Greetings from Camp!
Last night was our first cabin cookout. On Monday nights, cabin groups head into the woods to designated cookout sites to cook their dinners over an open fire. Now when we cook over an open fire here at Nebagamon, we are not talking about hot dogs on a stick, we are talking about real food. Cabin cookout is a great event employing all sorts of wilderness cooking skills and cast iron dutch ovens.
First off, you should know the purpose of the cabin cookouts. The goals behind the program are twofold. First, the cabin cookouts are meant to build upon the boys’ ever expanding wilderness skills. I still believe one of the coolest things about a kid coming to Nebagamon is the fact that by the time they go home, even after only their first year at camp, they are able to make a truly delicious meal over a fire. Think about that…think about how unhelpful your son feigns being throughout the school year. Don’t buy it for a second…he knows how to cook a great meal over an open fire!
Secondly, the cabin cookout is a family building exercise. Cooking a meal for an entire cabin takes individual effort along with a lot of cooperation and teamwork. That is to say, that in order for the cabin cookout to succeed, they must be able to take personal responsibility and work as a team. I spent the evening wandering from cookout site to cookout site, watching the boys tend their fires, and listening to the boys in their family conversations.
The kids did an absolutely fabulous job. There was great energy all night, great spirit all over the place, and the kids LOVED their meals. There is nothing more delicious than a meal that you make for yourself over an open fire. The kids emerged from the woods at the end of the evening very dirty and very proud of themselves….with that smell. I realize that the combination of the smell of smoke and hot and sweaty boys is by all empirical standards a fairly objectionable one. But, to all of us, the smell is perfect….it is the smell of camp. (Not that I could live with it 24/7, but once a week, on a Monday night, nothing could be better.)
The menu last night was pesto spaghetti carbonara, a relish tray (yeah, that’s right, picture your kid, a pocket knife and a bag of uncut vegatables…..and oh yeah, not a single cut finger in all of camp!!!), and the classic campfire dessert, S’mores! In my mind, this is the perfect meal both for cabin cookout, and, if you will indulge me, as a metaphor for a significant part of what camp is all about. The first course, pesto spaghetti carbonara is all about the team. It is about working together. From building the fire, to tending the fire, to roasting the veggies, to making the pesto sauce, to boiling the water, to draining the water from the cooked pasta; the group must work together. If any piece of this process fails, so does the entire dish. You cannot boil water without a fire, you cannot cook pasta without boiling water, you cannot eat the pasta until you drain the water and add the pesto and veggies. Everyone plays a part in the process…everyone makes it work…and without any of them, it fails. It is all about the team…all about the family functioning together. Camp Nebagamon is all about the pesto spaghetti carbonara…. (Somehow, I thought that the previous sentence would come off as more profound than it did. Like you, I too am having a tough time buying the notion of a pesto spaghetti carbonara as a symbolically moving item!)
The dessert last night was S’mores. Part of the beauty of the S’more is the fact that the creation of a S’more is a completely personal project. Now for those of you unfamiliar with the S’more, well….first of all, I am really sorry! You have been denied access to the most iconic campout dessert there is. The S’more is the culinary perfect combination of graham crackers, chocolate and a roasted marshmallow. Each boy roasts his own marshmallow and assembles his own S’more. Some boys like to eat each ingredient separately so that they can savor each individual taste on its own merits. (Yeah, these are also probably the kids that make sure that the mashed potatoes don’t touch the pot roast or the peas on the plate!) There are those that eat just the marshmallow and graham cracker as a sandwich and eat the chocolate separately. There are those that eat the S’more as classically designed….and all sorts of variations in-between. On top of this, there is the very personal marshmallow roasting. Some boys meticulously slow roast their marshmallow until it is a perfect golden brown all the way around, some go with the bull in the china shop approach and thrust the marshmallow into the fire until it bursts into flames so that they not only have the Olympic torch effect going on but get a crispy dark crust around their marshmallow. And again….all points in-between. The point is, the S’more is all about the individual. Campers decide for themselves what they want and determine how far to push themselves. At Nebagamon, we allow campers to not just cook this way, but to live this way too. Camp Nebagamon is all about the S’more…. (Hmmm…that line didn’t quite knock it out of the park either. Perhaps now would be a good time for me to discuss that camp is also a safe place to fail? Nah, I will save that for another update!)
(S’more making tip from someone that has eaten far too many: While roasting your marshmallow, place the chocolate on the graham cracker on a stone relatively close to the fire. This will initiate the melting process of the chocolate….a CRITICAL aspect of the S’more. And lastly, as tempting as it is to bite into that S’more as soon as the marshmallow has been placed between the graham crackers, a 30 second rest time is the way to go. Again, chocolate meltage is the name of the game….. You are welcome…)
Great night out in the woods….great team building….great self discovery…..
All is well in the North Woods…