Gourmet camping meals – finding a balance

I read a post a few weeks ago about the brilliant spontaneity of campervanning, and the romantic freedom it gives you to drive off into the sunset at a moment’s notice.

It is possible, that the post appeared on my own blog.

I haven’t yet managed, 100 per cent, to put my very useful advice into practice.

Keeping a separate set of camping cutlery, I can do. Remembering to fill the water tanks the night before – fine. The one tiny step I fall down on is ‘throw some food in the fridge and you’re off’.

The trouble is, we’ve been so excited to go away in our campervan that we’ve treated every trip, even if we’re only staying down the road, as a mini holiday. Equally every meal that we can eat outside on a rug instead of at a dining table has become a picnic.

Of course, holidays and picnics are wonderful. But the reality does come with its own stresses.

Who wants to eat their every day cereal on holiday? It’s a time for treats! Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. Grilled mushrooms on sourdough. Blueberry pancakes with maple syrup. Mmmmmm. And as soon as a packed lunch becomes a picnic, your rather pedestrian tuna sandwich and a KitKat are replaced with wicker hampers overflowing with wild rice salad and honey-glazed chicken.

But this was requiring an inordinate amount of planning and food preparation every Thursday before we left. The spontaneity was disappearing in a flurry of lists and pre-chopped crudités.

I once spent the night before frantically flicking through a recent issue of Gourmet Traveller for some inspiration. (I know Gourmet Traveller’s reputation isn’t founded on the quality of its camping recipes but who’s to say you can’t be more adventurous than a tuna sandwich just because you’re staying in a field?).

Anyway I thought I’d struck gold with the first article: a twist on the humble toastie. Perfect. The photos looked simple yet sophisticated. I started scribbling notes for the first recipe.

Unfortunately there is nothing humble about a Gourmet Traveller toastie.

Step 1. You will need to start this recipe two days in advance.

Two days??

For a toastie? Doesn’t that contradict the whole principle of toasties?

Maybe that was the twist.

It was the final straw and from then on, I decided to be very strict. For the next trip, I threw a few basics in the fridge and transferred our usual box of pantry ingredients into the campervan. There were no lists. No pre-mixed spicy chickpea burgers. No homemade organic lemonade. And the whole experience was much more relaxed. Almost spontaneous! Paul’s happiest moments of the whole weekend were when I produced cornflakes for breakfast and he found out lunch was a cheese and pickle sandwich.

As it happens, I am now writing an article for a magazine quite similar to Gourmet Traveller (similar in that it’s about travelling, dissimilar in that it’s about travelling in caravans), and the article is focused on quick and easy camping meals. So I am looking for inspiration.

Fellow campers, caravanners – what are your tips for your favourite camping recipes? Meals that don’t require too much forward planning and can be rustled up with just a few basics? I’ve already got cheese and pickle sandwiches!

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Campsite review: Cotton Tree Holiday Park, Maroochydore, Qld

I’m going to preface this review with the monumental declaration that Cotton Tree is, so far, our favourite campsite in Australia. <gasp!>

We weren’t planning to stay here, but the campsite we’d earmarked down the road in Mooloolaba was full when we arrived, so we carried on up the coast to Maroochydore.

This review is just our impression of the site. For full details about facilities and prices, visit the website here.

Where is it?
One of the nicest spots on the Sunshine Coast, Cotton Tree overlooks the beach where the Maroochy River meets the ocean. There is direct beach access from several points in the campsite; you’re greeted with crashing waves on one side, sheltered waters on the other and white sand all around. The Maroochydore Surf Club is only a five-minute walk away for great food and views, and there are a few cafes and shops just outside the front entrance of the site.


How was the site?
It’s huge! There’s a good mix of pitches and a few cabins. The premium waterfront sites are practically on the sand and surrounded by palm trees so get booked up very early, but any pitch around the perimeter has excellent beach access.

There are some large, modern washblocks and a couple of older ones, but they were all clean and well maintained. There are good laundry facilities and popular bbq areas.

You do pay for all this at $44 per night for a powered site, plus they ask for two $20 cash deposits on arrival for a key to the washblock and a boom gate card.

Who goes there?
Great for families, couples, silver nomads – any beach lovers will be in their element. Whether you think waves are for surfing, fishing or photographing, it’s a wonderful spot.

Verdict
Fab. Book well in advance!

Five best things about a weekend in a campervan

Back when we were building the campervan, I did wonder how we’d get on with the whole camping thing. Staying in caravan parks. Having to remember a key (or, even worse, a code) when you’re hopping from one foot to the other, desperate for the loo. Reliving memories from guide camp of wearing clothes still damp from the previous day’s downpour. Making awkward conversation with other bleary-eyed campers on the early morning walk to the shower block. Sand everywhere. Ants in the cornflakes.

I wasn’t sure such proximity to either nature or neighbours would improve a minibreak.

But, I have been converted! Granted, we are not proper camping. We’ve been lucky with the weather (better than the Peak District) and having our own bathroom – however tiny – makes a huge difference. As does having a husband whose new hobby is evacuating every grain of sand from the wooden floors.

I’m not quite ready to relinquish my subscription to the Best Hotel Guide, but campervan minibreaks are definitely growing on me.

Here are our five best things about spending a weekend in a campervan:

  1. It feels like a proper break. As soon as you leave the house – and with it the endless domestic chores that would otherwise consume your weekend – even an express 24-hour trip away feels like a mini-holiday. And arriving home on Sunday afternoon still leaves you enough time to do the important stuff before work on Monday.
  2. You are completely self sufficient. You can drive to the middle of nowhere and everything you could possibly need is in easy reach, in the little space behind you.

  3. You don’t have that sense of foreboding on going-home day. While the proper campers on the next pitch are up at 6am trying to dismantle their canvas empires and cram everything into a trailer before the storm clouds roll in (in the knowledge that they have reverse the entire process when they get home), we fold up the chairs, unplug the power and drive off. The downside to this that while we can make a quick exit, our pitch never looks quite as homely as our neighbours’. Perhaps I should add a few pot plants to my list of campervan essentials.
  4. Eating breakfast al fresco. We’re lucky in Brisbane that it’s warm enough to eat breakfast outside for nine months of the year. But somehow when you’re at home, walking five extra steps to unlock the back door while juggling your porridge always seems too strenuous first thing in a morning.
  5. It’s cheap! Okay, the initial outlay to buy or build a campervan / caravan is not cheap, but once you’re on the road, you hardly have to pay for anything. Luckily after nine months, it’s still a novelty to rustle up a meal in our little kitchen, so we rarely eat out and our only costs are petrol and camping fees.

So last weekend we went to Maroochydore on the Sunshine Coast. It was a beautiful weekend; the lifeguards were getting ready for the first patrol of the summer, so we spent most of our time on the beach watching the rescue boats zooming up and down.

We stayed at Cottontree Holiday Park which has the most perfect location backing onto the beach. Campsite review coming soon!

So, fellow campervanners and caravanners – what are your favourite aspects of camping?