Van Life: Campfire Cooking Challenge

Leslie says: One of the great joys of traveling in a van is being outside so much. The van’s a cozy shelter, especially on a rainy night, but there’s nothing better than an evening spent drinking wine, and hanging out around a blazing campfire. Unless it’s cooking over one. Here’s a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up since we started OGT. Scroll down to the bottom for an ultra-easy recipe.

Leslie cooking

Invest in a Good Grill Pan

Yes, most people prefer to fire up meat directly over the source of heat, but 9 out of 10 camp grills are either filthy or rusty, or the bars too widely spaced. I’ve had great results using my beloved Lodge Cast Iron on top of the grate, heating it up by placing the lid on top. Add olive oil, the seasoned meat and cover. Minutes later, flip and finish.

Double Duty

While the meat rests — on our most recent trip, I made carne asada from Trader Joe’s — I warmed a chili mac pasta I made the night before. Five minutes later, we were eating.

chili mac on oregon coast

Clean Up Tip

Our friend, Ted, is the one-man cleanup crew on backpacking trips, and he’s a big believer in warming up water in the dirty pan. Makes it a whole lot easier to scour. John tried it after this messy meal and it worked well. We haven’t quite figured out how to efficiently use the teeny sink in the Eurovan’s kitchen for doing dishes, so the operation’s done outside. The vehicle we rented from Road Trip Oregon had a spray nozzle in the back, which was so helpful. The more we travel in these rigs, the more we LOVE them.

The Recipe: 4-Ingredient Cheesy Chili Mac

  • 1 package black bean pasta (I use the TJ’s brand)
  • 1 can fire-roasted tomatoes with green chili
  • 1/2 jar salsa
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes

Cook pasta two minutes less than instructed on the package. (Because it’s going to finish cooking in the sauce.) Drain and add the tomatoes and salsa. If serving immediately, return to the heat and add cheese and warm until the cheese has melted. If warming up later, wait until the pasta has cooled to add the cheese.
Serves 4.

Wine Pairing Recommendation

Here’s a shocker! We drank a white wine with this hearty dish, a Pinot blanc from Erath. This dry, under-the-radar varietal has crisp fruit character and the backbone to stand up to all sorts of assertive flavors of the meal, brightening up the spicy beef and the cheesy pasta like the sun breaking through those gray storm clouds.

steak cooking


Shredding Like a Youngster with K2 Pinnacle Skis

Advanced skiers won’t find a better age-busting ski than the K2 Pinnacle 105.

By age-busting, I mean this ski makes everything easier — and it made me feel about 20 years younger.

I tested the Pinnacle 105s in wildly different conditions: during a huge powder dump at Crystal Mountain and on a crispy-firm groomer day at Stevens Pass. The skis crushed everything they came up against.

I took them everywhere — on steeps, chutes, bumps, at high speed, in funky avalanche debris — even a nasty rain crust. They offer a level of control I’ve never experienced on any other ski, and at the same time they felt lively, quick and fun.

Pinnacle 105 profile: 137-105-121.

Stats on the ski

The Pinnacle 105 (MSRP: $900) is part of K2’s freeride line for men. The profile for the ski is 137-105-121 with a pronounced rocker tip, and K2 promises this is your “go anywhere, do everything ski.” I’m 5 foot 11 inches, 150 pounds and skied the 177 centimeter length.

Even though they are much wider than my previous all-mountain ski, the Volkl AC50, they weigh much less. K2 keeps the weight down with what it calls Konic Technology. Without getting too ski-nerdy, this involves reducing the weight of the ski where you don’t need it to be strong (the middle and extremities) and reinforcing the areas where you do need strength (the edges). The overall effect is to reduce what’s called “swing weight” from edge-to-edge.

I’ll admit I was dubious. I figured they would be great in powder, but I’d give up power and stability on firm snow. How wrong I was.

At Crystal Mountain on a big powder day.

In powder

I hit perhaps the best day of the year at Crystal Mountain. Overnight, 12 inches had fallen on top of 40 inches the previous two days.

Talk about epic.

My first turns were amazing. The wide profile gave the ski incredible float and control. No need to stay back — I found myself charging all the time with ease, subtly controlling speed with simple edging and weight shifts.

On steeps, it was truly eye-opening. I could fly when I wanted, slow down to negotiate a chute or a drop, then turn on the gas and start flying again.

As slopes became skied out, broken snow was easily blasted away by these powder monsters. It was all too fun and easy.

On the Double Diamond Chair at Stevens Pass.

Firm and fast

During a second day of testing at Stevens Pass, things couldn’t have been different. Rain had fallen several days previous, then frozen into a crust. On top of the rain crust, a little new snow had fallen and been skied off.

It was a groomer day for most skiers, but I took the Pinnacles off-piste into bumps and steeps. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous on my first turn over a crusty bump on a double-black diamond drop, but the Pinnacles dug in with surprising power.

But it wasn’t all about the power — they could also be incredibly quick edge-to-edge. Whether I was carving wide-radius or fast, snappy turns, the overall feeling was of incredible control.

Next, I went for speed. Most of the freeride skis I’ve tried don’t track when you turn up the speed, but the Pinnacles were nothing short of amazing. Arcing at high-speed, or making short radius turns felt equally stable.

Bottom line: Who will love this ski? The Pinnacle 105 excels for advanced skiers who spend most of their time off-piste. For all-mountain skiing, also consider the 105’s cousin, the K2 Pinnacle 95.

SkiZer at speed at Stevens Pass.

Day 27: Crystal Mountain

  • Vertical: 31,000
  • Vertical for the year: 410,000

Day 29: Stevens Pass

  • Vertical: 29,000
  • Vertical for the year: 439,000