Sunday, September 27, 2015

Camping Jitters and Outdoor Cooking

Into the fire

I'm about to embark on my biggest adventure yet in a few weeks, and frankly, I'm kind of nervous. What is it? Climbing Mount Everest? Free diving to the deepest depths of ocean? Wrestling crocodiles? No, I'm going camping... for the first time in 17 years... with a bunch of 10-year-olds.

Last month, I took over as the Troop Leader for my daughter's Girl Scout troop. This is the year that we've decided to go camping. With the exception of one girl, I think that all of us are inexperienced, including the adult leaders. I've known most of the girls for a year. I met a few of them two days ago. They are at that wonderful stage where they're old enough to converse intelligently but haven't reached the teen phase where they start sighing in exasperation and roll their eyes at you. Individually, they are quite sweet and nice, but collectively, it's like being in the middle of a hurricane of adorable kittens all trying to out-caterwaul each other. The "Serenity Prayer" will be on repeat play in my brain all weekend.

God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And Wisdom to know the difference

If that Survivor reality show truly wants to throw in a new twist, they should have each tribe care for a bunch of kids in the wild. At best, I think that this could be the basis for some future comedy about a trio of hapless adults who take their scouts off into the woods and endure one hilarious mishap after another. At worst, it will degenerate into a Lord of the Flies scenario.

Fortunately, the Girl Scouts have a vested interest in not having their organization associated with disaster. So, I've gone through a lot of training these last few weeks. I've learned:

  • CPR and First Aid
  • How to comfort a girl who's away from home for the first time and missing her parents 
  • Follow the buddy system
  • Figure out where the toilets are while it's still daylight
  • It's ideal, but not always possible, to have two adults in the car in case if some child falsely accuses you of blasting Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea for the entire car ride 

Best of all, I got to spend last Saturday learning Outdoor Cooking.

Toasting bread dough over coals.

I've prepped a lot of food for campouts which I send along with my husband and boys who are in Boy Scouts. However, I've never had to start a fire, light coals, or cook the food outdoors. I like cooking in a modern kitchen, and I've always wondered what it's like to do it in the open air.

Coals on a Dutch Oven

The first lesson is titled "Lets GO! Fire, Food and Fun!" Fire and food? I'm all for that. It started off easy making one-pot Taco Soup in a Dutch Oven placed directly into the fire (picture at top of post). Pre-cooked ground beef, tinned beans, broth, water, taco seasoning and a packet of powdered Ranch dressing powder are all dumped into the pot and given a quick stir. The whole thing was hot and bubbling after about 15 minutes in the flames. We ate it over tortilla chips and topped it with sour cream and shredded cheese. Delicious! I imagine it'd be quite satisfying after an active day.

One pot Taco Soup

Next up was stick cooking over hot coals (second photo of post). We pushed canned, refrigerated dough (Pillsbury Biscuts) onto roasting sticks and held them over the fire. It took a long time. After a while, I got tired of squatting and started thinking about getting up to find my camp stool. Luckily, someone finished cooking and gave me hers. The results were fine, but I have trouble envisioning my troop being patient enough to do that much work for one bread roll.

We also cooked chopped vegetables wrapped up in oiled aluminum foil packets and tossed directly onto the coals. While this only required occasionally turning over the packets so that they'd cook evenly, I made a mental note to do all food prep at home before a campout. Cutting up that many carrots, celery and potatoes with a rather dull camping knife was no fun.

Cornbread baked in a box oven

At first, I was rather dubious of the Box Oven concept. Covering a cardboard box with foil and using it to trap the heat generated by hot coals didn't seem like it would work. I thought that either the food wouldn't properly bake or else the whole box would burst into flames and combust. I was wrong on both counts. After pouring cornbread batter into a pan, we propped it up on four empty soup tins set on the ground with a metal pie plate filled with coals beneath it. Each piece of coal is equal to 35F, so we needed ten pieces of coal to create a 350F oven. Then, we gently turned the foil-lined box over to cover the whole setup, propping up one corner with a crushed soda can to let in oxygen. Much to my surprise, we produced a perfectly acceptable pan of cornbread.

Baking Monkey Bread in a Dutch Oven

The last part of the day involved cooking in a Dutch Oven with coals. To determine how many coals to use, first check the diameter of the oven (in inches) usually embossed on the lid. Subtract 2 from the diameter to determine how many coals to place in a pie tin beneath it and add 2 to the diameter to determine how many coals to place on top. So, our 12-inch oven required 10 coals beneath it and 14 coals on top to properly heat the food. (I'm writing all the details here for future reference.)

One group made monkey bread. Balls of bread dough were rolled in a cinnamon sugar mixture then placed in the oiled Dutch Oven. It's supposedly named such because people look like monkeys pulling apart the finished product and returning for more. The results of our beginners group was mixed. While part of the bread was delightful, another part scorched so badly that I later mistook it for coals. 

Smothered pork chops cooked in a Dutch Oven

I thought one of the best dishes was the Smothered Pork Chops we cooked in the Dutch Oven. Wisely, someone suggested lining it with aluminum foil to aid cleanup. Giving up on the dull camp knife, we resorted to tearing apart the raw pork chops with our bare hands. In went sliced onions and celery, then tins of cream of celery soup and cream of onion soup. We placed it over the pie tin of coals and lay more coals on the lid. Periodically, someone had to rotate the whole Dutch Oven 90 degrees one way and the lid 90 degrees the other way so that it would all cook evenly. (I wonder if that had been the problem with the Monkey Bread.) After 30 minutes, it was ready to eat.

The entire Outdoor Training session had 25 participants separated into 6 groups. Some of the other Girl Scout leaders were clearly experienced and were merely there to get the required certificate. They were of great help to use newbies who had no idea what we were doing. Each group brought their food to the table, and we feasted under the hot Texas sun. Other groups made Meat Loaf Cupcakes in their Box Oven or Chicken and Rice in their Dutch Oven. We ended with heaping spoonfuls of Chocolate-Cherry Dump Cake. It was all amazing and far exceeded my expectations. However, I also wondered if I'd ever attempt anything nearly as ambitious if I was outside of this skilled group.

As it is, I'll have my chance in a few weeks. The campout with all the kids is titled "Glamping with a Twist." It's hosted by our service unit and aimed squarely at troops like mine who need a little a lot of hand holding by experts to make it through the weekend. We'll learn how to pitch tents but actually sleep in climate controlled cabins. I have a lot of experience pitching tents since my boys always had to dry theirs out in our apartment living room when camping in Malaysia where rain is the rule, not the exception. Best of all, we get to cook all our meals outdoors. I think the biggest challenge will be at the end when the girls have to sweep and mop the floors and clean the toilets and sinks. I'm already steeling myself against all the whining about it.

So, wish me luck. All the girls were very excited to sign up. I hope that this will be the seed for them to take on greater adventures and true tent camping... maybe even backpacking one day. Who knows? Perhaps one of these kids may end up thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and think back fondly at her first experience in the Great Outdoors at that Glamping campout she did when she was a 10-year-old Girl Scout.

For goodness sakes, give me any advice you may have. I need it!

It’s Your Turn, Link Up Your Newest Travel Inspiration!

I've joined up as one of the co-hosts of Weekend Travel Inspiration.
  1. Link one of your inspirational travel photos or stories to this post by adding your info.
  2. Copy and paste our badge and a link to this page.
  3. Visit some of the other wonderful travel bloggers, read their posts, and leave a comment.  It would be great if you could comment on 2-3 posts.
  4. Tweet it and include this hashtag. #wkendtravelinspiration .
  5. Follow all the hosts of Weekend Travel Inspiration who are working hard to spread the word on what wonderful work travel bloggers are doing.
  6. Don’t forget to check out my amazing co-hosts and their pages: Reflections EnrouteThe Crowded PlanetContentedTravellerAlbom AdventuresSafari 254, and FamiliesGo.

I've also joined with the following linkups. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.


  1. I love the Girl Scouts, and I certainly love a good cooking class. Those pork chops look absolutely amazing!

  2. wow! your girl scout troop is organised. My son's boy scout troop leaders have no training. The dads (some admittedly very outdoorsy) just take the boys camping and somehow make it all work. My husband skulks along behind and pretends to enjoy camping.

  3. I loved this post and admire your commitment to the campout. Those meals you cooked up looked great! We went through a camping phase about 10 years ago but one meal over a campfire was usually the max -- we made sure we were always driving distance to a restaurant!

  4. Best of Luck! I was a Girl Scout and was a leader for both of my daughter's troops. I was a co-leader for my older daughter - thankfully, with a full-fledged outdoorswoman who handled all the outdoor activities so I could handle planning and purchasing. I was also a co-leader for my younger daughter's troop which was very different from the first - they were more into indoor camping (like sleepovers at the church) and arts and crafts. It all worked out - and hopefully, the girls have good memories.

  5. Oh my goodness, how awesome! I'm rooting for you! Camping is so fun, and I know you guys will have a blast! Haha we also avoided camp cooking as much as possible, just because of the sheer number of gadgets we'd have to bring along!

  6. All the food sounds amazing. I think it is funny that you erect the tents but sleep in climate controlled accommodation! In Australia you would have to sleep in the tent. I am going to try that pork chop dish!

  7. Camping is fun! Campfire and the food are wonderful. Have a great time and enjoy your new week!

  8. First, thanks and congratulations on becoming a Girl Scout leader! Thanks, because I think every adult who volunteers deserves a huge and heartfelt thank you. I really enjoyed helping out with my daughter's troop. And the camping? After a while you'll be a pro looking for more places to go! :) Oh, and the post was awesome, by the way!

  9. Your experience reminds of the family camping trip we take with my mom's family, mostly for the younger cousins to experience. We call it Cousin Campout, and your lessons of buddy system, finding the bathroom ahead of time, etc. are all necessary for large camping groups. I also am reminded of our delicious dutch oven cooking when I see your photos!

  10. Wishing you the best of luck! Camping is challenging as it is but to do it with a bunch of ten year olds deserves a medal. Some of those dishes sound delicious.

  11. Wishing you the best of luck! Camping is challenging as it is but to do it with a bunch of ten year olds deserves a medal. Some of those dishes sound delicious.

  12. Great post. This is very inspiring. Hope you got luck more on your camping.


I read each and every comment. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Comment moderation is on, so your comment may not appear immediately.

Web Analytics