It read rather like the Rosetta Stone, with hints of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a clear nod to Lucy. Scales dropped; secrets were revealed; missing links were found, identified and examined. It was—and I'll include a pronunciation guide here, in case you, like me, are unfamiliar with such documents—called a [kamp men-yoo].
Or, for the initiated, a Camp Menu.
Have you ever read a Camp Menu?
For years, I have wondered and pondered and puzzled over what on earth we Americans eat. Beans and rice? Dogs and fries? Roti and Dal? Mashed avocados on toast? Pot roast and peas? Fast food? Slow food? A + 2B? Combo Platter #12? Hungry Man? Lean Cuisine? The foods of our forefathers? (But which forefathers?) (And weren't they likely fed by our foremothers?) Everyday Food's week of dinners? Grandma's tuna noodle casserole, with jello salad on the side?
Probably not that.
But beyond that?
Really, just no idea.
All I know is what we eat, around our own table. Produce, mostly, drives the meals, with what's good and fresh acting as impetus. Come May, it's asparagus every day. June is berries, breakfast, lunch and dinner. August, cucumbers, in salads and soups. September, everything under the sun. The kids don't eat everything, but they see everything, and try many things, and love some things. Typically, the simpler, the better.
This sounds just ducky, and it is just ducky, except on those occasions it's not. My meal planning stinks. (How can I know what the market will yield?). My rotations are non-existent. (Thirty tries, they say, it takes a child to learn to like a new food. I'm not sure I've made anything thirty times.) And my "easy, familiar food" track record is, apparently, dismal.
Because "easy, familiar food" is what said menu contained, and reading it through, I can't argue. Chicken patties. French toast, scrambled eggs. Baked ham, lasagne, garlic toast, baked beans. Potatoes, mashed and au gratin. Tomato Soup. Accessible. Simple. Foods from my own childhood. Entirely unfamiliar to my kids.
I haven't made lasagna in a decade. Ditto tomato soup, I don't know why. French toast, only very erratically. Baked beans and garlic toast might as well be garum, so exotic and foreign they are to our table.
(Actually, garum would be more familiar, or at least its close cousin, fish sauce. At least that appears nearly monthly, in curries and soups and Thai basil chicken.) We do mash potatoes and scramble eggs, but the camper in question has no love of either.
To bridge this gap, we've committed to working our way through the men-yoo before bags are packed. Iceberg salads have been eaten, chicken patties applauded, yukon golds earmarked for the gratin pan. Partly, to know what to expect. Partly, to share in what's offered. I'm reminded of Greg Atkinson, in his latest gem, explaining his move away from vegetarianism. He was, he recounts, not so much aspiring to eat meat, as wanting to partake of meals made by close friends. To gather around a common table, to engage in the greater fellowship, to sit down with his people and break bread together. Or, in his case, wishbones.
Or, in our case, garlic toast.
This whole meal business, it's seemed to me lately, is little different than child's play. Literally. Left to our own, we eat cucumbers and tomatoes, tortellini and canteloupe, black beans and rice. Good stuff. Left to our own, we build forts and legos and grape/toothpick contraptions and basket bassinets for pink penguins. We sort buttons, and excavate dinos, and pounce on cicadas, and collect potato bugs at every turn. (She named him "Tofu".) We make. A lot. Beads, drawings, paintings, projects, "stuff". Coil pots. (Lots and lots of coil pots.) Give my kids a stack of dominoes, or (another) ten things, or a heap of Kaplas, and give them an afternoon's entertainment. Also good.
Invite us into a game of Barbies, or ponies, or dodgeball, or soccer, or pick-up basketball, and you may be met with a few blank stares. There no reason for this. There's merit in these, also. There's fellowship to be had over H.O.R.S.E.
Food, play, politics, you name it—they are, I think, the same conversation, Venn diagrams, the lot of them. We begin with our families, our normals, our familiars, then go all bi-pedal and things get interesting. If we are lucky, we find others like us, who may look and dress and act entirely other, but who share some essential something that lets us sigh and laugh and relax and best of all smile, often, and without effort. If we are lucky, we also find others, who challenge us in every department. Who bring different views, and opinions, and perspectives, and expand our idea of what is good and right and true. If we are especially lucky, we find those overlaps, those intersections of circles, those vesica pisces that signal common ground. "Find", notably, not being a passive verb, but an active one, signalling work, effort, intent.
I intend to serve baked beans next week.
I also intend to keep doing what we do.
So between Lunch Day One and Breakfast Day Two, I'll go about my usual dinner routine, which usually runs something like this: "Given six zucchini... " or "Based on two cucumbers... " or "Allowing for eight eat-me-now ears of corn..." Last weekend, it was "Take twenty pounds of paste tomatoes ... " And just before that, "Assume an eggplant... "
(More practical, overall, than "Assume a can-opener... " If not, exactly, "easy, familiar food.")
I'll keep this brief, as I've run on so long: I don't play favorites with eggplant, unlike some other veg. I adore it in almost any format: baked under a red and gold blanket, or blistered and puréed with lemon and olive oil. Molly's coconut-oil home fries are out of this world. Ordinary olive-oil roasted nuggets rarely make it to my table.
Think creamy and smoky and eminently dippable. Think faintly earthy, thanks to Tahini, and flat-out nutty, thanks to toasted pines. Think lemon's sparkle, high heat's fingerprint, Greek yogurt's lush, and aleppo's sweet heat. Think swipe, drag, heap, eat and repeat. Think fifteen-minutes-fast, and just the thing to pile into the food processor on the heels of hummus. Think olives and cukes and pita and little bowls.
Just don't think you'll find it at camp.
Tim and Ana's version calls for peeling and boiling the eggplant, then adding smoked salt, which I don't keep on hand. I charred my eggplant instead, as I would for Baba or our go-to lemon dip. In leafing through my own copy of Spice, lo!, I learned charring is the original method. See Tim's version if you've smoked salt and a yen for boiling.
I use Aleppo pepper here, instead of Sortun's Urfa, because I have it on hand always. Aleppo is beautiful, the color of wet bricks, and has a gorgeous soft oiliness and sweet glowing warmth. I buy mine at Penzey's or World Spice, and use it wherever red pepper is called for. A dusting of sweet smoked paprika would also be wonderful. And no, my children "didn't prefer" it.
2 large globe (Italian) eggplant, 2-2 1/2 pounds
1/4 cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt
1 generous tablespoon tahini (optional)
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup pine nuts
1-2 teaspoons aleppo pepper
smoked sweet paprika, optional
Toast pine nuts in a 350° oven for 8-10 minutes, until golden. Watch them carefully; they burn in a blink. Set aside to cool.
Place an oven rack 6" below the broiler element, and preheat your broiler to high. Meanwhile, cover a baking sheet in foil, wash your eggplant, and set them on the sheet. Place your eggplant under the broiler, and leave them there until tops are blackened and beginning to collapse, 10-15 minutes. With tongs, flip your eggplants over, and blacken the reverse, another 10 minutes or so. They will look ghastly, charred and slumped and very Salvador Dali. This is excellent, and exactly what you want. Once they are in a state of complete collapse, remove them from the oven, and set aside until cool enough to handle. (This can be done several days in advance. This can also be done on the barbecue: I'll often leave several eggplant on the grate when I'm done grilling, to blacken and soften over the embers.)
When eggplant can be handled, split the skin, and scrape out the soft insides, scooping them into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Discard skins. To the cooked eggplant, add the yogurt, salt, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil, then blitz 1-2 minutes, until silky and smooth. Taste, and adjust salt and/or lemon, as desired. Scrape into a serving bowl, and top toasted pine nuts, plus the aleppo pepper, and smoked paprika, if using. Eat immediately, with warm pita or pita chips, and any smattering of mezze you can manage.
This holds beautifully, refrigerated, for several days, although the seasoning dims in the cold. Taste and adjust, in subsequent days.