Braving The Backyard

Camping with kids made simple

Photos by Jeff Hobson

All it takes is a nice summer evening, a tent, a fire in a fire pit (conditions permitting) and a few creative ideas! And you don’t have to wait for the weekend. I love surprising my kids with fun adventures during the week; it creates a bit of magic and fun memories. And when it’s this easy to do, why not?


I created a tent across our backyard. If you have a tent, you can simply pitch it. But if you don’t — or if you want a fun tent — simply tie a rope between two trees and drape a large sheet or piece of fabric over the rope. Stake all four corners into the grass and you’re done!


Campout dinners can be fabulous! Historically, hot dogs and marshmallows are the standard fare. But I decided to take everything I knew about cooking on a barbecue and translated it to cooking over fire. If you don’t have (or can’t have) a fire, a barbecue grill is a great alternative. Our super easy dinner consisted of popcorn — popped and seasoned at home —cannonballs (meatloaf cooked in an onion on the fire!) and the über traditional s’mores, with my own spin.


  • 4 medium sweet onions
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground sausage
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire
  • Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice each onion in half and remove outside “skin” of each half. Remove two outer most layers of onion of each half being careful to keep them intact. Set aside on sheets of aluminum foil.

Mix all remaining ingredients together by hand. Press a handful of meat mixture into each half of the onions – gently packing the meat into the onion halves. Press halves together to “reassemble” the onion. Wrap each onion in foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake 45 minutes, or until a thermometer reads 140 degrees. Remove from the oven and let sit 5 minutes before serving. Or you can cook on a grill over indirect heat or on hot coals for about 60 minutes.

BravingTheBackyard2-199x300S’MORES BARS

  • 12 ounces milk chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1 package graham crackers
  • 1 homemade marshmallow (see recipe, page 90)
  • Butter

Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9- by 13-inch pan with the butter. Cut parchment paper to line the bottom of the pan and to hang over two of the sides. Press parchment into the buttered bottom and set aside.

In a small pan, bring two inches of water to a low boil. Place a glass bowl over the top of the pan and fill with chocolate. Melt the chocolate — stirring often — over hot water. If water begins to boil too hard, turn down the heat and continue. Pour melted chocolate into the bottom of the prepared pan. Press the graham crackers into the chocolate so they completely cover the bottom of the pan. Cut crackers with a serrated knife if needed. Set aside.

Pour homemade marshmallow into the pan. Using a buttered offset spatula, spread marshmallow to completely cover the graham crackers.

Let sit at room temperature — undisturbed — for 24 hours. Cut into 2-by-2-inch squares and roll sides in powdered sugar. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 to 4 days.


  • 4 packets unflavored gelatin
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Powdered sugar

Butter the bottom of an 11- by-17-inch sheet pan and top with parchment paper. Butter parchment paper and dust with powdered sugar.

In a stand mixer, combine gelatin and 3/4 cup water. Let stand.

In a medium saucepan with a heavy bottom, combine sugar, remaining water, corn syrup and salt. Slowly bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue to cook until mixture reaches the soft ball stage on a candy thermometer (about 240 degrees).

Turn on stand mixer and pour in sugar mixture in a slow steady stream. Leave mixer running on high speed for 15 minutes until mixture is light and fluffy. Blend vanilla into marshmallow mixture and pour marshmallow onto prepared pan and smooth out to the corners. Let sit uncovered for 12 hours.

Turn out onto a cutting board dusted with powdered sugar. Butter and dust a knife with powdered sugar. Cut marshmallows into 2 inch squares and dip each cut edge into powdered sugar. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

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