Camping at Hodag Country Fest sparks nostalgia, recipes
I love campers. I love the fact they hold everything needed to get away for a time and enjoy new sights and sounds, whether that’s in a deeply wooded forest, beside a lake or, as I witnessed this past week, side by side in huge temporary neighborhoods at the Hodag Country Fest grounds.
As I stood at the entry gate, watching camper after RV pull into the festival grounds, I was in awe of the consistent flow and the great diversity of these vehicles. And everyone was happy, smiling and eager to set up camp and let the fun begin.
That’s how I always felt when my grandpa Dahlman invited me to go camping with him when I was a kid. He bought an old Airstream camper and spent a year refurbishing it. One unique feature I have never forgotten was the map he created of the Wisconsin River that he glued to the ceiling of this vehicle. He used light blue contact paper and meticulously cut out the river and all points of interest along the way starting at the headwaters.
It was an unintended geography lesson, at least of this meandering body of water, and even to this day I have not forgotten it. And I haven’t forgotten all the fun we used to have when grandpa finished his restoration of the old Airstream and he, my Grandma and I would head off into the wilderness.
We would start off early in the morning and get to our destination with plenty of time to set up camp. Grandma would busy herself with domestic stuff, while Grandpa and I would find some wood and start a campfire. This fire would be fed slowly and with care and never seemed to totally go out. We would spend countless hours sitting around it and no food was ever cooked on a stove. All meals were made over this open flame.
Grandpa was a good fisherman and he taught me tricks I still employ to this day. I never remember coming back to the camper without enough fish for a good dinner. We would clean our catch and then Grandma would haul out the old cast iron skillet. That meal, fried over an open flame, was some of the best food I have ever eaten.
I was allowed to stay up as long as I wanted on these trips, and we would sit around the fire way into the night. Grandpa always had interesting stories to tell, and many times Grandma would have to admonish him with a firmly directed, “Now George, we have a young one here.”
Sometimes my aunts, uncles and cousins would also come on these camping forays. The adults would sit in lawn chairs, laughing and catching up with each other, while us kids would find a beach, fishing hole or some other interesting place. This was forced relaxation at its best. No laundry to fold, no vacuuming or other household chores pestering the mind. Just a campfire with a flickering flame, fun people to be around and good food to eat.
I was thinking this as I watched the campers flow into the festival grounds last week and park one by one not a few feet away from each other. There were no shading trees overhead or birds tweeting away in the branches. These festival grounds don’t have a glimmering lake beckoning or a beach with sand that squishes between your toes. Quite frankly at first, I found it incomprehensible that this could be any kind of fun.
That is, until I actually strolled down a few lanes of these vehicles and observed the inhabitants. That’s when I realized there weren’t so many differences at all here. All the campers were laughing and smiling, many sitting around campfires. They were playing games, chatting and cooking food. Everyone was excited-excited to be with friends and loved ones, and outdoors with no mundane chores needing to be done.
This week I’ve included a couple of favorite camping recipes. Even though I haven’t camped in years, I still like these meals and many times put them on the grill. They bring back lots of good memories.
I admit it though, observing all these campers this past week has kindled a desire to once again head out on an adventure; to sit lazily around a campfire without a care in the world; to eat food cooked in the open air; and to fall asleep with a cool breeze blowing through the screens. And oh yeah, I can’t forget, the Wisconsin River meandering lazily overhead.
4 baking potatoes, diced
2 skinless, boneless chicken halves cut into chunks
2 medium bell peppers, chunked
1 large white onion, chunked
3 celery ribs, chunked
1 to 2 cups BBQ sauce
2 ears of corn, halved
This recipe makes four packets and each packet will require two pieces of aluminum foil. Mix the potatoes, chicken, peppers, onion, celery and BBQ sauce together in a big bowl. Distribute this mix evenly on each of the 4 pieces of foil.
Place a half an ear of corn on each piece of foil. Seal up the foil around the vegetables and meat. Cook on the coals of a camp fire for about 25 minutes. (Chunks of sausages or beef can also be used instead of chicken.)
Grilled Banana Boats
4 large unpeeled bananas
8 tsps. semisweet chocolate chips
8 tsps. trail mix
1/4 cup miniature marshmallows
Place each banana on a 12-in. square of foil; crimp and shape foil around bananas so they sit flat.
Cut each banana lengthwise about 1/2 in. deep, leaving 1/2 in. uncut at both ends. Gently pull each banana peel open, forming a pocket. Fill pockets with chocolate chips, trail mix and marshmallows.
Grill bananas, covered, over medium heat for 4-5 minutes or until marshmallows are melted and golden brown. Butterscotch or peanut butter chips may also be used.