A magical camping trip – Spiedini (meat-bread kebabs) & Dutch-oven apple crisp
|October 12, 2011||Posted by ameliaps under dessert, grilling|
“To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.”
~ William Blake
I experienced the magic of boys this week-end.
When they are in their element: nature, they come out of their shell and bloom like wild-flowers and light up like wild-fire.
We went off for a camping trip with my sons’ scout pack (my husband is the pack leader and organize it all), to Tallullah Gorge State Park. Accordingly, it’s “one the most spectacular canyons in the eastern US”. I would have to agree. This is also the best time of year to go for a camping trip in the forest, as it is Indian summer and the leaves are changing color, turning into gold, amber and fire-red.
We arrived Saturday around noon. While the young boys –about 20 of them, between the ages of 6 and 10, including my two – run around and discovered the forest around us and climbed trees and rocks, the adults set camp. It was mostly all dads and sons. I stepped back and enjoyed being a quiet observer. Grown men turned into children: it was so endearing to watch them get excited about sawing down wood, lighting fire, cooking meat, spotting wildlife, and hiking through the woods. There was a tremendous sweetness in this witnessing. With the “woman” element mostly removed, the men showed their candid, genuine and youthful levity. There was not a lot of talking, just lots of building (tents and fires), cutting (wood and meat), and unspoken bonding. I loved seeing my two young boys “belong”, laugh, and share wild (as in wilderness) moments with their friends.
In the afternoon we went for a stunning hike along the trails, onto several overlooks, down into the gorge, towards the roaring waterfalls. We got to cross a bridge suspended over the canyon…wow… it shook…a real “Indiana Jones” experience for the boys. I did get a little vertigo but cherished the view of the falls and the river, about 80 feet right over them!
Once we returned to our camp base, the boys explored the forest and searched for wildlife. We saw snakes: one dead and one alive, for the boys’ utter joy and excitement. And we also saw a gorgeous blue salamander, which they got to pick up and observe.
Then everyone went off to collect twigs and branches to set up the fire. This part was so amazing to watch. It is incredible how powerful fire can be on men. As we were lighting the fire, the perfect brown and green toad jumped out of the twigs and the boys chased him towards the stream. The fire was started and the red glitter sparkled up towards the sky, as the darkness started to set in, on a perfectly clear moon-lit evening. Then it was time for dinner. Many brought hot dogs, one dad brought Italian sausage that his wife had made at home, and some brought steak, like us. We made skewers out of our piece of meat, Italian-style (from my recommendation). They cooked fast and were easy to eat. In a piece of foil, we also chopped up some onions, carrots and potatoes and lay that on the coals to slow cook, while we prepared the rest.
For dessert I suggested an apple crisp (which I saw in the Lodge booklet). The boys helped chop the apples and zest the lemon. I had prepared the topping at home to make it easy. And of course… we had s’mores, the shining star of every camp-out.
Then the boys run-off their energy in the dark for a little, with glow sticks and flashlights, howls and ghostly sounds. It was precious and timeless: a real “lord of the flies” (at least the first part of the book) / ”last of the Mohicans” (which also happens to be the book we are currently reading) moment. After that, we all sat down in a circle to watch the embers cool off before hitting the sheets. The boys started telling stories of their worst scars: oh don’t they love gruesome recounts, the goriest, slimiest, and yuckiest, the best! Then, to finish off the evening, one of the dads (a South American) played magical instrumental songs with his guitar and pan flute. The dreams already started coming amongst us… as we all slowly faded in the comfort of the woods, under the full moon, around the campfire. A primitive and soothing moment. The night went by fast with some rain gently ticking on the wind tarp, cuddling us into sweet slumber.
In the morning we made coffee, oatmeal, pancakes and eggs. The boys were elated and did some more chasing, running around, climbing, rock skipping in the stream, twig stacking and building, insect catching, stick fighting, journal writing and knife carving. Then we cleaned the site (as per the scouts’ teaching: “leave no trace”), packed up our tents and left.
It was such the perfect camping trip. I feel privileged and honored to have witnessed the boys in all their splendor, candor and natural joy. And in Rachel Carson’s words: “It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know of wonder and humility.”
Spiedini (Italian meat skewers with country bread)
This is the Italian version of kebabs (spiedo means spit, so spiedini means little spits). Instead of using onion, bell peppers or mushrooms (which of course, you are welcome to add) they use country bread, which absorbs the juices of the meat and becomes crispy on the outside and slightly moist in the inside. You can use beef (as we did) or pork (pork side, the cut used to make bacon, is usual), or sausage or lamb (in Umbria they do what is called “arrosticini”: very small pieces of lamb meat are placed back to back on thin skewers with no bread). Each piece of meat is separated by cubes of bread. I use the best rustic Italian loaf I can find, with a good, hearty crust so it will not fall apart once on the grill.
There is no real recipe to them. But here is how I make them: I get 2 NY Strip steaks and cube them in large pieces. Then I cut half a loaf of good Italian crusty country bread. I start skewering alternating meat pieces with bread cubes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl I whisk olive oil, chopped rosemary, salt and pepper. Then I brush the skewers with this mixture and grill them, basting with more olive-oil mixture as needed. That’s it: simple but finger-licking good (or alla scottadito, as we say, which means finger-blistering) outdoor food.
|Dutch-oven apple crisp|
- Vegetable oil or cooking spray
- Apple Mixture:
- 10 cups (equals about 10-12 apples) apples, diced (no need to peel them)
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- Topping Mixture:
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 cups oats
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- Combine all of the ingredients for the apple mixture in a bowl.
- In another bowl, cut the butter into the flour and stir in the remaining topping ingredients.
- Spray the interior of a camp Dutch oven with cooking spray or wipe with vegetable oil.
- Spread the apple mixture in the bottom of the camp Dutch oven. Top with the topping mixture.
- Bake at 350 degrees F by placing 8 coals under the camp Dutch oven and 16 coals on top of the lid. (NOTE: Resist the temptation of putting the Dutch oven directly over the fire…it WILL burn the sugars!!!)
- Continue cooking until the apples are cooked and the topping is brown (you will have to check every 15-20 minutes). Serve warm.