When I was nine, I went to sleep-away camp. This was no pack-her-up-and-send-her-off plan hatched by my parents; this was all me. Having spotted the tiny ad in the back of the New York Times Magazine, I sent away for the brochure, which I devoured. Pages upon pages of photos of happy young girls nuzzling their horses in the barn or flying over a hedgerow jump. Other shots of girls sharing a laugh in their Shawn Cassidy poster-clad bunk, pulling back their archery bows or teeing up on the camp’s 9-hole golf course. They wore uniforms–gray sailor shorts and shirts for day, and navy shorts and over-starched white blouses for dinner and Sundays–with red knotted ties draping their necks. This was where perfect girls spent their Summers, and I yearned to be one of them.
Teela Wooket smelled of pine needles and grass and, of course, manure, which, to this day, is an aroma I love as much as gasoline. I can still smell the cedar cabins, too, which dotted the Vermont mountainside. Along with the golf course, rifle range and man-made lake, there were–of course–riding rings and a wondrous ampitheatre, with moss-covered rows of rock-formed seats in a seemingly naturally-formed semi-circle. The dining hall was an enormous rustic structure, with beamed ceilings and creaky floors and screened doors that slammed right behind you. After dinner, we’d link our arms together and sing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” swinging back and forth as we belted out the song. I also learned table manners in that dining hall: “Mabel, Mabel, young and able, keep your elbows off the table,” which I’ve been known to recite every now and then…
I earned my advanced beginner swimming card, won my first singing solo, hit my first golf ball and slung my first arrow. What I didn’t excel in was riding, having been thrown from a bucking horse on Day Two, which certainly didn’t help the homesickness that crept up each night. I’d cry and cry to my counselor, who would often have to summon the camp director. I shudder at what a pill I must have been, but memories have a funny way of fuzzing themselves when it’s convenient. They say tragedy plus time equals comedy? In my romantic head, tragedy plus time equals a Laura Ingalls Wilder novella. So I usually edit the sobbing portion out of my idyllic Teela Wooket tales.
Our Summers in the Berkshires are kind of like camp. We discover creepy crawlers in the bathroom, we hang our wash on a clothesline outside and everything bears a slightly musty aroma. We learn new skills, too, like paddle boarding, mountain biking and Cards Against Humanity. There are even table manners to learn, although, what we learn as adults is the surprising fact that not every adult has table manners, and so we “learn” to look away when someone at a dinner party picks food from her teeth, or licks his silverware after he’s taken his bite.
Dinner parties at our place have similarities to the camp dining hall. We might not have sing-alongs or hold up spoons to see who has to bus the table, but everyone pitches in and there are usually kids running around outside. The other night, we had about 17 over for dinner. Like many a night back in Vermont, there was a chill in the air, but we were adamant about eating on the porch, so we compromised by serving a more Wintery menu, featuring stir-fry.
It was Bertrand’s idea. I’ve never been a huge fan, probably because I’ve never made a memorable one. Either the vegetables end up too soggy or the flavoring is bland or the rice doesn’t soak up whatever flavoring there is. But a beef tip recipe intrigued him (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/eggplant-and-beef-stir-fry-368260), so we bought rice noodles for 20, a few cans of coconut milk to make coconut rice (SO EASY http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/coconut-rice-380588) and an Asian slaw for good measure (http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/savoy-slaw-with-mint-and-cilantro P.S. I added jicama…)
Speaking of measure, a word to the wise: When you’re doubling or tripling a “Serves 6” recipe, no need to get literal when it comes to salads. Our slaw, slated to serve six, would have been plenty had we doubled–not tripled–the recipe.
The first time we cooked for this large a group, we snipped at each other a few times. That’s probably because we made way too many dishes. As in, FIFTEEN. The second time, we were more relaxed, but we still over cooked, which led to over-garbaging. That’s just stupidly wasteful.
With only stir fry, rice and slaw, you can prep most of the meal that morning. The slaw was chopped, its dressing whipped up, then both were stored in the fridge. We test-drove a small amount of the coconut rice earlier that morning and learned that making it took a half hour, tops. I had concerns about the stir-fry recipe, though. Despite ginger, mint and Thai chiles on the ingredient list, no marinading was involved, and my bland history compelled me to go rogue and immerse the beef in something. So what Epicurious take away, Epicurious also giveth. I borrowed just the marinade portion from this one (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/beef-and-broccoli-stir-fry-23), poured it over the beef and let it soak up for about seven hours. It. Tasted. WONDERFUL.
By the time guests arrived, all we needed to do was boil the vermicelli noodles, quick-fry the beef, stir in the slaw dressing, then sprinkle chopped mint over everything.
There were no leftovers (except the slaw…) and after dinner we all moved inside, where Bertrand lit a fire and we all dessert-ed on Shirl’s ice cream and Bertrand’s Mango and Blueberry salad (recipe below). Hard as I tried to start a chorus of “Let’s go Fly a Kite,” no one was having it. Flashlight tag…? Anyone…?
Bertrand’s Mango and Blueberry Salad–serves 10-12
- 2 pints fresh blueberries
- 2 cups chopped mango
- 1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
- 1/4 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
Mix blueberries and mango in large bowl. Stir in orange juice and mint. Serve!