Camping Adventures and Open-Fire Chili

We escaped the brutal heat this weekend and went camping in the Shenadoah Mountains. It was perfect. Cool weather, wonderful food, fun company. Mark and I were excited to use every sigle camping related wedding-present.

I am a firm believer in the philosophy that fun camping is comfy camping. None of this dried food nonsense. Our group hauled enough food up to the mountains to feed an army. Our car was stuffed with bags of cooking equipment, bottles of wine, our ginormous French press, and a bucket of spices.

Also, no trek into the woods is complete without an air mattress. Backpackers, stop reading now. This post is about Complicated Camping.

On Friday night, Mark and I got to the site ahead of the rest of the group. It had rained shortly before and a fire was basically impossible so we had a cozy dinner featuring hummus and guacomole while Mark gathered large dead trees from the woods and we watched the threatening rain clouds.

The meals were split up into shifts and the McCords were in charge of Saturday-night dinner. Determined to avoid the typical campfire dinners, I planned to make chili and pasta salad. I’m not sure what equipment I thought would suddenly appear on the mountain but it wasn’t until 4:00 Saturday afternoon that I realized I was toe-to-toe with a cold, empty fire-pad. No grill, no stove-top, just one lonely grate, 16 cans of bean and tomato sauce, and some boxes of uncooked pasta.

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Did I mention that, although I managed to bring large quantities of kitchen goods, I also happened to forget a lighter and a can opener?

Fortunately, Mark can build a fire. Even without lighter. Also, campers are generally happy, good-willed people and a cheery mother at a neighboring site who was more prepared than I shared her can-opener.

So dinner was saved and we managed boil the pasta and cook the chili. We even threw in a skillet of tasty potatoes for the hungry, patient audiences.

Readers, dinner may have been a looming crisis and it may have taken two hours but it was so yummy. The tasty hot chili was just the ticket. Someone brought pies and s’mores and someone else brought riveting stories and our evening in the woods was complete.

Here’s a quick list of five tips for Complicated Camping that we garnered from this adventure. Next time, we’ll be experts.

1. Plan each meal down to the details. Don’t just generally envision it; actually make sure you have each ingredient, each spoon, and every dish necessary. Elaborate meals can be made over a campire if one just plans.

2. Bring as much gear as you can fit into your vehicle, but pack the basic essentials in an obvious location together. A camping trip won’t get far without a lighter, matches, and a flashlight.

3. Prep as much as possible before the trip. Cutting potatoes and vegatables, marinating meat, and mixing dry ingredients beforehand will save you from camping angst and cut down on cooking time and cleanup while on the trip. Additionally, preparation opens up the culinary possibilities for the expedition. It’s amazing what you can cook on a mountain over an open fire if it’s prepared ahead of time.

4. Bring more trash bags, Ziplocks, and paper towels than you think you need. You can store more than trash in a garbage bag. They can hold extra food, store dirty dishes, and heat-proof ice.

5. Enjoy the unexpected. All sorts of crises, surprises, and unplanned hurdles will occur. That’s why camping is fun. Make due with the supplies that you remembered, laugh, and make memories.

Open-Fire Chili

3 cans of Light Red Kidney beans

3 cans of Northern White beans

3 lbs. of ground beef

1 28 oz can of tomato sauce

2 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes

2 6 oz. cans of tomato paste

2 tbl. garlic

2 tbl. pepper

1 tbl. chili powder

1 tbl. basil

2 cups of red wine

Cook the beef thoroughly in a skillet or shallow pan with half of the garlic and the pepper. Once the beef is cooked, combine it in a large pot with the tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, and remaining garlic, pepper, chili powder, and basil. Allow it to come to a boil, stirring constanty. Simmer for an hour.