Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Well-Oiled Outdoors

K and I made a trek south towards Branson to hook up with the latest family camping outing. We stopped off at the charming downtown of Clinton for a quick lunch at the Ben Franklin Bistro. Located in a beautiful historic building sharing space with an antique store, its a fine little spot for lunch that provided me with one of the best Reubens I've ever had. I honestly couldn't put my finger on what was so outstanding....was it the creamy house-made 1000 Island dressing or that hearty marble rye? Whatever; it was aces.

As we made our way closer, we were alerted by the family that they were waiting for us to arrive to go swimming at the lake at Pomme de Terre State Park; where the campground was located. Frighteningly, that alert came in the form of a call from young Sierra, who along with her younger brother Tanner, were clearly chomping at the bit to hit the water. Their mother, Keith's sister Kim, reassured me that this was a good opportunity for the kids to learn patience....well, except for the fact that we were the reason that the kids had to be patient. Thankfully, the kids had not spontaneously combusted upon arrival.

As for that arrival, it was clear that the rest of the family, having arrived the previous day, were a bit worn from the triple digit heat bearing down on them and we quickly regrouped to head for the lake. The family spent most of the afternoon enjoying the cool water, tasty munchies and Anne's reference to the Supremacy Channel. We returned to camp and dug into some more munchies, including one of my favorites, the creamy, spicy Hot Wing Dip and a new favorite, Dave's pickled turnips. I retired to Ken and Helen's camper to watch a DVD of the animated film Atlantis with the kids. This took me back to one of my favorite memories of a Christmas morning several years back of the rugrats piled on me while we sat, entranced by a viewing of their new copy of Ratatouille.

Dinner time would arrive and the well-oiled machine that is this family would kick into gear as everyone settled seamlessly into their role. Beer Can Chicken stood tall on the grill; carefully monitored by Ken, Dave and Brett. Aunt Ruthie mixed up her Damn Good Salad (let's just say that it is indeed that, as I still don't know the ingredients of the dressing) and Kim and Dave provided some fantastic Tabbouleh salad. We could never figure out why the name of the state park was Pomme de Terre; as that translates to potato, so we will just allow the connection to fall on Randy and Anne's marvelous mashed potatoes. After more than a decade of listening to the long-standing devotion to Rhonda's rice pilaf; I finally got to taste it and it is the very definition of comfort food. I had two helpings and was gratefully offered the final bowl as I was the rice pilaf newbie. Dessert was another run with our ice-cream maker, featuring chocolate chip flavor this go-round. After dinner and the debut of his drawn-on goatee, Tanner brought me his decidely less appetizing but most awesome bug book and we had a great time pouring through all of the deliciously gross close-ups of the creepy crawlies. However, it was a tad distressing to later have nightmares of giant, perfectly-detailed bugs trying to break into my home....although I did find that I could properly identify each and every one.

The title term "well-oiled" is mostly in reference here to the precision that this family organizes themselves during the creation of each meal and in fact, these trips altogether. After some memory searching, it was revealed that these camping trips have been going on for 35 years, so it's no surprise that they have perfected these outings. Sure, there is the inevitable skirmish over, say, who was responsible for what, but these are short-lived and laughed about over cocktails. The adult beverages also fit into the "well-oiled" description as we sipped on everything from craft beers like Bitch Creek to homemade wine made by Ken and Randy to jello shots, shared by everyone including bulldog Otis. The following morning, as Dave mixed up some excellent Bloody Marys before a nature hike, I thought, "camping with Catholics is so much fun" and in fact, texted that to my friend Kristy. I thought about making that my post title but feared it might be a tad offensive. I'll talk more on that following Sunday and the nature hike on the next post as we got some great color and black and white photos to share...

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