12 August 2013

The Moose Curry Experience Goes Camping, Part I: Cooking for Yourself

Why needlessly suffer vienna sausages and boxed mac'n'cheese, because you're constrained by a camp stove and a cooler?  Just because you're in the woods doesn't mean you can't eat fabulous food.

Cooking outdoors on a wood fire is one of the greatest pleasures of life.

Despite the fact it never fails to rain when we are on holiday, we go camping year after year.  For one thing, we like camping: we like being outdoors, we like hiking, we like picnics, we like reading books in the mid-day sun... I particularly like feeling as though I don't need to bathe every day (Fefe Noir may have other opinions about this...).  For another thing or two, however, camping is the easiest way for dog owners to vacation and not have to worry what to do about the dogs and an excellent way to get the hell out of town for a while without spending an arm and a leg for the privilege.

If the latter is your best reason for camping (too broke or too cheap for a less rustic option), you probably also aren't eating in restaurants while on your trip.  But don't think for a minute that means you have to eat tinned meat and dehydrated soup every day.

Know Your Equipment and Take Enough Stuff

Top:  The Pantry.  If it fit in the back of the car, I
took it.  Including the cheese grater.  Bottom:  Yes,
we are spoiled car-campers with a picnic shelter.
But we have suffered enough rain-soaked trips
without it, that we have absolutely earned the
right to have one.  Like at home, the dogs like the
kitchen best.
You need to be able to do all your cooking on the equipment you bring.  We always plan to cook a few meals on the fire, but don't rely on it as your only cooking surface: camp fire prohibitions can happen at any time, high winds and rain can make fires difficult to manage for cooking, or you might not have the patience for cooking fires (and frustration is guaranteed to work against you).  We also take a single-burner portable gas stove, so anything we plan to cook on the fire needs to be adaptable to the stove if necessary.

Your equipment and pantry depend on how much space you have and how you are travelling.  We go car camping, so we're limited by car space.  If we did a hike-in trip, we'd have to plan more precisely what to cook and leave excess food behind (also, Fefe would just plain refuse).  We also might have to leave the cheese grater and garlic press at home.  Or get saddle bags for the dogs.  Is it fair to make the dogs carry a lemon juicer if they don't directly benefit from it?  No matter what kitchen triage decisions you need to make, always always always have a good sharp knife and at least one pot for boiling stuff (if for nothing else, it's been our experience that coffee is not optional on camping trips).  Aluminium foil will make your life easier.  And then whatever else you can fit that will make you happy in your outdoor kitchen.  We even brought an egg timer, so take that.

About keeping stuff cold in a cooler:  blocks of ice stay frozen longer than ice cubes (basic surface to volume stuff), so plan ahead and freeze containers of water in the days before you leave.  As an added bonus, these tend to be less drippy than bags of ice.  You might need to buy ice on the road, but at least your first couple of days, when the cooler is at capacity, will be low maintenance.

Prepare Ahead

This is the most important thing I will tell you; the best tip for eating well in the woods:  everything you can do before you leave home is something you don't have to do when you are there.  Plan your meals and build in some flexibility (so late back from you hike that you need to eat IMMEDIATELY, not when the fire is ready?  cold and wet from the rain and you just don't fancy salad nicoise?).  Do as much prep as reasonable before you leave your home.  Plan far enough in advance that you have things frozen to be thawed for cooking; increasing shelf life and, as a bonus, helping keep your cooler cold.  Bring a variety of vegetables, eat the ones that spoil quickly (like lettuce) first, save the ones that last well (like cabbage and bell pepper) for later in the week.  Bring essential flavourings (garlic, onions, vinegars) instead of doing without.  Why not?  Plan on picking up groceries (and ice) or pack non-perishables for the end of the trip.

Top:  The day before departure, we layered sweet
potato tossed in lemon juice and a few drops of oil,
dark leafy greens, sliced red onion, fresh halibut
steaks, a sprig of dill and a pat of butter.  Wrapped in
parchment paper, then aluminium foil and refrigerated
over night, then packed directly against the ice
in the cooler.  Bottom:  After 25 minutes on the coals
of a cooking fire, enjoy a perfectly cooked meal of
fletan en papillote.

The day before we left, we bought some fresh halibut from the fish truck.  That night we prepped halibut wrapped in parchment then in a double layer of aluminium foil: shiny side in on the first layer; shiny side out on the other layer. (In my head I imagine this protects the packet from being too hot on a fire and helps keep the heat in.  This is not a scientific fact, it is complete conjecture.  What is almost certainly scientific fact is that the parchment paper layer means you don't have to be anxious about reactivity of the aluminium foil, or worry about things sticking to the foil, AND you can definitely call it "en papillote" despite the foil.) After you've driven however far you've driven and spent all that time frustrated as you try to remember exactly how all those tents go together, the only thing you have to do for dinner, is build a fire.  Throw the packets on the coals for 25 minutes, and voila, a delectable meal with no fuss.  

We also brought frozen meatballs wrapped in lemon leaves (from the lemon trees Fefe grew at home from seed) that we made a few days earlier.  These were intended for cooking on the fire but had to be pan fried on the stove due to a rather dramatic rain storm.  Due to that same rain storm, we opted to serve them with a tin of dolmadas instead of trying to wash lettuce for a salad.  I was like an impromtu theme night: things wrapped in leaves.  (As a note: do not eat lemon leaves; if you wrap food in citrus leaf, peel the leaf off before eating.  As for grape leaves, that's your green vegetable for the meal.)

The very fabulous meatballs wrapped in lemon leaves (more fabulous if you call them polpettine al limone) can be cooked over a fire or on a grill,or in case of rain, pan fried on the camp stove.

Pre-marinated and frozen lamb was thawed in the cooler and
cooked a few days after we left home. Served with a salad of veg
which likewise last for several days in a cooler.
Lamb marinated for souvlaki and frozen ahead can spend a few days in the cooler before you need to cook it.  Pita bread, which is a good accompaniment lasts reasonably well also and can be revived (if it gets stale) by heating.  The lamb can be pan-fried if necessary, but better on skewers over a fire.  If you follow through with intentions better than we do, collect some wild herbs (like Scotch lovage) to add to your greek-inspired salad.

A packet of spaghetti, a bottle of strained tomatoes, some garlic and a can of clams makes a fantastic low-prep meal using primarily non-perishable ingredients.  Old hard italian cheeses stand up well to cooler storage (as long as you keep them dry).
A late trip meal from non-perishable (and nearly non-perishable) foods.  Spaghetti with clam sauce, served with some
locally-sourced artisan bread (see Part II).  The sauce was cooked on the camp stove then kept warm by the
fire while the pasta was cooked.  If you only brought one pan, I don't know how to help you.

Special Events

If you happen to be camping during, oh, I don't know, maybe someone's birthday, you don't need to drive around unfamiliar places unsuccessfully looking for a bakery in order to provide cake.  And you don't have to skip the cake either.  Hollow out some oranges, mix your dry cake ingredients with your wet ones in a zipper bag, cut the tip of the bag off, fill the oranges 2/3 to 3/4 full of cake batter, wrap well in aluminium foil and toss on the fire for about 25 minutes.  Cake in an orange.  Cake infused with smoky orange goodness.  And if it happens to be your birthday, I believe this counts a fruit serving... right?

Clockwise from left:  Hollowed oranges become the cake pan as well as the source of phenomenal aromatic flavouring.  Mix dry and wet ingredients together in a plastic zipper bag.  Perfectly cooked orange-y cake-y loveliness.


Sea stack at Spillar's Cove.
We tend to do the same thing every day when camping.  Go for a hike, have a picnic lunch, give the dogs a good rest by hanging around the picnic site reading books and bird watching and whale watching.  Maybe hike some more.  Maybe go for a swim.  We are not people to spend time making up sandwiches and salads for lunch, we shove things in our pack and deal with it at lunch time.  So we always take a pocket knife and bring food that you don't need to worry about being unrefrigerated for a few hours even if it's hot out: munching vegetables (carrot, cucumber, bell pepper, etc.), cheese, dry salami, pickled eggs, bread, crackers, dried fruit, nuts, chocolate... not all of it every day, but some variation.  I am writing about this largely as an excuse to post some pictures of the picnic spots from our recent trip to the Bonavista Peninsula.
Overlooking Trinity.  If you notice the large swath of rain in the background, rest assured that it is falling directly over our campsite at Lockston Path Provincial Park.


  1. A fun and detailed write up of your camping trip. Enjoyed watching your pictures. I love the cake idea, so cool. I went camping after many many years, and loved it although, we did rented tents, which was a little bit more easier. Would love to camp by our own some day. Thanks for sharing the experience.

  2. Thanks, Asha! Camping is one of my very favourite things, I hope you get a chance to go again someday. I'm pretty sure the cake-filled oranges would work in an oven too.


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