Lost in nature. Quiet surrounds. Campfire blazes and crackles. Tents flap in the breeze. Chairs dragged closer to the fire as the wind picks up. S'mores appear. Beer flows.
Camping. To some, this is heaven. To me, it is hell.
There are some aspects I can appreciate. The beauty of the red rocks as the sun sets while friends chat around the cozy fire. Drinking wine from mason jars and toasting marshmallows. The scent of the campfire, especially as bacon is tossed in a cast iron skillet. I love the classic images that you expect to see in an Anthropologie catalog trying to sell me fluffy vintage-looking sweaters.
What I don't love is peeing in the woods. Mosquito bites on my ass. Freezing inside a thin layer of plastic, which is supposed to be my shelter from the elements. Waking every hour praying for it to be morning so that I can go pee in the woods. Looking down the barrel of 12 hours of "relaxing" the next day, which can someone please tell me what we are going to do in the woods for two days aside from stare at each other?
I don't get camping, obviously. My fiancé loves to camp. He loves nature, getting away, and turning off his phone. He can forget about work and just be there. It clears his mind and resets him for all the stresses of daily life. I just feel lost and agitated, with nothing to do.
For this trip, I decided to rock some camp pastry as a project to keep me occupied. I'm lucky: My fiancé has tricked out the back of his Jeep with a refrigerator, two-burner stove, and flip-down prep table with slide-out cutting board.
While most are happy with hot dogs or bringing just-add-hot-water meal packs, we bring steaks, potatoes, veggies, chiles stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon, plus cheese and charcuterie from the local cheese shop and homemade s'more fixings from my pastry company. I wondered: What do people do for dessert on a camping trip, aside from s'mores or store-bought cookies?
I decided to make some zeppole, which are essentially doughnut holes, but with a cooler name. Making the batter at home, I stored it in a plastic Tupperware, in our travel fridge. Using our cast iron skillet, a small ice cream scoop, and some canola oil, I fried them up and tossed them with fall spice sugar (also made at home). Drizzled with honey, this made a super-simple and delicious camp dessert, especially on a very cold night.
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I came across a second dessert idea on a camping website: brownies baked in oranges. I pre-made the batter at home (you can make your own brownie batter, or use box mix, I tried it both ways). Cut the top off the orange and hollow out the interior. Fill the orange with brownie batter, replace the orange lid, and wrap with thick aluminum foil. Place in the ash of the fire and "bake" for 30-40 minutes. We topped ours with toasted pecans. Scraped from the inside of the orange, it's gooey, smoky, and rich.
Despite the three boxes of cooking supplies I dragged along, I still got antsy, and we left our camping trip a day early. Some people need to be eased into relaxation mode, deep in the woods. I love my fiancé and will continue to keep trying to get into camping for him. Baby steps. Baby steps lined with wine and zeppole.
Rachel Miller is a pastry chef and food writer in Phoenix, where she bakes, eats, and single-handedly keeps her local cheese shop in business. You can get more information about her pastry at www.pistolwhippedpastry.com, or on her blog at www.croissantinthecity.com.