{pretty, happy, funny, real}: IMK, IML Goes to Camp

round button chicken
Do you ever feel like all you do is cook? I really did feel like that last week when I served as head cook at a camp for girls. It was my first time at such an undertaking, and I found it first intimidating, then fun and exhausting, and finally terribly rewarding.

The Goals:
1. Feed 60 people, mostly females, three meals plus one evening treat each day for a week.
2. Without causing distress, stretch the girls’ palates a little.
3. Pamper them with pretty, girly menus.
4. Keep costs reasonable.


Here, Mrs. Harris gives her husband a lesson in the art of arranging fruit so as to make it pretty.  “Make it pretty” became the kitchen mantra.


Most of the kitchen crew for the week were four men. One was The Husband, and the other three were teaching classes for the girls. When they weren’t doing that more important work, they were in the kitchen prepping, cooking, and washing lots of dishes. It was a new experience for them to make “pretty food,” but they rose to the occasion with good humor, lots of humor!
The tomato basil tarts were a big hit! Here they are before going into the oven.

And here they are ready for service. photo credit: Tori Luther


On our last day at camp, the girls and teachers gave me this jar filled with thank you notes from just about everyone, I suppose. I cannot say how HAPPY I am that my experiment in stretching palates and serving girly food was a success. I had lots and lots of help! Thank you to The Husband, Alyssa, Judy, Teresa, Simon, Ed, Don, Terry, and Marlene, as well as several of the campers, for doing the grunt work that made the menus a reality.

There is no photo for Real, but there is a story. Truly, I was nervous about doing a good job. I was concerned that I wouldn’t have the stamina, that the girls would long for Kraft mac and cheese and chicken nuggets instead of the menus I’d planned, and that in the end it would be too expensive. I was afraid everyone would be sorry I was in charge. Instead, it was compliments all around all week, capped by that big jar of thank you notes, most listing specific favorite dishes of the week. The Husband read them aloud to me one by one as I drove us toward home, and I quietly sobbed over them. When he came to the next-to-last note, we both burst out laughing because it went something like this: “Thank you for all the delicious food, Mrs. Biesecker. One thing was my most, most favorite, and could I please, please, please have the recipe. I loved your spaghetti sauce more than anything else. Please tell me how to make it!”

Now there is a swelled-head-preventer if ever there was one. If you are reading this, darling, here is how you make it:
1. Brown some ground beef.
2. Open a jar of Ragu Classic sauce, pour it over the meat, stir, and heat.

We laughed off and on for several miles over that one.

 Lori’s Tomato Basil Tarts
re-interpreted from tomato basil pie by Carolyn Legg
Makes 12 tarts
Now, don’t even bother to make this if you aren’t going to use fresh garden tomatoes and basil.
1 sheet puff pastry (half of a 17 oz. box) or one rolled refrigerated pie crust
1 ½ c. mozzarella cheese, shredded
a good-ish amount of Roma (plum) tomatoes, maybe 6 – or use regular tomatoes grown by you or someone you know and love – did I say do NOT use supermarket tomatoes? I did.
1 c. loosely packed fresh basil leaves (a right smart handful or two)
4 large cloves of garlic
½ c. good quality mayonnaise (Hellman’s Light works well and gives the illusion of a healthy dish)
¼ c. parmesan cheese (cheater green can version is fine or be wonderful and grate your own)
1/8 t. ground pepper
  1. Make the goo: Process the basil leaves and garlic in the food processor (make sure leaves are dry) until very finely chopped, scraping down the sides of the workbowl a time or two. Or, put leaves in a Pyrex measuring cup and use kitchen shears to “chop” them inside the cup + mince the garlic. Add mozz, mayo, parmesan, and pepper to the processor and buzz to blend. Or, just mix all the basil, garlic, and above ingredients together. Makes about 1 c. goo. Can be made a few hours ahead and chilled. Press plastic wrap directly on surface of goo.
  2. Prep the tomatoes: cut each tomato into 6 slices. Let drain between layers of paper towels for 30 minutes to remove as much moisture as is reasonable.
  3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees; rack centered. Thaw the puff pastry for 20-30 min. at room temp. Lightly sprinkle work surface with flour. Unfold pastry, sprinkle top with flour, and roll out so that one sheet will fit snugly but flat onto a half sheet pan. Use a pizza wheel to trim edges to a neat rectangle. Cut rectangle into 12 even rectangles. Place on parchment or silpat-lined half sheet pan (two big pastry rectangles onto one full sheet pan for large crowd tarts). Edges can basically touch to make topping them easier.
  4. Spread some goo in the center of each tart, leaving a small border plain. Reserve about ¼ of the goo. Arrange 3 tomato slices in each tart. Top each with another dab of goo.
  5. Bake at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until browned. Don’t serve it screamin’ hot; wait until it is warm. These are great served with corn on the cob and some kind of salad.
Note #1: if you don’t like mayo, don’t be put off. The Husband begs for this and he hates mayo on a sandwich.
Note #2: if you don’t like either tomatoes or basil, give this one a miss, although, I have recently unknowingly converted a lifelong Tomato Hater, so you never can tell what may happen…

Have you captured some contentment this week? Have you ever been a camper, a counselor, a camp cook? Share a memory!

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  1. Posted August 23, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    I was an assistant head cook for almost 10 years at an FC camp mostly with my husband as Head Cook. I agree completely with your feelings! It IS a lot of work, a bit stressful at times, but very rewarding when you pull it off! I am a natural leader and struggle at times with being in subjection to my husband and men in general. But, when it is appropriate for me to lead, I enjoy it. I am also one to be organized…mostly… and usually have a folder with my plans and a notebook with the ‘before-they-are-worked-out-and-neat’ plans. It is rewarding to serve others and do it well. Without grumbling or complaining. Glad you rose to the challenge!!

    • Posted August 23, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Suze. I am really glad I accepted that challenge! Knowing people like you have done it before gave me the courage I needed. After all, it didn’t kill you, right? 🙂

  2. Posted August 23, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful idea for a thank you gift! I will have to remember that for VBS. And, those basil tarts look scrumptious!

  3. Posted August 23, 2012 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Good ol’ Ragu – my brother’s favorite. 😉 I guess I should never again feel like I’m always cooking after seeing this post!

    • Posted August 23, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      It’s funny, too, Lisa, because I don’t actually use Ragu at home. If I don’t make my own simple sauce, I use Hunts in the can and doctor that. But Ragu is what Sam’s Club carries in the honkin’ big size, so that’s what we had. It wasn’t bad!

  4. Posted August 23, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    I honestly can’t think of anyone better to do that job than you. You have a calm control over the kitchen that makes every else feel calm. It allows things to flow from one thing to the next. You don’t give yourself enough credit, friend. I see the food you make and I want to try it, I want to expand what I like and find out there is more. Because of you bacon wrapped asparagus is a family favorite. You inspire people to explore food, tastes, textures and life. You were the perfect person to do this job, and God made sure you were perfectly equipped to make it happen.

    • Posted August 23, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

      What a lovely compliment, Samantha. I thank you for saying it. It is funny how life/God equip us to do things we never would have dreamed we could do sometimes.

  5. Posted August 27, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    That is an awesome entry. Love your {real} story — happens all the time. Like, Yep, I sure can open a jar with the best of them!! 🙂 But you know, it’s all in how you brown that meat 🙂

  6. Posted August 27, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    That’s MY favorite spaghetti sauce recipe, too! 😉

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  • In My Kitchen, In My Life is a place where women (and the odd male) can be encouraged, nudged, and occasionally kicked in the pants toward living their lives on a higher plane. Oh, and readers get plenty of chances to laugh at the author's foibles, which is always worth a click.

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