campy food and more

My husband and I both camped when we were younger and want to enjoy these trips with our family as well. Yet, it went so poorly with babies that we set those plans aside a few years until our daughters were at a better age for travel. Last year we hit South Dakota and it went amazingly well–we wanted another week of camping this summer. So we headed to Minnesota’s North Shore, which offers miles of gorgeous Lake Superior views.

Hiking, shopping, tenting–all good. But my favorite part of camping–and travel in general–will always be the food. Memories of childhood camping include my mom planning menus and packing food in crates and coolers. Mom is far more organized than I, so my planning and packing efforts pale in comparison, but just the same I love to think through meal possibilities and pack accordingly.

Then there are meals out, which I like having at one-of-a-kind stops along the way. (Though there’s compromise as kids and husband appreciate the Taco Bells and Subways of the road.) I armed myself with a ripped-out feature from a local paper titled Destination Duluth: Where to eat right now, circling the places I wanted to hit. And…




Many of my husband’s family’s friends gave us camping gear as wedding gifts, most likely with the hope of taming the “city” in his “city girl” bride. One such gift was a camp-stove toaster, which toasted sourdough English muffins for egg sandwiches. We’d also brought an Italian-spiced bacon from a favorite meat market and I’m already planning a return trip for more.20130816_081949


Typical drive-in food at A & Dubs.

Chicken basket, fries, cole slaw. The butterscotch malt? Already gone!

Chicken basket, fries, cole slaw. The butterscotch malt? Already gone!

The Duluth Grill makes a great case for going your own way. Originally partners in the Ember’s chain, the owners tell of the day they ran out of pancake mix. Choosing to make their own ‘cakes from scratch–which tasted better and cost less–was a light-bulb moment. Their partnership with Ember’s eventually flamed out and they now have vegetable and herb gardens (the server’s shirts read “Veggies fresh from the parking lot.”) and serve imaginative fare–some out-there, some more down-home–all of it made onsite using local and organic ingredients. My one regret was not having room for the When Pigs Fly sundae: vanilla ice cream topped with cherrywood-smoked bacon, pecans, homemade caramel sauce, and Hawaiian red sea salt.

buffalo tofu strips

buffalo tofu strips

bison burger with homemade onion rings

bison burger with homemade onion rings

ratatouille over polenta sprinkled with goat cheese

ratatouille over polenta sprinkled with goat cheese

beet lemonade--surprisingly tasty!

beet lemonade–surprisingly tasty!

20130813_113627While not technically a lunch stop, I enjoyed wandering a downtown outpost of the Duluth Farmer’s Market. My favorite find: curry coconut granola.


My oldest daughter likes to have her night as head chef to serve up Girl Scout Gumbo (no scouts were harmed in the making of this dish, haha). A hearty mixture of potato, ground beef, bell pepper, alphabet soup, and onion, it goes over especially well when camping.

girl scout gumbo with a side of veg

girl scout gumbo with a side of veg

Hobo dinners are another childhood camping memory, so these fire pit-roasted beef-and-veggie packets were on our list. We changed it up by using chorizo instead of beef and I’ll never go back. The chorizo’s spices (and fat) gave the veggies immeasurable flavor and tenderness.

hobo dinner chorizo-style

hobo dinner chorizo-style

I’d read earlier about cooking breadsticks over a campfire, so had made up a ziploc of dry mix at home and added the liquids at the campsite. They were tricky to cook on a stick, as they tended to droop with the heat and fall into the fire. And cooking too close to the flames left them charred. What finally worked? Laying them in a skillet and turning them often.2013-08-12 18.37.09


banana boats with c chips, mini 'mallows, and cut-up caramel pieces

banana boats with c chips, mini ‘mallows, and cut-up caramel pieces

Banana boats and s’mores. Typical campfire treats, but the s’mores were extra special this year as I’d made graham crackers Γ  la Smitten Kitchen before leaving home.

gimme s'more!

gimme s’more!

skidmarks on my heart

skidmarks on my heart

Positively Third Street Bakery: This tiny gem’s cookies sold out quickly. We never made it before noon in our two visits (to go back twice in five days says something about how badly we needed these cookies), so only had a few to choose from. Handwritten labels listed basic ingredients such as butter and sugar, but each variety had an extra “something.” Adventure, perhaps. Or Joy, Love, Good Times. Our favorite is the Skidmark: deep chocolate, hit of espresso, chocolate chips, etc. And the “special ingredient”? Burnt rubber–what else?

Betty’s Pies is state-famous (though the website claims world fame) for its North Shore location and crazy good pies. Just as fun is the kitschy blue-and-white checker decor.

apple, coconut cream, 5-layer chocolate a la Betty

apple, coconut cream, 5-layer chocolate Γ  la Betty

Another bit of culinary fun my oldest brought to the trip was ice-cream-in-a-bag. In a 1-quart ziploc, she combined 1/2 cup milk (didn’t seem to matter if it was full-fat, skim, chocolate, nonfat half-and-half–everything worked), 2-4 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and pinch of salt. After sealing the bag, she put it in another ziploc and surrounded the sealed bag with rock salt and ice. Five or so minutes of tossing the bag from one hand to another (wrapping it in a towel makes it easier to handle) turned out top-notch soft-serve ice cream. Because we’d picked up malted milk balls at a candy shop that day, we crushed a few and mixed them into the ice cream for a bit of texture and extra flavor.

ice cream in under 10 minutes, better than DQ

ice cream in under 10 minutes, better than DQ

Northern Waters Smokehaus came highly recommended from multiple sources. A quick-order sandwich shop, they also smoke and sell their own meats and if I lived in Duluth it would be a regular stop. Their sandwiches are inventively named (my bahn faux mi layered Berkshire Ham, patΓ©, carrot, cabbage, cilantro, quick pickles, hoisin, chili sauce, and butter–can you even imagine?); I beg you to click on the above link for a taste of their creativity.

a really good sandwich

a really good sandwich

Just for Fun

PhotoGrid_1376430421888Fizzy Waters focuses on sodas of all kinds–vintage and craft especially–as well as a smaller selection of old-fashioned candies. My daughters enjoyed a turn at the make-your-own-soda fountain and I’m giving my youngest the prize for most innovative with her version of Chocolate Sprite.

Duluth Coffee Co. is said to be the antithesis of Starbucks and I can see why with its dark and spare space. As a non-chain fan (see above), I adored it. This coffee is served all around town for good reason. Roasted in-house, it’s fragrant, well-balanced, deep, and dark. I took home a bag–despite the steep price tag–as I need that coffee magic every morning in my own kitchen.

We were glad to come home to warm beds and indoor toilets, but there is so much more food to be enjoyed that we’ll be back. I anticipate a Duluth Dining II post (camping optional) sooner rather than later.

61 thoughts on “campy food and more

    • thanks, Ada! Remember, it was your granola bars that helped fuel this trip πŸ™‚ I was surprised at how easy the ice cream thing was. I’d always known about it, but hadn’t realized that the liquids would freeze so quickly.

    • Glad you like, Conrad. Thanks! What wines do you recommend for camping? I’ll admit to not being as crazy about wine as I am beer and whiskey, but all food folks seem to like wine, so trying to educate myself and find something I really like. So far, it’s only been the sweet wines I’ve been drawn to.

      • To be honest, I’m as much of a beer man as I am a wine man. They fit two very different occasions. If I’m camping it’s usually nice weather so I’ll crack open a beer and sit around in a deck chair and watch the world go around. Then with dinner I’d probably pop open a Chardy if it’s very warm, or a Cab if it’s a little cooler because both would usually go with the smoky charcoal atmosphere of camp food. Mmmmmm.

  1. I must say that drooling while drinking my morning coffee is both messy and somehow uncontrollable when reading our post. So much delicious food – this is truly a yummy post Liz!!

    • didn’t mean to make you drool, mimi! (I’m sure you’re wiping enough drool as it is with your new family member.) Glad you found yum here. I’m doing it right then πŸ˜‰ Thanks for coming over.

  2. When telling people about my vacation, I tend to focus on the food too. I’m surprised you tried the beet lemonade after the beet-brownie situation! (I’m even more surprised that you said it was good!) Also, I am envious of your homemade graham cracker skills. I don’t remember if I said or not, but graham crackers are on my list of things to make homemade from scratch.
    Everyone keeps talking about chorizo! I’ve only had it once–and enjoyed it–but I need to make it again. I will add it to my ever-growing list.

    • So were we (and everyone else here) born with some sort of food gene that other folks were not? I do have a friend or two who don’t give much of a rip about food–it’s just there to eat. (huh?) Takes all sorts.

      I ordered the beet lemonade just because I could. (I’ll always order the craziest thing on the menu out of curiosity.) And was just as surprised as you that I liked it. Had to share with my oldest as she really liked it, too.

      Trust me, I have no graham cracker skills. Mine were misshapen, etc and looked nothing like the beautifully crafte treats on smitten kitchen’s page. But they still tasted amazing.

      And yes, I think you will like chorizo. Lots of flavor. Thanks for coming by and your wonderfully insightful comments, Jenny πŸ™‚

    • Beet lemonade surprised me! It was so pretty, too. I wouldn’t say Minnesota is a destination vacation spot, but if you’re here, there’s pretty stuff to see and good stuff to eat. Thanks for coming by, friend πŸ™‚

    • Thanks, Fannie. Wow, a drool cloth image is so not what I’m going for when I write these posts πŸ˜‰ Just make sure you don’t share yours with Mimi–heehee. The ice cream in a bag pretty much knocked my socks off. Little birdie told me you were working hard(er than usual) this week–good luck! Appreciate you being here.

  3. This is all excellent camping food, I say! I would totally go camping with you, Liz! Ooh Yeah! You do the cooking & baking, I Will do the dishes & tent building! Teamwork! X

    • I’m in, Sophie! We’ll have to meet in the middle since I’m here and you’re there. What do you suggest? I think you could bring a few treats, too, though. How about those chocolate-apricot balls? And the coconut cookies? And let me help with dishes. (you can put up the tent, though) Thanks!

  4. Everything in this post looks amazing Liz!!! (And of course, the coffee was fab – that goes without saying πŸ˜‰ Thank you!)

    I especially love the ziploc ice cream, I’ve never seen that done before, and I think it’s brilliant! I wish I knew about it back when I was a Brownie (the Canadian version of Girl Scouts – the younger ones) I would have been the most popular girl in the troop! Plus, Brownies … ice cream … it’s just too perfect! πŸ˜€

    • Anna is currently a Brownie, so even though our cookie offerings differ, we share that part of GS. Yes to brownies and ice cream. Always.

      Hope the coffee keeps you awake. I can pour as many as you need. You’ll need energy for TONIGHT!!!!! (can you tell I’m excited for you? πŸ˜‰ ) I’m off to dinner and a movie myself, so hoping to swap stories tomorrow.

  5. Jiminy Crickets Liz!! I just gained 5lbs just reading through your post, and count me among the droolers…

    I love camping also, but this takes it to a whole new level. Wow! I’d pitch my tent anywhere near yours, anytime!

    I’m having a case of the afternoon it virtual food coma, or need for some of that coffee you ended on? Perhaps both??

    I HAVE to try those homemade graham crackers once the weather cools a bit, I can’t muster the whatever it takes to bake on these hot days!

    • Thanks, Bonnie! Keep in mind these are virtual calories, so the trench still fits πŸ™‚ I’m in for a group camping trip, though as I mentioned to Andi below, the toilets have to be connected to something that resembles plumbing, they have to flush, and someone has to clean them daily. I have my standards!

      The only thing that would have made the trip more fun was a cocktail or two, so we’ll put you in charge of that. Afternoon droops–hope that doesn’t mean your sleep is off. And make the graham crackers–yes. I’ve tried a few recipes, but am most impressed with Smitten’s. I bet kiddo would love them. Especially topped with a bit of chocolate frosting.

      Love that you’re here πŸ™‚

      • Whew…yes, virtual calories, ok, calming down! Yes, that trench, it’s waiting ever so patiently for me, and well, the weather to cool off!

        Yes, a group camping trip sounds like so much fun!! I am totally with you on the need for plumbing and the absence of bugs. Cocktails are a must, for sure! I usually go camping every summer with a friend and our boys; check this when you get a moment:

        This year’s trip is on the books for October, so I have plenty of time to make those graham crackers and find some wilderness worthy cocktail recipes for when the flashlights are turned off!! And yes, sleep is fine, just busy busy days!!

        Love being here πŸ™‚

  6. I am so impressed with your camping and all the photos and stories you collected for this post! I did go camping as a kid, but I don’t remember much about the food. I think it was mostly sandwiches and maybe roasted hot dogs. I have a terrible memory! I have no desire to camp now, what with the lack of showers, kitchens, beds, Internet, etc. I have to say though, this delicious post makes me tempted to try if I could eat like that!

    • Thanks, Andi! It did occur to me, after writing this post, that it looks like we went all out. Didn’t seem like it at the time–remember that this food was spread out over a week’s time.

      I do enjoy camping, though draw the line at needing flush toilets. And the bugs drive me batty, so am not always a happy camper. But never a hungry camper! The Internet thing went ok (though there’s plenty of Wi-Fi on the road), though played a harried week of catch up here and at work. Worth it in the end, though.

      p.s. meant to mention that I have most of the groceries for Fiesta Week. I’m going for it once school starts πŸ™‚

      • Sorry, just remembered to come back to see your reply. That is so fun that you are really going to do Fiesta Week! Although, you might consider swapping out one of the original recipes with my Fish Stick Burritos from this week. Those aren’t getting that much love on Pinterest, but I promise they are really, really good and easy and fun!

        You know what I’m writing up for tomorrow? Flourless cookies! Why? I have no idea. Regular flour cookies seemed to played out I guess πŸ˜‰

        Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

  7. Looks good, Liz. Don’t you love going up there? I think I’ve been camping up there more than any ten men I know, and every time, no matter what, it never fails to delight. From that endless freshwater ocean, to the tumbling root beer rivers, to the dazzling waterfalls. I’ve camped all across this mighty country, and up there, on the shore, is some of the best there is. We’re lucky to have such a state.

    Where did you camp?

    • We stayed at a city campground the first three nights as we hadn’t gotten our act together in time to get State Park reservations. On day 4, we drove up to Gooseberry in time for opening and got ourselves on the waiting list and Hurrah! We hit Split Rock, of course, and also drove the hwy to Grand Marais just for fun. It was all mind-blowingly gorgeous. Sounds like you’ve made a few trips up that shore as well.

      Curious, where are those root beer rivers? We saw dazzling waterfalls, but no flowing soda pop. Well, there was fizzy waters. haha. You bring great poetry to your description of that North Shore–you could be a nature/food writer!

      • Well most of the rivers up there have been said to resemble root beer in color. This is because of something called tannin they say, which is part of the natural run off which fills the rivers. Look closely some time, they are indeed sorta brownish root beer colored. Least some of them.

        Speaking of which, that’s where im Headed now. North!

        • We saw the brown rivers and even talked of tannins, but I did not know of the root beer analogy. I like very much, surprise surprise.

          stopping at Duluth Grill? Have a great weekend πŸ™‚ Grill up some good stuff for Patrons.

  8. wow, i want to eat (oh yeah, and camp) with you guys! this post made me ravenous and i’m going to start a small fire on my wood deck out back to roast up some things. )

    • highly recommend chorizo next time you whip up one of those hobo dinners, EJ πŸ™‚ Good to see you–thanks for coming buy and piping up. Do you camp? If so, you could put together a camping playlist to go with my food.

      If you’re hungry, food for fun is doing its job πŸ˜‰

      • Yeah have always done a lot of camping. Love it. Love all these ideas and I’ll probably make use of some of these, and will definitely try the chorizo idea.

        I do like the accompanying playlist idea. Gotta have good music while camping! And yes, your blog is definitely doing its job. πŸ˜€

  9. Now if food were like this on camping trips, I would go more often! hehe. i do like camping, or er, well “glamping” I guess would be more up my alley! But nothing and I mean nothing beats a good ol’ smore around a campfire! Looks amazing! Glad y’all had a great time!

    • Thanks, Sam πŸ™‚ We do like our camping toaster, though it’s rusty enough and tends to fall apart. But it’s camping, right? We seem to do better on camping trips than we do regular life. For whatever reason, no one fights and we all enjoy each other. Weird.

      Happy to see you here!!

  10. Gosh where to start? I like camping but dont enjoy camp cooking as much, so we tend to eat out! Love your toaster, impressed with the breadsticks but the icecream in a bag is brilliant! what a great camping idea, such a fun way to get dessert!

    • camp cooking is my fave part, so if we camp together I’ll do that part πŸ™‚ Thanks for your kind words, Jayne. I love that the “brilliant” ice cream was my daughter’s contribution. She picked the idea up at a book club, so yet another reason to love books! Appreciate your kind words.

  11. If you ever start a business franchise on food for camping – you will make it into the Wall Street Journal’s gourmet section! I am truly inspired……do you deliver to Australia? If so, I would like to place a dinner order!

    • Thanks, Steven! I have yet to set up a delivery service (though if you were a local mom who just had a baby, I’d drive a meal over to your house–but thinking that’s not happening for multiple reasons, haha) but am thinking I could take a business trip to Australia. Yes, that’s what I’ll do πŸ™‚ Travel is tough with little kiddos (and limited funds), but oh I would love to see Australia.

      If I do start that business franchise, I’ll be knocking on your door for all of your fantastico ideas. deLizious tuning forks etc!

  12. Pingback: cookbook travels and banana bread squared | food for fun


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