My oldest son, Henry, and I have enjoyed camping together for the last two summers on “mother-son” camping trips with our friends. The theme emerged because we are the most enthusiastic in our house, likely stemming from our shared quality of being able to sleep heavily just about anywhere. Garth prefers the comfort of routine, and relished in the excuse of Theodore’s relative immaturity to stay at home.
Somehow, camping became Henry’s and my tradition. I love being outdoors in Seattle’s summer any way I can, because the part of me that grew up indoors in Florida finds it very glamorous. It’s become a part of me: the scenery and the tradition, the overstuffed car driven by the other mother in our pair, who is inevitably a better driver, a more practiced camper and so owns two-thirds of the gear. My goal for these trips is to absorb my companion’s camping savvy while plying her with delicious foods cooked over a fire; to let Henry roam free in the woods and allow the beauty of nature to take root in his memory; to breathe fresh air for days on end.
The things in my adult life I love most are those that fall loosely into a category of “summer camp,” which is more of a feeling than a descriptor. There are friends I’ve met in my adult life that make me feel like a friend from summer camp, with a kind of combined urgency and silliness layered over familiarity; usually art is involved. I encourage these impulses when I see them in my children, who both seem to collect friends as fiercely as I do and generally look to orient themselves toward joy. Always.
Perhaps this is how I came to build our outdoor tent about a week ago in our basement, squeezed into one half of a room where the boys often play. It seemed to be a natural solution, given the fact that Henry’s grade was supposed to go camping as a special end-of-year bonding excursion and I with him. It was a guaranteed camping success—no bugs, no rain to worry about—and gave our youngest, Theodore, an easy opportunity to practice joining Henry and I for one of our camping excursions.
As we crafted our roaring fire from a Mason jar layered in orange and gold tissue and dropped a flickering, battery-operated fake candle inside, I was proud of us. For being flexible. For finding simple joy when joy feels really complicated for so many around us. For imagining a way through, a way where we want to be, with what we’ve had all along. I threw dinner on the grill and pretended it was a campfire; I scattered marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers over our table and didn’t try to convince them just this once that their preference of eating their sweet sandwiches raw was just not doing it right. It was missing birdsong, the rich scent of summer, and the satisfied feeling of building fire with your bare hands.
But, as far as Tuesdays go in the middle of a pandemic, it made for pretty excellent camping.
Grilled Halibut Packet
This is something I would assemble the night before a camping trip, then tuck it carefully on the top of my cooler as Garth packs the car. Our first camping trip of the year was different than years past, so I served it as a weeknight summer dinner instead.
1 (1-pound) skinless halibut fillet
1 medium sweet potato, sliced into 1/4-inch disks
1 lemon, thinly sliced crosswise
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) olive oil, divided
2 medium zucchini, sliced into 1-inch planks
1/4 cup mint leaves, thinly sliced
1 / Generously season both sides of halibut with salt. Lay a large piece of heavy-duty foil over work surface; layer a piece of parchment paper over top. Shingle sweet potato in the center of the foil to form a base that’s a bit larger than the fillet; season with salt. Place halibut on top of potatoes, and lemon on top of halibut; scatter stack of ingredients with pepper flakes and salt, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil. Gather and crimp edges of layered parchment and foil to form a seam over the top of the stacked fish (the packet should be sealed). Brush zucchini with 2 tablespoons remaining oil and season with salt.
2 / Heat grill to medium-high, about 425°F. Add packet to hot grates and grill, shifting packet once or twice, until it sizzles and steam escapes when pierced (about 20 minutes). As packet cooks, arrange zucchini on grill grates over the flame. Grill zucchini, turning halfway through, until they bend when lifted with tongs (about 10 minutes). Remove packet to a platter and open to release steam, spreading out potatoes and lemons alongside fish. Slice zucchini crosswise into irregular strips and scatter over grilled potatoes with mint. Drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. To serve, flake halibut in large pieces and serve alongside potato and zucchini salad.