Chopped wood, crumpled newspaper, a handful of kindling; elements to bring impending warmth on a cool summer night. The stack of tin plates, the flatware, and napkins sat on the giant bread board, ready to be carted out to the picnic table. Mugs of wild tansy were already there lining the table down the middle, orbs of bright yellow buttons.
Preparations were underway for an evening with friends around the picnic table and campfire. In a life that’s full with schedules that don’t often have openings, it’s easy for summer to wane before you realize there won’t be many more chances to spend a long, warm evening with friends. So, you look at the calendar, you consult with your people, and you send a text invitation with intention to thumbtack a date coming up soon.
That date was Friday night. It came galloping up, as it usually does, but I’d decided I’d not be hustled by any feelings of scramble or stress or that bothersome snoot called perfection. These were friends who were coming, after all. And this was a casual dinner, meant for relaxing. No one was here keeping a tally book on the housekeeping. Life is what it is; let’s make the best of it. Sure enough, when the kitchen filled with friends, conversation and preparation chattered right past the dust on the end table and the spots on the windows without so much as a nod.
The menu was easy: cream can, something we’d eaten for the first time with these friends while sitting around their high mountain campfire years ago. Maybe something of a Midwestern version of a New England clam bake, it’s made of fresh potatoes, onion, carrots, corn on the cob, and cabbage layered in a pot with bratwurst or kielbasa on top, and butter, seasoning and beer poured over all. Closed up tight under a lid, it’s left to steam, or in the case of the original cooking vessel, an actual cream can, it pressure-cooks to tender juiciness over the flame of a campfire. Served out on platters, it made the rounds of the picnic table, followed by small dishes of butter. For dessert, there was cherry pie & ice cream, roasted marshmallows, s’mores, or Hershey’s chocolate, eaten straight out of the wrapper.