Oh, that campfire smell. There’s nothing quite like it. Ending nights in the wilderness wrapped in blankets, fighting to stay close to the fire as the flames dance in the wind. Roasting s’mores (did you know this is strictly an American thing?). Waking to the wafting odor of breakfast on the nick of being burned. I often find myself sniffing the Bahamian island air as I drive along Long Island’s one highway; I’m spoiled because with all the controlled burns in locals’ yards, I get the campfire smell without having to do any of the work myself.
When I was in Alaska, I became the designated chef for a weekend camping trip. A steady rain made dry kindling collecting tricky in the woodlands, and by the time the fire was warm enough, our stomachs were beyond growling. We also got a little greedy with our preparatory produce purchases, so steamed veggies were on the menu that night. Unfortunately, as any avid backwoodsman knows, cooking over a fire is a slow and tedious task. But before dusk, I was able to whip up some foil packs of vegetables. (I also had a few hours extra before dark as the Alaskan summer sun doesn’t set until 11:30 PM.)
In the morning, I scrambled some eggs in a pot for the omnivores. I also put the sad remains of our vegetable stash in foil packets, steaming them to add to a campfire-warmed breakfast burrito.
They say you should only take with you what you will use when camping. We knew we would suffer no food shortage but surprised ourselves by shoveling down every last bit!
Campfire Steamed Veggies Recipe
Cauliflower, broccoli, potato, carrot, tomato, mushroom, garlic, onion, Italian seasoning, Chipotle hot sauce, olive oil, salt & pepper
Chop and season the veggies, wrapping them in foil.
Place on a grate over the fire but not directly over the flame.
Turn 45º every 5-10 minutes for approximately 45 minutes or until veggies are soft.
Serve, eat, enjoy!
Campfire Breakfast Burritos Recipe
Scrambled eggs (for the omnivores), tomatoes, onions, potatoes, salt & pepper, olive oil, Chipotle hot sauce
Scramble the eggs in a pot over the fire, stirring and watching frequently. They cook quickly and burn easily!
Steam the veggies and seasonings in a foil packet same as the recipe above.
Warm a tortilla wrap over the fire in a pan. It only needs to sit over the flames for a minute or two!
Mix all the ingredients onto the wrap and fold burrito style.
Reuniting with family is always a special time, but it becomes increasingly more sacred the further you’re apart. With geography between you, visits are often infrequent but well spent. My reunions with my sisters are always memorable. One just moved from Salt Lake City to Seattle, the other lives in Peru. That leaves me in the Bahamas and the parents back in Ohio. But we make the most of whatever little time we have together, no matter where in the world that may be.
In fact, when your family lives oceans away, the reunion locales are often refreshing and exotic. My little sister and I reunited in Alaska last July for a week-long road trip in a rented RV with 6 other people. Alaska left a lasting impression, but so did the new memories made with my sister. Enjoy this sneak peak review of our Alaskan RV Road Trip.
Any vegan knows how difficult it can be to find a restaurant with both animal-friendly and delicious entrees. When traveling, it’s ten times harder. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and eat the one salad option that doesn’t charge $20 for a bed of lettuce topped with the meat you won’t eat. Sometimes you really have to specify what vegan means. In Latin America, it goes something like this:
You: “What vegan or vegetarian options do you have?”
Waiter: “No meat? Ah, okay we have chicken.”
You: “No chicken, no animals.”
Waiter: “Ah, well we have shrimp and fish!”
Nevertheless, you’ll be surprised nowadays at the vegan/vegetarian/organic spread abroad. That being said, dining out can eat up your funds when you’re a budget traveler, especially at the health food cafes. On the road, I manage to cook when I can, splurge occasionally, and otherwise just find restaurants that give me more than one option for a meal or can prepare a dish up to my specifications. Don’t be afraid to tell the waiter you have dietary restrictions. You’ll be surprised how many chefs are willing to swap out butter with olive oil.
Without further ado, I present to you a list of some of my favorite restaurants I’ve encountered while being sedentary or off gallivanting. Have you eaten at any of these places? Safeguard this list; you never know where life will take you, and knowing where you can find a good meal in a foreign land is always comforting. We all love food, especially when it’s made right.
A quaint local brunch place in a quaint country town. I went here with my wildlife rehab gang on weekend mornings when I lived in the Texas Hill Country. Vegetarian at the time, I drooled over their Pear & Blue Cheese Salad. (Fun fact: The café is right across from the courthouse building where a scene from True Grit was filmed.)
An award-winning breakfast place, the menu is loaded with vegan and gluten-free options. It’s always busy so call ahead the day before if you’re more than one person! Smoothies and the Huevo Nuevo breakfast taco are favorites.
I just… I can’t even… I wanted to eat the whole menu. So creative, so many vegan options. Some suggestions: Vegan Tacos, Yam Fries, Soup of the Day. I made inappropriate noises throughout the entire meal.
Greek food at its finest in the cute historic downtown strip. Okay, so it’s my hometown, but I’m allowed to have a love affair with a hometown restaurant, am I not? (Fun fact: My dad’s office is just down the street. Do give him a hug from me if you’re in the area.)
My Greek food addiction was beyond satisfied when I discovered this local joint. I can’t say enough good things about it. There are so many restaurants in the Keys, but this one lets you escape from the tourist crowd. I went at least once a week when I lived in the Florida Keys. The staff is unbelievably personable; the owner chats with you like you’re longtime friends (which we basically were after I became a regular). They will give you samples of new concoctions just because, and they’ll cook your order just the way you like it. The classic Greek Lemon Potatoes and Greek Salad (with Grape Leaves!!!) are a must.
A vegetarian’s dream in a city with enough restaurants to dine at every day of the year. It’s tucked away on a side street but easy enough to find. You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu; the cuisine is all over the board. I recommend the Classic Sprouthead or the Baked Brown Sugar Acorn Squash. Enjoy the hippie vibe with local artwork and a broad color pallet.
This place is just too cute. Their batidos (fruit shakes) are scrumptious. The place was recommended to me by the hostel I stayed at when I went into town once a week during my summer in the Amazon, and I subsequently became a weekly breakfast regular. (Check back in the guest book from 2009!) Great place to meet backpackers; mentioned in Lonely Planet!
Everything on this menu is delicious and fresh and vegan, but I recommend the menu del dia. You are served an appetizer, entrée, dessert and drink for the equivalent of $5. Seriously can’t beat that. Also, you’ll think you’re lost when you follow a map to this place but just stick with it. It’s in an alley off an alley off another alley.
A potato lover’s paradise. If you’re in Arequipa, this is the perfect opportunity to have the “potato experience” in a country home to more than 4,000 species of potatoes. This restaurant’s potato dishes offer you a handful of these species—even purple potatoes! Lonely Planet gives it a shout out, too.
This local tapas bar was a favorite for my sister, and when I kicked off my 2010 solo summer travels in Europe, it started off my mornings right. I was first introduced to the simple yet delicious Latin American Pan con Tomate here, and I make it for breakfast every now and then just to transport me back in time.
Located on a canal in the trendy district of London, this ‘vegan restaurant of the year’ was the first to open my eyes to the magical culinary combinations of vegan cuisine. Fresh-tasting and unique dishes in a hip atmosphere.
A feisty French Canadian chef who now calls this “out” island home has brought a taste of fresh, authentic French cuisine to the Bahamas. His cuisine is ranked in the top 10 in all of the Bahamas. You just have to get used to his quirky personality. He is tolerant of vegan, gluten-free diets and will do his best to accommodate. The Pesto Salad is to die for. Reservations are a must!
In case you didn’t catch my post about berry picking in Alaska and nagoonberry jam-making, here’s another regional jam that can be made with fruits of the arctic tundra. I kid you not when I say these little red gems taste just like watermelon. And like their mother fruit, they come with plenty of seeds to give your jam some texture!
Don’t be alarmed when you break open the berries; they are very slimy inside. They are also extremely watery. It is difficult to mash the skin, so work away at it as best you can with the supplies you’ve got handy. (I only had a fork and a pot.) That being said, do not add water to this recipe! It will be liquid overload! I recommend the lemon juice for added zest. If you can actually add lemon zest, then that will thicken things up and give even more flavor.
1 cup watermelon berries, 3 Tbsp organic cane sugar, 1 Tbsp coconut oil, ½ lemon
Makes: 4 oz
Mash the berries in a pot as best you can. If you’re using a fork like I did, you really have to go at it hard core.
Add the coconut oil (to keep from frothing), sugar and lemon juice.
Simmer on low for 30 minutes.
Serve, eat, enjoy! Store in refrigerator in airtight container.
Berry picking in Alaska is a must-do activity if you’re in the state between the end of July through September. Nagoon berries, salmon berries, raspberries, watermelon berries and blueberries can be found in the forested mountains, along hiking trails and in the mouths of bears. I had never heard of nagoon or salmon berries before coming to Alaska. Both resemble raspberries in their appearance and tartness. Nagoon berries have a deliciously permeating sweet odor.
Jam can easily be made with just sugar, water and berries. (Pectin makes it more gelatinous but isn’t necessary.) If you go that route, aim for ¾:1 sugar-berries ratio and ¼:1 water-berries ratio. Stevia can be used instead of sugar. Really, any sweetener can be used, including agave nectar, maple syrup or honey. But in place of sugar, these sweeteners bring their own moisture so you’ll want to decrease or avoid adding water altogether.
After doing some browsing online and perusing what I had in the kitchen, I came up with this tasty all-natural recipe below. Coconut oil prevents the jam from foaming so that you don’t have to employ the help of cheesecloth when canning. The Chia seeds are optional. They make the jam more gelatinous.
1 ½ c Nagoon berries (or berries of choice), ¼ lemon, ½ tsp coconut oil, 2 Tbsp honey (or sweetener of choice), 1 ½ Tbsp Chia seeds*
Makes: 8 oz (half pint)
Remove stems from berries.
Mush the berries thoroughly in the bottom of a saucepan.
Add the squeezed lemon, coconut oil and honey.
Simmer on low heat stirring frequently. (It is easy to scorch jam if the heat is too high or it isn’t stirred often enough!)
*Sprinkle a layer of Chia seeds on top of the jam while stirring. Do not add all the Chia seeds at once! They turn to gel almost instantly. Spreading out the addition of the seeds prevents clumps from forming.
Continue simmering for 20 minutes.
Allow to cool.
Place in sealed container for storage in fridge or freezer. Enjoy!
*This step is optional. If you don’t mind your jam having a low viscosity, don’t bother with the Chia seeds.
Trotting about from place to place across the globe can leave you missing the comforts of home. Travel makes those few but beautiful reunions with family members something to be coveted. A week-long road trip with my sister and her boyfriend’s family brought me to Alaska in late June 2015. Five weeks later, I still find myself sniffing this fresh alpine air.
The best and most affordable ways to see and experience Alaska are by bike, foot and car. The Alaska Railroad has scenic views stretching from Fairbanks to Seward, but there’s nothing like quality time in tight quarters on an RV to remind you what family is all about. Biking in Anchorage is a must must must or you’ll be missing out on guaranteed up-close moose encounters on paths like the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Hikes through the mountains on short hour-long, day or overnight camping trips are also required if you’re visiting this land of glaciers and fjords. Trails come in all levels of difficulties, so your grandmother can’t use old age as an excuse for missing out on a visit to Worthington Glacier. Boats and air or float planes are also valued forms of transit in Alaska, but, no surprise, they come at a cost. Limit your guided group tour through the Alaskan wilderness by land or by sea to one splurge and consider yourself content.
On my Alaskan RV trip, I was able to experience many parts of Alaska I would not have visited otherwise. We headed south toward Valdez, camping overnight at an abandoned air strip at 68 mile. It was most unfortunate that dry weather causing unprecedented forest fires had resulted in a burn ban. Camping just isn’t camping without a campfire! Thankfully, the burn ban was lifted a few days into the trip and my sister finally got to roast marshmallows for that s’more she had been holding out for. Our favorite campsite was on the shore of Cooper Lake which feeds into the Russian River, an area known to be teeming with Grizzlies due to an abundance of salmon. A quiet, uninterrupted hike on the Upper Russian Lakes trail (part of Chugach National Forest) took us over small bridges headed toward the Russian River. Though I was itching to see a bear, I was warned repeatedly that you don’t want to see one on a hike as your safety could be at stake. In the end, a lot of bear poop was spotted but we had no encounters. In Tolsona, we enjoyed a midnight hike to a mud volcano (more like a mud pit) fed by glacial springs. The 20 hours of daylight allowed us to traverse the buggy, poorly-marked trail at midnight without lanterns. Watching the sunset at midnight is an odd but thrilling experience, though I am still struggling with falling asleep at night when it remains light outside.
Our travels took us past highway waterfalls to Worthington and Exit Glaciers, where short hikes landed us at the feet of the ice masses. While the rest of the crew was on a charter salmon and halibut fishing trip out of Seward, I opted to follow the Caines Head Trail to its final destination at Fort McGilvray. I went with a family of four–my sister’s boyfriend’s cousin’s wife and kids (say that ten times fast). The directions to this hike are confusing as you can follow the coast the entire way or climb through the forested mountain for the last 2 miles to the abandoned war fortress, but part of the hike—regardless of which path you take—needs to be hiked at low tide. We took a wrong turn at the beginning and ended up wading knee-deep through frigid arctic waters. Despite the water being a temperature so cold it was painful, I found this unexpected, erroneous part of the trip made it that much more adventurous. We jumped over streams, climbed over tree roots and rested on a fallen trunk watching a sea otter play. Luck was on my side that day, too, as a humpback whale swam by, chuffing as it passed. The view from the top of the WWII base offers a panorama of the fjords at Seward. Pausing for a snack after creeping through the dark, foreboding bunkers, we set off for the return of the 15-mile round trip hike. I think you would have to be an Olympian to traverse the entire trail in the same low tide as the terrain is often slippery and pebble-filled. We didn’t mind having to wait out the tide with a 2-hour nap on the shoreline. It took us 12 hours in all and has by far been the highlight of my Alaskan adventure.
Alaska lacks a firework celebration on its Fourth of July because the sun doesn’t go down until 11:45 PM (and even then, it never gets truly dark). But the over-the-top parades and races like Mt. Marathon in Seward make up for the lack of an explosive light display for most people. We opted to beat the traffic and head back to Anchorage for a crawfish and seafood boil. Being vegan, I of course didn’t partake in consuming the fishies, but it was something worth watching. The seafood is thrown into a huge pot with chunks of corn on the cob, onions and other seasonings. Hours later, newspaper is laid out on the table and the pot’s contents poured atop. Everyone stands around the table and picks at the food with their fingers, dipping the pieces in melted butter and other sauces. My neighborhood back in the Keys hosted an annual crawfish boil that was similar to this. I’ve never seen so much food!
After 9 days together, the sister reunion came to a conclusion. It’s never easy saying goodbye to my best friend, but our limited time together is always that much more special when geography keeps us apart. We made many new memories aboard our mobile chalet and look forward to many more!
One of the most rewarding lessons you can learn while traveling is the strength and beauty of friendships. Geography is no barrier to a bond between two people, be they friends, family or significant others. You’ll also learn when on the road how small this world really is. I was reminded of this recently when not one, but two people I met back in the Florida Keys pegged Alaska on their summer travel map, conveniently and coincidentally colliding with my Alaskan RV trip and now extended stay in the tundra wilderness.
Yesterday, I reunited with a past co-worker who has become a dear friend. He was in Anchorage for the day before leaving the following morning to begin a tour throughout this arctic landscape with his mom. Our initial greeting was filled with bear hugs, spazzing, playful punches and weird accents. What I love most about Raj is that, in addition to spawning spontaneous dance parties on the sidewalk or in art galleries, he also has deep, reflective moments in which he engages in meaningful conversation (albeit with his normal boring American accent).
While enjoying lunch at the acclaimed Snow City Café on the corner of 4th and L, Raj casually yet intentionally asked me to define happiness.
“Do you mean what does happiness mean to me, or what makes a person happy?” I said.
“Both,” he responded. “But more so a universal definition of the term.”
I chewed on an ice cube while marinating on the question for a minute.
“Happiness is,” I started, “enjoying the little things in life.” Then I corrected myself. “Well, maybe that only shows me that I’m happy, when I enjoy the little things in life.” Ruminating a bit longer, I continued. “It is a state of euphoria brought on by joyful events or moments in a person’s life.”
Raj has been asking his friends randomly to define this word, this feeling, this state of being. Initially, I thought the answer was simple. But as soon as I started with “happiness is…,” I knew I wouldn’t be content with the answer. Because happiness appears to be experienced differently by individuals. Certain things make one person happy but not another, and everyone responds to this emotion in a unique way. So how can there be an all-encompassing definition for this seemingly unique state of mind? We decided to consult Webster’s.
“Happiness is a state of being,” Raj read, “brought on by a positive, pleasurable or satisfying experience.”
“Hmm,” we murmured simultaneously. Neither of us was completely satisfied with Mr. Webster.
While trying to make a dent in his 10-inch blueberry pancakes, Raj piped in again. “I don’t think happiness can be achieved without friendships, or other people involved in your life. I don’t think you can be truly happy all alone.”
Even as a solo traveler, finding countless moments of pure bliss when it is just me and the sea, I agreed with him. While I often trot the globe by myself, I meet other people along the way. I talk to strangers on the bus, meet foreigners at the hostel, make new travel buddies on group tours. Are we ever fully, truly, completely alone? As social beings, wouldn’t we go crazy if we never ever interacted with a single person once we became capable of fending for ourselves? Extrovert or introvert, Raj and I were both in agreement that you need at least one other person in your life to experience this “happiness” state of being. It doesn’t have to be at that current moment you are feeling incredibly, immeasurably, ungodly happy, but I’m sure at least one person had a hand in helping you get to this gleeful stage in some way, somehow. Maybe that’s why we’re so drawn to love when evolution strictly says humans need only to reproduce to survive. (Raj and I are both zoologists. Science often gets the best of us.) So we added socialization to our definition of happiness.
Then I expanded upon the idea by returning to my life adage: simplicity is the key to happiness. Prior to immersing myself in a primitive living environment among the Quechua tribe (read more about this here), I had believed this to be true. I have been a nature-and-earth lover basically since I exited the womb, and technology often bogs me down. When I emerged from the Amazon in 2009, I left my heart behind. Eating dinner by candlelight, singing songs to combat the iTunes-barren workplace, and cooking with vegetables grown by the indigenous folk across the river, I felt free, relaxed and dare I say happy.
I also shared with Raj a story of my weeks building a school in Brazil. My team was there to offer an extra hand to the locals, not to question the way that they knew and had always done things. These Brazilians still mix cement by hand (a task I sweated over for hours causing me to milk sore biceps afterward). They stand on rickety chairs to lay bricks. (I have a scar on my leg to prove it.) But my goodness, are they happy. One member of our team was bothered by their slow, outdated methods of construction and his frustration came through. It made all of us uneasy. Why do we feel that those of us in the modern world have to impose our contemporary ways on others? Why are the indigenous viewed as lesser and uneducated? Maybe they’re the ones who have it all right.
Raj and I agreed that if you live in a civilized world, it is impossible—yes, impossible—to escape from society. You can try to avert your eyes from magazine racks telling you how to look, or cover your ears from news stories that tell you the world is a dangerous place, or ignore those work emails that keep flooding in. I have never owned a TV and I have often lived without Internet, yet I have felt society creeping in on me. I have felt it pulling me away and I have feared drowning in it. When I don’t listen to society, I am at my happiest.
We decided that modern society sets impeccably high expectations for us to reach, and try as we might to ignore them, we can’t escape them, leaving a small void where complete happiness is difficult to attain. No, not impossible, because of course we have all been happy in this day and age. But maybe we could achieve an indelible joyful state of being if we took pleasure in the simplicities of life.
What is the difference between happiness and pleasure and success? They’re not interchangeable, but sometimes people like them to be. Raj and I like the idea that happiness is the little things in life, and friendships are important, and simplicity is key. It’s not the most succinct definition and I think we would be hard-pressed to come up with a universal definition that fit nicely on a page in Webster’s dictionary. But we’re working on it.