Cooking on a Campfire – Part 1

“Are those meatballs cooked?” I asked. Mom had prepared a bunch of meatballs for camping. Meatballs don’t exactly strike me as camp food, but she was also bringing a round of brie cheese, which will tell you exactly what my mom thinks about camp food. “No, they’re not,” she replied. “We’ll slow cook them in a spaghetti sauce, boil up some noodles, and yum Yum YUM!” she stated afterwards. “It’ll be easy.”
See, one of the major issues I previously had with camping was camp food. Most of my friends who are hard core campers aren’t exactly gourmets. Everything is freeze dried and eaten out of a pouch. Sometimes they’ll bring out an MRE, the Meal Ready to Eat rations that are given to soldiers serving in the army. Eating oatmeal for breakfast every day isn’t my jam. I’m a prissy city boy hipster who’ll take up issue when I don’t have a selection of at least three kinds of lentils available to me. This is a fact about myself.
When my mother suggested spaghetti, though, something in the back of my mind started twisting. Spaghetti is easy to make at home. Out in the woods, on the other hand, there’re a couple of challenges that are presented.
1) Spaghetti noodles need a big ass pot to boil in. Noodles need a big pot to swim in or else the water gets starchy and the noodles suffer because of it.
2) If you’re cooking a spaghetti sauce with raw meatballs, it’s going to have to slow cook for a long ass time. The kinds of pots that are super lightweight for camping are also super thin – anything that stays in the pot too long will get burnt. Normally, the sauce should sit around for a period of time so all the flavours can get cozy and talk to each other. At the very least, the sauce should be cooking for an hour.
The problem I ran into was we’re cooking on a little camp stove. Don’t get me wrong, Kat spared no expense when she got the Primus camp stove. The stove can boil water in a minute. It wasn’t meant for low and slow, though. Not to mention the fact that the largest pot we have was meant for two people, not the seven I was feeding.
I made it work, but it was a goddamn hassle. I had to boil three separate batches of noodles, and I burnt the shit out of the bottom of the sauce. It was a total pain in the ass to clean up. Simple and easy my crotch. It also went through two bottles of propane. So it was a slog and it was expensive. Mom then mused if we should do butter chicken the next night. Tasty, but also low and slow.
Between the seven of us, we had three burners, and cooking anything was going to eat up propane. Low and slow was costly, inefficient, and I wasn’t having a good time cooking. We had to get away from the idea of using the stove to cook our big dinner feasts. I turned to the fire. If I had my way, every single meal out camping would be cooked over hot coals in the fire pit. After seeing how spaghetti turned out, I decided internally that we’d do most of the cooking over the fire. The stove would be reserved for side dished.
Cooking on a fire is pretty easy, once you get the hang of it. Start a fire, get it going until it doesn’t have a problem burning bigger pieces, then get some glowing coals going. You want those coals, that’s where the toasty, easy to maintain, heat is coming from. My brother Kelly was thinking the same thing I was because he brought a grill to put over the fire pit. Then you just have to cook on the fire. With those coals going, I was treating it like an oven that was only cooking from the bottom. Potatoes, corn, and fish went into tinfoil bags and then were flipped every now and again. Sausage and steak were cooked right on the grill, and everything came out all tasty.

Here’s the weird thing, though. Until this camping trip, there was a stigma that cooking over a campfire was this incredibly tough thing to do. There was this strange mystique to the whole procedure, that somehow this was going to be difficult. I was under the impression that people who cooked over wood fires were some sort of wizards. The truth is, cooking over the fire was one of the easier cooking tasks I’ve had to deal with. It was easy!

Some clown in a suit somewhere has convinced people that cooking over a fire is tough. I’m here to tell you it’s not. You don’t have to be stuck to hotdogs when you’re cooking on a fire. Get a cheap little stand grill, and you can start whipping up meats and veggies just like you were grilling at home on the BBQ.

But it begs the question. People have been cooking all sorts of things on the fire for centuries. You can do low and slow on the fire. You could get a bowl of rice with just some hot coals. Bread, aka the staff of life, has been around as long as people have lived in houses, and the electric oven isn’t that old. This can only mean there’s going to be some crazy experimentation in the future because I’ll be damned if I can’t make a tasty loaf of bread out in the woods.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Brie? In the woods? Totally a good idea.

Mr. Charlton Goes to a Concert

In my younger days, I used to go to a lot of metal shows. This was due to the fact that my roommate, Metal Rob, was seriously into Heavy Metal music. At least once a month, a band he wanted to see came into town, and Jered (another roommate) and I would almost always go with him. Here’s a laundry list of some of the bands that I’ve seen. Bask in my metal credentials.

  • MegaDeth
  • Anthrax
  • Slayer (twice)
  • Strapping Young Lad (god knows how many times)
  • Tool
  • System of a Down (twice)
  • Dimmu Borgir
  • Nile
  • Napalm Death
  • Opeth (Three times)
  • Korpiklaani
  • DethKlok
  • Ensiferum
  • The Devin Townsend Project
  • Three Inches of Blood
  • Amon Amarth
  • Zimmers Hole
  • Wood of Ypres
  • Acid Bath
  • Children of Bodom
  • Cavalera Conspiracy
  • FinnTroll
  • Moonsorrow
  • Turisas
  • Tyr
  • Pericardium
  • Therion

And probably a bunch I’m forgetting. I also saw Roger Waters a few back (great show) and Green Day (lame show). I’m throwing the list down to let people know this isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve driven to Seattle for the sole purpose of seeing Strapping Young Lad. I’ve flown to Toronto to see Ensiferum. In my early twenties, I was a complete metal head and going to shows was something I was doing all the time. Fast forward a decade. I haven’t been to a show for five years, and since 2013, the only thing I’ve listened to is new retro synthwave.

I only want to listen to music that makes me feel like I’m in a John Carpenter movie.

So it was pretty weird when I get a message from Willoughby, a guy from high school I haven’t seen in 15 years, asking me if I wanted to come see Five Finger Death Punch this last Tuesday. Tickets were free.

Truthfully, I didn’t want to go at first. I’m getting old, and I’ve seen enough live music to last me a lifetime. I was going to have to work the next day, and knew we were going to be getting into a few beers. Here’s a Life Pro Tip kids, right from Mr. Charlton himself. If you have an opportunity to go do anything, whether it’s a rock show or a knitting class, and it’s free, you goddamn go do that thing. You don’t complain about free beer, you don’t bitch about an application that you downloaded for nothing, and you certainly don’t say no to a concert because you might be a little groggy at work the next day. If it’s free, consider it a gift.

A couple of other guys from Golden were going as well; Ringo and Santuchi. So not only was I going to be going to a show for the first time in half a decade, I was going to be hanging out with guys I knew from small times. I’ll be frank here for a second, it’s goddamn weird hanging out with guys you haven’t seen in a long time…

… for about five minutes. Then it stops being weird and now you’re just drinking beers with some dudes you haven’t seen for a bit. Everyone is a little fatter, a little wiser, and with new stories to tell, but everyone is pretty much the same. So we drank beer and then we went and saw a rock concert.

It was a pretty good concert. We saw three bands; Sixx AM, Papa Roach, and Five Finger Death Punch. Let me tell you all about it.

The Good

I’m not really familiar with any of the bands. The only one I’m really familiar with is Papa Roach, and that’s because they had that hit song “Last Resort”, released 16 years ago. I wasn’t expecting much, but both Papa Roach and Five Finger Death Punch put on a great show. I was pleasantly surprised by the performances, and the sound quality was good.

The Bad

I quit smoking almost two years ago, but was using a vaporizer for the longest time. Recently I gave up vaping as well. This was the first time I had drank beer since I gave up nicotine. I didn’t have any cigarettes, but I did stand outside in the smoke pit soaking up second-hand smoke.

The Weird

Sixx AM is the project of Nikki Sixx, the Bassist from Motley Crue. And I’m not going to bash the quality of their performance, because even though it was the first time I heard them, I thought they were pretty good. The only thing is, Nikki Sixx is old. Like pushing sixty old. And he’s done a lot of drugs. You could tell he was the old guy, ’cause while the rest of the band were running around, he kinda just slowly walked everywhere. The stage had this box everyone was leaping off of, except for Nikki, who would step up slowly, play for a bit, then hop back off. And it was definitely a gingerly, I-do-not-want-to-pull-anything, kind of hop. Again, I got nothing against Nikki Sixx, just a little bit of a contrast to the rest of the band.

Here’s the final question, though. Would I go to another concert? And the answer is; maybe. Slayer and Anthrax are coming to town on Willoughby’s birthday, and part of me really wants to go. The other half of me is getting old, and to be honest, I’m one of those people who thinks the record sounds better than the performance. I used to go see shows ’cause it was the thing to do. Now I’ve got other things I’m doing, and getting tinnitus isn’t one of them. If I do go to see this show, it might be the last metal concert I ever go to. But a Slayer / Anthrax combo would be a hell of a way to go out.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Not to brag, but I have gotten the least fat.

p.s.s. Alright, I’m totally bragging.

 

 

Mr. Charlton Goes Camping – Part 2

Sometimes lightning strikes twice. Sometimes the Blue Jays have two great seasons in a row. And sometimes Mr. Charlton gets his game face on and heads out to the woods two times in a summer. Yes, for whatever inexplicable reason, Mr. Charlton packed up his tent, tarp, and trail mix, loaded his cooler with ham steak and beer, and whisked himself off to the magical land of paying thirty bucks a night to sleep on the ground.

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For another $40, you can get a bed, a sink and a roof.

Actually, l have been planning this trip for a while now, and it was an attempt to recreate the camping trip me and my family used to go on when I was but a wee lad. Every year, for a number of childhood years growing up, my mom and dad would back up the truck, station wagon, or shaggin’ wagon (the trio of vehicles my folks drove when I was a kid), and take us camping a couple times a year. There was one campground that stood above the rest, by leaps and bounds. It was so popular you had to book months in advance. It was the Scotch Creek provincial park campground, nestled on the north side of the Shuswap lake.

It was the crème de la crème when it came to campgrounds. It had paved roads, hot showers, a huge park, awesome interactive shows at night. The campsites were big and spaced far apart. You could become a member of Ranger Jerry’s ranger squad, by completing tasks and showing up to the previously mentioned interactive shows. If you were rolling as part of Ranger Jerry’s squad when you were a kid, you were rolling deep. They were handing out stickers and awards for those who hustled for Ranger Jerry.

It wasn’t just me and the brothers that went down with my folks, it was a lot of our extended family as well. We had a big meetup of aunts and uncles and cousins, pretty much everyone on my mom’s side of the family. Combine that with the fact that most of the cousins were on the verge of transitioning from kid to teenager to adult, there was a lot of us getting into trouble. Staying up late, flirting with strangers, sneaking beers or wine from the parents, there was definitely a loss of innocence as we were all getting older. Some of my favorite times of my youth were spent hanging out with my brothers and cousins, storming around the park in a large mob.

The campground was a popular enough location that a number of attractions sprouted up around the area as well. There was a mini golf course, go-carts, bumper boats, and an arcade all situated close by, close enough that you could walk to them without any adult supervision. Tons of allowance money was blown at these little amusement locations close to the campsite. To top it off, there was a candy / ice cream store right across the entrance to the campground, where we’d go to get our sugar buzz on.

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This little guy blew his allowance on heroin.

Needless to say, I hated camping growing up as a kid, but I loved the hell out of Scotch Creek. Mostly because I got to hang out with my cousins, aunts, and uncles. The question I wanted to answer by re-creating this trip was simple; Has Scotch Creek held up as a campground since I last went there? It has been almost two decades since I went there, how is it the same? How is it different? Will it be better, or worse?

Well…

Right off the bat, the only people who could make it were my brothers, their respective wife and girlfriend, and my mom. No big deal, we could report back to the rest of the family and let them know how the campground was. We could still go and have a good time. And I had a great time, don’t get me wrong. I haven’t seen my brothers in the flesh for over a year now, and it was great to reconnect. The campground, though…

It’s pretty much exactly the same. Almost. It’s the same, but a little worse for wear. The interactive programs? There wasn’t any. The mini golf, the go-carts, the amusement center? Gone. Fire wood used to be free, now you’re paying $7.50 a load (this isn’t exactly a bad thing, mind you. The campground used to be filled with wood smoke pretty much all the time, as people were burning wood 24 / 7. They also deliver the wood to your campsite). The little store has been replaced with a massive one. Which would be okay if the shelves weren’t completely bare. It reminded me of a bodega front. They may have been smuggling cocaine on their breaks.

The worst part by far was the beach. This was the main attraction. It was the reason people flocked to this campground, the reason it was so incredibly hard to get a spot, the reason everyone in my family was willing to put up with the overflow campgrounds in the area, the long wait times, the bullshit of trying to get a coveted spot in this park. Almost all the time we spent was at the beach. The sand was soft, the lake was warm, and the sun was almost always hot. A dock was set up not too far away, where you could congregate and dive off of. The swimming area was massive, and getting to the buoys was a challenge for adults, let alone children.

Now the beach is rocky and it’s painful to walk barefoot to the water. We used to have to get to the beach before 11:00am to get a spot, but the beach was mostly empty this time around. The lake is still warm, the sun still hot, but the dock is gone and the swimming area has been massively reduced. We ended up leaving the campground to go find a nicer beach down the road in Anglemont. Twenty years ago that would have been considered blasphemy.

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They would not let me ride the Unicorn. Also look at the rocks.

It’s still a great campground, it’s just that before it was an amazing place that people flocked to. It was the campground that people fought over. Now, it’s just a campground with paved roads and plumbing and friendly staff. This isn’t just nostalgia talking. From what I can gather, the park just doesn’t have the same resources it once had, and it’s now suffering a little because of that.

Would I go back? Probably not. It was the beach and the family that made camping there an experience. The beach isn’t the same, and the family can vacation a little closer to the mainland next time.

Do I absolutely love camping? I want to tell people “Hell yes, camping is the goddamn best thing ever!” but to be frank, I’m a city boy at heart. I love the urban life. There’s one thing that makes camping amazing, though; Cooking on a campfire. And I’m not talking about greasy wieners on a stick. We’ll get to that next time.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Truthfully, I don’t know how the Blue Jays are doing this season. I just see a lot more hats, that’s all.