The art of incongruous cooking

Written by Stuart Revnell No Gravatar

When we worked out travel budget, way back in autumn 2010 (a fine joint effort, where Jane took responsibility for researching likely daily costs per country, plus the likely contingency costs of additional activities, and I made it into a lovely spreadsheet with ‘Alert – you are over budget’ warnings and live currency feeds from MSN Money), New Zealand came out as likely to be the most expensive country we would visit.

So when it came to booking our camper van, we chose the second cheapest model, with a simple one ring gas stove and a tiny coolbox which only works when the ignition is on, in order to give ourselves a healthy contingency for fuel, entry fees, and tours.

Jane even downloaded ‘The Camper Van Cookbook’ onto her Kindle in readiness, but unfortunately the device went the same way my first one did (see ‘A Dark Day’ for further information), so on our first trip to the supermarket, we floundered a little.  Back in the UK, a typical meal would involve an oven and two or three hobs, so finding something tasty and practical to cook on our stove put us in unfamiliar territory.  We opted for pasta in the end, with some mushrooms, chicken and pesto, and whilst a little cumbersome to prepare, it was hot, tasty, and went down rather nicely with a bottle of red wine in the back of the van.

The washing up was a little cumbersome too – we only  a tiny sink with a pump operated tap and cold water, so there wasn’t the luxury of piling the dishes into a big steaming sink.  Instead, they went into the bucket to be washed with some hot water from the boiled pasta, before one of us rinsed them off with water from the pumped tap in the sink and the other dried them with the trekking towel.

The second night, we had pretty much the same, dinner, followed by the same washing up procedure, and the third night…well, certainly a variation on the theme.

Imagine our excitement, then, when we came to a campsite in Queenstown on our fourth night and there was a proper kitchen.  I don’t know whether this is another of those things that pretty much everybody in the world knows apart from me, but having never done any proper camping or touring, I never knew that campsites came with properly equipped kitchens.  To find one with three cookers, a couple of microwaves, four cavernous sinks and hot water on demand was therefore quite a surprise.

That night we went to town a bit.  Gone was the pasta, and in its place was pan-fried salmon with garlic, accompanied by a spinach, potato and cheese rosti.  I happily prepared this as Jane was blogging in the communal lounge, and it’s safe to say that I felt fairly incongruous, swigging away on my cold beer, hogging an entire cooker and worksurface, while twenty year old backpackers served up rather simpler fare, three to a cooker.  Next night it was lamb chops with couscous and vegetables, followed by sauteed mushrooms and poached eggs on toast for breakfast the following morning.

Next we headed down to Milford Sound, where we stayed in the Milford Sound Lodge.  This kitchen was even better – not only did they have all the facilities we’d had in Queenstown, but all the crockery and cutlery too.  That night, we once again hogged an entire stove, this time cooking a large steak with some crushed new potatoes and olive oil, and a small tomato salad on the side.

Last night it was grilled lamb and sauteed potatoes in a small campground by Lake Manapouri, and this morning there we were again at 07:00, preparing a salami, brie and egg ‘Artesan baton’ (so it said in the bakery section) for today’s lunch – with hindsight, it was utter folly to believe we would ever have to resort to ‘The Camper Van Cookbook’.

We’re in the middle of a three hour drive to Queenstown, and tonight’s menu hasn’t been decided yet, but it’s currently a toss up between white fish with an asparagus salad and chicken fajitas.  There’s still time yet for it all to change, but whatever happens, we’ll be sure to get there in good time to bag our own cooker for the evening.

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