Those of us who participate in a pilgramage to a place a few hours away – here, in Michigan, that’s usually “up north” – often find an army to be fed on the other end of the journey. After standing in a remote grocery store, shelves out of stock from the crowds, twelfth in line at the cash register, I groused that there had to be a better way to spend my time. While the family was back on the lake, I brilliantly came up with “the camp bag” plan. If this helps you, toast me from your beach chair.
I’ll be sharing a menu, but basically, you set your menu, write it down, shop before your trip, and pack your bags by the day/meal with a tag on each one. You’ll also need a cooler bag or two. These aren’t as important to tag, because it’s all coming out upon arrival.
Post your menu on the ‘frig when you get there. This may bring to mind “Cheaper by the Dozen.” It pretty much is…for which you will thank me and Frank Gilbreth, Sr. (the motion field study engineer and protagonist.) If the army you’re feeding feels like an entire ark, you’ll like his snappy attitude:
From Cheaper by the Dozen (1950)
Man on street: Hey Noah, what are you doing with that Ark?
Frank Gilbreth: Collecting animals like the good Lord told me, brother. All we need now is a jackass. Hop in!
Oh, sure. You could be fancy and wow your army with foodie menus. I’m a fan. Here’s the question: do you want to spend the day in the kitchen or on the lake? Good answer. So, we’re going to go with the “It’s home-baked!” reply, taking advantage of ready-made items and cooking/prepping ahead.
This is not a vegetarian menu, although there are certainly enough options: vegetarian chili, veggie burgers (from the freezer section), simple salads, and a baked sweet potato bar with toppings. But that’s a song for another time. Here’s my three-day, people-coming-and-going, variable-number-to-be-fed outline (base-line: 8). One of the pleasures of this menu is that you always have enough to add another plate. The more, the merrier!
Make Ahead Day (or After Work)
It took me about an hour and a half to pull the three make-ahead dishes together, which I had going all at one time. With two large stock pots on the stove and the oven pre-heated to 350º, this was pretty easy. Another option for your pork is to let a crock-pot do the work and leave it on throughout the day, while you’re working. The point it that you are not working yourself silly during the vacation or before it, either.
This won’t come as a revelation to experienced cooks. I’m talking to folks who have yet to be responsible for the army and want to get in on the fun. As I’ve mentioned before, this blog is primarily to leave a cookie-crumb trail for my own kids. (Holly, Sam, and Anne, of course it’s home-baked. You know that.)
Right. I don’t have kitchen staff, either. But I find that people are very willing to do simple chores in the kitchen, especially if you explain that they’re scheduled for a certain item (refer them to the ‘frig list). Even little kids get into the spirit of help, setting the table or performing the ever-important kid job of husking corn (adults can follow up on corn silk quality control), if there are people bustling around and they’re part of the fun. Don’t be a martyr. Enlist the troops. Where I would use a helper, I’ve marked it “KP.” (For Kitchen Patrol. It has a nice ring, doesn’t it? More on sharing reponsibilities under Day Two: Lunch.)
Day One: Lunch
Make Ahead Day (if possible):
1. Corn relish: 1 lg. bag frozen corn and edamame (rinsed), 1 med. green pepper and red onion chopped, 1 English cucumber diced, 1 1/2 c. Italian dressing, 2 T. lemon juice and apple cider vinegar, 2 T. sugar, salt & pepper. Store in a container.
2. Chocolate chip cookies (from a tube, made ahead). They’re home-baked.
Menu. Cold cuts, sliced cheese, two bread types. Canned baked beans: KP can bake in oven one hour ahead of lunch. Fruit (we had sliced strawberries & peaches): KP can slice.
Day One: Dinner
Make Ahead Day (if possible):
Spaghetti (2 lbs. ground beef, 2 28 oz. cans (or jars) marinara, 1 6 oz. can tomato paste, 12 oz. water, two yellow onions (chopped), 4 cloves garlic (minced), seasoning to “brighten” the canned goods (2 T. oregano, basil, 1 t. fennel, 1 bay leaf). Store in container.
Menu. Two-three lbs. spaghetti noodles: KP can boil and drain. Garlic bread: KP can open freezer bag or butter baguette. Simple salad: KP can tear lettuce and chop a tomato, avacado, or boiled egg. Newman’s Original Dressing travels well. Do you have any cookies left?
Day Two: Breakfast
Menu. Bacon, eggs, toast, and o.j.. Each item has a KP assigned to it. Or you be the grill cook. Like bacon in the oven? Great. Do you have a large cast-iron or oven-proof skillet where you’re headed? Make a frittata. (Pinterest it. They’re easy.) I’m taking frozen o.j., since it’s smaller and I’m driving four hours. It doesn’t matter if it thaws, because we’re going to use it…even if it’s for Screwdrivers.
Day Two: Lunch
Sharing the responsibilities:
Don’t pass up a chance to delegate to the troops, especially if they ask. Since I like to manage (aka control) the menu, I assign things I would normally buy. My daughter’s bringing the buns & chips.
Menu. Two pkgs. Vienna hot dogs (we like Koegels, because they’re from Michigan and they’re delicious), two pkgs. buns, chips (Better Made, because they’re from Detroit and ditto). Fruit. We always take this meal to the lake. It tastes like summer heaven.
Day Two: Dinner
Make Ahead Day: Pulled barbeque pork. One 4-5 lb. pork loin. Simmer on stove top until meat is shreddable – 4-6 hours. Seasoning: 3-4 T. kosher salt, 1 T. whole black peppercorns, 4 fresh bay leaves, 2 T. fresh ginger. After cooking, trim fat before shredding. Stir in one bottle of good barbeque sauce. I used Famous Dave’s Rich & Sassy. Because, yes, to both.
Menu. Two bags sesame hamburger buns. Potato salad (this trip, it’s my mother-in-law’s famous homemade, but if you don’t have her, you can get it from the deli). Corn on the cob, if I can find it at the Market Basket (we drive by it in Beulah): KP husking. Cherry pie.*
Note on the pie: Of course, you can get these at the bakery. When I was careening around Trader Joe’s, they had a beautiful jar of cherry pie filling and those amazing boxes of non-refrigerated whipping cream. I’m grabbing a store crust and throwing that in the oven. It’s home-baked.
Day Three: Breakfast
Menu. Sausage & scrambled eggs: KP browns the sausage, cracks & adds the eggs. Can hold in the oven for late sleepers. Bakery cake donuts and o.j. (if we have time, we stop in Cops & Donuts in Clare).
Day Three: Lunch
Menu. Leftovers. Clean out the ‘frig. (Note: If possible, I leave one-person servings of certain items for my wonderful mother-in-law, who lives at the lake all summer. It’s not easy to make spaghetti sauce for one, but it’s great to have a freezer container,
ready to go.)
One of the best lessons I’ve learned from my mother-in-law is that things will hold a long time in the oven on low. Kick back, enjoy the view, and always serve at your leisure. Cheers.