Dirtbag Gourmet: How to Cook For Your Date


If you can’t cook a decent meal in the backcountry, you’re destined for romantic failure. A way to anyone’s heart is often through his or her stomach, especially if you’re on the tail end of a grueling day outside. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Yeah, that will refuel the person you’re crushing on, but a homemade olive hummus wrap with sea salt? That might be the extra touch you need to turn adventure partner into your partner.

My father always told me that I should judge a man on whether or not he could make me breakfast in a park, the point being that even when you’re not in the backcountry, an eligible dirtbag should know how to handle his stove. Anyone can go for a week without toilet paper, but can you brew a good French press and whip up killer pancakes on a summit?

Why food? Because food connects us. We all have to eat and there is simple beauty in breaking bread with someone, particularly when your body really needs its sustenance. Putting effort into what you eat shows that you’re putting effort into your time together. Long stories of romance aren’t born out of freeze-dried packages.

Little things that count — and by little, I mean easily packable. Start here:

Pay attention to details.
Prove you’re a good listener by picking up on your date’s food preferences beforehand. Don’t make rice and beans if they hate Mexican food. Remember that one time that they mentioned they had a thing for figs? You better include some in your food bag.

Always carry sea salt.
Don’t know the wonders of good sea salt? You better start. It’s flaky, it will perk up even the blandest meal and it’s light enough that you have no excuse not to pack a small container of it in your spice kit.

Bring fresh herbs.
This can be a game changer, even for those challenged in the culinary arena. Pasta with tomato sauce: Boring. Pasta with fresh oregano, thyme and tomato sauce: Impressive.

Never leave home without a tablecloth.
You don’t need to go overboard on this one, but carry a small tablecloth so you always have something clean to lay your meal on. Even the worst meal will taste better if your presentation is good.

Switch out traditional ingredients for something a little different.
Quinoa instead of pasta. Almond butter instead of peanut butter. Dried cherries instead of raisins. Cardamom instead of cinnamon. Creativity pays off in more intriguing, memorable menus.

Commit to good coffee.
Invest in the good stuff. Even if you’re pursuing a tea lover (although, that could be a potential red flag), you at least want to show that you have good taste and your selection of craft roast is a good indicator.

Keep a few tricks up your sleeve.
Wild huckleberries in the morning oatmeal. Dark chocolate at the summit. Coconut flakes in your trail mix. It counts.

You can still have a candlelit dinner.
If you really want to step it up a notch, you’ll can the headlamp and pack a travel candle. You should have one in your ten essentials anyway.

Remember that in the backcountry, a bag of wine is classy.
It’s wine, it tastes exponentially better outdoors, just make sure you have a cup or mug or thermos to drink it out of.

Make something your specialty.
Come up with a rendition on a classic that’s your very own. Give it a fancy name. Leave your potential new partner with something to remember you by — and not heartburn.

Photo by Steve Casimiro

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