Mom, Can We Camp Tonight?

You need a bonfire when you’re camping, right?

It is a holiday weekend, the weather is FABULOUS and as the birds sing, the sky is blue in my backyard. My two adorable kids (yes, I am biased) have decided that we MUST camp. I don’t have the heart to tell them that we have too many chores to even consider sneaking away this weekend, or that the temperature is supposed to drop drastically tonight.

My industrious eight-year-old, Max, has in true Boy Scout style pitched his tent, placed logs in our outdoor fireplace, set up camp chairs, raked away the leaves, arranged the lighting (with a cord to charge my laptop), and labeled several campsites in our back yard. Look closelyhis blue tent is in spot one. At the moment, he is setting up “spot markers” for the other campers. Should I be nervous? Will his class or pack show up at any moment to invade the current quiet of our backyard?

This is Spot One.

I have to confess, I love a good bed and breakfast with an over-sized tub that bubbles; I relish a fine meal in an expensive restaurant; and I thoroughly enjoy those weekends when the kids spend “quality time” with their grandparents. (THANK YOU Mimi and Papa!) But, I also adore the wonderful times when our family battles mosquitoes, endures rock solid ground, and roughs it in the wilderness. We have so many wonderful things, other than mosquitoes, to enjoy here in Florida. It is so nice to experience the still quiet of the trees, a campfire, and our family conversing around a picnic table.

We don’t exactly suffer when we do. I am, after all, married to the greatest griller in the WORLD. Between his skill with open flames and my creativity for menu planning, we don’t go hungry except that one time…

We were camping on a glorious day, much like today, with a huge throng of friends in Anastasia Park (the Catholic Campers from St. Joe’s Churchwe aren’t members, or even Catholic, but we pretend to be once a year for this totally awesome outdoor experience). I had made one of my all-time favorite cakes…Chocolate Zucchini. It was of, course, covered with a decadent layer of Ganache and we were all eager to enjoy it. After our meager feast of Mustard Glazed Salmon, Grilled Vegetables, Coal Roasted Potatoes, salad, bread, and beverages, we were just a little too full for cake. No worries—we tucked it into the small portable refrigerator our friends and neighbors kept at their site.

I heard a slight stir later that night but really thought nothing of it. Throughout the next day we mentioned the cake to each other several times, and how awesome it would be to enjoy the now thoroughly chilled chocolatey goodness with dinner that night.

At dinner we all saved room. Then, after much anticipation, one of our fellow campers went to the refrigerator to take out the cake. But it was not there. Someone suggested, “Maybe we put it in a cooler or someone moved it?” We searched every cooler. No luck. HOW COULD SOMEONE STEAL OUR CAKE? As we all drooled in agony, we left no stone unturned.

A neighbor wandered by and asked what we were doing. We explained, “The cake, THE cake, the CAKE is missing.” How could we miss a cake? Who would take our cake? Surely we just pushed it behind something. Maybe it was in the other cooler, or another one, or the other…

“Was that cake in a foil pan?” the neighbor asked. “Um, yes”, I replied. He marched across the street and returned with the now empty, slightly bent foil pan that had been licked and scraped clean by our friendly neighbors…the raccoons.

Can you BELIEVE it? The racoons stole my cake. Our cake! Rotten Stinkers! I suppose it could have been worse. It might have been bears eating a fellow camper.

The trauma of this experience was enough to teach us all a lesson:

When camping in Florida, bring bungee cords to lock up everything TIGHT.

This is Spot 2!

As much as I would love to share the story of the skunk, or the bear, or what to cook in foil packets…

Max—“Outdoor Conqueror”—has just come around the bend with his power wheel Jeep pulling a caravan of wagons and coolers. (I guess cleaning out the garage is going to be accomplished this weekend.) And his father, to my slight dismay, is now setting up the big tent in Site 3. Site 2 has been occupied by a suspicious pink princess tent. I had better get busy. We’ve got a grill to light!


Chocolate Surprise Cake

This cake improves in flavor and richness if you chill it for a couple of days before serving. This makes it a perfect “make-ahead” camping treat.

  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp decaffeinated instant coffee granules
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 cups raw sugar (evaporated sugar cane juice)
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 3 cups grated zucchini

Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan. Place flour, cinnamon, coffee, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and whisk together. In another large bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar. Add the oil and mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each one. Add flour mixture, 1/3 at a time, and mix after each addition. Stir in the yogurt, then add zucchini and mix well. Pour into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake in center of oven about 45 minutes, until center in springy. Allow to cool. This cake is best on the second or third day. Make it ahead of time, store in a secure refrigerator and serve chilled.

For the Ganache

  • 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

Melt chocolate morsels in a double boiler completely. Remove from heat, whisk in heavy cream until smooth. Pour over cake.

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