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Fired Up About Camping

It took rethinking fireside food to get this suburban mom to embrace camping.

Let me say right off the bat that I consider myself to be somewhat high maintenance, although I have those momentary lapses where I just don’t care if someone I don’t even know sees me at the post office without makeup.

But several years ago when my husband suggested camping, I wondered if he remembered just who he married. Sleeping on hard ground? Relentless bugs? Outhouses? Was he kidding?

I’ve mellowed a bit since then. The synergistic energy of twins will wear down your need to be a princess. But it was my kids’ Cub Scout and Brownie campouts that helped me turn the camping aversion corner and remember just how much I really do enjoy extended time in the great outdoors.

What I realized on my maiden expeditions into camping with the scouts was that two conditions must be met: I had to be comfortable when I slept, and the food had to be good. A spiffy air mattress took care of the first. I slept fabulously in our tent even through two nights of rain.

But the second was the greater challenge. I would not succumb to freeze-dried anything – I would have to have real food that was easy to transport, keep cold, cook and clean up. Not only can I report great success, but a friend whose family is experienced outdoorspersons said she wants to come camping with us next time after hearing about our meals.

This was car camping, so we had some storage and flexibility in what we could bring. The first purchase was a 5-Day Extreme Cooler which, with only one ice refill, kept everything remarkably cold for the four days of our trip.

I narrowed down what the four of us usually eat for breakfast to fruit, yogurt, granola, nuts, seeds and eggs. A friend’s borrowed camp stove took care of the eggs my daughter cannot survive a morning without, but after that and cold cuts for lunch, all dinners were cooked over charcoal or open fire, and that’s where I got creative.

It didn’t hurt that Food Network had just sent me an email of 50 things you could grill in foil, with everything from popcorn (your own version of jiffy pop) to paella. That just got me inspired to find other recipes that would translate well to outdoor cooking.

We started off our first night with pizza. The original recipe called for large pita to be used, but as I always find pita dry to being with, I opted for softer, moister lavash, which was grilled on one side for a minute or two, flipped, topped with pizza sauce (a jar from Trader Joe’s), shredded cheese and pepperoni.

In a bold gastronomic move, I cut up some leftover honey-mustard chicken thighs that had been roasted with peppers the previous week and tossed those on the adult version for a result so stunning we immediately made plans to make it again at home. That paired with a salad tossed simply with olive oil, salt and pepper and my debut at Camp Gourmet was off to a great start.

Dinner number two was a recipe whose simplicity was so astonishing I questioned whether it would really work or taste good. Found on a site called camprecipes.com, it called for four medium skinless, boneless chicken breasts covered with one-quarter jar of the salsa of your choice (I opted for peach-pineapple) and wrapped in a foil packet. A friend recommended release foil, for which I was grateful.

The packets were cooked over open fire, ten minutes per side, rendering quite possibly the moistest chicken breasts I have ever eaten, wonderfully seasoned and easy to clean up. We paired those with some baby potatoes which I tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and packaged in foil as well but then placed directly on the fire to roast. Not every potato cooked through, but there were plenty for the four of us.

Our last cooking evening, as we planned to go the park’s restaurant on our final night, was a standard dish here in our house – an adapted version of Rachel Ray’s Spanakopita Burgers, which I had assembled at home and frozen. Salad and fruit complemented those perfectly.

But I have to say that my crowning glory was the apple crisp. On my son’s Cub Scouts campout, another family introduced me to this delight, which I tweaked. They used a Dutch oven since they were cooking for a crowd, loaded it with sliced granny smith apples, topped with vanilla cake mix, brown sugar and butter and placed directly in the fire for 25 minutes.

Lacking a Dutch oven, I took along my well-seasoned small cast iron skillet, lined it with release foil (zero cleanup), cut the apples and topped with a mix of 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup sugar and dots of butter, covered with more foil and placed on the grill. Voila, 25 minutes later, an amazing warm dessert for a cool evening.

I’ve talked with several friends whose spouses are reluctant to go camping and feel that I may have cracked one of the big obstacles to making it a pleasant experience. I know this for sure, I’m already researching recipes for our next trip.

BTW: We camped at Douthat State Park in Western Virginia. Douthat is one of the six original state parks built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the New Deal. It has been regularly recognized as one of the best parks in the country. Check it out!

 

 

Mary Porter is a nutrition counselor living in the Fort Hunt area. You can email her at mary@betterplate.com

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