Day 3: Novice Campers

I realized when we were preparing for this trip that this would be the first time we’d just gone camping. We’ve done group campouts. We’ve done festival camping. What we haven’t done is the two of us in a tent with no friends along for the ride, no structured activities, no plans.

Let’s be clear: we’re not talking back woods camping here. We had our back woods adventure with the note on the dashboard and the mosquitos and the panicking. We’re talking about car camping, the sort where you roll your car up and pitch your tent ten feet away. A greener, more rustic parking lot.

Car Camping First night of camping

Our first night of camping was spent at the perfectly serviceable Holtwood Campground in Oconto, Michigan. The campground is dominated by RVs that suck more power than our apartment – but there’s a nice space away from the RVs for tents only, and the entire campground is along a lovely river. The campsite manager recommended Crivello’s for dinner, where our steak dinner set us back a whole $12 for a 10 oz ribeye, soup, salad, breadstick, and choice of potatoes (we went with “pinecones”). While we were on the other side of the river, we picked up a few groceries for breakfast – and some essential missing kitchen infrastructure.

Campsite Kitchen

See, we’re novices at this whole camping thing. Shane has done his product research for backwoods camping, so I assumed that he’d have the gear entirely under control. I think he assumed that I would vet his packing and make sure I had everything I needed to cook on the campstove. Neither of these things really happened, and so we embarked on our campground cooking adventure with the following handicaps:

  1. We brought coffee and our French press, but we didn’t adjust the grind on the coffee so that it would work in said French press. The Jetboil did an amazing job with the water, but that doesn’t mean the coffee we made with it was worth drinking. This was remedied by a stop for coffee in Green Bay, then by the purchase of instant coffee. Yes, you read that correctly.
  2. We had no knife. Of any kind. I’m not sure how we were expected to defend ourselves against bears or, you know, slice anything. I’m also not sure how neither of us checked on this. Regardless, we picked up a cheap serrated paring knife, and that did an adequate job on everything from onions to watermelon.
  3. We had about 5 paper plates, and no other surface on which to cut or from which to eat. We picked up durable plastic plates at Target for $1. Problem mostly solved.

With our kitchen stocked and dreams of bacon and eggs dancing in our heads, we cuddled up in the tent as our neighbors shot off fireworks. It rained in the night, but we stayed comfortable and dry, and woke to an absolutely perfect morning. While Shane worked on coffee, I put together breakfast:

Killer Breakfast Sandwich

Sauteed mushrooms and onions, bacon, fried eggs, and pan-toasted English muffins. Shane added salsa to make a killer sandwich, which he swears was one of his favorite meals of the trip.

Breakfast Sandwich Breakfast Chomp

A great start to a great day. We availed ourselves of the pay showers – 25c for 4 minutes, up to 15 quarters accepted – broke down the campsite, and hit the road towards Devil’s Lake by way of Green Bay.

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1024 Wait, What Season Is It?

So Friday night Shane finally gave in to the weather and turned on the heat.  It was 26 when I left for work that morning, bundled up in my jacket, cowl, and gloves, shivering at the bus stop in the pitch black at 7am.  It was the beginning of soup weather, which was all I’ve wanted to eat for the last week, and at least 3/4 of what I planned to make this week.

That is, until I popped the kitchen window open this morning to vent the breakfast heat and smells and discovered that it was NEARLY 70.  It is the last week of October, right?  I was wearing flannel pajamas and fuzzy socks last night, right? I did pull my tomatoes out two weeks ago because the growing season is over, right?

Fried green tomatoes
Photo by eirikso

Speaking of those tomatoes, they’ve been sitting in a big paper bag in the corner waiting for me to figure out what the heck to do with them. I’ve gotten recommendations for chili or pickles, and I’ve had good intentions of frying them, but for the most part they’ve just been sitting there awaiting my attention. This morning I discovered two things: first, nearly a dozen of the tomatoes have ripened! The paper bag trick works! Second, fried green tomatoes are damned fine breakfast food.

fried green tomatoes
Photo by kthread

This was my first time making fried green tomatoes – in fact, it might be my first time EATING fried green tomatoes – so I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious these were! The tomatoes were small, maybe 2″ in diameter, so we only got about 3 slices out of each. I used Mollie Katzen’s recipe from Sunlight Cafe, which called for an extremely minimal batter – just polenta and salt – so these aren’t the great batter-coated beasts that I saw all over Flickr while looking for photos to illustrate this post. Super simple, super delicious, and when served along with bacon, scrambled eggs, and slices of Avalon‘s Italian bread – an amazing breakfast on an amazingly beautiful morning.

Recipe:
Mollie Katzen’s Fried Green Tomatoes from Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Cafe

0811 Bacon Sandwiches? Yes, Please!

When we lived in Champaign,  Shane used to love to get a BLRP sandwich from Persimmon and take it, wrapped in white butcher paper, over to the Blind Pig, where he would get a good beer and sit outside enjoying what could only be a described as a fantastic lunch.  Persimmon, the grocery sibling of Bacaro, opened and closed in under two years, and we never found a suitable replacement for it or its sandwiches.

Tonight, though, we managed to put together sandwiches worth of Shane’s nostalgia for those Persimmon/Blind Pig lunches.

Sandwich med auberginecreme, rød peber og bacon
Photo by cyclonebill

No freezer excuse needed for this dinner.  Just bacon, delicious thick-cut bacon.  Oh, and a beautiful orange blossom tomato from the garden, sliced thin. A red pepper from the market, quickly roasted in the toaster oven. Toasted slices of ciabatta and good mayonnaise.  So good.

0510 Happy Hour at Grange

Benton’s Old Fashioned, originally uploaded by dansays.

Dinner tonight was a real treat. First, Karin was in town, which is always an excuse for excess laughter and bacon. Second, instead of cooking at home, we decided to try a new happy hour – at Grange. Third, did I mention bacon? How about poutine? Fancy cocktails? Because we had all of those things.

Grange is a relatively new addition to the A2 restaurant scene – new enough to merit  Current’s award for Best New Restaurant – and while we’d tried bites of their food at the HomeGrown Festival last fall, we hadn’t been to the restaurant proper.  Their happy hour deal is $2 off cocktails, wine by the glass, and the bar menu, which seemed just right for a pretty affordable dinner with a friend (thanks, Karin!).  We got to Grange right around 6 and found the upstairs bar practically empty, meaning we had our server’s undivided attention, which came in handy as I felt the need to grill her about everything on the menu.  I ordered their signature drink: the GKB Manhattan, comprised of bacon infused Bulleit Bourbon, maple syrup, orange bitters, and brandied cherries.

I’ll be honest with you – I love bacon as much, if not more, than your average girl, but I’m pretty on the fence about bacon in drinks.  My cocktail was not un-enjoyable, but the bacon-infused bourbon left a strange mouthfeel reminiscent of the greasy burned bits that are left in the pan after you fry bacon and drain off the rendered fat.  How’s THAT for an appetizing description?  My dinner – an excellent fried egg sandwich with chile mayo on thick slices of challah – was actually a pretty nice pairing to my weird drink, so I’m thankful I ordered in that direction.

Shane had the French 75 – a sweet/tart gin-based cocktail with lemon and sparkling wine – and the duck confit poutine – a pile of fries topped with soft cheese curds, bits of duck, and a thinner gravy than I would’ve expected.  Karin also had a very nice Dark and Stormy along with the fried egg sandwich, and we all split a bowl of savory fried chickpeas – the real highlight of the meal for me.

Despite winning the Current award, Grange has gotten pretty mixed reviews on Yelp, and I can understand why: there was nothing wrong with our food, per se, but I had a vague sense (like that strange mouthfeel) that it could’ve been more right.  You know what I mean?

0424 A Perfect Spring Brunch

Shane left in the wee hours to drive to Indiana for Dark Lord Day, which, along with the drizzly spring weather, made it a perfect morning for brunch and baking – or, as I like to think of it, Fancy Lady Baking Brunch.

After last month’s relatively successful batch of Twinkies, we settled on pop-tarts for our next baking adventure, nudged on by the good fortune of a recipe in this month’s Bon Appetit.  As it worked out, I had very little to do with the preparation of the actual pop-tarts, as I was busy with the main brunch event: bacon-wrapped asparagus and soft-boiled eggs.

Susie and I washed and snapped the asparagus, fresh from the farmers’ market, and wrapped each little spear in lovely bacon from Sparrow Market.

Jamie’s recipe recommends baking for 10 minutes, but I’ve found that it takes a LOT longer to get crispy bacon. In this case, 25 minutes, with a break in the middle to switch the pans around. While the asparagus soldiers were in the oven, I boiled a dozen 5 minute eggs – long enough for the whites to be set but the yolks still lovely and molten.

In the meantime, Olivia, Shana, Shannon, and Maria were busy rolling out pastry and filling it with a panoply of jams.

For me, asparagus, bacon, soft-boiled eggs, and toast are all simple pleasures. Put them all together, and you’ve got something magic. Add some local greens, a homemade dressing, and a spoonful of thinly sliced potatoes baked with a fair amount of herbs and cheese, and you’ve got a fantastic spring brunch, made all the more amazing by what came out of the oven an hour later:

I’ll take one of everything, please.

Recipes:
Crispy Asparagus Soldiers with Soft-Boiled Eggs from Jamie at Home (oops, temperatures in Celsius)
Strawberry “Pop-Tarts” from Bon Appetit

Thanks to Maria for her photos!

Oh, and how great is it that we totally made these before Smitten Kitchen posted her version?

0409 A Relaxed Breakfast

Most mornings I’m up and out of the house before Shane gets out of bed – I take the bus and work an 8 hour day, while he rides his moped and works a 7.5 hour day, giving him a bit more flexibility in his schedule.  This means that we rarely sit down to breakfast together – and if we do, it usually takes the form of sitting at our computers with our breakfasts, rather than sharing a meal at the table.

This morning, however, we needed to go to the courthouse to get our marriage license, and as the office doesn’t open until 8:30, we were able to have an actual breakfast featuring an actual conversation and also bacon.  We had leftover bacon in the fridge from Monday’s dinner, so I fried that up, and made a quick French toast for Shane using some challah that we’d had in the freezer.  I had cottage cheese and a dollop of jam – and bacon, of course.  It was really nice to have a little bit of quiet time together before starting our workday – and before raising our hands and swearing that we understand Michigan marriage law, even if we don’t agree with it.

Licensed