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The Great Escape with James Ransom

Happy Father’s Day! To celebrate the many adventures in parenthood, we’re revisiting this story about an epic camping breakfast from Spoonful’s Summer ’16 issue by food photographer James Ransom.

It is thirty minutes into our drive and the kids are already fighting with each other. We’re leaving the city two hours late for our annual Labor Day campout with our best friends, the Winstons, which happens to be the exact time that every other New Yorker is trying to escape. The routes on Google Maps look like arteries, with yellow hazard signs at nearly every junction notifying us of an accident. This is not going to be fun.

“This is going to be fun!” my wife, Celeste, reminds me. She’s driving because she gets car sick easily, which means I’m tasked with navigating while keeping our four kids Owen, Emma, Ean and Noah (the 3-year-old twins) entertained. I put in a DVD and that solves half of the problem, if only for now.

I’m rubbing the burn on my index finger. An hour ago I was trying to cook bacon in the oven for our breakfast tomorrow morning and somehow dumped the whole tray inside the oven. How does one even do that? I haven’t any explanation—it was the wrong kind of bacon anyway. The shortcut in cooking time is now a long-cut in driving time. The saving grace in all of this is I type Whole Foods in my phone and discover there’s a store about 30 minutes away from our campsite. All is not lost.

2015-0902_bacon_james-ransom-068Honestly, I’m excited about our breakfast tomorrow. Bacon Hotcakes and Eggs with Sriracha Syrup—a recipe I got from my friend and food stylist, Tara Bench. Of course, I don’t expect to be able to make it look as pretty as she does, at least not over a campfire. And definitely not while eight kids (yes, eight) are running around said campfire.

When we decided on the meals for this trip, I was determined to do something easy, but different. Not your run-of-the-mill instant oatmeal and hot chocolate. A fruit salad was a no-brainer. I had recently photographed and eaten Amanda Hesser’s “Watermelon Tomato Salad with Cumin and Fennel” for Food52.com, and was inspired. I knew something similar would be a hit, especially since my kids (and the Winston kids) were not known for their broad palettes. If I were to burn the pancakes, they would at least eat something for breakfast. I just had to make it a little more kid-friendly, or better said, “my-kid-friendly.”

I’m not a huge fan of pancakes, but the genius move of frying them over thick-cut bacon, and drenching them in Sriracha syrup takes them to a new level. The spicy syrup would be a no-go for the kids, obviously. This would be the adult only version. With a fried egg on top, we’d be in heaven, even more so because of the everything-tastes-better-when-you’re-camping factor. Swinging by Whole Foods would be worth it, even if it meant I would be setting up the tent in the dark.

The Great Escape 2| Spoonful Magazine

The next morning I wake up at the crack of dawn to start the fire. Last night I was using satellites and a smart phone, today I’m back to basic elements: heat, fuel and oxygen. The fire roars to life and I’m proud of myself.

I cut open the bacon with a pocketknife and tossed it on the hot iron pan. The scent sizzles through the air and beckons as bodies emerge from their sleeping bags. Celeste mixes up the pancakes in a Tupperware container (we forgot a mixing bowl, of course). One of the twins just peed in his pants, the other one is screaming that he’s hungry. The older boys are teasing the girls. We’re cracking eggs into hollowed out rolls and wrapping them in foil with fixings—a twist on the “Toad in the Hole.” Someone is cutting fruit. Something is burning. I warn the kids to stay away from the fire. We set the table, pour the orange juice and dish up the salad. With all eight kids sitting around the table stuffing their faces, there’s a sudden moment of peace and quiet. The warm summer sun streaks through the trees, the dappled light casting partial shadows on everything. A gentle breeze drops some leaves on the picnic table. Summer is coming to a close, but for now, we’re really having fun.

Find delicious recipes from James in the article “The Great Escape” in our Spoonful Magazine summer issue: Dog Days! Photos by James Ransom, styled by Tara Bench


James Ransom is a New York based food photographer who works closely with Food52, a community of cooks who exchange recipes and ideas. He finds joy in the little things: laughter between friends, the sun bouncing off the concrete and into a balcony barbecue party, the clinking of silverware against ceramic platters full of mussels. He often finds himself trying to capture these happy moments on film, and the resulting photos transport the viewer into the moment where the magic was eternally captured.

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