The Great Indoors

Willa breakfasting at the camp site

The other night I went camping.

My son belongs to a Cub Scouts troop who go camping with alarming regularity. I try to be a good scouting father, and make a few of the trips a year. Even though camping is not really in my DNA. I’m more of a hotel/resort guy. I’m overwhelmed by the amount of gear you need to bring, the logistics of set up and break down. I’m not crazy about dirt and dust, and I like warm showers and soft beds. I spent a long chilly night in the tent of my friend, Jon, which was on a slight incline, fighting gravity as I repeatedly slid down my self-inflating camping mat like a penguin sliding off an iceberg. “You know those guys who wake up in the morning, stretch their arms and say, ‘Nothin’ like sleeping in the great outdoors,’?” I said to Jon when he asked me how I slept. “I’m not that guy.”

People are always trying to tell me that camp food tastes better than regular food. But even though I am a big proponent of outdoor cooking in general, I’m not convinced. Last time, when the Scouts went to Joshua Tree National Park, I took Saturday dinner duty feeding the entire troop. Scoutmaster Greg has an epic mobile outdoor cooking set up. He likes to camp, and he likes good food, so I guess it’s a necessity. I made a colossal pot of pretty stellar chili with tri-tip and rib eye, Kurobata pork, heirloom tomatoes, garlic and chipotles, and I stuffed some green New Mexico chilies I’d roasted on the fire with Monterrey Jack, and cooked them on the grill. People murmured as they ate, but I’m not sure it was any better because you ate it sitting on a rock or in a fold-out chair by the campfire. This time, an Australian guy was in charge and grilled chicken halves into chewy oblivion. In the morning, I rolled a sausage in a syrup-soaked pancake, and that was the best thing I ate.

Before Joshua Tree, the last time I’d been camping was many years ago — before kids, before marriage — in the Black Mountains of Appalachia with two of my best friends, Dan and Clay. I cooked that time, too — mostly a 10-lb lion’s mane mushroom I found growing on a log which became soup, pasta, risotto. My friends were skeptical at first, but eventually succumbed to allure of the fungus.

Driving home from Leo Carillo State Park along the Malibu coastline, I passed several favorite eating places — the bar at Duke’s, where I can always count on a crisp fish taco and cold margarita; the Reel Inn, with its long family tables, pitchers of microbrewery ale and Tabasco-spiked fish chowder; and Cholada Thai, I can almost taste the green papaya salad right now… At home that night for dinner with friends, I lit a fire in the hearth and opened a zinfandel, baked a loaf of bread to serve with an artisan cheese from Georgia, and cooked saltimbocca on Roman gnocchi with tarragon butter.

I guess I’m more of a great indoors type.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Andy
    Jan 17, 2012 @ 00:49:28

    Very sweet. Steve calls camping “the C word”. He said to him camping is going to our second home in Sedona! HA!


  2. Greggie
    Jan 17, 2012 @ 22:52:04

    I’m with you. The only camping I like is in a West Hollywood bar.


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