Stop Trying So Hard in the Kitchen

Kath Heiman — 24 January 2019

When we’re at home, my husband Scott and I divide the task of cooking for the family. 

During the week, he’s often back at the house before me in the afternoon, so he takes up a position by the stove or barbecue and produces a varied mix of meals. 

Meanwhile, you’ll find me pottering around in the kitchen more often on the weekend, making breakfasts when Scott and our eight year old daughter Scout prefer a lazier start to the day.  

In either case, we have no aspirations to become the next contestants on My Kitchen Rules. Our priorities are nutrition, balance, and using produce we’ve grown in our small veggie patch and herb garden.

On the road, the distribution of cooking duties switches a little. And this reflects the fact that Scott and I play to our respective strengths. 

The truth is, there are a number of tasks around camp I have more physical difficulty in achieving than Scott, who is 6’3” and built like a brick shithouse. Meanwhile, there are some other tasks where my more diminutive build is either no barrier to achievement, or is indeed a downright advantage – such as scrambling around inside the camper during setup. In this vein, cooking is a task that requires little strength, so it’s something I get on with while Scott is still lugging camping boxes out of the Hilux or splitting firewood. 

When I’m designated camp cook (and particularly when we’ve been remote for a considerable period) I have to say I take some pride in generating varied and interesting meals, by drawing upon the scraps of fresh food left in the fridge, and the tinned and packaged contents from the tucker box. 

Occasionally, I find certain tinned and packaged items that have been in that box for several trips. Some have probably covered more kilometres than many people will see in a lifetime. But this doesn’t mean I can’t use them. While highly acidic tinned goods like tomatoes and fruit may taint after a year or two, others like veggies, meat and fish can generally be relied on for around five years. And I’m guided by the use-by date when there is one, too.

So, turning out a creditable bolognese at night (particularly one that’s been slow cooking in the EcoPot since we broke camp earlier the same day) is a really nice thing to be able to do. The look of delight on Scout’s face when a meal like this is unveiled, topped with grated cheese, is such a pleasure to see. 

Similarly, a piece of beef served with a pre-packaged sauce, veggies and rice is guaranteed to earn a look of palpable appreciation from Scott. And I can generally gauge the level of gratitude based on how deeply he sinks into his camp chair and the degree to which he fixes his gaze on the campfire – both sure signs he’s relaxing after a long day on the road.

The more we’ve travelled, the more I’ve realised that applying culinary flare around a portable three-burner stove isn’t necessary (or even desirable) all of the time. It’s possible, in fact, to achieve the most enthusiastic responses from some of the simplest offerings. What achieves ‘top marks’ can depend far less on what’s on offer, and more on how well it fits the tone of the day and the nature of the environment we’re in. Let me illustrate:

Camping by the beach or a desert dune, with the sun setting and the temperature still in the mid-to-high 20s? Break out the antipasto platter. Think cheese, ham, sliced tomatoes, cucumber, pâté, crackers and smoked oysters.  

Camping in the High Country, with the temperature dropping rapidly but no chance of a campfire due to fire restrictions? Time to find the tinned soup, add some random meat, veggie or pasta leftovers from the fridge, and rustle up some toast on the gas stove.

Camping among red gums by a river, stoking a small cooking fire while listening for native frogs and watching the birds take up their night-time roost? Time for jaffles, with easy fillings like baked beans, creamed corn, and cheese and ham. And, for a special treat: marshmallows, banana and nutella.

Some of the most memorable times around camp as a family have been while sharing simple meals like these – eating and reflecting on the day’s events, recounting what have been our “favourite things family and favourite things learnt” for the day.

There’s a saying that Scott uses, one he picked up years ago from a mate’s dad who maintained a healthy wine cellar. As he puts it: “The best wine you’ll ever have is the wine you enjoy with friends”. And, in my book, the same can be said for food.

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she'll be right cooking family recipe food editorial

Photographer

Kath Heiman