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Archive for March, 2011

Campfires and I don’t always get along.

There, I admitted it.  I tell myself and others that I’m great with fires.  In truth, they tend to burn up all the newspaper I use to light them and then take about 15 minutes of babying before I have a stable fire going.  I think my problem might be over confidence (in the fire): I just expect it to instantly light the big pieces of wood I put in there, with the help of insufficient kindling.

So this year I have resolved to build better fires.  To work towards that end I made some fire starters today.  They were really easy and totally free, thought they did take a bit of time and effort.  They might not end up being free for you (I have a lot of random stuff lying around my house!) but they will at least be pretty darn cheap.

Here’s what you need:

An empty egg carton

Sawdust (or scraps of wood and some tools to make sawdust)

Candle stubs

(extremely messy work bench not required)

I didn’t have any sawdust readily on hand so I made some using a rasp on a scrap piece of wood (Lavon made a bunch of it, actually.)  We also made pretty little curly wood shavings with a plane.

I put some of each into the egg carton divots.

Then I lit a candle (It’s an old communion candle I got free from church.  They get changed out every month.) and held it sideways over the sawdust so the melting wax would drip over it.  I put the match I used to light the candle in one of the divots for good measure–why waste it?

Let enough wax drip over the sawdust to make a good coating–we don’t want any of that highly flammable material to escape!

Wait for the wax to harden up and then cut all the pieces apart.

They’re small, so I’ll probably use two or three per fire, but it’s hard to argue with free, and it’s so satisfying to make something useful.

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Hobo Stew

Somebody finally found the Spring Switch and flipped it.  Whoever you are—thank you!

So, this afternoon, as I sat on the porch with Lavon, eating leftover fish and chips and drinking a beer, our talk turned to camping food.  What new things could we try this year?  What dinners could we make that might be a little more “gourmet?”

I suggested that we could probably come up with all sorts of more refined a delicious dishes using the foil packet technique, where you seal food in aluminum foil and cook it in the hot coals of your campfire.  Perhaps we could try salmon with mushrooms, or fresh veggies.  We might even be able to do rice this way.

So many options, and they all go back to one dish that holds a special place in my camper’s heart: Hobo Stew.

I first learned to make hobo stew at Tall Timber Ranch, the summer camp I attended for eight years growing up and later worked at one summer in the kitchen.  We would make this simple dish in the lodge and then take it down to the banks of the White River to light campfires and skip rocks while our dinner cooked.  Now I can hardly go on a camping trip without having my favorite all-in-one, easy cleanup meal.

Hobo stew is really an ill-defined dish, made up of pretty much whatever you want sealed in foil and cooked over a good set of coals.  Here are the traditional ingredient options as I learned them at Tall Timber:

ground beef

tater tots

frozen mixed veggies

shredded cheese

ketchup (I don’t normally like the stuff, but it adds needed moisture and somehow tastes good in here)

salt and pepper

anything else you can pull out of the fridge that you think might taste good in your stew

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So today is the second day of Spring. (Actually, the third now, because wordpress was down yesterday when I tried to post this.)  It’s the time of year when my camping planning is in full force.  It’s almost like an addiction—no, a ritual, yes, that sounds much better: a ritual.  Some time in mid-February I just can’t take the cold and the dark overcast skies (despite what I tell all my friends about liking overcast days) and the tremendous work ethic one is supposed to have in the winter months, and I just have to start plotting how I can spend multiple days outside—in nicer weather, of course, because I am a bit of a wimp.

Last year it was a trip to Yellowstone for a week.  It was very fitting that all my planning had been done in February because, despite it being June by the time I got there, the weather was much the same: cold and wet.  Actually, not that wet because the precipitation that fell came in the form of snow!  I was very glad that I had invested in some thermal underwear before we left.

This year I will be sticking closer to home.  You see, I have this crazy goal to visit all of the campgrounds in Olympic National Park, and then to write a guide book about them.  I guess the urge comes out of my obsessive spring camp-planning.  Each year, as I decide on an exciting new place to visit, I start collecting as much information as I can: natural features to visit, weather patterns, what wild flowers grow in the area… I look at tons of maps, check out guide books from the library, and visit National Park websites countless times.  I gather lots of good information, but one thing I can never find much of is info about campgrounds in the park.  The official park sites give you two sentences of description if you’re lucky, along with the number of sites and if there are flush toilets.  Guide books try to cover so much that you’re lucky if the campground you’re looking at gets half a page devoted to it.

So I’m going to try to step in and fill the void.  I want to provide people with the kind of information I want to know when planning a camping trip to a national park:

What kind of plants and animals I expect to see in and around the campground?

Can I eat those wild berries?

What can I do nearby?

Who is my neighbor likely to be?  A giant RV?  20 college students out to drink all weekend in the woods?

What are the best campsites like and which ones are they?

How about a map of the campground? And another of the nearby park features?

What should I do if it pours all week?

Can the vampires get me if I camp at Mora?

Join me as I try to answer these questions over the next several months.

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