Thursday, February 2, 2012

Winter Camping with the Boys

Ohhh, son-of-a...another scouting story?  Scouts has been taking a lot of my time lately, so it's only fitting that I torment all of you with my miserable life.  And you know it won't end here.
Our troop's winter camp was the 3rd weekend of January at one of our local state parks. We were really on the fence about going because the weather forecast was not good.  But, because of schedules, postponing the trip most likely meant cancelling and we would have lost our deposit for the site.  So off we went.
A view of the lake.
The temperature never really got above freezing, we had about an inch of snow Friday night (fortunately it was after we got set up) and we had freezing rain most of the day Saturday.
A very large pavilion with the lake just beyond.
Rather than tent-camping, we had "Lean-tos".  These were wooden houses with 4 walls, floor, roof, door, windows and a wood-burning stove.  The weekend before, The Pudge, The Scoutmaster, Simple J, Birch and I went to a church that needed some downed trees cut up and taken away.  This was perfect for the firewood we would need for the stoves and I ended up taking down about half a chord of wood - and it helped the church out too.  This was to be an advancement weekend. We would work on a bunch of the outdoor-type rank advancements that the boys needed. That didn't work out as good as we had hoped but we did get some done. 
A typical Lean-to.

Inside the Lean-to.  These stoves could throw some heat, but they had to be fed wood on a regular basis.  Getting someone to do it in the middle of the night was tough.
One of the main things the boys do on these trips is cook. We had 15 boys (whittled down to 13 because of illness) and broke them into 3 patrols for the purpose of patrol cooking.  The troop has organized patrols for meetings, but because you never know who will be going camping, we form temporary patrols on camping trips with temporary patrol leaders.  We also selected "Grub Masters" for each patrol.  Grub Master develops the menu (with input from the patrol), develops a shopping list, checks the troop gear locker for leftover non-perishables (like hot chocolate), does the food shopping and serves as the main cook during the trip.  He also assigns duties to the rest of the patrol members during the meal, such as food prep, table setting and cleanup. 

Our kitchen area.
 Demonstration of the Grub Master duties during a camping trip is also a requirement for the rank of 1st Class. The Pudge and 2 other 2nd Class scouts took on the challenge.  The adult leaders have the option of tagging along with a patrol for meals, individual cooking or adult leader patrol cooking.  We all chose the latter with more on that in a minute.

The adult leaders have been noticing a trend in the patrol cooking of - not really cooking.  Instant oatmeal, sandwiches and Dinty Moore stew keep showing up on menus with increased regularity.  I have taken an initiative to come up with a collection of standard meal recipes that would have instructions, utensil requirements and fill-in-the-blank quantity calculators that would make it easier for  patrols to cook with fresh ingredients.  I will do this after the Neckerchief Craft Night is history.  We also decided not to rock the boat on this trip because of the extreme weather element in this cooking challenge. 
The Pudge cooking up spaghetti and meatballs for his patrol's dinner.
The adults decided that each of us would take a meal (there were 5 adults). I got dinner because I'm really the only one who cooks on his own. The others all apparently have talented wives to cook for them (I wonder what that's like?).  So while the other guys made meals of a western omelet, homemade chili, campfire brandies (the adult "snack" portion of the trip) and raisin bread french toast with turkey bacon (this was good), I decided to get fancy.  I made Penne and Shrimp with Camp Fire Green Beans and Bananas Foster for dessert (I love  The toughest part is that I only have 2 propane burners and limited cooking utensils.  Trying to boil water in a 10 MPH wind with no lid is challenging (I used tin foil) too.
This is how the men cooked.
I made the beans at home and brought them in a ziplock. After I heated them on the burners, I had one of the men put the pot on a lean-to stove to keep it warm (a scout uses his resources).  The beans turned out good and may be one of the packaged recipes I develop for the scouts.  I will use fresh beans over canned next time.  The rest of the meal was pretty straight forward and I got it all in the mess kit - hot.
Penne and Shrimp with Camp Fire Green Beans (Almondine).
The dessert was a thing to behold. The boys gathered around to watch the flaming spectacle. Actually, a lot of the boys were watching me cook in between their cooking duties, and that was what I was hoping for.  I wanted them to see that with the proper planning, cooking is not that difficult and there are many choices other than stew. 

It's hard to cook when you have to keep putting your gloves on.

I think because of the cold air, the flambe didn't flame that much. But man was this good. I almost made a 2nd batch for the boys but thought better of it because of the rum. I told The Pudge we would make this at home.

Dessert - Bananas Foster.  This is flambe-ing but it's hard to  see in this picture.
 All-in-all a challenging trip for the boys. On Saturday, we gave the scouts the choice of staying in their lean-tos to play games that they brought with them or do advancements. The majority chose the games - and who could blame them? But the others that made some progress on advancements made the trip worth while. I led a handful of scouts on a short hike around the lake (after the rain finally stopped) and that was worth the trip for me. We broke camp late Sunday morning and everyone was glad to get home. The ski trip is next month...of course, I won't be going, but The Pudge will.

Dam at the end of the lake.
Some very dirty snowmen.  I think it was some kind of Calvin and Hobbes tribute.


moi said...

Camping in the middle of January in the Northeast would be the ne plus ultra of miserability for me. Unless I had some of that bananas foster and an adult beverage. Then I could probably hang without too much bitching.

Yer a good pop, Buzz.

Karl said...

Good morning Buzz Kill,

Nice to see you didn't let the weather get in the way of your plans. Helps to build character in the boys.

Those lean-to's are pretty nice. Feeding all those guys with a 2 burner had to be a challenge. Why not just cook on top of the wood stoves?

"The others all apparently have talented wives to cook for them (I wonder what that's like?)." It doesn't suck, that's for sure.

Regarding the neckerchiefs. I missed that the disks were made of wood, sorry. There is a single component PVC cement that eliminates the purple primer. (Just in case you ever need it)

Heff said...

A shrimp dish on a camping trip. I think I've seen it all now.

Jenny said...

First, impressive cooking out in the wilds. Heff is right, shrimp? Wow. I guess Spam and cold beans were just my childhood memories of camping on the Oregon Coast in the winter?

however, I'm with Moi. One look at that shack/lean-to/prison you slept in and I would have been out on the Interstate looking for a Motel. Pronto! Or, my "water bottle" would have to be constantly filled with, er, water.

(For the record, however, I admire your commitment to the Scouts and your boys. )

Pam said...

I love that you do this with the Scouts. I would hate if I did this with the Scouts. Pam doesn't camp. Motel 6 is roughing it enough for me. But we might need the skills of your boys once the Zombie Apocalypse arrives.

Buzz Kill said...

That's why the Girl Scouts don't camp. Too many rules.

I thought about it but the wood stoves didn't throw off enough heat to boil water and I didn't want food in the lean-tos. Something always gets spilled.

And I keep telling the boys - it's just as easy to fall in love with a rich super-model who cooks as with one who doesn't cook.

Wait until the next trip when I make sushi. Just kidding, the troop doesn't have a bamboo sushi rolling mat - yet.

It's not that big a deal. The shrimp was cleaned, pealed and frozen, so all I had to do was thaw it (I hung it in a bag in one othe lean-tos at lunch) and saute. Boiling the water was the tough part.

I would take these lean-tos over a tent for winter camping any day of the week.

We had peach and cherry brandy, some beers and some Jack Daniels, so that helped warm us up. Understand that this was after all the boys were in their racks.

Again, this is a guy thing. What doesn't cause you to get frostbite makes you stronger. And believe it or not - there is a merit badge for that.

Sharon Rudd said...

Really enjoyed armchair traveling on your camping trip – from the nice, warm comfort of my house, with an adult beverage in hand :) Very impressed with what you whipped up for the men, and for trying to inspire the boys to cook something fresh. Great job!

Buzz Kill said...

If I'm going to be out in the cold for a whole weekend with a bunch of boys, I'm going to at least eat well. It wasn't so much fresh as it was a composed meal. Creative meals is something we really haven't been getting on the boys about, but will start.

This was actually the first camping trip I've been on in a year and I didn't realize the cooking had degenrated as much as it has. Two of three patrols had Dinty Moore Stew. That's just wrong.

Aunty Belle said...

Ya bet yore snow boots thar's a merit badge fer this!!

BuzzK, this whole thang is a HUGE Daddy Merit badge in mah book--oh an'can ya send a cook patrol down this way? I could use a leeetle relief onc't in awhile.

Lemme say the obvious--iffin' more sprouts wuz molded along these lines, it's be a better (more self-reliant) nation.

Great post--had a few chuckles but this were the LOL:

"And I keep telling the boys - it's just as easy to fall in love with a rich super-model who cooks as with one who doesn't cook."

Buzz Kill said...

Truth be told, I have as much fun on these trips as the boys. My body just doesn't handle it as well.

And I wish someone had given me this sage advice when I was younger. But then if someone had, the subject matter of my posts would be completely different. Bwahahaha

LaDivaCucina said...

Buzzy, first time I came by and saw this post, it made me shiver just looking at it. Camping is hard, at the best of times, and to me the clean up, not the cooking is the hardest!

I went camping in the middle of winter in the fifth grade and it was one of my favorite childhood memories. We learned native american stories and traditions and went tobogganing! I had a broken arm in a cast but that didn't stop me!

You are a good dad for doing this and your kids will remember the good times (and appreciate it) when they have pups of their own. Well done! (I'm impressed with the bananas foster and scrimpy pasta dinner too!)

Anonymous said...

It's pretty darned impressive that you volunteer to do all this stuff and stick-to-it even in bad weather.

Big Kudos!

Buzz Kill said...

The troop actually bought a 10 gallon pot with spigot and a large propane burner so we could make a lot of hot water for both cooking, drinking and cleaning. It worked pretty good but we're thinking of getting a 2nd one. Each patrol has 3 basins; hot soapy water, hot clean water and cold water with sanitizer tablets. It gets the KP done but nobody likes to do it.

The troop has never done a sledding trip, but we are skiing in a couple of weeks. I'm glad your memories aren't too traumatic.

I always help where I can because I never want it to always be someone else's father doing things for my kids. Having been a boy scout, this is my contribution where I'm not so active with the sports teams.

We try not to do too many hard-weather trips, but we need to do some so the boys know how to survive in it. I think some lessons were learned on this one.

I'm going to pass on the ski trip this month (the Pudge is going though) but will go on the March trip, which will be tent camping (I think) and hopefully significantly warmer. I'll still take my -30 degree sleeping bag.

Wade Gardner said...

Out here in Wisconsin, we always do the Winter Camp thing with our Pack. The youngest boys, K-2, stay in a larger Lodge building with radiant heated floors (heaven!), but as they get older, we move them to the Adirondack "cabins" at the Reservation, much like the lean-tos with four walls, a stove and precious little else. The 5th graders stay in a cabin as a treat for doing two years in the adirondack cabins, but they still don't have restrooms. Latrines in January are the toughest part of Winter Camp. That and every year, it seems we pick the coldest week of the year! The campfire on Saturday nights are cool, actually COLD. The first year, it was about -11F at the campfire, and earlier that morning raising the flag it was -18F.