As the height of summer approaches, Blake and I spend more and more of our weekends out of town. For us, this means lots of camping trips, both car camping with friends and backcountry backpacking and canoeing. Being away for the weekends could mean not using our share very efficiently, but with a little planning and know-how it's possible to enjoy our veggies on the road and on the trail. Even if you're not a fan of camping, a lot of these ideas work well for picnics and road trips as well!
Car and Canoe Camping
Whenever there's space in the car, I insist that we bring a cast iron skillet and/or our portable grill along for the ride. The grill may be a bit much, but if I'm not really in the wilderness, I might as well eat like it! Especially if the car is only a couple hundred feet away or so anyway. Although the grill is fun, a decent campfire grate and a skillet serve the same purpose and require a lot less lugging. If the grate looks questionable, try laying down a sheet of tin foil and cooking on that.
Campfire veggies: Regardless of the point in the season, there's a handful of different veggies you can toss in a skillet with a little olive oil and seasoning. We do this whenever there's a skillet around. In the pictures on the right and left above, you can see skillets of mixed veggies on a fire grate and directly on the grill. If you want, you can chop them ahead of time and pack them in a bag in the cooler. I usually just prep veggies at camp with a knife and cutting board. In Wisconsin state parks I've always had a picnic table to work on.
Skewers: Most foods are skewerable. My favorite skewer food is cherry tomatoes, chunks of onion, peppers, good crusty bread, and grillable (haloumi or juusto) cheese tossed in olive oil with crushed red pepper and salt. This works best on a grill, but I would also try it over a clean (or well-heated) fire grate as well.
Foil packet cooking: For cases where skillets and skewers just won't do, an aluminum foil packet tucked onto the coals of the campfire works quite well. I've been known to make campsite jalapeno poppers this way with CSA peppers before. Beets, carrots, and turnips coated in a little olive oil and salt and wrapped in foil would work very well this way, too. Some campers even layer a whole meal in the packet before sticking it in or above the fire. The classic tin foil dinner usually involves a hamburger patty, sliced onion, sliced potato, and sliced carrot, but your mileage my vary.
For canoe camping, we often take a similar approach to car camping. Canoes are, after all, sort of like aquatic pickup trucks: you can put anything in there! As long as we're camping somewhere that doesn't require too much trekking in, we can bring along a cooler and pretty much anything we'd like to eat.
All the skillet and foil methods work well for (less-than-lightweight) canoe camping as well. On group trips, our friends often cook up impressive cauldrons of stew or curry to share with the crowd.
For breakfast, several handfuls of veggies added to the pan of scrambled eggs in the morning is a delicious way to prepare for a day of paddling. (Add bacon as desired.)
A light paddling lunch of sliced peppers, cucumbers, carrots, or other veggies with hummus and pita or some cheese packs well into a cooler and tastes good on a hot day.
For dinner, veggie-loaded tortillas are just as quick and easy for camp food as are hot dogs and brats. Bring along some beans and cheese and make a burrito! Curries and soups also keep well in the cooler and reheat well over a camp stove or campfire. Fresh veggies sauteed on a camp skillet are a great side to other camping foods.
Just be sure to secure your food in a car or bungee corded cooler at night to keep the critters away! Raccoons and small rodents are not the tidiest or most considerate campsite visitors.
The desire to escape civilization and retreat into nature pushes us to do more and more primitive camping. I doubt I'll ever be a through-hiker, but the solitude of the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota and the north woods of Wisconsin call me constantly. I understand the rationale behind the processed foods many backpackers turn to to feed them on their journeys, but if my goal is to revitalize my spirit by being in the wilderness, why not eat as organically as possible during these trips?
Although backcountry camping involves a more rigid approach to meal planning, it's still possible to work quite a few CSA vegetables into the menu. Rather than let our produce wilt in the fridge while we eat expensive prepackaged backpacking meals, I'd rather toss it into the dehydrator and bring it along. Dehydrating vegetables to prepares them for long-term storage and portability. Because dehydrating foods only preserves them well if they are also extremely low in fat (which can and will go rancid), naturally fat-free veggies are perfectly suited for backpacking foods.
To get healthy fats and proteins into the meal, we pack nuts, olive oil, dried coconut, pouched olives, and tuna in foil packs. I also supplement the caloric value by adding in dehydrated or quick cooking grains as well as flat, packable items like flour tortillas and pitas. I look for packages that don't require refrigeration when buying these items.
Making backpacking food can be as simple as adding veggies to prepackaged items. A friend of ours dehydrates any vegetables from his share that he and his wife can't get to in time and stores them in the freezer for use in vegetable soups when he goes camping. But it can also be as complex and gourmet as you'd like. In planning the menu for an upcoming trip with a gluten-intolerant friend, we're working on our own menu of grain-free options.
With size, weight, and caloric content as concerns for backpacking food, I'm more careful in planning these meals. I've freestyled some meals, but usually only after drawing techniques and drying times from tested recipes. There are a number of resources available online for backpacking food, but many of them don't offer too much advice for those inclined to eat veggies. I've found the following resources to be the most helpful in my planning this outdoors season.
Backpacking Chef has some great advice for preparing vegetables. I think his ideas for vegetable bark are really interesting. I've made some meals based on this idea and we'll be trying them out soon!
Laurie Ann March's A Fork in the Trail and Another Fork in the Trail are great resources for backpacking recipes and both are available from the public library. Some of the recipes are pretty gourmet, but I've found that subbing out expensive ingredients for more mundane options still works pretty well. My broccoli carrot slaw is based on one of March's recipes. While A Fork in the Trail has a selection of recipes best suited for omnivores, Another Fork in the Trail caters to those with different dietary needs making it easy to select recipes that are vegan, and gluten-free.
If you're really calorie counting for the trip, the USDA Supertracker is a great tool for breaking down the nutritional content of your DIY backpacking meals. I've used it to plan out meals that are high in veggies but also high in calories.
Although it is important to reduce weight and bulk wherever possible, a few compromises here and there can well worth it, in my opinion. Sturdy items like avocados can be packed in fresh and add nutritive value and enjoyment to the meal. If we have a hard-sided food pack, softer veggies like tomatoes and peppers come along for the ride. If not, into the dehydrator they go!
On our menus for upcoming trips are:
Cheese grits with peppers and onions
Tuna wraps with broccoli carrot slaw
Pitas with eggplant spread
Black bean and rice burritos with tomato, onion, and cilantro
Pinto bean chili
White bean stew with roasted butternut squash and chorizo
Sweet potato lentil stew
Pad Thai with carrots and summer squash
Pasta alfredo with summer veggies
Picnics and road trips
If camping and backpacking aren't your thing, you may still have some summer picnics or road trips coming up. When traveling, I find I'm not nearly as hungry as I normally am and greasy fast foods weigh me down. If you pack everything in reusable containers, there's less waste, too! As long as you're willing to bring a cooler along, most veggies make sturdy food for the road. Just be sure to keep the ice refreshed if your cooler is in the heat too long.
Blanched vegetables with vinaigrette Blanched green beans and slivered almonds tossed in a lemony vinaigrette are a lovely side for a picnic or roadside meal. Other vegetables would work well too. Think carrots, broccoli, kohlrabi. For a slightly different take, roast some red peppers and toss them in vinaigrette for the road.
Composed salads Salad nicoise with or without tuna holds up well, particularly if you don't dress the lettuce. Grain salads often improve with a little time to sit around and mingle. Try millet with chard pesto, almonds, and feta cheese or quinoa salad with black beans, tomatoes, peppers, corn, red onion, and a limey dressing. Even potato and pasta salads and coleslaw (hold the mayo) travel quite well in the cooler.
Veggies and hummus Pre-slice sturdy veggies from your share like carrots, turnips, beets (okay, maybe the yellow and chioggia beets to avoid finger stains), cucumbers, and peppers and eat with hummus. Broccoli and cauliflower florets and blanched green beans are great here, too.
Veggies and yogurt dip Ditto above, but make a yogurt dip to bring along.
Pressed sandwiches Take a cue from the traditional English shooter's sandwich, and make a pressed sandwich the night before your trip. It's a sandwich that's designed to improve as it sits around instead of getting soggy. I'd skip the two-steak versions and instead go with something like this roasted vegetable and goat cheese version. If 1 1/2 hours of prep and 4 hours of sitting time seem like a lot (they do to me!), maybe a veggie muffaletta would be a good option, too. I'd sneak some more CSA veggies in there, but you get the idea.
Even if you're not a camper or a canoeist or a picnicker, I hope I've entertained you with a glimpse into how Blake and I take our veggies along for the journey when we find ourselves out and about during the summer.