Category Archives: Camping

Here is what the rest of the stew looks like with the Cabbage leaf set aside.

Foil Stew – A Gourmet Meal So Simple a Child Can Do It

In my youth we were required to prepare our own meals as a team when we weekend camped. After a series of burnt eggs, runny pancakes, and charred hamburgers, all accompanied by an enormous post-cooking cleanup process, we eventually got our act together. Our first big success came when we stumbled upon the classic recipe of Foil Stew. This was a great meal and soon became a staple in our menu planning because:

  1. It was easy to prepare.
  2. Each person could prepare their own.
  3. It tasted great and passed any nutrition rules we had to meet.
  4. Cleanup was a breeze.

So for this post I will give you my version of foil stew that can be created by your youth for a fun and healthy meal cooked in a camp fire.

Foil Stew Recipe

Wash all the vegetables in preparation for cutting.

Wash vegetables.

Start your campfire first so that you have some good coals to cook your foil stews on. See below for some campfire hints.

Ingredients (Makes Four Stews)
6 Medium-sized Potatoes
4 Carrots
1 Large Onion
1 Large head of Cabbage
1 LB. Extra Lean Hamburger
Salt and Pepper

Before starting, wash your hands and then wash all the vegetables.

Cut up the Carrots, Potatoes, and Onion.

Cut up the carrots, potatoes, and onion.

 Cut the carrots and potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Cut the onion into eight sections. (Note: These vegetables can all be prepared at home before the campout. Simply put the cut vegetables in a Zip-Lock bag and store in the refrigerator until time to transfer to the cooler. However, this prep is quick and can also easily be done at the camp.)

Wash the cabbage head.

Wash the cabbage head.

 Next, wash the head of cabbage.
Remove the cabbage core.

Remove the cabbage core.

Cabbage with Core Removed

Cabbage with Core Removed

 Remove the core of the cabbage by making a deep cone-shaped incision at the stem. This will make removing the leaves easier.

My cut looks a little more like a pyramid, but it still works well.

Removing leaves intact.

Removing leaves intact.

 The idea is to be able to remove the cabbage leaves as close to intact as possible. If they do get torn they will still work, you’ll just need to be a little more careful when wrapping the stew.

Place a cabbage leaf on top of two sheets of aluminum foil.

Place a cabbage leaf on top of two sheets of aluminum foil.

 Take two pieces of 12-inch aluminum foil about 22 inches long and lay one on top of the other. Next, add a leaf of the cabbage on top of the foil. If the leaf is broken, or you get deeper into the cabbage where the leaves are smaller, you can layer the leaves as shown in the picture. Just be a little more careful when wrapping up your meal to keep everything contained within the cabbage leaves.

Add the cut vegetables to the stew.

Add the cut vegetables to the stew.

 Add one fourth of your potatoes, a fourth of your carrot pieces, and two sections of the onion on top of your cabbage leaf. Break up the onion pieces by separating the layers.

Add the hamburger on top and season to taste.

Add the hamburger on top and season to taste.

 Add a quarter pound of the hamburger to your vegetables and season with salt and pepper to your taste. You may add other seasonings as well. It’s your individual stew, after all.

I add the meat by hand and break it up with my fingers over the vegetables. If you do this, be sure to was your hands well with soap afterward.

Top your stew with another cabbage leaf to cover the meat and other vegetables.

Top your stew with another cabbage leaf to cover the meat and other vegetables.

 Take another cabbage leaf and top your meat and vegetables. The meat and vegetables should be enclosed by the cabbage.

Start wrapping up your meal by folding one end of the top layer of foil over the meal.

Start wrapping up your meal by folding one end of the top layer of foil over the meal.

 Now wrap up your meal. Start by folding one end of the top piece of foil over the vegetables.

Fold the other end over and curl up the edges.

Fold the other end over and curl up the edges.

 Fold the other end over the first and then roll the edges together to seal the stew into your piece of foil.

Rotate the foil packet your just made 1/4 turn and then seal it again with the second piece of foil.

Rotate the foil packet you just made 1/4 turn and then seal it again with the second piece of foil.

 Take the packet you just made and give it a quarter turn so that the rolled edges face the ends of your second piece of foil. Now repeat the wrapping process to seal your meal in a second layer of foil.

When building your campfire, select wood that is 1 to 3 inches in diameter.

When building your campfire, select wood that is 1 to 3 inches in diameter.

 When preparing for your campfire, select wood that is not too large. Limbs that are 1 to 3 inches in diameter are good. The idea is to have a good bed of coals ready to cook your stew packets on when they are ready. Using wood that is too large will mean you will have to wait longer for it to make the coals that you need.

A fire that is ready for your meal packets has a good amount of glowing embers for cooking.

A fire that is ready for your meal packets has a good amount of glowing embers for cooking.

 This is the sort of fire that you are looking to have when you want to cook your stew packets. I must confess here that I took these pictures in my backyard to write these instructions and I used hardwood lump charcoal to get such a nice looking fire.

Place your stew packets on the coals.

Place your stew packets on the coals.

 Place your foil stew packets on the coals. If you have a shovel available, add a few coals to the top of the packets. Let the packets cook in this position for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes of cooking turn the packets over.

After 15 minutes of cooking, turn the packets over.

 After the 15 minutes have passed, turn the packets over to cook the other side. Again cover them with a few coals if you can do so safely. Let them cook for another 15 minutes.

You should hear the food sizzling and begin to smell a wonderful stew.

You should hear the food sizzling and begin to smell a wonderful stew.

 After the second 15-minute period has passed, your stews are ready to eat. During the cooking process you should have heard the food sizzling as it cooked and begun to smell that great stew smell.

Take the packets from the fire using tongs, a shovel, or another safe method.

Take the packets from the fire using tongs, a shovel, or another safe method.

 When the cooking time is completed, remove the packets from the fire with tongs, a shovel, or some other safe method. It helps to have something you can place them on to carry them to the eating area. Be careful, as a stray ember or two may take a ride with a packet. Check to make sure that all the embers are off the packets before you unwrap them.
Open the foil packet and see the feast that you have created.

Open the foil packet and see the feast that you have created.

Here is what the rest of the stew looks like with the Cabbage leaf set aside.

Here is what the rest of the stew looks like with the cabbage leaf set aside.

 Open the foil packet and see what you made. It tastes even better than it looks.

We decided in our youth that the purpose of the cabbage was to keep the rest of the meal from burning. In fact, it does seem to take cabbage a little longer and a little more heat to cook than the rest of the ingredients. As adults, we found that the flavor of the cabbage is really good. If some of the cabbage is a little too done, just set it aside with your fork as you enjoy the rest of the meal.


Bon Appetit!

As I said before, this was a regular meal for us as youth. Simple, hardly any cleaning, and it tasted very good. I continued the tradition of cooking foil stew on campouts when we had a family of our own, and our children loved it. In fact, on one camping trip my 8-year-old daughter invited a friend to join us. When the day for us to leave arrived, his mother dropped him off at our house with two grocery bags full of ‘his’ food. The bags contained nothing but processed food and sugar snacks. Since we had already included him in our meal planning, I ‘forgot’ to pack his food with the other camping meals. He was not too upset and enjoyed eating everything that we ate. He especially liked making and eating his own foil stew meal.

I was a little worried about what his mother would say about me giving her back all his special food. When I saw her later at a school function, I noticed she was taking a direct route to talk to me. I braced myself for the potential tongue lashing I might get, and she came face to face with me. “How did you ever get my son to eat cabbage?” she said. “He says he loves it!”



Hiking on the trail

Turning a Hike into an Adventure

“How far have we gone?” “How many more miles before we get there?” “Do we know where we are going?”

We have all heard these statements, along with the inevitable “Are we there yet?”,  when taking youth on a wilderness camp or even a day hike. This is a fun project that you can do with your group during a meeting prior to the outing as a hike preparation activity. The youth can be working on making Ranger Beads while you, or the hike leader, talks about other ways to prepare for the trip. When you are on the hike and someone wants to know when, where, or what is going on, you can refer them to their Ranger Beads for the answer.

Ranger Beads are pace count beads that help you track the number of paces you take while walking or hiking to your destination. This is a very old technique used to measure distance. Roman soldiers were said to use beads to keep track of how far they marched. In Rudyard Kipling’s book Kim, the young boy Kim is asked to watch what the enemy does and report to the British troops anything he finds out. He is taught how to measure the distance he has walked by using knots tied in a piece of rope.

If you know the length of your stride and are tracking the number of strides (or paces) you are taking with your Ranger Beads, then you will know how far you have gone, just like Kim.

This tutorial shows an easy way to make your own set of Ranger Beads.


 IMG_6669 To begin, each person needs about fifteen inches of paracord (parachute cord or “550” cord) and twelve beads. Wooden beads seem to work best because they are more difficult to break than glass or plastic beads. The hole in the beads should be just big enough for the paracord to pass through, but still be snug enough so that the bead will stay put when you move it. I used Bead Landing™ Wood Beads, Natural  available at Michael’s Crafts to make the Ranger Beads in this guide. Tools that you will need include something to cut the cord (scissors, knife, wire cutters, etc.) and a lighter (or matches) for fusing. These can be shared.
First step is pulling the core nylon strands out of the paracord. If your beads have a smaller hole, like mine did, the first step is to pull the core nylon strands out of the paracord. This step is required when using the Bead Landing™ Wood Beads because the hole is too small to allow the full paracord to pass through. By removing the inner core it allows the beads to fit on snugly. Test the cord on your beads for the proper fit. The bead should be able to slide up and down the cord when you pull it, but stay in position when left alone.
 With the core removed, we now need to fuse the ends. With the core removed, we now need to fuse the ends. We fuse the ends of the cord to keep the individual threads from unraveling and ruining our project.
Start the bowline loop. Now that both ends are fused, we’ll create a bowline knot at one end of the cord. The loop of the bowline knot should be just big enough to fit your thumb in. I like to start by putting the cord across my hand and then pinching with the forefinger and thumb of my other hand where I want the knot to be. 
 Rotate the right hand to make a loop in the cord. Now rotate the hand that is pinching the cord clockwise to make a loop in the cord.
 hold where the cord crosses itself with your thumb. Hold the cord with your thumb where it crosses itself.
 Feed the end of the cord through the loop that you made. Feed the end of the cord through the loop that you made.
 Take the cord around the back. Take the end of the cord around the back of the long piece above the loop.
 Then feed the cord back down through the loop. Then feed the cord back down through the loop.
 Adjust the knot so that just a little of the end of the cord is exposed and your thumb will just fit in the loop. Adjust the knot so that just a little of the end of the cord is exposed and your thumb will just fit in the loop.
 Finished Bowline knot. This is what the finished bowline knot should look like.
Adding beads Now that the bowline loop is in place, you can begin adding beads. This is a little hard because, as we already said, the holes in the bead need to be small enough so that the bead stays in position when moved on the cord. The small hole makes pushing the cord through a bit difficult. I found that if I twist the bead with one hand while trying to push the cord through with the other, eventually enough cord will emerge on the other side of the bead for me to grab and pull through.
 Distance beads Keep adding beads until you have five beads on the cord. These will represent distance markers and each bead will track one half mile. (If you want to measure Kilometers “Klicks”, then put on four beads as I have done here. Miles are more convenient in the U.S., but most of the rest of the world uses Kilometers.) I like to use different colored beads for the two parts of the Ranger Beads, but it is not necessary.
 Adding the separator knot. Now we will add the separator knot. This knot keeps our distance beads separate from our pace beads (which go on next). I like to use a figure-eight knot here rather than an overhand knot because it is a little bit thicker and looks nicer. Start the knot by crossing the free end back over the cord near the beads, making a loop.
 Figure eight knot. Next, wrap the free end behind the cord, but keep the loop in place.
 Finish the figure eight knot Finish the figure-eight knot by running the free end back through the loop.
 Cinch the knot up near the beads. Cinch the knot up near the beads, but make sure to leave some room, two or three bead lengths, so that the beads can be moved away from each other.
 Add the pace beads. Add seven pace beads (nine if you are using kilometers) just like you added the distance beads.
Finished Ranger Beads. Finish the Ranger Beads by adding another figure-eight knot at the end after you have strung all the pace beads.

How to use your new Ranger Beads

First, each person needs to determine his or her pace count. To do this, you must know how many strides you will take to cover 110 yards. A stride is the length your foot travels while you walk. To measure your stride, start walking with one foot and then count how many times the other foot takes a step. For example, if you started walking with your left foot, you would add one to your count every time your right foot touched the ground. (110 yards is 1/16th of a mile).

Next you need to count this for a specific distance: 110 yards. The easiest way to do this is to go to a local football field and have your group members count their stride from goal line to goal line, then multiply each stride count by 1.1 to determine their stride for 110 yards. This is the pace count that they want to remember for measuring the 110-yard distance.

Measuring distance with your Ranger Beads

Bead measuring one 110 yard distanceTo measure distance with your ranger beads you keep track of your strides as your walk or hike. Set your Ranger Beads to the initial position with every bead moved to the top (closest to the loop). Every time your count matches the stride count you determined was your number for 110 yards, you move a pace bead (one of the seven) from the top to the bottom of the pace section of the cord. This tracks every 16th mile that your have covered. Start your count over again, and move a bead each time you reach your pace count number.

When you have moved all seven of the pace count beads, don’t stop. Keep counting until you reach your pace count for the 110-yard distance an eighth time. Now you can move all the pace count beads back to the top and move one distance bead down. You have just walked 1/2 mile.

Continue this way to measure how far you have traveled. Remember that when you move the last distance bead down, you keep counting until it would be time to move another distance bead. Then you reset everything back to the top and you have now covered three miles (assuming you put a fifth bead in the distance group.)

This works the same way for kilometers, but you need to have nine pace beads and, typically, four distance beads. Once you know your stride count for 1/10 of a kilometer, every time you hit that count you move a pace bead down. When you have moved all nine you continue counting your stride (just like with the mile beads) and when you get your 1/10 kilometer stride count number, you move a distance bead down. You have now covered one kilometer. A configuration of four distance beads and 9 pace beads will allow you to measure five kilometers before starting over from the initial position.

Now that you have your Ranger Beads and have determined how to measure distance with them, it’s time to put them to good use. Take the group out on a hike and have them measure how far they hiked. If you know the distance beforehand, you can have small prizes for those that measure closest to the actual distance.

Understanding and awareness of distance and how far you have traveled are good skills for anyone to know. Ranger Beads are a fun way of helping grow that skill in youth.

Canoes ready for lake exploration.

Family Camping for the Reluctant Camper

When we were first married, I was moving some of my things into our new apartment, and my wife noticed my hiking backpack. “When we have kids we are NOT going camping,” she exclaimed. I did not worry too much about it and said that would be fine. Internally, I was bemoaning the loss of one of my favorite getaway activities. But, love conquers all, and if that made her happy, then I would be okay without camping.

Sometime later, when we did have children, we were sitting in our living room reading the paper and she said, “Maybe we should take the kids camping.” She did not say this enthusiastically, but rather in the tone of a person dreading the experience but willing to make the sacrifice for her children. I put down my section of the paper (I would like to tell you that it was the financial section, or even the sports, but it was probably the comics).

“What?” I said, with a hint of hope in my voice. “I thought you said we would never go camping.”

“Well,” she said, “there is an article here about a local state park that just installed some tent cabins that they say are perfect for families. The children should experience camping at least once in their lives.”

Sensing a small crack in the camping defenses, I leapt into the fray with wild abandon. “Tell me, why you do not like camping?”

“Because,” she started, “when we went camping as a family I watched my mother rise early to make everyone breakfast. Once we had all eaten, she did the dishes and tidied up the camp while my dad and us kids went out and played. Just about the time she was done, we all came strolling back into camp asking what was for lunch. For her, the whole processes started all over again and continued this way during the entire camping trip. We all came home excited and ready to go again, and she came home exhausted.”

I looked at her and said, “I see. I’ll tell you what, you make the reservations for the tent cabin and I will take care of the rest.”

Our children were five and two at the time, so I planned meals that were easy and they would enjoy. I bought some pre-cooked chicken and potato salad for the first night’s dinner. Having a ready-to-eat meal allowed us to arrive, unpack, and eat without setting up the cooking gear at all. After dinner, we started a campfire, made s’mores, sang songs, and told stories until it was time for bed. It was a good start to our camping trip and we were excited for the next day.

In the morning, we had scrambled eggs and Pop-Tarts. Pop-Tarts are a treat for us, so our day started well. We ate from paper plates with plastic utensils. Okay, not very environmentally friendly or terribly frugal, but I was shooting for making the experience an easy one for everybody. I cleaned up the cooking dishes while my wife readied the children for a hike.

Our ‘hike’ was probably more like a one-mile stroll, but for children of five and two, this a good distance to start. After the hike, we returned to our camp and played a board game that we had brought along. Then it was time for lunch. Sandwiches on paper plates with some juice and cookies filled us up and gave us energy for the afternoon. We played another game and then went swimming in a nearby small river. After swimming the children played around the camp while my wife and I rested a bit at the campfire before preparing dinner.

Dinner was a family event. Before leaving home, I had cut some potatoes, carrots, and onions into small pieces and packaged them into containers. I also brought a head of cabbage and a pound of ground beef. We tore off some sheets of aluminum foil and, using the cabbage leaves as bowls, we each added the vegetables, ground beef, and salt and pepper for seasoning to our foil stew meals. Once the meals were all bundled up, we marked them and then placed them in the coals of the campfire for 15 minutes on each side. While the foil stews were cooking I found and cleaned some sticks from around camp. I mixed up a batch of Bisquick in a zip lock bag. We wrapped the dough around the sticks and turned them over the fire to cook to a golden brown. After the 30-minute cooking time was complete, we pulled the foil stews out of the coals to eat right out of the foil. Cleanup was a matter of crumpling up the foil and pitching it into the garbage.

After dinner we put out our fire and walked to the park amphitheater. We saw some mule deer along the way. The park ranger taught us about the animals that lived in the park and a fun new song called “Bats Eat Bugs.”

The next day I made pancakes for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch. There were more games, another hike, some family picture taking, and more exploring of the camp site. In the afternoon we packed up our gear and drove home in time for dinner.

After the children were in bed asleep and my wife and I were relaxing watching a television show she turned to me and said, “You know what we ought to do next time we go camping?”

“Next time.” Those words were music to my ears!

Tent trailers can be lower cost but still provide a degree of comfort for your camping experience.

Family camping in the tent trailer.

Our family camping evolved over the years. We cut way back on our use of paper and plastic and we learned how everybody could share in the chores so that everybody could enjoy more of the activities. We eventually bought a tent trailer that we kept packed with everything except clothes and food so that we would be ready to camp at a moment’s notice. At the same time, we looked for ways to make our camping trips easier, more fun, and a chance to learn something new every time we went.

If you or someone in your family has been avoiding camping or your campouts just seem like too much work, here are some tips to consider:

  • Plan meals that are simple to prepare, taste good, and clean up quickly. Sacrifice your diet for a few days in order to make life easier and more enjoyable for all. One dinner of Hamburger Helper isn’t really going to hurt anybody. If you do want to prepare elaborate meals with less cleanup you might try Dutch oven cooking or single pan meals. Recipes can be found online or you can get a copy of one of my favorite books, “One-Pan Gourmet Fresh Food On The Trail” by Don Jacobson.
  • Plan camping activities for the children. Keeping your children occupied throughout the day can increase the pleasure of a camping trip by quite a bit. Hikes, swimming, games, crafts, stories, and songs are all great ways to keep the kids engaged and active.
  • Look for interesting places to visit. State parks are often a good start. Your state created them for a reason. There must be something special or unique about that place in order to justify the cost of creating and maintaining a park. Take some time when you go there to find out and see what makes it a special place. Of course you cannot go wrong with any national park. They are true gems of the American outdoors.
  • Build your camping equipment slowly. Start with the basics and then go camping. Discover what would have made the trip a little easier. Add that to your next campout. Look for used items at garage sales. Keep a list of camping things you want, and when someone asks you what you want for your birthday or Christmas you have some ideas already to go.

Get out, have fun, explore America, and spend time with your family. You will never regret it.