Although a camping vacation would be a fate worse than death for those who prefer to spend their leisure time within walking distance of indoor plumbing, many Americans do enjoy roughing it out in the wild. The USACamping.com website lists 599 US campsites in its directory (six in North Carolina), and KOA (Kampgrounds of America) lists 412, with 14 in our state. That's more than 1,000 places to get away from it all. And by all, I mean modern conveniences like microwave ovens, air conditioners and blow dryers.
The thought of camping out evokes visions of charred hot dogs on a stick, pork and beans heated over the campfire right in the can they came in, and little bags of GORP. Some say that acronym stands for "good old raisins & peanuts," but earthier types say it means "granola, oats, raisins & peanuts." Either way, after a few days of tramping around in sticks and mud and a few nights of sleeping under the stars and on top of those sticks and mud, GORP more than likely means "let's Get Over Roughing it, Please."
Camp supply companies tout a plethora of freeze-dried and dehydrated foods that are lightweight and easily packed in your backpack. All you need to do is add boiling water, and -- presto! -- you can have huevos rancheros, complete with scrambled egg mix, green chilies, red bell peppers, cheddar cheese powder, onions, taco flavored vegetable protein and spicy seasoning. Sounds like just the thing when you're sharing a tent and using a hole in the ground as a toilet. You could also get a packet of shepherd's pie made with mashed potato flakes, cheddar cheese powder and freeze-dried turkey meat and veggies. Ramen noodles are always good, too.
But camp cuisine can be more civilized than all that. You could buy an Outback Oven for a mere $85 and make pizza and focaccia to go with your hobo chili. For more exotic campside dishes, take your easy-to-pack wok (don't forget the folding chopsticks) so you can stir-fry that trout you just caught.
It doesn't have to be that chi-chi, though. If you plan ahead, use lots of Ziploc bags to freeze your favorite foods, and have a good cooler and some pots you don't mind blackening over the fire, you can actually prepare almost-like-home meals without too much trouble.
But while you're out there, feeling all proud of yourself because you're eating real food instead of pemmican like the folks in the tent next door, don't forget that your food may be tempting to creatures besides the scouts camped out over the hill. There could be bears in them thar hills, and they'll want to join you for dinner. Or eat you for dinner. If you're going to be a great outdoors gourmet, don't forget to bring along a grizzly and black bear-certified vault that'll lock your food stash away from not-so-gentle Ben.
As long as you've bear-proofed your little corner of the camping world, it doesn't matter if you take the "add boiling water" approach or the "wilderness chef" approach. You've gotta top off at least one campground meal with S'mores. Gooey, singed marshmallows and chocolate between two graham crackers -- if that doesn't prompt a Kum-Ba-Yah, nothing will.