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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Alimentary, My Dear

More Just Desserts —
A Trip to Treasure Island

By Tamia Nelson

August 21, 2007

The wheel of the year has swung round again in Canoe Country, and fall is in the air. The signs are everywhere. Days are shorter, the graduating classes of goslings and ducklings have all earned their wings, and beavers are busier than ever, storing food beneath the waters of their home ponds. Back in the woods, bears are fattening up on a bumper crop of berries in anticipation of the Big Sleep, while smaller creatures scurry ceaselessly about, gathering and hoarding as much food as they can before a blanket of snow shrouds the landscape.

For lovers of sunlight and warmth — and what canoeist or kayaker isn't, when you get right down to it? — this is a bittersweet time. Bitter, because it marks the beginning of the end of the paddling season. Sweet, because the waters are still warm, the daylight is still longer than the dark, and the bloodthirsty flies are in retreat. Winter isn't here yet, in other words, and it will be a long time coming. So let's make the most of what remains and see the summer out in style. Sound good to you? Me, too. And there's no better way to do this than by making time for …

A Trip to a Dessert Isle

No, I haven't been misled by my spell-checker. I meant to write "dessert." The trip can be long or short: an afternoon on a local lake, a weekend getaway, or a genuine expedition. Your destination doesn't even have to be an island, though deserted islands do have a special appeal, I admit. But whether your destination is near or far, a dessert picnic is guaranteed to please. The recipe is straightforward. Make the main course something simple and easily prepared: satays, maybe, or quesadillas, or soup and bruschetta. Then put all your effort into laying out a dessert spread that will daunt even the heartiest eater in your group. Leave counting calories till another day, and sternly repress your fear of fat. After all, you got here under your own power, didn't you? You need to refuel. Preparation can be as easy — or as elaborate — as you like. If you want, every one of your desserts can be store-bought, at least on shorter trips. Just pack fragile delicacies carefully, and keep cold things cold in a soft cooler. Once you've beached your boats on the dessert isle of your choice, lay out the spread on a big towel, or use an overturned canoe as a table. Nearly everyone has a favorite sweet treat, of course, but not everyone likes the same thing. So be sure to have a good selection. Imported chocolates always go down well, as do fruit tarts or tartlets, carrot cake, and pastries — napoleons, turnovers, fritters, even the humble donut hole. Don't forget fresh fruit, and brew a pot of coffee or tea to whet your appetite and wet your whistle. And if you're done paddling for the day, push the boat out a bit further (figuratively, of course), finishing off your evening by sipping some VSOP brandy, a fine sherry, a vintage port, or a good champagne.

Can't get your buddies to agree on a date and time for a dessert idyll? What then? No problem. You'll just have to indulge yourself. Better leave the brandy and champagne at home, I suppose, but almost anything else goes. A few fine chocolates and some rich cookies, say, with a succulent sweet tartlet to follow. Then brew a cuppa and settle back to watch the late-summer light play on the dancing waves. (A hint: Whether you go in company or alone, pick a warm, sunny day for your picnic.)


What's that? Do ready-made desserts turn you off? Or maybe you live in a culinary desert, where the only dessert pastries are the embalmed, chemically enhanced offerings of the local HyperMart. (With the demise of many small-town bakeries, this sad situation is now all too common.) Then it's up to you to prepare the sweet feast. Keen bakers won't need any advice from me, but others may want to begin the battle by surrendering. Is this a paradox? Not really. I'm just suggesting that you make …

Sweet Surrender Sandwiches …

The heart of your spread. The name is my own coinage (I think), but the idea is an old one, and there are numberless variations on the theme. Most can be made at home ahead of time, though you'll want to wrap each one in waxed paper and plastic film. Later, when you're packing for your trip, place the wrapped sandwiches inside a rigid plastic box with a waterproof seal. Or would you rather assemble your sandwiches on the spot, instead? Then use the same rigid boxes to keep the cookies from being crushed.

But I'm getting ahead of my story. Let's go back and see how to ring the changes, beginning with …

Cookie Whoopie Pies  A variation on classic whoopie pies, my cookie whoopie pies allow you to customize this treat to suit everyone's tastes. For each personal pie, you'll need two large, chewy cookies and a filling. Traditional whoopie pies are made from soft, cakey chocolate cookies with a creamy, sweet white filling, but if you make your own, the alternatives are limited only by your imagination.

Cookie candidates? Almost anything goes. Ginger, pumpkin, chocolate-chip, hermit, spice, oatmeal — just make sure they're soft and chewy. You might even find something at the HyperMart that fits the bill. For fillings, try marshmallow spread (like Marshmallow Fluff®); ready-made cake frosting; peanut butter (chunky or smooth); whipped, sweetened cream cheese; or marshmallows heated till they're almost runny. Assembling each pie is easy. Turn one cookie upside down, and spread a tablespoon of filling over the bottom, then place the second cookie on the first so as to sandwich the filling between the two, bottom to bottom. That's all there is to it.

Open-Faced Cookie Sandwiches  These are whoopie pies on the half shell. Spread a topping (the choice is up to you) on large, soft cookies (ditto). Or pack some cups of no-refrigeration-required pudding — look on the shelves of the local HyperMart — and spread the pudding over the cookies. Then finish off with nuts, candy sprinkles, or chocolate chips.

Brownie Sandwiches  Large, thick brownies work best, and they can be either cakey or fudgy, as you wish. To make one sandwich, carefully slice a brownie in half on the horizontal. Then add filling. The whoopie pie fillings will work fine, as will mint jelly, raspberry or strawberry jam, and all manner of fresh berries. A crushed-nut-and-peanut-butter combination is also delicious, and some paddlers will want to go further, revisiting their childhood by spreading marshmallow creme on top of the peanut butter. Or maybe you'll want to wow your buddies with …

Ice Cream Sandwiches  Yep. Ice cream. If your dessert isle is only a short distance from home, you can carry ice cream in a cooler or pre-chilled thermos. Or — if you plan ahead — you can make it on-site. Either way, assembly is straightforward. Spread ice cream thickly between a pair of cookies or brownie halves, just as you would for the whoopie pies or brownie sandwiches. To add a decorative touch, roll your sandwiches pinwheel-style through crushed nuts, chocolate or candy sprinkles, mini mint-chocolate chips, or tiny cinnamon hots. Not enough choices? OK. How about crushed peppermint candies, malted milk balls, or crispy chocolate wafers?


Now let's move on from sandwiches to soup (so to speak) — desserts you can serve in a cup, bowl, or plate. If I say so myself, this end of the dessert spread is …

A Trifle Delicious!

Trifles are traditionally built from several basic elements — cake cubes or slices, thick custard, fruit, fruit juice, and whipped cream — all of which are then artistically arranged in layers in a deep glass bowl that allows a better appreciation of the trifle's beauty. But you probably don't want to lug a glass bowl on a paddling jaunt, do you? And whipped cream isn't a very good traveler. (It's not easy to whip heavy cream in camp, either. Both cream and bowl have to be very cold.) Still, a good pastry chef is always prepared to improvise, as the following example shows.

Pound-Cake Trifle  Though you can go the whole hog and prepare the individual components yourself, it's easier to compromise and buy the ingredients at the HyperMart. Here's the shopping list:

  • Pound cake
  • Chocolate fudge sauce, bottled or canned
  • Berries, either fresh or frozen, or canned fruit
  • Vanilla pudding

Use any berries or fruit you like. If you buy a box of frozen berries in syrup, they'll thaw slowly en route in the cooler and be ready to use when you make landfall. Pudding is best purchased in individual-serving cups. Try several varieties at home first. Some taste like a sweetened slurry of chalk and sawdust suspended in water. Others are surprisingly good. Take care to pack the pound cake so it won't be crushed, and if the fudge sauce came in a glass bottle, repack it in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid.

Once you've reached your dessert isle, you can assemble your trifle in a pot, or make single-serving trifles in individual bowls or cups. Slice the pound cake into half-inch slabs, then cut each slab into quarters. Place a foundation layer of quartered cake in the bottom of the pot (or the bottoms of the bowls), and don't worry if there are gaps. Then sprinkle some berries or fruit over the cake. If you're using thawed berries or canned fruit in syrup, drizzle some of the sweet liquid over everything. Next, drop spoonfuls of pudding over the berries, and follow up with dollops of fudge sauce. Now repeat the sequence — cake, fruit, syrup, pudding, sauce — until there's no more of anything left. Finally, let the assembled trifle sit somewhere shady until the cake absorbs most of the liquid. Serve by handing round individual cups, or by scooping out full-thickness portions from the community pot. Enjoy!

For yet another variation (one of many), consider …

Shortbread Trifle  Layer coarsely broken shortbread cookies in the bottom of a pot, adding fresh berries (or thawed frozen berries and syrup). Follow on with a layer of vanilla or chocolate pudding and some chocolate-chip morsels. Repeat until all stores are exhausted, finishing off the edifice with a drizzle of hot fudge sauce. You can also use canned fruit and syrup instead of berries, if you prefer. Now dig in. Warning: Desserts like these are not to be trifled with!

We can't stop the wheel of the year from turning round — and what paddler would really want to? — but that doesn't mean we shouldn't make the most of the waning days of summer. So instead of giving way to moping and melancholy when you see the first hint of scarlet in the maples, why not celebrate the ceaseless change and infinite diversity of the natural world with a feast, instead? After all, winter's coming. And you worked hard to reach your dessert isle. So it's time to emulate the bears and beavers and get ready for the lean months ahead. Eat up!

What did I tell you? Sometimes surrender can be sweet.

Copyright 2007 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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