On The Banks of the Gay Mississippi

Alright, so maybe there’s nothing inherently gay about the Mississippi, but we did happen to spend this National Coming Out Day camping and hiking at Mississippi Palisades State Park, on the Illinois side of the river, just a stone’s throw from Iowa.

It’s a significant day for us because, prior to last National Coming Out Day last year, we were just acquaintance-y friends from the Chicago Performing Arts community. Then, we saw each other’s social media posts, each broadcasting our out and proudness and began a several month online flirtship, culminating in finally, as luck would have it, playing a fateful gig together in December (that gig happened to be a live album recording of a world premiere musical and you can listen to me belt my face off/Rachel playing gorgeous cello here).

We began dating seriously almost immediately and, of course, with the pandemic, so came the U-haul. The rest, as they say, is them-story. So it seemed like as good a day as any to commemorate by scaling the face of a small mountain (yes, the very same big rock thing we’re standing in front of in this photo).

queer love, camping, hiking, National Coming Out Day
Sure, we looked super cute and happy before we climbed the mountain…

Now, I don’t want to over-represent my skillset here. When I say “scaling the face of the mountain”, what I really mean is, “losing the trail and just going off-road, grabbing ahold of whatever roots, rocks, or trees we could find, and continuing our ascent by any stupid means necessary”, or something like that.

I’m a crazy hiker from the old school. Losing myself on trails was how I initially started losing weight many summers ago in the Cuyahoga Valley National Forest and I was absolutely giddy to be losing myself in the woods again, especially since elevation of any kind is something sorely lacking on the Chicago landscape. I might have been a bit too gung-ho though, nearly giving Rachel a panic attack on the way up.

We definitely weren’t the only group on the trail with novice hikers among us. City folx seeking socially distant diversion had come to the state park in droves this weekend, pushing the limits of this natural space’s infrastructure. Some trails were too narrow for groups to safely pass each other, while some were simply poorly marked or maintained (see also: CLIMBING A FREAKING MOUNTAIN BECAUSE WE THOUGHT IT WAS A TRAIL).

And then I realized, this was a CCC park, meaning it was built largely by the Civilian Conservation Corps, an FDR-era New Deal Initiative that provided work AND housing for homeless, jobless, unmarried men (ok that part is sketchy and weird by today’s standards), while bolstering infrastructure and literally creating endless miles of trails all across the country.

state parks, civilian conservation corps, camping, hiking, illinois state map
Yes, I am 100% that person who reads every little plaque at the museum.

Interesting. With participation in outdoor activities at an all time high (I’m telling you, this campground was PACKED, y’all.), right there along with joblessness and homelessness, maybe we need A NEW CCC? Just a thought…

But enough of the boring history stuff (amirite?) and onto the reason I was most excited for this trip- cooking three square meals for 8 people on a dutch oven over a campfire, because I’m crazy like that.

one pot pasta, dutch oven, no-knead bread, garlic bread, campfire cooking, gemelli pasta
A jar of homemade pesto is the perfect addition to some pasta with fire roasted veggies. Served with Mark Bittman’s famous No-Knead Bread (baked in my own kitchen the day prior), slathered with butter and garlic, wrapped in foil and thrown into the fire.

Pasta was the perfect night one dinner. After settling in and unpacking, it was easy enough just to boil water and toss in some gorgeous gemelli pasta, along with pesto gleaned from the last of my window box basil, and an array of veggies roasted right on the grill plate! Mmmmm…. you can’t make pasta that tastes like this at home!

Campfire, fire roasted veggies, dutch oven, red enamel dutch oven, zucchini, peppers

Toss in a bunch of shredded mozzarella, get a whole roasted Vidalia onion from your friends at the campsite across the way, and you are in for a good time, my friends. Our full bellies surely made the ground an easier sleep that night!

campfire cooking, pasta, gemelli pasta, campfire garlic toast, no-knead bread, vidalia onion, fire roasted vegetables
The dirt under my fingernails all weekend was the sexiest part, IMHO.

BUT WHAT ON EARTH DID YOU EAT FOR THE REST OF THE TRIP, MEGAN? Relax, would ya? I’ll be back tomorrow with an actual recipe for my delicious Apple Cinnamon Raisin Campfire Oatmeal, but don’t worry, this is one you can easily make at home, though the process might surprise you!