Most magazines host a food issue, so why not the camper chick? While seeking out the next campsite, there is always one eye on my food bin. To keep supplies at a comfortable level, there have been farmers markets, fruit stands, and small grocery stores. I stroll aisles of most markets like some navigate a museum—standing back to admire the display, drawing nearer to note the subtleties, like the greens arranged at the Portland Farmers Market. That market is akin to a tour of the Louvre in Paris. People crowd the stalls, the sent of mushrooms sautéing teases me while tortillas sizzling on grills halt my steps. And that is all before the bread and baked goods. The atmosphere and offerings combine to make me circle back around and then circle again. You could say I’m a little food obsessed. I read cookbooks like novels as I wonder where the ingredients will take me next. I am the one to drive an extra dozen or so miles to get my hands on a slice of pinto bean pie from the small town of Bicknell, Utah, and to take a diversion from course to seek a noted Arizona diner just so I can saddle up to the bar with the cowboys.
As for campsite cooking, I have kept it simple. For all the ingredients I will try out at home, on the road gastronomic opulence can have a succinct review. Sometimes there are green beans, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli. Other times it’s green beans, cherry tomatoes, and kale. And, when I feel real adventuresome it is green beans, cherry tomatoes, and beats. You sense a theme? Yes, I have grown to rely on two staples: green beans and cherry tomatoes. They are the perfect travel foods. They have saved me from road food snacking excess. I feared I would become one big chip bag and my hips would barely fit through the Subaru door frame, but green beans, hiking, and simple living have seemed to keep the hip expanse in check. Green beans win in the favored snack category: healthy, crunchy, and clean. I could go through a pound in two days. Sometimes, I even wash them.
While my friends Lisa and Nancy impressed me last summer with a fire to grill black bean burgers for dinner and provided eggs and hot coffee in the morning, I have used an open fire for cooking only once. Nancy also used an ax for the fire. A tool I have decidedly shied away from—I don’t think my bandaids are large enough for a self-inflicted wound. Simplicity does not means dull. Cooking remains about flavor and healthfulness. There have been herbs and curious sauces with inventive combinations, but then again there has also been seared toast. A comfort campsite consumption: olive oil spread on bread and heated in my thin cookware until crispy. So thin, that the pan is now toast.
Being one of those folks who unabashedly contributes to the food porn industry, I have taken photos of many meals. I do not believe recipes will be necessary for the meals I can offer for your next camping expedition, but feel free to inquire. The cooking begins with two staples: Olive Oil and Garlic, from which all meals find their basis and substances. Add in the garnered vegetable of the day: broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, or kale and add in the green beans and cherry tomatoes. The ladder adds juice and contrasting color (yes, even while camping, presentation should be a must.) Brown rice or thin noodles set to boil, using just enough water in the noodles to boil down and provide broth as needed. Then combine to heat up the vegetables, toss on some greens—kale or spinach—offer in choice condiments: lemon pepper, herbs de provence, ginger, hot pepper flakes.
At the Fort Collins Farmers Market I scored a Asian style mixture of herbs called Green Goddess that has added a nice zing to my vegetables. In Utah, the salsa from roadside stand held up in the cool desert evenings (Refrigeration is overrated). The tangy tomato had a good punch and offered the basis for several meals, including a spread for a kale and almond butter sandwich. You did read that correctly. I recall it being quite tasty.
Typical breakfast meant oatmeal or fruit. But I had to branch out. My friend Donna not only exclaimed the virtues of powdered eggs but graciously supplied me with a bag before I left. A yoga friend, Mark, raises chickens and was frankly appalled that I would stoop to powdered eggs. I kept waiting to try to the eggs. Perhaps something to do with seemingly extra effort on cold mornings or perhaps I was a little intimidated. I mean this wasn’t just sautéing veggies. It meant measuring, stirring, and then dealing with dirty dishes. A banana can be a seductive alternative in the early morning.
The morning I fixed the eggs, I had a helper…one of those serendipity moments in the universe when I thought how nice it will be be to see friends back home, and then one dropped by at a National Park. That’s what happened when Hap from yoga class came through. Little did he know he’d have to participate in the Ovaeasy Egg experiment. With the first bite came the first thought: Why did I wait so long? Dang, Donna…powdered eggs are dandy! (Sorry Mark!) Hap’s comment cut to the essence of the scrambled egg: “They’re hot.”
While Bon Appétit may never seek me out for their “Creative Campsite Cooking” issue, I did feel rather accomplished the night I desired an almond butter sandwich, but I had no bread. I had carrot juice. (Hang on, there might be a connection). After a boil of noodles and the addition of—you guessed it—green beans and tomatoes, I made a sauce of carrot juice, almond butter, and I think I tossed in some fresh ginger and lemon, because who amongst us campers does not take along fresh ginger and lemon?
Gracious friends have opened their doors to me during this trip and I try to repay them by cooking. They think I might be showing kindness. Actually, the favor is to me as I enjoy more than one burner and multiple pans and utensils. Getting back to my kitchen will be a treat, but living out of one pot meals, well, I think there is brilliance in that. That and the view from the picnic table. I may not use an ax at the campsite, but I know my way around chopping some green beans and tomatoes.