Fall Weather’s Coming–Comfort Food Is Here

 

cast iron mac and cheese
Camping Mac n’ Cheese–this is the easiest recipe you will ever find. Plus–delicious!

Camping in the fall is wonderful! You have fewer annoying insects, night comes sooner so you can stargaze, fire bans are off, and people are scarce. You can see all the reasons for fall camping here, but one of the best ones is comfort food.

Welcome to our newest monthly post, Camping Comfort Food. The first week of each month we’ll be posting a new comfort food recipe you can make at the camp site.

Our First Camping Comfort Food recipe is a personal favorite no matter where we are–Macaroni and Cheese. We chose it because it’s not only one of the most popular dishes ever made, but also because of its versatility, both in preparation and in serving.

This recipe can be made in one pot, from beginning to end–no cooking the macaroni separately! You can certainly try it in a Dutch oven, but if you’re unused to cooking over a fire or coals, this does beautifully in a pot on the camp stove (We use a Coleman Instastart; lighting it is just one less thing to worry about. No matches? No problem). Ultra-simple, satisfying, and a favorite of adult and kid alike, this Camping Macaroni and Cheese is sure to become a camping go-to.

Camping macaroni and cheese

  • 4 cups milk (any; 2% or skim is great)
  • 3 cups macaroni, uncooked
  • 4  cups cheddar cheese (you can use pre-grated or grate about 1 pound)
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Pour milk into a medium saucepan and heat until it is simmering, stirring regularly to prevent scorching on the bottom. Add the macaroni and continue to stir every minute or so, for about 10 minutes. When macaroni is done but still a little firm (it may take a little longer but mine takes ten minutes, stir in the mustard, salt and pepper, then add the cheese. Remove from the heat and stir until cheese is melted and blended into the sauce. The sauce should be nice and thick, if not, add a little more cheese. If it’s too thick, add a little more milk. Serves four.

Notes:

If you have a large crowd, extend your camping macaroni. Steam broccoli and fry some sausages and serve the macaroni on the side.  You can make burgers to go with it.  It can also be a great side to our Pot Ribs recipe.

If there are leftovers, spread the remainder in a rectangular pan or plastic container to set for a couple of hours or overnight. Then, once they’re set, cut them into rectangles about 1 1/2″ x 3″.  Roll them in flour, then dip them into a beaten egg, then roll them in bread crumbs (I use 1 cup panko bread crumbs with 1/3 cup grated parmesan), and deep fry for an amazing lunch or snack! The macaroni and cheese sticks also go great with tomato soup.

deep fried macaroni and cheese sticks
deep-fried mac n’ cheese sticks. Serve them with soup or a dip

If you’re going to serve them without soup, put a tangy dip like ketchup or our fabulous lemony tartar sauce on the side; the sticks are mild and need some livening up.

So that’s our first Camping Comfort Food Recipe! What do you think? Is there any recipe you would especially like to see? Let us know in the comment section below.

 

 

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Ten Reasons For Fall Camping

camping in the fall
Peace and quiet, cheaper fees, and better site choice–what could be better?

Not many people think of camping in the fall. That makes it great news for people who love to camp, like you! If you haven’t thought about the autumn months for camping before now, it might be the time to consider it. Chances are, with the fires raging throughout the States and Canada this summer, you may have not really had the chance to go camping.

Below are ten good reasons why you should consider camping in the fall:

1. Cheaper camping fees.

Many camp sites drop their fees to extremely affordable prices some time in September on. One camp site I have my eye on will dropping theirs from $35.00/night to $13.oo/night after October 10. That’s a strong incentive to go camping right there. Go online and check the camp grounds you want to visit to see if they have year-round camping. They’ll inform you of the fees if they do.

2.  It’s quieter.

Less people means more quiet.  It’s just that simple. Most people have other things on their minds in the autumn months–they don’t have the time or the inclination to go out and set up camp. Your sleep is better because of the quiet and the cooler weather, too. Imagine waking up and hearing the wind and birds and river instead of the dog and kids and ATVs. Bliss.

3.  The Photo opps are amazing.

With the leaves changing color the opportunity for really beautiful pictures is almost endless. Grab your camera and get out there. Beauty awaits!  Don’t have a camera? Use your cell phone or iPad. And hey–if you do get those photos, tweet us at @Camping_Ideas. We’d love to see them. Come to think of it, tweet us anyway. We want your feedback, no matter what it is. Tell us how it went, here or on Twitter.

4.  Fire ban is off.

This is a huge plus for me and my family. We love a camp fire, and it’s something we miss when we camp in the summer and the days are hot. This year in B.C. and the south-western U.S. it has been really bad–with the result that campfire bans are nearly everywhere. Once the cooler weather and rainy days hit, the bans stop and we get to have camp fires again. There’s just something about sitting around a fire at night, that makes camping particularly wonderful. And if you caught a trout that day, well. It’s just begging to be cooked, isn’t it?

5.  Soup, stew, and hot food weather is here.

Soups and stews are easy to prep, easy to throw together, and one of the simplest things to cook or heat up over an open fire.  Cooler days are awesome for our quick and easy Chili Pot Pie or Fast Turkey Soup. And you really should check out our Mulled Dr. Pepper for a weirdly wonderful hot drink.   Camping food is always good. Hot food when camping on a cool day is awesome. We also have lots of recipes in our recipe index–check it out for inspiration.

6.  Ice in coolers last longer.

It’s such a time and money saver when the ice in your coolers doesn’t melt as fast.  (If you really want to save money on ice, camp in the winter. The whole outdoors becomes your refrigerator. But that’s another story, and one best read about here. ‘Cause we’re talking about fall camping right now.) Fellow campers in your group won’t raid the cooler for ice for their drinks quite so often either–hot chocolate is much nicer on a cool day than a cold drink. Except for maybe beer. That’s good any time.

7.  Better camp site choices.

It follows, doesn’t it? If fewer people camp in the fall, your camping site options increase. You can get the one that’s always gone when you normally try and reserve a spot. Pick a date, reserve online, and you’re good to go.

8.  It’s an early stress break from getting back into the rat race.

Vacation is over, the kids have started school, everything is winterized, and you’re exhausted. This is the time of year when people often need a break from gearing up for regular life, and don’t take it. Do yourself and your family a favor and go camping one weekend. It’ll help reset those stress levels a little.

9.  Bird watching.

If bird watching is something you like to do, even casually, doing it while camping in the fall is just the best. Birds are busy getting stuff together for the cold winter months, and many are migrating. Your normally static bird-watching camping area might become dynamic practically overnight. Vagrant birds, that is, birds who stray outside their normal feeding, breeding or migrating areas, are most commonly seen in the fall as well, so you might catch sight of a breed you normally don’t get a chance to observe. Do not forget your bird book and camera! If you don’t have a camera already, here’s a toy I am seriously considering buying.(Canadian residents interested in a bird-watching camera, click here.)

10. Activity is more comfortable.

Strenuous activities, such as hiking, climbing or exploring, are more comfortable during the cooler weather. That’s great motivation for anyone to get more active during a time when most people are at home and getting into the habit of couch-potato-ing. Exercise is one of the most overlooked and effective treatments for depression and anxiety. So for the sake of your mental health, camp in the fall!

 

Things Campers Hate The Most

angry woman
What camping pet peeve makes steam come out of your ears?

The world of camping is an odd one. It is populated by two distinct groups–the genuine campers and the party people who just want to make noise and mess where the police won’t find them. There are varying degrees of each. The party people have peeves too, I’m sure. But I really don’t care about them. I do care about campers.

I decided to ask everyone I knew or tweeted what their pet camping peeve was, and this was the result:

noise–#1 most mentioned pet peeve.

This actually fell into a few categories.  For some it was loud music. For others (quite a few others) it was generators that went all night. A close third was a continually barking dog. Rounding out the reasons was chainsaws and ATVs.

This deserves to be number one. It’s inconsiderate, and it takes away one of the foremost reasons for camping–peace and quiet. Sometimes people have simply gone to the noise-polluter and asked them to stop, and sometimes that works.  Mostly, though, they won’t unless an authority of some kind puts a stop to it.

So–complain to the camp ground supervisor. Phone the police. Get a number of like-minded camping neighbors together and go and respectfully request a cease and desist. Suggest certain times when the noise is allowable. None of these suggestions are very effective, but they do work from time to time. If you are at a paid-for camp site, leave a polite but strongly-worded review on every site you can find if the camp site owners do nothing to help you. If you’re bush camping, try and camp during the week instead of the weekend, if you can. Noise makers generally prefer the weekend.

packing up to go home (and unpacking)

To my surprise, this was number two on the list of campers’ pet peeves. People hate packing up to leave, and they hate unpacking once they get home.  I don’t like it either, truth be told. You not only have to stop doing something you really enjoy, you have to work like crazy to get the stopping done. It’s so unfair! And then once you get home, there’s all that stuff to clean and tidy up and put away. Unfair! Unfair!

I actually wrote a post about what to do to make it not so horrible.  If you’re interested in a few tricks and tips, click here to read about it. And if you’re camping with a group, make sure everyone contributes in the common-area cleanup.  Taking down the kitchen tent, folding the tables, putting out the fire properly–everything goes a little easier if everyone helps.

Mud in the tent.

Tent among trees
Mats inside and outside the tent will help with mud and mess.

Or pine needles. Or sand. In fact, any outdoor stuff that messes up your tidy tent interior.  Whatever it is that leaves a mess, that’s the stuff campers hate to see tracked in.  One of the great truths about roughing it outside is that it is unbelievably easy to get dirty. The outdoors imposes itself on you and your belongings like dirt on Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen.

It helps if you have a mat both inside and outside your tent door. Keep them both shook out on a daily basis. Make the outdoor one as large as you can comfortably pack.  Even a small tarp, with the edge tipped up so water doesn’t funnel under the tent, can help if you spread it out in front of your tent. But make sure it’s one you don’t mind throwing away–using a tarp as a ground cover to walk on wears it out very fast.

Another thing you can do is keep a dustpan and whisk just inside the tent. If you see any pine needles or dirt  you can just sweep it up and toss it outdoors where it belongs. If you have a vestibule or a tarp that acts as an awning over the front of your tent, put a small stool just outside the opening and remove your shoes before you enter the tent. Keep a set of slippers or tent slip-ons for tent use only if you want. Just don’t forget to bring your boots or sneakers inside before turning in for the night. That way they stay dry and no little creature will take up residence in it.

irresponsible pet owners.

This includes people who won’t shut their dogs up. People who don’t pick up their dogs’ poop. People who allow their dog to pee on your tent (yes that was actually mentioned as having happened. That definitely needs to be mentioned in an online review about that camp site). It’s really remarkable how often these things happen. The problem with this is that it puts a bad light on the majority of pet owners, who are responsible people. Just a couple of bad apples and the whole dang basket is ruined.

Speaking to the pet owners about a barking dog sometimes helps.  The other stuff is different–it generally happens when you’re not around.  If you think the site you’re going to will have a lot of dogs, it might be wise to invest in powdered cayenne pepper and spread it around your site where you think dogs will pee.  I would also keep some pet urine-odor and stain remover with you just in case.

forgetting something.

Oh, yes–how often has that happened with us!  From the can opener to my brother’s tent, forgetting an item can really put a temporary dent in your happiness. Here’s what we’ve learned: Make your first camping trip of the year a “shake-out” camping trip. Go somewhere close to civilization and see if everything is still packed in your gear. If you do forget something, you can replace it easily by going into town. Make a note of it for when you put your gear away. We also keep gear lists taped to the front of our storage bins. If something is missing we put a check mark next to it and replace it as soon as we can.

If you get to your site and your tent is missing, it really, truly isn’t the end of the world. Read about what my brother did when he forgot his tent one weekend by clicking here.

going with a group and everyone taking off to have fun, leaving one or two with no help in setting up camp or tent.

While this may be excusable because of high spirits and excitement that they are finally camping, it can be annoying to see them all run off without checking to see if anyone needs help.

Make certain everyone in the group is set up and the camp site itself is ready to go before deciding on fun. In every circle there is at least one person who is unable to set their tent up by themselves. Either the tent itself is to awkward for one person to set it up, or the person is new to the camping world. It doesn’t matter what the reason is. If your tent is set up and ready to go, check to see who is still setting up. You’ll be surprised at how good it makes you feel to help a fellow camper out.

taking three days’ worth of food and eating it all on day one.

I must admit I have never had this problem. My problem is the exact opposite–I go on a three day trip and take enough food for a week. For twice as many people as are going. My cousin did once, though. We let him look longingly at our steaks for a little while before telling him we had plenty.

About the only thing I can tell you in a case like that is: go camping with people like me. You will never, ever go hungry.

a quick list of the rest of the pet peeves, in descending order.

  • Neighbors who don’t put out their campfire properly
  • Camping slobs in your own group (For what to do about it click here)
  • Hikers who don’t stay on the trail
  • Visitors who overstay their welcome
  • People who help themselves to your booze/snacks/drink/food
  • City folk

So how about you guys? Got a pet camping peeve? I’d love to hear about it! Tell me in the comments section below!

Our Top Ten Camping Posts

camping tents
What concerns our readers the most?

Popular camping posts is something I’ve been considering for some time now. Camping and Hiking Ideas has been a blog for a couple of years, so when I was looking over archival content it occurred to me that there was a lot of really, really great stuff that maybe our newer readers didn’t know about. So here is a list of our top ten most popular posts, with a link to each one:

1.  The Instant Tent.

Cabin tents are roomier than dome tents, but bulkier and heavier to take camping.

Our most popular post ever was the review of three different family-sized instant tents. It still gets a lot of attention!  I think it’s because people are looking to streamline their camping experience, so that there’s more time for play and less set-up fuss.  This is especially important for families, who have double the work when camping just because they have to take care of kids when doing so.  For a single camper like me, an 8- or 10-man instant tent gives me the ability to set the thing up by myself in about fifteen minutes, with lots of room inside for comfort. A win-win all around.

2.  camping hacks that do not work, and why.

mosquito catcher bottle
This mosquito catcher doesn’t work at all.

Our second-most popular camping post was about camping hacks that don’t work.  I wrote it because I was sick of seeing these hacks all over the internet, trying them and finding out they were useless, for one reason or another. I’m debating a second one, but that’s in the future some time. Knowing what doesn’t work, and why, is often as helpful as knowing what does.

3. The Horror of a good rod.

This was a surprise to me when I looked at popularity.  It’s a post about my new fishing rod and the difference between it and the old beater I’d had for years. For some reason, the information about rods and reels, birds nests and trying to get the dang thing to cast correctly, from a beginner’s point of view, struck a chord with readers.

4. Choosing a chainsaw for camping.

A good chainsaw makes all the difference in the world.

This one didn’t surprise me at all.  It’s an interview with two very experienced chainsaw owners, and what they do to choose and take care of their chainsaws. You can’t find some of their suggestions anywhere else.  It’s good reading; not too long, but packed with usable information about selecting a chainsaw that’s right for a camper. Incidentally, we have a new article coming up where we talk to a gold-level tech who has been with Stihl for 20 years.  Should be fantastic! Check back over the next couple of weeks for that one.

5.  easy camping meals.

Sandwich
Good food is surprisingly easy to make while camping if you have a plan in mind.

This popular camping post garnered a great deal of appreciation from the fact that it began with a number of guidelines for creating and executing delicious meals for camp, without having to necessarily break the bank or depend on instant foods. It then gives you five suggestions each for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with recipe links to each. Not everyone likes to spend hours preparing meals at camp, but they still like to eat well-balanced, appetizing food. This teaches you how.

6. Carny bacon.

Deep-fried bacon and dipping sauce.
Camping Carny Bacon. Hog heaven.

Carny Bacon is a relatively new post, but has it ever taken off!  This top article is huge right now. When I developed this recipe it was with the intention of creating something that was sweet and salty and very self-indulgent. It’s a hit in our family, too–one particular nephew asks me to make it every few days. Because three pieces of bacon makes 12 pieces of carny bacon, it’s kind of frugal, too. Who would have guessed?

7. Dutch oven secrets.

Dutch ovens
Mastering dutch oven cooking is something you will never regret.

For campers, Dutch oven cooking is a revelation.  There’s something wonderful about this camping essential.  The article contains five secrets to successful Dutch oven cooking. Okay, there’s a bonus sixth one, too, but don’t tell anyone I told you. It’s supposed to be a surprise.

8. A Great night’s sleep while camping.

owl
You can sleep great at night camping if you follow the guidelines in this post.

This article contains pretty much all you need to know about getting a great night’s sleep while camping. It was inspired by a comment from a busy (and fatigued) mother who hesitated to camp because she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to sleep. Well mom, (and anyone else who loves a good night’s rest) there you go!

9. Setting up a camp kitchen.

Screen tent
Screen tents are great for setting up camp kitchens in

Setting up a camp kitchen that really works is the result of much trial and error on the part of my family and friends.  We essentially took the best and discarded the rest when it came to making a great camp kitchen. This is the most popular article on setting up a camp kitchen, but if you’re looking for a camp kitchen for a crowd, click on this link.

10. recipes for when there’s no fire.

cherry cream cheese on bagel
A breakfast so good, you won’t wait for no fire as an excuse. Good for you, too.

The article, “What Do You Eat When the Fire Goes Out?” gained some attention, but not like the link in it, which leads to all the recipes for all the menu suggestions in the post.  There are five suggestions each for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert, and four suggestions for snacks, all prepared without a fire of any kind. I guess it’s because we’ve had a lot of fire bans this year. Either way, the food is wonderful!

I hope you take a quick look at these articles.  They have a ton of information for new and experienced campers alike. According to my analytics page, the majority of my visitors like them. I hope you do, too.

The Longest Hiking Trail In The World

Trans Canada Trail
The Trans Canada Trail is also known as The Great Trail.

The Trans Canada Trail–purported to be the longest hiking trail in the world. Also known as the Great Trail, This recreational hiking trail is still being created; the goal is to have an unbroken trail that goes through every province and territory in Canada. As of this week, the trail is 93% connected.

Some interesting facts.

You can’t do the entire (so far) 22,000 km (13,670.1 miles) just by walking.  The trail is designed to be traversed by walking/hiking, cycling, horseback riding, paddling, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. Since about 80% of Canadians live within a half hour of some part of the Great trail, it’s easily accessible by nearly everyone. Once it’s all connected, there will be 23,864 km (14,828.4 miles) to conquer.

They have an app for that.

They now have a mobile app that enables you to access the entire trail and find out about every area, download maps and plan your hiking trip. It’s available for IOS or android phones. Hopefully we’ll be providing a link to them soon, but if you can’t wait (and why should you), you can access the app through Apple.

The latest part of the trail to link up.

The very first province to link up all parts of the trail in their province was Newfoundland/Labrador (Go Newfoundlanders!). The latest link, though, is the Chief Isador Trail, which goes from Cranbrook to Wardner, in British Columbia. This is a beautiful destination trail, and by the looks of the video and photos, it’s going to be one of the more popular sections of the Great Trail to hike.

So get out there! Put your hiking shoes on. Grab your backpack. Download the app. Upload photos on it. Take some more photos for the album. And learn what if really means to be part of the great outdoors, by hiking the Great Trail.

Trans Canada hiking trail
Get out and hike.

 

What To Do About Camping Slobs

litter at campsite
The spoor of jackass campers

Camping slobs–do NOT get me started. I hate it when I try my best to keep the camp organized and half the group drops crap everywhere. Or when I leave my camp kitchen immaculate, go on a hike and come back to food and dirty utensils on every surface. Or when the shovel, axe, chairs or jackets and towels are strewn around the site with no regard for possible rain or tripping accidents? It’s enough to make me double my beer intake.

It sure as heck bothers most people who like a modicum of order. So how do we avoid all that? Here are some ideas:

A place for everything.

One of the most effective preventative measures is literally having a place for everything.  Many times camping items get left in awkward areas because no one is sure where to leave it. If you have a stack of wood near the campfire, create a tool rack for the axe, shovel, hotdog forks and anything fire related. Just drive two sturdy sticks into the ground that are forked at the top end. Place another stick in the forks. Lean the tools up against it.  Rig a tarp so it protects the wood and tools from rain. You have a place for stuff.

If your covered camp kitchen is too small to put all the gear in, do what we do. Place the coolers in a tidy row along once side of the kitchen tent on the outside. That way it’s readily accessible for preparing food but keeps the kitchen area fairly clear of clutter.

Organize a wash station and keep soap, a wash basin, cloth and a towel there. Keep it near the camp stove so heating water is easier. Arrange drinkables on a table with glasses and utensils. Add condiments and sugar, salt and pepper. People can go there for drinks and flavoring throughout the day without getting underfoot. And everything has a specific place!

containers.

You can never have too many containers at a camp site.

Take along two pop-up laundry hampers, the ones you buy at the dollar store that fold down into a flat disc. Put a garbage bag in each of them. One is for garbage you can’t burn, the other is for recyclables. If you still have a slob that insists on leaving cans or bottles on the ground and walking away, direct their attention to the recycle bin.

Boxes that fold flat and open up for use can be great for small things. Fire starter, work gloves, extra tarps, kids toys, or anything else that has a tendency to spread out on a site can be placed in one.

Hang things up–cup hooks screwed into a tree works. So does a belt around a tree trunk with “S” hooks hanging from it. And good old fashioned clothes lines are great for getting things up and at eye level.

Small plastic bins for utensils and little items can be prepacked; just take off the lid, place it on the table, and put the plastic bin on top. At night you can replace the lid, and when you pack up to go home, just put the small bin in the larger kitchen bins you have. Small plastic containers like that keep the mess under control in the kitchen.

signage!

This is something I did a couple of years ago and I’m still wondering why I didn’t think of it sooner.

When you’re at home, invest in a laminator and laminating pouches. Then go sign crazy! Print out signs from your computer and laminate them. You can place them on trees using thumb tacks and tent poles using duct tape. It’s amazing what a sign will do to remind people to keep the area tidy. Some suggestions:

  1. Washing Station (Empty Water From Basin When Done)
  2. Pick Up After Yourself–Bottles and Cans In Here
  3. Get Your Drinks and Snacks Here
  4. Do Not Touch
  5. Please Put All Wet Towels On Line To Dry
  6. Return Tools To This Area When Done
  7. Chairs Go Here When Not In Use
  8. First Aid Kit
  9. Please Ask Chief Cook And Bottle Washer If (S)He Needs Help
  10. Never Leave The Site Without Telling Someone

–The ideas are endless, and they work.

The Final Solution.

Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and speak to someone. Most of the time it’s not a problem–family members expect communication lines to be open–but when it’s a friend you’ve invited along it can be tricky. Decide if you will just pick up after them and then never invite them again, or if there is a tactful (very, very tactful) way of speaking to them about the mess they are leaving everywhere. Sometimes you can use humor to diffuse the situation. You need to ask yourself, though, if it’s worth losing a friendship over.  If you don’t do it exactly right, that pal you like enough to invite may never spend time with you again. Sometimes, as mentioned before, you may just decide to pick up after them. Put the onus on yourself if they mention something. “Yes, I’m very picky. I love a tidy camp site.” A worthwhile pal will try to stay tidier; maybe not perfect, but better.

Keeping your camp site clean and organized makes it easier to pack up when you go home, and when you leave a site as clean or cleaner than when you came, you’re doing everyone a favor. (More signage.)

 

 

One Meal, Two Climates; Menus For Uncooperative Weather

camp cooking
You don’t need alchemy or elaborate tools to change a hot meal into a cold one, and vice versa.

What do you do if you have planned a menu for weather that just won’t cooperate? Because let’s face it–when you camp, the climate doesn’t care what you have in mind, menus included.

Fortunately, it’s simple to revamp your camp menu while you are there, without adding a lot of extras to the kitchen supplies. You can also adjust practically any meal so that it’s delicious and comforting even if the forecast lies. The following principles and tips will give you the confidence to plan a menu for any camping trip that works for summer, winter, and everything in between. We also have links to recipes you can use, too!

Making cold dishes hot.

Soup
Take the ingredients you had for a cold meal and make a soup out of them.

So the weather man said your trip was going to be a scorcher from beginning to end, and you created a menu of refreshing, light, cold dishes. On day one, you wake up to hail, and the temperature never gets above jacket weather.

Breakfast:

Take oatmeal instead of cold cereal. If you have planned for hot weather, you can make overnight oatmeal, which is tasty and refreshing. But if it’s really, really chilly, adapt by cooking your oatmeal over the camping stove and adding delicious ingredients. You can find hot oatmeal recipes here.

Planned on having fruit salad and yogurt? You still can. Check out this Hot Fruit Salad recipe, topped with yogurt and drizzled with honey. It’s a keeper, let me tell you. And so good for you! But don’t tell the kids. Tell them you’re having dessert for breakfast. They’ll ask for seconds.

Lunch:

A cold meat and cheese plate is easily converted to a hot meal by placing the meat and some cheese between two sliced of bread, buttering both sides and making a grilled cheese-and-meat sandwich.  Take along some instant soup as a back-up and add that to your grilled sandwich meal. Oh-so-tasty!

If you were just going to have cold sandwiches, just add a cup of hot soup to the menu.

You can also plan on a cold soup like vichyssois, which can be served hot or cold, and toast some bread or buns over the fire as a side.

Dinner:

Dinner is generally a warm meal anyway, with hot dogs or hamburgers topping the list for a summer meal. But what if you have potato salad? If you’re pre-making it and bringing it to camp, don’t add the mayo. When you’re ready to serve and it’s still warm out, then add the mayo. But if it’s cold out, forget the condiment and jazz up your potato salad by throwing it into a big pot and adding just enough chicken broth or water to keep it from burning. Stir until hot and set aside. In a separate saucepan heat up a cup of frozen or canned peas or green beans for every 4 cups of potato salad, and stir into potato mixture. Then  mix in about 1/8 cup vinegar for every 4 cups of potato salad and about 1 cup cooked, sliced bacon. Serve your hot potato salad right along side those burgers and hot dogs and bask in your families approval.

Or hash it up! If you haven’t added mayo and/or mustard to your potato salad, you can toss it in a big frying pan with a whack of butter. Fry until those wonderful crispy bits are edging golden-brown potato pieces. If you don’t want to make hamburgers, fry up the hamburger meat and toss it in with the hashed potatoes. Instant hot dinner, and very, very satisfying.

Making Hot dishes Cold.

Breakfast:

If you brought that oatmeal, make No-Cook Trail Mix Oatmeal. It’s done the night before and requires no cooking. Delish and satisfying.

Were you going to make steak and eggs, or bacon and eggs? Fry it up, let it cool, and make a breakfast sandwich using bagels or buns.

Pancakes? Make them, let them  cool, and then spread them with jam, Nutella or sugar and cinnamon, then roll them up and eat them by hand.

Lunch:

That tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich can be a camping gazpacho or tomato juice, and cheese sandwich instead.

Did you have mac n’ cheese in mind? Make it and spread it out into a flat pan, to a depth of 1″,  and let cool. Cut into 1″ by 3″ strips. Get 3 bowls: in one place a cup of flour; in the other, an egg, well beaten; and in the last, 1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs. Take a mac n’ cheese stick and dip it in flour, then egg, then roll it in bread crumbs. Fry in about 2″ of oil in a frying pan until coating is a golden brown. Let cool. Serve with ketchup to dip it in. If you want something a little more complex than ketchup, stir a little gazpacho blend into it. Or make sriracha mayo–1 heaping tablespoon sriracha mixed into 1 cup mayo.

Dinner:
bagel sandwich
Sometimes changing a hot meal to a cold one is just a matter of letting the meat cool and making an awesome sandwich.

Were you going to have steak, baked potatoes and a salad? Instead of baking the potatoes, boil them, cool them, and make a potato salad. Cook the steaks and let cool, then dice them and mix them into the potato salad. Serve greens on the side.

Roast chicken, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob? Cool the chicken and shred. For every cup of chicken add 1/8 cup barbecue sauce of choice. Pile on to a bun. If you’ve already made the mashed potatoes, save for making potato pancakes or hash the next day. If not, just don’t make them. Use the corn on the cob to make a fresh and tasty tomato and corn salad.

 

 

Campfire Ban Cooking

There’s other ways to cook besides a campfire when camping.

There is nothing quite so maddening as having your camping menu set and then finding out that there is a campfire ban in place. Some people are intimidated by the thought of camp fire ban cooking (that is, without a camp fire), but it’s easier than you know.

You can have just as good a time camping without a camp fire. I will admit I would always rather have one, but it doesn’t ruin my camping trip if a ban is put in place for the time I want to camp. And you don’t have to worry about what to do for cooking, either. All our recipes can be used for the following cooking methods. Here are your options:

Charcoal grill:

Take your portable grill with you and fire up that barbie! You haven’t lived until you try barbecue-grilled food in the great outdoors miles away from any back yard. With a portable grill you can still have hot dogs and s’mores if you want them, and your steak will be awesome. If your portable grill is low to the ground you would be surprised at how pleasant it is to sit around it, too.

camping stove:

Most people never go camping without a camping stove anyway. We take two, and quite frankly most of our meals are prepared on the propane camp stove; the heat is easier to regulate. If there is a campfire ban we just make sure to leave the Dutch oven at home and bring along a portable grill (see above).

Rocket stove:

This is admittedly iffy.  Some authorities will allow a rocket stove and others won’t. It depends on the size of the campfire ban and all sorts of stuff.  Quite frankly we don’t mess with rocket stoves unless there is no ban and we want to impress the kids. But if you check with the authorities in the area you will be camping and they are okay with it, it’s a handy little item to carry with you; easy to pack and great to make a quick pot of boiled water for coffee or tea. Or soup. Or what have you.

solar cookers:

This didn’t used to be a real option but now there are more solar cookers than you can shake a stick at. You have parabolic cookers, solar ovens, and even a solar panel-powered generator you can plug an electric two-burner on, if that’s the way you want to go. If you’re looking for adventurous cooking, look no further.

No cooking at all:

Granted, it may feel like a challenge to create a weekend menu that doesn’t require any cooking but it’s surprisingly easy to do. We have a menu, complete with recipes, with all kinds of options for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, desserts and snacks–five days’ worth!  If you want to take a look at the menu, click here.

Dutch oven:

Yes, yes, I know I said we leave the Dutch oven at home, but if we wanted to take it we could.  And so could you. A Dutch oven cooks great with charcoal briquettes; just bring a base for it to sit on so the heat isn’t sucked into the ground. If you’re not sure how many briquettes you’ll need, estimate and then double your guess. Nothing’s worse than running out of briquettes.

What about you? Any suggestions or ideas about cooking during a camp fire ban? What have you done? I’d love to hear your comments!

The Best Trail Mix You Will Ever Eat

Trail mix
The best trail mix you will ever eat.

I know–like me, you’ve probably heard “the best” more times than you can count.  But man, this is–really is–the best trail mix I have ever eaten–and my co-campers will agree.

I first began to believe that when my brother came camping with us, and I set a huge bowl of the trail mix out for everyone to enjoy. I swear, except for breakfast, all he ate was the trial mix. The healthy, nutritious trail mix.

For three days.

I knew it was good, though. And I’m going to be straightforward here–it is expensive for budget followers.  The recipe runs me about forty dollars when I buy bulk, for about 10 cups of trail mix. But that’s because it’s not expanded with fillers like pretzel sticks and chex mix and candies.  This mix is pure dried fruit and nuts and seeds. If you go camping, this will sustain you absolutely. You’ll need greens and citrus maybe (maybe), but you are good to go for energy. My family will not eat trail mix unless it’s this recipe:

1/2 cup each:

Roasted, salted peanuts; cashews, plus macadamia nuts, also walnuts, then almonds and finally shelled sunflower seeds. Add a little more of your favorites, if you like. A 1/2 cup of filberts (also known as hazelnuts) and a cup of Brazil nuts is wonderful. NECESSARY: 2 cups BBQ peanuts. I mean it. Spicy, if you can find them.

1/2 cup each:

Dried cherries, dried cranberries, chopped dried apricots and finally chopped dried plums (prunes). You can add a little more of what you like, but this mix is the best, I’ve found.

1 cup each:

dried mango strips, chopped into bite-sized strips, about the size of your thumb–Essential ingredient. Pecans–halved, not pieces. Raisins.

trail mix
Good for hiking, camping, glamping, snacking at home.

Mix together and store in a plastic container. Alternately, you can use a zip-lock bag. Don’t worry that there is too much; it will all get eaten and they will be looking for more. Makes about 10 cups of deliciousness.

You can, of course, change the amounts as you see fit.  But start with this recipe. It’s salty, sweet, crunchy, chewy and deliciously satisfying.

I promise.

One last thing–if you like this recipe, and you want more ideas for snacks, you can find more here.


Your First Camping Trip

tent in woods
You need a tent for camping, but what else?

You’ve been invited to go camping! That’s great!  One problem–you’ve never been, have no idea what to take, and wonder just what’s involved in going camping. Well, here’s a “Camping 101” –a quick rundown that will give you some idea of what to do before, during and after your first camping trip.

Who, What.

If you have been invited by friends, will you be going with them or travelling separately? If you’re going with them you need to find out how much room you’ll have to pack your stuff.

Because there will be stuff.

How much depends on what your friends are going to provide for you. Do they have any gear for you? Will you be taking your own food? Snacks?

Assuming the only thing you will have is a ride and a campfire when you get there, this is what you will need for yourself:

–Lots, huh? It packs down amazingly well, but it will still take up considerable space. If they have the room in their car, great! If they don’t, you’ll need to get them to make room. Don’t fret too much–experienced campers will know that already.

When, Where.

The season will dictate a lot of your camp gear choices.  Obviously you will need an all-season tent and sleeping bag if the weather is cool or cold; always over-compensate for the weather when choosing your gear. Even in summer, if the camp site is in the mountains, you can have snow. We have, on more than one occasion. Never assume you will stay dry. Prepare for cold, wet weather, and you’ll never suffer (badly).

Check to see if the campsite you’ll be staying at is an established site and whether or not it has showers and other amenities.  Even if it has a toilet you may still want to take a portable toilet with you if your tent is big enough; it’s a little luxury that you won’t regret at three in the morning when you suddenly realize you need to go. Badly. Now.

If it’s a campsite in the bush, ask how close to fresh water you’ll be.  The further away you are, the more water you’ll have to bring and/or fetch for cleanliness and hydration.

Will you have your own transportation? The best thing to do is arrange to follow the other vehicles out to the place, especially if it’s not an established site. It’s easy to lose your fellow campers if you’re not familiar with where the site is located.

How.

As soon as you get to the site, pick out a spot for your tent, clear it of any debris like sticks and rocks, because you don’t want holes poked in your tent floor. Make sure it’s level (no slopes, otherwise you’ll be fetching up beside the downward tent wall when you sleep). Next, lay a tarp down and erect your tent. Setting up a tent by yourself can be difficult. If you don’t think anyone will be helping you, choose an instant tent, which are a lot easier to erect.

Once your tent is done, blow up your air mattress and lay the liner on it, then your sleeping bag. Throw your gear in the tent. Set up your little personal toilet in one corner, if you brought one.

Then grab your camping chair and set it by the fire. Sit in it. Wonder at the beauty that is nature.  Contemplate the joys of marshmallows roasting on the end of a stick.

That’s it! Your camping!

After.

Of course, after you go camping you have to unpack.  You will get a whole bunch of tips on how to do that as painlessly as possible here.

Easy, right? No? Well, maybe not.  But definitely worth it.