By Kathryn Miles
Life is too short to live on bad food alone
That's not exactly how the original saying goes, but it nevertheless seems a true statement. And at no time do we need to hear it more than when we take to the woods, the riverbanks, or the mountaintops. Too often, dinner after a day in the great outdoors consists of Ramen Noodles, a Snicker's bar, or maybe just a few pints at the nearest pub. All good things, but not when they become an exclusive backcountry diet. In this column, I hope to offer up ideas for outdoor cooking and dining that transcend dehydrated and convenience-store fare. Some recipes, like the fajitas below, require temperature control and are more suited for short car-camping trips when you'll have a cooler and lots of ice; others are tough enough to withstand a week or more on the Appalachian Trail. All are made with easy-to-locate ingredients and a modest amount of fussing in the kitchen.
These first two recipes aren't unique or fancy, or even all that difficult, and I've included them more for sentimental reasons than anything else. Growing up, the highlight of any camping trip for me was when we put away the individual boxes of corn flakes and cans of beans in order to make a real meal, which we unimaginatively called "the aluminum foil dinner" or "hobo stew." The idea was basic-combine chopped vegetables, lots of onion, and a little hamburger into a foil packet, and cook in hot coals until done. The recipe always tasted great, largely because it allowed for so much improvisation. That, to me, is the essence of backcountry cooking- if zucchini is in season, use it. If you don't have garlic, skip it. I've always believed that recipes should be guides more than rules, and that cooking should seem more jazz than big band. The Ball field fajita recipe is built with this idea in mind, and it offers a slightly updated, Tex-Mex-inspired riff on the original stew of years past. I like to make the soup first, since it makes me far less impatient to wait for good, glowing coals and cooked fajitas. If you're not a black bean fan, however, a Corona or two will surely achieve the same effect.
1 cup cooked shrimp or diced tempeh
2 cups fresh vegetables, sliced thickly
Half of a red onion, sliced
Three tablespoons of oil
Half a lime, squeezed (use the other half for your accompanying Coronas!)
Two teaspoons of chili powder
One teaspoon of garlic
One-quarter teaspoon of cinnamon
Salt and crushed red pepper flakes to taste
Heavy-duty aluminum foil
Six corn tortillas
If using shrimp, run briefly under cool water to partially thaw. Toss shrimp or tempeh with vegetables and onion in a large bowl. Meanwhile combine spices, one tablespoon of oil and lime juice. Mix well and pour over vegetables. Take three sheets of aluminum foil (each about a foot long) and grease with oil. Lightly brush tortillas with remaining oil and wrap in one sheet of foil. Divide fajita mix between remaining two foil sheets. To seal, fold together diagonal corners and roll down to seal. Each packet should look like a pack of wrapped pop tarts when you're done. When finished, store packets in a cooler with lots of ice until dinner. At the campsite, cook fajita packs on hot coals (not an open flame) for about five minutes on each side. Warm the tortillas on the edge of your fire pit. Serve with cheese and salsa. The recipe serves two.
Kennebec Black Bean Soup
Two cups of water
One cup of instant black bean mix
One bouillon cube
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil water. Add bouillon, beans, and spices. Simmer for five to10 minutes. Serve in a coffee mug with cheese and salsa. This recipe also serves two.
Need a chocolate fix on the trail? Want to know how to marinate mosquitoes or boil birch? Drop the backcountry chef a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. She'd love to hear from you.
Email nick [at] noumbrella [dot] com with your questions, comments and concerns.
Design and Content © 2002 to 2006 No Umbrella