Surviving summer camp cuisine

or, how I spent my summer vacation, part 1

Sail camp sounded like the best thing in the world for Kid Two. He discovered a love and affinity for sailing last year and, as as happens when you get involved in a new activity, found there are clubs and camps and organizations that spring up to support said activity. Camping next to the warm waters of the San Joaquin River Delta, sleeping under twinkling stars on the lush grass of a yacht club. Sailing during the day and playing cards all night – what could be better? Kid One, who also enjoys the water, secured a gig as a sail camp counselor – a motherly micromanaging coup that gave me the comfort Kid Two would have at least one familiar face all week – his brother’s. Even better, sail camp dates coincided with LL’s spending a week at a convention in Las Vegas, so if I worked this right, I could go keep him company in Sin City.

It was lovely, but I was stressed out about the logistics of getting the five of us ready to go away for a week. Someone had to house-sit the garden and the fish. The puppy was going to my in-laws and needed treats, kibble, toys, and his favorite bed. LL needed silk shirts and business cards. Kid Two needed a chartered boat, tent, and things to amuse himself in the evenings, Kid One, now 19, could more or less pack himself, but if I was going to Vegas I needed a pair of dress shoes and a bling-y swimsuit; my beach-mom garb of flip flops and board shorts wouldn’t cut it. Plus, in the span of one evening I was driving the three hours to camp, backtracking two hours to the airport, and flying into Las Vegas for an 11pm arrival. I’m usually exhausted by ten – how would this work?

I do have some history getting stressed out about vacation logistics. The first time I left Kid One with my in-laws I handed over a three-page, typewritten list of food preferences; this for a one year-old child with no allergies. Once I lulled myself into a false sense of security and arrived in town in for my brother’s wedding with no socks or underwear packed for anyone in the family; another time we arrived for a day at the river with no swim suits. So I make lists in my mind and edit them then write them on paper and check them off and make myself crazy in general until we are off.

For sail camp I thought to ask a more experienced parent to fill me in on the packing scoop – light-colored, long-sleeved rash guards to protect them from sunburn and keep them cool in the intense Delta heat. Sailing gloves and knee pads, to they don’t get blisters and scraped from scooting around an 8′ dinghy all day. A water bottle. And a tip she learned over the years- it’s OK to send treats. So Kids were already armed with goodies from a Trader Joe’s run: 5 seaweed snacks, 1 pound each cashers and almonds, 5 chocolate brownie Z bars, a pound of dried slab apricots, and a bag of those baked Cheeto-style cheese curls. I thought that would be more than plenty.

But when we arrived and I saw the big dispenser of cheese sauce and enormous number 10 cans of green beans on the picnic table I panicked. Camp food! It was a variable I hadn’t considered. I thought about the chapter I’d read recently in Gabrielle Hamilton’s awesome memoir Blood, Bones, and Butter about her summers cooking at a kids’ summer camp. It’s a no-win situation; the budget is tight and kids are generally not very adventurous eaters. Kid Two is adventurous enough, but I didn’t know if he would eat that stuff. I’ve never given him vegetables from a can. Forgetting the two cardinal rules that 1/a hungry child will eat and not let himself starve, and 2/you send your kids to a camp for new experiences, including food, I made a quick run to a CVS down the road. Thirty-five dollars later, Trader Joes’ loot was reinforced with two packages of teriyaki turkey jerky, 2 of beef jerky, 4 bags cheddar Goldfish, a dozen granola bars, and finally, candy – enormous packages of Red Vines and Lifesaver gummies.

When I left for the airport, Kid One was sitting at a table with the other counselors, munching on his supper of hot ham slices and cold potato roll. He was fine. It was harder to leave Kid Two. Although he’s a bit of a ham he won’t touch the stuff, and he sat forlornly at a table of younger kids pushing pesto-coated green beans and an undressed green salad around on his plate.

But I had to let it go and let him grow, so the saying goes. There was a plane to catch and a chance that he was subconsciously putting on a show for mom. The boy is 12, and has been away from me many, many times before; he was supervised, and he was with his brother. He not only survived but he made a couple of friends and learned some new card games. And sailed so much – all day, every day. They even made their own sails for a race on the final morning:

His confidence is awesome to see. He had such a great time he wants to go back again next year, even though they “ate a lot of food that should have been home-cooked but since they had to cook for so many people it just wasn’t good anymore.”  Food was only a big deal to me.

Yet all the goodies were gone, except for a few bits of beef jerky.

4 Comments

  1. Maggie,
    I am exhausted reading this.
    You are an awesome Mom. In fact, yoy have taken Motherhood and Wifehood to new extremes.

    Love You, your Mom

    Reply
  2. This is a great post. Thank you and Google for chance to read it.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Alex; that was a wonderful thing to hear this morning. – Cheers! Maggie

      Reply
  3. There is a lot of fun that can be had while camping. You might discover something new about yourself, get a little closer to nature or just feel free from the everyday stress you have to deal with. You can hike and roast marshmallows over an open fire. There are lots of things you can do, and lots of things to do before your next camping trip. Here are some helpful tips to assist you to have that great experience. ^

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