Camp Cooking and a Give Away!

First I’d like to thank everyone for stopping by today. I hope you are all staying safe during these difficult times!

If you are like me, you’re cooking more than usual, and probably being more careful with ingredients. I have to admit that over the years (as in since college and the early days of my marriage when money was sooo tight) I’ve become more wasteful. If the lettuce is rusting, chances were that I’d toss the rest of the head and buy a new one rather than salvaging what could be salvaged. Leftovers often disappeared in the fridge, only to be found when it was “too late”.

But you know what? I know better. And I’ve done better.

This is camp during the summer. The big strip is the landing strip. If you look to the middle left, you’ll see the trailers the crew lived in and the larger building which was my domain–the cookhouse.

Before I started college, I helped cook in a remote Alaska mining camp. It was in the Arctic, 250 air miles north of Fairbanks during the pipeline construction days. I actually spent three summers at camp, but only cooked during one of those summers. I was the bull cook, known in politer circles as the sous chef. I  helped the head cook, who just happened to be my mom.

As you can imagine, fresh ingredients were rare. We got them when the grocery order came in by air. Sometimes my mom and dad would travel to Fairbanks and buy the groceries, but often we’d put in an order and the grocer would send the stuff on a plane heading our way. Sometimes, believe it or not, we got the worst produce they had to offer. We weren’t exactly in a position to complain, so I learned a lot about salvaging ingredients.

We only got salads right after the plane came, and after weeks of canned and skillet fried food, salads were pretty darned tasty. If I could save half or even a quarter of a going-bad tomato, I did. Lettuce was often peeled back to less than half its original size.

Potatoes and onions usually came in better condition and kept longer, but there was still a lot of salvaging going on. Anything was better than eating only canned food. Speaking of cans, the pantry was left intact when we left for the winter months and of course the cans froze solid. What does canned food look like after a good solid Arctic freeze? Well, creamed corn looks pretty scary. When my folks were in Fairbanks and I was in charge of feeding the crew, one of the crew members and I dyed the cream corn purple using food coloring to distract from its grayish-yellow appearance.  The crew was definitely distracted. (We did practice safety measures with the canned goods and only used those that had an intact seal and showed no signs of damage from freezing.)

Milk was a challenge. We froze it, but it separated upon thawing. It was still fine for cooking, but not so much for drinking. I discovered the reconstituted evaporated milk was far superior to dried milk for drinking. In fact, I kind of developed a taste for it.

I’ve been thinking about my Alaska days as I’m working my way through my pantry and putting my camp cooking skills to work. If it can be salvaged, I’m eating it. Leftovers will not be pushed to the back of the fridge. Milk in cartons will be savored and when it’s gone, I’ll break out the evaporated. My prima dona food ways are going by the wayside and I’m interested in hearing about your kitchen experiences.

If you would like to win one of two $10 Amazon gift cards, please tell me a quick tip you’ve used when ingredients were scarce or missing. Winners will be announced on Friday, April 3.

Stay safe everyone! Sending love and blessings,

Jeannie

Jeannie Watt
Jeannie Watt raises cattle in Montana and loves all things western. When she's not writing, Jeannie enjoys sewing, making mosaic mirrors, riding her horses and buying hay. Lots and lots of hay.

74 Comments

  1. What an amazing blog and I loved hearing of your days up in Alaska cooking. I’m a huge leftover fan, I always take them for my lunch. But I’m also a huge soup fan. So I usually gather all my left overs from the fridge and dump them all together in a pot and add what I have available for my sauce/juice- usually tomato sauce or any tomato or V8 juice I have in fridge and make a soup. What I do not eat I freeze for later use. Some of my best soups I’ll never be able to recreate as they have only leftovers in them. From spaghetti to enchiladas to all kinds of left overs meats or veggies I cooked during the week.
    Another thing I’ll make with leftovers are huge omelettes and they are truly fun and delicious. But don’t forget the all famous casserole. They can also become a delicious experiment with leftovers.
    Thanks for the great blog, I know I’ll think of other things later on.
    May you and your family stay healthy.

    1. You inspire me, Tonya! You’re very talented at reusing foods. I’m going to try your omelette suggestion. It would be perfect for some of the stuff I have left over. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Great post of your time in Alaska. I remember many friends taking off for Alaska to lay that pipeline. Like Tonya, soups & homeless are a great use for leftovers. Rice & beans can be turned into a lot of dishes as well.

    1. I do love rice and beans, Carol. They are two things that I always have a lot of. The pipeline days were pretty cool.

  3. Not much of a cook.

    1. Lol, Kim. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. We are like Tonya and make different dishes with leftovers if any. I usually take those to work for lunches. When we get several that are not enough for a 2 man meal we put them all on the counter and have a buffet style mill. If we happen to have some we missed the boys our big dogs which are husky like there buffet also. Lol loved your story about Alaska dream trip for me. Wonderful beauty from books I have read to friends pics. Have a blessed day.

    1. Thank you, Kristi. I’m going to use your buffet idea. Too often if there’s just a little left, we toss it, but no more. My dog would love to help, but she has no metabolism, so I’m really careful about what and how much she eats. She says to tell you that she envies your boys.

  5. Like you, I’m getting better again about not wasting food. If we don’t use the whole package of ham lunchmeat, I’ll dice up what’s left and freeze it. It goes well into ham and potato soup or into scrambled eggs. I’ve also been reminding my kids these days that they can eat what they want, but not to put quite so much milk onto the cereal and to use whatever they take! Thankfully, I made a grocery run last week and the store I prefer was almost back to normal (at least first thing in the morning).

    1. This has been a “don’t be wasteful” wake up call for me. I think encouraging kids to take only what they need is excellent training for the future. I’m awful about the last piece of lunch meat, usually leaving it to die a slow death alone, so I’m going to use your dice and freeze suggestion. Thank you!

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    I’ve often reused boiled potatoes to either cut up for soups or make a hash with the leftovers. Hugs and thank you for sharing your time with us all.

    1. Hugs back to you, Charlene. Good idea on the potatoes–especially for hash. I need to hone my skills there, which will be a nice project.

  7. Good morning … loved reading about your Alaska days. I think of a lemon. I love lemons ? in water. I actually cut them up, remove the seeds, and poke them in my water bottle. But, I also use them in desserts such as pie or lemon bars. They enhance a salad nicely too to freshen it up. Let’s not forget fish either. If one goes kind of limp, I use the juice to clean my sink. Oh, and sorbet …. nice!

    1. Lemons are so wonderful, Kathy! I love this post. It reminded me to put a bag of lemons on my Walmart grocery pickup order for tomorrow.

  8. I am not much for cooking, but I do look up substitutions on line when I am short of something.

    1. Isn’t the internet the best for that, Debra? I’ve recently discovered that I can do that and it’s helped a lot because I live quite a ways from the nearest grocery. 🙂

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    My biggest tip would be to google it but things like many fats can be replaced by another as in, oil, shortening, and butter can replace each other. I make banana pancakes for my daughter that needs gluten free by using just eggs, quick oats, baking powder and bananas.

    1. I’ve heard about these gluten free banana pancakes, Stephanie. I’ll look up the recipe and try them. I’m also going to brush up on my substitutions, like you and Debra suggested.

  10. Great post! We don’t live so far away from a store, but with the best one being 30 minutes away, we tend to buy in bulk every couple of weeks. I also have two children with food allergies, so we’ve learned a lot about substituting ingredients and making things last.
    Like Tonya, we freeze soups when there are leftovers. We also make our own cake mixes and store them in plastic baggies which we then reuse when we use the mix. We take time to can and freeze our produce from our garden and fruit trees so we can continue to enjoy them in the winter months. Frozen shredded carrot makes for really yummy carrot cake!

    1. Hi Jess–we’ve been talking about growing a bigger garden (Montana weather permitting *sigh*) and looking into freezing and canning this year. I’d never thought about freezing the carrots as shreds. Thank you so much for that tip!

  11. I have never liked wasting so we do try to use it. If there is a lot left over I will freeze it and get it out the next week to have a meal out of it. I have soup beans cooked in the freezer right now that I plan on having this weekend.

    1. Good for you! I’m getting better about freezing soups. I figured out that I can pour them into the bag nestled in the pan, and then pull the bag out once its frozen. That makes reheating easier. I didn’t know beans would freeze well, but now I do. Thank you!

  12. My mom never believed in wasting anything!! I always knew if we had mashed potatoes, we would have potato pancakes the next day . Rice would be fried rice the next day , left overs were are noon meal , and a turkey we could have a week of meals. !! Mom would simmer the turkey bones , and the last day was Turkey/ vegetable soup . I still to this day love leftovers, breakfast might be super but nobody ever said what we had to eat !!

    1. Your mom sounds amazing, Rose. We have started making fried rice and now I think we’ll try potato pancakes. My aunt used to make them a long time ago, but I still remember them being pretty tasty.

  13. Thank you for this fascinating post!

    1. You are so welcome, Caryl!

  14. Welcome. Very cool where you grew up. I have always had troubles in the kitchen. I try, I really do. But what goes best with what, etc. seems to be just out of my grasp. So, what I did when I got married was rely heavily on my mom, who was fantastic at putting things together in the kitchen. After she died, my sister took over for mom. I am so grateful she is the same as my mom was. And she has no problem helping me. When I dont go to my sister, I will go to google and look up substitutions. Sometimes this makes for an interesting meal. LOL

    1. Great post Lori. We all have our gifts. My gift was marrying a man who grew up in the restaurant business and who loves to cook. He passed that on to our son. My daughter married a man who loves to cook. I passed that on to her. 😉

  15. For a substitute for a can of cream-of-anything soup, I melt 3 tablespoons of butter on the stove, stir in 3 tablespoons of flour, and then 1 cup of milk (cook until thick). For flavoring, I usually saute some onion and/or celery in the butter first, or add chicken bouillon. It works great for hotdish, scalloped potatoes, or a thickener in creamy soups.

    And, of course, if one is out of milk, evaporated milk, thinned heavy whipping cream, and thinned half-and-half all work.

    1. Thank you, Rachel! That’s excellent to know. I’ll be using this sub.

  16. I cook at church camp every June it is a blast and we shop for a whole day!! Usually keep canned evaporated milk in pantry just in case! Thanks

    1. That does sound fun, Teresa. I’m trying to imagine shopping for a whole day. You must have a lot of unloading to do!

  17. I was making chicken enchiladas and didn’t have any cream of chicken soup so I substituted cream of mushroom and it was very good.

    1. Good to know, Rita. I bet they were just as tasty. I love making cream of mushroom pork chops.

  18. I grew up when everything was mended and saved. Leftovers used in stews, soups and nothing which was edible thrown out. Old bread for french toast, tomatoes were used for sauce.

    1. That is a good way to live, Ellie. We did a lot of that when I was young, then when I started working a lot of it went by the wayside. I’m re-embracing those practices now.

  19. My mother was a depression child so she was frugal and economical in everyway. She was extremely inventive. Clothing which was threadbare were used as rags.

    1. So true about the inventiveness, Pearl. The Depression left a mark on an entire generation and their future children. The lessons they passed along should be remembered.

  20. I can’t think of a specific incident right now but I know over the years something has happened where dinner has been changed because I didn’t have an ingredient! We just moved on to something else or substituted something else! We’re not picky and we just make do!

    1. Great attitude, Valri. That’s called rolling with the punches and it’s a great skill to have!

  21. We made fruit cobblers with fruit that was mushy and would have been thrown out. Great!

    1. Great idea, Sharon. That one’s going on my keeper list.

  22. It’s just me here so when buying I divide up in small packages and freeze alot. When fryer burger for something I always end up with a little left. I freeze that to throw in spaghetti sauce later.

    1. Hi Cathy–I’ve just started doing that, too. It’s the two of us, so I divvy stuff up and freeze it. One thing I’ve learned with the bits of burger is to label. Otherwise, I wonder what is that frozen thing?

  23. If I am missing something, I usually change what I make with what I do have…

    1. Great way to be, Colleen, and sometimes, great things happen from improvising.

  24. Both my grandmother and mother would say, “Waste not, want not.” And that’s stuck with me. We didn’t have much money growing up but we were never hungry. I learned to cook a lot from scratch and to never throw away that little leftover bit. You can usually incorporate whatever is left without anyone realizing what you’ve done. And I did learn to keep an eye on what’s left so it gets used before going bad.

    1. Great skills, Sally. We do owe a lot to our mothers and grandmothers for passing along skills learned during hard times. I have to work on that keeping on eye on stuff so it doesn’t go bad thing, though.

      1. Loved your post! Soups with everything but the kitchen sink in them is a great way to use leftovers.

        1. Thank you, Melanie. Everything But the Kitchen Sink would be a great name for a soup! 🙂

  25. That is a tough one! I love to bake, but am very much a recipe follower, not very creative on my own.

    1. Hi Patty–I follow recipes closely when baking, too, because there’s a lot of chemistry going on and I want my proportions to be correct. Cooking can be a little more slapdash in my estimation.

  26. We had “refrigerator” soup two nights ago, made with half a jar of canned tomatoes, stock from a beef roast, and I chopped up pieces of beef roast and pork chop that were also in the ‘frig. I did add fresh onion, celery, and potatoes. The milk I have left is tasting sour so the cobbler topping I made yesterday became a buttermilk/sour milk version. Usually adding 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup milk and using 1/4 teaspoon baking soda to replace 1 teaspoon of baking powder in the recipe will convert any quick bread to a buttermilk/sour milk version. Since my milk was only slightly soured,and still safe, I used a little less vinegar. It came out fine.

    Milk and eggs are the two things I am lowest on and with the number of Covid19 cases in this area I am trying to limit how I use them. No omelettes for us. And, I usually make them for breakfast two or three times a week often using leftover meat or vegetables like green beans or asparagus.

    1. Great ideas, Alice. I used to make my own buttermilk substitute using vinegar, but I never thought of cooking with sour milk. What an excellent idea! Eggs are hard to come by here, too, so I’m rationing. I just read where baby chicks are in short supply because so many people are starting their own flocks!

  27. Mom has an old cookbook that has a list of things you can use to make substitutes for things you don’t have. I have really “had” to substitute for some thing I didn’t have, but I’ve changed a recipe because I wanted to give it a different flare!

    1. That sounds like a valuable cookbook, Trudy. Yay for being confident enough to change things to add flare. I’m kind of a chicken in that regard, but my husband is fearless.

  28. Freezing leftover meats, vegetables, and pasta for use later in soups is quick and easy.

    1. Right you are, Cheryl! 🙂

  29. I made hamburger soup with ground beef, a bunch of different vegetables, and marinara sauce, plus I added water and bouillon. It was quite tasty. And, we had leftovers.

    1. That sounds really good, Denise! I love the idea of using the marinara sauce.

  30. Hi, if you are going to bake a cake and don’t have enough oil , we put applesauce instead and it is even a lot better for us. Whenever we get a bag of celery for something like potato salad, we use what we need and then we will dice the rest of the celery we didn’t use and put in a freezer bag and freeze it, it comes out handy when you make soup, just add the celery you put in the freezer. You all stay safe, and have a Great rest of the week. God Bless you all.

    1. Thank you, Alice. I had no idea that you could freeze celery. I am going to start doing that. My husband likes to cut it into sticks to eat, but we always have some that get wimpy before he gets to it. I’ll start dicing those up and freezing them. Thanks for the tip! Stay safe.

  31. What experiences! I’m not good at cooking or baking but I try hard. I do like to mix ingredients I have on hand for casseroles and my family says they mostly turn out ok. I freeze the extra veggies and stuff from summer when I can’t use it while it is good. In the winter it is perfect for soups or omelets and such.

    1. Trying hard is the most important thing in my book, Susan. If you can make casseroles out of stuff you have on hand and the family likes them, then you’re a winner!

  32. I have also been doing better lately about not wasting. I am a full time cafeteria manager and there have been many times when I got home from work too tired to cook so my hubby would bring home dinner. I was a stay at home mom when my children were young and I had to cook 3 meals a day for my family of 6, as money was tight I had to make things stretch. I got a rude awaking when this happened… I did not have a lot of the staples on hand that I would have when the kids were small. So I have been playing hide and seek with the stores on the internet to find items I needed for the pantry. I have also been reading a book A year without the grocery store, which has inspired me. I purchased a food vacuum storage machine and am now preparing my pantry and making things from scratch. I actually return to work Friday so I have really enjoyed cooking these last couple weeks.

    1. I feel your pain with the rude awakening, Vicki. Things started happening fast all of a sudden, then people panicked (and bought all the toilet paper). The book sounds interesting. I think I’ll look into it. And wow, I can just imagine how tired you are after a day of managing a cafeteria. Stay safe when you go back!

  33. I don’t tend to run out of ingredients … I tend to forget them nearly everytime I make something new. ? 7 out of 10 recipes are wrong since I forget a step even though I read it as I’m going.

    1. That’s funny, Abigail, and I do that, too, but usually it’s with my knitting. I do a lot of taking out because of it.

  34. My most notorious substitute was using frozen tilapia instead of chicken in my husband’s favorite casserole. He was not happy. We laugh about it now!

    I also use Greek yogurt in place of sour cream when I only have one but not the other.

    1. Oh my goodness, that is funny, Heidi. I have to admit that a chicken-fish swap is daring.

  35. Interesting post.
    I find myself putting dried cranberries in things I want to add a bit of sweetness to. I put some in my spaghetti sauce, my cookies, my salads and my iced tea.

    1. What a great idea, Joye. I have dried cranberries for the fruitcake I never got around to making last fall. I’m going to give this tip a whirl! Thank you.

  36. I am oldest of 6 so our family was 9. There were seldom leftovers, but when there were, they never went to waste. Pot roast was a favorite. Chuck roast was cheap (not any more) and adding the carrots and potatoes stretched it. When there were leftovers, we would get out the meat grinder and grind up the meat and potatoes, add a bit extra onion, and the leftover gravy. This made a really tasty hash that some of the family topped theirs with ketchup. There were times things were a bit thin.
    I have always been thrifty and try never to waste food. When I was in the Peace Corps, a drought hit a region over the mountains from my assignment. They even finished the school year early because things got so bad. When the reopened for the next school year, only half of the students returned. The others had starved to death. That is one reason I get so angry when I see people being terribly wasteful. I need to avoid buffets. I have never been able to understand why people will fill a plate, eat half, and then go back for more, half of which they waste. Our children were raised that if you took it you ate it, and if you didn’t eat it, you don’t get more.
    One thing I did when the children were home and I made lots of soups was to keep a soup starter in the freezer. Small portions of left over vegetables, rice, or pasta, meat diced up would be put in a container. When I drained cans of vegetables, I would pour the liquid into that mixture. When I wanted to make soup, I would just take it out of the freezer, boil it up, and add any extra ingredients and seasoning needed. Quick and easy.

    1. Patricia, what a heart-breaking story about your Peace Corps experience, and what an eye opener. I was raised not to waste food either, because of my parents being young during the Depression, but started getting more lax recently. I love the idea of making hash with a meat grinder, and isn’t it the truth about chuck roast? The cheap cut is cheap no more!

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