Camp cooks ignite creativity

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      Tammy Tromba has a novel way of making dinner when she’s on a camping trip. She simply lights her food on fire.

      Well, not exactly. First, she rinses out and dries a milk carton. Then she wraps a piece of pizza or a sub in a layer of tinfoil, followed by a layer of wet newspaper and another of tinfoil. She puts the whole thing in the milk carton, then places it on a nonflammable surface like gravel, and sets it alight. When the carton has finished burning—voilí ! A hot meal.

      Tromba, who is the Vancouver-area camp adviser for the Girl Guides of Canada, explains that she performs this trick “just to keep the kids interested”. She estimates that she takes between 12 and 20 trips a year, both backpacking and car camping, on her own and leading her young charges.

      While many people at local campgrounds default to weenie roasts, cooking while camping doesn’t have to be that way. “Anything you can cook at home you can cook at camp,” Tromba tells the Straight in a phone interview. When she’s car camping, she brings an Outback Oven, an attachment to a camp stove sold at outdoors stores that facilitates baking. This lets her make lasagna, shepherd’s pie, brownies, cakes, and even pies. Think that sounds like a lot of work? “Part of camping is eating really well and enjoying the whole process of doing it outdoors,” Tromba says.

      Tromba offers a few tips to make camp cooking easier. “Make sure you have enough propane,” she advises. For a weekend of camping, she brings a three-pack of canisters for her stove. Ensure that you have two ways of lighting your stove, such as a flint or a barbecue lighter in addition to matches, because “if it’s really wet, matches don’t work very well.” Don’t forget a strainer for draining pasta and washing fruits and veggies, because campgrounds generally just have a tap, rather than a sink. Bring along three wash basins for doing dishes—soap, rinse, and disinfect—and a rubber spatula to scrape plates clean first. “You can get away with doing dishes for six people with one litre of water,” she says.

      Jonathan Beggs camps four or five times a year and is planning a weekend hiking trip to Mount Baker. The hard goods and footwear manager at Coast Mountain Sports’ West 4th Avenue location agrees that for car camping, “you can bring pretty much anything you want,” in terms of food. But for hiking, the rules change.

      “In the backcountry, you have to be concerned about the weight and the volume your food is taking up in your pack,” he says by phone from the store. “When you’re out on a trek, you want something that is as lightweight as possible. You’re also going to want something that’s easy to prepare. You’re not going to be cooking gourmet meals”¦because you’re tired and you’re hungry and you want to eat right away.

      “It’s generally best to go as simple as possible,” he says, by preparing meals based on instant oatmeal, rice, and quinoa. For dinner, Beggs likes the Backpacker’s Pantry brand of just-add-water pad Thai ($6 for two servings). Don’t skimp on quantities, however. “There’s nothing worse than being starving and having to ration your food when you’re out there,” he says.

      Frequent car camper Devin Babiuk also enjoys Thai food in the open air, but for him, camping is a chance to go gourmet.

      “We eat better camping than we do at home,” Babiuk, who works as a labourer, says in a phone interview from his Port Moody residence. “When you’re at home, you come home from work and you’ve got your kid to deal with and you’re making dinner for your family, and then you’re wrapping up your day.

      “With camping, it’s so leisurely. You can start thinking about dinner the day before, and be prepping everything during the day while you’re socializing with your friends and family and having a few beers and lighting the fire. It’s the whole experience,” he says.

      With a big frying pan, Babiuk whips up stir-fries. Cans of coconut milk and packets of curry paste and rice noodles make curries and pad Thai.

      He cooks on two push-button Thunder Range butane camp stoves so he has a larger cooking area to work with. “You can buy them so cheap in Chinatown,” he says of the stoves, which run about $15 each. “You don’t need to go to a camping store.”

      According to Babiuk, “little things make a big difference,” like sautéed mushrooms alongside a steak, or fresh-made salsa.

      Tromba’s favourite camping treat is Pudgy Turtles. She tucks chopped caramels, nuts, and chocolate into refrigerated ready-made crescent dough rolls and bakes them in the Outback Oven. Alternatively, she says, you can wrap each piece in foil and put the packets in the campfire for 10 to 15 minutes.

      As Tromba can attest, cooking with fire makes the ordinary extraordinary.