Tag Archives: marshmallows

That’s Why the Lady Likes to Camp

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To camp out in the wilds of Idaho in the summertime is to step out of the stream of time and immerse yourself in the cool green light of a wood that hasn’t changed much since settlers first raised their stone chimneys on the banks of the Coeur d’Alene River two hundred years ago.  If the weather cooperates, you can hike on sun-dappled paths, catch out wildlife as it startles and skitters away at the sound of your approach, and toss stones into the creek chattering over its rocky bed.

We just returned from a four day camp out with Paul’s Dad and his wife, Yvie, in the beautiful Shoshone area, where we did all of those things and more.   Dad drove up on Thursday morning to set up camp ahead of our arrival.  Paul and I slept in a tent, but we were grateful for the presence of Dad and Yvie’s camper, without which we would have been digging our own latrine, a decidedly unromantic endeavor, best left unmentioned in Walden-esque rhapsodies about the beauty of the woods.  The kids slept in the camper, too, which gave the two of us some appreciated privacy and room to stretch out in our little four-man dome tent.

How I love waking up to the sound of birds calling to each other as the sun comes up!  The angry chipmunk squeaking madly at us from a perch right outside our tent?  Not so much.

With four glorious days stretched out before us, we tramped through the woods, roasted marshmallows over the campfire, and spent hours slung comfortably in camp chairs, reading or chatting while we watched the kids play with sticks and bugs.  Dad took us in turns for long rides on the ATV, which was, for me, the highlight of the trip!  We covered miles of logging roads and emerged from the tree line to a lookout point that allowed us an unfettered view of legions of mountains marching away into the horizon.  It was on one of these excursions that Dad and I ran across a family of elk crossing the trail, including a baby.  They are so big up close!  It was close to twilight, and many animals are moving around at that time of day.  We also frightened a rabbit, which ran down the road in front of us for several yards before it got its bearings and darted off into the undergrowth.  The strangest forest-dwelling creature we came across was a fat, orange tabby cat, preening and lying at leisure in a bed of leafy green plants, far from the nearest campsite.  How did he come to be there?  And how had he survived the brutality of life in the wilds without becoming a meal for a hungry cougar?  He was so clearly the ruler of his forest kingdom, I was tempted to make up stories about him.

On our second day, Dad took me out on the ATV while everyone was drowsing in the late afternoon sun.  We were on a mission: huckleberries, enough to add to the pancake batter for huckleberry flapjacks the next morning.  They grow pretty high up on the mountain, and it took us a while to locate a few bushes that had escaped the scavenging of bears and birds.  At last, however, we found a good patch, and set to picking.  When we rode back into camp with our “haul” (maybe two cups of berries, all told), it felt like we were ancient hunters, returning with a hunk of mammoth suspended between us on a pole.  The tribe cheered.

One thing we didn’t do for four days: shower.  Sweat, dust, and grime coated us in layers, and every day my hair looked more like a modern art sculpture.  On the plus side, I couldn’t feel the itching of my many mosquito bites through all of that dirt.  Also, I didn’t have to shave my legs; and isn’t that what camping is all about?

We came home Sunday afternoon and raced for the showers.  It felt SO good to get clean (even if it did cause my mosquito bites to flare into life).  I spent today washing the campfire smoke out of our clothes.  All the leftover food has been put away, and all the pictures have been downloaded from the camera.  All that’s left now is to soak in the memories.  I think they might even keep me warm this December when we’re buried under several feet of snow.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

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In movies, it usually happens right after the hero says something foolish, like: “Well, this isn’t so hard!” or “What could go wrong?”

Nothing tempts the powers of chaos like smug self-satisfaction.

This year, our first year in a home of our own, we hosted Christmas dinner for the first time ever.  I didn’t start out feeling smug, but as the finely choreographed ballet of food preparation played out on the pristine stage of my freshly scrubbed kitchen, pride swelled within me.  The turkey, stuffed with apples, was tucked tidily into its roaster pan and lovingly anointed with oil before going into the oven at 9:30 sharp.  The sweet potato casserole and Yvie’s special recipe dressing followed two hours later.  The potatoes were boiled and mashed, and the bread, the green beans, and the cranberry jello mold all took their place on the table like planets of kitchen conviviality converging miraculously on a single point.  Everything seemed to be ready at the same time.

That’s when I said it.

“Wow, I can’t believe everything is turning out so perfectly my very first time!”

The last thing left to do was to sprinkle baby marshmallows across the top of the hot sweet potatoes and heat them to a bubbly, delicious golden brown under the broiler.

Theoretically.

In actuality, I turned my back on the broiler to put the bread in the bread basket, only to hear Paul, who was carving the turkey, ask, “Why is that back burner smoking?”

He opened the oven door to check on the potatoes, and was nearly engulfed in a ball of flames.

“F-f-fire!  It’s on FIRE!” he sputtered, and looked around for something he could use to put it out.  His dad swept into the kitchen, grabbed a potholder, and quickly moved the flaming pan to the bottom rack before closing the door on it.

It turned out that I had set the top rack in the oven too high when I moved it to make room for the turkey.  As the marshmallows swelled in the heat, they made contact with the glowing red heating element and burst into flames.

When the fire finally subsided, the whole top of the casserole was charred black and crisp.

Thankfully, the fire had spent its rage on the sugary topping while leaving the potatoes themselves unharmed.  I was able to scrape off the entire barbecued top layer and start over with all new marshmallows.

Clearly realizing that I needed more supervision in the kitchen, Paul’s dad watched over the second browning attempt himself.

It’s a good thing he did.  The second try turned out just right.

Behold!   The (Almost) Perfect First Ever Notes on a Napkin Family Christmas Dinner:

My favorite Christmas gift: NOT burning down our first home less than a year after moving into it.

Now I just have to endure a lifetime of family jokes about my Twice-Baked Sweet Potato Casserole recipe.