Summer Camp

My daughter challenged me to write a blog post every day using a topic she chooses.

Today I have been tasked with posting about summer camp and bugs. I left the “and bugs” out of the title because… marketing? I dunno. It just seemed not great sitting up there. See, I don’t really care much for bugs. I get they are a necessary part of the ecosystem and all that. But I still am not a huge fan (exception: I lived in the Washington DC area when the 17 year Cicadas emerged in 2004 and it was amazingly fun and awesome.) But enough preamble. Let’s get to it.

I only went to two overnight camps as a kid. One was some camp in upstate New York I have mostly forgotten about (I was 11) and the other was Buck’s Rock in New Milford, CT, where I attended for four summers from 1980–1983. That first summer at Buck’s Rock was a half-summer, August only. July of that summer was a day camp. All I really remember about that is falling madly in love with a girl named Christine and appearing as The Professor in South Pacific. My first half-summer at Buck’s Rock is a bit of a blur. But I do remember sending Christine a love letter and getting one back. This made week 2 of camp a time of magic and miracles. Week 3 or so saw the arrival of a second letter in which she broke my heart. But my favorite counselor at camp, Glenn, really helped me through it. Glenn was awesome. He was compassionate, funny, and a brilliant writer. He directed and performed in a one act play called City Suite that he wrote. I remember thinking it was fantastic though I couldn’t tell you a thing about it today. I also remember he performed in a dance number to some amazing song that I had never heard before and that I became totally obsessed with. Back at the bunk that night when he returned I ran to him and said, “What was that song you danced to on stage with towels and crabs and other funny costumes…” He told me it was Rock Lobster by the B-52s. I had never heard of them. When I got home, it would be the first LP I ever purchased. (On a whim, I googled Glenn and found a movie and tv writer with the same name. So I tweeted at him. Maybe it’s him? Who knows? Think he’d remember a dorky 12 year old kid with girl troubles?)

The first record I ever bought. Or was it Parallel Lines by Blondie? No. It was this one. I am pretty sure. I think.

Buck’s Rock was and still is a camp for creativity. I spent nearly all of my time either acting in plays and musicals (Free to Be You and Me, Once Upon a Mattress, Pippin, Godspell, Arsenic and Old Lace) or working in the Photography Shop where I learned how to use a camera and how to develop my negatives and prints in a dark room (one day I will have a working darkroom in my house!) But, more than anything else, I hung out with Mike Robbins listening to a ton of Styx (1981 is the summer of Paradise Theater). (I’m getting to the bugs part. Bear with me.)

Interlude: Where I spend over an hour getting lost in looking at Buck’s Rock yearbooks that are all online. Finding pictures by and of me and stories of plays I was in… wow… the only photograph I can find actually credited to me was in 1982 of my girlfriend Stephanie who is looking at me like, “Are you really going to take a picture of me?”

Mike and I loved going to the square dance. We got a kick out of Karl Finger who lead the dances and lived for doing both Snoopy (to Draggin’ the Line by Tommy James) and the no-name dance set to Amos Moses by Jerry Reed (who was in my favorite movie as a kid, Smokey and the Bandit.) And there was always great jugs of bug juice (there was always bug juice) and there were the tall light posts (I think our square dances were on the tennis courts or something like that) and there were always a million bugs flying around them.

But here’s the really weird part. Today, I generally dislike being outside at night in the summer, especially in a dark place, because of the bugs. Mosquitos are especially awful and they don’t really bother me much because they find my wife and daughter far more appetizing. But if no one else is around, they settle for me and make me miserable. And yet, aside from the million-bugs-around-the-light-posts thing I mentioned, I have no memory of dealing with mosquitos at all. I even remember, early in the 1981 camp season, being way out in a dark corner of the soccer field, just on the edge up against the woods, making out with my girlfriend Kathy (we dated for all of a week. It was awkward, at best) and you think we would have been swarmed by mosquitos. But no, we weren’t. We were found by Rat Patrol, the people with flashlights specifically looking to stop people like us from doing what we were doing. But I do not remember anything about bugs at all.

Me during my CIT summer at Buck’s Rock in 1983 at age 15.

So I am not sure what I can really say about summer camp and bugs. I can speak about either topic alone, but put them together and I got nothing. But I am glad of this chance to take a walk down memory lane. Buck’s Rock was such a foundational part of my life from when I was 12 to 15. I still have close friends to this day, especially Bobby Feigin who I was fortunate to reconnect with more than a decade ago. And every once in a while, I still put on Paradise Theater by Styx and Rock the Paradise.


Cooking with Friends

My daughter challenged me to write a blog post every day using a topic she chooses.

Tonight our friend Jenn and her son Phillip came over for dinner and hanging out. Phil hung out with Marci all evening and they talked about Destiny II and who knows what else while Ann, Jenn, and I cooked dinner and drank margaritas. Let’s stop for a minute and deconstruct this. Today, on St. Patrick’s Day, we did the following:

  • Listened to Irish music (specifically, this Spotify Playlist)
  • Drank Margaritas
  • Cooked a Middle Eastern dish

So, it was a very global take on St. Patrick’s Day. Anyway, the dish we made was Brown Rice Bowl with Lentils, Caramelized Onions & Fried Egg. This is a dish we’ve made once before and it was a big hit. Of course, none of us really read through the recipe before we started because we were all so busy gabbing. So I used water to cook the Lentils in the Instant Pot and to cook the rice in the Zojirushi instead of chicken broth. And after cooking and starting to caramelize the onions, I decided to just dump the lentils and rice into the (very large) pan and do a little fried rice type thing for a few minutes while adding chicken broth. The end result was delicious.

This is from a year ago when we last made this. In fact, this is the next morning when I used the leftovers to make breakfast.

Normally when I cook, I try to stick as close to the recipe as possible. Usually it’s because I know that if I do, it will come out well and taste great. With some recipes, I have learned over the years to branch out and have some fun with it. But when I cook with friends, recipes often go out the window and we just have fun with it.

One time, I was cooking with a friend of mine (and for some reason I cannot remember right now who it was, it was more than 20 years ago at this point). I was making homemade pizza, spinning my own dough (what a showoff!) and making my own sauce (I made both a red sauce and basil pesto). We were getting punchy I joked, “I know! I’ll do a pesto sauce, feta cheese, and apple slices!”) She looked at me and said, “Do it!” And I did and it was incredible.

About seven years ago (or so) out friends Jamie, Sean, and Amy came to spend Boxing day plus a few more days with us (it was just after we moved into the house we live in now.) I said that I would cook my favorite dish, Chicken Marsala. This is a dish that I have to try every time I find a restaurant that serves it. I also have a thing about Marsala wine and that translates into an obsession to Zabaglione Gelato (which I have made for friends in the five minutes we had a working ice cream maker many years ago, but I digress.) Anyway, we went shopping and I was able to get everything I needed: chicken, pancetta, mushrooms, and so forth. But Rhode Island has (had?) stupid blue laws and because it was a Sunday, we were unable to find any open liquor stores (grocery stores in Rhode Island are not allowed to carry any alcohol) to get marsala wine. Well, this is a problem since the dish kind of has marsala in its name.

Jamie said that his aunt was a chef and he called her to ask her if there were any viable substitutions we could make. She said that grape juice and some extra sugar (or something like that) would do the trick and so we decided to give that a shot. The only problem? The only grape juice we could find was purple. In the end, it ended up tasting… well, it wasn’t marsala, but it tasted pretty good. Except the chicken was purple! It was the chromatic opposite of green eggs and ham!

My last anecdote was from a few years back. Jenn brought her friend Garen over thinking that Garen and I would cook brunch for all of us. Ann and Jenn thought this would be a lot of fun (I am sure because they would drink mimosas while Garen and I did all the work.) I was very nervous about this because Garen is a Johnson & Wales trained chef and I am a guy who goofs around with recipes. I thought, what on Earth could I possibly bring to this meal? Well, after we went shopping at Whole Foods, we returned home and made two amazing frittatas. I learned a great deal from him and we had a blast cooking together.

I love cooking but cooking with friends is my favorite thing. The house we moved out of 7 years ago to come here was not an open plan house. The kitchen was out in the former breezeway and far away from everyone else. Anytime we had friends over, I would be all by myself way out in the kitchen. In this house, the kitchen and dining room are a huge open room and friends are right there hanging out and having fun while we are all working together (or even if I am flying solo and they are just hanging out with us) and that is a vast improvement over the previous house. If I could, I’d cook for friends all the time, not just once in a while. So, come on by!