Gas Station Gourmet
No matter what you call it—a gas, petrol, or service station—it’s probably not the first place you think of when buying groceries to fuel your adventures. But did you ever think maybe it’s not the gas station’s fault? Maybe, in your distracted wanderings of its colorful aisles, you’ve been too blinded by cheesy puffs and moon pies to consider the potential gold mine you have in front of you? We think it’s time for that to change. It’s time you saw the gastronomic potential of gas stations.
Anyone who’s ever ridden with Rita “Jetpack” Borelli knows that she’s an enthusiastic consumer of snacks—usually healthy—while riding. A spirited adventurer and great inspiration to her friends, she can be regularly found (or not found, depending on how you look at it) exploring the Santa CruzMountains, or out on fun bike packing adventures. And she doesn’t limit herself to adventures on two-wheels either, taking a time-out from the bike in 2014 to spend four months solo-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Needless to say, she’s had some experience scouring small-town gas stations for tasty calories to keep her energy up. So what does she eat? What culinary creations can anyone make using the simplest of ingredients? And are some gas stations better than others?
“We should start by saying that the further the gas station is from a big town,” says Rita, “the more likely you’ll find better things. More variety. I always look for healthier options, because eating junk food every day loses its novelty pretty quickly, particularly if you’re on a longer trip. Sometimes you can find fresh fruit, and if you’re lucky, you might even score some local dried fruits, jerky, or flavored nuts. I’ve found kale chips,veggie chips, and even dry roasted edamame at gas stations before!”
On a recent trip across two states in the U.S., we scoured the aisles of gas stations to compare and identify common items adventurers usually have to work with. In most, we found at least one lonely island containing some pretty basic supplies to take you beyond candy bars and bags of chips. You typically find campsite go-tos there, like ramen noodles, cans of tuna or peaches, or graham crackers, soups, mustards, and condiments. Stroll along the refrigerator section, past the beers, sodas, and energy drinks, and you’ll often strike gold with a small selection of cheeses (single serve string cheese most commonly, though we did find one gas station with block cheddars),yogurts, pickles in-a-bag, and even some deli meats if you’re really lucky. Many to-go items work wonders back at the campsite as enhancements to meals.
“I make a lot of things simply because of the combos of flavors,” says Rita, “You just need to figure out what tastes good together. I’ll combine dried mango and beef jerky, or Fig Newton’s and beef jerky. I love the fig and the beef jerky flavor combination.”
And then there are those items you should always grab when you see them, simply for their versatility. Things like tortillas and cream cheese.
“You can just do anything with tortillas,” she says. “I’ve done peanut butter and granola on a tortilla, and instead of jelly I’ll add dried cranberries or dried fruit of some kind. Peanut butter and Nutella is always good, if you can find Nutella. For something more ‘meal like’ spread a condiment like hot sauce or a mayo packet on the tortilla, add some tuna, then crush up some potato chips and sprinkle it on top before you wrap it to give it crunchy texture. I’ve also seen people do peanut butter on one and stick a Snickers in the middle. [laughs] Honestly, I feel anything on a tortilla is a good on-the-bike thing.
“And cream cheese is the same: It can go with anything! Cream cheese plus peanut butter makes a PB&J even better. Put a little extra sugar in and smear on a graham cracker or Nilla wafers for a sweet treat.Add cream cheese to pasta or instant mashed potatoes for a creamy texture. Cream cheese on dried fruit (dates, apricot, mango, fruit leather, cranberries)is almost always a win. So many options!”
It’s not all “snacky,” though. You can get prettycreative if you put your mind to it.
“I like to do ramen noodles and put peanut butter in them to make it like Pad Thai, which is not something that you would do in the middle of a ride or that sort of thing, but definitely when you’re doing an overnight. It tastes sooo good.”
If it’s starting to sound like the makings of a pretty substantial list of meals and snacks, maybe it’s time to take that to its logical conclusion? Is it possible to create a three-course bike camping menu using ingredients only found at gas stations? Challenge accepted.
Starting with Rita’s simple Pad Thai as the inspiration,we’ve built an experimental menu, which includes a trio of appetizers, an entree, and a dessert, to show just what’s possible with a little “think outside the gas station” ingenuity.
1. THE HORS D’OEUVRES
Knowing that every gas station is different, we pulled together a trio of appetizers that run the gamut of potential ingredients you might find in a gas station. If you find ingredients for all three, that’s gas station gold—time to invite the people from the next campsite over for nibbles and tour stories.
FIGGY TRAIL JERKS
As one of Rita’s favorite flavor combinations, this recipe pulls together the sweetness of the fig and marries it with the beefy flavor of the jerky. The cream cheese holds it altogether to really makes it sing, but you can do it without the cheese too and it’ll be just as good. Take care when choosing the jerky—you’re looking for something a little soft—and if possible,pick up a chipotle favor, or a sweet and hot to give it some zing.
2 Fig Newtons
1 packet Beef Jerky
Cut a Fig Newton in half
Carefully run a clean, sharp knife length-wise through the fig filling. Open it like a book to reveal the figgy goodness
Spread a dollop of cream cheese on the fig surface of one half. The more the better, but don’t go overboard
Break some jerky into thin strips and place a piece on top of the cream cheese
Put the lid on (the other fig side of the Fig Newton)
Decorate by putting a dash of cream cheese on top
Dust with some jerky scraps (typically found at the bottom of the jerky bag)
Serve. Makes four.
CHEESY APRICOT BIVYS
Similar to how a bivy sack protects the human contained within from the elements, a sliced dried apricot wraps its cheese contents in a delicate embrace. Cheese and fruit always go together, but the addition of honey adds that extra zing of sweetness to the deal. As well as tasting great, honey has the added advantage of making simple things look fancy.
1 single serve string cheese
Honey to drizzle
Slice dried apricot open
Cut string cheese into slices (cut diagonally for more surface area. You can also de-string if you prefer)
Insert cheese into apricot and lay on serving dish
Drizzle honey over the apricot and cheese
Make as many as you like.
PRO TIP:Sometimes you’ll find honey straws, sometimes a small jar or honey bear in a gas station, but a good tip is to always pick up a couple of extra “to-go” honey packets when you see them, either at the gas station coffee bar or counter. They’re the perfect no-mess size for bike touring.
ALMOND STUFFSACK OLIVES
So easy to make, even after a hard day on the bike. With only three ingredients, these olives deliver a sassy combination of crunch and cream with that distinctive brine-y flavor. Buy a bag of mixed nuts for maximum nut efficiency—you can use the other nuts in other recipes, such as the pecans in the dessert, later.
1 jar large green olives
Handful of almonds
Cut the top and bottom from the olive so it can stand up
Remove pimento (poke it out)
Scrape the tip of an almond through the cream cheese (get a good dollop)
Stuff the almond into the olive, making sure you get some of the cream cheese inside as well
Set on a serving dish
If it’s just you, make three. This number does not include any that you accidentally consume during prep.
2. THE ENTREE
Pad Thai made with peanut butter sounds weird, but this recipe is incredibly tasty and simple to make. Crunchy Peanut Butter works best, as you end up with chunks of peanuts in the creamy sauce—a definite plus.Experiment with how much water you use to get the right sauce thickness, and if it’s too soupy at the end just drain some out. Rita typically uses the Oriental flavor of ramen, but says Chicken flavor works just as well. We specifically used Sriracha sauce in ours, because we’re addicted, but you’ll usually find hot sauce of some kind in most gas stations. If you can’t find any, Rita has this pro-tip about a certain fast food chain with a bell in their logo: “They have little hot sauce packets that are amazing.”
SLEEPING PAD THAI
1 packet ramen noodles (Oriental flavor)
Two spoonfuls crunchy peanut butter
Hot sauce (Sriracha if you have it)
Boil 1 cup water in camp pot
Add ramen noodles and cook
Add flavor packet
Add peanut butter and stir until PB becomes creamy
Turn off heat and add dashes of hot sauce. Stir in
You can eat this straight out of the pot if you want to save on dish clean up, but prior to digging in, we added a few dashes more of hot sauce to give it some visual appeal. We also chopped up the pimentos we’d removed from the olives used in the appetizer and threw them in for some additional color.
3. DESSERT RECIPES
We’ve included two desserts here, but by no means are we saying you should make both. Since bananas might be harder to find (check the gas station check out counter, as we’ve seen them there), the peach option might be your best bet.
PEACH PECAN POUCHES
1 tin sliced peaches
I packet raw sugar (brown if you can find it)
Aluminum foil to wrap
Caramel squares (optional, as they’re hard to find, but absolute GOLD when you do)
Lay foil out flat and sprinkle a little sugar in the center
Place 4-5 pecans on the sugar
If you have caramel squares, put 3-4 in top of pecans
Scoop sliced peaches from the can, draining as much syrup off as possible, and lay on top of the pecan/sugar bed
Sprinkle a little more sugar on top of everything (optional)
Fold in sides to create a sealed foil package, being careful not to pierce foil
Place on campfire grate for 20-25 minutes
Remove from heat, open foil, and spoon onto serving plate with peaches on bottom and pecans on top
While the use of sliced peaches makes this one a little soggier than it would be with fresh peach halves, the combination of the pecan and peach is a clear taste bud winner. While we did prepare this recipe without the caramel during testing—and it’s tasty that way—we also tried it with caramel squares to see what it was like. They melted perfectly into the pecans and are worth it if you can find them.
1 large banana
1 milk chocolate bar (we used Hershey, but use your favorite)
Small amount of butter
Aluminum foil to wrap
Slice the banana lengthwise through the skin, being careful not to break through the other side
Gently open the banana and insert a small amount of butter along the length
Insert as much chocolate as you want!
Wrap banana in foil
Place on campfire grill for 10-15 minutes
Remove from heat, open foil, and eat straight from the banana with a spoon
Finish your meal with a delicious camp coffee.
Words: Janeen McCrae | Photos: Jason Perry Photography