It’s been a while since I’ve last updated — the last few weeks have been busy with going out of town, starting a new job, and, oh yeah, that triathlon I think I’ve mentioned before.
But thanks to Irene my plans this weekend vanished and I’ve been holed up inside, watching movies, sipping tea, knitting and making a pot of soup. So before the power goes out, I better get a few blog entries in!
I think this dreary day is also an apt time to reminisce about my recent camping trip in the Sierra Nevada, where the weather was just about perfect and the scenery beyond words. Mr. R and I camp several times a year, mostly staying locally though every couple years traveling somewhere distant.
And while there is no experience quite like waking up under the stars, I will say I’m not the most hardcore outdoorswoman I know. There are just certain amenities I’m not willing to give up — for example, running water. And of course: FOOD!
Nope, you will never find anything freeze-dried in my camping pantry. One of the most satisfying things to me in life is returning to my campsite after a day of hiking, cycling, kayaking, or whatever, to cook a huge meal over the fire. There’s a certain rewarding feeling of authenticity to know you took some raw ingredients and concocted something delicious without the aid of electricity. I LOVE it!
Perhaps our most ambitious meal was the time we steamed lobster over our camping stove while in Acadia National Park:
But that was an exceptional example . Usually we stick to simple veggie dishes that can be easily assembled and prepared. Here are a few recent ideas:
If you are going away for a weekend, one thing I like to do is make a couple easily transportable dishes that can be made ahead. My favorite thing to bring is tamales. These are the perfect camping food. I mean, they are designed to be portable! They keep well and can be thrown into your pack for a snack or lunch on the trails. And they are delicious.
I know I need to devote an entire post to this, but for now, I’ll just point you in the direction of Alton Brown’s episode dedicated to tamales. He doesn’t have a recipe for a vegetarian filling, but in short, I make a simple mixture of black beans, peppers, onions, chili seasoning, and cheese, all sort of mashed up together. You can leave out the cheese if you don’t want to worry about refrigeration, but I’ll admit I’m personally not super anal about that.
Simple salads, pasta dishes, and other sides can also be made ahead. Another idea would be to bring a frozen meal — soup, for example –which serves double duty as an icepack for your cooler as well as lunch or dinner. Great way to clean out your freezer!
Really all you need is some firewood, foil, and some sort of implement to lift your food out of the hot coals to cook a great meal at your campsite. But too many times I have arrived to find rainy conditions, wet or unseasoned wood, or otherwise been able to properly start a fire that is good enough to cook on. Also, boiling water over the fire takes freaking forever, which is not acceptable to me when I wake up and need my coffee! So it’s good to have a backup: we have this stove and this one. The first is a good all-purpose stove for car camping, the second is super easy to use and awesome for trips where you want to pack lighter, or for boiling water for coffee, soup, etc.
I also have this set of cookware and it is awesome, if a little pricey. If you have the space, a small cast iron skillet is also great to bring along for cooking directly over the fire. A small spatula, knife, and serving dishes are also necessary.
I’m sure my fellow former girl scouts are familiar with the foil cooking method. You can cook just about anything in this way. Mr. R will usually prepare some chicken in a foil packet, whereas I cook myself some veggies. It really couldn’t be easier!
Start your fire and while it is burning down, chop your ingredients and prepare the foil packets.
Pull out a piece of foil and coat generously with a stick of butter. Layer on your ingredients, season and roll up the edges to seal.
Make sure your fire has some nice hot, but not flaming, coals. Lay your foil packets directly on the coals. If your fire ring has a nice grate, it might be easier to use that instead.
Use both this method and your camp stove to pull together an entire meal! For breakfast, I will scramble some eggs in a pan on the stove, and in a packet cook some potatoes. For dinner, make an easy pasta primavera by combining your fire-roasted veggies with some pasta, seasonings, cheese and a splash of wine or vinegar. A veggie burger or a can of legumes adds some easy protein — wrap the beans with the veggies up in a tortilla and you have a burrito! Throw that filled tortilla over the grill for a moment and you’ve got a quesadilla. The possibilities are endless!
Here is the pasta primavera and grilled corn I enjoyed while watching the sunset over the San Joaquin Valley while camping in Sequoia National Park:
Cooking over the fire is a labor of love, but that is truly what makes it more worthwhile. These dishes are simple, but enjoyed en plein air, they are just strangely more satisfying than anything I’ve ever cooked in my kitchen. I hope to get out and camp again this fall to enjoy the colors. Until then, I’m stuck indoors, waiting out the hurricane, but in my mind, I’m enjoying the great outdoors!