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Camp Cooking: Thinking Outside the Recipe in the Great Outdoors
by Ginger Carlson
It's that time of year again; the magic of camping season is in the air. From the planning to the first spark of the evening flame, a camping trip and all that it means for fun and exploring the outdoors is the quintessential family bonding experience. For me, the quality of a camping trip is largely measured by the food. From the first mention of a camping trip, I start thinking about the meals, getting our menus ready and strategizing the various ways we can get the kids involved in the cooking.
Whether you are heading out to the backyard or into the deep woods, camp cooking can be a fun way to connect with nature and each other, all while providing your family an extra fun way to explore new ways to prepare nourishing foods together. And fortunately, the options for a vegan family camp kitchen are exciting, fun to make, and taste great!
When our camp plans first get sparked, I usually start thinking about dessert first. Although they exist, good vegan marshmallows are hard to find and we haven't had great luck making them, so we don't consider just roasting marshmallows on a stick the best dessert for us. No worries, because our favorite vegan alternatives usually become the most coveted around the campfire anyway. Not to mention they are all just about as easy.
Apple Pie on a Stick
A good roasted apple is a treat. Roasted over the campfire is even better. Start by using an apple cut into slices or bite sized chunks.. Add it to a skewer, and away you go! Once the apple is sufficiently roasted, remove from the heat and sprinkle on some apple pie spice, or just cinnamon or nutmeg. Finish it off by dipping in a bit of sweetener, if you like.
This is a fantastically yummy dessert that is fun for kids to make mostly by themselves. Start with a ripe banana (but not too ripe). With a knife, cut two slits in the peel of the banana and peel it back, exposing the banana inside. Use a spoon to scoop out a section of the banana; in its place, sprinkle in a bit of your favorite trail mix. If you use chocolate, it melts wonderfully with the banana, making it an extra special treat. Replace the banana skin (covering the trail mix mixture), wrap the entire banana in tin foil, and place over the fire until heated through. When removed from the heat and cool enough to handle, unwrap the banana from the foil and scoop out the insides to enjoy a warm banana and choco-nutty treat!
But just because you are vegan, doesn't at all mean that you need to miss out on your own nostalgia for a camping dessert. Try making a good old-fashioned s'more using our favorite Suzanne's Ricemellow Cream (www.suzannes-specialties.com/), available through natural food stores. Made from brown rice, it is a sweet, creamy substance (tasting surprising like marshmallow) that spreads wonderfully on anything from fruit to crackers, and in this case graham crackers. A good organic chocolate mixed with Ricemellow makes a terrific vegan s'more!
Orange Cup Muffin-Cakes
This wonderful dessert is actually much easier than it sounds. Cut the tops nearly off of as many oranges as you want muffins or cupcakes, leaving it attached just enough to make a "flap". Fill the oranges with your favorite muffin or cupcake batter. Place over the fire and let "bake" until muffins are done (when you poke them with a bamboo skewer and it comes clean). We have also tried wrapping these in foil and placing in the fire, but the result is more of a pudding than a cake. However you choose to bake them, you will surely enjoy these orange essence treats!
The Vegan Camp Menu continued?
While it may be the desserts that top my planning list, of course the other items on the menu are not only an important part of your camping, but also a great way to involve your entire family in meal time. Here are a few meal ideas to get you cookin':
Kabobs are a great family friendly way to make a camp meal. Kids love to make their own patterns and designs for what will go into their meal by placing them on a skewer to roast over the fire. try bringing a pan of already marinated tofu or tempeh and precut veggies to your campout and let the kids create their own patterns and rainbows. We like using zucchini coins, sweet peppers, and even a few sweet fruits that roast well, like mango and pineapple. Roast them until browned for a rather gourmet camping meal.
The Wonder of Foil
Foil cooking is a wonderful, easy way for kids to get in on the meal making while in the great outdoors. Set up an assembly line of sorts and let kids add any combination of the following to a square of foil: try precooked beans, rice or quinoa, thinly sliced potatoes and bits of rosemary, corn, broccoli, peas, fennel, or squash pieces. Wrap the foil tightly and place in the fire. Once warmed thoroughly, remove the wrapped foil from the fire, open (be careful of the escaping steam) and add your favorite fresh toppings, such as avocado, tomato, olives, "cheese", cilantro, or a favorite dressing or sauce. For a snack, try wrapping some corn kernels and a drop of oil. Place atop a fire grate and make sure you have some long handled tongs so you can give them a continuous gentle shake. Voilá! Your very own mini popcorn treat.
Reinventing the Not Dog
Of course, hot dogs, kids, and campfires go hand in hand. And fortunately for vegans, there are many varieties of dogs that are NOT meat, nitrate and other yucky stuff-filled. Of course, kids rarely need help in using their imaginations, but you can guide them in the many new ways they can eat their veggie dogs. Consider bringing your favorite biscuit batter (prepared before you leave the house is easiest) and help children wrap their dog up in a blanket for those cold camping nights. Or try cutting your dogs to resemble a spider or other insects you might encounter on your journey by slicing it lengthwise about halfway up from the bottom. Now that's a not dog?one that will inspire creativity, laughter, and maybe even a few campfire stories.
So it has really happened, summer has officially arrived. Get in on the magic as you light up your fire. The fairies will surely dance around your vegan campfire meals!
Ginger Carlson is a parent, educator, and author of Child of Wonder: Nurturing Creative and Naturally Curious Children (Common Ground Press, 2008). Her work has focused on critical thinking and creative development. If you have a question or comment, please contact her through her website www.gingercarlson.com