Sweet Memories

Dear readers  ……

A little camping or cabin excursion may be the perfect pandemic getaway for your family. Perhaps this account will give you inspiration. It was originally published in Ruby for Women, 2018, as “Cabin in the Woods.” Thanks for reading ……   Cindy

It was quite a week! Seven days in a cabin nestled among hardwood trees with a sunny glade in front and paved lane below. Perfect for children with scooters and bikes, the lane became a playground for bunnies and deer in the evening. Nature provided sufficient music for the week, with swells of chirping crickets, piercing bird calls, and strange sounds at night. It was a delightful setting in which all four of us—three granddaughters ages six through thirteen, and one Oma, aka grandmother—were eager for adventure.

Two weeks ahead of time, preparations began: cooking and freezing meatballs and homemade cinnamon rolls; getting out the camping bins to check supplies, restocking paper towels and plastic bags; and adding a whisk and can opener.

Pots and pans are always essential for life at the cabin…..

  • small pot with lid for boiling eggs or water for coffee
  • large pot for cooking corn on the cob, making soup on a rainy day, and rinsing hand-washed dishes (No fancy dishwasher on site!)
  • favorite cast iron griddle for pancakes, French toast, grilled cheese, even scrambled eggs if stirred gently

Speaking of coffee …. it’s a ritual for Oma, first thing in the morning when the children are still asleep. Hot water, paper filter fitted into a large mug, and ground coffee work just fine for that early morning comfort. It’s especially lovely while watching the sun rise from the rustic porch of the cabin or curled up in a comfy chair in the living room with a book or journal. Before long, squeaking bunk beds and the patter of little feet remind me to heat up the griddle and mix up a batch of pancakes.

Not to be forgotten in the preparation is a stash of matches, best stored in a tightly screwed jar, along with a sealed bag of fire starters. These are torn up paper egg cartons. They’ve been covered with candle drippings, to be placed under the kindling of the campfire. During the winter, I repurpose Christmas candle stubs and egg cartons from holiday baking into fire starters.

At least one meal will be cooked outdoors—hot dogs, Bratwurst, burgers, barbeque chicken—and of course it would not be a cabin week without s’mores. Campfires are not just for cooking! They’re for imagining and dreaming, especially enchanting in the cool of the evening, and perfect for sharing stories and songs.

The above-mentioned s’mores consist of graham crackers, roasted marshmallows, and melting chocolate and always cause a sticky mess. My best solution: the large cooking pot filled with warm sudsy water and brought outside to sticky fingers along with a fresh towel to help control the mess, if there is anything like control in this situation.

I’ve learned that plenty of towels is a bonus in many regards. Things can get damp in the woods and there is nothing like a clean drying towel to make the cabin kitchen feel like home. A fresh towel after a hot shower is also a treat!

Now this was a unique week. It rained every day, at times in heavy downpours. We sat at breakfast one morning and discussed an emergency flood plan that included climbing onto the kitchen table, swimming over to the top bunk bed, or climbing one of the gigantic trees by the cabin. One child said she couldn’t climb that high, so we decided to use a strap to connect her to the strongest of us to keep her safe. No one would be lost.

Luckily, the drainage was good. The cabin sat up on a little hillside and streams of water flowed downward all around us. We could see water running off into the woods below. Being at risk was unlikely, but having an escape plan is always a good idea. And, it’s smart to pick a cabin or tent site on high ground!

The sun made an occasional brief appearance, and at each opportunity we got out the scooters or took short walks. One day we enjoyed a quick picnic by the lake, another a jaunt to the playground. What we eliminated from the plan was the lengthy hike to a fire tower—not a good place to be caught in a thunder storm.

Crafts, cooking projects, and inside play became the focus. We painted bird houses and ceramic mugs, acted out fairy tales and hero stories, played board games, and even completed a 500-piece puzzle on the last night. Culinary efforts by the children resulted in a delicious breakfast egg casserole, cinnamon pretzels of unique shapes, and a dinner of black beans and eggs prepared by the eldest granddaughter, who had just returned from Mexico. Every meal tasted delicious!

There were several visits of friends and family, one unexpected cabin lockout that required a volunteer to climb in through an open window, naps among the trees in the hammock, and friendly chats with neighbors. Our gregarious and thoughtful teen suggested next time we should bake cookies early on the first day to take to families as they arrived at their cabins.

One day was sunny from the start with no storms predicted. That was the day we went to the pool. Soaking in the sunshine, splashing and playing games in the water, …. we had a wonderful and totally exhausting day. At bedtime, one child asked: “Oma, did you pray and ask God to give us sunshine so we could go swimming?” She had begged every day to go to the pool regardless of the weather. “I asked God to give us a good day,” I replied. “And He did! Isn’t that wonderful? We can be very thankful.”

Now, with the grandchildren returned safely to their parents, I’m doing laundry, reorganizing the supply bin for next year, taking naps….and feeling grateful!

 

 

 

A Nor’easter arrived…..

…. as predicted. Fancy meteorologists with their latest equipment and unmatched hour-by-hour precision were among the most excited, next to school children! Wet snow fell furiously during the turbulent periods of the storm and changed the landscape with its heaviness on bushes and trees. During lulls in the storm,  children gathered with sleds and mittens to travel the slopes in the neighborhood. Dogs pranced around in the snow among the children and a few brave Dads stood by.

What to do on such a day? Once a teacher, always a teacher. Of course, I checked the school closings early in the morning, cup of coffee in hand.  Then I began to work in the kitchen! Homemade bread was first on the list, my grandmother’s recipe for oatmeal whole wheat bread. Yeast, just enough sugar to help the yeast rise, two kinds of flour, a pat of butter, warm water, a little mixing….and the dough was complete, rising in its safe warm place.

Next came the soup, just waiting to happen with a turkey carcass leftover from Christmas in the freezer. While the yeast dough rose in my slightly warm oven,  simmering turkey remnants, veggies, and herbs filled the house with a light, savory aroma. It was a recipe for coziness.

As the day went on, the soup broth became rich and reduced. I removed the bones and strained the broth. Additional vegetables, including diced carrots, chopped celery and onion, lima beans, and a nice sprinkling of quinoa and cute curly pasta found their way into the soup pot, along with tasty chunks of turkey  from the bones. The soup simmered on.

Back to the bread…..having risen to double in size, it was ready for the next step. I prepared the pastry cloth with ample flour and turned out the dough to be kneaded and shaped. This is a special step of bread-making for me. It’s a hands-on experience, literally; a chance to imagine; a promise of something yummy to come; and an encounter with the magic of transformation (the yeast). This time, I added chopped pecans and dried cranberries, slightly moistened in a cup of water for a few minutes. Two medium bread pans would provide the form today (one to share with a friend and one to enjoy myself). Then another time of waiting followed, aka the 2nd rising.

The beauty of bread-making is that the baker has free time between stages. The down side is that one needs to be home to get the timing right, perfect for a cold snowy day when weather gurus have said “Stay home!”  Before long, the timer went off and the bread was ready for the oven. Aromas filling the house turned to yeast and warmth and all kinds of delicious. How else does one describe freshly baked bread? Not able to resist, I sampled the treasure while still warm. It was just right!

Dusk came, the meteorologists warned of freezing slush and slippery roads, and evening cancellations scrolled across the screen. My soup and bread supper was  delightful!  The day had been somehow festive—watching the outdoor world from a warm perch inside, doing things I love to do, creating something useful and nourishing—and I was grateful.

In case you’d like to bake bread during the next Nor’easter, I share my recipe here. It comes from my grandmother’s kitchen, where she often served it with butter and fig preserves. The bread is best warm from the oven or toasted.

1 pkg yeast dissolved with 1 tsp sugar in 1/2 cup of warm (not hot) water – Let this sit for a few minutes while you complete the next step

Place in bowl: 1 cup quick oats, 2 Tbsp sugar, 2 Tbsp soft butter, 1 scant Tbsp salt

Pour over the above 2 cups hot water. Mix with electric mixer and let cool until warm. Add yeast mixture. Add 1 cup whole wheat flour and then enough white flour to make a firm dough, 3 to 4 cups. (not too sticky but soft)

Let dough rise in warm place covered with a damp clean cloth until double in size. Knead, form, and place in buttered pans or onto baking sheet. Let rise again until double and bake, starting in 450 oven for 10 minutes and then 350 oven for about 30 minutes. I test bread for doneness by tapping. If it sounds hollow and crust is nicely browned it’s ready to remove from oven, cool a few minutes, and turn onto a rack. Enjoy!!!

I love teachers…

and especially teachers who are also swim coaches. Picture yourself at a junior championship meet on a steamy Saturday morning, 88 degrees in the shade at 9 AM. Parents and grandparents set up their camping chairs under trees, but the coaches are out there in the sun for hours. They don’t even get to jump into the pool to get cool!

“Don’t forget to put on sun screen, Lauren.” “Ten and under boys breaststroke line up here.”  With clip board in hand the coach calls out names from the roster for the next relay and guides the children to line up in order. Then he reminds them to hold hands, the little ones at least, and follow along, forming a snake of tiny bodies in identical suits and caps weaving its way through the crowd at water’s edge. The destination is the end of the pool where the young contestants will climb onto the block in their assigned lane.

These things go like clockwork, it appears. No time is lost. The participants in the previous race stay in the water until the next group has entered. Time-keepers are in place. An announcer has already named the swimmers and their lanes, which is helpful for us proud grandparents because each child looks about the same. The best part is the finish. If one or two children lag behind, the entire group cheers for them. Each is congratulated for his or her time, not for beating out the others. The swimmers reach across lane lines and shake hands.

I like this spirit of excellence without harsh competition. The teacher-coach encourages each child to reach maximum performance, appreciates the effort and courage it takes, and……….no wonder my grandchildren come back to such a rigorous summer activity year after year.