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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1204 25 Recipes Challenge

Two things of note today.  First, we went to Detroit for the afternoon, where we did some shopping at the Detroit Urban Craft Fair and had lunch at Slows, where Shane ate this sandwich:

The Reason

Second, Ms. Little Big posted earlier in the week about a cooking challenge she was taking on – tackling (and blogging) 25 dishes you haven’t made but have always wanted to try. I’m into signing up for things that will challenge me to do things I should be doing anyway – see my 12 Books challenge – and with Shane on board, here is our list in no particular order:

  1. Homemade pasta
  2. Gnocchi – which I’ve made before, but from potato flakes ::shudder::
  3. Tuna noodle casserole – updated to not involve canned soup
  4. Goulash – fancied up from our childhood memories of ground beef and macaroni noodles
  5. Ragù – in both the bolognese and napoletana forms
  6. Crab rangoon
  7. Spring rolls or egg rolls
  8. Pho or hot pot
  9. Pot roast
  10. Cured meat – prosciutto, pancetta, etc
  11. Carnitas
  12. Shellfish, possibly with pasta, definitely still in the shell
  13. The long-lost Bonnaroo sesame gingerdilla
  14. Confit
  15. Something lactofermented
  16. Something pressure canned
  17. Cream ale
  18. Nachos
  19. Aioli
  20. A successful loaf of No-Knead Bread
  21. Curry crackers
  22. Sweet potato biscuits
  23. A totally from scratch pie
  24. Caramel
  25. Escoffier’s mother sauces: velouté, espagnole, béchamel, and hollandaise

1201 Thoughts on Zingerman’s

Our feelings about Zingerman’s have undergone several shifts since we made our first visit while apartment hunting in the summer of 2009.

At first, we were smitten.  We had breakfast at the Deli two days in a row, and brought back Zing treats for our friends in DC.  My coworkers at GW gave me a gift card for Zing as a going-away present.  When Jenn and Bill came to visit, we did the whirlwind Tour de Food and got wildly oversized Zing shirts.

At some point, our opinions started to change.  I mean, the sandwiches are great, but who really needs to spend $15 on a single sandwich?  I worked at the mail order operation over the holidays and was astounded that people would pay $80-125 plus shipping to send  a couple of reubens across the country.  Even though I knew exactly how good the coffeecake was, I had a hard time justifying the $25-50 price tag.  It’s a coffeecake, people.  A really good coffeecake, but a coffeecake nonetheless.  When people would ask us about Zingerman’s, we’d agree that yeah, it was great, but also pretty overrated.

On the other hand, there’s absolutely nothing overrated about their service.  Everything sold by the mail order is guaranteed period – which I can vouch for first-hand, as when a birthday package of cheese and bread went astray en route to Brooklyn, it was replaced without question, even though the original (soggy) package turned up a few days later.  At the Deli, they practically stumble over each other while trying to offer you samples of anything you’d like.  Want to try $200 ham? Sure, here’s a slice.  Do you like pistachio? Eat this. Now.  You don’t like salmon? Try just a tiny bite of this and chase it with this cornichon if you really hate it.  As far as I know, the only thing that is off limits for tasting is the $750 balsamic vinegar.

I mention this because tonight I didn’t feel like cooking, and instead suggested that we grab a sandwich at Zingerman’s.  The “fish guy” – we don’t know his real name, so that’s what we call him – came over to say hi and gave us recommendations on his favorite sandwich – the Cuban Conundrum – which we ended up ordering.  He also begged us to try a celery soda, which we split three ways and enjoyed a great deal more than expected.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t love the sandwich.  It was a fine sandwich, accompanied by a pair of fine pickles – old and garlicky for me, new and cucumbery for Shane.  When I pay top dollar  for a sandwich, I expect a damned fine sandwich.  But when you factor in the friendly greetings and conversation, the quality of ingredients, the generous samples, and the enthusiasm for sharing good things, I don’t feel like we spent too much at all.

1118 Killer Sandwich

I was at a loss for what to have for lunch today – until I was reminded that the Eat on the Street cart would be making their inaugural appearance on the Diag.  It was a blustery day, not the sort when you would want to sit outside and eat, so I felt pretty bad for the Eat folks as they shivered behind their cart on South U.  It was totally worth it, at least for me, for the knock-out sandwich I brought back to my office.

The Eat on the Street menu is simple but wicked delicious:

  • Korean BBQ with kimchi from The Brinery
  • Pork confit with mustard gremolata
  • Lamb merguez with cucumber labneh

All three sandwiches are served warm on Avalon Bakery buns.  Homemade cookies and vegetable chips were also available.

My lunch wasn’t cheap – $9 for a giant pork confit sandwich and a sesame butter cookie – but oh, was it worth it.  The meat was tender and incredibly flavorful – and there was a LOT of it.  I folded the top half of the bun and filled it with the gremolata and half of the meat and scarfed it down, licking my greasy fingers between bites.

Shane groaned with jealousy via IM when I told him about the sandwich, and then groaned with happiness when I brought home the other half for him for dinner.  We’ll definitely be seeking out Eat on the Street next time they’re on campus.

Pork confit, mustard gremolata, Avalon bun
Apologies for the terrible cameraphone photo. So good u guys.

1116 Attempting the Impossible

This morning I rolled out of bed at 6:55, showered, made and ate a real breakfast, made Chemex coffee, and ALMOST made the 7:36 bus.  Almost.  I would’ve made it, too, except that the coffee took a few minutes too long to brew.  Otherwise I am a morning machine.

I’m on a quest, you see. Since my request for a breakfast intervention last winter, I’ve cycled through the usual suspects: yogurt with fruit or granola or cereal, oatmeal with protein powder or apple butter, toast with peanut butter or jam or cream cheese and tomato, bagel with cream cheese, and/or office donuts. In the last week, I’ve twice left the house in need of breakfast, and twice ended up with one of these:

starbucks new 'breakfast pairings'
Photo by cafemama

Yes, that’s a Starbucks breakfast sandwich you see there. Despite my previously virulent anti-Starbucks position and despite the fantastic coffee options here in town, I go to Starbucks occasionally. The coffee’s adequate and, more importantly, they have a handful of breakfast options that are warm and filling without just being sugar bombs.  The sandwich pictured above is a parmesan frittata, ham, and cheddar cheese on a little roll: 370 calories and 23 grams of protein, which are the dietary metrics I’m most concerned about.  It also tastes really good, which is the food metric I’m most concerned about.

I’m convinced that I can make this sandwich at home.  Moreover, I’m convinced that I can mass produce it in such a way that I can just pop a a little sandwich packet in the toaster oven, take a quick shower, and then have a warm and hearty breakfast waiting.  75% of the sandwich is a no brainer – I just have to figure out how to make the little frittata puck.

This morning was my first attempt.  I greased a pair of silicone egg rings, placed them in a non-stick baking pan, then filled each ring with 2 beaten eggs.  We had a sausage links in the fridge, so I added those to the pan between and around the egg rings.  The pan went into the 375 degree toaster oven, and I hopped in the shower.  By the time I was done in the bathroom – 15 minutes later tops – the eggs were puffed up and toasty, and the sausages were cooked through.  We each had an egg puck and two sausages wrapped up in tortillas

The only problem with this breakfast was that the silicone rings weren’t heavy enough to keep the eggs from leaking out everywhere – so while there were two distinct egg pucks, a fair amount of egg had made its way onto the sausages as well.  Next steps may be to try the mini tart pans, or to bake a big square frittata and just cut it into individual portions.  Either way – I’m on to something good.

1028 Fancied Up Sandwiches

Another half-homemade dinner.   While Shane worked out in our basement gym, I zipped up to Plum to do the week’s grocery shopping – Shane will be in Cleveland with the car all weekend – including the components of a grilled cheese and tomato soup dinner.

Tomato Soup
Photo by Arnold Goodway

I used the last of the basil from the garden to make a wee batch of pesto, which I spread, along with a thin layer of cream cheese on two slices of French bread, which were then topped with a few slices of deli ham. Not traditional grilled cheese fare – more like a panini? – but packed with flavor and a great complement to the store-bought tomato soup. I make a mean tomato bisque, which, thanks to the archives, I realize I haven’t made all year, but tonight I was more interested in making a good sandwich.  Given Shane’s grumbles of pleasure, I think I succeeded.  And I also think I need to make tomato bisque soon.

1022 Happy mouths, happy friends.

@ Jolly Pumpkin
Photo by ryanbmolloy

I’m really having a hard time figuring out the best part of tonight. Was it the red chile tofu sandwich at Jolly Pumpkin? The trio of dips split by a trio of friends? The fact that I successfully ate something other than oatmeal or soup? Perhaps it was Shane’s walleye, which he later said he wished he could just eat forever without stopping. If walleye become an endangered species, you can blame him.

zingerman's
Photo by surlygirl

Or was it Laurie’s first visit to Zingerman’s? We were plied with anchovies, cheese, and four or five kinds of ham, culminating with jamón ibérico. Jamón ibérico! $200 per pound! Cue the sounds of angelic delight. And then we went Next Door and tried chocolate studded with cacao nibs, and were told that we were basically making more chocolate in our mouths as we ate.

Chocolates at Zingerman's

Happy mouths, happy friends.