Our Readers Write
Now We're Cooking!
November 29, 2011
If the Canoe Country summer seems too short (and it does), our fall is even shorter. So the pleasures of autumn are always fleeting. When Our Readers Write last went to press — if this antiquated phrase has any meaning in the Age of the iPad — summer was waning fast. Now fall is little more than a memory. But this doesn't faze In the Same Boat readers, who have the knack of making the most of whatever Mother Nature sends their way. Happily, they also find time to write to us. And what's their favorite topic now that winter is fast approaching? Food, that's what. This makes sense, too. Winter is a good time to dream about future trips and make plans for the day when the sun once again frees the waters from their icy prison. Drawing up a menu is only one small step in the planning process, of course, but trying out new dishes is perhaps the most enjoyable part of the job.
Which is why this edition of "Our Readers Write" is headed "Now We're Cooking." Before we get down to business, though, we need to revisit an earlier column. In an article titled "Popcorn Blowout," Tamia extolled the convenience of a childhood favorite, Jiffy Pop popcorn. But since that column appeared, her old friend showed an ugly side. What had been intended as a relaxing end‑of‑the‑day treat in camp turned into something very different — a mini fireball. Subsequent inspection of the incendiary Jiffy Pop disclosed a single pinhole, tucked away in a newly formed crease in the aluminum foil pan. This allowed liquified fat to ooze out and drip onto the stove, where it immediately caught fire and flared up, adding an unexpected (and unwanted) element of high drama to a quiet evening in camp. Neither of us was burned, but it really was a close‑run thing.
The moral of our story? If you take Jiffy Pop with you into the field, pack it in a rigid, crush‑proof container and inspect the pan carefully before setting it on the stove. I now do this even at home. And I won't make Jiffy Pop on high fire‑risk days, even if I can't see any creases or pinholes. The stakes are just too high.
So much for our tale of an old friend gone to the bad. It's time for happier things. Let's get cooking!
— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat
Tips for New Trangia Owners
Just read your article about the Trangia stove ["Ring of Fire: Keeping it Simple With the Trangia Spirit Burner" – Editor]. I have used one for many years, though I cannot remember where I bought it, but when I did, they sold a stand, made out of flat aluminum. Three pieces that go together by putting one slot into another slot. It works, and it takes up no space. I use an aluminum windscreen from Campmor. Works great. One time I screwed the cap off and lit the stove, and the O‑ring stayed on the stove and burned up! I always look now. I went to the local NAPA auto parts store and got a replacement. Just thought you might like to know. I enjoy your articles, keep up the good work!
PS The O‑ring is an odd size, and they had to go to some special pile that was hidden in the back room, so I guess it would help to take the stove with you when getting a new ring. Having the old ring would help if any is left after being burned up, or get one in advance. Or just make sure it is not on the stove when you light it. I was making coffee in a motel room — you know, "No Cooking" in the room. A lot of smoke!
Thanks for the tips, Paul. I'm glad your misadventure in the motel didn't end badly. (It made me think of my recent Jiffy Pop escapade!) The pot stand you bought for your Trangia burner sounds a lot like the Westwind burner support. It's now sold by many outfitters, though the design is simple enough that any DIY‑inclined paddler might want to try making his own.
Which isn't true of the O‑rings for the Trangia burner cap, however. They're not a DIY item. And that's why I bought a couple of spares after reading your note, just in case. It never hurts to be prepared, does it?
Tamia's article on "skillet frittatas" encouraged several egg‑loving paddlers to write. Here are two of their letters, the first of them written by a fellow who doesn't like to take chances with his food:
A Fail‑Safe Method for Flipping Frittatas
I've developed a frittata technique for the "flipping impaired." You'll need your skillet plus two flattish portable surfaces like a heatproof cutting board and a skillet lid. Loosen the frittata from the skillet the same way you would to flip it by hand. Then …
- Take one of your extra surfaces and lay it face down on the skillet.
- Hold the two surfaces together while inverting the whole shebang.
- Replace the skillet with the second extra surface and repeat Step 2.
- Replace the first extra surface with the skillet and repeat Step 2 one last time.
Yeah, there might be two more things to clean, but the frittata is flipped in the skillet, not in the fire. Gloves, towels, or pot holders help, especially with thin metals that heat up quickly. This works better for those larger, community "egg pizza" frittatas, too.
Sounds like a good idea to me, Jim. While I haven't lost a frittata yet when flipping it, I have to admit I always worry that my luck's about to run out. Your fail‑safe frittata flipping technique avoids all that — and it certainly makes sense for larger frittatas.
Of Pickled Eggs and Live Chickens
Don't forget the pickled eggs for the outer days of the trip, and for use if conditions turn bivouacky. I just use whatever recipe sounds good from the first couple of Google hits for "pickled egg recipe." Maybe it was the time I spent in Pittsburgh bars that desensitized me to them. There was always a huge jar of them on the back bar, pickled in beet juice. But that was in another life.
I don't like freeze‑dried food or anything that has "Energy" in the name, and I've heard horror stories from others who have tried to do serious expeditions on them. So I like some fresh food up front, then peanut butter, cheese, bread, and squeeze‑jar grape jelly. Eggs are pretty hard to beat for digestibility and nutritional density, so it's fresh for omelets and pancakes for a day or two, then some hard‑boiled ones after that, and finally the pickled eggs. If I tripped in warm weather or southern climes, I suppose I'd have to think about ice, but maybe I'd just settle for squeeze grape jelly then.
Some people I've traveled with took live chickens on a trip, tethered them in the boats, staked them out at night, then butchered and ate them after about two weeks. I don't know whether they got eggs out of the deal. I'd say that's pretty extreme for fresh food.
Though I'm a great fan of eggs in general, Fred, I don't care for them pickled. Dried eggs fill the gap for me when the fresh run out, though of course they, too, are an acquired taste. That said, your meal plan makes a lot of sense — and, like you, I'm perfectly happy to leave the chickens at home.
Camp Biscuits the Old‑Fashioned Way
Speaking of fresh, who doesn't love hot, fresh breadstuffs in camp? Tamia's column on skillet biscuits elicited several letters about these delicious hot treats. Read on…
The method of biscuit‑making that you wrote about is not dead yet. I use it myself. Here's a link to my favorite iron skillet combination for this and other camp cooking when I don't need the capacity of my Dutch ovens. This combo fryer is usually available at Walmart for a reasonable price. For biscuits, I preheat both halves of the cooker and use the shallow part as the bottom. Having the "lid" (or top piece) hot makes the whole combination more oven‑like for baking. I've also made biscuits in the Dutch oven with about 1/3 of the coals under the bottom and 2/3 on the lid. Either way, it's some good eatin' with butter and honey.
Dutch oven cookery is wonderfully versatile, and I'm very glad to hear that making biscuits the old‑fashioned way isn't a thing of the past, Taj. In fact, I think I'll whip some up right now…
Biscuits From Scratch!
I don't think one needs Bisquick or other pre‑packaged mix. One can make one's own:
- 1 cup flour
- Pinch of salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 2 tablespoons water
- ½ cup water or milk (I use powdered milk in the water)
Quickly mix the dry ingredients. Next, add the oil and water or milk. Then continue as with your recipe, being careful to avoid over‑mixing.
It's not really my recipe. It resembles a pancake‑from‑scratch (with one egg) version that came in a pamphlet accompanying an electric frying pan I received as a gift in 1962. The biscuit version is pretty much the same as that pancake recipe, except it uses half as much milk and no egg, and it comes from Bill Riviere's ancient 1965 paperback, Family Campers' Cookbook. (NOT appropriate for hikers and paddlers; strictly for the car‑camping set.) His equally ancient and somewhat outdated Pole, Paddle, and Portage started me canoeing years ago.
Blair F. Bigelow
Sounds good to me, Blair. I'll give it a try. By the way, Farwell also creditsPole, Paddle, and Portage for awakening his interest in canoeing. And even if it's no longer the last word on the subject, it's still a great read, as are all of Bill Riviere's books. In fact, I have a copy of The Camper's Bible on a shelf not three feet from my desk. Opening it up is like stepping back in time.
Why Stop at Biscuits? Biscuit Mix Is Dumpling Mix, Too
Great article. I recently used the Betty Crocker plain biscuit mix for dumplings to go with my Dutch Oven Chicken Stew. I had to remove some stew to make enough room so the dumplings would not stick to the oven lid. I added more water than for biscuits, and they were perfect. The Dutch oven is a little heavy for kayak camping, but worked great for a week‑long base camp. Betty Crocker has a cheese biscuit mix that is excellent as well.
I'm fond of dumplings myself, Ted. (See, for example, "Simply Delicious Dumplings.") And thanks for the heads‑up concerning Betty Crocker biscuit mixes!
In Baking, Low and Slow Is the Way to Go
I enjoyed your article on making biscuits. This is not to criticize, but your pictures indicate that your fire is too hot. Biscuits should be golden brown and cooked through. Remember that it is basically the steam rising through the dough that cooks the interior of any baked goods. Once the moisture is removed from the top or bottom, as the burned portions indicate, no more steam is there to cook the inside. A well‑done interior is also a factor of exposure time to the heat of the steam permeating the baked good: more time tastes cooked and less time tastes raw. I would suggest that you use a slower fire. You can use fewer coals, insulate hot coals with ash, or move the pot higher from the heat. Baked goods should take about the same time over a fire that they take in your oven at home. It is better to use a cooler fire and wait longer than to burn the food. Food is usually nearly done when you smell a good aroma. If you begin to smell that good aroma long before your expected cooking time has elapsed, you are probably using too hot a fire.
I enjoyed reading your article. Looking forward to more. Hope this was helpful.
Thanks for taking the time to write, Sharee. Your points are well taken, and I, too, have always found the science of baking fascinating. Of course, exact regulation of cooking temperature can be hard to achieve in camp — as indeed it is on all too many home ranges. In this instance, however, much of the charring you see in the illustrations accompanying my column is an artifact of the delays inherent in one‑handed photography. Still, I have to confess that I rather like the flavor of slightly burnt biscuits — an idiosyncratic penchant I wouldn't dream of imposing on others. So "low and slow" is indeed the way to go in baking, as you so rightly remind me.
We paddlers burn a lot of calories on the water, not to mention the portage trail. And we need to keep the fires burning in our engine‑room boilers with frequent snacking. "Queen of Tarts" gave Tamia's take on one of the possibilities — toaster pastries, both store‑bought and homemade — but a veteran In the Same Boat reader has another weapon in his bonk‑busting arsenal…
Good article, Tamia, as always. Brilliant idea to use Pop‑Tarts. You mention pemmican. Have you read Ned Franks on its energy value? (C. E. S. Franks, The Canoe and White Water; University of Toronto Press, 1979; pp 142 ff). Amazing people, the voyageurs.
Another possibility, an astonishingly sustaining snack and very tasty, is scroggin. You will find the recipe in Wanapitei's Canoe Trippers' Cookbook II (Highway Book Shop, Cobalt, Ontario, 2001) on p. 77, where it is attributed to Barbara Burton, Wilderness Bound (no further info given).
What a blast from the past, Jim! As luck would have it, we once owned a copy of Franks' wonderful book. But we lost it in a house fire, and I'm sorry to say we haven't yet replaced it. In any event, commercial pemmican was formerly a staple in Farwell's backcountry menu plan. He sometimes ate it straight from the wrapper, rather like a chocolate bar, though he had to give it up when the manufacturer went out of business. I have to confess that I wasn't sorry to see it go. It may have been calorie dense, but it was never my idea of a treat.
On the other hand, scroggin is altogether new to me. IfWikipedia and the Oxford English Dictionary are to be believed, however, it's a close cousin to gorp, the well‑known mix of nuts, dried fruit, and candy. And that's been a favorite with paddlers for as long as I can remember.
Pasta? It's in the Bag!
I always enjoy your columns, especially the food ones, as I have been the crew's lead chef for over 25 years. For pasta we bring a zipper‑type mesh laundry bag, the kind used for putting nylon stockings in. We throw the pasta in the bag, zip it, and the whole thing goes in the boiling water. When it is done no colander is needed. Simply snag a corner of the bag, lift it out, and dump it into an empty pot (usually the one that just had the boiling water in it).
What an ingenious way to cook pasta, Scott. I'll have to give it a try. Thanks!
Milk for the Long Haul
I ran across your recipe for French toast nuggets today and found it interesting. [See "Serendipity‑Doo‑Dah!" – Editor] But one area you talked about I feel could be improved on.
You talk about milk, and how short a time it will last on a trip, and I agree. As an alternative, you suggest a new type of milk, which I never heard of and doubt if I could find in the rural area where I live. As a last resort, you suggest powdered milk.
Those are all valid points, but I use something different. I live in Eastern North Carolina which often gets hits with hurricanes (Floyd and Irene are examples). As a result, we often lose power for several days at a stretch. We stock packets of milk that require no refrigeration until opened. They come in 8‑oz servings. Most are plain whole milk, but I've also seen 2% and chocolate milk. There is a wide assortment of brands, but the one I have in front of me is Hershey's 2% Reduced Fat Milk which claims it's from cows, and is rBST‑free.
I've used this milk on a number of camping trips in both Eastern North Carolina and on trips out West, and the only problem I've had is if it exceeds its use‑by date, at which time it gets lumpy. Not curdled, just lumpy.
In my opinion, taking milk such as this on long trips is much more preferable than your alternatives.
New Bern, North Carolina
Thanks for the tip, Paul. While powdered milk — most often found on HyperMart shelves in the guise of "nonfat dry milk" — works well enough in baking, it will never be mistaken for the real thing when taken straight. On the other hand, liquid milk that has been preserved by means of ultra high temperature (UHT) processing is pretty close to fresh milk in both flavor and "mouthfeel." And in fact, this is the "new type of milk" I mentioned in my article. (It's really not very new. UHT milk has been a European staple for many years, and it's been marketed in the States for almost two decades — though it's only now starting to catch on in the Northeast.) It's also what you've been buying in North Carolina. According to the Diversified Foods website, Hershey's Shelf Stable Milk is "aseptically processed under Ultra High Temperatures."
Needless to say, I'm glad UHT milk is now gaining widespread acceptance in the US. In fact, it showed up on the shelves of my local HyperMart for the first time just a few months back, and it's certainly a welcome alternative to powdered milk for paddlers who don't mind the extra weight. The 8‑ounce Tetra Brik aseptic packs you describe would seem to offer the perfect balance between convenience and utility, too.
Good Things Come in Small Packages
I just wanted to pass a neat website along to you after reading "From Cafeteria to Camp Kitchen: The Many Uses of Single‑Serving Condiment Packets." The site is called Minimus.biz and it sells all sorts of travel‑sized stuff. I know you get many of your packets for free, as I do when I can, but you can add to your free supplies with some that you order and that you like. One I like a lot is Miracle Whip Dressing, regular or fat‑free. I don't see them much in stores. But that was just an example of how I have used the site. I hope this was of some use to you, and I love Paddling.net. Keep up the good work.
Thanks for letting us know about the Minimus website, Jerry. It looks like a great resource for paddlers — and anyone else who has to travel light.
Thanks, too, for the props. But we can't take credit for Paddling.net. That belongs to Brent and Brian, the guys who conceived and built the site, and to Kevin, who works tirelessly to help keep it running smoothly, day in and day out. Their hard work has made Paddling.net what it is today — the Web's number‑one go‑to place for canoeists and kayakers. Information, inspiration, news, and entertainment… If the subject is paddling, you'll find it here. And Brent, Brian, and Kevin make it all happen.
Now that's real kitchen artistry, isn't it? Baking a website from scratch, starting with just raw code and a good idea. And the result is as appetizing as it is nutritious. But that's enough about the pleasures of the table (and the tablet). We've reached the end of this month's culinary journey. We'll be back in the new year, though, so keep those letters coming. After all, it's "Our Readers Write"!
A little fine print: Although we often ask, just to be sure, we assume that it's OK to reprint any letter you send us, unless you tell us otherwise. (Just put "Not for Publication" at the head of your letter. That's all it takes.) We will never put your e‑mail address online unless you specifically ask us to, however. We also edit letters occasionally for length or clarity, and we add links to articles or other resources wherever and whenever appropriate.
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