Archive for the 'Let’s Eat! It’s Alimentary, My Dear' Category

Mar 19 2015

Convenience Stores: Your First Stop for Last-Ditch Provisioning

At Your Service

Convenience Stores are the modern counterparts to the once ubiquitous ser‑sta‑gros that dispensed the four commodities without which life in rural America would have been unthinkable: Red Man chewing tobacco, Coca‑Cola, gasoline, and beer. The ser‑sta‑gro was usually a mom‑and‑pop business, and it had an aesthetic all its own, characterized by sun‑faded pinup calendars (all of them more than two years old), skeins of fan belts (displayed in a smeary plate‑glass window), and countless streamers of fossilized flypaper, whose intended victims promenaded confidently up and down the desiccated bodies of their less fortunate comrades. The “rest room” — if there was one — was often just a hole in a splintered plank in a shack, a rickety affair located somewhere out back among piles of discarded tires and rusting engine blocks.

Today’s convenience stores are a study in contrast. They’re oppressively tidy, resplendent in corporate dress, and relentlessly family‑friendly. The pinups are gone, and judiciously applied poisons now eliminate the need for flypaper. There are changes in the stock in trade, too. Red Man is losing ground to Skoal and Copenhagen, and Gatorade is making inroads on Coca‑Cola. But the gas and beer still bring in a steady stream of customers, and convenience stores often have much more on offer than the ser‑sta‑gros’ Big Four commodities. And that’s a good thing.

Not that the Big Four are in any less demand, of course. Trekkers who drive—as opposed to those arriving on two wheels—need gas for their vehicles. And many of us drink beer, though we don’t do much beer‑drinking in the backcountry on paddling or backpacking trips. We’d have to haul it around with us, for one thing, and beer, being largely water, is heavy. Moreover, the 18‑ and 24‑packs that form the bulk of the convenience stores’ inventory are awkward loads in a kayak or small canoe. We do need to eat and drink, however. So when we have to stock up on food — if, for example, we left the food pack in the garage, and the garage is now 500 miles away — and if we don’t fancy making a two‑hour detour to visit a HyperMart, we’re left with no alternative but the convenience store.

Admittedly, the prospects may not appear very promising. Beer and Cheetos do not a balanced diet make, and they’ll likely be the first things to greet the customer’s eye. But the determined forager will unearth a world of possibilities hidden behind the leaning towers of Pilsner. Let’s take a brief tour and see what we can find … Read more…

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Feb 19 2015

Chili: The Hot Meal for Cold Weather

A Chili Dish for a Chilly Day

Fast food is seldom good, and good food is rarely fast. This is bad news for skiers and snowshoers, who appreciate a hearty hot meal at the end of a long day on the trail. And it’s not exactly good news for spring paddlers, either, who’d welcome a quick and easy supper on their first night in camp. So… Fast food or good food: Which is it to be? This recurring dilemma confronts camp cooks in all seasons. The usual answer is a meal conjured up from some colorful box or shiny foil packet. Occasionally this yields a pleasant surprise, though this doesn’t happen often. But what’s the alternative? Where do you turn when you want good food, fast?

To your refrigerator, that’s where. Or your freezer. The strategy is simple. Bank meals in advance of need. Make a big pot of a favorite dish when time permits, eat what you want, and freeze the rest. Then, when a quick meal is needed at the end of hard day, just open the fridge, remove your already prepared meal, heat, and eat. Or if you’re headed out for a spring weekend, simply tuck the frozen meal in a pack. By the time you reach camp, it will likely have thawed and be ready to drop in the pot. Of course, winter campers can keep enough prepared food hard‑frozen to last right through a weekend — or even a week — provided that no unseasonable spell of warm weather intervenes, that is.

The bottom line? You can have have good food, fast, if you just make favorite meals in quantity. Then freeze them, and hold these frozen culinary assets in readiness until the need is greatest. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination, but you’re sure to have a favorite. And what’s mine? That’s easy: Hot Chili … Read more…


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Jan 22 2015

MUSH — The Sequel

Polenta to Go

This is the time of year when I inventory the food in my bug‑out box, removing anything that’s nearing its use‑by date and making a list of needed items. Winter is also a good time to try out new camp recipes and revise old favorites. So you can guess what I’ve been doing. And when, just a few weeks ago, I found an antiquated box of cornmeal that had somehow escaped my earlier clear‑outs, I took the opportunity to make a pot of polenta and cheese for lunch. It proved to be the perfect meal for a raw, wintery day.

If you’re a regular reader, you may remember that I wrote about polenta back in 2013. A northern Italian staple, polenta is essentially cornmeal porridge — mush, by another name. And it has a lot to recommend it as camp fare. It isn’t hard to make from scratch, even in a riverside camp, but it’s easier still if you have a couple of shelf‑stable “sausages” of the ready‑made article in your pack. (You can see a picture of a polenta sausage above.) Just peel back the plastic shroud, slice off rounds of the rather gelatinous contents — or dice the corn jelly into cubes — and sauté till crispy. Then embellish as strikes your fancy. Few main dishes come together quicker.


Anyway, my winter lunch reminded me that I’d gotten a fair amount of mail around my polenta column, and that I’d been more than a little remiss in passing it on. But it’s not too late for me to remedy this oversight, is it? And I’ll begin with a question that I’d ignored when I wrote my first polenta piece: How do grits fit into the picture? … Read more…

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