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July 29, 1998

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Preparation and planning will get campers past the first night of hot dogs.

veryone knows food tastes better outdoors. Why else would people eat charred hot dogs?

That said, it makes sense that the farther outdoors you go, the better it all tastes. ... Sure it does.

A week in the Rocky Mountains was proof enough for me.

Loaded with a gassed-up Coleman camp stove, a box of matches, a cooler full of food and boxes of nonperishables, my family was able to delight in a variety of dishes that filled and satisfied.

Two factors are important to keep in mind when preparing for a camping adventure: planning and simplicity.

Consider every meal during the vacation and scan your recipe file and cookbooks for possibilities. But stick with what works; now is not the time to try new dishes.

Think about one-pot dishes or those that can be prepared with only two burners (and a campfire, if weather allows). Pasta salads and one-skillet dishes are filling, yet easy, on the cook. You can either keep herbs and spices to a minimum or mix them up in self-sealing bags before the trip.

Instant soups are lightweight, packable and offer a way for a cook to rest after a long hike up a mountain. No matter how tired you are, you can always boil water. Keep in mind that water boils at a lower temperature the greater your elevation. While a trip to the seashore would have little effect on your boiling efforts, a day at Flagstaff, Ariz., will leave you poised over the stove for a bit longer. Now is the perfect time to test the pasta phrase, al dente: to the tooth. It's imperative that high altitude cooks learn to taste when pasta is through cooking.

Jerky, granola bars, breakfast bars, trail mixes, nuts and sunflower seed kernels and dried fruit are fast and easy snacks when you're on the trail, the boat or the horse's back. And consider bringing along tortillas to extend the bread. Wraps are in these days, and a package of tortillas travels a lot better than a loaf of bread.

Canned chicken and tuna make nice additions to instant rice mixes and can extend a side dish into a meal. Also, canned meat, unlike fresh, will last the entire trip. If fresh meat is a must, freeze it before the trip and place it in a self-sealing bag in the cooler. Try to use the meat within the first few days of the trip.

Packing the cooler should be the last order of business before closing down the house. Cramming the cooler full of food is like packing a refrigerated suitcase. The difference is you have to leave room for the refrigeration. Use a large block of ice if you can find it, or make your own before you leave by freezing clean gallon jugs of water. The difference in melting rates between cubes of ice and blocks is well worth the effort.

Remember to manage the cooler as well, keep openings and closings to a minimum to help keep items inside colder longer. Pack sturdy items low and fragile items, like eggs, up high. If an item could be damaged by the ice runoff, such as chocolate for the s'mores, pack it in a self-sealing bag first. And find something different than a paper egg carton for the eggs. Once water touches it, it begins to disintegrate, leaving you with a gooey egg-shell mess. Trust me. Area outdoors stores sell inexpensive plastic egg suitcases that work well.

Also carefully consider what really needs to go in the cooler, where space is at a premium. Condiments like ketchup and mustard can usually be packed somewhere else for the duration of the trip without ill effect. A number of fruits and vegetables can easily be stored elsewhere.

As you near your destination, make a note of nearby grocery stores so you can stock up on extra supplies. Often the store closest to the campground will have the highest prices, so consider traveling a few miles more to the stores the locals use. The reward may also include a better selection.

If you plan on cooking over the campfire, don't forget the foil and a long pair of tongs. You can use the foil for packet cooking as well as lining any grill the campfire may have.

Pack out your trash or make sure it is put away in proper trash cans. When you're driving to get away from it all, the last thing you want to greet you when you get there is someone else's trash. Extend the courtesy.

Finally, if you're headed into bear country keep all food out of your tent and make sure your food and the cooler are locked in your car at night. You may be a good cook, but you really don't want the bears crashing your party at 2 a.m.

-- Jill Hummels' phone number is 832-7150. Her e-mail address is hummels@ljworld.com.

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