Monday, May 26, 2008

Camping at Portage Lake Campground

Our second trip with our newly purchased gently used Viking pop up camper was to Waterloo Recreation area's Portage Lake Campground. This was a really nice campground - it was crowded but quiet. We were in campsite 122, but next year, I'll have my eye on site 114, which was fairly secluded. On a list I am on called arborparents, people are complaining that there are no intergenerational experiences anymore, but camping definitely is one. There was retirees, people with babies, teenagers, young lovers, and it is multicultural, too. This was evidenced by the large group of Indian families that had set up camp across from us. The smell of their cooking almost had me begging for a sample!

I tried Campfire Popcorn again, this time with no oil, and the corn caught on fire in the foil. I will not give up until I master this camping recipe. I precooked Alton Brown's ribs, and finished them off on the Weber Smoky Joe. I also made some great food in my new Lodge 10" Dutch Oven. Love this thing! A great experiment I tried in it was Monkey Bread, using homemade refrigerator roll dough, instead of biscuits in a tube. Here's the recipe I used for the dough - i mixed it up at home and stored it in the cooler.

Mom's Camping Bread Dough

1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup milk
2 t. bread machine yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water (105 to 115 degrees)
1 egg, beaten
4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided

In a large bowl, combine sugar, vegetable shortening, and salt; stir until well blended. In microwave, scald milk; pour over sugar mixture. Cool to lukewarm (105 to 115 degrees F).
In a small bowl, combine yeast and water; stir until yeast is dissolved. Mix in egg until well blended; stir into milk mixture.

Add 2 cups flour. Gradually stir in as much of the remaining flour as dough will absorb, mixing well. Place dough into a well-greased plastic container, cover with saran wrap and a rubber band. Put this in your camping cooler 8 hours but no longer than 5 days.

Dutch Oven Monkey Bread
1 batch bread dough
2 T. cinnamon and 1/4 c. sugar mixed together
1/2 stick butter

Line 10" oven with aluminum foil, and melt butter over hot coals. Divide dough into 1" balls, roll in melted butter and then in the cinnamon sugar, line bottom of oven with balls. Cook over 8 coals bottom, 14 on top for about 1/2 hour, rotating top and oven 1/4 turn every ten minutes or so.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Girl Scout Camp

This past weekend, I camped at Camp Linden, which is the campground owned by the Girl Scouts of Huron Valley. I guess that means it is owned by me - it's my own private campground - because I am an adult member. I was a Girl Scout as a girl, and my daughter is now one. Every troop that wants to camp has to have a certified adult troop camper that has been trained by the Girl Scouts. That's me! I wanted to volunteer, but being a leader is a big time commitment. The other adult volunteer opportunity is troop first aider, and wisely I let this one pass. Jennifer, our first aider, is great with that role.

When I signed up to be a troop camper, I wondered why 9 hours of training is needed to be troop camper, but when I arrived at Camp Crawford (GSHVC's other camp) I learned that many of the volunteers had never camped before. Some don't even cook for their families on a regular basis! The goal of being a troop camper is to teach the girls how to camp, and to quote my instructor, "There's camping, and then there is Girl Scout Camping." So even though I had camped many times before, I had to learn the Girl Scout approach to camping.

I learned that Girl Scouts leave no trace, so that means no using accelerants on your campfire or charcoal fire. It means not using sticks for your S'mores, you need to use a metal skewer. It means using a mess kit, instead of paper plates. I learned about how to implement a kaper chart (post a comment with your email address and I'll send you my kaper chart and schedule) and schedule activities and keep the girls on task. The challenge to GS camping is to make sure the girls do everything themselves, even though it would be 10 times (make that 100 times) easier to do it yourself.

We've come a long way since we camped at Camp Hilltop as Brownies. The lodge there burned down in 2006 and the campground has been sold to the city of Ann Arbor. The most difficult recipe we made that year were pizzas on white bread in a pie oven on the campfire. This year, the girls decided that the kaper chart was "plan B" and wanted everyone to work on every task. We moms know that this doesn't work very well - whatever is everyone's job soon becomes no ones job. They handled it pretty well...only a bit of squabbling.

What did they cook? They made an entire dinner of vegetarian lasagna, rolls, beef stew and pineapple upside down cake in dutch ovens, and it all came out well. The stew could have used some more time on the fire. We experimented with some new things, and here is what didn't work:

Campfire Popcorn - the oil leaked out and caught on fire. The small amount of corn that popped was singed. Luckily the campfire smoke cancels out the burnt popcorn smell, which as we all know from our workplace office kitchenette experiences is one of the worst smells ever.

Paper Bag Breakfast - bags caught on fire, bacon took too long to cook and once it did, it welded itself to the bottom of the bag. Egg was raw.

...and here is what did:

Egg on a Stick - I love this guy's description of the process, including the part about Mississippi and grandma. The only thing we did different is we used metal skewers, which I think helps the egg cook on the inside. Of all the things we tried, this one I thought for sure was a failure, but it was a success. I kept pulling the skewer out a little to see if it was done - as soon as the egg can rotate on the skewer, it's cooked. Use older eggs so the shell doesn't stick. You end up with something like a hard (or soft, if you'd rather) boiled egg.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hayes State Park - Irish Hills

We went this weekend and had a great time. It wasn't crowded (but I could see that it could get crowded during the MIS season) and the sites were all pretty nice. They have some fishing docks, and the kids got to go fishing, plus there's all the Irish Hills kitschy stuff like the Mystery Hill (and it's AMAZING FORCE OF GRAVITY) and mini golf etc. to visit. It is near MSU's Hidden Lake Gardens, which we didn't visit, but I'd like to do so sometime. We had lunch at Jerry's Pub on Wamplers Lake on the deck, and the food was good and the view was wonderful. It was a sunny warm day - perfect for an Oberon, which we had.

For dinner, I tried Dutch oven cookery, because we're going to be doing it next weekend at Girl Scout camp. Our service unit has cast aluminum ovens - I am wondering if it is easier to burn food in aluminum, because I burnt the pineapple upside down cake I tried to make. Then again, the recipe said 8 coals on the bottom, 14 on top and I put way more than that on top and bottom. My bad! I invented the beef stew recipe I followed - and it came out pretty good:

Mom's Camping Beef Stew
1 lb new potatoes, cut in half
3 cloves garlic, slivered
1 lb baby carrots
2 lbs. beef stew meat
1 onion sliced
3 cans beef broth
(add one bottle beer if you are not camping with Girl Scouts)
salt and pepper
Spring of rosemary or a couple bay leaves

Stuff to add later:
small bag of frozen peas
1/2 c. flour and enough water to fill a cup

Heat a charcoal chimney with about 20 briquettes of charcoal. While it is getting hot, line the inside of the dutch oven with aluminum foil, and add ingredients in the order listed. Cook with 10 coals on the bottom and 14 on top for one hour, check to see if potatoes are soft and beef tender. I was using a 12 inch oven. The general rule of thumb to produce about a 350° heat is to take the size of the Dutch oven in inches, double the number, and use that many total briquettes. Add peas and flour water and stir, replace lid and cook for another 10 minutes or so. Make sure not to drop ash in your pot!