Not again, I think to myself as I raise my hand for the second, but not last, time that evening. “I just would like to mention another thing. I only eat meat that is killed a certain way. I can bring the meat for my group though.” I explain.
Previously I had had to clarify my restrictions with men and their potential access to the cabin. In a few more minutes, I will be explaining all about marshmallows and pig enzymes and having to set my alarm early to wake up for morning prayers. Little did these mums and dads know that when they signed up for the Girls Scouts Basic Camping course, they were also getting a course in Islam 101!
What parents will do for their kids! I was never a Girl Scout, never wanted to be a Girl Scout, never wanted my girls to join Girl Scouts and certainly never wanted to be a Girl Scout leader! But somehow my girls and I are now in our third year of Girl Scouts. I have sung songs that are so sweet they would make Elmo sick. I have endured friendship circles and closing ceremonies; I have spent way too much time in the Girl Scouts store waiting for my girls as they perused the many badges and patches that they could earn; I have stayed up late into the night preparing for meetings and trying to figure out how to encourage Muslim mums to get their girls to the meetings on time. I have met old-timer octogenarian girl scouts whose enthusiasm rivals any six year old. But most of all, I have realised that I was a total snob towards Girls Scouts – my unjustified disdain based on a lack of information and experience – because, as it turns out, Girl Scouts is actually pretty cool. I should be clear. My intention here is not to advocate for any particular organisation, but to discuss some great things to do with our kids that will get them outside, away from their computers, video games and other nature-less activities. It just so happens, though, I learned all of this stuff in Girl Scouts.
Box Oven Cooking
One of our assignments for our weekend camping training was to build a box oven and bring it to the camping site. A box oven is simple: it is basically a cardboard box lined with tin foil. The box is turned upside down over a heating source, with the food to be cooked placed in between. The best-sized box is a box that holds about ten packages of copier paper (500-sheet package). In addition to the box, you need heavy duty/extra wide tin foil, masking tape to tape the tin foil to the box, thick foil tape to put in the box seams over the tin foil (regular duct tape will burn!), four empty tin cans, a tin pan to hold the charcoal and a pan for the food which you place directly on top of the empty tin cans. Although you need to take your time making the box oven so that there are not any air pockets or tears in the tin foil, the process is straightforward. One of the mums in our group brought her Aunt Noe’s delicious cornbread recipe that was the perfect complement to the zabihah chilli we cooked. With her permission, her Aunt’s recipe is provided at the end of this article.
Tin Foil Cooking
I really dislike cooking, so the fact that I love, yes love, tin foil cooking is fairly surprising. I think the appeal to me is that you can actually make gourmet meals while camping, and it is even easier than box oven cooking – all you need is a fire or coals to cook on. The concept is also quite simple. You just put the food in tin foil, wrap it carefully and set it directly on the fire or coals. If you google ‘tin foil camping’, you will get lots of good ideas and instructions. Be sure that when you are cooking meat that it is thoroughly cooked.
Camping isn’t really camping without a campfire and cooking s’mores over it. Okay, that isn’t actually true, but a campfire definitely enhances the whole outdoor, back-to-nature experience. And we all know it isn’t always easy to start a fire. A fun activity with kids is to make fire starters in preparation for the camping trip. There are many different types of fire starters to make. At our training, we took an egg carton, filled each section with a cotton ball, followed by shredded paper and pet bedding (or wood chips) and then poured melted wax over everything. You just break off one section to start a fire. These fire starters are inexpensive, easy to transport and work amazingly well.
Edible Fire Building
For younger children, you may not want to actually teach them how to build a real fire, not surprisingly! A fun and yummy substitute is to make an ‘edible fire’ with bread sticks, thin pretzel sticks, mini marshmallows, shredded coconut, M&M’s and a small cup of juice.
Do you know how to tie a square knot, a clove hitch knot, taught line hitch knot and a bowline knot and when to use them? I do now, and it’s fun and useful knowledge to know. You and your children can probably learn to tie the different knots in about 20 minutes by watching a few YouTube videos. Just be sure to have two pieces of string with you at the computer. Nice knot-tying activities include tying knot races and contests on which knot will work best in a particular situation.
Of course, camping isn’t all about eating, but after a full day of hiking, canoeing, swimming and just running around, it is really wonderful to cosy up to a warm fire and enjoy a delicious meal!
Aunty Noe’s Cornbread
• 3 cups Bisquick *(see substitution for Bisquick below if you do not have access to the product)
• 1½ cups sugar
• 2 tsp baking powder
• 4½ tablespoons cornmeal
• 3 sticks butter
• 1½ cups milk
• 3 eggs
1. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl
2. Melt Butter
3. Add butter, milk, eggs to dry ingredients and mix. It will be slightly lumpy
4. Bake the mixture at 350°F in a 9” x 13” pan (not too shallow) for 30-40 minutes or in a box for more time depending on the coals and weather.
* To make 1 cup of Bisquick (so triple this for recipe above):
• 1 cup flour
• 1½ teaspoons baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon shortening, oil or melted butter.
For all these activities, try Googling or searching YouTube for further instructions.
O you who believe! Eat of the lawful things that We have provided you with, and be grateful to Allah, if it is indeed He Whom you worship. (Al-Baqarah:172)
J. Samia Mair is the author of five children’s books, the most recent Zak and His Good Intentions and The Great Race to Sycamore Street . She is currently working on sequels to both. She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals and elsewhere.