Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Camp Stories: Return to Paradise

It was the Fourth of July and at 10 o'clock at night it was pitch dark and instead of sounding like a war zone, with booms, cracks, flashing lights and sulphurous clouds of smoke drifting across the battlefield of competing patriotic displays, all we could hear was the quiet burble of the Wind River as it rushed over rounded stones on its way to join the Columbia.

Camp cocktails? Yes, please!

Rather than having to drug our dogs, or watch them pant and shiver and pace through the conflagration—"Go outside? No thanks, I'll just hold it till tomorrow."—they were bedded down quietly at the other end of the tent we'd pitched at Paradise Creek campground in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest north of Carson, Washington.

Our annual pilgrimage, which had ballooned in past years to 14 people in five campsites but this year, for various reasons, numbered only five members in two sites, was a much simpler affair but no less delicious (or fun). While a big group of good friends has always been a blast, fewer people meant much less coordination, and led to simpler packing—salami and cheese instead of dozens of fresh oysters—and much more time reading in beach chairs streamside.

Cast iron-baked scones.

I'd wanted to try my hand at a campfire paella and Dave was itching to use his cast iron, footed Dutch oven to make scones using a perforated cast iron trivet to prevent scorching (left). And of course we had the usual fixings for negronis and martinis to help smooth any bumps in our mattresses at night.

The paella (top photo) was amazingly simple, since I used the frozen stock in place of one of the bags of ice in the freezer chest, and had simplified the list of main ingredients to chicken, frozen shrimp, olives and chorizo. Thanks to Dave's expert fire-building, the split dry fir from the "Camp Wood!" guys down the road burned down to a lovely bed of coals. A little sautéing over the fire, then adding the stock over the top and a half hour later—just enough time for a cocktail, thank you—dinner was ready.

Breakfast of champions.

The scones were a tour de force, and even Dave admitted that he was as surprised as anyone that they turned out so well. He'd mixed the dry ingredients at home, then added the rest at camp. Then it was flattening the dough, cutting it in segments, and putting it on parchment paper on the trivet in the bottom of the preheated Dutch oven. There was a little concern that the oven hadn't gotten up to temperature, but when the time was up he opened the lid and that flattened disk of dough had turned into perfectly light and fluffy scones. Needless to say, there was much oohing and aahing around the breakfast table.

And me? I'll take these kind of fireworks over the other kind any time.

For an idea of how to make paella on a campfire, check out my recipe for paella on the grill.

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