so you want to go camping

"camping"

Welcome to A Newsletter #35, the number of years I have aged since March 2020. If you’ve found your way over by some miracle but are not yet subscribed, here, let me help you with that:

I have been interested in camping for several years and even done it sporadically, mostly with friends more well-versed in the art of the outdoors than I am (huge thank you to Sigrid and Wes for making sure I could survive 48 hours alone in the woods if I had to). The idea that I would be into camping surprises even myself, as I am afraid of many things that are associated with eating/sleeping/being outside.

THINGS I HAVE BEEN AFRAID OF WHILE CAMPING:

spiders, someone looking to harm or murder a sleeping camper, unidentifiable and potentially lethal insects, any animal that is not a dog, water getting inside the tent, wet clothes that never get dry, running out of snacks, running out of wine, mysterious rashes, ticks, being itchy in any way on any part of my body, being too cold, being too hot, spontaneously spraining an ankle, snakes, the sun waking me up too early, deafening silence keeping me up too late, ghosts (the bad ones).

But in spite of these irrational fears and against all odds, I do love camping! I love trees and stars and swimming in wild bodies of water. I love having shitty cell reception, I love wearing the same sweatshirt three days in a row, I love going to bed at 9:30 pm, I love waking up smelling like smoke and dirt.

Above all else, I love making a very specific plan for what to eat and shopping for that plan. I love lighting fires and cooking over them. I love feeling like I am “making do” with a simple cast-iron skillet even though I just rolled up inside mother nature with a box of flaky sea salt and a container of Castelvetrano olives. There’s a large part of me that truly gets off on restriction, and being able to only cook the ingredients you bring with only the most basic of equipment is delightfully restrictive.

DISCLAIMER: This most recent camping adventure was decidedly more of a glamp (there was an airstream with a small fridge, a shower and solid wifi), but yes I have been REAL camping before, and cooking over a campfire is cooking over a campfire, so save it!

We were shopping for three days, three nights (that’s nine meals or six meals and heavy snacking), and while shopping for something like this, I like to ask myself: how many times can I use this one ingredient? is this necessary? if not, will it make me happy enough not to care that it’s unecessary? Highlights from our haul from the Whole Foods in Fresno: olive oil, many lemons, absolutely nowhere near enough water, the best pistachios I have ever had, one jar of anchovies (lol sorry), not Martin’s hamburger buns (why bother), and some tortilla chips that turned out to be made of cassava root (not a tortilla chip at all!). We did not buy any dill, although you know I wanted to.

As for what we were going to make, I like to ask myself: can I make this with only a knife, a cutting board, aluminum foil, and a cast-iron skillet over an open flame with minimal clean-up? Here’s what we made for dinner:

NIGHT ONE: steak, crushed potatoes, spicy broccolini. This felt like a good, basic, sort of special occasion WELCOME TO CAMPING dinner. One mistake of many I made was not bringing any kosher salt to cook with, but don’t worry, of course I purchased an entire box of Maldon salt, so that’s what we used to season all our food (no, this is not the first time I’ve made that mistake and no, I don’t recommend it). Anyway, we seasoned the steak (with maldon salt), then cooked some tiny potatoes and sliced onion in our one 10” skillet with olive oil and MALDON SALT until the onions were fried and frizzled and the potatoes were tender as can be, about 20 minutes (to expedite this, cover your potoates with foil and let them steam as they roast— we were not in a hurry). While this was happening, I grilled the broccolini right on the grates, moved them to the skillet with the potatoes to avoid using a plate, then added some chili flakes and a few anchovies because I am predictable.

As the potatoes finished cooking, I grilled the steak on the grates until very browned on both sides, continuously flipping to avoid flareups, about 5 minutes total (the flame was hot and the steak wasn’t as thick as I’d like). Once that was done, I moved it to a plate and scattered it with finely chopped parsley/finely chopped raw garlic while it rested. I salted it a second time because I didn’t trust it was salted enough to start, and as a result, the steak was way too salty and for that: I am sorry. Do not –and I can’t stress this enough– season your food with Maldon. We ate everything with more of the parsley/garlic mixture, a squeeze of lemon on the broccolini, and a 1/4 of a gummy that was still too strong for someone with an extremely low tolerance for anything containing THC. I ate 84 Tate’s cookies for dessert.

NIGHT TWO: chicken thighs swimming in tomatillo with tortillas, onions, and radish. I had big dreams that I would make posole over a bubbling cauldron but it was about 94 degrees where we were and couldn’t find a cauldron. Pivoting, I ended up just searing chicken thighs till crisped on one side, transferred them to a plate and cooked some quartered tomatillos, and sliced onion in the leftover chicken fat. As I mentioned, we didn’t bring enough water and I wasn’t sure what the potable situation was so I emptied a half bottle of San Pellegrino to make the tomatillos saucier. Much like seasoning everything with Maldon, I can’t say I recommend doing this, but it is what it is. I returned the chicken back to the skillet, added some raw garlic, let everything hang out together for a little where the fire wasn’t so hot. Sliced some onion and radish, covered with lime juice, added the leftover crushed red pepper flakes, and seasoned with Maldon lol. I bought one bunch of cilantro, the only herb I allowed myself to purchase, and so I really made it count here by adding most of one bunch. Stuck with wine and fell asleep at 9:15.

DAY THREE: cheeseburgers, cucumber salad, grilled corn and one hot dog dipped in mustard. We couldn’t find American cheese and there weren’t Martin’s potato rolls so I suffered a minor meltdown but cheered myself up by buying a package of hotdogs. Why does anyone bother making a burger bun that isn’t a Martin’s Potato Roll? I’ll never know. Cheddar cheese on a hamburger, I’d rather not! Anyway, these were Smashburger style (thin patty, grilled and raw onions, iceberg lettuce) and the only condiments purchased were yellow mustard and pickles, the only two condiments you need. They were, of course, seasoned with Maldon. I grilled-then-burned some corn and two hot dogs and made a very good cucumber salad with the rest of that cilantro and red onion.

As for the other meals, none of us have the time for me to run it all down, but what you do need to know is that I did have one massive miss, one absolute hit and turns out I don’t care how hungry I am I simply do not care for GORP.

The miss unfortunately involved tuna salad, which, in my defense, FEELS like a great food to eat on a hike? It tasted delicious (💅) but leaked all over our things inside the backpack while we hiked because I did an absolute garbage job of wrapping the weird pita/iceberg sandwich in foil (🥴). Who tries to wrap tuna salad in leaves of iceberg followed by one sheet of film shoves it into a backpack and then take it hiking for several hours? I did. Why? I couldn’t say. Gonna file that one under “seemed like a good idea at the time” and move on. RIP to the two hats and one sports bra irreparably damaged by warm tuna liquid.

But the crown jewel of this camping trip was…a frittata. I’m sorry but it was. I am not usually a frittata person and I won’t begrudge you if you aren’t either— but this one was so good I could hardly believe it was a frittata at all. More like a Tortilla Española but with kale instead of potatoes and now that I’ve typed that out I will formally accept my foodblogger award. I made it for a hike after being scarred by the tuna the day prior (“only dry food from now on” - me) and while I admit my expectations were low, damn this truly delivered above and beyond. Was it the 2-hour hike up to the top of a waterfall that made it taste so good? I would say yes, but I also ate and enjoyed it the next day in a rented KIA, so.

This frittata has everything: charred, crispy leaves of kale, ultra-browned bits of onion and egg at the bottom, the ability to be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and breakfast again. It was basically all protein, full of vegetables and extremely portable, which are all things I cared a lot about for 72 hours. I do think part of the magic was the fire it was cooked over, but as I’ve just cooked it in a regular kitchen, can testify that it’s just as phenomenal without.

This recipe, while I’d love to give it to everyone, will only be going out later today to paid subsrcibers. If you’d like to become one of those:

Stay tuned for more camping/glamping content all summer long, as I discover my new passion. See you next week!


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Past supported organizations to put on your radar: The Okra Project / Food Issues Group / La Cocina / Heart of Dinner / ACLU / FAIR FIGHT / Feeding America / Restaurant Workers Community Foundation / For The Culture / Welcome to Chinatown