We went camping, in the middle of July in Texas, and lived to tell the tale. Before the trip, I spent a lot of time daydreaming about the things I would cook over the campfire in the big cast iron dutch oven my parents gave me for my last birthday. My food would be fresh, bright, and beautiful. No bags of Doritos and piles of hot dogs this time! Then I read this article and was so turned off (a coffee pot vase? a strewing of pinecones? flaxseed-chia seed pancakes? that unforgivable “Basically” in the title?! and look at all those people in their stupid hats!) that I quickly scaled back my delusions of camp food grandeur. In the end, I roasted potatoes and cooked up some onions and peppers to go on top of sausages, but with the help of the other families who camped with us, our meals were perfect. Also we did bring Doritos because this is America and Veuve Clicquot can suck it. It was a fantastic weekend. Here’s what it looked like. With special thanks to Helen and Christy for sharing their photos. ❤
Our campsite! This is Texas State’s University Camp in Wimberley. The Blanco River ran right next to our campsite, which kept the temperature on our site cool(er) and probably had something to do with the strong breeze that kept the mosquitos away all weekend. It was a fantastic spot, and all the better because they still had weekend spots available when all the central Texas-area state park sites were booked. The camp is open to faculty, current students, and the fancy sort of alumni who pay to have an alumni membership card.
We got there, after an hour in the crammed-full car with the kids, and found ourselves facing a locked gate. We called the phone number posted on the gate and a bubbly youth answered and informed us that we were supposed to pick up a key in San Marcos to unlock said gate, a fact which he had neglected to mention during the half-dozen calls to his office to confirm we had all our ducks in a row. Come on, bubbly youth! You have one job! Take the money, and tell people they’ll need to come pick up a key to the campgrounds! I guess that’s two jobs. But still, not too onerous! Helen and I were dreading the prospect of having to leave the grounds and drag our car-fulls of kids to San Marcos and back when the caretaker of the grounds drove up in his big white pickup like a knight in shining armor. He had an extra key! We were so happy! And probably annoying! I know for certain that we called him Randy instead of his real name, John, for no reason. And then we set up all our tents on this one site (5 of em) instead of the 2 you are allowed to have. We might be the worst. We tried to leave the campsite extra sparkly (clean, not covered in glitter) to make up for it.
George takes a well-deserved break from setting up camp to eat a pile of Doritos off his belly and wave a stick around.
I didn’t wear pants all weekend, it’s true. However, in an attempt to help the food look appetizing for this blog post, I did edit out the crotch shots.
See? No crotches! We killed it on this first meal. Christy brought 80 pounds of her famous honey/tamari/ginger flank steak, which she cooked and sliced at home and we just reheated over the campfire, I made roasted rosemary potatoes in my big camping dutch oven, Mary and Joe brought their famous (and gorgeous!) vegetable skewers, and Helen made two incredibly delicious batches of cornbread muffins (one spicy cheddar, the other rosemary/honey/sea salt), which we reheated in the fire. All together this meal was outrageously delicious.
I always look this happy when I unwrap a new chocolate bar.
I don’t know!
Oozy s’more/dirty fingernail close-up.
This is how I look eating a s’more. Christy took a whole series of ’em, but the rest are going in the vault because the gooey marshmallow on my face is ripe for parody. Henry loves camping and loved this weekend, but had exactly this surly expression the whole time. He has also decided that he does not like s’mores because they are far too messy. Is this the moment where he made this decision, and we are seeing the mingled determination and heartbreak in the roasting of his last-ever marshmallow? Meanwhile I have no idea. I’m just oblivious in the background, chomping on a mouthful of s’more like a horse with a fresh feed bag.
Now here’s a kid who knows how to enjoy a marshmallow! Phinnie gives me cute aggression like no other. This is a thing. It’s that feeling you get when a dog (or other entity) is so cute you want to thump it on the head. I want to take big toothsome bites out of Phinnie’s forearms.
And my dear spindly little Georgie! If an object has at least two holes in it, he lifts it to his eyes and calls them binoculars. Only he says binoclears. This is the sort of thing that is only adorable to the parents right? I’ll get it all out of my system now by telling you that he also inverts words that start with ‘ex’, so he says ‘kesplosion’ instead of explosion (this word comes up surprisingly frequently!) and “I’m so kecited!” instead of ‘excited.’ What a dream boat!
The kids insisted on helping me build the fire for breakfast and they cocked it up so much. This is an old theme on my blog- the one where kids want to help and I am tight-lipped and impatient. I tried to be real cool about it, because I know deep down that it’s more important for the kids to get to help and learn things than it is for me to have complete control over everything. But still, they’re bad at it. They each wanted to dump their own heavy log on the freshly caught kindling which had the unsurprising effect of putting out the meager work we’d begun. I used dump and log in the same sentence, but let’s just move on, okay? The fire was pitiful and it took forever to griddle 20 tortillas and then brown the sausage and crack in the eggs, but this made the (finally) finished tacos taste all the more wonderful. Helen also brought 18 bean and cheese tacos, already cooked and assembled and wrapped in foil, which we reheated in the coals. We had all slept pretty badly the night before. The frogs had a lot to say and the bathroom was far away and I had to pee all night- my personal excuses. Also George gets kicky when forced to sleep next to three other people. Anyway, it was really nice to get to recharge the next morning by eating a half dozen tacos.
Hooray for Christy, who took lots of landscape shots! I took pictures of food and nothing else. The water was spectacular. It was so clear, with a fast moving current and lots of areas of interest- waterfalls, deep pools, areas for swimming and areas for wading. But what was terrible about it, you want to know? Well- there were big patches of black algae-like stuff on the rocks where the waterfall was. We sat on them and found that the black things attached themselves to you and had to be removed by vigorous rubbing. They’re leeches, y’all. Tiny and harmless, but, you know, leech-y. The other thing was that many of the rocks under the water had the texture of coarse-grit sandpaper. When we were checking into the camp I noticed several weird abrasions on Caretaker Randy (né John)’s arms and wondered what had happened to him. But by the end of the weekend, we were all covered in the same sorts of wounds, having slipped on a slimy patch in the water, or been hurled into a rock by the current. But aside from the leeches and sandpaper rocks it was top notch! Am I not selling this well? I really and truly thought it was wonderful.
Helen has described Ella as having a mermaid in your living room. She’s a nearly 6 foot tall tween who moves with the grace of a dancer and she’s just so lovely that it seems almost unearthly. Here she is being mermaid-y.
Another bit of wisdom to file away with the leech and sandpaper information, in case you’re planning a visit to this campground. We were warned to not go to the grounds on the opposite side of the river. It is apparently the site of one of the largest ranches in Texas, with an ex-con owner who has pulled a shotgun on revelers foolish enough to stray to his side. Texas! This might be U-Camp lore but I’m not going to test it out.
I baked these granola bars the morning we left for camp and set them on the arm rest between the driver’s and passenger’s seats, as I had filled every other cubic inch of the car with our camp gear. I let our boxer, Adelaide, into the front seat when we were ready to go and she promptly jumped up and stepped on the fresh granola bars, leaving an imprint of her big oafish foot. I cut that part out when we got to the camp and didn’t tell anyone they’d been stepped on by a dog. They are my favorite. They held up well all weekend, they’re naturally gluten free, and have coconut and dried sour cherries and chocolate chips and ginger and cinnamon. They win all the granola bar awards.
This beautiful girl entertained my children with bubbles and games of jai alai all weekend. Josie, you are a marvelous human being!
Personally, I hate bubbles. I’m bad at blowing them and they always cause fights among my children. Who gets to pop the big one? Who is popping more than their fair share? They are not the lighthearted play thing I thought they would be before having kids. Or is that just my kids?
Also, this flashlight gets added to the list of innocent objects that I now hate. George loves it so much that he likes to sleep with it, and then I get hit in the face with it in the night or roll over onto it and scowl and curse its name.
Oh shit, I didn’t even realize this was a series! I just put these pictures here in random order. But the kids fought over these fans too, so fuck it! They’re on the list!
Finally, something good! Helen reading these stories to Henry was one of my favorite parts of the weekend. She read them so well, and they are so much fun. Henry thrilled at being scared, and they’re so well written- especially one section that is specifically meant to be scary/funny and which includes instructions for you to shout things or grab people suddenly. Thank you for bringing these, sister! ❤
Is this the greatest? This it the greatest. Look at these little readers! Resist the urge to bite a fatty forearm!
Our last dinner- Joe and Mary brought 400 fancy sausages, and we ate 8 of them. What is wrong with us?? I brought buns and cooked up the onions and bell peppers in my dutch oven. Christy made a huge green salad with a sensational amount of bacon, and Helen made these onion bombs, which were my favorite thing. It was a roasted cauliflower and golden raisin-studded couscous, spooned into onion shells and coated with oil. When cooked over the fire the onion got soft and deeply caramelized and sweet and just yes. What a real pleasure it was to eat these potluck-style meals, all easy to put together and every component delicious. And such an improvement over my Doritos and hot dog meals from past camp outs.
On the morning of day three we ate apple muffins (a bit squished from being rocked around in the cooler for three days, but still good) and a pile of breakfast sausages grilled over the campfire (which I was very happy to get to build myself), packed up, and bid farewell to our beloved campers and this beautiful space. Goodbye shady trees, campfires and leeches! Hello air conditioning and showers! It was a wonderful trip, with great company and food and fun, but it made me really appreciate my bed in a 78 degree house too. Thank you, Bartons! Thank you, Morilles! Thanks for camping Andy-who-hates-camping! Let’s do it all over again soon.