If you're eating outdoors just to survive, change your thought process first. Meals are a chance to sit and enjoy your surroundings and, if you're eating with family or friends, each other. Carve out extra time to allow yourself to rest when the meal is complete, and don't try to make plans for your next day of hiking or decide who gets to unload the car when you get home. Turn your meal into an occasion to anticipate, not tolerate.
I'm not talking about your precise geographic location, be it on a beach, in a field, or at a public campsite. Environment instead refers to how you set your table -- the specifics of where precisely you choose to serve your meals. If you're car camping, the most likely spot will be a campsite picnic table; but it doesn't have to be...perhaps you passed a meadow or stream that would work perfectly for a picnic away from your site. If you're backpacking or kayaking, choose your dining location when you arrive at your campsite -- choose a spot with the best view, or interesting granite "chairs" to sit on. This space does not need to include your cooking station; in fact, it's better if your cooking site is a separate space. Keep this dining spot free of garbage bags, gear, and other paraphernalia; save it for the placemats and wine glasses (see #3)!
If your outdoor meal is limited by weight or space restrictions (backpacking, kayaking, hiking), opt for one or two small improvements only -- a pair of unbreakable, nesting wine glasses, or a set of lightweight but sturdy bamboo placemats, both linked below, can take your meal from dull to delightful without having to make even the slightest change to your cooking habits. On the other hand, if you're car camping or sharing a meal in a location unrestricted by weight or space, go for something a bit more substantial -- ditch the paper plates in favor of something classier, like the CR Gibson plates listed below. Not only are they environmentally friendly, but everything tastes better on real plates -- even hot dogs (so I've heard...). Add a tablecloth and cloth napkins, and opt for melamine or stainless cutlery.
Ketchup is a dirty word around here. I'm talking about special, fun things that take up virtually no space or weight but can make your meal -- even one purchased on your way out of town -- personal and special. Keep your eyes open for fun, tasty mustards in cute little jars, especially as the holidays approach. Tiny bottles of balsamic vinegar, tarragon mayonnaise, or artisan hot sauce are great things to buy now and stash away for your next outdoor meal. If you're feeling a bit more ambitious, try this recipe for amazing basil salt that you can make at home. Put it in wonderful little Weck glass jars, linked below, and you're ready to go!
Music and lighting can do more for your meal than anything else listed here. If you're ok with taking along certain forms of technology, try a bluetooth speaker linked to your smart phone or tablet and enjoy a little music in the mountains (our favorite Pandora channels are Diana Krall, Frank Sinatra, and Ottmar Liebert). Battery operated tealights or LED's scattered on the rocks surrounding your chosen dining spot (see #2 above) are terrific; or if you're in a location where fire is permitted, of course a nearby campfire can't be topped. If the scent doesn't bother you (we don't like to eat around smelly things) and the mosquitoes do, try a line of terracotta citronella candles down the center of your picnic table.
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