A few years ago I took my kids camping high in the Wasatch Mountains on what turned out to be one of the coldest days that winter. The decision to go winter camping was last-minute, so I called my wife and asked her to throw our tent in my truck so we could leave the minute I got home from work. With that, my dear wife quickly gathered sleeping bags, extra blankets, dry clothes and made my famous tinfoil dinner. You can find that recipe below.
We raced into the mountains so we could find a camping spot before night came -but before we arrived at our destination, it was already dark and the temperature was falling rapidly. I carried Mitch on my back a few hundred yards because his legs were much too weak to walk through the snow. Within about 15 minutes we had started a roaring campfire so the kids could get warm while I set our tent. Within minutes I discovered Natalie accidentally packed what was essentially a mosquito net for summer picnics. It offered virtually no protection from the bitter cold. I told my boys it isn’t a good idea to quit at the first sign of a struggle … that we can always find a way if we look for a solution. After some discussion, my boys decided they wanted to stay anyway.
That was the longest and most difficult camping trip of my life. I didn’t sleep more than 15 minutes at a time. No sooner would I doze off that I would awake in a panic, spring from my sleeping bag and make sure my boys were covered and warm. I would then lay my head on the frozen floor and peer into the starry sky through the mosquito net thinking to myself, “What on earth are we doing?”
The next morning we awoke and started another roaring fire. A warm cup of hot chocolate was on the way when Mitch came to me and said, “Hey Dad, let’s not ever do that again.”
“Deal,” I said with a chuckle and then kissed his face, “I am sorry you were so cold.” Mitch smiled and said, “It’s okay Dad. It was fun … but not that fun.” We drove down the mountainside and I took our kids to the first restaurant we saw and I ordered them each a stack of hot pancakes and scrambled eggs. As I saw my boys dig in and chuckle between themselves over the mosquito net, my heart was overflowing. I thought myself the luckiest man on earth. I was so glad to be a dad.
There have been times, in moments of parental doubt, I wondered if dragging my boys out in the cold, away from our warm home was a good idea when they were so young. But then I would find little folded pieces of paper on my nightstand addressed to me from Mitch. In each piece of childhood origami was a hand drawn picture of adventures past. Not once did he draw pictures of Disney Land or expensive vacations, instead he re-created fire pits and fellowship. He seemed to interpret struggle with a measure of fondness. He would draw pictures of our spring camping adventure when we nearly got flooded out by a torrential downpour. He made drawings of the winter camping trips we vowed to never do again. From the boiling hot deserts to the dirty, muddy hills … the things we disliked in the moment, turned out to be the things he remembered and loved the most.
In like manner, when I think of our early days raising a family … when exhaustion and discouragement nearly broke us … those are some of our sweetest memories. I think little Mitch was on to something; that perhaps sometimes the hard times turn out to be our happiest times. Certainly not in the moment … and maybe not all the time. But sometimes.
Mitchell's Favorite Recipe
Apply portions according to preference.
Lay down foil sheets to match the number of meals you want to make. I recommend using two sheets per meal to ensure a strong seal.
Optional: apply a light coat of non-stick spray to one side of the foil
Lay a bed of tater tots on each sheet. Two handfuls is usually sufficient.
Pour cream of mushroom on top of the tater tots. Be generous with these portions as they soak into the tater tots and become like gravy. One can per meal is usually perfect.
Cut chicken breasts to desired size and place on top
Season with salt & pepper and other spices to preference
Wrap & freeze
Freezing foil dinners will ensure your meals stay fresh. When you’re ready to cook it, you simply place it over hot coals and rotate every 5 minutes for about 20 minutes, or until your meal is thoroughly cooked.
There are alternative ingredients to virtually every item on this recipe, but Mitch (and our family) have found this one especially perfect.
Tip on Cooking Over Fire
Be sure to cook over hot coals, not a roaring bonfire.
The best time to place your foil dinners is after the flames have died down and the bed of your fire pit is filled with red hot coals.
You can also cook your foil dinners on a grill, as seen below. We made these meals for Cousins Camp 2016: