I lift my feet and fall back, submersing myself in the waist-deep water. The temperature is shocking but tolerable. Forest and sky swim and shimmer above me, melting and melding into one another.
My muscles contract, then relax, as I float back up to the surface. I stand and wipe the water from my eyes, just in time to hear a high-pitched shriek followed by schoolgirl giggles. My wife is doing the same maneuver in the creek behind me. Only the creek where she takes a dip has not mixed with the tempered waters of the lake. A warm breeze blows into the cove, wicking the droplets off my skin. I relish my coolness, knowing that I will be hot again when we leave this shaded inlet and paddle across the open water.
My wife and I are canoe camping for a couple of days on a nearby lake. Technically, the lake is a small reservoir formed from the damming of a river, but despite being influenced by humans, most of the area around it is wilderness. There are no houses along its shores and only a few access points. And the lake’s horsepower restrictions keep the motorboat traffic to a few fishermen. Thus, it’s an ideal spot for flatwater canoes and recreational kayakers.
But just because we are camping does not mean we are roughing it. Being on a lake means weight is not as much of a consideration as our typical canoe camping trip. We don’t have to worry about dragging over low water gravel bars or making tight turns around rocks. Our chairs are comfy, our sleeping pads are thick, our food is fun.
Like a lot of outdoor enthusiasts this spring, my wife and I are reconnecting with the wilderness that is in our own backyard. Our house is only six miles from the boat ramp, but as we explore the coves and streams feeding this lake, home seems far away.
One of the great things about staying local is that we don’t have to spend a week researching the trip, or a day to drive here. We just throw some camping gear in the back of the truck, tie a boat on top, and we are paddling toward a campsite half an hour later.
A vacation is a state of mind, even if it’s close to your house. And nothing makes you feel like you’re on vacation like eating food that isn’t part of your normal routine. But the food doesn’t have to be difficult to be extravagant.
Stuffed French Toast
Stuffed French Toast seems fancy, despite being simple to make. And since blueberries and strawberries are coming into season, it’s also a good way to put a little summer into your breakfast. Pro Tip: use a hearty loaf of unsliced bread from a bakery or the deli of your local grocery store. If it’s a day or two stale, all the better.
- 1 loaf French bread, unsliced
- 1 cup vanilla yogurt
- 2 cups sliced fruit (we used strawberries, blueberries, and a banana)
- 1 cup milk
- 4 eggs
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- Sliced almonds
- Maple syrup
- Garnish with a side of bacon
Before the bacon but after a strong cup of coffee, place the container of maple syrup into a pan of warm water and let stand. Meanwhile, toast the sliced almonds in butter and a pinch of salt.
Then start the bacon. While the bacon fries, thinly slice the fruit. If you’re using blueberries, I suggest leaving those whole. Stir the fruit into a cup of vanilla yogurt. The bananas pieces may become a little mushy, but this helps thicken the mixture and keep it from pouring out of the toast.
In order to “stuff’ the French Toast, you need each half-inch piece of toast to open like a taco shell. So, slice the loaf in quarter-inch increments, but on every other cut, I stop the knife before reaching the cutting board. Thus, every two slices stay connected. And so, from one small loaf, I end up with eight pieces of toast. Then I take a spoonful of the yogurt and fruit and pour it into the slices.
Whisk together milk, eggs and cinnamon. I tend to keep it to one egg and a quarter cup of milk for every two slices as a basic ratio.
The secret to good French toast is to just give the bread a quick dip, without saturating it. If you let the bread sit in the milk and egg mixture, it will soak up all the liquid and have the texture of a wet sponge. Dip the bread on one side. Flip your wrist and dip the other side. Then place the bread on the hot griddle or skillet.
Toasting the bread with butter definitely enhances the tastes, but if you cook it too long or too hot, the butter can start to burn because of its low burning point. So, I cut the butter by mixing it with a little bit of oil. As you toast each side, you can baste the bread with a little more egg mixture if needed.
Top with butter, toasted almonds, maple syrup, and more fruit. And garnish with a slice of bacon (or three).
After a leisurely morning, we leave camp to explore the lake’s shoreline, as it cuts into the valleys of the surrounding hillsides. The mountain laurel peaked a couple of weeks ago, but the pink and white flowers still accent a few protected coves. And the showy blooms of rhododendron are starting bust open.
As we paddle past a good size stream, we stop for a quick hike. Though the creek appears tranquil at its mouth, we soon find ourselves venturing past steep slides and small waterfalls. It seems that no matter how familiar you are with an area, there are always new places to discover. One of the pleasures of camping close to home is it lets you appreciate the beauty in your own backyard that is so often taken for granted.
Editor’s Note: Want more culinary inspiration? Check out Andy’s Dutch Oven Steak and Potatoes recipe, River Ravioli recipe, Sweet & Savory Pork and Potatoes recipe, Ten-Minute Meals and One-Pot Meals.