Camping may seem like an opportunity for lazy cooking, something along the lines of macaroni and cheese or tuna for every meal. But for my family, camping is no excuse for that kind of cooking—”It’s a FEAST!” was said at least ten times throughout the duration of the trip.
Day 1: Jonji and I arrived at the campsite at 1:30 on Thursday to find lunch in full swing—talk about good timing. I tried my first pickle and peanut butter sandwich (surprisingly satisfying) and ate copious amount of salad (yes, it was Steve’s lettuce). After lunch we trekked to the closest swimming hole, a two minute walk from our campsite, and took a dip in the icy water. Jonji decided to explore a kind of natural human-sized canister beneath the waterfall, and came out with a bunch of “water-ticks,” as we called them, all over his shorts and legs. He took this as an opportunity to shriek and show everyone what his butt looks like. We were off to a great start to the trip.
The guys started a new game before dinner, called Throw The Ax At The Stump. Every time a new camper came to check out sites near ours, the ax game would come into play. Intimidation at its finest. Leif even took out the large ax a couple times, until its handle shattered. Worth it.
Exhibit A of our gourmet camping dinners: chicken braised in milk with mashed potatoes and sautéed chard, courtesy of Danielle. I could have eaten three bowls, but I know what that would feel like after the last time I got greedy with that particular meal. Now, I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression—we did not tote an oven up there and attach it to a generator. Rather, most of the food was made beforehand and heated up on the stove. That being said, I wouldn’t put it past my mom to try to bring an oven next time.
Day 2: We fought our way up to the top of Mount Doom before lunch time. Bailey managed to slip and fall while simultaneously yelling at Matt to be more careful. We started an even more civilized game than throwing the ax, called Throw The Rock At Other Stacked Rocks. Jonji won that one, and proceeded to strut, or peacock as I like to call it, up the path. Matt decided to chase him with a stick and Jonji grabbed Pippin and ran with him up the mountain side, Samwise and Frodo style.
After lunch the group of us trekked up the river to another swimming hole, where the four men decided it was their mission to find the depth of the hole beneath the waterfall. Jonji’s carefully shaved branch or “fishing pole,” dubbed Rodney, headed the expedition. The rest of us ate chips on the river’s edge and watched Pippin, who was swaddled in a towel, nap.
Exhibit B of our fancy dinners: pork fried rice with kale and scrambled eggs, thanks to Mom. We were all grateful for the one-bowl meal, since dishwashing is quite the production out there. S’mores around the fire followed, as usual. I skipped the graham cracker and made a chocolate-stuffed toasted marshmallow, which I highly recommend.
Day 3: We visited Highland Lakes briefly, as there were rangers hanging around and dogs are not supposed to be off-leash. We drove a ways down and checked out another part of the river. Jonji found a good, solid piece of wood and the game, Hit The Rock As Far As You Can, evolved. No wonder baseball is so old.
Our next stop was another section of the river, where we began our trek to yet another swimming hole. Emma made friends with a butterfly and the rest of us chowed down on cookies in the sun.
Exhibit C of un-lazy eating: Bailey and I served tacos with all the toppings, including chopped cabbage and sautéed onions. A bout of card games flourished until dark, and then it was back to the marshmallows.
Day 4: Jonji and I served scrambled eggs, along with banana pancakes, a Jonji original recipe, topped with a special syrup. We cleaned up and were ready to leave by 11 AM, arriving home just in time to scream and shout at the TV as the US soccer team tied Portugal.
The most common addition to me and Jonji’s lunches were rice cakes with peanut butter plus my mom’s apricot jam. Yes, rice crackers are pretty bland, but they’re substantially more satisfying with the salty peanut butter and sweet apricot jam. And when you’ve been hiking up a vertical mountainside, they taste even better. ‘Tis the season for Mom’s apricot jam extravaganza: already she’s had to make a trip to the store for several boxes of jars. Luckily, Smaug is being a little more generous with her treasure this time around!
Mom’s Apricot Jam
makes about 8 half-pint jars
12 cups (about 4 1/2 lbs) pitted and quartered apricots
4 1/2 cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons*
1/2 vanilla pod (optional)
pinch or two of salt (optional)
(Skip this part if you’re simply going to store your jam in the refrigerator). Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Place a round cooling rack (or several mason jar rings) on the bottom of the pot. Turn the heat down and leave the water at a simmer until time for sealing.
Place cut fruit and sugar into a large bowl. Stir and let sit overnight or at least 1 hour.
Put cleaned jars in a 200°F oven until ready to use. Place the lids in a small pot, cover with water, and simmer for as long as jam cooks.
Scrape the vanilla bean pod into the fruit mixture and through in the pod as well. Stir in the lemon juice. Set the fruit mixture in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. In the beginning, the fruit will give off foam—scrape it off and throw it out. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the mixture, well, looks like jam, roughly 20-30 minutes. There isn’t enough sugar in this jam to do the full “wrinkle test” (look it up), but the surface of the jam will wrinkle if you tip the pot to one side. Taste to check consistency and thickness, then add a pinch or two of salt (trust). Turn off the heat.
Place a clean kitchen towel on a cooling rack. Remove jars from the oven and lids from the pot.
Fill your jars using a ladle, a funnel, or transfer some to a measuring glass and then fill. Leave 1/4-inch space between the jam and the top of the jar. Wipe the tops of the jars off with a damp paper towel, if any jam got on there. Screw the lids on, but not too tightly—when you feel the first bit of resistance, raise your pinky finger like you’re having a tiny cup of tea and continue tightening. This ensures that enough air can escape in the sealing process. (If you’re storing jam in the fridge, you can stop there.)
Turn the large pot of water back up and bring to a boil. Lower the filled jars into the boiling water using canning tongs (the ones that have rubber on the end for extra grip) and boil for 10 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. If the lids pop down (you’ll hear it happen), then the jam is good to go and will last, stored on a cool shelf, for up to a year. Enjoy!
*Lemon juice acts as a natural pectin.
Bonus Recipe: Minimalist Banana Pancakes with Special Syrup
3 bananas, very ripe
3/4 cup almond flour
1/4 tsp vanilla
2 tsp heavy cream
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Make the sauce: melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in maple syrup and cinnamon. Set aside.
Make the pancakes: mash bananas, then add eggs, almond flour, vanilla, and cream and mix together (note: if you like thinner pancakes, add the almond flour in smaller increments until you’ve achieved the desired consistency). Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Melt a little butter to keep pancakes from sticking, then scoop out roughly 1/4–1/2 cup batter for each pancake. Cook for a few minutes on each side, until browned. Serve warm with the special syrup.