Outside of the Classroom: Finding Food in the Ocotillo Wells SVRA

Gastronomy students are always busy, both inside the classroom and out. On the rare occasion that school is not in session, students take advantage of the chance to get away and explore life outside of the program. In this mini series, students will recount their 2014 Spring Break to provide insight into gastronomy life outside of school.

My family's camp at Ocotillo Wells SVRA
My family’s camp at Ocotillo Wells SVRA

By Karen Given

As Gastronomy students, we read about food, taste new foods during class breaks, chat about new restaurants with classmates, and dream about days when we’ll have time to try all the new recipes we’re discovering in historic cookbooks. Sometimes, we try to get away from the subject. This spring break I tried…and failed.

I spent the first three days of break at the Ocotillo Wells SVRA in Southern California. What’s a SVRA? Basically, it’s a big chunk of desert where people camp — mostly in dusty but comfortable motor homes and travel trailers — and drive around in dirtbikes, quads, and all-terrain 4-seat vehicles called RZRs. Ocotillo Wells is 100 miles northeast of San Diego, near the increasingly toxic Salton Sea. It’s hot out there, but it’s not exactly a hotbed for gourmet food.

Navigating a very narrow desert canyon. (I'm in the back seat on the left.)
Navigating a very narrow desert canyon. (I’m in the back seat on the left.)

Yet somehow, out in the middle of the desert, where scorpions outnumber kitchen utensils, I found myself surrounded by food. Suited up in motorcycle helmets and goggles and holding on to the roll cage for dear life, we drove out to a place called the Peanut Patch. We didn’t find any peanuts, but instead discovered oddly shaped rocks that had been stacked by previous visitors. I couldn’t help notice the giant pear and a small circle of toadstool mushrooms.

The pear and mushrooms in the peanut patch.
The pear and mushrooms in the peanut patch.

We continued on to a place called the Pumpkin Patch. There, we found dozens of rocks that had formed in the shape of overgrown pumpkins.

The next morning, my dad got up early to make bacon while my mom prepared eggs-in-a-frame. I’ve heard other names for this simple combination of toast and a fried egg, including: hen-in-a-nest, toad-in-the-hole, and cowboy egg. A friend from undergrad even called them one-eyed-Egyptians.

My dad and his bacon.
My dad and his bacon.

But none taste more delicious than those cooked and eaten outdoors, glimmering under the sun and covered with a very fine layer of desert dust.

My delicious breakfast.
My delicious breakfast.

Karen Given is a part time Gastronomy student and full time reporter and producer for NPR’s Only A Game, produced at WBUR, Boston. 

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