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Posts tagged ‘girl scouts’

wake-up call

27 December 2011


time to get up, a voice said softly, as one of my counselors drew back a canvas flap of our spaciously appointed platform tent. ok, thanks, i replied. hunkered down in my cozy, bright orange, flannel-lined sleeping bag, i wondered if the temperature inside the tent was even colder than it was outside. irrelevant. it was my early-morning destiny to get up before the rest of my campmates and high-tail it down to the dining hall. today, it was my privilege to serve as a hopper.

in stunning camp uniform

fewer girl scout camp chores were more revered than hopper. hoppers set massive dining tables with shiny silverware and sparkling glasses. they neatly stacked plates, positioning them strategically in front of where the head of the table would reign supreme. and they ensured that serving spoons, condiments (like real maple syrup and homemade jams) and pitchers of icy water were at the ready. most importantly, when the cooks had piled serving dishes high with hot food, hoppers were poised to swiftly and gracefully move the delicious fare from kitchen to table.

i unzipped my sleeping bag and gingerly put my feet on the cold wooden planks. shivering, with lips the color purple, i threw on a sweatshirt, shorts and sneakers, cursorily brushed my teeth and speedily hiked to the dining hall. upon arrival, i went about my hopper business. those counselors who didn’t have direct camper responsibility stood on the back porch chatting and drinking cups of steaming-hot coffee. a few of them looked disheveled, as if they’d been up (or out) late the night before. the cooks and their assistants stirred large pots of oatmeal and cream of wheat and scrambled dozens of eggs. they talked and laughed as they fried bacon and flipped pancakes.

i grabbed two metal pitchers and walked down the hill to the pump, where i filled them and tried valiantly not to spill a drop on the return trip. carefully placing them on my table, i stood back to evaluate my work. yes, i was ready. the breakfast bell sounded, and campers and counselors filed into the dining hall. i stood at my post, craning my neck just a little, hoping that two of my favorite counselors would choose to sit at my table. after singing a short grace , it was time for hoppers to jump into action. we maneuvered to the kitchen window, picking up heavy serving dishes and carrying them back to our designated tables. there, sitting at the left hand of a favorite counselor, i watched my table like a hawk, fetching and refilling to give the best possible service. i loved every minute of it. when other campers weren’t elated with their assigned hopper kapers, i happily volunteered to take their places. i’ve been hanging out in the kitchen ever since.

if you’re looking for a speedy breakfast treat, try these lemon pancakes. a little more upscale, perhaps, than we may have been served at camp. but the huckleberry compote isn’t out of the realm of New Hampshire girl scout cuisine.

lemon pancakes with huckleberry compote
a variation on a Emeril LaGasse recipe
makes enough pancakes for four


for the compote
2 cups huckleberries
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tapioca flour (or corn starch)
2 tablespoons water

for the pancakes
1 cup organic all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
a pinch of salt
1 cup organic buttermilk
1 large organic egg
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into tablespoons
confectioners’ sugar


  1. in a saucepan over medium heat, combine huckleberries, lemon juice and sugar.
  2. bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook the berries for 5 to 8 minutes.
  3. in a small bowl, dissolve the tapioca flour into the water.
  4. slowly add the tapioca mixture to the huckleberries, and stir until thickened.
  5. set aside and keep warm.
  6. in a small mixing bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  7. in a medium mixing bowl, whisk the buttermilk, egg and 2 tablespoons of melted butter until completely incorporated.
  8. add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, and whisk until slightly smooth; retain some lumps.
  9. fold the lemon zest into the batter and let rest for a few minutes.
  10. in a skillet or griddle, melt a few tablespoons of the butter over medium heat.
  11. to form each pancake, pour 1/4 cup of the batter into the skillet.
  12. cook for approximately 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until the batter bubbles, and the pancake is golden brown.
  13. continue to add butter and cook pancakes until you’re out of batter!
  14. serve by sprinkling pancakes with confectioners’ sugar.
  15. place a generous dollop of compote on each serving.

an alternative: serve the pancakes topped with fresh raspberries or blackberries.

oh, you softie

7 January 2010


well-honed technique. vast experience. a combination possessed by the finest master craftsmen. i was one of these craftsmen. an award-winning fire builder by the age of 10 (according to a panel of expert girl scout counselors), i specialized in the log-cabin style. in the heat of competition, i’d scour the woods for the kindling i knew would ignite the fastest. locating the right-size branches, i’d construct a design that would make my counselors beam with pride. arms piled high with the highest-quality materials and with the clock ticking, i’d sort my stash and become immersed in my creative process.

meticulously building the log cabin came naturally (the persistent perfectionist). and i had refined my technique sufficiently to streamline the process. surely and swiftly, i lit my match, then touched it to the kindling. blowing steadily, but softly, i encouraged the flame to engulf the smaller pieces of wood. soon ablaze, the dry wood began to crackle, flames leaping high (don’t worry; there was a water bucket within reach). i heard a whistle blow, and one of the counselors announced the victor: me. blush. not bad for a nerdy bookworm.

to the victor go the spoils. in this case, the counselors came and sat around my fire. i added a few logs, so we could settle in for our evening program of eating too much sugar and singing. there was just enough daylight remaining to prepare for the most important portion of the event: roasting marshmallows, and making s’mores. it was my reward to find some green, yet sturdy, willow branches to use for roasting. with my trusty girl scout emblem-embossed jackknife, i expertly carved sharp points on each of five branches, then handed four of them to my beloved counselors. with the last branch, i pierced a marshmallow, and held it over the coals of my fire, until the ooey-gooey substance became golden brown. then i popped it in my mouth. heaven. i passed on the graham crackers and Hershey bars, content to revel in soft and puffy confection.

thanks to Ashley Rodriguez, whose not without salt blog inspires and illuminates. and from whom i borrowed this wonderful marshmallow recipe. it’s really fun to make and took me back to a very sweet time in my life.

homemade marshmallows
a recipe from Alton Brown, adapted by Ashley Rodriguez


3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water, divided
12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
1 cup light corn syrup (or glucose)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 vanilla bean, seeds removed
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
nonstick spray


  1. place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer, along with 1/2 cup water.
  2. in a small saucepan, combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt.
  3. cover the pan, and cook over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. uncover the pan, clip a candy thermometer on the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240F (approximately 7 to 8 minutes). immediately remove from heat.
  5. with the whisk attached, turn your stand mixer on low speed and slowly pour the syrup mixture from the pan down the side of the bowl and into the gelatin mixture.
  6. when all the syrup has been added, increase the mixer speed to high (be careful that the hot mixture doesn’t splat on you).
  7. add the vanilla seeds, and continue to whisk until the mixture becomes very thick and lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes.
  8. while the mixture is whipping, combine the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl; set aside.
  9. line a 13 x 9-inch metal baking pan with aluminum foil (i used nonstick foil), then coat with nonstick cooking spray.
  10. completely cover the sides and bottom of the pan with the sugar and cornstarch mixture, and return the remaining quantity to the bowl to use later in the process.
  11. pour the whipped mixture into the prepared pan, using a spatula sprayed with the cooking oil to spread the mixture evenly in the pan.
  12. dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar/cornstarch mixture to lightly cover, and reserve the rest for later.
  13. let the marshmallows sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
  14. turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board, and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel or sharp knife dusted with the sugar/cornstarch mixture.
  15. once the marshmallows have been cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture.
  16. store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks (really? i can’t imagine these marshmallows being around that long).

try the marshmallows in a mug of rich hot chocolate or as part of a decadent s’more.

the passing of a folk hero

24 September 2009


i’m neither psychologist nor psychiatrist. some theorize that who we are is determined when we’re very young; others that our core beliefs and values aren’t fully formed until we’re nearly 20. i affirm that who i am has been shaped, in great part, by those who’ve touched my heart and left an indelible imprint.

at the tender age of eight, as told in previous tales, i began to spend a portion of my summers at girl scout camp. shy, i hung back from large groups of campers, happier to find a few friends with whom i shared burning passions. like cooking over an open flame. and paddling. and music. whether singing grace at the dining hall or songs around the campfire, i poured my heart and soul into every word and note. camp became the wellspring of my repertoire.

in my naivete, i didn’t realize that what i identified as girl scout songs were actually contemporary folk songs. songs that were the expressions of an American generation who wanted to make a difference. weaving the harmonies and the fabric of the stories were Peter, Paul and Mary. and Mary Travers became a role model for this young scout.

m traversi didn’t have her long, straight blonde hair or signature bangs. her willowy form. or her vocal chops. but i did have a burning admiration for her spirit and conviction. she influenced the kind of music i listened to then—and to this day. courageously, she taught me the importance of openly and honestly expressing my point of view. and by exuding a sense of confidence, she inspired me to take a step out of the shadows—at least every now and then.

as an undergraduate, i began to listen to Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell. but i never left Mary behind (Peter and Paul came along, too). i continued to sing the songs, accompanying myself on my too-large Gibson J55 wide-body acoustic. and when i became a camp counselor, i passed on the folk tradition to newbie scouts. If I Had a HammerBlowin’ in the Wind. 500 Miles. (i hope you’ll take the time to go see and listen to some of the original videos; they’re so great.)

i was traveling last week when i heard of Mary’s passing. as i watched the CNN ticker pass across the bottom of the screen, vivid memories of Mary and of her impact on my life brought tears and a huge lump in my throat. for the last week, i’ve flipped through the channels night after night, hoping that someone would broadcast a tribute to my folk hero. media disappointment prompted me to seek out YouTube videos and to watch a 2004 PBS special i had recorded last spring (Peter, Paul and Mary: Carry it on, a musical legacy). the passion and commitment expressed through Mary’s music will live on. in me. and in all those others to whom she was a divine inspiration.

red sky at night

28 August 2009


growing up in New England instilled lifelong loves of crisp, tart apples, cranberries, maple syrup, lobster and salt water taffy. but of all New England’s bounty, what i treasured most was being on its vast expanses of water. whether ocean or lake, i found peace there. and sometimes even adventure.

as a wiry, young girl scout, i spent a month of every summer in central New Hampshire on formidable Lake Winnipesaukee. i was a strong distance swimmer. a capable canoeist. but a novice sailor. camp staff took care to pair seasoned sailors with those of us who had limited skill and experience. my maiden voyages in small craft like Sunfish and Sailfish were exhilarating. longing to get out on the water, fellow counselor-in-training Jane and i decided to take a boat out for a few hours. the weather looked clear, the wind just right. Jane’s skills, unlike mine, well honed. (i was still sorting out a clove hitch from a sheet bend and a sheepshank; yeah, still doing that.) as the camp’s shore grew distant, we enjoyed the sun, our afternoon off from tending to campers and a smooth sail.

late-summer afternoons can bring volatile shifts in the weather. before we knew it, the sky grew dark, and the wind picked up. the water became choppy. as we bobbed around, i turned to expert skipper Jane for direction. but Jane, much to my chagrin, sat paralyzed at the stern, gripping the tiller, blubbering. and that’s when i realized it was up to me to get us back to camp.

let’s take down the sail, i shouted. Jane, did you hear me? Jane, can you get a grip? apparently not. i lowered the sail myself; Jane remained glued to the deck. sliding off the port bow, i grabbed the line and began to swim toward shore, Jane and Sunfish in tow. holding the line and swimming through the white caps with only one arm proved exhausting. i counted in my head, establishing a rhythm that kept me focused and moving forward. every now and then i’d yell out to Jane, how are doing? can you see the dock? after a time—and a lot of sniffles—Jane regained composure and began to root me on. we’re getting closer, you’re doing great, we’re almost there!

eventually, we were there. concerned counselors, knowing we had logged a boat out and not returned on schedule, had come down to the waterfront looking for us. we were scooped up in blankets and whisked to the dining hall, where warm drinks awaited. stories of our adventure buzzed around camp that night. all i cared about was crawling into my sleeping bag and crashing. our counselors watched over us until we did just that.

a few more summers in New Hampshire came and went. i contentedly spent my days on the water, paddling. but i continued to admire those blessed with the sailing gene. still do.

in memory of two skilled,  stalwart, New England sailors who made a difference: Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Senator Ted Kennedymay the wind be ever at your backs and the sunset crimson.