Camping Adventures

A dear old friend of mine posed an interesting and somewhat non-trivial question recently: “What do I cook on a 5-week camping road trip around Scandinavia with the (3) kids?”

My initial response was “Holy crap… you lucky bitch!”

Top tips, ideas and advice hey – this is actually quite a task as although we’ve had many, many trips of this nature, they’ve never been anything like that long, and I can completely appreciate the intrinsic motherly anxiety around appropriate nutrition for the smalls.

So here goes – the following are my thoughts on this remarkably exciting adventure into the northern wilds.

  1. Principles
    • The biggest considerations are space and refrigeration. Even with a larger than average vehicle, space is at a premium when camping due to all the other paraphernalia you’ll have stowed. Think through how you can minimise – there’s always prepping options such as decanting into resealable bags (think salt – do you really need that full glass grinder?).
    • Refrigeration limitations will restrict what you have available and what you can store safely. To overcome this, maximise your store cupboard repertoire, but balance this by combining freshly bought fruit, veg and meat whenever you have the opportunity to do so.
    • KISS. The classic design principle of Keep It Simple Stupid; plan for simple dishes and then jazz them up with delicious little flourishes like herbs, cheeses, spices, flavoured oils and vinegars.
  2. Store-Cupboard
    • When I was very small, we’d drive to the south of France in an Austin Allegro and stop at the side of the road on the way – my inimitable mother would bust out a gas burner (the type that screw onto the top of a little gas bottle) and combine the following tin cans in a pot: baked beans, pre-boiled new potatoes, hacked-up corned beef. The classic ‘corned beef hash’. After it had warmed through sufficiently we’d eat it in bowls with brown sauce, and although this sounds truly awful and desperately unappetising to a well-developed palate of the modern day, I still have remarkably clear and fond memories of it (the taste; not how it looked!). I’ve actually recreated this dish at home using the best ingredients I can find and putting much love, care and attention into every individual element. It tastes incredible, but still doesn’t look any better..
    • Your store cupboard will treat you well. Stock it with due care and attention to ensure that there’s always options available to satisfy your families’ appetites should circumstances not pan out as you expected – I can guarantee that this will happen at least once during your trip through the wilderness – probably at the most irritatingly unhelpful time.
    • What kind of things would you want to maintain in your store cupboard as an absolute minimum?
      • Salt & pepper (good stuff – you may as well)
      • Balsamic glaze – transformative in bringing sweetness and depth as a dressing or during cooking.
      • Olive oil – a staple of life in my eyes. Flavoured oils can transform dishes.
      • Seasonings – spices and dried herbs that can lift even a boiled potato and transform it into something sublime.
      • A splash of vinegar: red wine, white wine, cider – pack a little bottle of your favourite for balancing dishes and making salad dressings.
      • Cans/tins – olives, corn, tomatoes, fish, olives, pate, whatever floats your boat. They’re safe, easy to stow and economical. There’s a whole gourmet market out there that’s so worth exploring. I have a thing for cooked mackerel in tomato sauce, but that’s a whole other post.
  3. Stuff
    • Aka equipment. I’m a bit of a purist and love improvising and re-purposing things to save space and weight, but there are a few things that will be terribly handy:
      • Tongs – size really does matter if you’re cooking with fire.
      • Foil – so handy as a makeshift lid or for wrapping and storing.
      • Colander – useful but not essential for washing and rinsing as much as draining.
      • Speed peeler – I don’t leave home without one.
      • Grater – microplane are my go-to.
      • Serious oven-glove. No explanation required.
      • Board – nothing like a nice hunk of wood but plastics are lighter.
      • Quality sharp knife (small and large but ultimately whatever you’re comfortable with). With younglings around it can be preferable to pack one with a sheath.
      • Wet-wipes – the saviour of all parents and essential ‘washing up’ kit in the middle of nowhere.
      • Frying pan – big enough to get everything in together, but small enough to fit on your camping stove!
      • Decent pot or perhaps a dutch oven if you have one – they’re amazing if you’re cooking with fire at all and it’s remarkable what you can achieve (even bread!).
  4. Classic dishes
    • Anything is possible if you have the key basic equipment to hand and a little imagination. I love the challenge of thinking through how to juggle everything in order to get the desired meal onto a plate but don’t constrain yourself by conforming to comfortable home standards – the bonnet is a table, a spoon is a knife, your oven-glove is a cushion and a pot stand. I could go on.
    • We always kick-off our trip with a slow-cooked chilli or stew of some
      description – if you’ve got a long journey to your first stop you can make this ahead and then freeze it so that it defrosts as you go. Bring it back up to temperature in a pot and you have a hearty ‘home-cooked’ meal to set you up.
    • Pasta will serve you well in your store-cupboard. A good quality pesto, grated  Parmesan cheese, a few wild rocket leaves and a drizzle of balsamic glaze. Heavenly. Work with what you have to hand though though – all of these elements can be switched out with alternatives based on what’s available.
    • Greek salad (or any salad for that point) combines some great simple ingredients into a delicious balanced meal. Think about gorgeous salad dressings (mix 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil with some salt and pepper and shake it up in whatever bottle you have to hand).
    • Looking for something a bit different? try combining watermelon with Feta cheese (or anything salty and crumbly), fresh coriander, basil or mint leaves and some hot chilli peppers for mum and dad.
    • Beans or various types will provide you with wonderful nutrition. Easy to jazz up too.
    • Jacket potatoes are a quality camping companion – just wrap them in foil and pop them in the embers of a fire. Note that you can wrap lots of things in foil and chuck them in a fire… (stuffed aubergines anyone?!).
    • Rustic soups are an easy way of filling you up with 100% goodness from a plethora of different ingredients that you might have to hand.
    • Ever thought of making pancakes outdoors? It’s just a simple combo of eggs, milk and flour – you can even mix it in a bottle again!
    • French Toast (pain perdu / eggy bread) – sweet or savoury – a great use of stale or even fresh bread. A few eggs and a touch of butter or oil in the frying pan and you’re away.
    • Corned beef hash (as per above) with fried eggs if you’ve got a second pan :o)
    • Finally our family tradition: our less than obvious favourite is Spanish Padron Peppers blistered in a hot pan with olive oil for a few seconds and scattered with flaky sea salt. We simply don’t go camping without them.Cooking over fire
  5. Don’t ..
    • Risk it.. You’re camping – there’s nothing worse than food poisoning… oh yes there is, food poisoning when you’re camping. Err on the side of caution if you’re dealing with food that requires refrigeration and/or ever in doubt. Respect your ingredients, but as much as I’m one for championing the food wastage campaigns, you are on holiday after all.
    • Beat yourself up.. You’re camping – take the rough with the smooth and remember that everything is an adventure. Sure, you’ll have some crappy meals, but you’ll also have some phenomenal ones, and I would put money on them being the most simple, basic and unexpected ones that your children will remember.
    • Apologise.. You’re camping – it’s a team sport and you’ve all gotta play.

I’m sure I’ve missed things but you have to draw the line somewhere. I’ll update this post from time to time as I think of other things and I’d welcome anyone’s thoughts, stories, experiences and recipes.

Bon Voyage, or more appropriately, lycklig resa!

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