Goodbye Heaters. Hello Rumpl.

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Goodbye Heaters. Hello Rumpl.

Attention All Glampers! This is a special notice to let you know climate changes are headed our way. Contrary to what's happening in the rest of the world, things might be getting a wee bit colder at camp. Sadly, we will no longer be able to offer portable heaters in our tents. We'll tell you why in a minute, but first, we want to put your worries to rest. 

No one likes sleeping outside when the temperature dips below 40 Fahrenheit. Ok, maybe some hardcore people do, but not us! So after testing a bazillion sleeping solutions, from igloo bedding to tundra sleeping bags and even considering coyote furs (#notreally), we finally found a solution.

Meet the Rumpl Super Fleece Blanket. It's heavy, it's warm, it's designed for outdoor comfort and that is what we're all about. On cold nights we'll add this layer on top of our duvets. We're pretty sure you'll be toasty, because we tried it indoors and out. We even had a dinner party to compare the Super Fleece alongside a double sleeping bag (too squished), a heat-reflective emergency blanket (too crinkly), and two heavy-weight wool blankets (too thin and itchy). Yes, there were brownies. The Super Fleece was the unanimous winner. (If you're still worried about being cold, we encourage you to bring a special someone or furry friend to help you turn up the heat.)

Why are we scrapping the heaters? Our guests' safety is our top priority in everything we do and our local code enforcement officers weren't 100% comfortable with our propane heaters. So we're following their lead and looking for safer, more effective heating solutions. We promise to send you updates! 

Now the thing is, truly cold you-can-see-your-breath kind of nights are not normal at Firelight. These nights are mostly reserved for the most adventurous of glampers in May and October, with some surprise dips in September. But in a way, the very notion of braving cold nights gets us back to our original vision.

When we opened Firelight Camps, our dream was to give more people a true, outdoor experience without the hassle of investing in gear and setting it up themselves. We called this "elevated camping," and accomplished it with plush beds, hot showers, a full bar in the lobby tent and other glamorous touches. We're still looking for ways to make our guests more comfortable, but we don't want to rob them of adventure. The best memories are born from adventure, and that my friends, often begins with the weather. Pitter-patter on the canvas, board games, thunderous downpours, slush, frigid snow, snowmen, chocolate mud, double rainbows, bursting sunshine, listless grey upon grey, crimson sunsets, firefly explosions, must-swim-humidity. The great outdoors would become boring very quickly if it were always sunny and 70 degrees with nothing to report on. 

The moral of the story is, "there's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing." So while we'll continue to do everything possible to make your stay as comfortable as can be, we've put together The Glamper's Essential Packing List to help you pack smartly and relish in Mother Nature's mood wherever you are: forest, lake, river, mountain, meadow or the shelter of our tents. 

We love each and every one of you who has been willing to pioneer glamping with us in the U.S. It is most certainly the greatest adventure of our lifetime, and we couldn't be here without you. Thank you for your understanding and trust in us as we grow. Please don't hesitate to send any questions or ideas - we love ideas! - to reservations@firelightcamps.com. If you want to stay in the loop on future heating solutions, join our newsletter.

With gratitude and campfire warmth,

Emma, Co-Founder

 

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Meet Emma Frisch: Co-Founder & Culinary Director

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Meet Emma Frisch: Co-Founder & Culinary Director

Photo by Emma Pure

Photo by Emma Pure

Hometown: Wilton, Connecticut

Years around sun: 33

Happiest place outside: Somewhere with a high vantage point. Currently, a moss-carpeted ledge overlooking Lake Treman in Buttermilk Falls State Park. Depending on the time of day, you can see the sun rise and set from this spot. If I'm patient, a blue heron will eventually screech overhead, landing among the cattails to fish, while beavers wade through the waterways. Sounds magical, doesn't it? 

Was camping a part of your childhood, growing up? Every summer Mamma enrolled me in Mountain Workshop's Awesome Adventures, an outdoor recreation camp that covered all the bases: rock climbing, kayaking, bushwhacking, spelunking, orienteering, hiking and overnight camping. Apart from occasionally camping in the backyard or the basement, depending on the whether, that was where I learned to pitch a tent. I imagine with four kids spaced five years apart, it was daunting for Mamma to wrangle all the gear we'd need to camp (too bad glamping didn't exist in the U.S. back then!). Family vacations were always grounded in the outdoors: hiking, picnicking, swimming, skiing. Back at home, we weren't allowed to watch TV, so instead, we made kingdoms in the woods behind our house. There was a wide bend in the river that we called the "kitchen," with a family-sized, flat rock "table" and two smaller rock "stools." We pounded dry mud to make chocolate and fashioned sugar from ice crystals.

What is your favorite moment as a chef? As a cook, the sense of coming full circle excites me most. It's my responsibility to stay in tune with our food system, from seed to table and back to the earth as compost, and to find ways of bringing this awareness to the people I serve. There are so many moments wrapped up in this beautiful cycle: picking fresh herbs or unpacking a delivery from my farmer; feeling the "a-ha!" spark of inspiration in creating a unique recipe; relishing the first bite of a new dish; feeling honored when people come together to celebrate the harvest and my cooking; watching the embers die with my feet on a chair and cold beer in hand; sweeping the last crumbs from the kitchen floor and collapsing into bed; waking to repeat the cycle. It's a process that demands being present physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. It's good practice for me. 

What is your favorite fire-licked meal? Easy, kale. Wash the leaves and pat them dry. Drizzle and massage gently with olive oil to coat. Slap them over a high-burning fire and char the leaves. Let them cool, strip the leaves and toss with your favorite dressing (or a squeeze of lemon juice), salt and pepper. Voila! It's primal. Michael Pollan says, wood, fire and smoke are cooking's primary colors. It's true. If you're planning to cook over fire, all you really need is olive oil, salt, pepper and extra-long tongs. 

Try also: charred bread with charred tomatoes, olive oil and a smattering of fresh herbs.

I'm working on a cookbook with Ten Speed Press called Feast by Firelight, to be published in Spring 2018. It will feature over 75 recipes for cooking outside, including some of the recipes I've created for Firelight events and our breakfast program. (For updates, you can sign up for my very-spontaneous-but-always-juicy newsletter.) 

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Is there a special outdoor tradition that you want to pass down to your daughter, Ayla? Hm, great question. When Bobby and I go rock climbing we play a game to see who goes first. We pick a place on the ground at least ten feet away and take turns tossing a pebble with the aim of hitting our target. It's makeshift bocce. The person with the closest pebble climbs first. When Ayla starts climbing with us, we'll pass that down. And in the meantime, we'll stick to our usual MO: get outside at least once, every day. And be playful about it!

You have to build a fire in under 60 seconds. Describe how you do it. GO! 

Before the clock starts ticking, I'll run through this checklist:

  • Can I start a campfire in this location? What does Smokey Bear say?
  • Is the area clear of any leaves, twigs, grass or other materials that could catch fire? 
  • Do I need to create a new fire pit or is there an existing one I can use?   
  • Collect my materials: dry tinder (pine needles, leaves, etc.), dry kindling (small twigs and branches; nothing green), dry logs.

Ok, 60 seconds...GO. I like the teepee method. I make a small pile of tinder with a teepee of kindling overtop. I light the tinder and blow gently, igniting the kindling. When the kindling catches fire I make a teepee of logs over top, making sure there is enough space for air so the fire can breathe.

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Flower Art: Its All About The Small Things

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Flower Art: Its All About The Small Things

Do you remember those days when your mom said “go outside, and play,” but your friends weren’t around and your older sister was doing “cooler” things? That’s when I started paying more attention. I explored my backyard in Elmira, NY and I collected small samples of every plant in my path. I noticed how many different species were growing all around me. Tiny leaves, flower petals of every shape and color, curly twigs as well as straight, reeds of grass- all of these would become the makings of my art.

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As I grew up, I began traveling with my art, seeking out tiny palettes in every new ecosystem. Each masterpiece was infinitely different, not only rooted in the materials I could find, but the creativity I was feeling that day.

When I’d gathered enough materials, making sure that I didn’t lose one tiny berry, I found a quiet place and a flat surface to “paint a picture” with my collection. I began linking together the dainty pieces to form the letters of my name. It was time consuming, being gentle and precise with every move, for a picture-perfect creation. Eventually, it would blow away with the wind.

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As my art improved, I created pieces for the special people in my life using materials from their own backyard. I loved the idea that the petals and bright little berries could represent the space shared by humans and plants, living and growing together.

When I began working at Firelight Camps, I was overwhelmed with inspiration. Not only is Ithaca, NY a haven for nature lovers, but Firelight’s beautiful glampground was perched at the top of Buttermilk Falls State Park, one of my favorite outdoor sanctuaries. It was a match made in heaven.

The décor at Firelight Camps gave me plenty of material to work with, in particular, the hand cut bouquets from Plenty of Posies flower farm. Every morning I pruned the dead flower buds, giving new life to the bouquets. The petals were not wasted on me; they were gold for a flower artist.

I couldn’t wait to repurpose all the flecks of color, mixing them with other gems grown right on the property: Tulsi basil leaves, Dill pollen, Lavender buds. In the same way I loved to make art for friends, I began leaving flower art on the grazing table for our guests. I would arrange the entire continental breakfast around a campfire scene, or write messages on the reception bar such as “Good Morning!” Sometimes a guest would catch me in the act and ask, “What are you doing?” I would smile, and say, “Oh, you’re in for a wonderful surprise!”

I’ve noticed how my flower art brings nature to life for our guests, giving them a taste of the season, the gardens and the trails. It becomes the basis for a whole conversation, and inspires our young guests to try making their own. There is so much possibility in each tiny canvas. So next time you visit, take a walk outside, slow down, and pay attention to the miracles unfolding all around you. Beauty is everywhere.

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Meet Bobby Frisch, Co-founder & CEO

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Meet Bobby Frisch, Co-founder & CEO

Photo by Emma Pure

Photo by Emma Pure

Hometown: Potomac, MD

Years around the sun: Almost 33

Happiest place outside: Next to a swiftly moving stream

How'd you land in Ithaca, New York?

I came to Ithaca to get my MBA from Cornell. It was a big move from living 4 years in Nicaragua, but I was ready to come back to the states. Emma and I had heard so many great things about Ithaca as a town, and I was excited to also be able to take classes at the Hotel School while getting my MBA, so it was a great fit. Oh, and I was crazy lucky to be awarded a scholarship through the Park Leadership Fellows program ... it was a no-brainer.

Can you remember the first time you slept outside? 

No ... but I do have a vivid memory of a very early 'outdoor' experience - I must have been about 6 at the time. I was standing next to a river fishing with my dad and my brother and I was totally freaked out by these little green grasshoppers that kept smacking into my face. I started crying and had to wait in the car until they finished. Manly huh? 

Do you have a favorite story about one of our glampers? 

We had a young, wide-eyed couple drive up from the Bronx one weekend. They immediately started asking questions about the dangers of deer, raccoons, and coyotes as they were checking in, and it was obvious that they were pretty nervous. They were hanging around the fire pit in the evening, and we discovered they had never been camping before or ever tried a s'more! It was so sweet to see the other guests get very excited to show them how to make a s'more and give them marshmallow roasting tips. The couple ended up having an amazing experience and it was so rewarding for me to see how Firelight can make the outdoors a little more accessible and comfortable for first-time campers.

Tell me about the best hotel you ever stayed in and three words that describe why it was such a memorable experience.

I don't know about 'best' hotel but a very memorable one for me is the 'Buena Vista Surf Club' in Nicaragua. The name doesn't quite do it justice, but it had an incredible juxtaposition of ruggedness and luxury (something I love). There were only about 8 cabins with thatch roofs spread over a hill overlooking the pacific. They were very private and open to the elements so you would wake up to the sound of the waves and look out over the jungle canopy at howler monkeys right from your bed. There was an amazing huge deck and common area where all the guests came together each evening over a home-cooked meal. Three words or phrases to describe it? Monkeys, honor bar (!), and gracious hosts.

You have to build a fire in under 60 seconds. Describe how you do it. Go! 

Easy. Whistle the top secret Firelight staff birdcall and watch a camp host jump into action. Then saunter over to our beautiful stone fire pit and say something slick to the lounging guests like "getting a little chilly? Would you like to warm your toes?" Assemble the kindling. Crumple the newspaper. Light the match. Toss in the nicely seasoned hard-wood.

What is your dream adventure?

High up on my list at the moment: taking my 1-year-old daughter, Ayla, on a real multi-night camping trip (she's only been glamping to date). Another dream is to go on a multi-night Norwegian sea-kayaking trip with lots of cool little Scandinavian cabins involved. Oh, and a Moroccan desert Berber tented camel adventure with lots of carpets, darbukas and strong coffee.

Bobby and Ayla Glamping at Conestoga Ranch in Utah.

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Eat Wild, Save Wild: The Story of Salmon

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Eat Wild, Save Wild: The Story of Salmon


"We’re all worried about making sure our farm-to-table is really from farm to table, or that our beef is really grass-fed. What if they would just make the same efforts with fish like salmon?" - Tom Douglas

Photo by Emma Frisch

Photo by Emma Frisch

Since our earliest ancestors, we have relied on the ocean for sustenance and honored a long-standing relationship with one of its most precious resources, Wild Salmon. Salmon can be a study of perseverance and patience, a balance of beauty and strength, and ultimately the “circle of life.” Salmon are born in the same rivers where they return - upstream! - to spawn their young and die, giving their body back to the creeks and forest after a lifetime at sea. It could be said that salmon run in the trees, replenishing an entire ecosystem. For Firelight co-founder and culinary director, Emma Frisch, food is a powerful link between humans and nature. Eating wild, native and locally cultivated ingredients can help us taste the very essence of the natural world around us, and in some cases, help protect wild species and places.

In August of 2015, Emma traveled to the Sitka Seafood Festival in Alaska, a window into the world of Wild Salmon and sustainable seafood. Wild Salmon represents the greatest fishing industry in the U.S., providing a source of food and livelihood to thousands of local and indigenous communities. For the Pacific Northwest, Wild Salmon is at the core of local lore and identity. As famed chef and Wild Salmon advocate, Tom Douglas, says "Think about salmon in the same way you think of a jazz band to the people of New Orleans or the Cubs to the city of Chicago. It’s part of our identity. It’s part of who we are. It’s a natural resource and we are very proud of it." 

During Emma's trip, she followed Wild Salmon from river to sea to table, beginning her journey at the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau where Salmon had just returned to the forested creeks. In Sitka, she ventured out to fishing boats at sea with the Seafood Producers Cooperative and Alaska Gold Brand, observed the production line back on shore at the processing plant, and dined on a multi-course Wild Salmon feast prepared by Alaskavore Chef, Rob Kinneen. It was beautiful to behold how fisher(wo)men, plant workers, chefs, diners and local families gave gratitude and respect for Wild Salmon at every stage of the process.

The Sitka Seafood Festival concluded with a screening of The Breach, tying the various activities and sights of the week together. In his provocative documentary, Mark Titus sets off on a quest to answer this question: “Once we [salmon] were so many we couldn’t be counted. Can humanity learn enough from its past to save wild salmon?” He carries the audience through a stunning portrayal of Wild Salmon's last stronghold in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and the perils they face by dams and proposed energy projects like Pebble Mine. The film leaves the viewer with a deeper understanding of a simple truth: wild salmon are endangered, but if we eat them, we just might be able to save them.

Photos by Jessie Johnson and Elaine Bobkowski

Back in landlocked Ithaca, Emma felt pulled to keep the spirit of Wild Salmon alive despite being many miles from the nearest ocean. She wanted to share her extraordinary sea-to-plate experience with the local community and spread awareness about how to source and eat sustainable seafood. She teamed up with local food blogger and founder of The Seafood Blog Project, Jessie Johnson, to launch the first Ithaca Sustainable Seafood Week and a capstone event at Firelight Camps, a Wild Salmon Campfire Dinner & Movie. They brought together local activists, Alaska fisher(wo)man, chefs, and (salmon-loving) glampers and special guest, Mark Titus, for an intimate and magnificent fireside feast under the stars.

Photos by Jessie Johnson

On October 5th, guests gathered under the lobby tent around family-style grazing tables for a multi-course campfire meal. Emma Frisch and Food Network Co-Star, Nicole Gaffney, prepared a variety of courses featuring Wild Alaskan Salmon and other Alaska and Finger Lakes-grown products. They paired dishes with specially brewed beer, local hard cider and Smoked Salmon Vodka cocktails (yes!). After dinner, guests watched The Breach and followed the film with a lively Q&A around the campfire.

Some of the burning questions were: 

  1. How can we take action to help protect our oceans?
  2. How can we buy and eat seafood more sustainably? (Oh hey, need a salmon-buying guide?)

The next morning, guests smeared Wild Smoked Salmon Spread on their bagels, lingering around the grazing tables and and continuing to muse on how they could support Wild Salmon back in their own kitchens. Salmon has a way of tying people together, in the same way it serves as a link to the sea, rivers, trees, offspring and indigenous communities of its ecosystem. 

Photo by Elaine Bobkowski
Photo by Elaine Bobkowski

Photo by Elaine Bobkowski

At Firelight Camps, we are constantly thinking about how we can be better environmental stewards and invite our guests to join us in preserving the natural beauty around us. We do this by serving locally and sustainably produced food at breakfast, building our tent platforms and other amenities with minimal damage to the land, choosing to keep our tents off-the-grid, composting food waste, and making it easy for guests to find their way onto our backyard trails in Buttermilk Falls State Park. But our vision is global, and we want to connect our own efforts and the experience of our guests with like-minded people around the country and the world. We want to be part of the global change and build solidarity. We want to create a space for people to converge, no matter what their backgrounds, and celebrate the very essence of life: food, love and laughter! This is why we chose to celebrate Wild Salmon and all it stands for.

Thanks to the partners and people who made this event possible: The Seafood Blog Project, Alaska Gold Brand, August Island Pictures, The Breach Film, Wild For Salmon, Alaska Birch Syrup, Alaska Flour Company, Full Plate Farms, Alaska Distillery, Lucky Hare Brewing, Good Life Cider, Serendipity Catering, Forever Wild Seafood and Taku River Reds.

Photo by Jessie Johnson

Photo by Jessie Johnson


Check out these additional resources to learn more about wild and sustainable seafood: 

  • SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD PROJECT. An informational blog providing multiple ways to learn about sustainability and a valuable links to businesses that can deliver sustainable seafood right to your front door! (winning!)
  • SEAFOOD WATCH by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They provide guides, websites, and apps for your mobile devices to help you choose the best sustainable food options as well as what to avoid.

Have ideas for a future Firelight event that can help us learn how to better take care of the planet? Tell us in the comments below!

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Moosewood Restaurant's Famous, Classic Tofu Burgers

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Moosewood Restaurant's Famous, Classic Tofu Burgers

When I moved to Ithaca I followed my nose to Moosewood Restaurant, the iconic restaurant that revolutionized vegetarian cuisine across the country. For locals, it was a matter of stopping in for a meal. For vegetarians flung afar, it became a necessity to collect Moosewood Restaurant's cookbooks as they came out. The most recent 40th Anniversary Moosewood Restaurant Favorites is a staple on any cook's bookshelf, vegetarian and omnivore alike. This compendium of creative, plant-based dishes will inspire you, starting with a perfect creation for Labor Day Weekend - the Classic Tofu Burger (recipe below). 

As part of our Big Giveaway (ending in JUST 3 DAYS on September 1st), Moosewood Restaurant is including a signed copy of the book, a market tote bag and a "Dinner for Two" gift certificate (valued at $80)... alongside an amazing package of other Finger Lakes gifts and experiences. 

Moosewood's Classic Tofu Burger

Yields: 8 burgers

Note: Tofu burgers have been a favorite at the restaurant since we can remember ... Because of the increase in the number of our customers who are either gluten intolerant or trying to reduce their consumption of wheat, we've developed ways to make our various kinds of tofu burgers without the bread crumbs we used to use in our published recipes and in the restaurant. Dicing the vegetables small, finely grating the tofu in a food processor, and grinding the walnuts all help to make a mix that will hold its shape.

Two 14- to 16-ounce blocks firm tofu

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 cups diced onions

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 cup grated carrots

1⁄2 cup seeded and diced bell peppers (any color)

1 cup coarsely ground toasted walnuts

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons dark sesame oil

1⁄4 cup tahini

1⁄4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1⁄4 cup chopped fresh basil

1. First press the tofu for at least 30 minutes.

2. While the tofu presses, prepare the rest of the burger mix, and when you're ready to grate the tofu, discard the expressed liquid.

3. In a covered skillet on low heat, warm the oil. Add the onions, sprinkle with the salt and oregano, and cook on low heat for 7 or 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the carrots and bell peppers and cook, covered, until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl.

4. Finely grate the pressed tofu in a food processor and add it to the bowl of cooked vegetables along with the walnuts, soy sauce, mustard, sesame oil, tahini, pepper, and basil. Mix well and add more soy sauce to taste.

5. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil a baking sheet.

6. Using about a cup per burger, shape the mix into 8 burgers. Set the burgers on the prepared baking sheet and bake until firm and browned, 30 to 40 minutes.

More notes:

The burgers will be a little sturdier if you use bread crumbs, about 2⁄3 cup for this recipe, especially if the tofu you use is soft. Gluten-free bread and bread crumbs are available, so if you're avoiding wheat and gluten you have that option.

To freeze these burgers, simply wrap cooled, baked burgers in plastic wrap and put them in the freezer. To reheat, bake on an oiled baking sheet, right from the freezer, at 350°F for 20 to 30 minutes until heated through -- the time will depend on how fat your burgers are.

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The Barebones Porter: Cooler Than Cool

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The Barebones Porter: Cooler Than Cool

FIRELIGHT CAMPS, BAREBONES, ITHACA BEER, RUMPL, MOOSEWOOD and more... We've got the Labor Day essentials all bundled up, and now we're giving them away. It's a late summer dose of R&R:  2 nights at Firelight Camps (for two) — 2 Barebones travel coolers — 2 folding camp chairs with a case of beer and a growler stuffed with weekend tour vouchers from Ithaca Beer Co. — AND — one of Rumpl's limited edition blankets to keep you toasty while you're eating Firelight Camps' famous, s'mores.  Did we mention that the 2 Barebones Coolers are full of surprises too? 

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A Glamping Bridal Photo Shoot

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A Glamping Bridal Photo Shoot

With seven weddings at Firelight Camps this season, we're quickly become a wedding venue for brides seeking a laid-back and rustic yet elegant affair. We're honored to host so many happy occasions ... to infuse this place with love. The natural, outdoors setting makes it easy for friends and family to unplug from their busy lives and come together in celebration. However, the glamorous elements of "glamping" lend to keeping your heels on and dressing in high fashion - if that's what you're seeking. Alexandra Elise, of Rochester-based Alexandra Elise Photography, was inspired to merge forces with several neighboring companies to create this Bohemian wedding shoot on our grounds. Here's what Alexandra said about the experience, with a sneak peek of the shoot: 

Firelight boasts intimacy and community. From the glamorous tents with queen beds, living space, and a back deck overlooking the woods, it is the perfect hideaway with all of the comfort you could imagine.  After you sleep in and walk the trails out back, relax the rest of the night away with small bites and a glass of wine by the fire pit, cozy with lots of pillows and comfortable seating.  

Glamping has received a lot of excitement over the years and I am so happy that the Finger Lakes has a wonderful location in the heart of Ithaca.  When I first heard about Firelight Camps in Ithaca, I started to envision an amazing bridal styled shoot with other amazing vendors based out of Rochester, NY.  Together, we created a mood board that resulted in a bright, boho vibe with exotic florals, and bright silk wrap custom skirts.  

We started our shoot with an intimate tablescape off the back deck with gorgeous natural light illuminating the entire area.  Then we walked out back to the trails to continue our shoot in the lush greenery.  There is such a sense of calm at Firelight with the crackling of the fire and the birds chirping.  What better way to celebrate your wedding than at a glamping destination in the Finger Lakes where you can have your ceremony & reception right on-site-- minutes from Buttermilk Falls--  and also have your closest family and friends stay on site to continue the celebration!

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The following companies' products and services were featured in the shoot: Lovely Bride, silk wrap skirts and paper goods by Louelle Design Studio, flowers by Stacy K Floral, Special Occasion Hair & Design, Sunless 2 Go, china and glassware by Petunia Rose and Hank Parker Rentals.



 

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Simon Majumdar: Give Us A Bed I'll Cook You Dinner

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Simon Majumdar: Give Us A Bed I'll Cook You Dinner

When my friend Hillary saw Simon Majumdar speak about his #GiveUsABedI'llCookYouDinner tour, she immediately thought of Firelight Camps. "Why not give him a tent!" Of course I was immediately taken by the idea; a tent in exchange for a meal prepared by this world-traveling food-monger and Food Network celebrity cook? Yes please! Maybe I could ask him to cook over the fire...maybe I could even cook with him...!

Photo by Kristen Kellogg

What began as a simple trade, turned into a full-fledged fireside dinner prepared by the two of us for a full house of glampers. But that's not it! Leading up to the feast, I whisked Simon and his wonderful wife Sybil away on a culinary treasure hunt, picking up ingredients from some of my favorite producers in the Finger Lakes including The PiggeryGood Life Farm, Finger Lakes Cider House, Wide Awake Bakery, Lively Run Goat Dairy and Ports of New York. We were fortunate enough to have Kristen Kellogg of Border Free Travels join us and document the experience (check out her article on Glamping.com - Unplugged in Ithaca: Firelight Camps). 

In planning the dinner, it was important to me that we preserved the core experience of Firelight Camps: bringing people together around the campfire. We wanted the meal to be a vehicle for relishing the primal joy of living through food, stories and the great outdoors.

The setting was a casual affair. We lay sheets of butcher paper across picnic tables and grazing tables, serving as a picnic-friendly landing pad for heaps of Grilled Bread on which guests liberally spread Wild Violet & Lemon Butter, "Smoked" Bone Marrow Butter and Garlic Mustard Pesto. Pre-dinner nibbles were mostly private, with couples and groups of friends savoring their first bites and sips together. Dinner - the grand majority prepared right on the fire (see menu below) - was served buffet-style, and we noticed guests begin to mingle and share tables. Dessert was served quite literally around the fire pit. We baked three luxurious Strawberry and Black Currant Crisps in the coals, and dished out dollops straight from the steaming dutch ovens, bathing the toasted oat topping with heavy cream. Then came more dessert in the form of stories. A healthy crowd lingered on as the sun set and the coals turned to ash, listening to Simon's tales of travels gone awry and memorable meals abroad. 

From the moment I connected with Simon, I thought, "now this is a man who is grounded and humble, but full of life!" His passion for travel and food felt kindred to me, and in the course of dreaming up our feast, his sense of adventure proved true from visiting farmers to scraping the last of the crumble from the pot. Simon has a knack for connecting with people at a fundamental level, and makes those around him feel instantly comfortable and at home. He taught me more than a few tricks in the kitchen, in particular with how to prepare the sixteen pound pork belly into an outrageous crispy, wild herb stuffed porchetta. At the end of the night we stood back to take in the scene. "Now this is what it's all about," Simon said. "People gathering together to share food and stories." 

See Kristen Kellog's full photo album here.

 

 

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How To Throw A Glamping Party

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How To Throw A Glamping Party

By Emma Pure

Every year, we kick off our season with a glamp-orous bash, welcoming guests of the hotel and community members alike to join us around the campfire. Our intention is simple: to celebrate the wonderment of being outside and alive in our bodies. We express this in various ways: a pie carousel that spins with an array of homemade flavors, a firelighting ceremony, hot air balloon rides and whimsical face painting. Music is in order, and we try to host our favorite dance-worthy acts. This year we asked our Camp Host, Emma Pure (I know, amazing name, right?), to cover the event with her knack for writing and photography. Below is a taste of how we heralded the 2016 season.

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On the last night of May, Ithacans from all paths of life gathered under our twinkle lights to celebrate the successful beginning of the Firelight Camps 2016 season. The warm evening air was alive with excitement and summer joy, accompanied by good food, live music, and whimsical face paint- all locally sourced, of course!

The crowd danced to the funky tunes of the popular soul/R&B group, The Jeff Love Band, with local drinks in hand, served by camp hosts right at the bar in our bustling lobby tent. Locals mingled with our Firelight Camps guests, as well as the owners and camp staff, enjoying the lively music and hearty food as the sun began to sink behind the trees.

The line was long for homemade wood-fired pizza, served fresh with a variety of toppings, made by local duo and pizza extraordinaire, The Rusty Oven. The pizzas were delectably made, topped with fresh tomatoes, garlic, asparagus, chives, and radishes, to name a few. At Firelight we support all things local, and this event was a perfect blend of delicious goodies, music, and community all born right here in our beautiful Finger Lakes region. It only seemed fitting to be surrounded by local flavor as we celebrated our growing Firelight community, the sky turning to pink and purple, and the next phase of the night beginning.

As the sun sank lower in the sky, the music paused and people gathered around a few experts from Primitive Pursuits, a local nature education organization dedicated to teaching young people and adults necessary wilderness skills. Upon instruction from the skilled leaders, the crowd learned how to make a giant bow drill, a natural and ancient method used for starting fires.

This method usually can be done with one small bow drill made and used by one person, but for the purpose of this demonstration our friends from Primitive Pursuits brought out a large bow drill, which could only be operated by the teamwork of the crowd. With ten eager participants lined up holding the rope on either side of the giant bow, they began to push and pull against the wood, eventually creating enough friction for a tiny coal to be produced. Placed on a bundle of tinder and passed around the circle to be breathed into, the bundle became a flame that was placed into our stone fire pit and grew into a beautiful roaring fire. (Primitive Pursuits wilderness immersion programs are so aligned with what we do at Firelight Camps, that we donated 25% of our sales from the evening to support them!)

Local artist Ryan Curtis made guests feel radiant as he painted our faces and bodies with unique and mystical patterns, accompanied by incense and whispered words of wisdom. Ryan’s art symbolizes all that Firelight Camps encompasses, and having him be a part of this special night was just another magical touch to a beautiful evening.  

The event wrapped up as the last rays of light faded into a velvety blue and the stars began to dot the darkening sky. The fire continued to burn steadily as guests headed back to their warm tents and locals toted their sleepy toddlers and worn out dancing bodies to their cars. The fire light bounced off the lobby tent and the crickets began their nighttime song as everyone wound down from yet another successful and beautiful night at Firelight Camps. This was just the first of many Firelight Live Tuesdays, where people will come to gather around a crackling campfire, drink wine, roast s’mores and enjoy the simple pleasures of summertime in Ithaca. 

As a camp host at Firelight Camps this summer, I am feeling infinitely grateful to be part of a place that fosters such a joyous and loving community, surrounded by people who show nothing but support for all that is sustainable, beautiful, and local.  Cheers, to a summer filled with an abundance of these things! 

Visit us on Facebook for more pictures from our 2014 Inauguration Party and 2016 Opening Party.

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11 Questions with Simon Majumdar

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11 Questions with Simon Majumdar

You might recognize Simon Majumdar as a judge on some of the Food Network's most popular cooking shows, including Beat Bobby Flay, The Next Iron Chef and Cutthroat Kitchen. Well guess what ... as part of Simon's East Coast Tour - #GiveUsABedIllCookYouDinner - he and his wife are coming to stay in Ithaca, NY at Firelight Camps! On May 17th, Simon and Firelight's Co-Founder, Emma Frisch, will prepare a fireside dinner with Finger Lakes ingredients (you can book tickets here). In anticipation of Simon's arrival, we wanted to get to know a bit more about his fascinating culinary adventures and cooking chops. 

Can you tell me about your #GiveUsABedIllCookYouDinner campaign?

This is an ongoing journey that my wife and I add to every year, where we travel around the country and have people share their lives with us through their food experiences.  It was prompted by the nature of my travel for my most recent book Fed, White and Blue, where I attempted to discover what it means to become an American through the prism of its food.  It was such a powerful adventure that it seemed silly to stop it just because the book is now published.  We go wherever we are invited and cook meals in return for a place to lay our heads.  It has been an extraordinary adventure so far.

Have you ever been camping? How about glamping? 

I have only been camping on a couple of occasions.  Far too much like hard work for my liking.  Glamping, however is another matter.  I love it and can recall two or three experiences, the most recent being in Chilean Patagonia.

Can you describe the most spectacular outdoor meal you’ve cooked or eaten?

There are too many to select one, but on the promotional tour for Fed, White and Blue we found ourselves on a pig farm in Mississippi cooking with a couple of local chefs and we ended up having a wonderful time smoking catfish, roasting chickens and making cobblers all at the side of the most beautiful lake.  It turned into a dinner for about 30 people and lasted until the small hours.

What is your favorite dish to cook outdoors?

I don’t really think there is too much difference between cooking outside and inside, but being outdoors does tend to bring out the more primal elements in my character and I find myself drawn towards roasting large chunks of meat.  I love making porchetta on the grill or smoker.

What is the one piece of kitchen equipment you could not live without? 

My cast iron skillet and my knives.

Food Network Dish: Simon Majumdar Reveals the Mind of a Cutthroat Kitchen Judge (Source)

Food Network Dish: Simon Majumdar Reveals the Mind of a Cutthroat Kitchen Judge (Source)

I’m inspired that as self-taught chef you’re judging alongside some of America’s most accomplished, trained chefs on Next Iron Chef America, Extreme Chef, Beat Bobby Flay and Cutthroat Kitchen. The majority of the finalists on each show have also been through culinary school. How does being a self-taught chef give you a unique perspective?

Well, that’s a great question.  First of all, I never call myself a chef.  That’s a title that is earned by working the line, which I have never done for a living (although I have spent many, many hours in professional kitchens now alongside some of the most famous chefs in the world).  I am a good cook however, and if the following wind is good, I can be a great cook.  I think the reason the chefs I work with respect me is because of my inquisitive nature when it comes to matters culinary.  I am always on the road (I’ve visited over 70 countries and every state in the USA) and everywhere I visit my main way of exploring their culture is through their food.  That gives me a unique global perspective when I am judging their food, which I think the chefs appreciate.

You’ve just finished your book Fed, White & Blue (which by the way, draws chuckles every time I mention the title to someone new). In doing the research for this book, what was the biggest insight you gained about American cuisine? 

There are really two big insights I drew from my journey.  The first is that American Cuisine is very, very hard to define and is constantly changing.  It is so regional and has far more depth than what some of our international friends might think.  I also think that we are on the edge of a true golden age of American cuisine, fueled by the growth of craft products (cheese, beer, spirits) the spread of amazing food outside of the big cities and the influence of 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants who want to bring their heritage to bear on classic American flavors.

I love how you believe the best way to understand a person and a culture is through food. You've traveled the country and the world eating in people's homes, and often cooking for your hosts. What was one of the most interesting things you learned about food during a homestay?

What always amazes me about food is its ability to bring people of different races, religions and political persuasions together.  We may all be very different, sometimes to the point of getting into conflicts, but we all have to eat.  I have used food and our travels to give me the opportunity to meet people far removed from my own middle class, English, Church of England and very liberal outlook and found that in the end, when you break bread with people, you really are not that different.

At what age did you start cooking, and what first inspired you?

I first started cooking when I was 8 or 9 and have been cooking as often as possible ever since.  My sources of inspiration were my interesting heritage of being half Indian and half Welsh.

As a British mutt myself, I’m quite familiar with the negative connotation British food often carries. You also wrote the book Eating for Britain. What is the most important thing you want the world to know about British cuisine?

Most people who are critical about British food have either never been there or certainly not for a very long time.  The food scene in the UK is rather amazing right now and London would certainly be in the top five food cities in the world in my opinion (for the record, Madrid, New York, Tokyo and Mumbai would be the others).  I love to tell people about the history of British food and how it speaks to Britain’s past as a global superpower and a place that was tolerant of everybody.  Fish and chips, for example was created by fleeing immigrant Jews from Portugal (who knew how to fry fish in oil) and fleeing Huguenots from Belgium (who knew how to fry potatoes in horse fat).  Both groups settled in London and intermarried, the end result being Britain’s national dish.

Greasy fish and chips loaded with malt vinegar - that’s probably my favorite British staple. What’s your favorite British dish?

Not sure about the “greasy”, but yes, fish and chips would probably be my last meal, along with a proper pint of British bitter.

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The Gift of Mother Nature

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The Gift of Mother Nature

Mother Nature (noun): Mother Nature (sometimes known as MotherEarth or the Earth-Mother) is a common personification of nature that focuses on the life-giving and nurturing aspects of nature by embodying it, in the form of the mother.

Shortly before I became pregnant, I was sipping a cappuccino at Gimme! when a couple burst through the door feathered in scarves, hats and snowflakes. They plopped down next to me, shedding snow, and said, “We’ve been asking everyone today, ‘who is the most influential person in your life?'”

Without hesitation, I said “my mother."

They exclaimed, “See! Almost everyone says ‘my mother!'”

This was perspective-shifting for me. Despite being head-over-heels in love with my nephew, I had started to think that perhaps my energy would best be directed at the whole wide world instead of one little being. Like Mother Teresa, or the Dalai Lama. You know, truly altruistic, the mother of all. Well ok, my aspirations weren’t that lofty, but the notion of where to dedicate my energy was a serious consideration because children take up time, money and more! But the energy parents invest in their progeny – our future – is more focused, more genuine, more intentional and more fulfilling in spirit than nearly anything else in which we invest our energy. It is unrivaled, and influences us most because it's pure love. And that’s what the world needs.

It wasn't until I became a mother myself that I could fully understand my own mother's love for her children. There is nothing that can prepare you for the miracle of birth and the overwhelming love you feel - in all its early forms (fear, confusion, adoration, uncertainty, bliss). But I sure as hell spent my entire life trying to show my mother how much I loved her back with crayon cards and handmade gifts.

Me and my mamma, circa 1986. 

Me and my mamma, circa 1986. 

As I grew older, I began to understand that gifts, though well-intentioned, never sufficed. It was always the time we spent together that was the most rewarding gift - trips abroad, lunch dates, a weekend getaway. Now, as a mother, I wonder if this is because it was an opportunity for my mamma to continue getting to know the child she birthed: to see a new expression (like the first smile!) or learn something new about my career goals. After all, what could be more important than deepening our connection? 

I've also come to appreciate just how much work my mother put into raising her children. The Huffington Post recently published This Is Why Parents Are More Exhausted Than You Think They Should Be. The article gives a thorough explanation of just how hard it is to be a parent, and "career" isn't even mentioned on the list.

  • They never sleep through the night. Never. Ever. Again.
  • There is no downtime
  • There are no days off (even if you're sick)
  • Their brains are on overload
  • Sometimes they have to stay up until 2 a.m. binge-watching Netflix with their spouse. (Because that's the only "romantic" time together)
  • Stuff gets physical (Babies are not light!)
  • All the mother-loving cleaning!
  • Worries wear out their bodies

Of course, the joys of being a mother overpower the challenges, but living and breathing this list for the past four months has helped me realize another great gift for my mom: relaxation. Maybe she doesn't actually want to spend more time with me! Maybe, just maybe, she wants some quiet, peaceful time to herself or with her husband. 

Every year, Mother's Day rolls around and we face the same conundrum: what gift could possibly show our moms how much we appreciate them? Well, I'd like to think the gift of glamping might be it!  

And mamma, if you're reading this - I love you! - I'll see you around the campfire again this summer :).

Happy Mother's Day!

Emma

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The Secret Behind Our Perfect S'mores

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The Secret Behind Our Perfect S'mores

Photo by Allison Usavage

Have you ever made a marshmallow from scratch? Well let me tell you, it’s not easy. Actually, allow me to rephrase that. It’s not easy at first. The beginning of my homemade marshmallow adventure was an impossibly sticky mess of goo that refused to shape into uniform, bite-sized confections. But with a little bit of practice and a lot of will, I was soon roasting and devouring the perfect homemade marshmallow, and making hundreds for our guests to share in this campfire ecstasy. A homemade marshmallow is unlike any store-bought marshmallow. It is otherworldly.

When we pitched Firelight Camps in the fall of 2014, I was determined that any food we served would match the quality of our natural surroundings: beautiful, vibrant, fresh and unadulterated. I wove these values into our breakfast program, and then set to work ensuring their consistency in our budding line of Camp Store Provisions, beginning with our homemade s’more kits. After all, the quintessential American campfire experience is not complete without a s’more.

I love this picture of our friend Zainab digging into a s'more, with Gina right behind her! Photo by Allison Usavage

I love this picture of our friend Zainab digging into a s'more, with Gina right behind her! Photo by Allison Usavage

I tested batch after batch of marshmallows in my home kitchen. At first I refused to use corn syrup or gelatin, trying every sweet alternative available to mankind: brown rice syrup, honey, maple syrup, a combination of egg whites and organic cane sugar, and more. The final product was always divine in flavor, but couldn’t stand up to a licking flame. The marshmallows would melt fast, often escaping into the ashy abyss before landing on a graham cracker. The shelf life was also wobbly at best; the marshmallows would sweat in their packaging on scorching hot days and wrinkle like a prune in the cold. It was essential for me to create a recipe that would guarantee we could serve consistent s’more kits at camp while also producing the exaggerated puffy, torched effect we Americans have come to love from store-bought, Jet-Puffs.

Obviously, I'm pretty pumped about pumping out thousands of s'mores for our opening party in 2014, where we welcomed nearly 500 people - guests and community members alike! However, this was one of the early batches and they were terribly melty and drippy when roasted. Photo by Allison Usavage

Obviously, I'm pretty pumped about pumping out thousands of s'mores for our opening party in 2014, where we welcomed nearly 500 people - guests and community members alike! However, this was one of the early batches and they were terribly melty and drippy when roasted. Photo by Allison Usavage

You can see this first corn-syrup free version of our marshmallows melted easily in hot temperatures (campfire included!). Photo by Allison Usavage

You can see this first corn-syrup free version of our marshmallows melted easily in hot temperatures (campfire included!). Photo by Allison Usavage

One of Firelight Camp’s co-founder, Kyle Reardon, eventually tired of my crusade against corn syrup and dug up proof of its merits in marshmallow production. According to Wikipedia’s article on “Marshmallow”, French confectioners pioneered a version that called for a combination of gelatin and cornstarch to transform the sap of wild marshmallow root into a more conventional treat for the masses. Eventually, corn syrup replaced cornstarch, creating a widely accessible recipe. Moving into the modern scene, Louise Emerick unabashedly uses corn syrup in her YouTube video America’s Test Kitchen DIY Marshmallows. We can safely assume she tested her recipe to perfection. So, I caved, and tried again with corn syrup. After all, I was making candy.

The following round of trials yielded astounding improvements. My new marshmallows sliced into pillowy squares, held up to - and reveled in! - the campfire, and stayed perky and fresh in their packaging. My next challenge was to satisfy our guests’ growing s’more addiction.

When we first opened, my days were filled with umpteen other tasks before I could turn my attention to marshmallows and graham crackers. As a result, s’more production usually happened after midnight and into the wee hours of the morning. Forget burning the midnight oil … it was burnt out, and so was I! After our first season came to a close in late October, I set out to find a partner who could produce our s’more recipes with the same attention to quality.

My search was equally challenging. Apart from the fact that we were producing s’mores in small batches, most “co-packers” I met with couldn’t ensure where their ingredients came from. If we couldn’t use locally produced ingredients, it was important to me that we were using the next best option.

Then a thought dawned on me: why not ask Serendipity Catering? They were one of our preferred caterers to work with for weddings and events, and operated out of a kitchen not more than half a mile from camp. They were known for taking on the most exciting challenges when no one else would, for attracting the best chefs, and for sourcing local ingredients when possible. 

Serendipity took to the idea immediately and I sent along my recipes for their pastry chef, Benjamin, to experiment. Benjamin was trained at The Culinary Institute of America, which along with his natural intuition gave him a treasure trove of tricks for producing food on a large scale without sacrificing the finesse of handcrafted flavor. When it comes to s’mores, his combination of skills is essential.

Benjamin fires up a marshmallow for me to sample. Photo by Emma Frisch

Benjamin fires up a marshmallow for me to sample. Photo by Emma Frisch

Within a week I was back in their test kitchen, sampling an array of marshmallows torched on the spot. The graham crackers retained the same chewy, shortbread quality from the whole wheat pastry flour we use, produced by our local growers and millers at Farmer Ground Flour. Benjamin had improved them with a cracker roller, imprinting consistent dots to help the crackers rise evenly. His bittersweet chocolate squares were velvety and luxurious, thicker than a Hershey square and offering a wider surface for melting with the scorched marshmallow. We worked together over the next few weeks to refine the product, from flavor to size to packaging.

Photos by Emma Frisch

Photos by Emma Frisch

Photos by Emma Frisch

Photos by Emma Frisch

Photos by Emma Frisch

Photos by Emma Frisch

Chef's right: tasting the final product. Benjamin nails it with his marshmallow mustache. Photo by Emma Frisch

Chef's right: tasting the final product. Benjamin nails it with his marshmallow mustache. Photo by Emma Frisch

We opened in 2015 with our new s’mores, neatly packaged and ready to roast. Thousands of guests have since had the simple, indulgent pleasure of roasting one over the campfire in our outdoor lounge. On more than one occasion we’ve witnessed guests teaching s’more newcomers (usually from Canada, abroad or New York City) how to make the perfect dessert sandwich … this is nearly always accompanied with a debate on how to roast a marshmallow.

I ate so many s’mores last season that I welcomed this winter break, but as spring unfolds and we begin to pitch the camp again, I’m looking forward to many more excuses to sink my teeth into a s’more while swapping stories around the campfire.

How do you roast the perfect marshmallow? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

With sticky fingers <3

Emma 

Photo by Allison Usavage

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Entrepreneur of the Year

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Entrepreneur of the Year

Every year, the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce recognizes a local business for the Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and guess who won in 2016 ... ! Bobby Frisch, Co-Founder and CEO of Firelight Camps. The Chamber wrote:

"The Entrepreneur of the Year Award will be given to Bobby Frisch of Firelight Camps. Since being installed in early 2014, the glamp-site has become a regional attraction, and has earned accolades and commendation from numerous sources, including Vogue, The Wall Street Journal, WireMag, Self, and Martha Stewart. In addition, Firelight Camps is setting new business standards founded on eco-friendly practices. The business inherently preserves natural landscapes with off-the-grid tents and a low-input lobby centered around campfires."

Produced by Well Said Media

At our opening party in September 2014, I gifted Bobby our lobby sign, made by local Ithaca artist Ryan B. Curtis.

At our opening party in September 2014, I gifted Bobby our lobby sign, made by local Ithaca artist Ryan B. Curtis.

The winners are nominated by members of the chamber and the county community, and while I tried my best not to be biased, I had to put my own vote in for my husband, baby daddy, business partner, and one of the most inspiring people I know. Here's what I wrote for my nomination: 

"Not only is Firelight Camps purely novel as a national hotel concept, but it has also become a defining destination for Ithaca and the Finger Lakes region. In less than one year of operation, Firelight Camps has welcomed more than 3,000 visitors to its grounds. Robert Frisch's vision and ability to collaborate with community partners like La Tourelle has been an incredible asset to Firelight Camps' creation and the resulting regional attraction. In addition, Firelight Camps is setting new business standards founded on eco-friendly practices. The business inherently preserves natural landscapes with off-the-grid tents and a low-input lobby centered around campfires, while inviting people to explore and appreciate the natural world by sleeping under canvas and embarking on activities like wild foraging hikes. The hotel has employed more than 15 people since inception. Robert's decision to live in and start his business in Ithaca after completing his M.B.A. at Cornell University is another testament to his dedication to the region and the place he calls home. And perhaps more importantly, it reflects Robert's ability to recognize that we live in a cutting-edge place where cutting-edge ideas can take flight locally and make a national impact."

I am so proud of Bobby, and honored to be part of Firelight Camps as it takes flight! Last night, on January 28th, we celebrated along with three other winners at the Chamber Annual Dinner at Ithaca College, just down the street from Firelight Camps.

Bobby describing Firelight Camps to a group of guests. It's visually easy to describe the "tent" business!

Bobby describing Firelight Camps to a group of guests. It's visually easy to describe the "tent" business!

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Meet Ayla Fenella Frisch

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Meet Ayla Fenella Frisch

Firelight Camps Co-Founders Emma & Bobby Frisch welcomed the newest member of the Firelight Family and their first child - Ayla Fenella Frisch - on December 30th, 2015. (Name meaning included at the end of this post)

The hebrew spelling of Ayla (Eilah) means "oak tree," while the Turkish meaning for Ayla is "halo around the moon." The full meaning of Ayla and the significance in our lives - and hers! - is included at the end of this post. 

The hebrew spelling of Ayla (Eilah) means "oak tree," while the Turkish meaning for Ayla is "halo around the moon." The full meaning of Ayla and the significance in our lives - and hers! - is included at the end of this post. 

Our precious daughter - Ayla - is here, and I’m still grappling with words to describe the swell of love, devotion and adoration we feel for our little girl. After ten years together, and two hotels later, Bobby and I are starting a family. While the rigors of launching two hotels in two different countries united us in ways that were unfathomable, building a family is already proving far more profound.

I chuckled upon reading in La Leche League International’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, “Suddenly, with no previous parenting experience, you’re caring for a day-old baby! You may wonder how this can even be legal without some sort of advanced degree.” Well, we’ve quickly learned it takes a village of helpers, friends and family to raise a child; support feels essential, from nursing our baby to nourishing ourselves. But we’re also tuning in to the “biological system called parenting […] designed long ago to be accomplished by people who didn’t know how to read.” The bond between parent and child is an age-old, primal connection that surpasses any book, resource or piece of advice. It’s deeply engrained in our constitution.

This new chapter for Bobby and me has shed light on the invaluable space we’ve created at Firelight Camps for families to flock to the woods and the campfire to simply be together. In truth, when we envisioned Firelight Camps we thought the grand majority of our guests would be couples on a romantic getaway. But with our first and second press release, we had a flood of family bloggers ask to try out the experience with their families. During our first two seasons, we welcomed a steady flow of multi-generational family gatherings and reunions. Our youngest guest to date was just shy of six months old! I have two theories on why Firelight Camps can offer families a place to spend genuine time connecting with each other.

Photo by Allison Usavage: Three months pregnant in June, walking the trails at Firelight.

Photo by Andy Noyes: Seven months pregnant in October, right before the tents came down for the season.

Photo by Sarah Clapp: A week before Ayla was born, on the trails of the Mulholland Wildflower Preserve.

Foremost, being in the natural world helps shift the emphasis from modern amenities and distractions (like TVs and iPhones) to the present moment. Marino Bambinos wrote in her article Family Camping at Firelight Camps, "We didn’t realize how badly we needed a family escape – disconnected out in nature – until we were in the midst of it." When a hawk dives overhead in pursuit of the seagull that’s wandered from Cayuga’s shores, everyone stops to watch, and then recapture the saga. When hikers stumble upon a pregnant patch of black cap raspberries, it becomes a sweet feeding frenzy of collecting and sharing plump berries. When the rain beats down on the canvas, it calls for congregating in the lobby over a rowdy game of Scrabble and stiff drinks for the adults. Or in broad sunshine, the bocce ball court becomes the source of weekend-long competitions. The New York Mom described our tents as from a "story book," and wrote in Family Travel - Glamping with Firelight Camps, "The lack of electricity in the tents was pretty magical. After all this IS …you know… camping. This lack of techy distractions allowed all of us to truly stop everything and just be with each other and laugh and tell scary stories. The pitch back cold evening was spent chatting and playing games in remote control LED flickering candle-light and little lanterns." 

Yes, we have cell service and Wi-Fi, but being in the outdoors has a natural way of calling people's attention to what’s before them. We’ve seen this time and time again, often marveling at guests who leave their phones charging in the lobby while they hit the trails or go into town for a bite. (Aren’t iPhones supposed to be a modern-day extension of the human body?!) Living in the moment allows us to open our minds and hearts to conversation (or quietude) with the people we love, and we nearly always find this transpiring around the campfire.

Photo by my amazing twin sister, Dimity Palmer-Smith, who met Ayla within thirty minutes after she was born and kept us well fed with good food in the first few days of her life.

Second, Firelight Camps can offer the wonderment of being outdoors without the fuss and hassle of orchestrating a camping trip. We live in an era where families branch out to live in different places, and lead independent, busy lives. As one of eight siblings stretched across states (and sometimes continents) with divorced and remarried parents, I’ve watched my mamma and papa nearly tear their hair out trying to coordinate the logistics of a holiday meal, let alone plan a family trip. The nature of “glamping” makes a quality camping trip easy: show up and relax! We have everything you need on site. However, even with breakfast, a full-service bar, a renovated bath house and other comforts, families do not have to sacrifice the sense of nature-bound adventure and unplugged family time that they would experience on a more rustic camping excursion.  Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom wrote in Camping vs. Glamping, "it’s perfect for a family like ours who is looking to break out of the [hotel] suite life and get back to nature without having to sleep on the ground… or use a solar shower." Her teen, who is known to say "Ugh, nature… it’s all over me!” reportedly asked to hike on our backyard trails of Buttermilk Falls and even got over the lack of electricity! 

When we created Firelight Camps, Bobby and I knew that the campfire would be the heart of the hotel, symbolizing a space to forge deep connections with oneself, one’s company and the natural world. But we could not have fathomed how important this would be to our guests, let alone our own family. These first couple weeks with Ayla have been magical. Every day we fall more in love and every day we become more enlightened about the importance of being together. We feel grateful that Ayla will grow up around the campfire, sharing the timeless glow of warmth and light with us and so many other families.  

A beautiful moment in the sunlight, captured by my wonderful step-mother-in-law, Alice Makl.

A beautiful moment in the sunlight, captured by my wonderful step-mother-in-law, Alice Makl.


AYLA, pronounced A-LUH, has several meanings that resonated with us and her arrival in the world. In Turkish, Ayla means "halo of light around the moon" or more concisely in Persian, "moonshine." Ayla arrived around the winter solstice, when the moon reigns the sky on long nights. On Christmas eve, five days before her birth, my younger sister saw a crystal clear halo circling the bright full moon above La Tourelle and our hibernating Firelight Camps. 

The Hebrew spelling, EILAH, means "oak tree," which has been a powerful symbol in my life and my relationship with Bobby. It is the Connecticut state tree, and iconic for my sisters and I - so much so that we took turns holding each other's hands while we had the same, small oak leaf tattooed on our bodies. 

The oak tree's fruit, the acorn, represents fertility, potential and strength. When Bobby and I left college (where we'd met) we went separate ways: he to the Peace Corps in Nicaragua and I went to do Fulbright research in Ecuador. Bobby gave me the top cap of an acorn, keeping the nut and promising to put them back together when we finished our stints abroad. When he proposed seven years later, the acorn was in the engagement box. 

Ayla is also the powerful, bad-ass protagonist in Jean M. Auel's Earth's Children book series. She is a wild foraging goddess and medicine woman who survives off the land, tames a Cave Lion and invents the spear thrower. Bobby and I tore through this series during my pregnancy.

And finally, we happen to love the harmonic, earth-inspired melodies of Ayla Nereo, and some of them will be our little Ayla's first lullabies. 

Fenella is my mamma's name. She is fearless, inspiring, graceful and unconditionally loving, and I hope to follow her lead as Ayla's mamma!


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Winter Solstice: The Return of Warmth & Light

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Winter Solstice: The Return of Warmth & Light

Today began with buckets of rain cascading down the steep slope of our street in Ithaca. It didn't have quite the same melody as last spring's thunderstorms, pounding on the canvas overhead in our lobby tent. At this time of year we are well into our off-season hibernation (a.k.a. working from home), and while cozy with holiday cheer, the woods still pull me into their fold. Rain or shine, I have taken to walking in the trails behind our house when the morning sun finally shows her face. Though my Wild Foraging Hikes don't have the same promise of fruit, the thorny, periwinkle stems of late summer's black cap raspberries still burst from the muddied foliage and rain-washed moss. They are a site to behold.

Today is the Winter Solstice, the promise of warmth and light returning to a cold, dark world as the days stretch into night again. Deena Wade wrote in Mother Earth Living, "Creating a meaningful celebration of winter solstice, either in place of or in addition to other holiday activities, can help us cultivate a deeper connection to nature and family and all the things that matter most to us." Winter Solstice is a universal celebration of light; it's no coincidence that Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and other religious holidays take place this time of year. But Winter Solstice rarely sees the same attention. And so sometimes, Mother Nature demands it.

This early afternoon, as if on cue, the sun suddenly flooded my kitchen. The rain had completely vanished and blue skies framed the bare maples outside the window. I felt a mad, primal dash to be outside, echoed by my friend Katie who scooped me up on foot en route to the trail. She shared a story with me from COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, where world leaders recently converged to discuss how we could unite around our planet's health for present and future generations.

Naomi Klein, an award-winning journalist and climate change advocate, reported from the heart of COP21 that the people's slogan was "we are nature defending itself." This awareness that humankind is not responsible for defending nature, but actually part of the system that needs defending, seems so simple ... and yet, in our modern world, reminders are essential.  The solstice is one such opportunity to tune in. We are the woods around us. We are the food we eat. We are the glowing embers. We are nature. 

So today, as the sun returns to our wintry corner of the world, I am feeling grateful for living in the Finger Lakes - a region ripe with abundance; for living in a community that supports the eco-inspired projects of dreamers like me and Bobby; for the nature-curious or already-devoted visitors we've welcomed into our tents this past year; for the butter-bathed sweet potatoes on my plate; for the clean water in my cup; for the red-tailed hawk that circled above today; and especially, for being one day closer to the return of our ever-burning campfires!

Happy Solstice!

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The 3 Best Camping Recipes With A Camp Stove

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The 3 Best Camping Recipes With A Camp Stove

A variation of this blog and recipes were originally published at emmafrisch.com when Firelight Camps opened in 2014.

When Firelight Camps sprung to life in early September, I found myself playing with fire more often than my computer keys. My blog suffered, but my belly did not, nor did those of our glamorous campers (more affectionately called “glampers”). Working with fire as a primary source of heat for cooking required more preparation and attention than the snappy stovetop recipes I’d become accustomed to making in my home kitchen. I discovered that fire needs time to grow and collapse into steady-burning embers, creating a scalding haystack to bury foil-wrapped potatoes or crown with a grill grate for roasting peppers. There was a primal romanticism in tending to a bubbling stew suspended in a cast iron pot over flames, with little concern for time, but the ample company of new and old friends around the fire ring. The sing-song-snap-crackle-pop of morning eggs and bacon was elevated with the smoky flavor that lingered on my tongue and in the fibers of my sweater until dinnertime. I had no qualms admitting that Campfire was my new perfume.

But I’ll confess that when my friend Will put me in touch with his pal Jonathan Cedar at BioLite, a camping stove company I’d admired from afar, I began to daydream about quicker outdoor culinary possibilities that wouldn’t sacrifice the very ingredient I’d grown to love: wood-burning fire. As a former outdoor guide, and long-time backpacker and rock climber, I had used my fair share of comping stoves. Nearly all of them relied on gas.

Biolite is unique in its approach. The founders set out to create a stove that made cooking with wood and other natural resources, like leaves and twigs, clean and safe. In rural areas of other countries, ingesting smoke from wood-burning stoves was found to be a main source of illness and death. BioLite took their model one step further by finding a way to harness their stove’s latent heat – energy that is lost to the ether – for charing phones, batteries and other technology.

In a flurry of emails with BioLite’s team, we got excited about creating new recipes with a BioLite stove. The CampStove Bundle arrived at my house within days, and I quickly set up my outdoor kitchen on the grounds of Firelight Camps. At home, I had packed the ingredients I needed so that it would require little effort to whip up a meal once I got the stove burning. I’d learned that outdoor cooking always requires preparation so that you can look forward to a gorgeous, nourishing and hearty food that can be made before the sun goes down.

I set out to make the following menu with my BioLite stove, and hope you’ll try making these recipes on your next outdoor adventure.

Get the recipe: Grilled Pumpkin with Goat Cheese & Lemon Zest

Get the recipe: Mushroom & Leek Quinoa Risotto

Get the recipe: Aztec Hot Chocolate with Mini Marshmallows


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The Art of Farm-to-Fireside Entertaining

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The Art of Farm-to-Fireside Entertaining

A variation of this blog was originally published on emmafrisch.com, in collaboration with the Martha Stewart blog.

For those of you who have come to know me well, you may have picked up on my voracious appetite for two things in particular: farm-fresh food and adventure. I’ve been satisfying my appetite for the first by way of a beautiful partnership with Early Morning Farm, making cooking videos in the farm kitchen with Tracy McEvilly. (Tracy delivers outstanding weekly recipes and blog posts to over 2,000 CSA members in Upstate NY.) In each video we feature a freshly harvested ingredient and a variety of ways to prepare it.

I’ve been feeding my adventurous streak with a growing obsession for fireside cooking at Firelight Camps. No traditional kitchen, no stovetop, no pantry stocked with go-to ingredients, no arsenal of tools. Just me, the forest’s symphony and a campfire of flames waiting to lick whatever food I lay over them. I’m curious – excited! – about returning to a more primal way of eating and learning how to read the heat in a whole new dimension.

So you can imagine my delight when Tracy introduced me to Alisa, the artist behind American Skillet Company. These two power-women met at an art festival where Alisa was showcasing her State Shaped Pans (yes, cast iron skillets outlining Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and New York!). Tracy and I got giddy … like, really giddy … over the prospect of making a 100% NY-made meal over the campfire in the NY skillet. And so, this meal was born.

Starting with farm-fresh produce from Early Morning Farm, we created a “Grilled Escarole Salad with Chevré and Smoked Cherry Sauce” (recipe here). The main ingredient is smoke, which infuses and unites everything on the plate. But the other flavors emerge too: the perky bitterness of the escarole tempered by the creamy chevré; the grilled lemons draw out the chevré’s bright acidity, and the grilled spring onions with crispy roots attached add a caramelized base to chop into the dish. The buttery, toasted walnuts are made to dance with the Smoked Cherry Sauce. (We scraped every last drop from the NY Shaped Pan with a fresh loaf of bread.)

Apart from the lemons and walnuts (which were too good to pass up), we used 100% NY ingredients to compliment our Early Morning Farm harvest, including Lively Run Goat Dairy chevré, Finger Lakes Distilling cherry liqueur, F. Oliver’s balsamic vinegar, Kriemhild’s meadow butter.

We served our final dish to two lucky guests staying at Firelight Camps, and the result was a resounding success. In part, because it’s near impossible to let a fireside meal go unappreciated. It takes gusto to prepare, shoveling burning coals onto roots and shifting searing hot pans around on the flames as they shift with the wind. There are few settings more romantic to eat than under a canopy of stars with the music set to birdsong and a crackling campfire to warm the soul. But ultimately, it is the quality of the ingredients and the cooking vessel that make a meal go down in memory.

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I Belize I Can Fly

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I Belize I Can Fly

I first published a version of this article I Belize I Can Fly on Raxa Collective, when I was an MBA student at the Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management (2012).

The tiny islands or “cayes” off the coast of Belize sit in the middle of beautifully serene coral atolls and are surrounded by the world’s second largest barrier reef.  Like shallow lakes in the middle of the ocean, the atolls host several UNESCO world heritage sites and some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the world.  My team, consisting of three Johnson  students and an MPA student from the Cornell Institute of Public Affairs, found itself tasked with providing consulting services and business advice for the owners of one of these cayes in what turned out to be the most unique spring break of my life.

As part of the SGE immersion at Johnson, students are paired into groups of four and are assigned a sustainability related consulting project with a company. From development work in Ghana, to an entrepreneurial renewable energy technology in the USA, to a large cosmetics firm based in Asia, the projects vary widely across industries and geographic location.  Due to my interest and background in hospitality and eco-tourism (see my hotel in Nicaragua here!), I was assigned to a small family owned company with land holdings in Belize.

All of the participating client organizations flew into Ithaca at the beginning of the semester for a few days of meetings and socializing.  We learned the background of our company, what sort of challenges they were facing, their goals and growth plan, as well as their personal stories as managers.  They have been selling plots of land to people interested in building vacation homes or opening small businesses, and there is currently a bed and breakfast and scuba-diving operator on the island.  The family has set up strict eco-guidelines for chemical use and building codes in order to protect the mangrove and coral reef ecosystems in the area. The clients needed help with their long-term strategic vision and were in need of a concrete implementation plan that could align their current actions with their goals.  My team boiled down the main question we were after as: “How can the company generate long term revenues from a finite resource while remaining in line with their eco-guidelines?”

Weeks of research on land development, eco-tourism, the Central American business climate, and many a conference call now behind us; the project is still a work in progress.  We are developing financial models that analyze leasing opportunities and supplemental land services, and we are developing forecasts for a planned eco-lodge and restaurant.  We will also deliver market data that will provide focus for the eco-lodge, and provide recommendations on implementation schedules. We are working towards a final report and presentation to our clients at the end of the semester, and have gained new enthusiasm and clarity on the project after our visit to Belize.  As the owners had repeatedly told us, “you just won’t get it until your feet are in the sand”.  They were right.

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Advice For Peace Corps Hopefuls And The Creation Of A Hotel

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Advice For Peace Corps Hopefuls And The Creation Of A Hotel

I wrote a version of this article Advice For Peace Corps Hopefuls And The Creation Of A Hotel on Raxa Collective when I was operating my hotel, La Buena Onda, in Matagalpa, Nicaragua (2012).

My Peace Corps location: Matagalpa, Nicaragua

My Peace Corps location: Matagalpa, Nicaragua

As a former Peace Corps volunteer, it is not a rare occasion that I come across an eager undergraduate looking for some guidance on the decision of whether or not to join the organization.  I also receive many requests for tips on how to make the most out of the two-year volunteer program.  Over the years, I’ve narrowed down my responses to three main categories:

  1. You have to make the experience your own; don’t expect the organization to provide much structure.  If you are a self-starter, if you can make meaningful connections and create projects that you are passionate about, then you will likely have a great time.

  2. Don’t expect to change the world, nor should you.  Do expect to have your own horizons and views changed.

  3. Don’t be surprised if you decide that you don’t want work to in development afterward! My father always told me that it is also very valuable to know what you DON’T want to do!

For me, as I approached the end of my Peace Corps service, I reflected on the years I spent advocating entrepreneurship and realized my growing dissatisfaction with traditional models for poverty alleviation. I supported rural women through a microfinance NGO, and I taught a business course to high school students to inspire entrepreneurship from an early age. Though I witnessed some inspiring success stories from my work in the development sector, I also noticed considerable problems with disjointed incentives and with inefficiencies.

A conversation with a local entrepreneur opened my eyes to a different approach.  Harm van Oudenhoven had worked in the international development field for many years, and had also found himself doubting traditional development models.  He explained the role that small, for-profit enterprises like his artisanal chocolate factory can play towards helping the economy of small communities such as Matagalpa, Nicaragua. A profit-oriented business did not have to spend precious time and energy seeking funding or debating methodology.  An entrepreneur could also choose to be conscious of his or her “triple bottom line,” and take steps to ensure both social and environmental sustainability.  Harm also explained to me how a foreign investor like himself could have a responsible exit strategy by partnering with local entrepreneurs.

Unable to ignore my entrepreneurial itch any longer, I decided to create my own business in Nicaragua: Hostel and Restaurant La Buena Onda.

The business is profit driven; yet it is founded on the mission of supporting responsible travel in northern Nicaragua.  La Buena Onda provides a post-graduate opportunity for the increasingly educated local workforce, and offers continued education to its employees through English classes and Internet tutorials.  The company sets an example through its use of local building materials, recycling, and low energy consumption. La Buena Onda is creating a new market for local producers of soaps, handicrafts and organic produce.  The company also serves as an incubator for other responsible tourism initiatives, and is currently supporting the development of a local tour operator. The Nicaraguan tourism industry is in its formative stages, and we are helping to steer it in a direction that can preserve cultures, protect eco-systems, and generate much needed income for isolated communities.  

The greatest things to come out of my Peace Corps experience were the life-long relationships I formed during my service, and the chance I was given to create a truly lasting impact in the community through the creation of this business.  I did not want to be just another volunteer come and gone.

I could have never known all of this before I joined the Peace Corps – so if you are considering it, go for it!

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