MSR Backcountry Cafe: Trail Treats, Part 2 – The Parking Lot

Story and Photos by Laurel Miller

Some of us eat to live, others live to eat (admittedly, it’s a First World luxury to be able to make such a distinction). If you’re of the latter persuasion, it’s hard to dispute the psychological and satiety benefits of high-fat/protein/complex carbohydrate post-exercise snacks that go the extra mile.

Want to ensure a surplus of stoke at the end of your next outing? Take some inspiration from the below list, and make the traditional parking lot scarf-session just as memorable as the rest of your trip. Obviously, you’ll need to menu-plan and store or pack accordingly, depending upon climate and duration of trip. If you’re feeling especially motivated, fire up a grill if there’s one available at the trailhead, or use your camp stove.

  • Toss freshly made or packaged popcorn with grated Parmigiano Reggiano, smoked paprika, and sea salt. Tip: Hot popcorn is also wonderful with a sweet-salty mix; try combining salt with Muscovado sugar, which will get slightly melty.popcorn3
  • Serve sliced apples with honeycomb, aged Cheddar, and cured ham or prosciutto. Pair with an apple brandy like Calvados or Reisetbauer, or a great domestic version like Clear Creek Distillery’s. IMG_2417


  • Halve and core pears (use a melonballer as a scoop), and wrap in bacon; secure with a toothpick if necessary. Cook cut-side-down over a medium-hot grill/on a frying pan on your campstove, until bacon is crisp and pears are caramelized. Be sure to use ripe, but not mushy, pears. I like Comice, D’Anjou, and French Butter varieties for this recipe, as they have more flesh and are less grainy than Bosc. Prepare a thermos of smoky black tea like Lapsang souchong while the pears are cooking.
  • Pair up grappa (high-octane grape brandy; the good stuff will have a syrupy, smooth texture. Try Marolo or Poli brands), black or purple grapes, and an aged goat cheese like Avalanche Cheese Company Bandage-Wrapped Cheddar, Tumalo Farms Classico Reserve, or Vermont Creamery Bijou.
  • Make grilled cheese sandwiches special. Slice up a rustic loaf (I love walnut bread) if you have any residual from your trip; its heft will help prevent sogginess, and create textural interest. Layer on Dijon mustard, sliced apples, and a nutty, buttery, slightly funky alpine style like Gruyére, Beaufort, or Fontina. Bonus points for adding any leftover ham.
  •  Have an appropriately Nordic snack: Top rye crackers with gravlax and capers, garnished with orange zest. Consume with snaps of aquavit. Note: Smoked/cured salmon products need to be kept at a minimum of 38 degrees; if you live in a cold/snowy climate, you can leave a cryovaced package in your car. Be sure to allow about 15 minutes thawing time while you prep, and pat dry with a towel to prevent crackers from getting soggy.
  • Arrange a chocolate tasting. And by tasting, I mean different brands, single-origin varietals, and infused bars, so you can get your geek on. Serve with roasted nuts and dried fruit for added protein and substance. Be sure to use that fancy backcountry coffee press to help you stay alert on the drive home.

Laurel Miller is a Colorado-based food and travel writer and cheese consultant, the co-author of Cheese for Dummies, and a contributing editor at culture: the word on cheese. She stashes camping utensils in her glove compartment because you never know when you’ll find a good parking spot. 


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