If you didn’t get a taste of “Part One of The Culinary Camper,” there’s plenty of “meaty” leftovers in “The Barking Tomato” pantry courtesy of Manchester Ink Link’s file; the essence of which are essential for full appreciation of my family’s quirky camping life before buying a used 1995 Jayco pop-up that we christened “Pearl” in 2013 after 17 years of roughing it all over North America in a tent.
While we still stick to the three basic rules of thumb i.e. camping at State and Provincial Parks only, always near a body of water, and preparing only the finest camping grub, at 71 and 54 respectively, what my old bones really wanted was a comfortable bed off the ground, sheltered from inevitable rain. But hey, having my own little kitchen? That sealed the deal.
Now, to be sure my definition of “little” and yours are from the same dictionary, the total footprint of the pop-up’s sink, gas stove, and fridge are all of 3 ft. wide, 1 ½ft. deep, and barely reach my belly button. No Airstream/Winnebago/House-on-Wheels fantasies here. No mind. I’ve got water and an electric hookup (usually); my clever hubby built a custom butcher block out of recycled materials that stands right next to the sink and folds down; and the bench storage unit that once held a chemical toilet with a seat cushion on top otherwise now houses bistro-ware, Farberware, water and wine glasses, a dual burner griddle, as well as mixing bowls, cutlery, table cloths, linen napkins, and candles. I’m the real Barefoot Contessa of the campground and Ina Garten is . . . well . . . just Ina Garten.
Let’s talk ice boxes. My really cool Koolatron ($173 Amazon), the newest addition to my kitchen away from home, has a temperature range equal to my giant Whirlpool with interior lights but no ice making. Last year, Gordon removed the vintage, foam-sealed 1.7 cu. ft. upright cooler – that sits under the stove – and installed the ingenious little, 20” machine that works like a charm on 12 V DC or 110 V AC. I fill that baby tighter than a can of sardines before leaving for my camping adventure and it runs on battery until we get there and hook old Pearl up to AC. Voila!
Pearl has a removable table that seats four about a foot from the fridge and wrap-around “windows” with retro-‘90s curtains that can be adjusted according to mood or view. Such views! Especially of Lake Champlain at sunset. Spectacular. Or Lum’s Pond in Delaware at dawn. Autumn in the Berkshires from Windsor Lake State Park. Of course, we eat many meals al fresco on furnished picnic tables, using the inside table as a self-serve, bug-free buffet. But I love having it there just the same. Sitting at it in my PJs at breakfast. Gluten-free raisin bread French toast these days with cranberry butter and Grade B maple syrup. (FYI: Grade B, the darker, amber colored syrup, has powerful antioxidant polyphenol compounds as found in wine, tea, and berries – and is cheaper than Grade A.)
After kayaking or riding bikes all day with our now adult daughters, the last thing I want to fuel our bodies with is processed foods like Kraft Mac & Cheese or nitrate-ridden cold cut sandwiches with chips and soda. A few family favs include tacos with grass-fed beef and organic toppings served with Spanish rice (that’s just white organic rice and sautéed onions and a couple of tablespoons of salsa mixed in.) Or, chicken Marsala with nitrate-free Pancetta and portabella mushrooms on a bed of mashed taters. (I use an old-fashioned hand-held masher.) Or, fried eggplant topped with sauce and mozzarella. Planning ahead may seem like a pain at the time but it reduces work – and anxiety – when you get to your sweet vacay spot.
If you get there, that is. Planning the first of this summer’s three camping trips with Pearl proved too big a challenge even for a seasoned culinary camper like me. My foodie-maven fixation, spending way too much time reading Lucky Peach and doing “background” checks on every guest chef I met in Boston at Barbara Lynch’s Toques & Tonics event last April, had me Hell’s kitchen bent on finding an ocean front state park near Portland, Maine, one of the hottest zip codes in the country right now for sheer volume of eateries with spectacular views of spectacular menus. No kids this time, I imagined Gordon and me eating breakfast at said “mythical” campground, trolling the streets daily at lunch for recommended cafes, occasional dinners at such luminaries as Ox, Eventide, Central Provisions, or Five Fifty Five. Shopping pier-side for every kind of fresh seafood and produce I could find for a glorified dinner back in my 3’ x 1 ½’ kitchen with the wrap-around windows.
Nope. But what a grand time we had instead. At the Cape. Scusset State Park Reservation in Bourne, Massachusetts; our campsite just a 2 minute walk from the most pristine white beach extending at least a half a mile from the mouth of the Cape Cod Canal, framed with tall dunes graced with rare native grasses and sightings of even rarer birds such as the Marbled Godwit. In a word, exquisite. And the food was great, too.
Cape diehards will insist we can’t lay claim to the Cape when north of the canal but I won’t flinch. If I had an arm like L.A.’s Zack Greinke, I could have thrown a knuckle ball from one side to the other no prob and that’s close enough for me. Man! Did we score a homerun or what? The campsite was just the beginning of our “dream team.”
Our first full day there I moseyed over to the neighboring campsite and asked the pleasant looking couple sitting at their picnic table if they had a map of the Cape we could borrow. “Sure! Sure!” they said at the same time with broad smiles. Then the husband says, “Are you looking for anything special? We’ve been coming here 20 years and know just about every place there is to go.”
“Not really,” I replied, “I just wanted to get a visual fix on where the campground is in relationship to surrounding seaport towns so I can check out some restaurants.”
“Well, I could give you some suggestions but we’re gluten-free,” he said.
I felt my feet tingle. “Are you kidding?” I blurted out, grinning, “So are we!”
“Yeah, and he’s Italian,” the wife said, shaking her head in disbelief.
Gordon wondered what all the commotion was about so he strolled over and we all formally introduced ourselves. Tom and Lynn are from upstate New York. Turns out he’s allergic to just about everything. “Semolina pasta,” Tom sighed, his hands clutching at his heart, “the love of my life . . . besides Lynn.”
Gordon chimes in, “Pasta? All I get now is mush made from rice that everyone pretends to like but loathes deep down inside as much as I do. Admit it!”
“Hold on!” Lynn goes into their camper and returns in a flash. “Then you’ve never tried Goldbaums Brown Rice Pasta. You can get it at Christmas Tree Shops. Ask my Italian husband, he loves it.” And, with that, she hands the bag to Gordon saying, “Here, our gift, welcome to Scusset Beach!”
Tom and Lynn gave us some other swell advice, too. They told us that if we loved seafood, we had to check out Chatham Fish Pier, one of the country’s oldest and largest family commercial fishing cooperatives in continuous operation since the 1600s. From dawn to dusk in “reasonable” weather, fishing boats with small crews set out daily for the catch of the day as far as 100 miles bringing in haddock, cod, lobster, skate, dogfish, and halibut. Once back at the pier, the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance does all the “heavy lifting” with winches, then icing it and shipping it ASAP to wholesale and retail markets in Boston, New York, and beyond including the bustling Chatham Pier Fish Market right on site where we ordered their famous lobster bisque and lobster roll – sans the roll – for lunch. I wanted more . . .
A pint was only $7.95. I think I paid $13 for the lobster “un-roll.” Take-out only, we sat on benches overlooking the quintessential Cape Cod harbor and enjoyed the free entertainment with lots of like-minded tourists. As fishermen hosed down their vessels, the scraps and waste water would drain out the back of the boat and who was there? Three hefty seals in line, the first, mouth wide open to “drink” his fill before swimming off to the next boat while the one behind took his place “at the tap.”
Before leaving this historic gem of a Cape foodie find, we grabbed a pound of plump, fresh shrimp to make scampi for dinner in my intimate pop-up kitchen using the Goldbaum pasta that our neighbors had given us earlier that day. ‘Yup,’ I thought, ‘this camping trip was working out to be the best “let down” ever.’
Back at Scusset Beach, I threw the shrimp in the Koolatron and headed straight for the shore. (Gordon opting for the “nap package.”) Maybe 10 people total on the idyllic, post card of a beach. I walked its entire breadth, west to east. The slate water shimmering in the late afternoon sun, interrupted like Morse code, the black silhouettes of sail boats, freighters, yachts on the horizon. At the mouth of the canal, behemoth square chiseled rocks lined either side and proved a daring fishing pier for sportsman like Dennis Desroches, from Westfield, MA, another campground neighbor, who caught a handsome 14 lb, 33” ocean “striper” bass.
“My recipe is simple but flavorful,” Dennis told from his much larger-than-mine RV kitchen, me taking notes. “Seasoned salt and lemon salt, pepper, and oil, fried till golden brown in the pan. Nothing beats it.” And from the gleam in his eye and the smile on his face, I knew every word to be true. If I hadn’t already planned on cooking that shrimp for our dinner, I would have invited myself to his. (You know I would.)
And the shrimp scampi on Goldbaum Brown Rice Pasta? Gordon bought a case at Christmas Tree Shops as soon as we got back to Nashua.
Shrimp Scampi, Carolyn Style:
1 lb. jumbo shrimp, wild if possible, shelled, deveined, patted dry
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Generous olive oil
Generous minced garlic (I use 2 -3 large cloves)
Generous fresh chopped parsley and chives
½ cup white wine, Chardonnay is good
Pinch of red pepper flakes.
Shredded fresh Parmesan optional.
Heat large pan to medium high and add oil. When shimmering hot, add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add shrimp and cook on one side for 1 minute before turning over for 2 more minutes. Remove shrimp and add parsley, chives, red pepper, and wine. Scrape browned remnants with wooden spoon and reduce for sauce, about 2-3 minutes.
Meantime, prepare pasta, regular or gluten-free, as instructed. Drizzle olive oil on pasta. Place shrimp on the pasta, spooning sauce on top, adding cheese if you want. (I do.)
About The Barking Tomato:Carolyn Choate loves to chew on food. Literally and figuratively. In the kitchen from her garden in Nashua or her favorite market, a restaurant across town or across the globe. When not masticating, Carolyn is likely swilling wine or spirits as neither is far from her heart – or lips. Forget diamonds and Louboutins, she’d rather blow a wad on Pinot Noir and grass-fed filet with fresh sautéed morels. And write about it. You taste the picture: The “Barking Tomato” aspires to push your “foodie” button. Carolyn’s day job is producing local affairs programming for WYCN-CD. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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