldn't think up a better name than "Can Opener Chicken." Because what's more appetizing than a can opener, right? And I like the traditional pear-chow mein-tomato combo.

Yet, though I mock, if you look at the recipe you'll see it's super easy to make and only has a few ingredients, so if chow mein floats your boat this would probably make a good camping meal. And because I enjoy experimenting on my children I might very well try this out. On a dark night when they couldn't see their plates.

Traditional Chinese fare

Easy breazey, don't mock Betty!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Spring Camping Tips (Don't Forget Your Jacket!)

I love camping in the spring. After being cooped up all winter long I'm ready to get out into nature and be part of it again.  Especially when everything is green and new and popping open.

We've had a few spring camping mishaps, though.  OK, more than a few.

I remember one spring we left Brooklyn on a day when it was about 80 degrees and sunny. We had the windows up in the car and the A/C on and when we arrived in Maine, I thought it was going to be balmy outside.  Instead, it was freezing! And we hadn't packed jackets! The kids were OK because they had a huge bag of clothes, so they just wore layers. But Pete and I had forgotten to pack hardly any clothes for ourselves so we just huddled together, looking pathetic. The next day we went to Goodwill and bought some very authentic-looking, lined, wool shirts that were super warm. Oh, and a funny, white crocheted blanket that looked like something at Grandma's house but was actually quite toasty.

So it all turned out OK, but, campers, let this serve as a cautionary tale to you. Pack warm clothes. Pack jackets. Pack long-sleeved shirts and even warm, wool caps.  Flannel pajamas are nice, too, and can double as long johns if it gets really nippy.

It also seems like every single time we go camping it rains on us. No, it pours.  And it's a funny feeling when you wake up at four in the morning to the rat-a-tat-tat of the rain pouring down on your tent.  On one hand, you feel cozy and happy to be in your nice tent, but on the other hand, you wonder if you're going to be soaking wet by six. 

Here are a few rain tips:
•  Set up a tarp over your tent.  This means a big tarp, and hopefully one with grommets in it at several points.  Tie it off tightly to the trees so the center forms a peak and the sides slope down, like the roof of a house.
•  Also, put a tarp under your tent for protection against the cold and wet.  
•  Sleep on foam pads, not directly on the tent floor.  That's for warmth as much as for dryness.
•  Pack rain gear like rain jackets or ponchos, rain pants and boots.
•  If all else fails, go out for pizza. We have also been known to pack it in early and go home, but you didn't hear that from me. 

In terms of bugs, one of the many nice things about spring camping is that the mosquitos aren't out in full force yet.  But bring the Skin So Soft anyway - they need to know who's boss.

And of course, pack a board game and a deck of cards. They might come in handy on a rainy day.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Drive carefully!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Spider Dogs

From The Real Family Camping Cookbook:

A classic.  Never again will you roast a plain, old hot dog over the fire.

Serves:  1

1 hot dog
catsup & mustard
a sharp knife
green, pointy sticks

1.  Cut 4 slits on each end of the hot dog.
2.  Put the hot dog on the stick in the center of the dog and cook it in the fire.
3.  The slits will curl – those are the spider legs!
4.  Eat on plate with catsup & mustard.

“I have drunk, and seen the spider.” - William Shakespeare

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Grilled Peanut Butter

From The Real Family Camping Cookbook:

This is probably what Elvis ate when he went camping.  We usually make these in a skillet, but they’re also yummy in a sandwich iron.
Serves: 1

2 T. of peanut butter
2 slices of bread
1 T. of butter

1.  Make a peanut butter sandwich.
2.  Fry the sandwich in butter.
3.  Cool and eat the sandwich.

•  Add a sliced banana, a piece of chocolate, a strip of cooked bacon or a marshmallow to your sandwich. Or add all four!

“After a hard day of basic training, you could eat a rattlesnake.” - Elvis Presley

Classic Camping Recipe: Gorp!

From The Real Family Camping Cookbook:

It’s the M&Ms that make it so healthy.

Serves:  8

2 c. of raisins, Craisins, dried pineapple, banana chips or dried apricots
2 c. of peanuts, almonds or macadamia nuts
1 c. of dark chocolate chips, peanut butter chips or m&ms

1.  Mix everything together.
2.  Divide the gorp into 8 little Ziploc bags.
3.  Serve to 8 hungry, little campers.

“In the cookie of life, friends are chocolate chips.” - Salman Rushdie

Monday, May 23, 2011

10 Fun Camping Games for Kids

These simple games are well liked by all kinds of kids, no matter what their different interests or abilities, and you can play them all without any special materials or equipment.

1. Scavenger Hunt

A scavenger hunt is a great way to get kids interested in a nature walk. You can walk along the trail while the kids hunt for things on a list and check them off as they find them. Real nature lovers leave everything just as they find it and take a picture for a keepsake.

Here are a few ideas for your list:

• a rock shaped like a heart
• a feather
• a bird’s nest
• a maple seed whirligig
• a red leaf, a green leaf and a yellow leaf
• moss
• a pinecone
• a slug
• a snail
• a frog
• a fish
• something a raccoon would like to eat
• a flying insect
• a crawling insect
• animal tracks
• scat or manure
• a snake or a worm
• a squirrel
• a flower
• a mushroom
• a tiny pebble no bigger than the fingernail on your pinkie
• something purple
• a deer
• a piece of garbage (to take with you and throw out)

2. The Alphabet Game

This game is a particular favorite with our family. The kids search the campground or trail for things that start with each letter of the alphabet, in order. It’s a fun way to explore and get the kids moving on an overcast or cooler day.  

3. Marking Trails

Kids can put bent sticks in the forks of trees or place brightly colored leaves or rocks at strategic places along the trail. They can also make arrows with stones along the trail pointing the way (at a curve in the trail, for example). Kids figure out all kinds of ways to leave markers, and it’s fun to come back the next day to see if the markers are still there.   

4. Competitions

This is an old parenting trick; using a competition to get the kids to put their socks on or clean up their toys. At the campsite, it’s fun to see who can collect the most kindling for the fire, or who can drag in the longest stick. On the trail kids can compete to see who can find the biggest rock, or who can jump and touch a tree branch, etc.

5. Fairy Houses

Little kids like to make houses to lure in homeless fairies. On a nature walk, collect interesting leaves, rocks, sticks, shells, feathers and other pretty things, and then build a tiny fairy house in the woods or brush near your campsite. A fairy house has to be built someplace secluded because fairies are shy, and it has to be attractive because fairies are very picky, aesthetically.

6. Obstacle Course

Kids love obstacle courses.  Set one up using everything in the campsite plus whatever you brought from home that might be fun.   

A typical course might look like this:

• Crawl over the picnic table
• Hop three times on each foot
• Walk around the fire pit one whole time around
• Walk to the tent only on tree roots
• Sing happy birthday
• Hang off of a tree branch
• Do 10 jumping jacks
• Bring a log to the fire pit
• Tell a knock-knock joke
• Etc.

7. Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek is a different game at the campground than at home. The kids explore all the nooks and crannies of the campsite, find weird places to hide and get to know their surroundings.

Here’s how to play, in case you don't know:

• The person who is “It” covers her eyes and counts to 10 (or whatever number you decide on). 

• After she is finished counting she yells, “Ready or not, here I come!” and runs around and finds everybody in their hiding places.

• The last one to be found is “It” the next time (or the winner, depending on how you look at it).

8. Duck, Duck, Goose!

Another classic game that makes kids laugh and scream.

Here’s how to play, in case you don't know:

• The kids all sit in a circle. The kid who is “It” walks around the outside of the circle patting each kid on the head and saying “duck” for each one.

• When the kid who is “It” gets to the kid he wants to chase him, he yells, “goose!” and runs around the circle, with the “goose” chasing him.  If the “goose” catches him, the “goose” gets to sit back down. But if he doesn’t catch the first kid, the second kid is now “It” and starts around the circle again, patting heads and saying “duck, duck, duck…”

9. Bug House

Make an insect terrarium with a big piece of Tupperware or a large, glass jar.  I prefer the Tupperware, because it’s easier to see everything, but bugs escape less from the jar.

Here’s how we do it:

• Use a large container, like a big piece of Tupperware or a large, glass jar.
• Put some dirt in the bottom.
• Dig up some worms and put them in the dirt.  
• Go on a bug hunt. Step off the trail and turn over the layer of dead leaves to the soft, half-rotted layer underneath. Sift around and you will find tons of bugs.  
• Make the Bug House homey. Add some sticks, leaves, grass and couple of stones for crawling under.
• Give the bugs some food, like a little piece of fruit, and a dish of water.
• Keep the Bug House in the shade and keep the dirt moist.
• Take care of the bugs and set them free at the end of your camping trip.

10. Build a Fort

Build a special, kids-only hideout at the campsite. Here's how:

Pick a spot.
• Find an existing support you can build your fort against.  This might be a tree, a bush, a fence or a big rock.

Gather materials from the woods and campground.
• long sticks and logs
• lots of dead branches of all sizes
• old lumber

Gather materials brought from home.
• a tarp or two
• sleeping bags or blankets
• rope or string (or jumprope)

Build the fort.
• You can use a tarp as the floor, but if you don’t, sweep out and clear a nice floor for your fort.   
• Take your biggest pieces of wood and figure out how to make a frame for your fort, along with a supporting structure, like a tree or fence, or even without it.
• Tie the pieces together with rope or string.
• Fit and tie lots of thinner branches in for the walls. 
• Make sure to plan in some windows and a door.
• Make a roof out of branches, or use a tarp as the roof.
• Hold secret meetings in the fort.  This is also a good place to keep a Bug House.

Variation:  Or just build a quick tent - run a rope between two trees and sling a tarp over it. Weigh down the edges of the tarp with rocks. Done.

Have fun!

You may also like: 
 Homemade Fire Starters Put to the Test!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Oxtail Stew

A big favorite from The Real Family Camping Cookbook:

This is really for the grownups, though some kids (the smart ones!) like it. Put the pot on as soon as you start the fire in the evening and cook it until after the kids go to bed. Then have your stew with a glass of wine by the fire.  That’s what camping’s all about, Charlie Brown.

Serves:  4

6 strips of bacon
2 lb. of sliced oxtail – see TIP at the bottom.
1 small, yellow onion, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 potatoes, cubed
10 oz. of white mushrooms, sliced
1 c. of beef broth
½ c. of red wine
olive oil
½ c. of white flour
salt & pepper
large Ziploc bag

1.  Cook the bacon in the bottom of a big pot. Feed the bacon to the children. Fight off the stray dogs.
2.  In a large, Ziploc bag, put the flour 1 t. each of salt & pepper.  Add the oxtails in batches and get a kid to shake it around.
3.  Cook the oxtails in the bacon fat for about 10 minutes.  You may need to do this in batches.
4.  To the braised oxtails, add the beef broth and the wine. Cover and simmer for an hour or longer.
5.  Add the onions, carrots, potatoes and mushrooms and simmer another 30 minutes or so.
6.  Serve with fresh biscuits and butter and a big glass of red wine.

•  Oxtails can usually be found pre-sliced and packaged in the meat section of a supermarket. The best thing to do, though, is to find a butcher who carries it fresh and ask to have it sliced there.

“If you were plowing a field, which would you rather use? Two strong oxen or 1024 chickens?” - Seymore Cray

Bacon Salad

From The Real Family Camping Cookbook:

We call this bacon salad because then the kids forget it has vegetables in it.

Serves: 4

3/4 lb. of green beans, with the ends snapped off
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
4 oz. of Parmesan cheese, shredded
4 strips of bacon, cooked crisp

1.  Put the veggies and cheese into a large pot or bowl.
2.  Crumble the bacon in and toss the salad gently.
3.  Serve with a creamy dressing, like Ranch.

  Try with different veggies like cauliflower and broccoli.
  Try with other dressings, like soy-ginger, poppy seed or French.

“We don't need a melting pot in this country, folks. We need a salad bowl. In a salad bowl, you put in the different things. You want the vegetables - the lettuce, the cucumbers, the onions, the green peppers - to maintain their identity. You appreciate differences.” - Jane Elliot

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Packing the Coolers for Camping

Our two coolers on a recent outing to NJ, the Garden State.
While the kids mainly like to eat marshmallows when we're camping, us grownups like to sit down at the end of the day and have a nice meal.  To us, that means using fresh ingredients, so we take our cooler packing pretty seriously.  Here’s our strategy:
1.  Use decent coolers.  In spite of being the cheapest people in the world, we do own two semi-decent coolers. I think we bought ours at the Pharmacy next to Mrs. Green’s in Ossining, NY (shout out to the Pharmacy - they have one of everything, and not too expensive). Anyway, they’re Coleman brand and they were about forty bucks each, but any heavy plastic coolers with handles and wheels and little plugs at the bottom for letting out the water will do. 

TIP: Coolers double as stools.  

2.  Take the perishables seriously.  We use cooler #1 for serious perishables. It contains two plastic containers with lids, one for dairy and one for meat.  On top of the two boxes goes a plastic tray, on which we put perishable condiments, like catsup.  (That plastic tray was something that broke off of a piece of kid’s furniture, as I recall. You probably have something like that around the house.) Everything in cooler #1 is double-wrapped, usually in plastic wrap and then zipped into a Ziploc bag. 

TIP: Above all, don’t forget the salt and pepper.  It’s a sad day when you can’t have a little salt on your baked potato.

3.  Prepare the veggies at home.  Cooler #2 is for the fruits and veggies. We always clean and dry – and sometimes cut up - all our veggies at home.  This makes life a lot easier and less gritty when you’re camping.  

4.  Freeze everything beforehand.  Before we pack the coolers, we freeze around 8 big bottles of water – you know, the Poland Spring athletic size with the tops that pop up.  These go in the bottom of the coolers and any place else we can fit them. We also have quite a few ice packs we’ve collected over the years and we freeze those and squeeze them into the nooks and crannies, like inside and in between the plastic containers. We freeze all the meat, the juice if it’s in boxes, and anything else that enjoys being frozen, even the butter. This all helps to keep things cool and fresh.

TIP:  As the Poland Spring water thaws, you can drink it.

5.  Plan your meals.  We pack what we’re going to eat first at the top of the cooler. When the food is handy like that, the cooler stays open for less time, keeping the cool in.

TIP:  It’s really better to not have a lot of leftovers.  They don’t keep that well without real refrigeration and last night’s sooty burgers are not a very welcoming sight in the morning.  It’s better to figure out what you’re going to eat for each meal – more or less - and bring and cook the right amount of food. One notable exception to this rule is leftover baked potatoes, which are always a nice addition to a camping breakfast.

6.  Buy ice.  When we get near the campsite we buy two bags of ice and divide them among the coolers. Usually, one bag can go in whole with the veggies in cooler #2.  Then we divide the other bag of ice into big Ziploc bags and strategically jam them into cooler #1, and we usually have plenty left over for iced drinks! And then we just buy more ice when we need it during the trip, and we don’t open the coolers a lot.

7.  Keep the coolers cool and safe. We keep the coolers in the shade during the day.  And then we put them in the car at night so the dogs and coyotes and bears and possums can’t get them. 

8.  Keep the coolers tidy.  Don't let any messy but well-meaning family members muck about in the coolers. A neat and tidy cooler is a happy cooler. 

9.  Don't get food poisoning.  If something smells bad, it is  bad. Throw it out.  If you can’t smell things, have someone else smell it.  Don’t get Salmonella.  Please. It’s very unpleasant, particularly when you’re camping.

10.  If all else fails, order pizza. The great thing about car camping like we do is that you’re never too far from pizza, ice cream or an emergency game of Pac Man.

Now get out there and have fun!


From The Real Family Camping Cookbook:

There are infinite versions of camp stew made with leftovers.  Here’s one of ours.  

Serves: 4

3 or 4 links of Italian sausage or Kielbasa
2 or 3 leftover cooked hamburgers
1 small, yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 of both a green and a red pepper, chopped
2 c. of beef broth
2 c. of leftover cooked noodles
olive oil
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper

1.  Fry the sausages in the bottom of the pot in a little oil.  Cool and slice the sausages.
2.  Add 2 T. of olive oil to the pot and saute the onions and the rest of the veggies with the bay leaf for about 5 minutes.
4.  Add the noodles and sliced sausages and break up the leftover hamburgers into chunks in the pot. 
5.  Add the broth, mix gently and simmer for about 5 minutes. 
6.  Bon appétit!

•  We have also done something like this with leftover cooked steak.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Retro Camping Recipe: Grilled Rice Pudding!

Dessert Under the Stars.  'nuff said.  
Last year my sister gave my older son, who likes to cook, a huge box of old Betty Crocker recipe cards for his birthday and I stole them from him, because that's the kind of parent I am.  It turned out that a whole section was devoted to camping and grilling recipes or, as Betty C. calls them, "Foods That Go Places"!

Now, if you like rice pudding with canned peaches and maraschino cherries - and who doesn't? - imagine how much better it'll taste fresh off the grill!  Mmm!

Dates add a nutritional twist to this recipe.

All mockery aside, this recipe looks pretty good - not too many ingredients, easy instructions.  It's the maraschino cherries that scare me.  I think they did a study ... involving rats ... anyway, it wasn't good.  But you can always substitute some of those green cherries they put in fruit cake.  Kidding.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My book is launched! It's official!

The Real Family Camping Cookbook is officially launched.  Here's the announcement:

"CAC Digital Arts, LLC is very pleased and excited to announce the first eBook publication under the CAC Digital Arts imprint, Maggie da Silva's The Real Family Camping Cookbook. Available now for the Kindle (http://amzn.to/j01xiE) and Nook (http://bit.ly/mBp6NQ) and will be available in the iTunes store by the end of this month."

These are all the recipes we make when we go camping, based on our many hilarious mistakes and the generous and helpful hints from other campers. It was super fun to put it together and I hope you like it.

And stay tuned for the Apple version, coming soon!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Grilled Asparagus

An easy recipe for grilled asparagus from my new cookbook, The Real Family Camping Cookbook. Enjoy!

Grilled Asparagus

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

1.5 lbs. of asparagus with the bottoms snapped off
olive oil
salt & pepper

1.  If you use wooden skewers, soak them in water first so they don’t burn up on the grill.

2.  Lay 4 or 5 asparagus spears down next to each other and skewer through all of them with 2 skewers.

3.  Repeat with all of the asparagus.

4.  Brush the asparagus skewers with olive oil and lay them on the grill.

5.  Sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
6.  Grill until the asparagus is tender, 5-10 minutes, turning often.
7.  Serve with salt & pepper.

Asparagus inspires gentle thoughts.” – Charles Lamb

You may also like:
Grilled Corn, a Husks-On Approach
Bread Salad, or Panzanella
Classic Camping Recipe: Veggie Foil Packets