Backcountry Bistro: Canis Culinarius
With Dr. Kathryn Miles
August has long been known as the 'dog days' of summer. The term was coined by the Ancient Romans as a way of accounting for the heat and humidity of high summer, which tended to spark a little madness in a culture lacking air conditioning or whitewater paddling.
Heat-drunk Romans blamed Sirius, the brightest star in Canis Major, for the heat and their sweat-stained togas, since the star was both the brightest in the sky and appeared throughout the night. To keep people from going stark-raving mad this time of year, they'd sacrifice brown dogs at the start of each August to appease the constellation.
Most cultures stopped implicating man's best friend for August heat generations ago. And with the advent of wicking clothes, water sports, and ice-cold movie theaters, most of us stopped bemoaning this time of year, too. That's good news, since there's much to celebrate about late summer.
This is particularly true when it comes to culinary sports. Several months of long days and relative warmth mean that the region is overflowing with fresh produce right now. The state of Maine alone has over 70 farmers' markets, and hundreds of additional farm stands offer everything from apricots to zucchini. These markets and stands are one of the best things August has to offer: fabulous produce, friendly people, and a chance to subvert the corporate economy. They're also a great place to stock up for your next outdoor adventure.
Most produce travels exceptionally well and can stay in a pack for several days without losing too much of its original texture and flavor. When selecting produce for backcountry trips, be sure to look for veggies with low moisture levels. Green beans, chard, zucchini, carrots, and beets all make great travel vegetables, as do cabbage, peppers and radishes. Softer, wetter veggies like tomatoes and lettuce are probably best saved for a dinner after you return home, unless you don't mind a stew intermingling with your socks and sleeping bag.
When picking out produce for a backcountry meal, let your senses be your guide: pick fruits and vegetables firm to the touch and try to create a varied palette of colors and textures. If possible, slice and dice them campside for best results.
Summer Stir-fry (serves 2)
Water for cooking
1 cup instant rice
1 bullion cube (vegetable or chicken)
½ white onion
½ cup green beans
1 large carrot
1 red bell pepper
½ cup sunflower seeds or cashew pieces
3 tablespoons oil
2 heaping tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
½ tsp garlic powder
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
Before you go, mix last five ingredients (peanut butter through red pepper flakes) with just enough water to make a smooth sauce. Store in leak-proof bottle. Combine uncooked rice and bullion cube in re-sealable bag. At camp, combine rice and 1 cup water. Bring to a full boil, then remove from heat and cover completely. Meanwhile, heat oil over stove. Add chopped vegetables and stir constantly until they soften. Lower heat. Add nuts and sauce, along with any additional water needed to thin the sauce. Serve stir-fry over rice.
Do you have a recipe you'd like to convert for the backcountry? Want ideas for haute cuisine that fits into a backpack? Contact No Umbrella's backcountry chef Kathryn Miles (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Email nick [at] noumbrella [dot] com with your questions, comments and concerns.
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