We had hoped to create and share some amazing campstove recipes with you, but so far we’re having a tough time cooking anything but the most basic food. Don’t worry, Moms, we are eating, but it’s the kind of food we made in college — survival food. We’re talking pasta with sauce from a jar, “enhanced ramen” (just add veggies!), and soup from a can. We love to cook, and we’re both OK at it, so why is this turning out to be so hard? Here are a few of the difficulties we’ve been facing:
1. The setup. The Coleman has two reliable temps: on and off. When it’s on, it’s on full blast. When it’s off, it’s off. It also has developed a new setting we’ve deemed “fireball.” It’s really hard to cook something with finesse on a jet burner. It does not know the meaning of simmer.
2. The dark. The sun now sets around 5:30pm. We’re racing against darkness: the minutes tick by as we are less and less able to see what we’re doing. Our headlamps attract moths and other bugs that then fall into the supper. And then, as soon as the sun sets, you get:
3. The cold. Brr…it’s winter! Sure, we’re in the desert, but it still gets chilly at night. The cold adds two challenges: first, your fingers get numb and not so nimble as you try to finely dice the garlic. Second, your food gets cold the second it hits the plate. We try to get things as hot as possible, then eat them as quickly as possible.
4. The ingredients. Picture yourself in a typical grocery store. You can only buy enough food to make one meal — no leftovers. What do you buy? This is proving to be quite a challenge. It’s HARD to buy small servings of things — our entire food-buying mentality seems to be based on economy-sized packages. Like bacon, for one. I am craving perfectly cooked bacon like a fiend. But I am not craving a pound of bacon, which seems to be the smallest size available.
5. The dishwasher (or lack thereof). When you’re on a shorter vacation, you just wing it — wipe your plate with a napkin and wash it really well when you get home in two weeks. But this is our home, and it does not have a dishwasher, much less consistently warm water! Unscented, biodegradable soap is our new friend, along with lots of vinegar and baking soda (used separately!). This setup makes cooking any kind of meat a tough proposition (not to mention it attracts skunks).
6. The wildlife. So far it hasn’t been an issue, but at some point we’ll be in scavenger country. That makes things like tuna sandwiches strictly off limits. It’s strange to take into consideration the lingering scent of a food when shopping!
7. The schedule. We typically eat a small breakfast, then a big lunch out, then we cook dinner. Lunch out is cheaper and more of a treat, but we tend to forget to eat it until 2 or 3pm, so we’re not really hungry for dinner at 5pm. This schedule does have a few advantages, though — it is proving to be quite inexpensive and slimming!
So, consider us your Camp Test Kitchen. We’ll continue to try our best to make adult-level food, but it’s going to take some trial and error. At some point, though, we’ve got to get good at this — right??!?
Have you learned any camp cooking secrets? Share your tips and hints in the comments.