Tales from the Cookfire

Stories, songs, and other fun stuff that happens around the campfire.

Critter Proofing Your Camp Kitchen

racoons-at-night-690px

It was about one or two in the morning when I was awakened by a noise. I laid there, in my tent, listening to what sounded like bones crunching. I laid there for what seemed like an eternity trying to decide what to do. Should I get up and check? Or should I just hide here in my sleeping bag inside my tent and hope that whatever it is goes away and doesn’t decide to come see if my bones are any tastier? To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if my decision to get out of my sleeping bag was driven by curiosity (I know, it killed the cat) or the need to use the restroom.

So, armed with my flashlight and pocket knife, and questioning my intelligence, I quietly crawled out of my sleeping bag and crept silently to my tent door. I unzipped just enough of the tent door to shine my flashlight out and locked eyes with a raccoon.

She was up on the picnic table rummaging through a resealable bag of coffee creamer cups that had been left out. She was puncturing each creamer cup with her teeth and sucking out the sweet contents. The picnic table was covered in creamer carnage. On the picnic table with her were three babies who were eagerly licking up all the spilled creamer.

Caught in the beam of my flashlight and with all the creamer cups sucked dry, she decided she didn’t want a confrontation with me and she and her babies hustled off the picnic table and into the bushes. That was about five years ago while at summer camp with my son’s Boy Scout troop. I’ll always remember that.

Last October, at our troop’s annual pioneering weekend, I had to defend my camp kitchen once again. This time from a persistent horse who smelled the unmistakable smell of an apple pie in one of my food totes.

After I had to gone bed the night before, the adults who stayed up later did not secure the tote where the apple pie was. Early the next morning, a couple of horses from a neighboring farm wandered through camp and one headed straight for my camp kitchen and that apple pie! He was in the process of nosing off the unsecured top when I caught him. Luckily, I had gotten up early to get coffee and breakfast started or that apple pie would have been a goner.

It was a bit of a standoff with him trying to nose off the lid and me trying to hold it on. I knew I needed to carefully shoo him out of camp without spooking him. I was concerned that, if I was too aggressive, he’d bolt and possibly injure a scout sleeping inside a tent.

We had a long conversation he and I, and I finally persuaded him to move along without the apple pie, but the experience reminded me once again of the importance of critter proofing your camp kitchen.

In all the years I’ve been camping, whenever an animal has invaded my camp kitchen in the middle of the night to ransack, rob or otherwise make a mess, it’s usually been because I had gone to bed and a late evening snacker did not put something away properly or left something sitting out.

Here are some simple rules I try to follow so as not to encourage critters to come into my camp at night.

Keep a scrupulously clean camp. Pick up, seal and pack out every scrap of uneaten food. Pack leftovers inside odor-proof plastic bags. Another option is a bear canister, which is made of strong plastic with a heavy-duty lid that animals cannot pry open. Don’t forget: Always handle odor-proof bags or a canister with clean hands!

Avoid using any scented products such as lotions or soaps. Artificial smells also attract wild animals. A bear that’s a mile from your camp won’t smell your freeze-dried spaghetti, but it will smell your fresh and fruity deodorant.

If you choose to use a scented product, do so in the morning so the smell deteriorates before bedtime. Always change into clean clothes that have not been exposed to these scented products before bed. Any scented products must be sealed in an odor-proof bag and stored away from camp with your food.

Keep your food out of site. Once an animal finds food in a pack, box or can, it will seek out similar containers with hopes of securing a meal. Bears have been known to destroy boxes and packs that didn’t contain — and had never contained — any food. This means you should keep ice chests, boxes and packs out of sight. And don’t store food in tents or other places where people gather.

Separate your food from you. Campers often hang their food in a tree but that doesn’t really protect it. A bear cub can climb a 70-foot-tall tree in about 10 seconds. Mama bear can climb, too — slower than her cub, but faster than you. So “treeing” your food won’t necessarily keep it safe from critters that climb. Why, then, do many park authorities ask campers to hang their food? For your own safety!

Separating food and humans is the safest solution. Most campsites have only a few trees with horizontal branches that meet the guidelines for hanging food (about 20 feet high and approximately 8 feet from the trunk of the tree), and animals that climb know them all. If you do tree your food, do not use the same tree as everyone else.

Another option: Take your food out of camp and hide it in the woods. Do this only if it’s packed in a waterproof and odor-proof container, like a bear canister or bear box supplied at some park campsites.

Practice Leave No Trace principles. Scouting practices lean heavily on Leave No Trace ethics. Among these principles is the act of setting up your sleeping area at least 200 feet from where your unit will cook or store food. Always clean up spilled food or leftover food particles, and you must strain all wash water and distribute it at least 200 feet from camp.

In terms of trash, Scouts pack out everything they pack in. This should, of course, be done with caution. Carrying garbage in your pack while hiking through bear country could be a recipe for an attack. Make sure the garbage is sealed in an odor-proof bag or container. In some instances (if park-permitted), you might wish to burn food scraps instead of carrying them in your pack in areas highly populated by bears. And you should never throw leftover food down park toilets or box latrines.

When staying in a campground, take the garbage to the trash bin every night no matter how full the bag. If you allow it to stay in camp overnight, it will just attract critters and, in the morning, you will wake up to a huge mess.

Many national parks require hikers to store their food in bear-proof containers. Some examples include the BearVault, a tough plastic cylinder that’s government-approved; the Ursack, a bag made from virtually bulletproof Spectra fabric, which makes it more lightweight and compact; and the Outsak, a stainless-steel mesh bag that resists raccoons and smaller animals. Using odor-proof bags inside critter-proof containers provide extra protection.

Fortunately, the rules that work to help deter bears work for chipmunks, squirrels and other rodents, too. Even if I’m not in bear country, all my food is stored in ice chests and hard-sided totes that I can secure from nimble little raccoon hands. Just because a raccoon doesn’t pose a threat to your life doesn’t mean you should forget about animal-proofing techniques when you’re not camping in bear country. Otherwise, you may be awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of bones crunching outside your tent door!

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Descent into Weirdness

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For breakfast, I like to have eggs on toast. Sometimes I poach them, sometimes I fry them over easy, but I like to put them on toast, break the yolk and let the toasted bread soak up all that yummy yolk. That’s not so weird you say, but wait, there’s more….

Ever since she was little, my daughter has liked to eat her eggs on toast as well. One day she asked, “Do you think I could make a sandwich?” I said “Yes, your Poppa liked to make fried egg sandwiches. They were one of his favorites.” So, following in the footsteps of her Poppa, my dad, she tried it and loved it, and was hooked. Still not weird enough, you say?! Well, hold on, our descent into weirdness begins….

It all started, many years ago, when my daughter decided to try Cheetos on her sandwich. I’m not sure if she saw someone else do it, was acting on a dare, or what, but she tried it and she liked it. Thus began her experimentation. She tried potato chips on her sandwiches and then sour cream and onion chips on her sandwiches, Fritos, Doritos, and so on. Not only do they add flavor but also crunch to her sandwiches, she says.

Of course, the next logical step was to add hashbrowns to her fried egg sandwich. I mean, wouldn’t you?!

One morning, while making our usual weekend morning breakfast of hashbrowns, eggs and toast, she noticed we were out of bread. She grumbled that she didn’t want to wait for a loaf from the freezer to thaw. My son gamely suggested using frozen waffles instead of toast and, well, you know… she loved it.

Her latest version (pictured), made just last weekend in a cast iron skillet, includes a frozen waffle, a layer of honey-nut cheerios, a layer of hashbrowns with sausage and bacon, a slice of Canadian bacon, 2 scrambled eggs, topped with another waffle.

So, is this weird enough for you?!

How did we come to this?

Well, I have to admit that it’s entirely my fault for encouraging her. Whenever she would wonder out loud what something would taste like, no matter how strange it sounded, I tried to cheerfully respond with, “Why don’t you try it and find out!” I mean, it’s only food. Right?

Often we discourage our children from trying something new without even realizing it. We make a funny face or a frown. We say, “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know” or “I’ve never liked that.” When we do that the child forms an opinion before they’ve even tasted it and even when they do taste it, their tasting is “flavored” by our opinion.

So, how have I encouraged my children to broaden their palates?

I have tried not to let my personal food dislikes influence my children. Just because I don’t like peas doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try them and judge for themselves. So we served peas one night with dinner (and I was forced to “try” them again and I did so cheerfully) and my kids liked them and now we eat peas on a regular basis and you know what? I like them now also.

I have encouraged my kids to try new foods multiple times because, as we grow, our taste buds develop so something that we didn’t like a month ago, we might like today. The rule in our house is: You can’t just try a food once, declare you don’t like it, and never touch it again. You have to keep trying it.

Experiment with how foods are prepared. I never liked asparagus because I had only ever eaten it boiled. A friend of mine grilled it once and I have loved it ever since. So, just because you don’t like a food prepared one way, doesn’t mean you won’t like it prepared another way. Different cooking techniques can enhance or ruin the flavor of many foods.

And, whenever one of my children has wanted to try something new, no matter how strange it sounds to me, I have always tried to be positive and encouraging.

I am proud to say, that my two teenagers are now amazing eaters who will eat just about anything. Even while growing up, while their taste buds were developing and maturing, I would never have classified them as picky eaters.

So, encourage your children and grandchildren to try something new or to try again a food they didn’t like the last time they tried it. Try it with them (even if you don’t like it). You both might discover you like it!

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Categories: Tales from the Cookfire | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Olympic National Park Holds Many Secrets

20150601_great-outdoors-month-logIn honor of June being National Great Outdoors Month, I thought I’d share one of my favorite camping places.

Olympic National Park
Located in northwestern Washington state, the park is named for Mount Olympus, which receives more than 200 inches of precipitation each year and most of that falls as snow. At 7,980 feet, Mount Olympus is the highest peak in Olympic National Park and has the third largest glacial system in the contiguous U.S.

This is the park of my childhood. It has 16 different campgrounds. My dad’s favorite camping/fishing spot was the Queets. Other camping favorites include the Hoh, Sol Duc, Mora, Kalaloch, and Ozette. You could probably camp there for a lifetime and still not discover all of Olympic’s secrets.

 

Olympic-National-Park.-Credit-Maria-Dominguez-600Photo Credit: Maria Dominguez

With nearly one million acres, Olympic encompasses several distinctly different ecosystems and protects a rich natural and cultural history. Untamed rivers flow from glacier-capped peaks through valleys of old-growth forests, waves crash against a shoreline rich with life, and only trails traverse the vast interior of this internationally recognized wilderness.

 

Beach_credit-NPS-Photo-600Photo Credit: National Park Service

Hoh-River-Credit-NPS-photo-600Photo Credit: National Park Service

Olympic-Coast-Sea-Stacks-Credit-NPS-photo-600Photo Credit: National Park Service

I hope this inspires you to get outside and go camping. And, while you’re camping, cook some amazing food!

 

Fiddlehead-ferns-at-Olympic-National-Park-600Photo Credit: National Park Service

 

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Cooking and Crooning in the Camp Kitchen

chimneys_IMG_0885Last weekend, we were at Girl Scouts’ Camp Robbinswold teaching outdoor cooking to some amazing adult volunteers. We all had so much fun! And all the recipes were successful and we ate really well. Too well, I think, but it was so good!

For the Saturday night campfire, we were asked to prepare a skit or a song and before you could toast a marshmallow, our participants had a tune and created all new lyrics to an outdoor cooking themed song. They continued to refine the lyrics throughout the day, and the final version was nothing short of brilliant; however, I think it will be 3 more days until I can get the tune out of my head!

 

(sung to the tune of A Ram Sam Sam)

A Dutch Oven, a Dutch Oven,

A Foil Packet and a Dutch Oven

A Dutch Oven, a Dutch Oven,

A Foil Packet and a Dutch Oven

 

Pie Irons! Pie Irons!

A Foil Packet and a Dutch Oven

Pie Irons! Pie Irons!

A Foil Packet and a Dutch Oven

 

A Roasting Stick, a Roasting Stick,

A Cup o’ Hot Cocoa and a Roasting Stick

A Roasting Stick, a Roasting Stick,

A Cup o’ Hot Cocoa and a Roasting Stick

 

Marshmallows! Marshmallows!

A Cup o’ Hot Cocoa and a Roasting Stick

Marshmallows! Marshmallows!

A Cup o’ Hot Cocoa and a Roasting Stick

 

It’s Bacon Wrapped, it’s Bacon Wrapped

Let’s Make Everything Bacon Wrapped

It’s Bacon Wrapped, it’s Bacon Wrapped

Let’s Make Everything Bacon Wrapped

 

More Bacon! More Bacon!

Let’s Make Everything Bacon Wrapped

More Bacon! More Bacon!

Let’s Make Everything Bacon Wrapped

 

Let’s Make Everything Bacon Wrapped

Yes, Let’s Make Everything Bacon Wrapped

 

Written by the participants of the Outdoor Chef unit at Outdoor Learning Weekend on March 28, 2015.

 

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