Being a picky eater who dreaded most things on my dinner plate, eating at camp was sort of a relief. It's true that the food was of the familiar-unfamiliar sort, which, I should explain, is actually one of the scariest food classifications for a picky eater. Like, you know that it's supposed meatloaf, which is happy, because you like meatloaf, but you also know it's not supposed to be riddled with big-ass chunks of carrot and be weeping some sort of cloudy liquid on the plate. Also, "weeping" reminds you of something that happens to wounds, which means you are now comparing the suspiciously cloudy liquid on the plate to pus and that's just not good for anyone involved. With Familiar-Unfamiliar food, you get all riled up with anticipatory hunger pangs that you're about to eat something you like only for your stomach to lurch and burn after one glance at the real thing.
I did say eating at camp was a relief, right? Well, so it was. At camp, I didn't have any adults telling me I had to clean my plate or even take three bites of a hated food (which was my own parents' kinder, gentler approach to forcing food on us). I didn't have to eat the carrot-riddled, pus-engorged meatloaf if I didn't want to. Hell, I could make an entire meal out of baked potatoes, and no one at Camp Widjiwagan was going to say boo. (Where they said "boo" about food was on trail, and I'll get to that in a moment.)
Paying a visit to the camp commissary to stock up on the food that needs to sustain campers for the 7-10 days and nights they are away from civilization and microwave popcorn is called "packing out." It's just like going on a shopping spree. (When your shopping list includes things like freeze-dried beef chunks, powdered milk, and a hefty measure of government cheese.) Even though I was whole-stomachedly in favor of Kraft macaroni and cheese for every breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I still loved this part of Widji.
After poring over a list of possibly meal choices -- no matter how hard we tried to fight it, beef Stroganoff ALWAYS made it on Trail -- we planned out our Trail breakfasts and dinners as a group and then went to order our pounds of food. As our guide/counselor read off our shopping list, the pile of labeled plastic bags containing mixes and powders and dry ingredients grew. (This was also when we picked up our supply of trail toilet paper. Which make sense, really.) While breakfasts and dinners could change, lunches were fixed. This midday predictability not so much horribly boring as it was totally comforting for me since there wasn't really anything -- aside from the bowel-regulating hellspawn raisins -- I didn't like.
While we decided daily when to stop for lunch on Trail -- beginning of a portage, after a portage, in the middle of a lake -- my favorite spot was picnicking in the canoes. Content to drift for a bit, we'd pull the canoes alongside each other, keeping them together by draping our legs over the sides, and holster our dripping paddles. Then, while someone prepared our drinks by dipping the battered metal teapot into the lake and flavoring the water with a packet of powdered drink mix, our prix fixe lunch was handed around.
We got two impossibly thick (but filling) Ry Krisp crackers, a measured smear of peanut butter, a handful each of raisins and GORP, a slice of bulk summer sausage, and a hefty measure of government cheese.
After a few days, we all developed very decided opinions about the order in which all the lunch components should be eaten. Most of us shot-gunned the raisins to clear the way for the more interesting courses. Like the cheese course. And let me tell you, after several hours of paddling and portaging, did we love that government cheese! Cut from a long orange block, the cheese was creamy enough to tamp down and spread over the crackers using just our fingers, but not so creamy that it threatened to reproduce that disturbing Velveeta wiggle.
Some of us predictably stacked the slice of summer sausage on the orange slick of government cheese and were perfectly happy. Nothing wrong with that. I mean, it's a bit boring, but boring never hurt anyone, right? However, consider, if you will, that the GORP we had at our fingertips was so much more than peanuts and raisins. Tucked away in that big plastic bulk bag were broad white flakes of dried coconut, coveted, elusive chocolate chips, and the only way I'd ever eat bananas: thin, crispy, and desiccated. Beholding this rich bounty of mostly dehydrated bits and pieces caused others of us, and I'm not naming names, to determine that combining the cheese and peanut butter on the Ry Krisp particleboard and topping the hybrid spread with a single flake of dried coconut elevated the humble Trail lunch to heretofore unseen gastronomic heights.
The entire repast, like every meal, was washed down by Bug Juice. Though a popular name for powdered drink mix combined with water, our Bug Juice actually had real bugs in it. "Protein!" our counselors announced as we poured out Day-Glo pink or orange cupfuls speckled with black noseeums or whatever else was swimming in the lake.
All of our water was lake water, but it was carefully sourced lake water. Our counselors warned us darkly about drinking from rivers where beaver dams were built, and we only drank water they approved. To drink unapproved water would be to play fast and loose with our bowels. (Well, faster and looser than we were already with the raisins.)
While lunch never changed, we did have variations on breakfast and dinner. For breakfast, Grape Nuts and Muslix with dried fruits were both offered with the option of "milk, which was dried milk mixed with lake water. And bugs. (I opted to never partake of the milk water and ate all my cereal dry.)
We also had hot oatmeal, which sat like a lump in your stomach most of the day but clearly powered your body through the toughest portages that might include flipping the canoe up on your shoulders while stomping frenetically in ankle-deep water to discourage leeches from suckering themselves to your lower calf.
The leeches were tiny and harmless, but you still didn't want to hike the trail with a parasite ride-along. It was bad enough when a mosquito took advantage of your canoe-carrying situation and settled on your hand for a French Laundry-length meal, knowing it was impossible for you (well, for me, anyway) to remove one hand from its position on the canoe gunnel to smack it flat.
Next Time at Camp Picky Eating: Why I didn't eat falafel for 15 years.