If you’re drawn to the idea of camping this summer but don’t want to pitch a tent, gather kindling to heat canned beans or rough it in your sleeping bag on the ground, then “glamping” may be the vacation option for you.
You might think you were enjoying a sumptuous dinner at a high-end restaurant if not for the sounds of the rushing brook and the crackling embers in the fire pit.Welcome to al fresco dining at Orenda, one of the highlights of an all-inclusive back-country camping experience in Johnsburg near Mill Creek and Garnet Lake in the Adirondacks. This isn’t your every-item-from-the-L.L. Bean-catalog kind of outdoor adventure, so you don’t need to schlep tents, sleeping bags, cook stoves or mess kits to your site. Instead, Orenda owner David Webb will provide you with linen-clad mattresses in large canvas tents (complete with woodstoves to keep you toasty in the autumn chill), lead your family on a nature walk and teach you some local Adirondack history, arrange for a local guide to take you canoeing, fly fishing or hiking and prepare fresh, local dishes over an open fire three times a day. He’ll even send you off on your rafting trip with a supply of gorp. Where else in the rugged Adirondack Park could you be so pampered? The concept is called “glamorous camping” or “glamping,” for short, and it’s Webb’s vision to create an environmentally low-impact and serene environment where couples or families can escape their urban or suburban confines for a few days or a week. It is reconnecting people with nature, without the labor of tent camping.
“I wanted to share everything I learned as a kid with people who might not necessarily have the skill set or the desire (to camp traditionally),” Webb said. “And I wanted to create something where people could come up and have really wonderful, healthy gourmet foods made for them.” Webb said while his Adirondack version of glamping is “borderline” compared with what would be found at a few upscale retreats in California and Montana, it’s still a unique venture in upstate New York.
“Out West, they have their own butler, they have bathing tents, the s’mores are made with Ghirardelli chocolate, they fly you in by helicopter; everything’s completely decked out with bed frames and linens. I have bed frames, but I built them out of wood,” he said. “I wanted to maintain a really comfortable camping environment, but at the same token, I didn’t want to go and become a bed-and-breakfast in the woods. I want people to learn some of the basics up here.”
On a breezy, 50-degree, overcast weekday in mid-October, Webb gave two visitors a sample of just one of his “gourmet Americana” meals that dinner guests enjoy every night of their stay: an arugula salad with fresh radishes and Parmesan shavings in a balsamic vinaigrette, baby Portobello mushrooms stuffed with herbed goat cheese, a center-cut pork chop infused with rosemary and topped with apple butter and sweet potato fries. Everything but the salad course was prepared in cast iron fry pans over a roaring camp fire.
“The little ashes and the smokiness that come off the fire, it’s perfectly fine for you,” Webb said. “Having a wonderful meal by a creek in the evening by candlelight with a bottle of wine or a beer? That’s the recipe.” Webb multitasked this day between throwing a combination of oak, birch, apple and maple logs on the fire and moving the skillets on and off the flame, in tempo with a wind that whipped ashes up into the air. Just steps away in his outdoor kitchen, a metal roof-enclosed structure with a long row of rough-sawn cabinetry with locks on the doors to keep out wildlife, Webb set out enamelware plates, silverware, wine glasses and paper napkins on an 8-foot-by-4-foot hemlock-topped island. Wood stumps served as rustic “stools” and a camping lantern hung overhead. He thinks of basic recipes as “building blocks” but then likes to experiment with new flavor combinations, using local produce and purveyors. Webb’s most popular dish is his Blue Mountain sirloin hamburger infused with Maytag blue cheese and apple wood-smoked bacon served on a brioche roll with mesclun salad. Other nights might feature three-cheese tortellini sauteed with olive oil, garlic, zucchini, yellow squash and capers with grated Parmesan cheese or herb-crusted flame-roasted chicken breasts. Breakfast might be eggs and bacon or Webb’s special buttermilk pancakes. Lunch consists of cold cuts or maybe his grilled white and yellow cheddar on wheat bread with sliced avocado and onions.
Posted in Lifestyles on Saturday, November 5, 2011