Archive for the 'It’s Alimentary: Provisioning, Food, and Cooking' Category

Mar 22 2017

Alimentary, My Dear: Break(fast)ing Bad—and More by Tamia Nelson

I have a confession to make. Farwell and I don’t buy many “outdoor” books these days. Having now written the equivalent of something like 30 hardcover volumes on paddling, camping, and related en plein air activities, we’re likely to turn to something completely different when we feel the urge for a relaxing read: history, say, or biography, or a title from that broad and rather amorphous grab bag called “literature.” Still, there are times when one of us hankers for what used to be called a busman’s holiday. But even then we’ll probably reach for a book that was first published many years ago.

It isn’t that contemporary outdoor writers don’t have something to say. They do. And many of them say it very well. It’s just that we’re drawn to earlier writers when we’re in search of rest and relaxation. Which is why I was leafing through the old camping books on our shelves a few weeks back, looking at the authors’ food lists. How things have changed! With few exceptions, the old lists relied on the three B’s—beans, bannock and bacon—or on some predictable variation on this theme. Lard and sugar (lots of sugar!) figured prominently, too. All in all, it was enough to bring joy to the heart of any cardiac surgeon’s stockbroker.

At first I was inclined to shake my head in wonderment. After all, I’ve absorbed the messages of the “healthy eating” school. And I’m truly found of greens, groats, and garlic. Yet I can’t forget the days, not so very long ago, when SPAM fritters were a rare and keenly anticipated treat. Hunger, it’s often said, is the best of sauces, and anyone who has ever relied on an ash breeze to get across a big lake knows this to be true. That may help to explain why I sometimes yearn for a few of the forbidden fruits of the table, a sort of gustatory nostalgie de la boue.

But before I make a public display of my secret appetites, I must utter the statutory warning: If you should be so misguided as to follow me into folly, on your own head (and heart) be it. I will not answer for your conduct to your grieving spouse, and I will leave your lawyer’s summons unopened on my desk.

Now, with that burdensome, though necessary, warning attended to, allow me to reveal my hidden yearnings, most of them quarried from food lists that were already showing their age when I first shouldered a pack. And I’ll begin with a backwoods icon: Coffee … Read more…

Roasting Hot Dogs Alongside the River

Originally published at Paddling.com on March 21, 2017

 

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Mar 20 2017

It’s Not Too Late to Make a Bug-Out Box for This Year’s Cyclotours by Tamia Nelson

I’ll risk being outed as a hoarder. I keep enough food in the house to survive for several months. I’ve had reason to be glad I do, and my hoarding habit has a welcome offshoot: I’m always ready to take advantage of any opportunity for a short getaway by bike, boat, or afoot. It’s paid off again and again. You might not get bragging rights on Farcebook for two days cycling a 150-mile circuit loop of back roads, or enjoying a chain of beaver ponds you can portage to from your doorstep, and the video you shot of the beaver family at play probably won’t make you a YouTube millionaire, but your short break will do a lot to lighten the next week at work. It might even make the hours you spend stuck commuting to work in a metal-and-glass cage in traffic a little more bearable.

Readiness is all, of course. Which is yet another way of saying “Be prepared.” And here’s what’s involved in …

Keeping a Supply of Camp Food at the Ready

I make it as easy as I can, collecting suitable staples and quick-to-prepare entrées in a large cardboard carton I call my bug-out box. When it’s full, it holds several weeks’ worth of food for both Farwell and me. That’s more than enough for casual getaways. And I can see what’s available in an instant, just by glancing down. My Master Menu—another item in my “be prepared” tool kit—guides me in stocking the bug-out box, and it helps me decide what to take from it when I light out for the territories, too. In other words, the Master Menu serves as both shopping list and meal planner.

Of course, not every staple foodstuff lends itself to storage in the bug-out box. Some small items (e.g., spices, herbs, and nuts) have permanent berths in my kitchen cabinets. Others (fresh fruit and starchy vegetables) wait patiently on pantry shelves, and a few perishables chill out in the freezer or fridge. No matter. Grabbing what I need from these dispersed stores is the work of a New York minute, and bagging it all up takes only a little longer. Any frozen items will be thawed by the time I’m ready to dig in.

Now let’s return to the bug-out box. Here’s what it looks like:

Tamia's Bug-out Box

It was somewhat depleted when I shot this photo: Spring brings more opportunities for getaways, and I often go several weeks between restocks. This is one of the advantages of “hoarding.” You don’t have to devote a good part of every weekend to shopping.) But the diminished contents of the bug-out box are still representative. They include packaged entrées — Rice-a-Roni, Near East Couscous, Knorr Pasta Sides — as well as instant oatmeal, fig bars, egg noodles, dried potatoes, and imitation bacon bits. There’s also a box of ziplock bags for easy repackaging. Any boxed entrée selected for a trip is immediately transfered to doubled bags, along with the cooking instructions, if necessary.

On nearby shelves or hidden under the top tier of bug-out items are other staple items, such as pasta, dried milk, canned chicken, single-serving condiment packets, instant cocoa, tea and coffee, as well as dried soups, dried fruit, and chocolate.

Such a motley collection doesn’t assemble itself, of course. You need a Master Menu as a guide. And because I prepare much of what we eat at home from scratch, I make only limited us of prepackaged meals in the ordinary course of day-to-day life. But staple foods are just that: staples. And on the rare occasions when their use-by date approaches, these get pulled from the bug-out box and transfered to my kitchen shelves. In many instances, I avoid the need for such sleight of hand altogether, by the simple expedient of taking staples directly from my kitchen stores, as and when needed. Naturally I replenish regularly, just in case am impromptu holiday comes my way.

 

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Feb 09 2017

Soup’s On! A Hearty Hot Meal for Days When Time Is Short
by Tamia Nelson

Winter outings are mostly one-day affairs, and when you come home after dark, cold and tired, you want to put a meal on the table as quickly as possible. You could thaw something from the freezer, of course, but how about a hot, hearty soup that comes together in less time than it takes to shower and change? Sound good, doesn’t it? Then let’s get cooking with…

Quick Vegetable Soup Master Recipe

This soup is hearty but not heavy. It contains very little fat, and you can limit the salt content by choosing your ingredients carefully and leaving the salt in the shaker. And though this is a vegetable soup, it need not be vegetarian. I often use low-sodium chicken or beef broth for the base. You can add meat or fish, too, if that’s your fancy.

Yield: About 8 cups, or 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 28-ounce can crushed or whole tomatoes, preferably low-sodium
  • 32-ounce container of “reduced sodium” broth (whatever flavor works for you — cook’s choice)
  • A medium-sized potato, chopped
  • A small onion, chopped
  • 2 full-sized carrots (or a handful of “baby” carrots), grated or sliced
  • A large stalk of celery, sliced or chopped
  • 1 cup frozen vegetables (peas, corn, green beans, or lima beans), in any combination
  • Salt and ground pepper to taste

You’re in a hurry to eat, so you need to work efficiently. Collect all your ingredients first, then do the slicing and dicing while the soup base is heating on the stove.

1.  Decant tomatoes and broth into a large pot. But don’t toss the tomato can into the recycling bin just yet. Rinse it with cold water (about half a can’s worth) and add the rinsings to the pot. Now put the pot on the stove and crank the control up to High.

2.  Start slicing and dicing the potato, onion, carrots, and celery. As you finish with each one, add the cuttings to the pot. I don’t bother peeling the potato and carrots — the peel adds fiber and nutrients — but you can do so if you want. And don’t worry if some of your slices are a little on the thick side. Though small is better (it speeds the cooking), bigger is OK.

3.  When the soup boils, cover the pot and leave the lid ajar, reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, checking occasionally to be sure the pot isn’t boiling over.

4.  When the home-sliced vegetables are tender, turn off the burner and add the frozen vegetables. These will heat through in no time, while also helping to bring the soup down to serving temperature.

5.  Season the soup to taste and dish it up. Use dried herbs like thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil, bay leaf, marjoram, and chervil. Or if you like to feel the heat, add as much hot sauce as you can stand.

NB  A note on portion size: This recipe will yield four to six 1½–2 cup servings. If that’s more than you need, store the leftover soup in an airtight container in the fridge (good) or freezer (best) and save for a chilly day.

Quickk Homemade Veggie Soup with Rice Noodles

Making it Even Better

So much for the master recipe. It can be an end in itself, but it’s also a foundation on which you can build. Mix and match ingredients at will. Do you have leftover boiled potatoes or roasted squash from yesterday’s dinner? Chop them up and put them into the soup. Is the baby spinach you bought last weekend looking a little wilted? Put it in the soup. Don’t overlook lettuce, either. Whether crisp or slightly wilted, it makes no difference. Slice it into strips and toss it in the soup. Leftover roasted chicken? Pull the flesh into bite-sized pieces and heat with the soup. Leftover rice? Toss it in. Got noodles? Cook ’em and add to the bowl before lading in the soup. Use your imagination. Enjoy!


Further Reading

 

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Jan 19 2017

The Sweet of the Year: It’s Almost Maple Syrup Time!
by Tamia Nelson

Article by Tamia Nelson

Have you noticed? The days are getting longer. Spring will soon be in the air — though if you’ve just spent a frantic quarter‑hour scraping ice from you car’s windscreen, you may find this hard to believe. No matter. The wheel of the year spins round unceasingly, and it won’t be long before the roads dry up and your favorite stream sheds its frosty mantle. And while you’re waiting impatiently for this happy state of affairs, why not have something to eat? Something sweetened with maple syrup, perhaps. After all, no condiment says spring like maple syrup, and folks will soon be tramping throughout the North Woods, inspecting lines and marking trees for tapping. In short, it’s almost sugar season… Read more…

Published in full at Paddling.com on 17 January 2017

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Dec 22 2016

Alimentary, My Dear: Get Stuffed! Perfect Pita Pizza
by Tamia Nelson

Article by Tamia NelsonMidwinter’s Day is almost upon us. The alcohol in the thermometer outside my office window seldom rises above the freezing point, and drifts of snow are already mounting toward the sills. It’s certainly not ideal weather for canoe camping, but winter has its compensations, nonetheless. For one thing, it’s a good time to prepare for the day when the waters again run free. And that’s just what I’ve been doing, busying myself in my “test kitchen,” where I try out recipes that show promise as camp fare.

My most recent experiment started with a four‑pack of pita bread that I discovered in a little‑visited corner of the freezer, and once I embarked on the journey, the road from pita to pizza was a short one. As it happens, stove‑top pizza has been a favorite of ours for years, both at home and in camp. But packing premade dough is a nuisance, and making dough from scratch at the water’s edge isn’t always feasible. So I’ve tried a number of time‑saving alternatives, ranging from readymade commercial crusts — Boboli is a widely distributed example — to tortillas.

All of these have worked well, but it never hurts to have an extra string to your bow, and the pita bread I retrieved from my freezer looked like it might be a contender. To begin with, it was just the right size for an individual pizza. And the pita pocket is made to order to hold extra cheese, meaning that stuffed pizza in camp is no longer an impossible dream. I used the oven for my proof‑of‑concept effort — the day was cold, and I wanted to warm the kitchen — but I could also have used a skillet on the stovetop. This is how I make pizza in camp, in fact, though virtuoso cooks will likely turn to their Dutch and reflector ovens… Read more…

Published in incomplete and inaccurately portrayed form at Paddling.com on 20 December 2016

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Dec 10 2016

Great Balls of Fire! A Simple Fire Starter You Can Make
by Tamia Nelson

Fire has warmed my cold bones many a time, and for years I never set out for the woods or waters without a twist of birch bark in my pack. After all, waterproofed matches and fire starters both figure prominently among the Ten Essentials, and I preferred birch bark—peeled from dead, downed trees only!—to foul-smelling chemical concoctions with names I couldn’t spell. That said, there’ve been a few times when birch bark has let me down. Then I’ve wished for something I could put together at home that would help me defy the worst assaults of wind and rain. Don’t get me wrong. I take pride in being able to start a fire with one match (or one flick of my butane lighter), even in a downpour. If pressed hard, however, I’ll confess that I’ve sometimes lit a candle when all else failed. Here’s the drill: I place a one-inch candle stub beneath a carefully crafted teepee of tinder and kindling. Then I light the wick. The candle flame dries out the dampest tinder, and soon the kindling catches fire, too. That’s that. In just a few minutes I’ll be toasting my fingers in front of a roaring blaze.

Of course, a candle stub is usually overkill, which is why I reserved it for the most difficult conditions—worst-case scenarios, in other other words, days when hypothermia was more than a theoretical possibility. At other times birch bark usually lit my fire. But I was never entirely happy with that alternative, either. I like to tread lightly in the backcountry, and stripping bark from trees—even dead, downed trees—leaves me feeling a bit uneasy. So it was back to candle stubs. Or was it? There’s something in my parsimonious nature that makes me reluctant to sacrifice a candle to light a fire. I started looking for a better way. And I found it. Enter “Great Balls of Fire.” … Read more…

Originally published at Paddling.net—now Paddling.com—on 9 December 2008

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