Monday, September 15, 2008

Adventures in camping

I love camping. This is a fairly recent discovery, given that I've only gone camping three times in my entire life — the first time being a little over two years ago. This past summer, the Anthropologist and I went twice, just the two of us, which gave me plenty of opportunity to hone my outdoor cooking skills.

Being as picky about food as I am, I'm not content to just eat canned or dehydrated food. (Also, since we car camp, this is not a problem, as I don't have to worry about things like hiking long distances with only nonperishable food.) I also like to make a combination of things that can be cooked over a fire and things that I cook over a propane-powered stove.

One thing I learned that I truly enjoy eating in the out of doors are Sloppy Joes. In general, I'm a big Sloppy Joe fan, and since I don't mind making up the meat (or, in this case, fake meat) mix in advance, it's easy enough to freeze it, toss it in the cooler, and eat it for lunch the day after we arrive. At that point, it's simply a matter of throwing the mixture into a pan, heating it up, and pouring it into buns of some sort.

As the days pass and the perishable food runs out (mostly because the cooler is no longer able to keep things cold), I do turn to "shelf-stable" items – bearing in mind that a lot of produce can be perfectly content when stored at room temperature. One particularly delicious success was baked potatoes and sliced zucchini, both cooked over the fire. I topped the potatoes with canned veggie chili and shredded cheese, with the zucchini served on the side.

In planning for the first of our summer camping excursions, I looked for good camping recipes online. Unfortunately, it seems that people assume that if you're cooking in the great outdoors, you're either a meat-eater (which I am, but the Anthropologist is not) or have a way to keep food refrigerated for long periods of time. So most of the recipes involved ground beef, eggs, bacon — which are all fine, up until I start to want recipes for things to make with nonperishable foods. With a little creative planning, though, I managed to come up with plenty of good things to eat for both trips, which included such things as blueberry pancakes, breakfast burritos, and cheesy toast for breakfast; Sloppy Joes and PB&Js for lunch (I've never been particularly creative when it comes to the midday meal); and for dinner, fish en papilotte with veggies, the baked potatoes described above, and, my personal favorite, baked beans with hot dogs.

I'm getting hungry just thinking about it all.

It'll be a long while before I get another chance to go camping, though. The Anthropologist, my camping partner, is leaving for India (with a brief pit stop in Virginia) tomorrow and won't be back until July 2009. I suppose we'll go camping again next summer after he's back — and I will regale you with further tales of my outdoor cooking adventures.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Ramen: staple of college life

I had an intense love affair with packaged ramen noodles. I loved the many flavors available: beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, oriental (whatever that was!), creamy chicken. I loved that they cooked up in as much time as it took to boil water plus three minutes. I loved that they would go on sale at Safeway for ten cents a pop. I loved that they could be jazzed up (or turned into "posh ramen," as my English flatmates called it) with egg, green onion, slices of fish cake, and just about anything else that suited my fancy.

And then one day, it was over.

I became a food snob. I stopped buying groceries at Safeway. I stopped eating such overly-processed foods. I stopped eating foods with such a high sodium content. Ramen fell to the wayside as I became someone who ate fresh, local, organic food.

Recently, though, I noticed that my local Whole Foods sells an organic version of ramen, made by a company called Koyo. (Then again, what can't you find in an organic version at Whole Foods, king of the organic-yet-processed?) It comes in what I assume are meant to be more "adult" flavors, like mushroom, lemongrass, and tofu and miso. It still has a ton of sodium in it, but it claims to be made of organic noodles. I bought a couple packages, willing to give them a try.

So what does my palate think? Well, it's not the same as the stuff I ate for years in high school and college. The flavors don't have that delicious meat-based taste. In fact, they don't really taste like anything, except salt. Plus the noodles soak up the broth too quickly in the bowl, which make them extremely mushy and unappetizing as you get to the end. My verdict: If you want ramen, stick to the traditional conventional stuff. If you're going to go processed, then go all the way.