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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Food, glorious food.

Mark and I were joking about food on the road the other day and we tried to come up with the worst thing we've ever eaten on one of our trips. I tend to remember the good stuff; the time in Quincy we pulled into a broken down looking drive-in and had the most phenomenal burgers, or the little shack in Death Valley that sold the sweetest dates that were grown right there in the valley (sadly, long gone now).

Date Palms,  Furnace Creek, Death Valley National Park

I've been sick on the road once from food and the culprit was a taco from Taco Bell. It went down fine, but a few hours later all hell broke loose. Goes to show, eat crappy food and you get what you paid for. Mark had it much worse though; on a trip to Glacier National Park we decided to treat ourselves to an actual sit down meal in a restaurant in St. Mary's. We gathered together our cleanest, least wrinkled clothes and off we went. I don't remember what I had, but Mark had a steak with blue cheese crumbles on top. It was a decent meal and it was great to get out of the wind and bugs for a change. The next day we drove to West Glacier and there we camped, right across from the bathrooms, for 24 hours until that steak had finally cleared itself out of his system. He hasn't been able to face a beef/blue cheese combination since.

One of the views Mark missed on our Glacier trip.
(Wild fires nearby were making it hazy.)

One of the worst meals I've ever had wasn't the food's fault. We bought deli sandwiches once in Yosemite and carried them down to the river to have a picnic. The second we pulled them out of the bag we were mobbed by yellow jackets. They were landing on our sandwiches and tearing pieces of lunchmeat off before we even took a bite. Not a relaxing mealtime experience.

Then there's the horrible, wonderful food that's just too tasty to pass up. On a trip a while back we plowed through an entire (large) bag of Doritos after a long hike. Or the can of spray cheese and box of crackers that came out around cocktail hour every night during another trip. The all-time winner though was at a Taco John's in Montana. Mark, always the adventurous eater, decided to go with the special deal of the day: a burrito that consisted of a huge flour tortilla stuffed with tater tots and chicken nuggets, doused in that fake nacho cheese sauce you find at every county fair that's ever been held anywhere. He said it was good; I could barely watch him eat it. Electric orange "cheese" dripping down the chin is not sexy. It just isn't.

We joke about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but the truth is, PBJs are really good. We averaged one a day for five weeks on our Alaska trip and never got tired of them. Peanut butter doesn't spoil and until you open it, you don't have to refrigerate jam, qualifying it as a great long term item for the larder. That's the challenge to camping; finding (hopefully) healthy food that doesn't need refrigeration or elaborate preparation. We recently bought a wok with a folding handle. It's great for cooking fresh green beans or broccoli (both road proof veggies) and we've found some tofu in sealed boxes that doesn't need refrigeration. Sometimes I just want some fresh salad greens, but unfortunately, iceberg lettuce seems to be the only kind that can take the pounding of off-road driving. Chop some of it up with some carrots and stuff it into a pita pocket with a little dressing and it makes a great meal, especially in the desert. Meat is tricky--our little cooler doesn't have optimal temperature control, so we usually freeze a few things and eat them as soon as they thaw. After that, it's whatever we can pick up along the road, or go canned and/or vegetarian. There is one exception though: bacon. Could there be a better one?

Camp kitchen, Tahoe National Forest.
We've found if we cook up a pound of bacon before we hit the road it lasts for at least a week in our cooler. I'm sure it could last longer but not around us. It not only makes a great sandwich, it can be chopped up and added to pasta, on that iceberg lettuce salad, or perhaps consumed on the sly while you think the other guy isn't looking. A neighbor in a campground in Arizona introduced us to jalapeno smoked bacon a few years ago and we've been hooked ever since.

We do have one dinner we prepare at least once every single trip. Our nieces call it "Our Pasta" and they request it whenever we take them camping. It's any small shaped pasta with a can of artichoke hearts, a can of sliced olives, some garlic and olive oil, sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Easy, travel friendly and delicious.

Of course, you really can't end a camp meal without the most important element: the s'more. We've tried them with chocolate graham crackers and with different flavors of chocolate, but have found the regular old original recipe is the best. You just can't beat a hunk of Hershey bar on a graham cracker you dropped in the dirt (5 second rule!) with a slightly burnt, molten hot marshmallow sticking it all together. Now that's camp food.


  1. These are really good little essays. Please keep doing them!

    I've eaten some really good food camping--simple fresh ingredients seems to bring out the best in cooks. Worst was probably some undercooked chicken on a rafting trip down the Green River in Wyoming or Utah (I forget exactly where we were). Made the next day on the water a little queasy.

    1. Mmmmm chicken tartare...

      Thanks for the encouragement--it means a lot coming from a pro. I've definitely gotten rusty since college (the last time I wrote anything more than an email).