Bryan and I went on our annual (well, almost annual) canoe camping trip this past weekend. We went out on the Au Sable river – a blue ribbon fly fishing river in Michigan. I had never camped before I met Bryan; quite frankly, I couldn’t stand the thought of sleeping on the hard ground. I agreed to the trip if we could find a reasonable sleeping arrangement – air mattresses. So, we purchased good quality, small and lightweight self-inflating air mattresses from R.E.I. and I was, literally, a happy camper.
You can bet that I wasn’t going to be eating a withered hot dog and potato chips, so between the two of us, we managed to provision for and prepare gourmet meals. The first year I did have a back-up plan for rain which involved cold cuts for sandwiches and yogurt and fruit for breakfast; but after three years, and quite a bit of rain, I have realized that Bryan can make a fire no matter what. (OK we did start cheating by stopping at a local farmstand and buying a couple bags of campfire wood – for a buck a bag – after our first year when there was rain in the forecast and we knew we wouldn’t be arriving to our first campsite until dark).
I love food cooked over the campfire; in fact, we joke about opening a campfire restaurant, but we both have real jobs. I first heard about campfire breakfast when Bryan took my son Jake on his first canoe camping trip. Jake couldn’t stop talking about how great the bacon, eggs, and hash browns were when cooked over the campfire. I couldn’t agree more, but add in another element…campfire coffee – it is like nothing you have ever tasted!
The key to gourmet camping is preparation. Since we have to pack everything into a canoe, we have to be prepared, but not overpacked. I pre-chop and, if necessary, marinate, all of our vegetables and meat. I only pack as many buns as we’ll need, and portion out all of the other ingredients. Granted, I use a ton of small ziploc bags and tupperware containers, but it makes a huge difference. Bryan has invested in great camping gear, so our eggs stay protected in a plastic egg crate, we have camping knives, cutting boards, camping cutlery, cooking grates, cast iron skillets, 5- 7 day coolers, and the most magnificent percolating camping coffee pot.
This year’s menus (not too different from previous years) included:
- Grilled Italian Chicken Sausages (the diet, though modified, continues) with grilled onions, peppers, garlic and crimini mushrooms, and spicy horseradish mustard on Sesame seed Hogie Rolls
- Caprese Salad (fresh tomatoes and basil from our garden)
- Fresh grilled Corn on the Cob
(Severe rain made photographing the first night’s dinner impossible)
- Homemade Maple Cured Bacon
- Hashbrowns (frozen Oreida)
- Campfire Coffee (great percolator coffee pot and Dunkin Donuts coffee)
- Grilled thick-cut New York Sirloin steak
- Baked (campfire cooked) potatoes with Yogurt sauce (chives, garlic, Seasoned salt and Pepper)
- Fresh grilled Corn on the Cob
We don’t eat breakfast until late morning, so we skip lunch, but if you want to pack cold cuts and bread (in case you don’t have a Bryan who can make a fire regardless of conditions), sandwiches would be a great mid-day river treat.
We’ve learned to pack paper plates, and burn all leftovers in the firepit at the end of the meal. At night, we tie up our garbage in a tree and hope that the critters don’t come too close to our tent. We love to fish, but don’t count on catching our meals (especially because I am always a catch and release fisherman). You can reduce your garbage by packing only what you need – most campsites do not have garbage facilities, so we have to “carry out” our garbage.
Bryan has iron skillets (the best) and he packs his own cooking grates (don’t count on finding a cooking grate, even if your campsite has an established iron fire ring). The skillets are well seasoned and the perfect campfire cooking ware. And, as mentioned, the coffee pot is key.
We love to fish and canoe leisurely; this year the weather got to us, but it paid to be prepared. We still ended up with two beautiful days, we just had two dinners in the rain, which, were, nonetheless, delicious!