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Tips and recipes for a night under the stars

al fresco picnic supper outdoors with basket and linens

As lockdown begins to ease here in the UK, our minds are drawn to travel and adventure. Like many, I'm feeling excited to be able to leave our town that has become a little too familiar these last few months and venture further, but equally, I'm still feeling nervous and want to remain cautious.

We've decided a couple of camping trips here in the UK, and possibly driving over to France might be a fun way for us to get away without being in hotels and busy cities.

I'm a bit of a fair-weather camper ~ I love being under canvas, waking to the dawn chorus, cooking over a campfire, and living at a slow, thoughtful pace, but at the same time I like my home comforts!

In this journal entry I share some of the objects that always make it into the boot of our car along with our bell tent, as well as three of my favourite campfire suppers.

And if camping isn't on the cards for you, you could always spend a night under the stars in your garden, or do some campfire cooking all the same.

a basket full of things for a night camping or a picnic

Here are my top ten camping tips followed by three campfire recipes I always turn to:

  1. take your pillows and duvet

    there's nothing like a home comfort than a stack of pillows and your duvet cover. Squish them into an Ikea bag or pillowcase; they pack down smaller than you think.

  2. pack a sheepskin or two

    useful as a rug, tucked into a camping chair or bench, and as a warm layer in bed at nighttime.

  3. find some old apple crates

    they're so easy to pick up on eBay and work as a sturdy and stackable way to pack your objects. Put them on their side to use as a little cupboard to store kitchen things underneath, and pop your stove on top. They can become a comfy stool with a cushion or sheepskin on top.

  4. lots and lots of blankets

    dot them around your tent to make a kind of carpet, use them like a shawl on a brisk evening, pop on the bed for an extra later, take on a walk for a picnic blanket. You can never have enough.

  5. invest in enamelware

    plates, mugs, tumblers, utensils, teapot...enamelware is hardwearing, it stacks, cleans easily, it's light and undoubtedly pretty enough to use at home when you're not camping. Tumblers & mugs make excellent toothbrush & toothbrush holders to take to the loo with you, or use them to store cutlery in.

  6. rig up the festoon lights

    nothing is more beautiful on a summers evening that the glow of a festoon light.

  7. pack baskets

    lots of them! Tents can become messy very quickly; a basket can help that matter no end, put dirty clothes in one, toys in another, dried foods in another. They're easy to carry from place to place and brilliant for wild swimming, picnics and shopping trips.

  8. bring the doormat

    okay, this one sounds silly, but a doormat in the entrance to your tent is a reminder to take shoes off and keep the inside of your tent dry and clean

  9. take lots of produce bags

    one for toiletries, for toys, a first aid kit, another with a bin bag inside for rubbish...endlessly useful.

  10. don't skrimp on kitchen stuff

    cooking over the campfire and making a morning brew are the best bits of camping, dedicate an apple crate to kitchenware. Here's the (non-exhaustive) list...plates, bowls, mugs, tumblers, cutlery, serving spoons, napkins, tea towels, V60 pourover (easier to clean than cafetiere), teapot, chopping board, sharp knife, serving dishes, beeswax wraps, bowl covers, produce bags, gas stove, bottle opener, tin opener, wooden spoons, ladle, jam jars, carafe, colander, pans, dish brush, scourer...

       a picnic in the sunshine

      1. mussels & french bread

        if you're by the sea, mussels are cheap to buy, just fry some onions & garlic until soft, add a good lug of white wine, add the mussels, stick the lid on. Once they are all open, chuck in some parsley and season - serve with french bread. Just the quickest, most delicious camping supper. If you need a recipe, here's a simple one. 

      2. a big veggie chilli

        I cook a big pot of this chilli the night before we leave, you can serve with boiled rice, bread, jacket spuds cooked in the embers, an avocado and a grating of cheddar or dollop of sour cream. I cook enough for two nights, but we always end up making friends, inviting them for supper and eating it around the campfire on the first night. Last year, we shared our chilli with a family of circus performers, the next morning we found a bunch of foraged flowers in a jam jar on our doorstep as they moved on to their next adventure. 

      3. shakshuka

        a cheap, quick meal you can prepare easily and can be adapted. This is my favourite recipe, but use what you can get hold of. You can prepare the spices from home before in a little jam jar, or take a jar of harissa and stir that in instead. Mop up with bread, and have two eggs each if you're feeling really hungry after a day of wild swimming or long walks.

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