We go camping in Maine every year with some of our best friends, and since hauling our families, their belongings, and enough food for about 40 people for three days isn’t enough (it is); we like to mix it up with a themed dinner, because it’s fun. Really fun. Perhaps the highlight of the whole shebang.
Well this year's theme was “cowboy,” and since it lends itself to autumn outdoor entertaining, we thought we'd share some tips. Starting with: Forget the camping and just go cowboy.
Spice up laid-back entertaining with a theme, and all of a sudden your friends are displaying talents you've never seen, (hint: like a knack for spinning up homemade mariachi outfits, repurposed Anne Klein from Savers) and everyone's grinning (despite lack of sleep or showers) because it's thrilling to pull old hats and cowboy inspired menagerie out of the archives. And don't we all need a new pair of old boots from eBay? Yes, yes, we do. Not to mention, cowboy is in.
The menu not only has beef and chicken seared over an open flame, plenty of beans and cornbread (naturally), but we're going to start off with oysters, of course.
BTW, oysters are easy to transport in a cooler, bada bing bada boom. If cowboys had access to oysters, you better believe they would shuck up those suckers sitting around a campfire. Hell, one oyster would give them their whole nutritional fix for a day. (Oysters are loaded with zinc.) Tip: it's also what makes them an aphrodisiac.
First of all, get your shucker set up in a nice comfortable place, nothing fancy. Just a hard surface, some gloves or a towel to shuck. Get another friend, preferably with some musical ability, to strum up some ditties on a guitar. It's gonna set the mood of the campout, and entertain the shucker. Very important.
Now if you’ve never learned to shuck an oyster, it’s high time. Because shucking is really just another word for empowered. Oysters taste better when you shuck’ em yourself. Think of it this way. How often have you dreamed of learning a new skill, say, kitesurfing or becoming fluent in a language? The time it'll take to acquire that skill can feel daunting and prevent you from starting in the first place. Well, learning to shuck takes about three minutes, and then practice makes perfect. Point is, learning something new sends that good juju (endorphins) charging into your frontal lobe, and you'll get high. On life. Mission accomplished.
To learn how to shuck: Watch this
Now, meanwhile the singer’s singing, your friends are partying: everyone's brought their spirit of choice. Someone's got a friend who makes small batch vodka and tequila, and a lovely little tasting is conjuring a lot of buzz. The fire is smoking, and the scent of meat is palpable. So whet your appetite with cowboy caviar. If nothing else, just eat this.
It's essentially a big bowl of tomatoes, black-eyed peas, corn, peppers, jalapeños, and cilantro. Spritz with lime juice, garlic, a little olive oil and red wine vinegar. Eat it on chips, as a salad or by the forkful. It's to die for, and so easy. Get full recipe here.
Back at the oyster bar, the shucker has been hijacked by some impatient oyster lovers, and they're now eating as many oysters as he/she can shuck, so reinforcements have stepped in. Out comes homemade fresh hot sauce and some lime wedges to take it up a notch to cowboy.
Recipe for Giao's Homemade Hot Sauce:
1 cup scotch bonnets or habaneros, 1 cup chopped fresh pineapple, 1/2 c vinegar, fresh lime juice, dash of cumin, 1 tbsp salt or to taste. Heat in a pot for 5-10 mins, remove from heat and blend until smooth.
And at this point, there's nothing left to do but gather round the campfire, crack a brew, eat an oyster, listen to the fire crackling, your friends laughing; sit back in the sunshine and take it all in, cause this cowboy campout just got lit.
Here's to having some fun, and mixing it up. Go cowboy, or try another theme. Just get your autumn entertaining on, winter is coming.
PC: Rosemary Tufankjian, Kate Farrington, Sims McCormick