poor scientist. will blog 4 food.

the culinary adventures of a self-described foodie


Labor Day Camping @ Castle Crags

Beautiful Castle Crags Dome, with Mt Shasta off in the distance.

A week before Labor Day, still riding high from my camping-related good spirits from the Grand Canyon, I thought it’d be a great idea to go camping. Unfortunately, so did everyone else in Northern California. All of the campgrounds within a 150 mile radius were taken. Or so I thought…

I entered the wrong town by accident on the ReserveAmerica.com website and came up with Castle Crags State Park. It’s about 180 miles away, but a straight, quick shot up Route 5. Close to scenic Mt. Shasta, it was the perfect spot for a weekend getaway. Best of all, it wasn’t overcrowded — the trails were relatively quiet and we even saw some deer!

Entering the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. We hiked some of the Pacific Coast Trail too!

For one of the dinners, we had a very similar couscous meal that I had with SP at the Grand Canyon, except this time we also cooked chicken thighs, a la last year’s Big Sur camping trip. The next night, JY and NK whipped up their camping special: sausages with rice, beans, and corn. Quick, easy, filling, and delicious.


It’s a well-known fact that fire-cooked meals always taste better. Especially when lit by headlamps.
Bulleit. Campfire. Happiness.
Marshmallow at the gangplank.

We hiked. We ate. We drank. We watched the stars in a grassy field. It was wonderful. Before we headed back home, we took a detour to McCloud River, home of three waterfalls and courageous chipmunks. Seriously, the chipmunks had no fear! Anyway, the McCloud waterfalls were gorgeous, especially the middle falls. I was tempted to take a dip, except that the water was 50 degrees! Submersion up to my knees was about as brave as I got.


Middle Falls, McCloud River. Breathtaking.

Self-timer shot of the whole gang. Mt Shasta in the distance.


A Grand Adventure

Two months ago, I was here:

Isn't it GRAND? har har

Yep, I was in Grand Canyon National Park with my friend SP. It wasn’t my first time; I had been to the Grand Canyon 12 years ago with my mom and a bus filled with Chinese tourists. We awoke at the butt crack of dawn in our Flagstaff hotel and got to the Canyon first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, it was so early that a thick layer of fog obscured our view. Our tour group was on a tight schedule, so we left the Park before the fog cleared. Our consolation prize? A trip to the IMAX theater at the strip mall outside of the park, which was showing a movie about the Grand Canyon. FAIL.

Needless to say, that experience left much to be desired and I vowed to return. So when I found out that I would be going to a conference in Albuquerque in August, I immediately started scheming for a post-conference trip to the Grand Canyon. Luckily, SP was game. We stopped at the Petrified National Forest on the way, which was really amazing and highly recommended.

Our spacious campsite with matching tents.

Even though we were car camping, we had a few challenges when it came to food. Mostly, we were limited in what we could bring from home, since we were both traveling by plane to the Southwest. We bought a janky styrofoam cooler at the store and had to strategize about what had to be chilled. It helped that, since SP is a vegetarian, there were no meat products to worry about. It was also the first time I was using my camp stove (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Frightened (left), followed by the relieved smile of success (right).

Yummy breakfast: strawberries, toast, eggs, and coffee.

A sleepy but happy camper.

For lunch, we made avocado and tomato sandwiches, supplemented with fruit and granola bars. The first day, we hiked the Bright Angel Trail — 6 miles round trip, 2400 feet elevation change. We were exhausted, especially since we hiked in the midday heat — pretty much when the rangers advise you NOT to hike. To celebrate that we didn’t die from heat stroke or dehydration, we enjoyed a refreshing beer (a little counter-intuitive, I know).

Cheers! Enjoying a local lager.

Dinner the first night: couscous with peppers and onions, supplemented with drained lentils from a canned soup. It was really delicious! But then again, I really love couscous.

No, all that couscous wasn't for me, even though I ate quite a bit.

The next day, we took it easy, mixing walking and shuttle riding on the west end of the South Rim. Then we got into our car to explore the east side, and ended up watching the sunset from a spot near the South Kaibab trailhead. SP packed a surprise carton of wine for us to enjoy during the sunset — genius!

Our very own sunset view at the edge of the earth.

For dinner, we experimented with the backpacking “just add boiling water” chana masala. It was pretty good and very filling, though I wish I stirred it better since I got a few undercooked pieces of rice.

Backpacker's Pantry -- not too shabby!

Chana masala with peppers and onions, cucumbers, and Greek yogurt.

Before heading back to Albuquerque, we went to Sedona, AZ to do a short hike in the Red Rocks. I was there 5 years ago, on my way out to California, and it was another place to which I vowed to return. Again, we made the mistake of hiking midday but it was really worth it.

Cactus pear. No, I didn't eat it, but SP violently stomped on one.

After the hike, we were famished and thirsty. We ended up at the Hideaway Restaurant, where we refreshed ourselves with water and beer. SP got a ginormous Greek salad. I was so hungry I went for the endless angel hair pasta with meat sauce that also came with endless cheesy garlic bread (Figure 2). Our server was annoyed that I was giving my cheesy bread to SP, but we thought her annoyance was completely unwarranted. It’s not like I was asking for just the bread — I ate the pasta too! Anyway, at $10 for the pasta, it was a great deal. I rolled out of there, rubbing my belly full of noodles.

Figure 2. Bon appetite! First bowl (left), followed by another (right).

We got back to Albuquerque quite late. I was given a tip by some good friends that Frontier Restaurant was the place to go for late night dining. Indeed, it did not disappoint. I had breakfast for dinner and it was just what I needed.

Scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, toast, and hot tea. Butter on everything.

During the conference, we went to Sadie’s for authentic New Mexican cuisine, also on a friend’s recommendation. Sadie’s is famous for their salsa. The food was very good, if a bit heavy (no photos, unfortunately). I had a sopaipilla stuffed with shredded beef. I ate, like, 1/3 of it. I shudder to think that there’s actually a 6-pound version of the same dish.

I leave you with this lovely photo:

Double rainbow!



Gimme s’more!

McWay Falls at Julie Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Gorgeous.

McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Gorgeous.

Last month, I went camping at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park with three girlfriends. In addition to hiking, we ate a lot, and we ate well. I admit, I felt trepidatious when we initially planned the trip. It wasn’t my first time camping, but I’ve always been fairly passive (read: lazy) when it came to camp cooking. So, I was counting on our ability as a group to brainstorm and figure out a menu for the weekend.

Breakfast and lunch were straightforward: bagels, cream cheese and avocados for breakfast, and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for lunch. Snacks included trail mix, fruit, hummus and pita. And of course, there was booze. To save cooler and bladder space, we brought whiskey instead of beer. What can I say? We’re rugged outdoorsy women! (That said, we did mix the Makers Mark with Vernors ginger ale to make a most excellent cocktail…)

But then, there were the dinners! What is it about cooking by a campfire that makes everything taste so fantastic? Is it the wood/smoky flavor? Is it “primal” process of cooking food over a fire? I think my friend WD had a great theory about this when he said, “I think it’s because you’re out in the middle of nowhere. You don’t think you’re going to eat anything, let alone something hot. And if it tastes good… then it’s going to be the best meal ever.”

Friday night, we made foil packets with chicken and onions. Even though it wasn’t the most visually pleasing meal, it was delicious. It was like hearty chicken soup in a foil packet, and the chicken was so moist and tender. We also made potatoes in a cast-iron pan that we borrowed from JG and AW. This pan was the best — it made everything taste wonderful. For dessert, we had s’mores, of course! This was the first time I took the time to actually melt the chocolate, and it was worth it (even if I did end up with chocolate all over my face and fingers…what can I say? I’m a slob). We implemented a key deviation from the traditional s’more recipe: we used Trader Joe’s dark chocolate instead of Hershey’s milk chocolate and it was a million times better.

Saturday night, we went with the sausage/hot dog theme and fancied it up with some peppers and onions off the cast iron skillet. We also threw the corn into the fire. The peppers and onions were so good that we all kept sneaking extras from the pan until it was all gone.  We all had such a great time; I hope we go again soon!