We Went Camping
Yesterday afternoon, J and I fell through our front door, collapsing into a pile of blankets and totes, stale campfire smoke clinging to our skin. Even after hot showers, it still lingered, as if begging us to once again settle in next to a fire and disregard all pace of life. Four days and three nights in the woods was all we needed to get used to the frigid fall air. It was just enough time for us to give up trying to clear the dirt from under our fingernails, just long enough to settle into the daily habit of coaxing a pile of sticks into a warm, mesmerizing fire.
We learned a lot—like maybe saving a few bucks by not buying an air mattress pump wasn’t the best decision after a half hour of puffing, and that body heat really can save lives as the night temps dipped down to 48 degrees and we burrowed even deeper into our giant pile of blankets.
During our time away, we sat and talked for hours and hours, built a lot of fires, hiked until our legs ached, and ate a ton of wood fire grilled food. Before we left, we decided that we wanted the weekend to be sacred, without the distraction of emails, endless social media notifications, and text messages. So we locked our phones away, save to snap a few pictures of our Thursday dinner and our gorgeous Saturday hike.
I already knew that I focused way too much attention on the virtual world at the cost of ignoring the present, physical one right in front of me. But this weekend once again opened my eyes to just how much time and energy I waste trying to stay up to date on EVERYTHING online.
Long point short, I am so grateful for the chance to truly unplug, to be fully present in each moment this past weekend, and, most of all, to fall deeper in love with my husband because of it.
When we arrived Thursday night, we had three goals: get the tent up, build a fire, and EAT. Most Tennessee state parks don’t allow campers to bring in outside wood, so there we were on Thursday night, traipsing through the woods in search of a bundle of wood large enough to cook our pita bread and chicken. Because we arrived a night before all of the rest of the typical weekend crowd, we lucked out with scoring all of the leftover wood from the previous weekend’s campers.
An hour later, J had the fire roaring and dinner was in sight. Our very first camping dinner was grilled homemade pita bread filled with grilled chicken, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, and a homemade dairy-free tzatziki sauce (recipes below).
Over mouthfuls of dripping pita and chicken, we laughed at our meager wood stockpile and realized it would never last the whole weekend. So on Friday morning, after coffee and a breakfast hash of sautéed, buttery onions, peppers and potatoes topped with half a dozen of eggs, we traveled around the little town of Manchester in search of an ax.
An hour later, safety glasses in tow, we traveled even deeper into the woods, chopping and hacking away at everything we could get our hands on. My hands and back got sore in places I didn’t even realize could get sore. Yet, I discovered something deeply satisfying in straining my own strength in order to transform a fallen tree into splintered chunks small enough to create our own heat and fire source. Because if we didn’t do it, we wouldn’t stay warm and we wouldn’t have dinner.
Lord knows this girl wasn’t going without heat, much less food.
The rest of the weekend was a glorious blur of guitar jams around the fire, reading in the hammock, intensely competitive card games, and way too many roasted marshmallows to count.
I am completely confident that many more of our weekend getaways will now consist of camping and cooking over fires. We’re already talking about California and Maine as possible next destinations. Until next time...
Chicken Pita Pockets
The sun had already set by the time that J and I were ready to make dinner. The fire had smoldered into a hot bed of coals with flames still dancing around the grill. We flattened out a few of the pita dough balls and plopped them on the grill. They puffed up and browned more gloriously than they’d ever done before on the stove top. I’m a deep lover of hot homemade pita bread, and that first finished one off the wood fire grill was all of my food dreams come true. Of course, no pita pocket is complete without tzatziki sauce, but since J can’t have dairy, we experimented with a dairy-free sour cream. After sitting and absorbing all the garlic and lemon for 24 hours, the sauce tasted just as good as the real deal. I couldn’t have been happier with the outcome.
*Note: if making all items from scratch, please be aware of the resting times for various components.
4 pita pockets (or 1 homemade recipe, see below)
2 chicken breasts
¼ cup of balsamic vinegar
2 medium tomatoes
2 medium cucumbers
1 12 oz. dairy-free or regular sour cream
3 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon of dill
If you’re going dairy-free for the tzatziki sauce, I suggest making it 24 hours in advance to allow the seasonings to really sink into and transform the cream. It’s so simple, so why not? Simply scoop the sour cream into a blender and add the peeled garlic, juice of the lemon and dill to it. Halve one of the cucumbers a few times so that the pieces are manageable for the blender. Add to the mixture and blend everything up. Add salt to your seasoning preference. I usually add about one tablespoon. Don’t add too much salt as the flavor will get much more concentrated the longer the sauce sites. You should end up with about two cups of sauce.
On the day of your glorious chicken pita pockets meal, cut your chicken breasts lengthwise a few times to end up with about 6-8 pieces. Throw into a Ziploc bag with the balsamic vinegar. Let this marinate for at least an hour (ours sat for five hours).
If making pita from scratch, follow recipe below while the chicken marinates. If using store bought ones, move on to chopping up your cucumber and tomato for the pita toppings. Next, grill your chicken. When finished, gently tear open a pita to create a pocket and alternate adding chicken, tomato, cucumber and sauce until it’s full. Don’t be afraid to douse that baby. The more sauce, the merrier. Now, make everyone put their phones away and dive into these pockets, sans digital distraction.
Homemade Pita Bread
This recipe is so simple that every household should be required to make it at least once a year and stand over the stove (or grill or fire) with a friend, tearing the hot pieces apart, dipping them in seasoned olive oil or hummus or tzatziki until all stomachs are full and satisfied.
3 cups of flour
1 tablespoon of salt
2 teaspoon of yeast
¼ cup of olive oil
1-1 ½ cup of warm water
Put the flour, salt, and yeast into a food processor (Yes! You don’t have to mix by hand!)*. Pulse a few times to combine. Once combined, keep running on low speed and slowly stream in the olive oil. Once mixed in, change speed to medium, and do the same with the water. But, stream in very slowly. The dough will start to clump together, eventually sticking together in one giant glob. As soon as the dough combines together completely, stop adding water. It should be slightly sticky to touch, but not so sticky that you can’t remove it from the processor without leaving half of it stuck behind to your fingers. If you accidentally add too much water and the dough is too sticky to handle, add a little flour on top of it and knead by hand until manageable.
Let the dough rest, covered, for an hour. At the hour, punch down and then section out into 5-6 balls on a floured plate or cutting board. Let them sit for another half hour. (Sometimes when I am too impatient, I’ll skip this step.) Then you’re ready to cook them up! Here’s where the fun starts. If I can’t make these over a grill, then I prefer a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add just a touch of olive oil to the pan, then grab the first dough ball and using your hands, flatten out to about 8 inches in diameter. Flop the flattened dough down into the pan and grill for about four minutes, two minutes on each side. This magical dough wonder cooks very fast, and it may look like the inside is a little doughy, but that’s the key—you want it to be just a little underdone. Once all your pitas are done, move on to the next step in the recipe above or enjoy solo with a little olive oil (or really anything else in your refrigerator or cupboard).
*I have never made this recipe without a food processor. The key here is that the food processor is able to distribute the olive oil and water slowly in a very even fashion so that it comes together completely mixed. If you’re game to try it without the processor and have plenty of hands in the kitchen to help with the simultaneous streaming and mixing, by all means, go for it!