“We’re going camping. Wanna come?” Sister #3 stared at me with a smirk on her face. (I’m sister #2, and yes, that stirs up all kinds of jokes.) “We’re gonna have fun without you….”
She was taunting me. She knew that I didn’t like to be left out, especially left out of super-silly, breath stopping, laugh-‘til-you-cry moments with my two sisters. She also knew, however, that I’d be a little apprehensive about camping. I haven’t done it since my age was in the single digits. And while I love the outdoors, 3 days without a shower really wasn’t appealing.
I had a decision to make. Stay at home and wonder how much fun I was missing, or put on my big-girl hiking boots and head out into the “wild.” I pondered what I might face, weighed my options (Bad TV and work emails vs. hiking and kayaking). I called a summit with the sisters, and laid down my conditions… well, my one condition. Okay, it wasn’t a condition… more of a request… or, not so much a request as a suggestion… all right. I ASKED (politely, mind you):
“I’d love to go, but how about something a little different? What if we made this trip Fancy Camping?”
I had to explain. There has been some talk on travel sites and magazines lately advocating luxury Glamour Camping, or “Glamping.” Promoters tout the accommodations as luxe and posh. While at these resorts, ‘campers’ enjoy four-poster beds, chandeliers, Turkish rugs, massage treatments, even restaurants. Now I acknowledge the lure of this type of luxury accommodation, but I hardly see it as camping. (And really… why pay for a ‘camping’ trip that costs the same as a five-star hotel?!)
For me, camping is being outdoors, enjoying fresh air and scenery, and unplugging from our tech-focused world. I live in a big city, some days I don’t even see a blade of grass, and I lose touch with the sights and sounds of nature. But on this trip, I’d have an opportunity to reconnect, and have those senses reawakened.
There is a certain primal allure to cooking dinner on an open fire, chatting with the background of owls and crickets, and facing the setting sun with nothing but flashlights. But I thought it would be fun to figure out a way to do it without sacrificing certain basic amenities. There must be something between the ‘roughing it’ of traditional camping, and ‘glamping’ with servants.
Fancy Camping is about fully enjoying the camping experience, but adding some niceties to smooth out some of that roughing it. No we didn’t have crystal stemware, but we rounded up votive candle-holders, and colorful oilcloth table coverings. Mom and Dad contributed a pretty lantern and cheery melamine dishes (no paper plates here!). We had painted tin trays for our table, a floral mat for outside the tent, and fine cotton pillowcases.
And, as this was Fancy Camping, I decided that meant careful attention had to be paid to the food. I mean, hot dogs and baked beans are fine, but why not make the meals memorable? I worked on a menu and made plans for our five meals in the wilderness. On the day we were kayaking, artisanal cheese and arugula sandwiches would be the fare. Dessert one night would be foil-baked apples with lemon zest, brown sugar, and butter. But I’ve always had a particular love of breakfast, so I spent some serious time thinking about our first wake-up. Visions of smoky bacon and fresh pastries filled my head. I wondered… is that possible?
Sisters 1, 2 & 3, and Nephew, hit the road. After 16 long minutes we arrived at the campsite. Okay. Mom and Dad’s house (AKA Base Camp) happens to be in God’s country in the Pacific Northwest, and Deception Pass State Park happens to be the most popular campsite in the state of Washington. Don’t think that 10-mile drive wasn’t a consideration for an exit strategy if it all went south.
Our first meal at the campsite started with simple wraps, which we crisped on the fire, stuffed full with local farmer’s market veggies and cheese. We devoured them with much good wine (Nephew drank water). Then we retired to the fire for dessert. S’mores were required, but since we were Fancy Camping, we decided to use peanut-butter cups in place of ordinary chocolate bars along with gourmet-shop marshmallows, and the results were divine.
A couple hours later, we all piled into our very comfortable tent. Earlier we had sprinkled the floor with lavender – a beautifully scented natural bug repellant. We also installed an air mattress. Why not? They’re easy to inflate, and make the mornings SO much happier. Tired and content, we rolled into our beds.
Lately I have developed the habit of waking up with the sun, and in a tent outdoors, this pattern repeated itself like er… like clockwork. I got up and did my yoga practice – there’s nothing like doing yoga outdoors. Then headed to the table to start our breakfast.
Once the Sisters and Nephew woke up, the fire was coming along nicely and I had nearly finished the preparation for our first Fancy Camping breakfast; Orange and strawberry fruit salad, thick cut apple wood smoked bacon, fresh baked orange-berry muffins, and strong coffee. Hot baked goods are absolutely possible while camping.
Here’s how we made our Delectable Orange Fire Muffins:
Use medium/large oranges. If you have a special citrus peeler, (Sunkist has one that looks like a pointed stick, I used this thumb-operated model.) remove the peel in two halves and set aside. If you don’t have a special peeler, just cut the oranges in half and remove the fruit with a spoon, leaving the halved peels intact. The fruit will become part of your fruit salad. Alternatively, you can squeeze the oranges, and then the peels will also be primed for filing.
Once all the peels are prepared, pour in the muffin batter, until the peel is about 2/3 full. (We made our batter before leaving home and put it in a plastic bag stored in the cooler, then just cut off the corner and piped the batter into the peels come morning.) Then, add berries — if you’re so fortunate, perhaps harvest some on your morning hike. Next place the tops back on the oranges and move them over to your fire. With the tops in place, the smoke is kept out of your muffins and the moisture kept in.
Carefully place the batter-filled oranges on a piece of vented foil directly in your hot coals and let bake for 15 to 25 minutes (depending on the heat of your fire).
When they finished baking, the muffins were the moistest, most flavorful muffins we’d ever tasted — beautifully orange-infused and full of fresh local berries, sweet and crumbly and decadent. And they were baked right in the orange peels! Topped with a little butter and some homemade jam, they were simply delicious. If that weren’t enough, there’s minimal clean-up, and the muffin ‘wrappers’… biodegradable!
We four sat around the fire, well–fed and content. No need for chandeliers and servants. A beautiful setting, perfect weather, good company and a fine meal… that’s what I call Fancy Camping.