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

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 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—now—on 9 December 2008

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Oct 22 2015

Go Green! Further Precepts From the Tao of Tea

The Cup That Cheers

Coffee — hot, strong, black coffee — starts my engine in the morning, but tea keeps it turning over as the sun and I move through the day. Many writers have reflected on the differences between the two beverages: Stephen Graham, for one. He was a gentleman tramp with a literary bent, whose feet carried him as far afield as the Altai mountains and, somewhat later, into the still wild expanses of the Rockies, in the company of poet Vachel Lindsay. Graham also served on the Western Front in World War I, and A Private in the Guards, an account of his experiences as a common soldier, gives readers a rare glimpse of the face of war as seen by the “other ranks.” Many more books were to follow, though most of them are now forgotten. The Gentle Art of Tramping is the exception, having been reprinted as recently as 2011. It’s a classic of its kind, a sort of 1920’s Complete Walker, with an added touch of Wind in the Willows romantic pastoralism. And in it, Graham devoted much of the chapter he entitled “The Tramp as Cook” to coffee and tea, remarking at one point that while “you can walk further after tea, … coffee makes you more sociable. You talk more after coffee.”

That’s a debatable point, I think. Coffee doesn’t set my tongue wagging, nor does it make me seek out company. But I do find that stopping ashore to brew a cup of tea in late morning and mid‑afternoon does much to keep my arms moving. In fact, these “cups that cheer but not inebriate” are woven into the fabric of my daily life.… Read more…

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Sep 23 2015

In Short Order: Toast of the Town

It Ain't Your Father's SOS

Farewell, summer. The sun is poised to dip below the equator, and fall is definitely in the air, with the first snows of winter only a few short weeks away. But carpe diem — seize the day! Those same few short weeks are some of the best times of the year to be on the bike, on a hike, or on the water, and every golden autumn day is a treat to be savored.

There are downsides to the season, however. Days are short now, and the understandable desire to make the most of the hours of daylight means that many trips end with a scramble homeward in the gathering dark, after which the tired paddler must still shower and eat. So late suppers are the norm. Urban trekkers can take their pick of restaurants and take‑outs, many of which serve meals well into the small hours. But rural denizens like Farwell and me have fewer choices. It’s home cooking or nothing for us. Not that “home cooking” necessarily means preparing a meal from scratch. Heat‑and‑eat canned and frozen entrées are readily available menu stopgaps. But it is possible to prepare a scratch meal from simple ingredients in next to no time, while saving some cash in the process. Most of the time, that’s what I do.

And so can you. The only requirements are a willingness to spend a few minutes in the kitchen, plus a reasonably well‑stocked pantry and a fridge. The result? A meal that’s simple, good, and quick… Read more…

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Aug 20 2015

Muesli for Breakfast: Is It Just What the Doctor Ordered?

What the Doctor Ordered

For several months now, I’ve been researching a waterborne route that will take me across the Adirondack Mountains. It promises to be a strenuous journey, involving a fair bit of upstream work, a modicum of wading and tracking, a couple of open water crossings, and many miles of portaging, some of them along established trails and some involving bushwhacks. The trip will probably take me 20 to 25 days in all, and in the process I’ll traverse the wildest country in northern New York. But at least I won’t have to load 50+ pounds of food in my little pack canoe. Why not? Because my route will touch at a number of ports of call along the way, rural towns and hamlets boasting convenience stores (or even small mom‑and‑pop groceries) that carry a full range of staple foods. So I’ll be able to stock up on fresh produce and dairy products. I may even splurge on fresh meat or a frozen treat from time to time.

That being the case, my menu is starting to take shape. Dried foods will still be the mainstay of my diet, but I’ll supplement these with store‑bought extras whenever they’re available, and I’ll also carry a few canned heat‑and‑eat meals for emergencies. Yet one nagging uncertainty remains: What’s for breakfast?… Read more…

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Aug 13 2015

Little Things That Mean So Much: John Wayne to the Rescue

John Wayne to the Rescue

Back in 2010, I wrote the first article in what would become an irregular series of columns. My theme? The little luxuries that Farwell and I bring with us on backcountry trips. These small and unprepossessing items may not get much attention in gearheads’ blogs, but they can do a lot to enhance comfort and promote efficiency. For those reasons alone they’re well worth their negligible weight and trifling cost. My series turned out to be a popular one, too, and not only with readers: To my surprise, the theme was also picked up by other hacks. Which goes to show that imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery.

In any event, there was a noteworthy omission in my first “Little Luxuries” column, even if that omission was deliberate. Why “deliberate,” you ask? Because the item in question is not — in my view, at any rate — a luxury at all. It’s an essential, something whose utility is belied by its diminutive size. And as such, it accompanies me on all my amphibious treks.

Can you guess what it is? Well, if you glanced, however briefly, at the picture at the head of this column, I’m sure you can. My littlest essential is the P‑38 can opener… Read more…

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