Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Backwards Account of the Summer

My oh my. What a fabulous summer.

The kids enjoyed summer camp for a whopping eight weeks this summer. EIGHT WEEKS! And while I always look forward to drop off day, it pales in comparison to my feelings on pick up day. I positively cannot wait. Eight weeks proved to increase my anticipation exponentially this year. And yes...we continue to hear it year after year.

"How can you possibly live without your kids for so long?"

It's possible, people. Believe me. And I won't deny that we enjoy it, as a happily married couple.

We enjoy it a lot.

But so do they. In fact, my son didn't want to leave camp. He loves that little piece of fantasy-land that Camp Menominee so carefully and thoughtfully creates every summer. He thrives on the constant action and activity, always looking forward to what's next in their jam-packed days. And while our daughter had her ups and downs this summer with bouts of homesickness, Chippewa Ranch Camp is firmly rooted in her blood, despite angst over missing activities with her high-school friends. She is all in when they ask her to return as a Counselor in Training next summer, willing and ready to pay her camping enthusiasm forward to the younger ranks.

If anyone is interested in the absolutely extraordinary experience, lifelong lessons, independence and values your children glean from overnight camping, please send me a message at jen@jenczupek.com or visit Menominee or Chippewa's web sites, found here and here. I could talk endlessly about the positive impact camp has on young children. Both camps are currently enrolling for the 2014 summer sessions - don't delay!

Back to my summer...as I looked through all the awesome photos I took, I decided to write several posts on the fun we had, working backwards.

One of Kahley's BFFs from Plainfield came to the cabin with her parents to surprise her when we picked her up from camp.
To say she was shocked and overjoyed was an understatement. Working on few hours of sleep and emotional overload from saying goodbye to so many good summertime friends, she completely lost it upon rounding the corner and seeing her friend there with open arms to swoop her up and romp around in our playground for the weekend.

Kris and Doug are laid back, chill, and ready for anything. "Wanna get up early and hike Fallison Lake Trail tomorrow morning?" I asked on Friday night.

"SURE!" they enthusiastically replied. So we were off.

Miller loves hiking.
So do I. And so did our friends.
The towering pines are my favorite on this trail...
...in addition to the constant view of the serene, peaceful lake. Look familiar, girls from girls weekends of yore?
The two friends enjoyed each other's company; however, I think Taylor had to finally cut Kahley off with the camp-speak.
She'd had it. And didn't want to hear another word about LNIL. Or Songfest. Or Kahuna Day. Or the Gauntlet. Or the 5000 other events that are difficult to grasp if you don't experience it first hand, let alone decipher the foreign language my kids return home speaking every summer.
Jake sat this one out, happy to sleep in and vegetate. So did Kris and Doug's oldest child, Ryan.
He left for college today. I don't think Kris and Doug are smiling this largely right now. In fact, I know there were tears this morning. Maybe even close to an ugly cry. I think I'll drive over tonight and give Kris a big, juicy hug. Her little Illini is going to be just fine.

We capped off the Peebles' stay with a campfire dinner, a rousing game of bags (Jake and I won!), a visit from a gorilla and a cannon shot across the lake. I whispered "Fire! Fire in the hole!" before the blast rocked all of Echo Lake. Kris immediately whipped her head at me, and shot back, incredulously. "HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT?"
Intuition, baby. And maybe a close relationship with the cannon shooters.

Hee hee.  More to come on what quite possibly was the best summer yet. Ever since my Grandma Kahling lived on Long Lake in Northern Minnesota when I was a young girl, it's been my dream to spend an entire summer on a lake.

Dreams can come true!

Enough sap. Have a great rest of the week. It's good to be back on the grid.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Apéritif Friday - Campfire Fajitas

Oh. My. Word. If you've ever cooked over a campfire, fajitas must be in your arsenal.

This week we had a weeknight campfire, in the most perfect of mid-summer conditions. The air was cool...sweater-weather chilly. The sky was overcast, but no forecasted rain threatened our plans. The wind was nonexistent, leaving the lake calm with the exception of a single boat that putzed by. I convinced Mr. Musky to cook our dinner over the campfire vs. the Weber on the deck. I know he enjoys sitting on the deck and grilling after a day of fishing and boating, because it's less work. But I wanted this meal over the fire.

As I've indicated before in The Shenanigans of Boys, I'm rarely present for the entire cooking of a meal over the fire. I'm usually inside, stacking up all kinds of foodstuff on a white tray, making my way to the fire praying I don't faceplant down the rickety railroad-tie stairs (yes, I've done this once or twice - it's not pretty), then immediately head back up the hill to the cabin to fix someone another cocktail, or prepare more food, or assemble the tablecloth and dishes, or sew some curtains.

Just kidding. I'm pretty sure I will never sew curtains in my entire life.

Anyway - on this particular culinary adventure, I completed the prep work before we even took the dog out on the boat in the afternoon. My job was complete, apart from lugging it all down to the picnic table. So I actually got to sit in front of the fire, with my apéritif, gazing into the flames while it got hot enough to cook our dinner. In fact, when the time arrived to bring down the ingredients, Mr. Musky helped me. "So we can both enjoy ourselves by the fire - together." And listen up, all you men out there. THAT will make your woman swoon, even after twenty-three years of togetherness.

First we had a cocktail. Sapphire, water, and a lemon peel for the cooker, and a Templeton Rye Manhattan for me. 2 parts rye whiskey to 1/2 part sweet vermouth, a couple of dashes of orange bitters, shaken and poured over ice with an orange peel and two cherries as a garnish.
Fabulousity in a glass, man.

Meanwhile, I uncorked a nice bottle of Cabernet to drink with our dinner and poured some in a couple of glasses to let it breathe. My sister-in-law Jen would be so proud of me. And when it started raining a bit? I quickly adapted with a redneck solution...
...and noticed a bug landed in the glass on the left. I may or may not have picked it out and gave it to Mr. Musky to drink.

Miller swam his bootie off at the beach that day, thrilled to be back after a two week cold-snap hiatus. He kept a good eye on the happenings on Echo lake while we cooked dinner. He's always on alert here, except when he's standing on his hind legs to eat the deer corn out of the neighbor's feeder. Yep - I got the dreaded call earlier this week.
"Hi. Um, does Miller belong to you? Would you like to come get him? He's eating all our deer food."

Ugh. See, we usually let him roam around up here, but on week six he got brave, mad at us for not taking him to the beach, and took matters into his own paws. He walked himself. Right down to the fun neighbor's house who has the awesome corn for him; er, for the deer. And sometimes, according to the neighbor, he even walked himself all the way to the stop sign.

What an independent little pup.

He liked it when the marinade for the steak landed all over the fire pit stones. Yum Yum.
SO...back to the best fajitas I've ever had. Seriously.

I bought a 1.5lb flank steak, mainly because the skirt steaks looked grody at the local grocery store. I marinated it in 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup lime juice, 3T brown sugar, a couple of chopped shallots, 2 microplaned cloves of garlic, 1/2 t cumin and 1/4 t cayenne pepper and 1/4 t chipotle chili powder. This is adapted from Alton Brown's Skirt Steak Recipe. We've used this before, and it is awesome. But don't bother with the hair dryer thing that Alton recommends. It's sheer nonsense.

For the vegetables, I chopped a red, yellow, orange and green pepper, and added a jalapeno for good measure. I also chopped a red onion and a white onion, put them all in a large ziploc baggie, and added a splash of canola oil, since we were out of EVOO. I sprinkled in some cumin, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and chipotle chili powder to echo the flavors of the flank steak. I had some leftover herbed butter from some corn on the cob we ate a few nights ago, so I plopped some in with the vegetables to ensure they wouldn't burn over the fire.

Both bags of food marinated for about eight hours. Had I been thinking straight, I would have poured some of the steak marinade onto the vegetables, but that revelation came to me too late. In the end, it didn't matter.

Mr. Musky started with the vegetables. We recently purchased a holey basket for vegetables, shrimp and scallops at the cabin, which works great for getting a bit of a char on your food without losing it in the fire or charcoal. We normally use aluminum trays, which work well also, but I like the basket as it achieves maximum flavor on the ingredients and allows the fire to penetrate and char the vegetables perfectly.
Once he deemed them ready, he pulled them off to the flat rock and put a smoldering log under them to keep them warm.
He lowered the grate - it's a "unique cooking system" that he found online years ago - to get it really hot for the steak. Lately he's been using a thermometer for absolutely every meat he cooks. He reads a lot of blogs on grilling, and they all list an instant read thermometer as non-negotiable for accurately cooked meat. And I must admit, it does make a difference. His meat is never over or under cooked. Not that it was before very often, but now it is always perfect.
He grilled the flank steak longer than he anticipated - again, thanks to the thermometer.

And it was perfectly cooked.
Medium - to medium-rare. We let it rest while he warmed up the flour tortillas over the fire.

Finally - assembly time. Homemade guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo. 
Vegetables and a solid hunk of meat.
Roll, bite, chew, gaze at lake, sip yummy wine, repeat.
This was so awesome. We've made fajitas before, but never over the campfire. These were the bomb. We will definitely be making them again, soon.

Happy weekend, my friends!