If even only for a few short days, living off the grid is quite liberating and reminds us all of what life was before the internet, email and the iPhone. It allows us to reconnect with our real social network, face-to-face, to practice the long lost art of the “conversation”.
Starting a fire and staring longingly into it is an innate joy that is bred into every human being since we first discovered it 800,000 years ago. Every grown man has a story about how he first discovered fire as a boy, and every grown man has a story about the very first (and subsequently the very last) time a fire grew out of control way too quickly. The old fashioned camp out is our opportunity to regale each other with such stories and laugh out loud truthfully without having to use acronyms or emoticons.
This past weekend, I had the luxury of spending the weekend with my son camping in the wilderness among his Cub Scout Den mates and their parents. Yes, I did just use “luxury” and “camping” in the same sentence. No, it wasn’t a mistake. With all the activities we schedule for our selves – baseball, soccer, homework, office work, house work, volunteering – a weekend with nothing to do but hang around a camp fire with friends is truly a luxury.
30 minutes before I reached my final destination of “Memorial Park” just outside the sleepy little town of Loma Mar, CA, my usually reliable Verizon signal went from five solid dots (or full bars for all you non-apple-ios7 folks) to the dreaded “No Service” message. Dread quickly gave way to tranquility as I continued down the shady tree lined highway at the maximum speed of 25 MPH. I was officially off the grid for the next two days.
Upon arriving to the park, I realized I didn’t have the $12.00 entrance fee (I haven’t seen cash since my wedding day) and was forced to use my cunning wiles to charm my way past the guard house sans payment. Successfully talking my way through, I found we were the first ones there and, as the old adage goes, the early bird gets the worm.
After claiming one of the best spots for our tent, Mason and I quickly turned our focus to more important things – food! Our dinner menu consisted of grilled New York Strip Streaks, Corn on the Cob and Cast-Iron Pan Sauteed Brocolette (an interesting, subtly sweet mix between chinese brocolli and traditional brocolli with a hint of asparagus).
We had our dinner wrapped up and were working on making dessert well before another soul showed up. It was fun to be able to partake in an activity with Mason that didn’t involve my having to scream at him to slide into second, or to open up his stance a half step. We decided that there were only two acceptable ways to finish off a night in the wood – a dutch over dessert or S’Mores. Since we were waiting for the marshmallows and chocolate to arrive, we opted for an “Apple Dump Cake”.
Step 1: Open four cans of apple pie filling. You can also choose your favorite pie filling, or go the healthy route by using freshly sliced apples. Also, I have a 14 quart dutch oven, which is roughly the size of a small volkswagon so please adjust your quantities as needed. (Please note the “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” band on the cans, because the number two ingredient was “Corn Syrup”. Gotta love those sneaky marketing folks!)
Step 2: Dump contents of cans into the dutch oven. You may want to line the oven with foil. I choose not to as my oven is well seasoned, and I find serving the cake difficult when I have to scrape around the foil sheet.
Step 3: Dump (hence the name of the cake) two boxes of yellow cake mix evenly on top of the pie filling. No mixing is required. You can use any flavor of cake, but I find that the standard yellow works best.
Step 5: Cover the dutch oven and place over coals. Add coals to lid and bake for about an hour, turning the lid and the oven a quarter turn every 15 minutes. Now, many purists will tell you that there’s a specific number of coals you must have on the bottom and a specific number for the top, but, frankly, I’m more of a wing it type of guy. If you’re so inclined, you can google it and discover that you should probably use about 10 coals on the bottom and about 15 on the top. But like I said, my oven is 14 quarts, and you should adjust as needed.
When the cake is golden and all the white powder has been cooked through, take a spoon to it and see if it’s cooked. You’ll know it when you see it.
The dump cake was a big hit, even though it was a tad on the sweet side. If I had the wherewithal to deal with it, I would have peeled and sliced fresh apples, added a hint of sugar and cinnamon, and left it at that. Regardless, it was still delicious and even more so the next day.
Since we were in such close proximity to the wonderfully smelling urinal, we opted to skip the entire two minute cycle and bolted as soon as we felt our teeth were reasonably clean.
The next morning, since we were still on our own for breakfast (communal meals were not scheduled until lunch), we decided to keep our gourmet menu theme with oven roasted breakfast potatoes (which I cooked the previous day and reheated at camp) and steak omelettes.
The rest of the day was chockfull of scouting activities including a one-mile hike that took an hour (mostly because Mason was partially in charge), survival skills and fire making lessons. I spent most of the day contemplating the wisdom of teaching 10 year olds how to use pocket knives and start fires, but nonetheless, continued on with the lessons.
If you’re unfamiliar with the benefits of the spiral cut hot dog, please take a moment to familiarize yourself with them by watching this short video clip: http://youtu.be/qHcukWe2VJI.
We ended the night with a small gathering around the camp fire where we discussed the merits of the “fake amazon.com product review“, little league politics, and the wisdom behind feeding kids marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate shortly before bedtime while in the woods.
The next morning, we tore down camp and headed back onto the grid where I would be greeted with 47 text messages, 103 emails and 3 voicemails. But not before we had to make a brief stop for my car-sick-prone son.
And, for those of you who contest my claim as “Father of the Year”, yes, I did take the time to photograph my son as he vomited along side the road before offering assistance.