There is a big plastic box sitting outside next to my truck. I fiddle with it, adding and subtracting items as ideas come up. Last September, we drove to Morphy Lake State Park in New Mexico for one last weekend’s camping before winter. That trip I forgot fire-starters, a bottle opener, and even a mug. What was I thinking?
The book of camping gear lists sat on the desk at home. I know what I’m doing, I don’t need to check it. I’ve been camping since a toddler, helping Mum and Dad, going out on my own as a teenager, taking the trains across Europe as an 18 year old, living in a tent in Wales at twenty. Why would I need a list?
This time, I’m looking at my lists and the notes that follow each camping trip. Apparently I didn’t use the oil lamps, so I’ve crossed those off. The kitchen though, I’m adding to that.
Three months of camping and living out of the 4Runner is making me both excited and nervous. How will it be? What will I do with myself? I’m a practical person, always making something here at home, a new fence, a portal for the vines, a bench. What will I do with myself on the road?
Wake up, make a fire, make coffee. Feed dogs, wash self, go for a walk. Make breakfast. Yes, there we go. My goal this year is to enjoy cooking off a campfire. To take my time and create layers of meals that appeal to all the senses. But I’ll still keep it simple.
In my kitchen box, one side is set for the cooking utensils and the other for the foods and ingredients. It’s easier this year, as when open, everything will have a place and be visible.
The kitchen, for me, needs to have the following items:
- pan and lid
- plate, bowl, mug, and a plastic ‘glass’
- openers for bottles, wine, and canned foods
- stove and spare gas
- matches and lighters
- basic utensils of spatula, sharp knife, fork, spoons
- tea towel
- coffee filters and cone for one cup at a time
- trash bags
- biodegradable soaps
- metal bowl for heating water and washing
- metal grate for over the campfire
- oven mitt
- foil and ziplock bags, just a few
- a lightweight cutting board is nice to tuck in there
Then I have to pack the food according to what kind of camping I’ll be doing. Where am I going? How far off the beaten track are we setting up home? How often do I want to drive into a town to look for a grocery store? Do I want back-up emergency supplies?
To the last question, yes. I like knowing i have extra coffee, some sweet treat, a quick soup, and something salty for those moments when I’ve eaten everything good for me…
In the food supplies I’ll pack for a week of meals, both simple and more creative ones:
- chile (canned vegetarian chile)
- corn chips
- soups (canned veggie and tomato soup being my favorites)
- cooking oil
- spices for me are usually curry, red chile, salt and pepper.
- coffee and teas
- crackers and snacks (shelf-stable)
- cans of tuna/ sardines
- cans of corn
- mustard/ mayo sometimes
- and my latest craving is cereal. (I’m not sure why but these days I like a bowl of cereal before bed)
- soy milk for the cereal then
- pasta and pesto or a noodle bowl
The challenge for me is to get enough fresh food. Traveling is hard on me for that reason as a cooler is only helpful for a few days before the ice melts. At home, I eat salads every day and make my meals from scratch using fresh veggies and cheeses. I need to plan my meals so that once a week, I buy the fruits and salads to be eaten within a few days knowing that by the end of the week it will be the pastas and canned meals. It’s all about timing it right. No waste, eat it all. Once a week buy the apples, bananas, greens, peppers, onions etc, the kind of fresh food that lasts.
One of the best camping meals I’ve had in all these years was in Colorado. We’d been driving up a narrow dirt road, high above the Rio Grande Reservoir at the head of the Rio Grande river. The road dipped down next to the water and I pulled off to the side and parked. The dogs ran free as I stretched my legs.
Walking around the lake, I met a family fishing. We struck up an easy conversation, ending up with Mike handing me a freshly caught and gutted trout.
“Drive up the road another two miles and you’ll find a free primitive campground on your left. Get a campfire going and grill this for a about ten minutes, you’ll not regret it. You have foil? A skillet? Okay, use that. Enjoy your trip!”
I set up camp, lit the fire and cooked my meal.
With the last of the salad fixings and a glass of red wine, looking down the valley, I ate the best meal…
Perhaps then I need to learn how to fish for myself?