The first challenge of the weekend was the lack of a smoker. The event chair and I must have bobbled this between us. I was expecting a big ol' hog roaster to be out at camp to cook the brisket in. No sign of it. The leadership huddled and we thought over alternatives. In the end, I decided not to try to rent something inadequate at the last minute and trust in our scouty-ness. Accordingly, when my first kitchen staff showed up -- two 16-year-old boys from Nashville named Ty and Ben, I explained the situation to them and said, "So, I need you to build me one regulation Big@ss Fire." Their eyes lit up. Once the fire was ready, the boys improvised some grates over it. Other kitchen helpers rubbed twenty humongous beef briskets with salt, pepper, and garlic powder and threw them on the fire. When we had a good char on them, we put them to bed in the ovens at 225 degrees overnight.
Meanwhile, action heated up in the kitchen as more staff arrived. I put them to work making Sausage Balls and cutting summer sausage and cheese for the crackerbarrel that night. We also made Saturday evening's granola bars and put them away in huge sheet pans, scored ready for breaking up. I knew we would go through a huge amount of coffee, and I was ready for it. I was not ready for there to be so little extra coffee at camp, no creamer, no hot chocolate, and only a few hot cups. I began making a list of things for whoever was making a run to town in the morning to get me.
It was a very short night. I bedded down in the dry storage room off the kitchen so I could be up and at it early. I was comfy and warm, but I must have had too much coffee. My head would not quit working on things to be done in the morning. Five o'clock came early, and it came ugly. The antibiotics I was taking were making every day better than the one before, but still, it's hard to get better or function well when you're short on sleep. All praise to God for keeping me on my feet!
Brisket came out at 5:30. After letting it rest an hour, we took it out of the pans and began cutting it up. It was falling apart even as we tried to get it out of the pans. Meanwhile, we whomped up breakfast burritos and put out instant oatmeal in the morning, but we were already working on lunch and dinner. Staff lunch was Coddle, soda bread, and Bread and Butter Pudding. We prepared to-go servings for our volunteers in the field.
The ice was making it hard to get to camp, so the event leaders reset the whole day's schedule to run an hour later. This took a lot of pressure off the kitchen, though we were running well. We got the Glop going and the alligator gumbo. We spatchcocked a dozen turkeys and got them in the ovens. Right after lunch, the Saarländer Eintopf was started in three, huge square-head pans on top of the stove. The Christmas Hash was still working right up until serving time, as was the Eintopf. More volunteers arrived to help serve and I had them making salad right up until time.
It took two seatings to feed everybody. The dining hall only holds about 200 or so at a time. When everybody had been fed, the staff -- including especially the kitchen staff -- had some time to crash, eat, and clean in a desultory sort of way. Then it was time to get everything cleaned up so that leftovers could be put out for that evening's crackerbarrel.
This morning, we put out cereal and milk, instant oatmeal, and leftover glop. When one Scouter mentioned that he was diabetic and without his meds due to his unplanned stay at camp, I asked if he needed anything. He was going very lightly on the breakfast we put out; he needed protein. So we broke out a bag of cold brisket, to his and others' delight.
There were cars off the roads all over the National Forest. One of them belonged to Kara, whose van gave up on the way out Saturday morning. She had to stay over unexpectedly Saturday night. I had an extra Army blanket and folding lap quilt which I loaned her. Then this morning we were told there was a tree down across Tower Ridge Rd. Ranger Ed and his son went out and cut it up with chainsaws so that people could get home. When enough people had left camp, we finally got the kitchen and dining hall cleaned up. Then it was our turn. We drove 10-20 mph all the way to Hwy 446, but we got out safely. Kara even got her van started and managed to drive her own vehicle out with us. So all is well. We got back to E-ville around 1:30 after quite a weekend of adventure.
I told my Crew this morning and the other helpers how proud I was of them. They did a magnificent job. They worked well together. We made awesome food and had fun. All the plaudits that come to the cook must be shared with everyone who makes it happen. And it was a fun weekend. There were people at times engaged in all kinds of different tasks throughout the kitchen, all singing along with some country music. The fire that was started to cook the brisket was fed and continued throughout the weekend, becoming a bonding circle of youth and adults, a place to take a break and talk about Life, the Universe, and Everything. There's no doubt that it's hard work; indeed, handling big pots and wielding knives all weekend is like the ultimate upper-body workout. We were sore and tired when we were done, but we were happy warriors.
People look at me like I'm crazy when I talk about doing this. Why do I love it so? Well, the camaraderie is a big part of it. Not only is it fun to work with people you like on a big project like this, but there's a constant parade of old friends coming through to joke and share tidbits with. Then, there's the joy of feeding others. Food = love, they say; it's a primal urge that makes both giver and receiver happy. And, of course, there's the whole ego-boo issue. The number of people who feel confident cooking for a hundred people does not make a long list; the number who can cook for five hundred makes a very short list. The fact that I can do that, and do it well, means I get a lot of very positive feedback from people; the fact that many of those people are very special to me makes it even better. I feel I grew in my leadership ability this weekend, too. I was much more comfortable than last year with both the task and with my staff (Crew 119, of course, but also Troop 190); I could trust my workers more, and they rewarded that trust and made me look even better.
And I would be very remiss if I did not point out how much Deanne contributed to this weekend's achievements. Besides driving some youth out (and bringing me some stuff I called for) Friday evening, she kept me going this week. She quietly did a lot of chores we normally share at home so I could rest and get ready for the weekend. She asked for prayers for me. She believes in me. As I was heading out to camp Friday afternoon, we met at Wee Willie's for lunch. I told her that she was my best friend. I've told her a lot of things about my love for her over the years, but I've not really used the language of friendship. But so it is. We have grown into a relationship of love and friendship and partnership. I could not do all that I do without her backing me up.