The Camping Experience: Cooking over an open fire.

My darling and I recently went on a backpacking/camping excursion with my brother and sister-in-law, Will and Janette Harrington. They are very at home in the wilderness. They have all the camp gear, all the little gadgets, and all the camping gizmos one would need to rough it in relative comfort. From a camp stove that can burn any type of fuel, to an ultraviolet water purifier that resembles a sonic screwdriver (Those of you who follow Dr. Who know what I’m talking about), they had it all.

Myself? Well, my idea of “roughing it” is Motel 6 – I like my creature comforts. I love my bed, my shower, my chair, my kitchen. But what really threw me was being unplugged from the world for three whole days. No Internet, no email, no Google, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Still, my darling really wanted to go (she had never camped before) and so we made plans. I even offered to cook breakfast and dinner for everyone on Saturday. It couldn’t be too different from backyard grilling, right?

We drove to Carson, Washington and met Will and Janette at the Backwoods Brewing Company. This is a local microbrewery that has some pretty decent beers as well as a pineapple cider for my gluten-intolerant darling. From there Will and Janette wanted to treat us to a prime rib dinner before we headed to the campsite. Thinking this might be the last opportunity for civilized cuisine available for the next few days, I readily agreed. Where we ended up was at the Blue Collar Café. Civilized? A bit of a stretch. Cuisine? Not on your life!

Now, I want to be fair from the outset: what I saw was a small-town hole-in-the-wall that was living up to its name. Janette said they had done a lot of work on the place and that the food was pretty good – not fancy, but decent. When we stepped inside, I could only imagine what the place looked like before they did all the work. I was surprised to see that they actually had prime rib on the menu and – never one to turn down a free prime rib dinner, that’s what I ordered – medium rare. My darling ordered hers medium rare as well and Janette ordered hers rare. Will decided on the fish and chips – in hindsight I suspect he knew better. We received three servings of well-done pot roast that was overly salted and peppered. When asked if the au jus had any gluten in it, our waitress said she would have to look at the ingredients on the bag. (Huge Red Flag: their au jus comes from a bag and isn’t made from scratch). It didn’t and so we all hunkered down to eat the dry roast. To be fair, this is Carson, Washington but wow, not a place I would ever recommend to anyone who has live, active taste buds.

After the dinner fiasco, off to the campsite we went. An hour drive later into the mountains, we came to the parking area and to the trailhead of the campsite. I say trailhead because now we got to don backpacks and hike in.

One thing that needs to be emphasized here again: I don’t camp. So when Will and Janette said it would be a leisurely hike, I thought,  “No problem, I can pack a cooler with all the necessities for Saturday’s breakfast and dinner.” But I found myself hiking on a trail that in many places had a cliff on one side and a drop off on the other, with a backpack on my back and full cooler in my hand. Everyone had me take the lead thinking that I was the most loaded down and thus I should se the pace. So off I went. Ten minutes into the hike I paused to catch my breath, panting like a dog stuck in a car on a summers day with the windows rolled up and I looked behind me and what do I see? Nothing. My darling, my brother, my sister-in-law were nowhere to be seen. A minute or so later, here they come, leisurely strolling up the trail. Another forty minutes of hiking and we made it to the campsite.

After a restless first night sleeping on hard ground instead of my nice bed, I prepared breakfast the next morning, which didn’t turn out as planned. I decided on bacon, eggs and hotcakes. The bacon was cooked on a grill over the open fire and didn’t turn out half bad, although I wasn’t able to get it particularly crispy without a frying pan. The eggs were cooked on Will’s little camp stove and they too turned out all right (it’s pretty hard to mess up scrambled eggs). However, the hotcakes were a complete and total disaster.  For whatever reason, they turned into this pasty lumpy mush that didn’t resemble hotcakes in any way, shape or form. However,  I was told they tasted good, especially with the homemade strawberry jam that I had brought. I was unconvinced.

Fast forward to dinner – this is, after all, a foodie adventure. The menu included pork loin, baby potatoes, baby carrots and onions. While Will got a nice bed of coals in the fire pit, I pulled out a double thick layer of aluminum foil and placed a slab of pork loin in the center. I seasoned it with dried roasted garlic, salt, cumin, black pepper, oregano, paprika, sumac, cayenne pepper and cilantro. On one side of the loin, I placed some sliced potatoes, and on the other, some of the baby carrots. I topped it all with a thick slice of sweet onion and sealed it all up. I then sealed that package in another layer of aluminum foil folded in the opposite direction. I repeated the process until I had four single-serving packages assembled.

They went into the coals and then I piled some more small branches and such on top. This was my timer. I figured that when all the branches were burned up, the packages would be done, and I was right. The resulting dinner surprised even me in how tasty it was. The pork loin was seasoned perfectly and was moist and tender. The carrots and potatoes were perfect having cooked in the seasoned pork loin juices. We ended the meal with some gourmet organic dark chocolate and a nice 12 yr old single malt scotch.

Everyone was happy and content with the meal and went to bed with full stomachs. Who says camping has to be limited to trail food?

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