Saturday, November 20, 2010

Camp Kitchen

A camp fire, a camping stove and small tables pushed together to make a big one, surrounded by camping chairs. All in a rugged mountainous setting with a full moon and clear sky after a gorgeous sunset. This is al fresco dining at its ultimate best.

We recently went for a night camping in the mountains near Hatta in the UAE. The scenery was downright spectacular, both along the way as in the valley where we camped. It was a spontaneous camping trip, decided to join only a few days before actually going. For us it meant a somewhat frantic search for our camping gear (last time we used it was over four years ago in Egypt), in between entertaining guests and enjoying the F1 race in Abu Dhabi.

We arrive early afternoon, after a disappointing side-trip to nearby pools. Rather resembling a dried-up litter dump than the idyllic (camping) spot I read about, we just turn back the wadi-way we came. It is perfect timing to clamber up that steep slope for an even better view of the surrounding scenery. Not too keen to risk my weak ankle (injured from falling) on this uneven terrain, I stay to sort our camping stuff. It is best done before beer anyway.

Soon the light is changing, the colors are getting warmer - the temperatures definitely not. Snack time, and busy as bees we're all rummaging in our coolers. Before long, nothing short of a finger food buffet appears on the table. There are soft sweet dates wrapped in prosciutto and grilled on the camp fire, the ubiquitous cream cheese and chilli sauce, a cheese platter, mini poppadums with green chili humus, beetroot tapenade, marinated olives, canapes with smoked salmon... who says you have to rough it outdoors?! Meanwhile the camp fire and stove are prepared for cooking dinner. Meat is "each their own", sides are to share. In a fabulous display of coaction, the impromptu grill-masters turn out steak after satay after sausage on the camp fire that has turned to hot glowing coals. On the table now is a delectable array of salads, warm pasta bolognese, grilled zucchini, and so much more.

Dark by now, the kids are keen to flare up the camp fire and bring out the marshmallows. The adults - sitting away from the fire - can't wait for the young ones to crawl into their sleeping bags. By the time this happens, we're all too tired (the empty bottles have got nothing to do with it) to enjoy the still roaring fire long. Despite the thin "self-inflatable" and cold night, I sleep remarkably well.

The morning sun shines a pale yellow light over the nearby rims. This desolate terrain is even more stunning in the early morning. Slowly the camp awakes. The camp fire is brought back to life, ready for the rolls and croissants wrapped in foil to warm. Piping hot coffee does the trick, and one of the young girls is enthusiastically cooking bacon and eggs for all. On a one-pit stove.

When a natural setting is this beautiful, even beans in a can and a wiener on a stick would have been fine. All the more unforgettable is the experience with a potluck camp kitchen such as this one.