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A Little Dirt Never Hurt

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

Last week was nuts. I had been furloughed for several weeks, but the decision was finally made to eliminate my entire department - to cut bait, if you will - in order to help put the overall company in a position to weather the storm that is #covid19. The decision came as no surprise to me, but that doesn't make the reality any easier to process. In a three day span I helped to lay off nearly 30 employees before receiving my own pink slip, an entirely new experience for me, and I needed an escape. I'm obviously not jumping on a plane or going to a spa any time soon, so it needed to be something socially distanced and - let's be real here - inexpensive. I am, after all, now unemployed (or self-employed if you count this little venture).

Enter camping. Michael and I are huge fans of camping, and we've recently discovered the joy of dispersed camping. You see, in U.S. National Forests and on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) you are generally allowed to set up camp anywhere you want, provided you follow a few important rules. (Note: The rules may differ from area to area, so be sure to do your research.) There are no services, which means no electricity, no cell signal, no running water, and no bathrooms of any kind (more on that later), but that also means there is NO ONE AROUND. I realize that, for many, this is basically a nightmare, but for us it is heaven or nirvana or whatever version of peace is your cup of tea.

Now, as a professional chef, preparation (especially food prep) is a way of life for me. But when you're going to spend several days without electricity, running water, or basically anything that makes modern life what it is, the need to be prepared takes on a whole new level of importance. I needed a menu that required minimal prep at camp and created as few dishes as possible since we had to bring whatever water we needed with us. And as much as I love a good hot dog roasted over a campfire, one cannot survive on weenies and s'mores alone. Actually, you probably can, but that just isn't us. I may be covered in a layer of dirt mixed with insect repellant, but, by God, I will eat well!

With that in mind, here is what our menu looked like for this trip....

Some of these items could be made entirely in advance, like the sandwiches...

I am a HUGE fan of make-ahead sandwiches, whether for camping, picnics, or just weekday lunches. Take a hearty bread (I like a good telera or ciabatta roll because they're the perfect size and hold up to a bit of moisture without tasting soggy), load it with your favorite sandwich fillings, wrap it up tight in some plastic wrap, and you are good to go. Check out some of my favorite flavor combos here.

Other menu items, like the Apple and Oat Pancakes and the Beef and Three Bean Chili could be mostly prepped at home and just cooked at camp, either on a camp stove or over the fire.

I'm not even a big pancake fan, but MAN were these good!! Check out the recipe here.

As a bonus, the whole wheat flour and oats gave us plenty of energy for that day's hiking.

And come on, is there anything better after a day of hiking than a big bowl of campfire chili with all the toppings? I think not. Find the recipe here.

Other menu items were pretty much prepared entirely at camp, like the Breakfast Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (my personal favorite from this trip), made on the griddle with aged cheddar and scrambled eggs on homemade Cheddar and Jalapeno Sourdough.

Is your mouth watering yet? Yeah, mine is too.

Not every camp meal can be a raging success, of course. When I was doing my shopping I couldn't find any block ice and ended up buying dry ice instead thinking it would perform similarly. I had slow cooked our St. Louis Pork Ribs to perfection for 36 hours in a sous vide bath, and they just needed to be sauced and finished in some foil over the fire. When I pulled them out of the cooler, however, they were FROZEN SOLID!! Damn that dry ice!! I was able to thaw the ribs using a cold water bath but, long story short, we ate super late on Thursday night. The ribs were tasty, but it was far too dark for photos. Oops.

Likewise, my pizza didn't turn out quite as I had hoped. We have this great Lodge Cook-it-All, and I've been dying to try my hand at campfire pizza. I had the pizza all ready to go, with the griddle nice and hot, but as soon as I slid the pizza onto it I realized I had made a rookie mistake by not heating up the entire "pizza oven" (the griddle as well as the lid). Bottom line, when I put the cold lid on top, the bottom of the crust burned, and the top was left doughy and sad.

Luckily I had pre-cooked the sausage, so it was still edible, but still... bonehead move on my part. Camp cooking, like life, is all about learning lessons, of course, and I definitely learned a few on this trip.

Ultimately, the keys to successful camp cooking (other than advance prep) are to relax, pack plenty of snacks so you won't starve if your meal is a flop, and bring plenty of good booze.

That, my friends, is #abiteofgood

Cheers to the next trip!

If you're interested in learning more about camp cooking or would like help developing a camp menu to fit your tastes, skill level, and available equipment, let me know!

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