Thursday, November 1, 2018


October 2018

We travel a lot - different kinds of traveling and cooking and eating.  Recently we flew to tent camp in Arkansas for a Blues Festival and then stayed in a series of cottages and cabins in the woods of Arkansas and Louisiana, as well as the Gulf!  We followed that by a stay in a historic hotel - The Lafayette in New Orleans before flying home!

Each setting required a different approach to meal time, depending upon resources. Quite the challenge at times! Out of all, cooking the majority of our meals while tent camping at

a primitive site was the most challenging. Since we flew, we had only a grasshopper stove (which believe me, we were thankful for!). While we enjoy eating out, the festival fare isn't quite for us, and Helena-West Helena offers limited "dining" options. So, we had to get a little creative!

On this trip, I came to realize how much we truly enjoy preparing our own food and strive to overcome daunting obstacles to do so. Not for the faint of heart, cooking on the move is not for everyone. It is a challenge. It is hard, It is good! I decided some of our stories are good enough to share and decided to rebrand this blog toward that end. I hope you agree!

This year we flew for the third time to the King Biscuit Blues Fest in Helena-West Helena Arkansas, a camping fest in a rural, financially-struggling part of the south. Even if you wanted to stay in a hotel, you wouldn't want to stay in a hotel. So, camping it is!  

The campground is really just a big field on the other side of the levy from downtown Helena. The Helena-West Helena firemen spend days and weeks mowing and preparing for the event. This is a huge fundraiser for them and they do a great job keeping the porta-potties clean, stocking enough ice to sell and making sure everyone has plenty of water!

Logistically, we also prepare weeks, planning carefully what to pack and weighing our checked bags. The Arkansas weather is mercurial in October - it could be cold and rainy or scalding hot without a cloud in sight.  This year a local had put out a hog trap not far from our usual site.  He thoughtfully blocked it up so we would awaken to hearing hog screams in the middle of the night.  I think there was enough activity to keep them at bay, I never heard or saw one (in Helena-West Helena). 

With only one carry-on and one (very large) checked bag, we need to carefully consider what warrants room in our bags.  Sleeping bags and pads, tent and screen house and some cooking basics take precedence. 

What cooking basics? A grasshopper stove, large enamel cup for cooking everything from coffee to soup, a frying pan with collapsible handle, a collapsible coffee pour over filter, sporks, and Ziplocs.* Not familiar with a grasshopper stove?! It's a wonderful invention - the burner comes with two legs that you screw into a small propane tank to make the third leg. Simply ingenious!

This year we went overweight - 50 lbs.I think this is because I forgot to sign up for the $9 fare club on Spirit, but have yet to double check this. (As an aside, we have had great experiences on Spirit so far and feel like we are getting a great deal).

We trudge all our goods to the BWI Airport and are relieved to unload the huge wheely bags into the checked luggage, but not thrilled to pay $55!  Both the Baltimore and New Orleans Airport at the other end of our journey are quite nice and easy to navigate. We picked up our checked baggage and picked up our Nissan Rogue without incident from Enterprise, loaded our goods and headed for Arkansas. 

Enroute, we stopped at a couple of thrift stores and picked up a folding table for $3 and a Coleman extreme 52-quart cooler for $12. Awesome! Next stop? A quick trip to Walmart and we secured two small propane tanks, paper plates, and towels.  When we travel, we most often make a nearby thrift store our first stop and Walmart our second.  

How to dispose of our purchased goods is always a challenge, depending upon our circumstances. Last year, we had a rental car for the entire trip and not only had a couple of chairs and a table, but a cooler filled with cold beer! What to do? We donated the chairs and table back easily enough, but we doubted the Salvation Army wanted the beer. 

We could drink a couple at the airport, but... then, as we turned the corner, we noticed a couple of "gentlemen" sitting in a little park at 10:30 am on a Monday. We decided to offer it to them. Well, you can imagine their reaction! Looking around for hidden cameras (or agents), they were certainly hesitant at first. But, once we explained our circumstances they eagerly accepted. 

But I digress! Our third stop before heading to the campground is always Rouses. We get the freshest, biggest shrimp at the best price every time. The rest of the grocery supplies (especially coffee and beer!) were also obtained here and at the Walmart in West-Helena, a trip about every other day.

You might be wondering if shrimp is the best grocery item for a tent camping trip. I assure you it is! I wish I could describe how good these shrimp tasted with bloody marys after sleeping on the ground that first night. To cook, we just added olive oil to the pan and sprinkled them with a little Tony Chachere's when  in the south. At home and points east, Old Bay Seasoning is our go to.

The first thing we made with the grasshopper stove was coffee, of course. We have a collapsible pour over that we steady (sometimes precariously) onto our large enamel cup, fill it with coffee and, well, pour hot water over the coffee!  

At home, we have a couple of local coffee shops we purchase from, but in the south? It's Community Coffee, of course! For some reason, the loose ground it better than the brick. Not sure why?  We buy only whole beans at home since we can grind out coffee anytime we want!:-)

Next? We cooked eggs! It is so handy to have some boiled eggs on hand when camping - we can take them on a hike, or in this case to the shows at the King Biscuit Blues Fest. Nothing is easy when cooking in a primitive setting, really. Even boiling some eggs is hard.  We usually end up putting them in the frying pan, but you have to be sure to move them around so it is cooked through. 
The frying pan on the grasshopper stove (and I guess everything now that I think about it) is challenging since the bottom of the pan is so much bigger than the burner. 

As you can see, we hadn't quite gotten too far in organizing ourselves - we had only a small box laid out to set food and dishes on. We tent-camped for 5 nights in our modest tent. We also have a screen house, which is beyond necessary and well worth the extra weight to our luggage. This year was brutally hot, over 95 and near 100 most days. Needless to say, we didn't need any of the warm weather clothes we packed! 

It is always fun to see some of the other biscuit-heads who have been attending the festival for years as well. 

 The town changes little, with a pop-up business added here or another building falling down there, it maintains the same bluesy vibe. This year I noticed a mural painting of Conway Twitty - I can't guarantee this is the first time he appeared, just the first I noticed...  

One year a liquor store owner told me he got 50-70% of his business in a year from people at this festival. Hard to believe - unfortunately, he is now out of business. 
There are street performers - I never got this fellows name, but he was quite good and I liked his look! Small stages positioned throughout town touted different performers, all good as far as I saw.  

Some stages saw more audiences if for no other reason than the much-needed shade. Each day it was a quandary as to whether or not to bother changing from sweaty clothes into clothes that would be sweaty within moments from putting them on!

If you haven't gone, it is well worth the trip...I'll share more in future posts, but rest assured - the King Biscuit is best experienced rather than read! 

Well, it's time to run - I guess that is enough for now. More of our trip later. See you soon! 

* There are some things for which there are no substitutes! It has taken me at least 40 years to figure that out.  Some brands are just the ones you need to buy, paying extra or not, in order to avoid being disappointed. Ziplocs are just one.  I may end up writing an entire post about the others. 

Mary Sherwood, MS, CDMS, CCM
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