Well, taking nearly a month and a half from writing on my blog has sparked some new ideas, which would unveil with the busy summer months ahead. There were days where I’d kick myself, wondering on sleepless nights how I got myself into writing about food, especially when the dish I made was edible, but is not visually appealing; it could also look nicely plated but I loathed the texture. When I initially started blogging, it was about art and song-writing/poetry. Picking up classical piano again made me realise how uncanny the similarities between food and music have got in common: to succeed, you must have passion and be able to trust yourself; let go of the nagging inner-critic. Let go of perfectionism a little.
Also, it is the sharing of good food in the presence of good company that matters… This past weekend, the weekend after Easter, Mister and I planned a fun getaway to hit the reset button, so to speak. Escape to somewhere remote where the internet would not work and where cellphone signals are nowhere to be found. The reset button for us, usually involves playing music; since I cannot possibly fit my piano in a suitcase, I played on the melodion.
Creative Retreat: Camping
I used to live in a very small town in Brunei, where the jungle was literally minutes away. I miss the simple pleasures of life; I miss the smells of the hot and humid salty air and feeling the waves recede back into South China Sea. I also miss jungle trekking. So, whenever I get a chance to hike with hubby and dog, especially when camping in the Canadian BC Rockies, slowly but steadily, I love winding my way around uneven grounds.
To play by nature’s weather conditions and rules – in our case, 4 to 8°C before windchill, is not an easy challenge. Few older local towns-folks drove by our campsite just to check up on us, just to make sure that us brave and crazy ‘kids’ who are camping in April, are okay. The smoke can sting you in the eyes when you least expect the mischievous breeze to prank on you. The next gust of wind can be in control of whether you can get successful campfire pizza dough or not. When you do, however, survive the elements and come up with a gourmet campfire feast, it is very meditative and therapeutic. Maybe, it’s the kneading of the dough that was therapeutic. Talk about putting my little altitude cooking knowledge and my hubby’s awesome camping skills to the test!
Camping is a lot of fun, especially when I get to plan the menu of what we could eat. Any time I get so engrossed with prep work, I’m usually oblivious to the world. This was a conversation that happened:
Mister: “Do you want your pans?”
Me: “Uh.. no. I am fine with jeans right now, thanks.”
Mister: “No, do you want your PANS?”
Me, finally realizing that it was cast iron pans: “Oh, yes, please!”
What essentials did I pack? A tiny Ziploc container of sea salt; a tiny bottle of Olive oil, a compact spice container of pepper that can be freshly ground as needed, a handful of utensils, a 1/4 measuring cup, one paring knife – fit all of that into a long and flat lidded container (it really comes in handy, so that the wind doesn’t blow your ad-hoc kitchen away. Definitely pack enough aluminium foil and cling wrap in your cooler. Oh, and don’t forget to bring a chopping board (that got demoted from the kitchen) — it can act double duty as a dough board as well as a place to prep your ingredients. Butter is a very versatile solid fat to pack in the cooler: it can be used for campfire cooking and/or baking. For spices, I brought cinnamon. Since I was baking, I brought granulated sugar, two tiny containers of flour, walnuts and 3 tbsp of yeast. The yeast was in case I felt like making buns or bread on the campfire; I ended up making a rustic campfire pizza instead.
If I could have done anything differently, I would have cooked the stew earlier in the day to braise it for longer times. (It takes longer to cook in the mountains) Also, lay the bottom of the cast iron pan with parchment paper for easier clean-up. Also, my 3 tbsp of active dry yeast was almost unnecessary. My dough nearly tripled its size! It still made for a nice and fluffy pizza dough. I will post the pizza dough recipe in a subsequent blog article as you can easily make that at home too at a 500 to 550F oven. Cooking a pizza outdoors in the brisk and wild outdoors make me want to have a fire-pit at home.
Tip for the wise: when you are planning to make rustic campfire meals, plan to bring enough snacks and/or foods that are quick to make.
In our case, we made a quick stop to buy local BC trout since you can typically buy it cleaned – we checked the belly for any leftover membrane(s); Mom would show me a trick when buying fresh fish: if you gently press on the fish with an index finger, its muscles should bounce right back to indicate it is a fresh fish. (It is far too early for fishing season – nothing can coax me to get into a boat when it’s windy.) Fish does not take a long time to cook. To quickly season to appease any ferocious hunger, lay out your tin foil, drizzle olive oil, sprinkle sea salt, grind some black pepper, and hide teaspoon sizes of butter under the fish’s belly. Cook until the eye turns white but is still rather moist. The flesh will flake and be oozing buttery goodness, with the light coaxing of a fork, once cooked. How long an item cooks on the campfire really depends on a) how windy it is and b) how your fire behaves. You can add freshly cut herbs if you feel fancy. Just be careful not to overcook your fish… it turns rubbery, like chewing gum. At that moment, I probably would choose a fresh piece of chewing gum over the leathery fish steak. Even my mother, who usually cooks beef to the point of leather – just to make sure any bacteria in the meat is killed, does not do the same to a fish. Please don’t do that to fish.
More often than not though, we might forget to pack something. Me, I had forgotten to pack a tuque. I hate wearing hats. They are rarely long-hair friendly. Luckily, Mister packed extras. Eager as we were, we had both forgotten to check that all parts of the tent were in place. The waterproof and windproof cover of the tent was missing. But hey, we didn’t drive all this way to kick ourselves in the shin. We came here to have fun! So, Mister did an awesome job of improvising and securing a tarp, driving extra nails and weighing it down with driftwood, to block our humble abode from all possible elements of early spring. After I was zipped into my sleeping bag, wearing multiple layers: ski-pants and Mister’s thick socks (they really don’t make women’s socks as thick), I slept like a warm worm.
We did not pack marshmallows. It was probably for the best. This was our grown-up version of marshmallows on sticks: Campfire Brownies. Plus, bringing Irish Cream was a brilliant idea. Since boiling points are typically lower at elevations above sea level, due to lower air pressure, I knew I had to be careful not to overmix while making sure that I maintain moisture. It is not easy to pack milk, but Irish Cream liqueur keeps well.
Building a Campfire
Watching Mister turn wood into coal-like heating elements was fascinating. He laid dry twigs on top of the slightly bigger chunks of wood, in a conical tee-pee fashion. Since I always bring paper towels along with me for camping, a small piece of paper towel came in handy for lighting the camp fire. Once the fire started going in the camp fire pit, Mister laid the wet pieces of logs on the grill to dry, for more firewood later on.
As I write this blog post, I am chewing into brownie leftovers. Moist – with the help of butter and O’ Darby’s Irish Cream, decadent, and crispy on the bottom, with fond recent smells of campfire baking. If I may, I will tantalize you with the details and recipe of campfire brownies here.