We have been enjoying our very first summer here in California with a couple of camping trips. We left our camping gear back in Australia – neither of us can figure out exactly why we did that but everything was such a blur with finishing the build of our house and packing and moving 3 times within a couple of months. So we bought new supplies to get out and enjoy this beautiful part of the world.
We camped at Yosemite and Lake Tahoe which are both in black bear territory so the rules are pretty strict about the storage of food and toiletries. Both campsites have bear proof lockers which were huge. I bought 2 big plastic tubs with lids – one for food and one for cooking/eating equipment (cooking utensils, pots and pans, cutlery, crockery, paper towels, matches etc). Both these tubs were stored in the bear proof lockers along with our esky.
A two burner stove came in very hand for boiling up water for washing up and making a cup of tea etc. I have a solid cast iron Lodge double sided griddle which fits perfectly on the stove. This was used for making pancakes and flat breads. I also got a huge Lodge cast iron dutch oven which was great for cooking up a sausage stew in but also perfect for cooking up a loaf of damper in or roasting a whole chicken. It is strictly for campfire cooking as it is just too big to fit on the camping stove.
I don’t know if it is the fact that our kids are so much older now or if we were just super organised, or a combination of both, but camping was so much easier and more relaxing than I last remember. A menu was decided on for each meal, including snacks, and I prepared a few things beforehand. So I thought I would share a few food ideas from our trips.
For breakfasts we had either pancakes or porridge. We only ever use this Julie Goodwin recipe for pancakes because it is such a winner. I don’t bother with the buttermilk though when we go camping, just regular milk. Before we go I measure out the dry ingredients into a big bowl with a lid so then all I need to do is add the milk and eggs and whisk. This can get done while the pan heats up on the stove. I pack some long life cream in the esky plus maple syrup and either berries or bananas to have with the pancakes. A delicious start to the day.
For porridge, I just measure out the oats for 6 people and write on the packet how much water/milk I’ll need. Then I’ll mix a little cinnamon in with brown sugar so we have a special topping.
When we first arrive at the campsite we are usually starving so I enjoy making this chicken salad before we leave so that as soon as the tent is set up and air mattresses are pumped up we can sit down for a bit of good food without having to cook. Buy some fresh bread on the way to the campsite and have it with the salad. An icy cold beer straight from the esky goes very well with this.
1 cold BBQ chicken, meat pulled off the bone and roughly chopped up
5 bacon rashers, chopped
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped (or a few finely chopped spring onions)
1 red capsicum, finely chopped
4 tablespoons mayonnaise (homemade is the best otherwise whole egg mayo)
1 small bunch of chives, finely chopped
cos lettuce, roughly torn up
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a pan, fry the bacon until crisp then place on a paper towel to cool. In a large bowl, mix together the chicken, bacon, red onion, capsicum, mayonnaise and chives. Season with some salt and pepper.
Arrange the lettuce in a portable container along with the cucumber. Tip the chicken salad over the top and it is ready to get transported. When you are ready to serve just give everything a light toss and serve with crusty bread or use sliced bread to make a fantastic chicken and lettuce sandwich.
Camping at Tahoe for our very first 4th of July was very special. The lake was crystal clear and the kids did nothing but swim and kayak. Levi and Tilly befriended some other kids on the jetty and they all made it their mission to try and catch a fish bare handed. It was just perfect and as much as I miss the beaches back home it was nice to not have to be worried about rips.
The gorgeous walk from our campsite to Lake Tahoe.
For one meal I made a lentil soup and we made flatbreads on the griddle. For the flatbreads I had the dry ingredients all measured out and ready to go, just like the pancakes. So all I needed to do was add water and oil then knead, roll out and cook. A friend recommended I make the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe for Spicy Bean Stew with Sausages. My kids have not been enjoying the sausages available here in America very much. It can be a bit hit or miss but I thought I would give it a go and it was a huge success. It was very simple to make and I got Essie the job of preparing the potatoes to get thrown in the coals for a side of baked potatoes.
spicy bean stew with sausages
(slightly adapted from The River Cottage Family Cookbook)
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 good pork sausages
1 brown onion, finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 small tin of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 small tin of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 small tins of whole peeled tomatoes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
I found it helpful to measure out the spices and the brown sugar and pop them in a zip lock bag ready to be thrown in the stew. It cuts down the need to pack and transport lots of jars and measuring spoons.
Start by frying the sausages in a big pot with the olive oil until brown. Then remove them and cover with foil. Fry the onion gently until soft and then add the garlic and cook for a further couple of minutes. Add the sugar and spices and the tomatoes. Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon or potato masher then add the sausages and beans. Season well and let everything come up to a gentle simmer then pop the lid on and leave to cook for an hour or more, stirring from time to time.
Serve with baked potatoes or some bread to dunk in.
Now it wouldn’t be camping without marshmallows. Making your own marshmallows is so easy if you have a stand mixer and a candy thermometer. I made a batch each time we went camping and they were such a highlight. Perfect to throw into a hot chocolate, to make s’mores or just to toast on a stick. I adapted my usual recipe to use a light agave nectar rather than the corn syrup but don’t be fooled into thinking it is sugar free.
1 cup of water
3 tablespoons gelatin
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup light agave nectar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
sifted icing sugar for dusting
Line a 30cm x 20cm baking tray with baking paper and lightly oil with vegetable oil.
Put half the water into the bowl of the stand mixer, which is fitted with a whisk, and sprinkle over the gelatin. Pour the remaining water into a large saucepan (the mixture will bubble up a little so you don’t want a small saucepan) along with the sugar, agave nectar and a pinch of salt. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and then leave it to boil until it reaches 116 degrees C (240 degrees F) on a candy thermometer.
Turn the stand mixer on to a slow speed and slowly pour in the bubbling sugar mixture in. Once it is all in and well combined then turn up the speed to high and continue mixing for another 12 -15 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix through. Pour into the lined baking tray and pop into the fridge overnight or until set (I managed to whip up a batch a couple of hours before we left to go camping and it set in time).
Sift icing sugar all over a chopping board and then invert the tray of marshmallow onto it. Then sift more icing sugar over the marshmallow slab. Dust a big knife with icing sugar and chop up into small squares, rolling the squares in a little extra icing sugar as you go to prevent them sticking to anything. Pop in a container and they are ready to go.
Other things that are handy to take is a batch of biscuits or a slice for afternoon or morning tea. Something with oats is good for energy. Our favourite are these Oat Choc Chunk Cookies but I like these Chocolate Pecan Cookies too. A whole watermelon is a must if there is room in the esky. And for me I bought a camping coffee pot. I bought good coffee beans and ground them up just before we left and if I was patient with the pot it could make a pretty good coffee. It was a good way to start the day while my little scout children got busy making the morning fire.
It is also worth taking a pack of cards, a soccer ball to kick around and have some stories ready to tell the kids. Tilly and I packed our knitting needles and did some knitting around the fire which was lovely too. Here is hoping we get to squeeze in a couple more camping trips before the snow returns.