Thursday, September 22, 2011

Family Camping Packing Checklist

One of the things I’ve learned from camping that applies to other areas of life is that the better prepared and organized you are, the easier it is to relax and enjoy yourself. Extra batteries are always good, and knowing where they are is even better.

There are plenty of camping checklists on the Internet. But this is what we bring when we go camping. (And thanks to my friends over at for asking.)

Family Camping Checklist
For 2 adults, 3 kids, a station wagon and a seltzer maker.

Important Things
I.D./reservation info/directions/$ (wallet)
Cel phone/charger

Tarps and rope
Sleeping pads (we use foam mattresses from IKEA)
Sleeping bags (kids)
Sheets & blankets (grownups)
Bear spray (pepper spray) – I keep this in the tent, figuring most bears would come when we’re asleep looking for food, not when we’re awake banging around

Light & Fire
Lanterns (battery-operated)
Batteries (+extras)
Matches and bic lighters AND a stove lighter (the long kind)
Firestarters or newspaper
Hatchet to cut wood into kindling
Pocket knife
Tiki torches, cans and fluid
Solar lights

1st Aid
Bug spray – the health food store kind for regular nights
Bug spray – the poisonous kind for mosquito swarms
Sun screen
1st Aid Kit – bandaids, aspirin, calamine lotion, tweezers, antibiotic cream, things like that - anything more serious and we’re going to town
Prescription meds (bring extra)
Sun glasses

Toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss
Hair brush & hair bands
Feminine hygiene products - tampons & pads
Toilet paper
Towels (will double as beach towels)

(Pack plenty of extras if you have room. Once things get wet it can be hard to dry them out.)
Warm clothes (sweaters, jackets, long johns) – even in the summer
Warm hats, extra socks
Hats with sun visors (baseball caps)
Bathing suits and solid foam floaties (a lot of places don’t allow inflatable floaties)
Extra shirts, pants, shorts, dresses (my daughter is a dress person), underpants and socks. The best socks for camping are tube socks. They go up high and keep the ticks away!
Rain Jackets – We always forget these and have to wear garbage bags (!), but you should remember your rain jackets

An extra card table – we have a cheap, plastic one that comes apart
Camp stove with extra propane tanks (they sell the tanks at many campgrounds)
Campfire grill – a big, round one to fit over the fire pit (they often sell these at campgrounds)
Camp chairs – we only have 3 – we improvise with coolers or logs
1 medium pot, 1 skillet, 2 lids
Tea kettle – most people don’t bring this but we like our tea
1 large mixing/salad bowl
knife & cutting board
Spatula, wooden spoon, tongs
Can opener, bottle opener, corkscrew
Potato peeler
pot holders & dish towels
Plates, bowls, silverware, paper plates
Mugs and cups
Something to make a pot of tea in – we use a large Tupperware thing that Chinese soup came in
Seltzer maker! What can I say. We need seltzer.
Plastic tub for washing dishes
Scrubby sponge
Biodegradable dish soap
Paper towels
Garbage bags
Ziploc bags – large and sandwich size
Rope – about 3/4” thick
Tin foil
Coolers (see Packing the Coolers)
Water – pack two jugs of water and refill them at campground as needed. Nearly all campgrounds have potable water.

*Plan for every meal and bring just the food that you need. Freeze everything possible and pack it carefully in the coolers, with the things that get used first on top.

That said, don’t forget these, or you will be sad:

Olive oil
Salt & pepper
Coffee & maker (we use the low-tech Mellita filter system)
Tea bags
Condiments, like hot sauce
Marshmallows, Graham crackers and Hershey bars (S’mores)

For the Kids
Glow sticks
Stuffed animals
Cards, games (we like Mousetrap), toys, a ball, badminton or horse shoes, Frisbee, beach toys, bubbles
Crafting supplies - paint & brushes to paint rocks, embroidery thread for friendship bracelets, etc.
Pens, paper, scissors, tape
Hammock & extra rope

For the Growunups
Musical instruments (guitar, ukelele, bongos!) and song books

Nice to Have But Not Critical
A broom – nice to have to sweep out the tent, especially someplace beachy
Dutch oven – fun for a big group
Pie iron(s) – kids love them
Bandanas – come in handy
Bikes, scooters, roller blades & helmets
Bird guide
Star Map

Spare tire, jack, lug wrench
Hide-a-key (you will thank me for this some day)


Don’t Bring
Your own wood. Most campgrounds don’t allow it. Bite the bullet and buy campground wood.

And …

Don’t Forget
To tell someone where you are going.

Have a great camping trip. Wish I were going, too!


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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Name That Caterpillar

Anybody know what kind of caterpillar this is? My daughter befriended him yesterday.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Monday, September 5, 2011

New Camping Recipe: Carne Asada Tacos

I may have mentioned that we always have steak the first night of camping. Often we just lay a big, fatty steak on a hot grill, season it with salt and pepper and call it a day. But when we have it together enough to plan something nice, this recipe of Pete’s is a great option. 

Most of this gets prepared at home the day before! What's easier than that?

The meal consists of:

1. Tortillas, warmed
2. Carne Asada (grilled, marinated beef brisket)
3. Pico de Gallo (fresh salsa)
4. Rocoto hot pepper sauce
5. Sliced avocado
6. Chopped white onion and cilantro
7. Ice cold beer
8. Optional: rice and beans

Make everything the night before. All you need to do at the campsite is grill and slice the meat, warm the tortillas and slice the avocado. Genius, right?

Beef Marinade

5 lbs. beef brisket (a nice, fatty meat)
6 cloves garlic, pressed
salt & pepper, 1 t. each
1/4 c. beer
1/4 c. lime juice - the juice of 2 juicy limes or 4 not-so-juicy limes

1. Mix together the pressed garlic and salt & pepper.
2. Rub the meat with the garlic and salt & pepper and place it in a dish with sides.
3. Mix together the lime juice and beer and pour over the beef. Cover with plastic. Marinate overnight*, turning the beef at least once. 

*You don't have to marinate the beef 24 hours, but it's great if you do! It's also great if you marinate it only an hour. But at least for an hour.

LIME TIPS: When you buy limes, look for the old ones. They are soft and have more juice. Also, Hispanic stores have limes about 1/4 the price of those in the supermarket.

CAMPING TIP: Marinate the beef in a large Ziploc bag, then you can pack it right in its marinade.

Pico de Gallo

½ white onion, finely chopped
1 large tomato, finely chopped
handful cilantro, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 jalepeno pepper (optional), de-seeded and finely chopped
salt & pepper, 1 t. each
squeeze of lime juice
½ t. cumin (optional)

1. Finely chop the first 5 ingredients.
2. Mix all the ingredients together.
3. That’s it! Put it in an air-tight container and refrigerate. Keeps best in a glass container, like a mason jar.

Rocoto Sauce (hot rocoto pepper sauce)

The rocoto pepper is a very hot, very flavorful Peruvian pepper. It is hot enough that you may want to consider wearing gloves when de-seeding it. Look for rocoto peppers in the freezer section of Hispanic food stores. If you can’t find them, you can use any hot pepper with this recipe, like jalapeno or aji.

1T.-1/4 c. olive oil, depending on how rich you like the sauce (we use 1-2 T.).
3-4 cloves garlic
¼ c. vinegar. Colavita vinegar has a nice, tangy flavor, unlike some vinegars that have a winey, alcohol flavor.
squeeze of lime juice
1 rocoto pepper, de-seeded
you can add a little water to extend quantity.

Throw everything in the blender and blend until smooth. Keeps well in a glass jar.

How to Cook the Steak

1. Remove the meat from the marinade.
2. Over nice, hot coals, grill the steak about 5 minutes on each side.*
3. Let the steak sit for a few minutes after it comes off the grill. Then slice it into thin strips, about ¼” thick.
4. As you slice the steak, season it lightly with salt on all sides.

*We like our steak rare, but well-done Carne Asada is fine. The fattiness of the meat and the marinade mean the steak retains lots of flavor.

TIP: While the steak is cooking, warm the tortillas. If the fire is really hot, 30 seconds per side will do. Stack them and they will keep each other warm, just like hamsters.

How to Assemble the Taco

Let everyone assemble their own and put whatever they want in it. Here is a sample assembly:

1. Warm tortilla
2. Sliced steak
3. Sliced avocado
4. Pico de gallo
5. Rocoto sauce (too hot for most kids)
6. Extra chopped white onions and cilantro
7. Roll up and eat.


Pete likes Negro Modelo, a dark, crisp, sweetish Mexican beer. I’d rather have a pilsner-style beer, like Pacifico or Corona. And I’ll take a Caguama, please, the super-sized 31.8 ounce bottle!

Whatever beer you choose, make sure it is ice cold – if you don’t have ice, submerge a bag with a couple of six-packs in a nearby river, lake or stream, tied to a tree root or something else that isn’t going to float away. And …

¡Buen provecho!

Friday, September 2, 2011

10 Little Things That Make Kids Happy on Camping Trips

Hello, my friend. Allow me to go get my apparatus.

Just like grownups, kids need little things to keep them happy, especially on camping trips. For some kids, a simple, wooden car and a pile of dirt will do. For others, something pink and sparkly is in order. Still others maintain a positive outlook with the help of a math workbook and a handful of sharp pencils.

Here's a bunch of kid-tested, low-tech gadgets that will help a variety of individuals stay optimistic out in the wild:

1. A Compass. The eternal question is: “How does the compass know which way is north?” The answer is: It’s magic. No, the real answer is that the needle on a compass is a teeny-tiny magnet and the North Pole is magnetic, so the magnet points to the North Pole. I mean, that’s basically it – it’s really called magnetic north, not the North Pole. But if I said that, I wouldn’t be able to work Santa Claus into the explanation.

2. A Magnifying Glass. When your daughter befriends a giant, green caterpillar with a cute, orange nose, what better way to celebrate than to whip out a magnifying glass and cross its personal boundaries? 

3. Glow Bracelets or Necklaces. I thought I was the only one who put glow bracelets on my kids at night, but then I heard that a lot of people do this – for safety. That never occurred to me - I was just appeasing grumpy campers - but of course, that makes total sense. When your kids glow you can find them in the dark. Either way, don’t let your kids chew on the glow sticks. They’re filled with toxic goo.

4. A Flashlight. When I say “a flashlight” what I really mean is lots of flashlights and tons of batteries. Take a flashlight or two and go for a walk at night. Not only is it spooky and magical, but when you shine a spotlight on something at night, like a rock with moss on it, it seems extra important and interesting.  

5. Maps. Road maps, star maps, trail maps – our kids even think campground maps are interesting. The best part? “You Are Here.”

6. Bubbles. Bubbles have the magical power to change the subject. “He was hitting me!” turns instantly into, “Bubbles! With glitter!” Don’t leave home without them.

7. Binoculars. Who invented this amazing device that allows children to see everything in miniature when they look in the “wrong” end?

8. A Camera. Kids love cameras. Kids break cameras. What’s the solution? Well, we’re too cheap to buy our kids those digital “kid cameras” – last time I looked they were about forty bucks each. What we do is we let them play with all the broken cameras that still sort of work, and then we supervise them closely when they use our real camera to take a hundred archival photos of the tent zipper.  

9. Balsa Wood Airplanes. We usually get these on Christmas, Hanukah and birthdays, all of which happen during the winter. So we basically fly them three times indoors, then crash them into a wall and break them into a thousand splinters. Camping is the best place to have these simple, elegant aircrafts, because you have the space to really make them soar and the time to try to make them do the tricks outlined on the plastic wrapper. The real crowd-pleasers are the ones powered by rubber bands, just a tip.

10. Walkie-Talkies. These can be kind of annoying for other campers, so keep the volume low and don’t use them all the time. But what’s funnier than hearing your kids say, “Daddy, what’s your 20?” (Where are you?) “Go for Little Pete.” (I’m here, go ahead and talk.) “10-100, Mommy!” (I’m in the bathroom!) and my personal favorite, “Glitter Pony has landed!” (Daddy’s back from the store!)

Have fun, everybody.