We spent the weekend at Camp Ben McCulloch, camping with five other unschooling families. I grew up about 15 minutes from this place, but had never been. Mostly because I knew it only as ‘the site of the annual Confederate reunion’ and had no desire to explore a place like that. It’s really pretty though. Onion Creek runs through it, and there are waterfalls and huge old cypress trees and rope swings. And it’s really cheap. You can put your tent anywhere you want (there are no designated campsites)- you just find a water hookup, if you want one (they’re scattered arbitrarily throughout the grounds like Easter eggs), and set up camp and someone on a golf cart may or may not come by and ask you for $15. The place has some downsides though. The confederacy glorification for one (lots of examples of this on their facebook page). Goat Roast 2016 for another. This was going on all weekend, and to the outsider looked like a hillbilly rock music festival. There was live music all weekend (“This song’s called Hot Shit!“) and lots of crazy drunk people and women smoking cigarettes in bathroom stalls. One of our unschooling friends was asking some campers about what this event was for and a lady explained that they were there for Billy Jack’s birthday (this Billy Jack? A cousin? I have no idea.), but that it was also the anniversary of the goat roast. Some number of years ago, she said, some folks got together to roast a goat. Only, everyone ended up liking the goat and they decided not to go through with it. I guess it was a live goat that they were going to kill and gut and skin? Anyway, they have a big party and drop a lot of acid instead. Except that someone’s dog gets high on acid and kills the goat. And that’s officially the best story ever told on this blog- thanks, Camp Ben! But while it wasn’t the nature retreat I had envisioned, we still did a lot of fun things. The kids love sleeping in a tent on the cold, hard ground. Seriously! They both slept pretty well. We spent many hours sitting around a roaring campfire, unplugged, and with good company. We splashed in the creek, threw rocks in mud puddles, and gathered big bouquets of wildflowers. And I got to cook real food in my camp dutch oven for the first time! Here’s what we ate this week.
Butter and Buttermilk. It’s a ball of butter I squeezed in my hands! I was inspired to make butter and buttermilk after reading (in the link) that the amount of each product you get from a pint of cream is the perfect amount to make biscuits with and that sort of shit delights me. You leave the cream out on the counter to culture for an hour or two and then whip it in your stand mixer for a while, until it’s butter and buttermilk. And then you’re done. I got 6 oz of butter and a little more than 8 ounces of buttermilk from my pint of cream.
Biscuit Breakfast Sandwiches. I don’t remember much about Monday, except that we stayed home after doing too many things over the weekend, I talked my sister through peeing in a ziploc bag in a restaurant parking lot while her baby slept and she waited for AAA, and I royally fucked up these biscuits. The recipe is beautiful, and I will try again and follow the directions and use the right ingredients next time. I used the butter and buttermilk from above, but used only 4 ounces of my 6-ounce butter ball, as per the recipe (which I think was right). I didn’t have pastry flour so I just used 21 ounces of all purpose. I used store-bought, not homemade baking powder. Yes, this is a thing people make themselves, apparently. I forgot to dock the biscuits, I cut them into terribly disparate sizes, I cooked them in a 450 oven instead of 500 so as to lessen Henry’s chances of freaking out about the smoke detector, and all these things together meant that they were pretty dense. They still had deliciously crunchy outsides, but they were obviously nothing like the biscuits in the picture in the link. We ate some with fried eggs and bacon and sharp white cheddar and some with the leftover 2 ounces of butter, sea salt, and honey and enjoyed them very much in spite of their density. I’ll try again.
Mejadra, Mango Lassi with Cardamom. We spent the day at Helen’s and George was in a terrible mood. Helen read him a book about a bunny (I think it was a bunny?) with a bad mood who gets over it by eating pancakes. A good moral to be sure- pancakes can fix anything. Helen took it a step further by offering to make George pancakes for lunch, and then took it 40 steps further by making five varieties of pancakes (peach cobbler, strawberry, blueberry, banana cinnamon, and plain). Then she also served leftover spaghetti and a crispy little pizza and it was officially a kid’s lunch dreamland. We ran to parkour and then ran home so I could pull a dinner together out of pantry ingredients. I also, saints be praised, had all the ingredients to make these mango lassis with cardamom from Made in India- they’re standard lassis plus cardamom but the cardamom is a fantastic addition. Frying the pile of crispy onions for the mejadra takes forever, but they’re far and away the best part of the meal, and also of the meal prep, because you get to tilt your head back and drop big salty pinches of the stuff into your mouth while you grind cardamom seeds in your mortar and pestle. I did that.
Chewy Ginger Snaps. I’m going to talk about these after the next picture, because they’re part of a set, but it felt weird not typing anything here. So I’m wasting your time by typing here but not actually saying anything. This felt like the right decision.
Giant Coconut Macaroons. My mom’s birthday was on Saturday and she had to be in LA on not-at-all-fun business, so I wanted to send her a care package so she could pop a giant macaroon in her mouth when she got back. I made tiny versions of these last week, but the recipe actually specifies that it makes “10 large macaroons.” They’re not kidding- these macaroons are monstrous. They look ridiculous fresh out of the oven, but lose their puffiness as they cool and settle into a slightly more managable but still outlandish size. And they’re completely amazing. The recipe, like others in the book, is a little vague on the details. You’re supposed to ‘scoop them into individual portions’ with no size guidelines given. The recipe calls for 200 grams or 1 1/3 cups of unsweetened shredded coconut, but 200 grams of coconut measured as more than two cups for me, so should you go with the weight or the volume measure? I went with weight and they tasted great, but there’s lots of questionable stuff like this in this cookbook. Still, I think I love it.
And the ginger snaps! They’re ok. The recipe calls for 1.5 teaspoons of boiling water. What is that? Do you really have to boil a pot of water for 1.5 teaspoons? Does it make a difference that the water is boiling, really? Really? My cookies are way uglier than the picture in the cookbook but taste good enough. The first one I ate was shockingly crispy, which was kind of fun and novel, but then one I had a little while later was chewy, as advertised, and which I guess I prefer? I don’t know. She lists coriander and paprika as optional ingredients for these cookies and I was too much of a wimp to try it with them. My mom loved both! She said the macaroon was the best she had ever had, which made me happy. Thanks, mom!
Creamy Chicken and Fig Curry, Naan. Oh, this day you guys. George insisted on wearing butterfly wings on our trips to Target and Central Market to get the stuff we needed for our camping trip, which meant that I had to pull down and dig through our costume tub instead of just leaving, but I didn’t mind because it was adorable. He also held onto my magic wand and yelled Expelliarmus! a lot. Target was fine, but Central Market was the worst. George fought with Henry every time I stepped away from the big dumb cart I have to push there (the one with two kid seats attached to the front), he threw a long screaming tantrum in the bulk foods section when I said he couldn’t have any gummies. Not because we’re healthy and don’t eat red dye #40 sugar snacks, but because I’d already bought them a box of fruit roll ups at Target. And then we had a bathroom-related emergency in the cheese section that I won’t elaborate on, but which, together with the other things, made the trip a decidedly lousy one. We went home and we were all starving, because it was way past lunch time (obviously, I realized afterward, that’s why George was so mad at the grocery store, d’oh!) and I made a box of Stove Top, which is something I buy for Henry every once in a while because he got a taste of it once and adores it. I do too, actually. Henry can happily eat about 3/4 of a box, and George likes it too, so I gave Henry a big portion, George a little portion, and myself the littlest portion. I ate mine in two bites and looked enviously at George’s plate, hoping that this would be one of the times when he doesn’t eat anything and I’d get to eat his portion too. He ate a few bites, climbed down off his chair, and pushed his plate over to me, and I asked, eagerly, “are you done?” And he said, “No. I’m just gonna eat riiiiggght next to you.” Which was probably sweet, but which I interpreted as him rubbing in my face how much Stove Top he still had. The whole day was like that. We were all in bad moods. This chicken, which was so quick and easy, was delicious though, and the naan was too. It’s one of the many many easy weeknight meals in Made in India. I’m making lots more this week, but so far, I love this cookbook.
Basil and Walnut Pesto with Sausage and Cavatappi. I’m always thrilled to eat a bowlful of pasta but Andy’s ambivalent about it, so I added a couple of sliced roasted sausages to the mix to make it more appealing.
Helen and Phinnie and I went to lunch with our Food52 friends at Crepe Crazy while the boys stayed home with grandma. I got a ham and swiss, because it was the first thing on the menu and contained the word ham, and so everything I read after it lost out in the comparison. But I got to taste a lot of crepes, and they’re all big and rich and delicious. It came with a leafy salad that went mostly untouched, which fits into this week’s theme of absolutely no vegetables, unless basil and lentils count. We talked about enneagram with these ladies, which is endlessly fascinating, and then I came home and cooked a million things to prepare for our camping trip the next day.
Peanut Butter Granola Bars. The forecast originally said that the rain would be gone by 11, so that’s when we planned to arrive at the campground, but it changed to 1 after we were on our way. So we ended up sitting in our car for 2 hours, waving off the goat roast attendees who tried to swoop in and steal our sweet spot, eating these granola bars, and waiting for the rain to stop. These are fantastic. They’re naturally gluten free, and more cookie-like than most granola bars, which means my kids liked them a lot. They’ve got chocolate chips and sour cherries and coconut, plus tons of oats and peanut butter and these are all great things that taste great together.
Sausage and Egg Breakfast Tacos. The last time I went camping, I brought hot dogs and hamburgers, s’mores stuff and Doritos, and lots more crappy processed foods. By the second day I felt completely disgusting. So when our friend Patches offered me some of her rosemary pork and potatoes cooked until crispy in a dutch oven, I greedily accepted. It was the best thing I had ever tasted and was enough to convince me to get my hands on my own camp dutch oven (it’s got little feet on it so it can sit on top of the coals and a handle for easy maneuvering) and cook real food on our next trip. I read tons of campfire cooking recipes in preparation for the weekend. My dutch oven came with a recipe book, but the recipes were mostly of the semi-homemade, dump-cans-of-stuff-into-the-pot-and-stir variety and I didn’t want that. Pinterest yielded similar results. So I thought about what I really wanted and decided it was more of those rosemary potatoes. But what goes with those? They remind me of renaissance-y type fare, so I thought steak-on-a-stick was a logical accompaniment. I added a big foil packet of vegetables (asparagus, zucchini, and cremini mushrooms tossed with olive oil and green garlic from my garden) to the meal plan and, inspired by a hot tip from Savorthis on the food52 hotline, a big loaf of garlic bread wrapped in foil to toss into the coals. The steak-on-a-stick idea didn’t fully pan out- I sliced the steak, tossed it in the marinade and froze it, and kept it in the bottom of our ice chest. All this worked fine. But then I thought I could thread the meat onto bamboo skewers and cook them one at a time by holding the skewer in the fire, and this doesn’t work for lots of reasons. The bamboo skewer is too short so your hand gets really hot. It’s also made of bamboo and burns up almost instantly. And the steak takes forever to cook this way, which only exacerbates the hot-hands and burning-skewers problems. I ended up dumping all the meat into a separate cast iron skillet set over hot coals, cooking them as best as I could in the low light, then threading them onto skewers and passing them around. They tasted pretty good in spite of my shoddy handling. The vegetables were good, the potatoes were mostly good and partially burned beyond recognition, and the garlic bread was barely warm and way too garlicky, but all of it still tasted way better to me than the hot dogs and Doritos of old and I’m therefore calling this a successful first attempt at real-food camping. Oh, and I’m telling you all this here because it was too dark to take a picture. These breakfast tacos tasted pretty damn good. I griddled 20 tortillas, then browned a pound of breakfast sausage in the pot, cracked in a dozen eggs and beat them, sprinkled the mixture with salt, and folded it into the warm tortillas. I’ll definitely do that again.
Beef Goulash. After two-and-half days out in nature with the kids, we came home, unpacked and cleaned everything, and felt completely exhausted. I also had very little food in the house and no interest whatsoever in going to the store. So I found some leftover beef goulash in the freezer and served it over half a box of shattered lasagna noodles. It was so good. Way better than I remember it being the first time. Maybe it was the alchemy of sitting in the freezer for a while or maybe it was just because it was a warm meaty thing cooked at home, in the company of my sweet family and a dog who’s never killed a goat while tripping on acid.