Dear one subscriber who no longer subscribes to this blog,

I was here but then I wasn’t.  Well the week flew by.  The real reason for my few days off was that I was camping.  No Appalachian Trail euphemism, but real, in-a-green-A-Frame-tent camping: the warm lull of a campfire, being outside all the time so that doing nothing qualifies as doing “something”, the loud rush of wind through trees, the strange threat of cackling racoons, the food.  Oh lord help me, I love campfire food.  I have to; I’m a vegetarian.

The amazing secret of the classic wood-fire camp flame is that it makes fake meat taste AMAZING.  I’ve been a vegetarian nearly 10 years  and I’ve suffered through some terrible faux meats.  Many of them microwaved (which is a great way for a fledgling vegetarian diet to permanently fail). At best, the most ubiquitous tend to be merely bland seasoned protein patties that cook all dry and rubbery.  But smokey campfire crisps away the rubberyness and encourages the substitute meat to crackle on the outside and to become, dare I say it, juicy on the inside.

The following  have led to some of my best experiences:

1. Tofurky Beer Brats

In vain I had searched for some kind of veggie brat that remotely replicated some semblance of the beer brats my father made for us when I was growing up.  Beer Heritage! These on a campfire were the first thing that came close.  I have yet to actually try marinating them in beer, but the fact that they taste decent without that process makes me quite hopeful of the result.  Please do not microwave or charcoal grill these after you have had them on a campfire.  That is a foolish, cruel thing to do to yourself.

2. Field Roast Grain Meat Co. – Smoked Apple Sage Vegetarian Sausage

Although I am a happy vegetarian (meaning, I enjoy what I eat and don’t get all bitter and make others miserable as I judge their lack of food ethics) brats are my Achilles Heel…my soyfood meat-substitute Achilles Heel. In fact, before I discovered that Tofurky Beer Brats were yummy on the campfire, I was starting to allow myself one well-chosen brat a summer so that I would no longer resent all my fellow Wisconsinites for their horrible, delicious lack of food ethics.  But the campfire changed all this.  I have food summers again!

Then this past weekend I tried Field Roast vegetarian sausages on the campfire and they might be even better than the Tofurky.  The inside was flavorful without the off-mark, almost peppery spiciness that I sometimes taste with other fake meats.  But the topper was that their vegetarian sausage actually was juicy on the inside, almost succulent.   More products like these, please!

3. Morningstar Farms Veggie Bacon Strips

These are one of those vegetarian-substitute products that may bewilder newbies with their almost inedible appearance.  As my camping partner described them: play food.  But didn’t you always want to eat your toy food as a child?  Now you can.  And it  gets nice and crispy on the fire.  The flavor is salty and similar to bacon-chips.  It’s a nice finger-food to compliment coffee and eggs on a slow morning in a collapsible canvas chair.  True bacon lovers may not be satisfied with the close-but-not quite flavor, but the advantages over the real thing: less fat and no grease.

4.  MorningStar Farms Veggie Sausage  Links

Similar in quality to MorningStar’s veggie bacon, this product appropriately replicates the taste of real sausage links (perhaps a little over-spiced, but not enough to be off-putting).   The smell is pleasant to wake up to, and again, not greasy so it’s easy to tool around your campsite while munching on these.

5.  Nature’s Bakery Veggie Burgers

I couldn’t write this entry without  acknowledging Nature’s Bakery’s scrumptious veggie burgers.  Complex, moist, flavorful–these are everything one could want in a veggie burger.  These don’t make the mistake of trying to replicate a meat-hamburger, but demonstrate that the otherness of veggie alternatives can be delightful when judged on their own merits. These are probably the best packaged veggie burgers I’ve had.  Nature’s Bakery is a local coop so their products are only available in Wisconsin and a couple of select locations in Illinois and Minnesota.  But do try if you have the opportunity.

Finally, as far as campfire failures…

I finally tried vegan marshmallows over the weekend and it wasn’t quite the revelation I had hoped.  They certainly tasted like marshmallows, but had nothing of the crispy-gooey combination that makes popping roasted marshmallows off a stick such a delight.   If anyone reads this and has recommendations, I would love to hear them.  Occasional gelatin (I try to limit it) is one reason among many other aged, cheddar-flavored reasons that I could never imagine undertaking veganism.  Go ahead and judge.