Summer is here and it’s a great time to go camping! As the pace of life seems to be picking up again, taking a small trip can be rejuvenating. 2020 saw an increase of sixty percent or more screen use (Staying PUT: Consumers Forced Indoors During Crisis Spend More Time On Media – Nielsen ) and camping offers us one of the best ways to unplug.

Whether camping by the beach or in the forest, meals eaten outside often taste the best. Some engage in meal planning and elaborate menus, while others hit the campground store for quick, prepared snacks and cans for dinner. Preparing meal ingredients ahead of time can minimize cooking while camping, while cooking full meals at the campsite can be part of the joy of the experience. Whatever your routine, here are a few camping food hacks to add to your repertoire.

Orange Peel Muffins

Cut an orange in half and spoon out the delicious insides. Save those peel cups! With either a boxed muffin mix or batter you mix up on the spot, fill the orange cups three-quarters full and maybe add some fresh berries. Cover them with the other scooped out half of the orange and wrap them in foil. Put them on the hot coals for 15-25 minutes, depending on how hot your coals are, and enjoy warm muffins! It can be helpful to premix your dry ingredients so that you aren’t lugging around bags of flour, baking soda, and sugar. Mixing everything up in a large ziploc bag can allow you to skip a lot of cleanup and it’s easy to cut open one corner and squeeze the batter into the cups.

Banana S’mores

S’mores are a must for many on camping trips, but try adding the ingredients to a slitted banana for a delicious twist! Slice the banana peel lengthwise, creating an opening while leaving the peel and banana otherwise intact. It’s helpful to remove and eat a couple of banana chunks to make room for additions. Fill the spaces with chocolate and marshmallows. Wrap the bananas in foil and place on the hot coals for 5-7 minutes. Be careful when removing the desserts from the fire as sometimes the bananas release a bit of moisture and it will be hot! Once unwrapped, add a little granola or crushed graham crackers to the delicious insides and enjoy!

Tinfoil Breakfast Packets

Place some sausage or Canadian Bacon on a square of tinfoil so that it will sit at the bottom, closest to the fire. Add potatoes (leftover cooked potatoes or a bag of frozen hash browns) and crack an egg or two over it all. Add your choice of diced peppers, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, chives, salt and spices, and some shredded cheese—whatever flavors you like. Wrap up the foil packet, taking care to close it up well so as not to lose any ingredients and place the packet on hot coals or on the grill for 15-20 minutes. A meatless, vegetarian version is always delicious, too. These packets can be fun for the kids to help create.

If you are willing to prepare some food before leaving for your trip, there are some pre-made meals that can be pulled out and heated on hot coals or the grill for ease without food prep or much cleanup.

Breakfast Burritos

These are great for breakfast, but really work for any meal of the day! Make some sautéed veggies (and meat if desired) and scrambled eggs the day before you leave for your trip. Season it all well and add cheese if you like. Wrap the filling in tortillas and then wrap each burrito snugly in foil. Keep these wrapped burritos in a waterproof bag or container in your cooler and they will be ready to throw onto the grill when someone needs a quick, hearty meal. The ingredients can vary according to inspiration (or what’s left in the fridge before your trip!) and are delicious with additional salsa or hot sauce out in the open air.

Campfire Pizza Log

Make a pizza dough at home before your trip and roll the dough out into a large rectangle. Spread out some marinara sauce and cheese and add any pre-cooked veggies you like. Roll the dough up into a log, like a cinnamon roll log and then wrap it in foil. It helps to put the log into the freezer so that it can stay cold longer in your cooler. By the time you are ready to throw it on the grill or hot coals it will have thawed. Cook it for about 25 minutes, flipping it and turning it often. Once done, pull or cut it apart and enjoy campfire pizza!

Camping creates memories that can last a lifetime. Enjoy the beauty of nature and the peace of getting away. Our busy lives will resume soon enough, but taking time to enjoy togetherness outside is priceless.

Backyard Picnics

It’s summer picnic season, and in Topanga the best venue for a picnic is often right in one’s own backyard. After a year of enforced solitude, families and friends are finally able to come back together again. Outdoor activities are the best option for those still nervous about COVID, and a backyard gathering can be the ideal way to reconnect.

Cooking for a crowd after a year of eating alone can be challenging. Make it easy by limiting the menu and opting for salads that can be prepared in advance, and easy crowd pleasers like grilled vegetables and skewers that look beautiful and taste great, but require minimal prep time. 

Take advantage of offers of help—friends and family really mean it when they offer to bring something. Instead of automatically saying no, let them participate. Just knowing someone will be bringing ice, drinks, or dessert can help whoever is doing the cooking to focus on the main course. 

Salads That Last

The fun part about backyard picnics is always the ball games on the lawn and kids running everywhere. Rarely is it possible to get everyone to sit down at the same time. That’s okay, just plan your food around it. Picnics are more for grazing than anything else. Make your sides substantial to meet the appetites that the outdoors bring and keep them fresh sitting in bowls of ice, ready to serve when the hunger hits. The typical green leaf salads of Spring graduate into heartier fare such as slaw, corn and pasta salads. A family favorite is carrot slaw with chopped scallions, and chopped dill pickles smothered in a garlicky vinaigrette.

Grazing Platters

While the kids and young at heart are at play, adults craving good conversation tend to hover by the table nibbling as they catch up with friends and family. Grazing platters fit the bill here. The trick is to prepare double the amount so that you can refresh the tray as certain elements disappear. 

All sorts of fresh, sliced vegetables compliment the standard bread and cheese. Try watermelon wedges, or roasted peaches. The grazing platter is well served with pickled beets, beans or carrot sticks that can be prepared and chilled in advance. All parts of the platter serve as hors d’oeuvres but also as sides for your grilled entrees.

Depending on the temperament and talents of one’s guests, encourage them to bring games, crafts, or musical instruments. Many people spent the past 12 months playing board games or learning the ukulele, and a summer picnic might be a great time to share those new passions, as well as polish rusty skills, like in-person conversation, and sitting down at a table and sharing a meal. Isn’t it a blessing to be free to do that again?

A picnic idea: have each of your pals prepare an outdoor summer dish that travels easily and meet up at your local park or a private backyard. Photographed here is a simple berry cobbler, a baguette from Canyon Gourmet, and a cast iron vegetarian chili. Serve in mugs and camping bowls. Pack in and pack out, leave no trace behind. Photo by Saori Wall
Grazing platter above includes radish roses, pickled bean relish, buffalo mozzarella and assorted tomatoes, pickles, olives and sliced meats. Photo by Bonnie Morgan