Camping Season - Meals, Menus, and More...
Our camping this year will be much reduced from last season, sadly. We are travelling to Sunny California over the week of Memorial Day to attend the High School graduation of PreacherMan's eldest, and MotorcycleMan's youngest. Let me tell you how thrilled I am to be taking a car trip with my 5, 3 and 1 year old! Seriously. I actually am! I have fun memories of road trips - the license plate game, reading books, coloring, playing with my Darcy doll, we even had some handheld, battery operated games (nothing like the PSPs of today, but still...). It was fun to spend the time with my brothers, enjoying eating picnics at rest areas, sleeping in a hotel or motel, camping part of the time, making friends with total strangers that happened to be related to me distantly...sigh...But, I digress.
We researched camping along the way for this trip, flying, renting a vehicle, all sorts of options. Flying and renting a vehicle was OUT of the question - tickets alone spiked to over $3000...just not happening. I have mixed emotions - it's nice to wake up one morning in Colorado, and go to bed that same night in California or Oregon, or wherever. But, when we're trying to curtail spending, well that means unless we happen to have several thousand dollars just laying around an account, not earmarked for college, retirement, or home improvements/emergencies...you see what happens.
As we'll be driving to California and staying in hotels along the way (it only saved us $200 to haul our trailer, and with the rapidly rising cost of gas, plus driving in the Bay Area? HA!), I already decided that we'll be taking our coolers, packed with goodies to sustain us the first day, and part of the 2nd (at least snacks).
For these types of trips, I tend to pack easy to handle, not so sticky items:
- granola bars, cookies, brownies, Goldfish crackers, pretzels
- Fruit Snacks and/or Dried Fruit, bananas, Clementines for the kids, oranges, frozen grapes
- cheese sticks, jerky
- carrot and celery sticks, broccoli, cherry or grape tomatoes
Those are my stand-by items for fillers. We snack on those, or have them with our lunch and dinner, sometimes breakfast. I would normally also toss in a box of instant oatmeal so we could just heat water in the in-room microwave and eat our breakfast at oh-dark-thirty in the Styrofoam coffee cups. This time, we're staying at places that include free breakfast, because nothing starts a good day of driving 1000+ miles like sugar-laden pastries, gnarly fruit, questionable juices, and lousy coffee. Ok, I'll still throw that box of oatmeal in!
For meals this time around, we'll be travelling with several pre-made sandwiches of ham, turkey, and cheese for Day 1 Lunch. I may get really fancy this time around and make up some fried chicken for us to enjoy cold around dinner-time, but we'll see what BB's feelings on that one are - he may want to sit down in a restaurant and eat something freshly made for him. Day 2 Lunch will consist of PB&J - I'll bring a jar of jelly, a loaf of bread, and the container of fresh peanut butter. I might even make up a batch of hummus for Littlest One and I to share and save the PB&J for BB and the big kids...hmmmmm...
When we camp, we rotate between a location with full hook-ups for the trailer, which allows me to have my refrigerator, my microwave oven, and an inside 3-burner range. We also have a 2-burner Coleman stove, and a small Weber BBQ grill, plus whatever racks are in the fire pit at our site. Sometimes, we camp with no hook-ups, and sometimes "just" water and electric. The only difference between full and "just" is whether or not we have to be careful with how much water we let go down the drain in the sinks or "shower", and whether or not we have to stop on the way home to dump our black water tank, or do it before everything gets fully put away and packed up.
On trips where I have electricity and can keep things fridge-cold, I will cook like I do at home:
- fajitas with all the fixings (I use a mix from HomeMade Gourmet called Season & Steam Fajitas, which I think is now called "Simply Simmer"...regardless - tasty, crazy easy - it cooks in the bag with the seasonings in my microwave) because I can safely keep sour cream and cheese cold enough.
- Skillet Chicken & Biscuits (think chicken and dumplings meets chicken pot pie all on your stovetop in a 12-inch skillet) with salad, or fruit, since there's veggies in the main dish
- HomeMade Gourmet also has some DELECTABLE pasta salads that you can bulk up with cooked, diced/shredded chicken - a Cranberry Almond, an amazing Mediterranean that uses cucumber, fresh tomato, and black olives - I make these ahead so I don't use up energy trying to chill freshly boiled noodles in my tiny fridge
- we do light lunches of sandwiches, fruit, chips (the rare time when we eat them is camping!), cookies, some baby carrots and celery sticks.
- the old stand-by of burgers and dogs (again, because I can keep the pre-made patties frozen til we're ready to cook), baked beans (from a can), etc.
- Breakfast is either bacon, dirty eggs, and crisp pancakes - I love camping, it lets me ingest bacon and use the fat to fry my eggs and pancakes YUM-O!, instant oatmeal, toast and yogurt, or an egg skillet dish - again, homemade gourmet makes a yummy Mexican inspired that just has you add the eggs, cheese, a splash of milk or water and whatever breakfast meat you might enjoy.
When we don't have electricity, we pack the cooler with frozen burgers and dogs, PB&J, and last time around, I made that Skillet Chicken & Biscuits, because I packed frozen chicken. By Saturday night, it was still icy cold, but totally defrosted, and all the other items in the cooler were still nice and cold because of it!
I try to cook "real" food - no Dinty Moore Beef Stew from a can for us with crumbly biscuits from the box of dry foods, or freeze-dried camping meals for us!
When we were childless, we did "real" camping where we'd pack in the tent, the sleeping bags, and schlepp a cooler to keep our food out of reach of mini-bears (chipmunks), squirrels, and racoons - not too many bears in the lower elevations of the Rockies - and I did packet cooking -
Chicken or Fish with some finely sliced carrot, onion, squash and zucchini, a blop of butter, a smear of garlic, some salt, pepper, parika - all made up before-hand, and packed in a zip-top bag in the cooler - thrown onto the rack in the firepit, or onto the grill (depending on who was with us), along with some sliced or cubed potatoes, tossed with oil, garlic or onion salt, and pepper and also wrapped in foil packets and tossed into the coal or onto the rack or grill...we've had steak and hash browns, fire-cooked dogs and burgers, brats. One year, our camping buddies even brought their fishing tackle and we had fresh river trout...heavenly! Of course, that was also the trip where the basket was used to keep more beer cold for them than to actually hold the fish they caught...but that's ok!
I'm pretty much a "if I can make it at home, there's GOT to be a way to make it camping" girl - my Dad is high up in the ranks of the Boy Scouts, and all 3 of my brothers went through the summers at camp, the winter camping trips...the shows, all the fun things.
My Dad taught me how you can cook an egg inside the peel of an orange over an open fire, how to make lasagna in a Dutch Oven, how to make a peach cobbler, how to make those packets...I remember at one of the annual Scout Show (in which they show off all their skills for the general public and families), they did a cook-off, and my Dad and brothers' Troop won!
The rules were "cook over an open flame using 3 pots or pans, create a dinner, dessert, and hot beverage". They made lasagna, peach cobbler, baked apples, and hot cider. It was totally awesome!
SO - Penny, if you "car camp" or use the RV, you can get really creative - find a Dutch Oven (I hope to acquire one this summer) or two and use the coals from the fire to make a roast complete with carrots and potatoes, all while you're enjoying nature, and hiking - as long as the coals are smoldering and fully covering that pot, you can let that roast sit all day long, slow cooking and be fork-tender when it's dinnertime. Whip up a giant batch or 3 of favorite cookies and brownies and you'll have guests from all over the area knocking at your lantern for a taste!
OOOOHHH!!! One of my favorite things to do???? Chicken on a spit! You know, just like those goofy scenes from Survivor Man, or the movies where they skewer the chicken on a green tree branch and roast it over the flames? Yeah...those scenes...only you can really do it safely over your grill, or fire pit! While the fire is getting good and hot, skewer your cleaned and oil-rubbed, seasoned bird (we actually have a rotisserie attachment for our BBQ at home, so I use the metal skewers from that), and set up a cradle (you can buy them from Coleman, and other Camping Goods places). Make up some seasoned oil or marinade in a bowl, bring a brush, and put that bad boy over the flames (close enough to get the heat, but not actually be in the flame), and turn slowly, basting every 10 minutes or so. It'll take an hour, but you can hang out, drink you favorite camping beverages, chat, play cards, and just sit around.
The trips where we used our grill and Coleman stove were great!
- didn't heat up the trailer using the indoor cooking appliances
- all dishes were washed out of doors, so no worries about food getting into the pipes and causing issues with the trailer
- no lingering scent of bacon the rest of the trip
SO, to wrap this up in a bit more logical fashion:
- Look for one-dish recipes that you can do on a stove-top. Prep the veggies at home, so you don't have to waste time chopping and dicing potatoes and onions.
- Minimize the processed, boxed meals like Mac & Cheese, or canned meals like Stew whenever possible. Fresh is ALWAYS best, and Velveeta doesn't have to be refrigerated!
- Canned soups and veggies taste just as good in your skillet pot pie as frozen or fresh! Bring a can-opener. Plus - the animals can't get into a can should they get into your food storage.
- Krusteaz pancake mix is the ONLY way to make them when away from home. Just add water, stir and ladle/pour onto your cooking surface.
- DUTCH OVENs are marvelous things - cast iron rocks for making wonderful home-cooked meals - there are even cookbooks out there dedicated to them.
- Foil Packet/Pouch cooking totally rocks! It is the only time I use cooking spray.
- Keep meat frozen when packing it in coolers, OR pre-cook it with all seasonings, and THEN freeze it. It cuts down on wasted cooler space, because it will keep other items cold and still be safe to eat.
- Don't be afraid of the PB&J. Not always my favorite, but you can even get "fancy" and make a PB&J filled fry-bread thingy...too sweet for my taste, but basically, it's sort of like making a cabbage burger - make your dough, fill it with PB&J, seal it up, and then bake them...I prefer the cabbage burgers myself...
- Check into camping goods stores NOW to find out what nifty gadgets and devices they have - we can eat toast because we have a stove/grill top toaster rack, and a grill-top waffle iron...
- Combine flavors you might not normally think of - bell peppers and sweet onions grilled up on top of your burger are crazy delicious, and then you don't worry about squashed hamburger buns...
- Remember that camping is supposed to be time for US to slow down too - share the cooking and KP with the rest of the family - let your hubby be the grill man! BB loves to cook out of doors, and I usually don't do breakfast and at least half the dinners while we camp because he'll cook.
- Always pack at least 10% more than you'd eat at home. Fresh air, hiking, swimming, fishing - they really do increase your appetite, and, to quote Laura Ingalls Wilder - hunger is the best sauce, so you don't need to go all crazy with seasonings.
I hope that helps, and at the very least, amuses you!
Keep topics and questions coming!!!!