Aside from our one disappointing long weekend of notcamping, my family’s enjoyed a fortunate summer. Unlike poor Lisa’s family, who struggled through a difficult summer of illness and hard work and not a lot of fun, relying — as I would — on the comforts of familiar foods — we were able to explore. We tried new things in the kitchen (zucchini blossoms; homemade nutella; mint stracciatella) and we traveled new places (which I will be writing about in the coming weeks).
But I think my favorite part of this sweet summer was one of our most familiar stops, my parents’ home in Connecticut. Summer is my favorite time to visit because my dad’s garden is always so plentiful. We can never predict whether it’s going to be a good year for apples or peaches, potatoes or green peas, corn or beans, but there’s always something.
This year the harvest looked like this:
Summer is winding down now. School has started, work is amping up, and some worries loom. A new season is beginning. But as I head into the fall and the memory of summer’s bounty starts to fade, I will continue to remember this:
The one fixed point in our past several summers is a multi-family camping trip: four families, eight boys between the ages (now) of 6 and 11, hikes in the woods, splashing in the river, and of course lots of great food and cocktails. This year it seemed both fitting and a little crazy that we would be heading off for our three nights of camping less than a week after returning from family camp.
At least we knew we’d eat just the way we like to, with plenty of fresh produce and homemade dishes. Over the years, we’ve developed a Google doc through which we sign up for meals, remind ourselves of what we need to bring (a sharpie!), and ask each other about other things:
But this year, just as we were getting all the family camp gear washed (or not) and put away or repacked, Ben got sick, and as we got closer to departure day, it became clearer, to everyone but him, that he and I were going to stay home. As I shared on Twitter:
So Tony finished packing and headed out with Eli, leaving me with a sick kid and this sweet paper tent card, showing himself and Eli in their sleeping bags, with hearts on Ben’s and my pillows where our heads should be:
Ben and I have been home and very sad, consoled by messages and pictures texted to us by Tony and our friends, knowing they miss us, too:
As I write this post, Ben is starting to feel just better enough to remember the treats we always have camping — the Nutella one family brings for breakfast and the s’mores the kids make after dinner — and I’m remembering some of my favorite treats from last year’s trip, like my friend’s gorgeous appetizers:
and Tony’s fabulous coffee bar:
But for the second week in a row, I find I’m thinking less about the food than the experience around the food, and that’s what I’m missing by not camping. I’m sad that we’re both missing time that in years past we spent like this:
I can let go of my desire to share my latest pickles, to use Mark Bittman’s kebab generator, and to reinvent our s’mores a la Sunset Magazine. I’ll find more recipes by next summer. And I’m trying to be philosophical about the weekend we’ve missed. We will go again, with all our boys another year bigger and more independent. The woods and the river will be waiting for us till we’re ready. For now, it’s all tea and toast around here.
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.
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.
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:
While Lisa and her family were off in Hawaii, the Grant family took its first European vacation, a trip that I’ll have plenty to say about here. And once we’re done writing about our vacations, we’ll both get back to the day to day of feeding our kids at home. But before any of that, a quick post about returning home:
Getting home, especially after 19 hours of travel, means dropping the bags at the front door, checking the fridge, making a grocery list, and (depending on what time we walk in the door) polling the family about what take-out they want for dinner. Yesterday we’d been home less than an hour before Tony had walked to the market for milk, eggs, and bread, and then picked up unapologetic take-out from the local Chinese restaurant for dinner. Our standard order (unchanged in 6 years): szechuan green beans; millennia veggies (with tofu, brocoli, eggplant, snow peas, shitake mushrooms and carrots), Nanking noodles (fat noodles with chunks of tofu and whole basil leaves) and brown rice. The boys ate heartily, their first balanced meal in over a week.
This morning, jet lagged, I was up making granola at 6.