This is a photo story of 3 women (and two darling dogs) connecting around fire, plant-based food and friendship in the Utah desert. We truly hope it makes you want to run outside, right now!
“The human spirit needs places where nature has not been re-arranged by the hand of man.”― Anonymous
Food has been at the core of my existence for as long as I can remember. How? Why? I cannot clearly say. The simplest explanation would be that we are each a sum of the experiences life sends our way; food has always been a part of mine, and it molded the person I am.
Even as a child, on road trips with my family (we had plenty of those!) I’d roll down the windows to feel the salty wind lash against my face, take in the countryside and breathe in the calm it emanates: sprawling rice fields, endless coastlines, coconut trees as far as the eyes can see, shrimp farms basking in the sun, salt-soaked wooden catamarans shored up for the day, blankets spread on the beach with fish drying atop it, a sea of sunflowers standing tall and stalks of wheat bent low.
At the end of the ride, I’d have a wind-beaten face that stung ever so slightly because of the battering it just received with hair so matted that it was such a pain to comb them out. But I did it anyway, every single time.
Watching these beautiful places move like a slideshow while sitting in a car that sped towards our destination, I always imagined what it’d be like to PAUSE, sit and eat a meal at these places; places where life existed without appreciation.
It was beautiful; simply because it didn’t try to be. It just was.
Life can be chaotic; an act of moving from point A to point B, repeatedly and with some semblance of purpose. But if you take the time to stop and smell the roses, it can also be a place of magic. For there IS magic in this world, and those who go searching for it, find it. So I did.
3 women and two dogs head out into the desert…
This is the photo story of my 3 day camping trip with two incredible women: Jackelin Slack and Michelle Marthia and their two itty bitty dogs, Rosco and Mango that joined us for the ride. In the desert heat, smack down in the middle of nowhere, amidst fire, food and friendship, we found that primal, elemental spirit that rekindled in each of us the desire to be one with Nature.
It has been a privilege to spend undivided time with these women, to hear their stories and get a glimpse into their life’s journeys – the best people in my life have always come to me through our mutual love of food. Julia Child was right: “People who love to eat are always the best people.”
If you’ve never gone camping, let me sing to you the inexplicable joy of waking up in the morning to a view like this. I brushed my teeth standing over this ledge, watching an orange sun rise over the horizon as the cold morning winds lashed at my face. An experience like that changes your insides, makes you feel, all at once, utterly insignificant and yet one with the uncharted expanses of this universe. Here are some of my favorite moments from the trip.
While on a normal day at home, I wipe my counter tops 7 times and sweep the kitchen floor twice, out there in the wild, I sat on bare ground, ate food with fingers coated in dust and ash, didn’t once obsess over how greasy my hair was, and felt one with the spirit of Gaia.
“Life outdoors is a vaccine to the human soul. We should all get a dose regularly.”
It also doesn’t hurt to have a master camper like Jackelin on the travel team, who packed the entirety of our food and gear in the blink of an eye.
I’m a teetotaler, but even I stood mesmerized watching Jackie mix this Bees Knees cocktail in the middle of the desert! The whole time, I was extremely aware of the fact that we were miles and miles away from civilization, because my teeth were constantly gritty with the sand that kept blowing at us. But there she was, shaking up this cocktail like it was just another day in her backyard!
I got a club soda version of this drink, but I could tell that mine was only half as good as their version. With lavender, honey and gin, it was just the pause the ladies needed before we jumped into cooking dinner!
Head over to Jackelin’s post to grab the recipe for this delicious drink, along with her stunning pictures and narrative of this trip.
We found miles and miles of Wild Sage in the desert and couldn’t resist snipping a few branches to use in our tablescape. Besides being so beautifully fragrant, when rubbed onto the skin, it’s also a natural insect repellant and deodorant. Tea made from boiling wild sage can be used to treat fevers and colds. [Source].
It was the perfect accompaniment to the gorgeous, yet intelligently designed outdoor products from Barebones Living – they bring a subtle sophistication to all my outdoor gatherings. They are sturdy, yet light-weight. Earthy, yet somehow exquisite too. Here are some of the pieces you’ll spot here:
Why did we carry a firepit into the wilderness, you ask?
When you’re out in the wild, you must be respectful of your surroundings, and make absolutely certain not to leave any trace of your presence behind when you leave. Fires can be started only in designated campsites, which had stone-bound firepits for our use. But the firepit in our campsite was smack down in the middle of a wind tunnel – not only was it impossible to keep a match alight until it set the kindling aflame, it also grew extremely cold as the evening progressed to sit around this fire comfortably. As the wind changed direction, so did the heat and the smoke from the fire and we found ourselves shifting every 5 minutes towards the heat and away from the smoke. During the day, it was also extremely hot to cook around this firepit as it was, you guessed it, in the path of the sun’s rising.
Having our own mobile firepit let us move our ‘kitchen’ around to the shade when it was hot and to the sun when it got cold. It was a flexibility that we all appreciated, especially in the desert where (outside our tent) we were pretty much naked to the elements.
As we packed up to leave, we dumped the ashes from the Barebones Living firepit into the on-site firepit, and left the site just as we found it.
If you thought campfire pizza was an urban legend, think again! Jackie made a [vegan] Pizza with a whole wheat crust in the middle of the desert! Over hot coals, in a cast iron skillet, kissed by fire and ash, finished with a drizzle of magical chilli oil over a bed of arugula, this was hands-down the best pizza I’ve ever had! We’ve since dubbed Jackie as the ‘Desert Pizza Goddess’ and rightly so.
Head over to Jackelin’s post to grab the recipe for this pizza!
Berry Cobbler in the Desert
For dessert, we made a Berry Cobbler that was truly out of this world. Something this delicious has no right being 1. Plant-based 2. so ridiculously easy that it should be outlawed 3. down right fool-proof because we made it for the very first time over hot coals without a timer or temperature gauge and couldn’t mess it up. Recipe adapted from the cookbook Chloe Flavor: Saucy, Crispy, Spicy, Vegan. [affiliate link]. You’ll find it here on this blog too.
It was the perfect end to the perfect evening. Not counting the wind storms that lashed our tent all night and dropped temperatures to uncomfortable numbers.
But our last morning in the desert dawned bright and sunny and with it, the realization that we’d be leaving this magical place pretty soon. Not before coffee and breakfast though.
We were so lucky to be sent on this trip with oh-so-many bags of Mindful Coffee that we found ourselves drinking more coffee than we’d do on an average day. But when you’re camping, unlimited cups of coffee come guilt-free! And when the coffee is as good as this one, it’s really not too difficult a choice to make. ‘To coffee or not to coffee’ is not a subject we deliberated on.
Spuds for Breakfast
Potatoes hold a sacred fascination for me. They are the very essence of the earth, and combined with ingredients that grow above ground, create a harmony of flavors that, imagine with me, if you will, represent the union of Earth and Sky. The ingredients you see in this bowl became the [VEGAN] Southwestern Skillet Hash that was our campside breakfast. With a side of toasted sourdough and topped with fresh avocado, it is a recipe that must, MUST, in our humble opinion, be a part of every camping trip. Make them with Idaho Potatoes and they leap several degrees in terms of deliciousness.
Special thanks to the Idaho Potato Commission for sponsoring this delicious breakfast! Grab the recipe at the end of this post and make them in your own kitchens.
I hope that our little excursion into Utah’s wilderness inspires you to find a slice of Nature untouched by man, wherever you are. You don’t have to spend 3 days roughing it, nor create elaborately beautiful tables in the wild like this one, but if you can pause your life for an afternoon, just a few hours between lunch and dinner, you’ll appreciate the difference it makes to your life back home.
No one, who has breathed air free of engine exhaust, or been touched by the eternal view of a wide expanse of the sea, forest, desert or mountains can ever go back to the destructive ways of our modern lives. This planet, our only home, needs protection from us. And we owe it to her, and to ourselves, to conserve and protect it.
- 3 large Idaho®Russet potatoes, peeled and chopped in bite-sized pieces
- 2 -3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 red onion, chopped finely
- 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 2 jalapenos, chopped in 1/2" pieces (de-seeded, if you prefer)
- 4 -6 sweet mini peppers, chopped in 1/2" pieces
- 5 -6 roma tomatoes, diced
- 1 c black or pinto beans, cooked
- 1 c sweet corn kernels
- 1/4 -1/2 c water (or as needed to cook the potatoes)
- 2 -3 tsp Southwest seasoning
- Salt, to taste
- 2 fresh avocados, sliced
- 1 toasted sourdough slice, per person
- a handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
- Heat oil in a 4 qt cast iron dutch oven (or something similar). Add the onions and garlic and saute on medium heat until it softens, begins to brown around the edges and becomes intensely aromatic.
- Add the potatoes and stir well to combine with the onion and garlic. Let it brown slightly, before you toss, making sure all the potatoes have had a chance to be at the bottom long enough to brown a little.
- Reduce heat to low and add the remaining vegetables - peppers, corn and tomatoes. Stir to combine. Season with the Southwest seasoning and salt.
- Reduce heat to low, cover and cook, letting the spices flavor the hash until the juices dry out and the sizzling sounds stop. Check if potato is cooked through, else add a little water, stir, cover and cook until a knife inserted into the largest chunk of potato goes through with no resistance. Add the cooked beans and cook for an additional minute just to allow the flavors to soak through and soften the beans.
- Remove from heat and garnish with freshly chopped cilantro. Serve hot with a side of crisp toasted sourdough bread and avocado slices.
At the campsite, we 'shortened' this recipe by using Trader Joe's Cowboy Caviar in place of garlic, jalapeno, corn, southwest seasoning, beans and most of the tomatoes. Space and time saver when in the wild and just as delicious.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 697 Total Fat: 33g Saturated Fat: 5g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 26g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 302mg Carbohydrates: 93g Fiber: 18g Sugar: 11g Protein: 16g