How to eat like you’re not roughing it.
Story and Photography by Kerry Guice
Camping is in my blood. I’ve been spending summers swimming in lakes and roasting marshmallows over a fire since I could barely walk. One of the reasons I love Arkansas so much is that there are so many places to enjoy camping! Because our family goes so often, we’ve been able to compile checklists of exactly what to bring (and what not to bring), so our camping trips always go smoothly. We keep bins of supplies in a storage closet along with our tent, sleeping bags and chairs so that we don’t have to spend the entire week preparing to go away for 2-3 days. It’s a matter of emptying out the closet, filling up the ice chest, loading up the car, and heading out for a weekend adventure together!
Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with hot dogs on a stick (it’s usually what we eat for lunch before heading home), but because cooking over an open fire isn’t something I get to do often, I like to make the most of the opportunity! Our camp dinners are always special. I buy several plastic picnic tablecloths at the dollar store when they’re available, and I keep them in our “camp kitchen bin.” We cover the table, and the kids pick wildflowers and place them in a cup for our centerpiece. I have a few smaller bins where I store my utensils, trash bags, foil, spices (pro tip: store spices in a stackable pill container to save space), dish and hand soap, etc. When you’re organized, it’s so much easier to feel like you’re in a real kitchen. My husband, Brian, builds the fire while I prepare the food, and we don’t like to ever use any lighter fluid. We want to taste the food and the fire, and that’s it!
On this trip, I decided to make some Citrus and Cilantro Marinated Chicken with Mexican Watermelon Salad, and some other grilled veggies (corn and zucchini). If you want to save yourself even more time, you can cut and marinate your meat at home, placing it all in a gallon zipped bag (double bag it for safety), and toss it in the cooler so it’ll be ready to go when you are! This meal is great with rice, too, and that is also something you can precook at home, pour into a sturdy container and bring it along with you!
Watermelon is a summer staple at our house, and when we’re camping, you’re likely to find my son, Archer, exploring the woods behind our campsite, chomping on a giant slice of watermelon with its sweet, sticky juice dripping down his smiling face. A few summers ago, I became hooked on Watermelon Feta Salad with lemon and mint, and thought that the freshness of Mexican flavors would transfer perfectly. I was right, and now I prefer the updated recipe over the original. It’s such a fresh burst of flavor that matches the pleasant feeling of being outside!
Eating well while camping is not hard to do, you just need to think ahead a little bit. Cooking over a campfire while sipping on a drink with my husband, watching our kids giggling in the hammock, all with no electronics in sight, makes this mom one happy camper!
CITRUS AND CILANTRO MARINATED CHICKEN
2 chicken breasts and 6 boneless chicken thighs, cut into pieces about the size of the palm of your hand
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
Juice and zest of 1 lime
Juice and zest of 1 small orange
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
3-4 green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper
Place chicken in large zipped baggie. In medium bowl, whisk together marinade ingredients, then pour into the bag with the chicken and massage to thoroughly coat chicken. Let marinate at least 1 hour, or up to 6 hours.
When your fire is ready for cooking, the flames will be low and the coals will look white and red. Place grill grate over the fire and let it get good and hot (I wait until this step to scrub the grate clean—it’s much easier to clean when it’s hot). Using a long pair of tongs, carefully lay all the chicken on the grill. Flip to cook on the other side when the meat easily comes off of the grill and you can see grill marks (if it sticks to the grill it’s not ready to flip). It should take about 7-9 minutes per side if the coals are just right. Squeeze lime juice over chicken before serving, and serve with grilled veggies and/or rice.
MEXICAN WATERMELON SALAD
4 cups of fresh watermelon, cut into chunks
1/2 cup crumbled Cotija cheese
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 lime, juice and zest
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced (optional)
Pinch of salt, pepper and chili powder
Carefully combine ingredients in a medium bowl. Serve chilled. Be sure not to assemble too far in advance, as the salt will draw the juice out of the melon.