It’s true. Absolutely everything tastes better when it’s eaten al fresco. That’s why whenever I read or see one of those gorgeous scenes where everyone is dining in the twilight of a luscious garden or green field, all sitting at a table set with wildflowers and mismatched stemware and dotted with dishes like heirloom tomatoes and homemade bocconcini salad with basil from the back stoop, and loaves of fresh bread and pats of salted butted, I know that each bite is full of flavour, yes, but full of something more too. When you eat outside, there is an added taste. A flavour enhancer, if you will. Things that would be much less palatable at home indoors seem suddenly delectable. Tinned beans, for example. A tuna sandwich. Hotdogs.
For me, fresh air also brings with it a willingness to try new things. Normally I like my pancakes with real butter and real maple syrup. Nothing more. No blueberries, no stewed fruit and creme fraiche, no bananas and chocolate chips. But when camping, I’ll enjoy any of those as if that’s always been the way that I like them. Jack and Esmé made pancakes the other morning, and they tossed a couple handfuls of blueberries into the batter as Esmé mixed it. I didn’t mind. The magic of eating breakfast by a campfire pushes away any OCD food tendencies that I normally harbour at home, including the one where I don’t like to eat food out of dishes that are the same colour as the food. I might’ve winced just a tiny bit when Jack served up mac & cheese in a yellow bowl, but just a little. I got over it. And I might’ve cringed an eensy weeny bit when I saw her chuck a basket of blackberries into a pot, but I knew better and told myself to wait. Just wait. When Esmé presented me with plate of buttered blueberry pancakes drizzled with maple syrup and stewed blackberry sauce, she was very proud of herself. And so she should’ve been. Each bite was amazing. Five stars, through and through. Michelin worthy, truly.
One evening Sarah and Kristen brought out the fixings for dessert cones. Take an ice cream cone and fill it with chocolate, nuts, dried fruit, marshmallows, caramels and then wrap it in tinfoil and give it to the coals until it’s all gooey and hot and full of sweet goodness. This is not a dessert that would work at home. It could be done, yes, but it wouldn’t be the same. The fire, the moonlight, the company and the outdoors make a treat like that even more special.
When I was a kid, our camping treats were Kraft Mac & Cheese and those little boxes of cereal that came in variety packs, with such sugared favourites at Captain Crunch, Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops. At home we only ever had Shreddies, Rice Crispies or plain Cheerios. I loved carefully cutting into the cardboard with a knife and peeling open the waxed bag inside that held the usually forbidden cereal. I loved that the box was also the bowl, and that even with pale chalky milk reconstituted from skim milk powder, those little cereal boxes were ever so yummy. When I’m camping I don’t mind my toast unevenly toasted, my eggs cold, my bacon not as crunchy, the butter too hard to spread all the way to the edges, or my coffee gritty with powdered milk bits. Well, I do mind the gritty bits in my coffee. Thank goodness Auntie Sam brought some coffee whitener, from the bulk bin, of all places. Another thing none of us would ever have at home. But just like all the other treats and goodies we only allow ourselves while camping, that coffee whitener really made my coffee perfect.