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Just a perfect day

I’m glad I spent it camping, says PETE LAWRENCE, as he picks his treasured places, cooks his favourite food and packs up the car with essential kit to create a magical live-fire experience

 Rupert Bates   Summer 2022

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 #Camping #PeteLawrence

 
 

 

 

The best part of camping, for me, is waking early.  

Joy is often not my first reaction: the warm rays penetrating the canvas and the dawn chorus are indeed magnificent, but actually after a few too many beers around the firepit the night before, my waking thought is usually a desire to go back to sleep.  

It’s the next bit that’s actually magical.  

Once you have scrabbled around for clothes, desperately trying not to wake, or indeed step on, your snoring companions, the opening of the tent zip reveals a wondrous world.   

With the grass still damp with dew, a low sun and gradual rising mist, an early morning campsite encapsulates a unique tranquillity and beauty. Lighting the coals ready for breakfast, provides a welcome source of heat to warm not only hands but also the kettle for a peaceful first tea.   Slowly, as the aroma of bacon wafts in the breeze, and the sizzle of sausage becomes the soundtrack of the moment, bleary eyes emerge from the tent. At home, I eat a modest breakfast but there’s something about camping that makes me really go for it – and why not. Grilled mushrooms, eggs, maybe even some steak is quite possibly the most sensational start to a perfect day.  

Of course, perfection is objective but common themes include spontaneous fun, great company and stunning locations – warming our souls and creating joyous shared memories. Some people also need at least three stunning pictures for Instagram or Facebook too, of course. The truth is, such perfect days rarely happen by accident.   Thankfully, with a little forethought – ok, and a fair bit of preparation – the chances of perfection can be increased.  

Sometimes it’s about little details: living by the sea has taught me how tide times and weather systems are vital considerations. There’s little point taking the frisbee to the beach if the tide is so high, that every square inch of sand is claimed by sprawling beach towels.  

Conversely, don’t bother pumping the paddleboards if the sea has gone out for the day. It’s essential to get that part of the planning right, so that the things that take up valuable boot space are going to make a positive contribution.  

Great food is essential but it’s also vital that the cook enjoys the day too. I tend to have burger-batch-making sessions on rainy afternoons, so I always have a good stash in the freezer. Allowing burgers to thaw in a sturdy cool box in conjunction with a thermometer to check core temperature, allows the chef to step away from the flames, without fear of burning the food or serving ‘rare’ chicken thighs.   

The technology around modern outdoor living has developed so much in the last few years, we can now take the primitive art of cooking over a flame to new culinary heights. With the right flow of air, confident control of flames and temperatures, there really is no limit to what can be cooked, even on a day out. 

 From a slow-cooked leg of lamb, or beef brisket to whole sides of salmon, a bit of prep combined with the right kit makes everything possible and relatively stress-free.   

 

 

Slow cooks are perfect, if you are intending to be based in one place, but sometimes having a plan and not sticking to it is the route to enthralling adventure.  

Stumbling across a deserted cove or rounding a bend to see a familiar view literally in new light, as storm clouds part can throw even the most regimented timetable into touch.  

I tend to like food that can be cooked relatively quickly, so that I can adapt to the occasion. Again a sturdy, roomy cool box and a barbecue that’s easy to get up and running are the key to creating a fabulous spread in the most spectacular of settings.  

In recent years, as outdoor lifestyle has become an essential part of our lives, the manufacturers and designers have engineered some amazing products that mean we really can create exceptional food on-the-move.  

For the cook, it offers the chance to feed our loved ones with a whole new level of inspiring dishes, with views that even the world’s finest restaurants can’t compete with.  

Often, it’s not about expensive ingredients but rather playing to the strengths of the food you have available. One of my favourite on-the-go dishes is chargrilled aubergine with feta and chilli. 

Pre-slice the aubergine into finger-width slices and seal in a container with salt, lemon and oil. The spongy aubergine will soak up the marinade and require just minutes to grill on each side. In a separate container, put some pre-chopped parsley, finely cut garlic and lemon zest, chilli flakes and crumbs of feta, which can be sprinkled on the smoky aubergine for the last few seconds. Courgettes work really well like this too. Add a few seared peppers or asparagus and even the most committed meat eaters will be re-joining the queue 

for seconds.    

Ultimately having a great day is about convenience and if you are essentially cooking on one grill, it’s no problem adapting even for fussy eaters. Having a few homemade burgers for the kids in the cool bag, with sauces or shop-bought toppings, means the adults get a whine-free lunch and the kids are happy – if a little sugared up. At least they will run it off in the afternoon.

The thing about perfect days is that nobody wants them to end. The joy of watching the sun set over the horizon is a pleasure that is totally free yet none of us treat ourselves to it often enough.  

While the sun slowly slips into another hemisphere, the sky continually changes, every second becoming more dramatic and mesmerising until it is gone for another day. Cooking outdoors while the last rays disappear is another fabulous experience. When the heat finally disappears from the day, everyone huddles towards the BBQ or firepit. The aromas bring anticipation and as the air chills, the sizzling food becomes the delicious fuel for more chatter and laughter and the dying embers flicker shadows across joyous faces.  

Maybe you have cooked fish caught fresh from the sea or kept back some peaches to be caramelised as a sweet end to the meal.  Perhaps the guitar is out, and the kids huddle in blankets as the stars come out to play. In a frantic world we all need more perfect days. It shouldn’t be an aspiration. We should make it happen.


 


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