by Caroline

Last summer, Lisa detailed her family’s vacation road trip and how they handled forty-two consecutive restaurant meals. This summer — just last week — my family faced a shorter, but perhaps even more difficult, challenge: 21 consecutive cafeteria meals.

We were at San Francisco’s family camp just outside Yosemite, and while we had heard raves about it for years — the lake! the hikes! the freedom for (and from!) the kids! — everyone always paused when Tony or I asked about the food. Well, they’d say, you don’t go for the food. When I asked about vegetarian options, they’d say yes, there’s always a vegetarian option, but then would mention the availability of pb&j and cold cereal at every meal, too, which was simultaneously comforting and worrisome. I read an article in the local paper and paused at the reference to the Sysco truck delivering provisions. The night before we left town, I ran into a friend, just back from her 9th summer at Camp Mather, who told me this year the food had slipped from mediocre to lousy.

But part of the point of this vacation, for me, was the break from cooking, from every aspect of cooking: meal planning, marketing, cooking, serving and cleaning up. A break from the kids’ complaints about what we’d prepared. A break from being in any way responsible for the meal. For someone who thinks and writes and cares about food as much as I do, I found that I really didn’t care too much about the food at camp. For one week, I figured, we could handle anything. So we did not pack extra provisions beyond granola bars for hikes and some salty snacks for cocktail hour. We crossed our fingers, and we hoped — well, not for the best, but for good enough.

And it was fine. We’d set the bar low, and were happily surprised. The food was varied and plentiful and we all found things we liked. Tony taught Ben to work the salad bar like a pro, topping his chopped romaine with tofu chunks and a soy-ginger dressing. Eli, happily taking advantage of how much I say “yes” on vacation, learned how to get just the right amount of cold milk into his hot chocolate, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. No one had to resort to cold cereal for dinner.

an evening meal

And we were reminded, again, that it’s not just about the food. We ate every camp meal outside, on a wide porch shaded by enormous pine trees. We sat with old friends and made some new ones.

dinner crowd

We shared drinks, bottle openers, and tips about nearby hikes and swimming holes. At the end of each meal, our messy trays looked like this:

My family looked like this:

And I can’t wait to go back.