Thanksgiving really snuck up on me this year. All of a sudden it was a week away and we hadn’t booked the plane tickets that we’d promised, and I was feeling like this year Thanksgiving was going to be a big disappointment. Then one night over a few beers a friend mentioned that a group of climbing buddies was planning a quick trip up to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in northern Arkansas. Immediately we each decided that this was the Thanksgiving we needed. The four of us decided to leave late wednesday night and enjoy our Thanksgiving by camping in the Ozark National Forest.
After driving 9 hours north we landed at the serene little Shores Lake campground. A loop next to a small, still lake, the campground was populated by one very large Arkansan family and their RV’s, but the sites next to the water were gloriously empty. Around us the leaves were still falling from the maples and post oak – we were fully engulfed in warm crunchy leaves/
Looking up the trees were still red and yellow, dropping showers of leaves with every gust of wind. We pitched our tents and hammocks in the noon light and relaxed before cooking the big meal.
The saying that everything tastes better while camping almost fell short on this day. This Thanksgiving the food was incredible. We cooked everything over the fire or on the grill, and that, when combined with fresh air, a beautiful day, and great people, made for the most special Giving of Thanks.
I wrote about the dishes I was planning and prepared much of it beforehand, which really made bringing this meal together a breeze. All in all, we ate a feast:
Roasting the autumn vegetables was my version of the ubquitous vegetable sides usually seen all over the holiday table, only in a deconstructed form. I parboiled everything before marinating the veggies overnight in oil, balsamic, salt and pepper. And I only stabbed myself once with the skewer. Finger food now has multiple meanings.
I’m almost embarrassed to say his was our first time BBQing game hens – apparently that’s the thing to do these days! They’re like small chickens – easy to cook and eat, and especially delicious when marinated. I adapted this excellent recipe with my own spices and allowed the birds to relax in marinade overnight, then roast on the grill with lemons.
I’ve mentioned before that one of challenge I’ve been really getting into lately is cooking without gluten. It adds another level of mindfulness and complexity to cooking that I can really get into. I find myself asking, how do I achieve the same or better flavor, and how do I create a palatable texture without wheat? I adapted this Bon Appétit recipe for gluten-free stuffing, making the rice beforehand and adding lots of sautéed mushrooms (for their flavor and bite), then finishing it in a cast iron skillet over coals with chicken stock, cranberries, scallions, lots of parsley and hazelnuts. It was a successful experiment, but I really do love traditional stuffing with lots of bread.
It was each of our first times in this seldom mentioned place, and it was beautiful. We were tucked in these rolling hills amongst tall trees and fresh breeze. wiling away the afternoon talking about muscles and how the body works, where to hike, and the enigma that is Arkansas.
As the sun set and the temperatures began to drop we huddled around the fire to cook pumpkin and pecan empanadas. I swear there is no better way to experience pie than a hand pie. I started with this gluten-free recipe and added pecans, orange and more spices.
This year I’m thankful for so much, it’s hard to put it all into complete sentences that form a coherent thought. This year travel has defined much of my day-to-day life, from taking short vacations to climbing trips, to weddings and traveling to support my family in hard times, I love to go places and I’m lucky to get to see so much of this beautiful land. I’ve made a point to explore Texas and I keep finding myself surprised at its beauty and subtleties. I actually am beginning to feel lucky to live here, in this place that holds so many secrets just below its surface.
In an economy that’s been hard on so many people, I’m lucky to have a job that challenges my creativity, pushes me out of my comfort zone and forces me to think about the big picture and what I want out of it.
I’m grateful for the great friends I’ve made here – amazing and talented people that are curious, excited, driven and especially unique – great adventure buddies.
And simply, maybe obviously, I’m thankful for my folks who either consciously or unconsciously instilled in me an appreciation and reverence for the outdoors and taught me so many skills: plant identification, how to a good campsite, how to identify animal tracks and scat, how to use a map and compass – the list goes on and on.
Through Liberty and Lunch I’ve had great opportunities to meet so many fantastic people and have endless conversations about our adventures – I’m so happy to see it grow and expand and evolve. So this winter I’m going to reflect on the things I’m thankful for and plan the next steps of this grand adventure called life.