Burton's Perth to Cape York – Amanda’s amazing food management

Saturday, Jul 28, 2012 at 15:47

Mike & Amanda


$600 on food may seem a lot. I thought I should expand a little on this and maybe our learnings will help others. Our food objective is to be totally self sufficient for four people for two weeks as a minimum.

The Australian Off Road campers Odyssey Signature is a great starting point for food storage. It is equipped with a 50 litre pantry which can be seen as the small compartment at the rear of the camper near the door. Amanda absolutely crams this to capacity with cans of everything, baked beans being one of our favourites! Jack can eat two can per sitting, mind you he is not welcome around the campsite for a while and I for one am glad he is now sleeping outside in a tent LOL.

The 62 litre Evakool fridge/ freezer seen at the front, has been converted to a fully plated freezer. All our frozen stuff fills this to capacity. Cold drinks, butter and other important stuff like chocolates live in the 60 litre Enbgel housed in the back of the Cruiser. We figure we want the drinks to ‘go’ when we leave the Camper behind. This also means we are capable of knocking up a quick lunch instead of expensive commercial options. With this in mind we have a plastic box in one of the Cruiser drawers that holds two loaves of fresh bread (when we can get it) for lunches. On the floor in the middle of the back seat is a plastic crate which is stocked with dry crackers, biscuits, nuts, dried fruit, muesli bars and (when available) fresh fruit which can cover an “on the move” lunch when we are trying to cover some distance.

The huge kitchen draw is used for little food, some condiments, honey and small stuff. At the end of the main kitchen is a large storage area where we stashed fizzy drinks, ginger beer syrup and things like that. At the top of the kitchen is a small compartment handy for ready access where the tea and coffee were kept together with a one cup coffee ‘dripalator’ (Swiss gold filter).

This available storage is just not enough for our family so we added two large spacecases and bolted them to the front wood rack. One is used for chairs and electrical cables, the other for dry food. Amanda has spent ages experimenting with packing dry foods into different size Tupperware type containers and assembling like a Russian doll puzzle until everything fits. It is an amazing achievement and feeds us for weeks. She even packed a Soda Stream with two spare gas canisters – this means we don’t need to carry cumbersome 1 litre fizzy drink bottles, just a couple of bottles of cool water in the fridge. We then can zap them on the road and hey presto soda water, flavoured or not. The kids loved this, it saved huge space and the supplies lasted for four months with some left over.

All food that resembled powder such as flour, coffee etc and other stuff like teabags were all transferred into old plastic fruit containers, carefully hoarded for months prior to the trip. The screw lids and plastic construction meant no leakages and no breakages, as well as everything being air tight and fresh. Tetra packs of long life milk, juice, custard etc are packed single layer into large plastic boxes to keep them dry and stop them getting squashed. It only takes having a single box of long life milk leaking and going rancid in the bottom of your storage area to see the value in this – yes, we speak from experience and guaranteed it will happen when you are on water restrictions and can’t wash it out properly. We poured the breakfast cereals into separate plastic containers. This meant that they had their allocated storage space and place and kept out any bugs and dust.

Packing potato chips was a new experience. We love our BBQ and salt and vinegar cholesterol bombs around the camp fire with a glass of wine or aforesaid soda water. Unfortunately they are bulky and fragile. Amanda (and me too;-) painstakingly pierced the packet with scissors or something sharp, gently pushed all of the bulky air out until they were flat and then resealed the hole with sticky tape. This reduced the volume of each packet by 50%. The many packets were then carefully stacked inside a long flat Tupperware-like container (to stop them being crushed) and stored in the big spacecase.

Eggs always break! Even the BCF (that’s not camping Barry!) you-beaut plastic egg containers don’t work on the Gunbarrel Highway. Amanda’s solution is to leave them in the original cartons and carefully place two household sponges inside the carton lid (the sponges can be cut to accommodate the egg cone or not) and the two cartons placed vertically inside a Super Oval Tupperware breakfast cereal container. This container keeps them out of the way (rather than storing them on top of everything so that you have to move them every time you want something out of the fridge), protects them from being knocked when other things are taken in and out of the fridge and should an egg break you don’t have a mess all over the bottom of the fridge. In four months we had two eggs break and that is after the Gunbarrel, Simpson, Oodnadatta, Birdsville, Cape York, Savannah, Cape Leveque, Windjanna etc….

Meal planning up front meant reducing the complexity of shopping (in theory). Amanda has about eight basic evening meals that she rotates through when we are travelling, and we take only exactly what we need to make each one. Nothing is worse than packing food at the start of a trip, and unpacking the exact same things at the end because you haven’t used them — what a waste of space and weight. Most of our meals have a rice, pasta or cous cous base. When buying pasta, choose the smaller, or more compact shapes like macaroni or spaghetti over the ones that have bigger shapes with a lot of air space like penne or large shells. The packets weigh the same, so you are getting the same amount of food, but the volume of space they take up is significantly different. One more packet could mean another night away! Though Amanda always uses fresh vegetables at home, she finds them bulky and hard to keep fresh whilst travelling. Using the Evakool as a freezer, she now buy bags of frozen, chopped vegetables and uses these. They stay fresh and require no preparation apart from cutting open the bag. Keeping meat fresh is also a concern, and, though we know lots of people who swear by vacuum sealing, it’s not always possible to get done on the road when you restock. Freezing meat keeps it fresh, but safely thawing it can be difficult. Amanda cuts the meat up (strips for stirfry, chunks for stews and currries) and freezes it in snap lock bags. Each evening you just choose your meat, peel off the plastic bag and toss it straight into the frypan where it quickly defrosts and cooks. OK, it might not pass muster on Master Chef, but there’s no chance of food poisoning and by the time you add a sauce, no one will ever know. Steak, fresh fish and salad dinners generally only happen on the day we do the shopping. Preparing meat like this is a bit more work on shopping day, but it means that in the evenings Amanda can join in on wine-o’clock rather than chop food for dinner!

No food spoiled on our journey with our failures being some flour spilled in the spacecase when a screwtop lid vibrated off and the modified Evakool cycled too much and used too much battery power. No bugs got into anything and nothing went off. The flour spillage also demonstrated how airtight the spacecases are as a little spillage left in the bottom stayed dry the whole trip and was never contaminated with red dust! My personnel failure was leaving a couple of bottles Heineken in the freezer – sometimes they were cool, sometimes they were incredibly icy (and tasty) and on two occasions when I forgot them, they burst their lids – what a waste (and a mess)!

Amanda managed this incredibly well. She prepared a comprehensive shopping/ check list for all the food. It listed quantities and in an ideal world these were crossed off when used, giving us a precise restocking list when shopping. This mostly worked but often the list was ignored and we shopped from our hearts and not the head, leaving us stranded in a shopping centre car park, an amused audience, all storage spaces open, and us wondering how the heck we would fit all this in! We should say this provided a lot of entertainment for locals and we met a lot of nice people this way. Our mud and dirt stained rig would be in some regional IGA carpark with people coming over wonder what we were up to. Trolleys (we needed at least two), plastic bags and food stuffs everywhere! Eventually it all fitted and we were restocked with treats for another two weeks!

We have found the drawer system in the Cruiser a terrible impediment for shopping. There is no storage space for shopping bags. We were often forced to load plastic bags over, in, and around the kids. We couldn’t’ find them because of plastic bags. Maybe they were lost? The back shelf was packed to the roof meaning zero visibility. This of course didn’t occur if the trailer was in tow.

So, this is my big thank-you to a well organised Amanda – she kept hubby and two kids well fed, wanting for nothing for just over four months in the most remote parts of Australia that there are!
Mike & Amanda
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