With hot weather and Father’s Day upon us and a family gathering coming up, I was reminiscing the other day with my dad about summers past and the time I nearly drowned on one of our family camping trips.
Ah, what interesting summer vacations we had after my parents combined mom’s desire to see the country with dad’s desire to spend as little money as possible, and came up with the brilliant solution of “camping.”
Please do not confuse this with the sort of camping that involves chilling out with nature in a remote wilderness area. Instead, try to imagine a means of traveling that makes Motel 6 look like a five-star resort.
Our camping trips involved shoving us kids into the back of the station wagon along with the cheapest outdoor gear available and driving from place to place, viewing scenery out the car window. Our stays in the various national parks we visited generally lasted no more than a day or two before we moved on. My memories are dominated by images of endless car rides punctuated by stays in gravel-covered campsites with noisy neighbors camped about 10 feet away and a 10-minute walk in the dark to the nearest stinky outhouse.
I really wish I had photos of our overloaded car or a typical campsite to show you. But unfortunately, there were no digital phone cameras at the time. The casual documentation of every second of life that is the norm today was utterly foreign to our world.
Like good criminals, my parents made sure they left no evidence of these trips behind (though it would do the prosecutors little good at this point, as we’re past the statute of limitations on child abuse). When we put together the slideshow for dad’s recent birthday party, we couldn’t locate a single shot documenting them.
The closest we came was a picture of my parents from about 1977 that features dad cheerfully peeking out from inside a small tent while a smiling mom looks on. It’s a great picture.
It’s also a total fabrication. It’s actually the publicity shot for a newspaper column my parents coauthored for a year after dad retired, called “Camping With Oz and Stell.” (Yes, after becoming experts at traveling the country the cheapest way imaginable, my parents generously shared their knowledge with a larger audience, complete with dad’s helpful hints like “always bring long extension cords so you can steal electricity.”)
Once you know what to look for, it’s easy to spot that the photo is a fake. For example, it features a lightweight nylon tent with a framework of aluminum poles that actually seems to hold it up.
Whereas the one we camped with was a big green canvas number that weighed about a thousand pounds, took half an hour to pitch, leaked like a sieve when it rained and had a tendency to collapse (generally onto me) in the middle of the night.
Also, mom actually has one foot inside the tent in the photo — which is one more than she ever put in during all our days of motoring across the country. Mom was no fool. She made sure that she and dad slept in comfort in the back of the station wagon on high-quality air mattresses. Later, they graduated to a pop-up trailer, complete with cushy foam beds.
Whereas we kids were stuck sweltering in the tent, on 99-cent plastic blow-up pool floats that invariably deflated or skittled out from under us in the middle of the night, depositing us onto the hard, lumpy ground.
In fact, it was one of those pool raft/mattresses that nearly caused me to drown in Lake Mead.
Well, actually, I wasn’t in all that much danger of drowning, but I did swim out way too far into the lake, with the lifeguard whistling at me like crazy. I was trying and trying to catch up to said raft, which the wind kept picking up and blowing just out of my reach.
I really, really didn’t want to lose it. The lifeguard trying to get me to abandon it didn’t realize that it was far more than a pool toy. It was also the bed under my sleeping bag. Somehow I knew that if it flew away, there was no way my parents were going to the effort of buying me a new one before bedtime.
And, of course, I was right.
I’m happy to report that the lifeguard didn’t need to rescue me that day. I made it back to shore safely under my own power.
But only the raft escaped sleeping on the hard ground that night.
Adapted from “Salads: Beyond the Bowl” by Mindy Fox
Just thinking about that camping trip is giving me flashbacks to that sleepless 100-degree night near Las Vegas. Sure, it was a dry heat (making it marginally better than the mosquito-infested 100-degree night near Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana or another of these wonderful trips), but it was still effing hot.
Fortunately, even with the drought that is threatening to turn my lawn into a desert, it still tends to cool off at night here in Napa, making sleep (on my nice comfortable mattress) a possibility. And on hot afternoons, I can beat the heat with this cool, refreshing and very pretty summer salad.
1 Tbsp. finely chopped shallot
1½ Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice (or more, to taste)
1 pound small zucchini
4 or 5 medium to large radishes
2 Tbsp. high-quality olive oil
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
In a small bowl, stir together the shallot, lime juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt and set aside for 10 minutes.
In the meantime, use a mandolin adjusted to the thinnest setting to slice the radishes and zucchini (slice the zucchini on an angle if you prefer, to get oblong slices).
Toss the zucchini and radishes together with the oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a serving bowl. Then add the lime juice mixture in and toss again.
Sprinkle the cilantro over the top and serve.
Note: If you are going to serve this immediately, it’s best to use chilled vegetables right out of the fridge. Otherwise, refrigerate it before serving so that it is as cool as it looks.