My favourite new outdoor “cooking appliance”

What’s my favourite new piece of equipment for cooking outdoors?

Why, an “outdoor fire bowl”, as it’s so labelled on the box in which it was packaged. (There are pictures further down this post.)

When I was growing up, my family did lots of camping. I’ve roasted many a wiener and toasted many a marshmallow around many a camp fire in my day. But the fun came to a crashing halt when Murray and I made a trip to western Canada a few years after we were married. On our return, we stayed in a municipal campground in Edmonton for a night. As I recall, there were no other campgrounds in the area to choose from.

Campers were crammed onto the grounds like sardines. Our tent was pitched mere inches (okay, perhaps a couple feet) from the neighbouring campers’ fire. We could hear every word our neighbours said, and every breath they took, all night long.

This was not camping to Murray. He called it “alternative accommodations”. That night, he made a solemn vow never to camp again unless he was in a remote location, with none of the commercial accoutrements (like flush toilets, showers and other campers within too close proximity) that come with traditional camping. As I scanned his face that night (clearly visible from the glow of the flames licking at our tent), hoping he was just making a rash decision in the heat (!) of the moment, I knew he was serious. Although I was also not amused at spending the night wedged between a bonfire and another tent, I figured that never camping again was a rather drastic decision. Surely there had to be a happy medium somewhere in the camping world.

It’s been over 20 years since that fateful night. Although Murray has since done some “true camping” on fishing trips in northern Manitoba when we lived in Norway House and Cranberry Portage, Manitoba, the two of us haven’t camped together since.

One of the joys of camping I’ve really missed is the smell and sound of a campfire, and being able to roast and toast things over an open fire. Barbecues, fondues and flambes have their place, but they don’t quite provide the same ambiance or end result!

We’ve been talking about building an outdoor fire pit in our back yard for a few years now, but we’ve held off doing so for a couple reasons. For starters, we fancy ourselves to be law-abiding citizens and city bylaws haven’t allowed open fires until recently. Secondly, we want to extend our deck and figured we’d wait to put in the fire pit until that was done. Other home reno projects have somehow taken priority each summer.

This weekend we finally got tired of waiting for the deck to be redesigned. We decided to invest in an inexpensive outdoor fire bowl. Yippee! Find some matches and get out the wieners!! At long last!!!

We plunked the fire bowl in the middle of the yard on four sidewalk blocks we happened to have around. Aesthetically, the set up has left a bit to be desired. But the thought of sitting around a crackling fire quickly erased nearly all concerns about how things looked.

As luck would have it, the night the fire bowl was unveiled, we found wieners, cheese sausages and hot dog buns in the freezer, and chocolate in the cupboard. A quick trip to the store netted some graham wafers and marshmallows. We had plenty of fire wood as neighbour Dave had bequeathed a stash of it to us a while back since, sadly, he’ll be moving in a couple weeks. Neighbours Bryn and Judy were willing to help initiate the fire bowl.

Being a true camper(!), Murray knew how to make a fire. Once we had flames, the pressure was on to see if we remembered how to roast wieners and marshmallows so they actually were edible. Like riding a bike, apparently it’s a useful skill you learn for life (although admittedly, I will need a little more practice and a few more test samples before I can turn out a perfectly roasted wiener and marshmallow).

And so that night, with the sometimes ear-splitting, always rapid-fire sound of firecrackers being detonated by neighbours celebrating Canada Day ringing in my ears, I enjoyed a perfect fire and the best hot dog I’ve ever eaten (or at least in about 20 years!), followed by more than my share of gooey, sticky s’mores. (For non-campers or those without fireplaces or outdoor fire bowls – a s’more is a roasted marshmallow stuffed with a piece of chocolate and sandwiched between two graham wafers.)

We’ll be doing this again very soon!

Murray builds a fire.

Murray builds a roaring fire. (OK, it became a roaring fire soon after this picture was taken!)

Grilling cheese sausages with the rotisserie attachment for our barbecue. Note to self: buy or whittle a few more sticks for roasting wieners. This gadget more closely resembles a dangerous weapon than a cooking utensil!

There's nothing like an ooey, gooey, sticky, chocolatey s'more

Photography by Bryn Donaldson.

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