Day 3: On to Devil’s Lake!

Given our failure to make drinkable coffee, our first stop after packing up camp was Kavarna Coffeehouse in Green Bay – yet another example of the sort of place I wish existed in Ann Arbor.

Photo by paul goyette

Good coffee, a delicious-looking menu, and ample seating on two levels for those wanting to put in a couple of hours of work, catch up with a friend, or catch the occasional local band. We just needed a quick caffeine and internet fix, and Kavarna did just the trick.

From there, we made a quick stop by Lambeau Field, literally jumping out to snap a picture, then jumping back in the car. I’d show you the pictures, but they’re basically what you’d expect given the circumstances. Neither of us have any particular love for the Packers anyway.

Vince Lombardi Statue

Photo by jimmywayne

Let’s not talk about our side-trip to Oshkosh. A consistent theme of our days in Wisconsin was driving on ripped up, formerly paved roads, and Oshkosh had many of them. It also has a totally nondescript, exceptionally boring Brooklyn/gangster-themed restaurant, and a coffee shop with almost adequate sandwiches. We couldn’t get out of town fast enough.

Fortunately, our next stop was our destination: Devil’s Lake State Park. I’d been to Devil’s Lake a handful of times in high school and college, and had very idyllic memories of hiking, the lake, and failed attempts at rock climbing. I was concerned that it wouldn’t live up to my memories, but we loved it right away – that is, once we stopped to imagine ice age glaciers.

Shane Imagines Ice Age Glaciers

Oh, and once we popped open a few Wisconsin beers:

Campsite Beer

Unfortunately the beers didn’t help with the tasks ahead of us. In addition to all the other things we forgot, we didn’t have a mallet with which to drive in the stakes for our tent – or any sort of fire-starting device beyond our trusty, running low on fuel aim-n-flame. No matter: a helpful campground neighbor took pity and loaned us his axe; he also came back with the axe and some very dry wood to help us get a fire started. In the meantime, I made dinner: mushrooms, onions, and ham in a cream sauce – yes, a cream sauce in a cast iron skillet – served with a salad and English muffins. I would’ve made pasta but, well, you’ve seen what I was working with.

First Camping Dinner

We happily sat by the fire until it burned down – and even more happily turned in early.

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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.

Benign Garden Neglect

It’s been a rough growing season.  We’ve had weeks of lows in the 30s alternating with weeks of highs in the 90s.  When it wasn’t very cold or very hot, it was pouring rain.  We got seeds in the ground on Mother’s Day, but then didn’t really get back to do any work – or assess the damage – until the beginning of June, when we did a bit of half-hearted weeding after the half.

We started seeds in February under a grow light: two kinds of tomatoes, peppers, brussels sprouts, and broccoli. All but four of those plants died under the grow light or once the weather calmed down enough to transplant them into larger pots outside. The same thing happened last year, except that we had a 100% fatality rate. What a waste of time and energy. Fortunately Shane’s friend Julian gave us some hand-me-downs, which you can see flourishing in the north-east corner of the plot:

Tomato Forest

Honestly, the garden’s in better shape than I expected. The peas are starting to climb the trellis, and I picked the first zucchini (with 2-3 more growing on the vine) on Monday. The tomatillos already smell like salsa, and I think it’s actually impossible to kill off the broccoli and sprouts – transplants from the farmers’ market.

Peas and Carrots

One wise decision that we made going into this year was to ditch the west bed, where we tried to grow onions and potatoes last year. It looked promising early in the season, but by May, it’s totally overshadowed by tall trees. Rather than try to fight it, we just left it alone and have used it for storing our extra hay bale and whatever waste we can’t be bothered to deal with.

This benign neglect actually worked in our favor, as when I visited the garden this week, I discovered a bunch of wild onions growing in that bed! Maybe they’re not ‘wild’, but I certainly didn’t put them there.

Hella wild onions

The photo may not look like much, but this pile represents an entire grocery sack full of wee onions, many smaller in diameter than a pencil. We clearly weren’t going to eat them all, so I turned to our the trusty Well Preserved for recommendations and wound up using their recipe for preserving wild leeks and ramps.

Pickled Ramps

Pickled Ramps

As with the sour cherry jam, this project was a lot of work for a relatively small yield: just three pints of pickles after at least an hour of trimming and scrubbing the tiniest onions ever. I bet they’ll be delicious, though, and I can’t wait to pop open a jar with a snack dinner in the future.

Recipe:
<a href="Preserving Spring – Wild Leeks from Well Preserved

Cookout prep

Things I made or will make tonight: an ordered list.

  1. Vegan baked beans – another 2 hours to go, though I may not make it that long
  2. Pickled red onions
  3. Vegan chili
  4. Diced onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes
  5. Cole slaw
  6. Horseradish aioli which, if it turns out, will knock another item off my 25 Recipes

All of these things and more will be available as hot dog toppings at tomorrow’s birthday cookout. And for those concerned about my health (and by extension, their health) – don’t worry. I washed my hands about 100x.

0815 Pisto Manchego

pisto manchego.JPG
Photo by zordor

Without actually realizing it, I think I’ve been making pisto manchego all summer. A Spanish take on ratatouille, it is peasant food at its finest – putting together a bit of whatever’s available to make a filling and nutritious meal.  This recipe did an effective job of clearing out the crisper, using up the a handful of tomatoes, two peppers, and yellow summer squash all from our garden.

What the recipe lacks, however, is much spice.  As I was sauteing the vegetables, I was concerned that the dish was going to be boring, that I’d just wasted the last squash from our garden – curse you, cucumber beetles!  The recipe recommended serving the dish with tinned tuna or hard boiled eggs – we went with the former, and it made all the difference.  We were both quite pleasantly surprised by the complexity of flavors, especially the sweetness of the pepper in contrast with the savory fish.  I’d like to try this again with fried eggs – perhaps a Spanish improvement on the shakshuka from earlier in the year.

Pisto Manchego
Adapted from Spanish

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 Spanish onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium green peppers, seeded and chopped
2 medium zucchinis, thinly sliced
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
hard boiled eggs (optional)
tuna in olive oil (optional)

Heat the oil in a large heavy pan – larger than you think you’ll need, trust me – and cook the garlic and onion until soft.  Add the peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes.  Season well and cook gently for about 20 minutes.  If you’ve used a pan that’s too small to allow everything to make contact with the cooking surface, it may help to cover your pan with a lid for part of the cooking time.  Stir in parsley just before serving.  Can be served hot, topped with chopped egg or tuna, or cold with a drizzle of olive oil.

0803 Farfalle with Caramelized Onions, Sugar Snap Peas, and Ricotta

The June 2009 issue of Bon Appetit lingered on my dresser, unread, for nearly a year until Maria pointed out the profile of Niagara-on-the-Lake, which led us to a couple of delicious destinations on our recent trip.  Since then, we’ve made at least three dishes from this issue, including last week’s wonderful polenta with a bunch of veg.  I’m not sure what the moral of this story is – maybe that I should neglect my cookbooks more often?

Tonight’s dinner was yet another success from the June ’09 issue – a pasta that was light but rich, fresh while also creamy.  I substituted farfalle for the orecchiette, and halved the amount of pasta, which resulted in a very good pasta to stuff ratio.  The onions totally melted away into a golden sweetness, and the ricotta was just enough to coat without overwhelming the flavors.  Shane took one bite and remarked that it was very fresh!  We both thought this would be good with asparagus or peas, or with chicken added.  We’ll definitely be making this again, which is more than I can say for the last riff on mac and cheese that we tried.

Recipe:
Orecchiette with Caramelized Onions, Sugar Snap Peas, and Ricotta Cheese from Bon Appetit

0124 Beer and Onion-Braised Chicken Carbonnade

The January 2009 issue of Bon Appetit featured a menu for a week’s worth of dinners for under $100.  One of these recipes has already made an appearance here – last week’s fish cakes – and a second wound up on our plates tonight, paired with a small salad and a few slices of beer bread from Avalon International Breads.

Tonight’s dinner was a beer and onion braised chicken carbonnade, intended for Friday night’s dinner, but then I didn’t have the beef brother, and then I also didn’t have the beer (amazing, no?), and then I also didn’t have the energy to get either of those things. As it turned out, it was a perfect meal for a night of household chores.  While I browned the chicken thighs (dusted with alspice, salt, and pepper), I did the mise en place and the dishes.  While the onions sweated a bit along with some brown sugar, we folded laundry.  With the chicken back in the pan with the beer and broth, Shane worked on his moped and I got caught up on some office-y tasks, all of which left us hungry and allowed us to give the carbonnade our undivided attentions.  The chicken was moist and flavorful, and the sauce – the sauce! – was wonderfully rich, sweet, and savory when spooned on bites of bread.  I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s leftovers, and to perhaps making this next weekend with the stew meat I picked up this morning.

Recipe:
Beer- and Onion-Braised Chicken Carbonnade from Bon Appetit