Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rick Greenspan and Hal Kahn: One Fire, Two Campers, Three Meals

This will be our final blog post, and to our loyal readers who know that this is also our first blog post, we say, with a nod to Groucho, "Hello, we must be going." Much as we like tickling the keyboard's keys, we'd rather be out in the outback, camping and cooking. For those of you who have read our The Leave-No-Crumbs Camping Cookbook, Storey's almost-best-selling, almost-award-winning guide to better noshing in the wilderness, the call of the wild will be immediately obvious. For those of you who haven't, time's a-wastin'. Go get it, read it, and head for the pantry and the stove. Drooling in anticipation of crepes and grilled trout, sushi and steamed buns, rhubarb and strawberry pie, and cinnamon snow cones — that sort of drooling — is acceptable, even required. And if you're a burger-and-ketchup-and-baked-beans-from-a-can camper, go away; you're in the wrong blog.

OK, let's get started (or finished). As a farewell treat, we're going to take you through a sun-filled day of fressing in the high country hard by an unblemished lake with plenty of firewood and a permit to use same. This will work only if you use your imagination, like to cook, and follow a few rules:

 If you build a fire ring, break it down before leaving. Restore the environment.
 If you don't know how to build a fire ring or a fire, ask an experienced camper or see Leave-No-Crumbs.
 Anybody who wants to cook gets to cook. This is a holiday, not Le Cordon Bleu.
 If you drop the food in the fire, take it out, rename it, and enjoy (anyway).
 Never count on catching a fish.
 Wear gloves unless your hands are made of asbestos.
 Don't forget the matches.
 A Sierra cup is a lightweight cup made especially for camping and is equivalent to a bit more than 1 cup in kitchen measurements. A spoon is a standard camping-kit spoon, a fraction less than a standard tablespoon.
 For information on home dehydrating, see Leave No Crumbs. If you're car camping, there's no need to dehydrate anything--just pack the fresh ingredients in a cooler.

It's too early. The sun's a hint on the horizon, mist is rising off the lake. In other words, it's time to fish. Hal, the omnivore, clambers over the rock face and rappels down to a spit of sand, rod and reel akimbo. Rick, the vegetarian, is asleep, dreaming of carrots. An hour-and-a-half later, our angler returns. Empty handed and happy as a lark. To hell with grilled trout and hash browns, it's time for pumpkin pancakes slathered with a fruit compote of strawberries, peaches, mangoes, and Damson plums. Rick, by now out of the sleeping bag, has a fire going and the ingredients arrayed within spitting distance. We make the compote first.

Fruit Compote

2 handfuls mixed dried fruits
Water to cover
Sugar to taste
A good slug of brandy
Place fruit in a small pot. Cover with water. Set over fire, stirring as water boils. As fruit mixture softens and thickens, add a spoon or more of sugar. For a tarter taste, omit sugar. When mixture is thick and soft, remove from heat. Add brandy and set aside.

Pumpkin Pancakes

All pumpkins disappear the day after Halloween, right? Wrong. Just those industrial-strength jack-o-lantern types. Since pumpkins are squash and squash are pumpkins, you can always get what you want. Anyway, you can always open a can of pumpkin purรฉe and get to work. Pumpkin pancakes are an entire Thanksgiving feast in themselves. Prove us wrong.

1 cup pumpkin purรฉe, canned or homemade, dehydrated
¾ Sierra cup flour
1 heaping spoon sugar
½ spoon baking powder (¾ spoon if not using baking soda)
¼ spoon baking soda (optional)
2 big pinches salt
2 spoons powdered buttermilk (or powdered milk)
1 egg (or equivalent powdered egg mix), lightly beaten
1 handful pecan halves or walnut halves
1 spoon oil or butter (Try clarified butter. It won't melt in your pack.)
maple syrup

At home: Place the dehydrated pumpkin purรฉe in a Ziploc bag. NOTE: To make your own purรฉe, cut in half a small pumpkin or medium-sized butternut or kabocha squash. (Kabocha is the round dark green squash with lighter green streaks and pale orange flesh.) Scrape out the seeds, place cut side down on a baking tray, and place in a 400ยบ oven until the flesh is soft, about 25-30 minutes. When cool enough to handle, scrape out the flesh, mash with a fork or potato masher or, for a finer purรฉe, place in the blender.

In camp: Rehydrate the pumpkin purรฉe in just enough cold water to cover. If you've added too much and the pumpkin is too watery, just boil away the excess, stirring till thick. In a pot, place all the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, powdered buttermilk/milk. (You can find powdered buttermilk in health food stores.) Then add the purรฉe and beaten egg. Add enough water to make a smooth, thick batter. Let it sit while you prepare the pecans/walnuts.

In your fry pan, place the pecans or walnuts. NO oil! Toast the nuts over the fire till they're just warm but not burned, 2-3 minutes. Add a spoon or two of maple syrup, and stir to coat the nuts. Remove from heat, and put the nuts in a Sierra cup or on a plate. Now proceed to make your pancakes.

Spread a thin film of oil in the fry pan and spoon in the batter to make medium-sized pancakes, about three to the pan. When the batter begins to show a couple of little holes, work your spatula under it and flip over, letting the pancake cook another 30 seconds or so.

Serve by topping with the glazed pecans and a slather of fruit compote.

Our trick. Your treat.

Serves 2 adults or 1 alienated teenager.

You're just going to have to accept this as a given: Hal has gone fishing again. Yes, he cleaned up the breakfast dishes; yes, he stowed his gear in case of rain; yes, he brushed his teeth. But if you look up too late, you won't see him. What a guy. Meanwhile, Rick has decided to postpone a day hike, get back in the sleeping bag, and sleep his way to lunch. It ain't easy, but somebody's got to do it. By the time our angler returns—empty handed---it's time to crank up the fire again, roust Rick, and make a pot of Japanese noodles.

Japanese Cold Noodles
(Zaru Soba)
What we're trying to say in Leave-No-Crumbs is: "Break out." The world doesn't end at the spaghetti factory. Live a little. Try something different. And in the heat of a summer noon, head for the deep shade and a lunch of cold Japanese noodles. Soba are Japanese buckwheat noodles, and zaru soba means noodles in a basket—those pretty lacquered "boxes" lined with slatted bamboo or rush mats—the traditional way this dish is served. Unless you're the most refined Japanophile ever to hit a mountain trail, you're not going to have the basket in this dish, but you can still have your soba. Or, if you prefer, the wheat noodle equivalent, udon. You can find soba and udon in many supermarkets these days, or in health food or oriental food shops.

The dashi in the ingredients below is the all-purpose Japanese soup stock, and unless you're carrying a great slab of dried fillet of bonito and a whopping amount of dried giant kelp amidships in your canoe, you're going to rely on the instant variety, which just about everybody in Japan does these days too. It's great, and because a little goes a very long way, you can stock up for the next few eons practically for pocket change. You'll find it in Asian food shops and on the internet. Just Google dashi-no-moto, and plenty of vendors will appear. The mirin in the ingredients is a sweet cooking sake and can also be found in the Asian food shops or Googled into existence, as can nori, toasted Japanese seaweed. Daikon or Japanese white radish, and powdered wasabi, Japanese horseradish, are now available in most markets.

1 bunch of scallions, chopped and dehydrated
1 small piece of daikon (Japanese white radish), grated and dehydrated (optional)
1 tablespoon instant dashi granules (called dashi-no-moto or hon-dashi)
2 tablespoons soy sauce ( or ½ cup powdered or granulated soy sauce)
2 tablespoons mirin (sweet cooking sake)
½ spoon sugar
1 sheet toasted Japanese seaweed (nori)
powdered wasabi (Japanese horseradish) to taste
½ - ¾ pounds packaged soba
water for boiling
4 Sierra cups water for the dashi
water for reconstituting the wasabi

At home: Dehydrate and seal in an airtight bag the scallions and, if using, the daikon. Pack separately the dashi granules, soy sauce, mirin, sugar, nori, and wasabi (also enough for the sushi and tea-and-rice). If not using an entire package of soba, put the amount you want in a big Ziploc bag and seal.

In camp: Boil water in your biggest pot. Add the soba and boil till done, 5-7 minutes. Drain and plunge the noodles into cold water. It may take several changes of cold water to get them at "room temperature." Set aside.

Now make the dipping sauce. Place the 4 Sierra cups of water in a pot, bring to a boil, add the dashi granules and take immediately off the fire. Add the soy sauce, mirin, and sugar to the dashi.

Hold the sheet of nori (seaweed) very briefly over the flame to "roast" it. Then cut it in slivers (the scissors on a Swiss Army knife are just the ticket here) or crumble it onto a plate.

Add a tiny amount of water to a spoonful of wasabi powder, just enough to make a green paste. You are now ready to serve lunch.

Pour the dipping sauce into Sierra cups. Add as much (or as little) as you like of the fiery wasabi to the sauce and mix well. Then add the dried scallions and daikon. Now with your chopsticks (you brought them instead of forks, didn't you?), lift some noodles into the dipping sauce and eat. When you are finished, say politely to the "cook," "Gochisล-sama deshita," which is sort of the equivalent of "Ta, mate."

Serves 4.

After lunch Rick has his traditional, time-honored nap. Hal has gone fishing. This is not news. But by mid-afternoon, the boys are ready to do some baking. They used to think that a chocolate layer cake with ½-inch-thick icing was a take-it-or-leave-it flourish, the camper's equivalent of a dog and pony show. Now it's become a necessity, the very staff of life.

The Most Dangerous Cake in the Wilderness

Chocolate Cake with slivered almonds for Sherrie's 21st Birthday

Don't get caught scarfing this cake by yourself. In the first place, you'll experience a sugar rush that'll have you ricocheting around the campsite like a steel ball in a Tokyo pachinko parlor. In the second place, if your mates catch you hogging their allotted portions, you'll experience something entirely different: death at an early age. This is all chocolate all the time, and there's never a year we don't choose to live dangerously.

2 spoons (clarified) butter
2 spoons sugar
2 eggs (or equivalent powdered egg mix)
1 spoon brandy (or other flavoring: this is our vanilla substitute)
2 squares semi-sweet baking chocolate (or equivalent German sweet chocolate), melted
water for melting
½ spoon baking powder
¼ spoon salt
¼- ½ Sierra cup flour
water as needed
oil and flour to dust pot
chocolate frosting (see below)
strawberry filling

Cream together the butter and sugar with the back of a spoon. Stir in the eggs and brandy and mix vigorously. Pour in the melted chocolate and continue mixing. Now come the baking powder and salt, and then add the flour spoonful by spoonful till the batter runs off the spoon in a thick ribbon.

Pour into the prepared pot (greased and floured) and bake till a knife blade emerges clean from the center, about 15-25 minutes. To bake: Set pot on ground (not on coals), surround with coals that are beginning to cool, i.e., not red-hot.

Allow to cool in pot. Then remove carefully, cutting around the edges if necessary, and allow to cool thoroughly on a plate.

Slice into two layers and spread strawberry filling (see below) over bottom layer. Cover with top layer.

Prepare a Chocolate Frosting (see below) and, when ready, spread the frosting over the cake, starting at the top center. Use the back of a spoon and apply all the frosting to the top and sides. Allow to cool. Then stand out of the way or you're gonna get hurt.

Serves 4 (if you're working on democratic principles; more if you're a communist; fewer if you're an armed tyrant).

Strawberry Filling
Remember breakfast? The fruit compote? OK, just use strawberries and follow the same recipe. The cake and frosting will be sweet enough, so you don't need to add sugar. The brandy is always useful even when it's not necessary.

Chocolate Frosting
If you intuit even a little of our wilderness cooking attitude, you'll understand why this has become an essential in our kit. Leave the GPS at home if necessary, or Zadie Smith's latest novel, or even the children, for heaven's sake—whatever it takes to make room and weight for the ingredients here. The backcountry's no place to be stranded without chocolate frosting for the cake.

4 squares semi-sweet baking chocolate or equivalent German's sweet chocolate (more if you have them to spare)
water for melting
1 spoon (clarified) butter
1 spoon brandy

Melt the chocolate in a pot lid,. As the chocolate is melting add the butter. This will allow you to use less water. Stir constantly. When the butter and chocolate are fully melted, add the brandy.

As the frosting cools down, it will begin to thicken. To speed the process, float the pot lid in some cold water from the lake or stream. But keep your eyes open, the mixture may harden to the point where it can't be spread. If that happens, put it over the heat briefly to soften.

When the icing is thick but soft, spread on cooled cake. It will harden as it cools further.

Frosts one World's Most Dangerous Cake. Alternatively you can eat the frosting before it ever reaches the cake. If you do this solo, your partners will enjoy watching you infarct on the spot.

The cake is supposed to be dessert after dinner, but you never know if it'll last that long. If two of you eat the entire thing by late afternoon, you may not need dinner. In that case you will call it dinner and be done with it. On the off chance that you'll hold out for the pizza, here's how:

Rick and Hal's "We Don't Deliver in 30 Minutes" High Mountain Pizza

Somebody on the internet claims that Americans and Canadians eat an average of 23 pounds of pizza a year. Can't be right. Rick's uncle Julie (nรฉe Jules) eats that much in a week. Uncle Julie's never been backpacking. But years ago we brought his appetite and fine Sicilian taste (cultivated in Brooklyn) to the wilderness and have been making and baking pizza ever since. We have faded photos of Hal's first attempt to flip the pizza dough. They reveal a sodden mess draped artfully over a low-hanging branch. We have later photos of Hal draped artfully over a low-hanging branch, but that's another story.

1 packet dry active yeast
2 pinches sugar
¼ cup warm water
1 generous Sierra cup flour
½ spoon salt
1 spoon olive oil
pizza filling: vegetables, cheese, spices (see below)

Proof the yeast with the sugar and warm water in a Sierra cup set in the sun. When swelling and frothy, about 5 minutes later, add to the flour and salt in a pot. Add the olive oil—a ½ spoonful more if you have enough—to the flour-yeast mixture and stir in. Now add, in small increments, enough water to make a moist, pliable dough.

Place the dough on a floured plate and knead till soft and pliant. A pizza dough can be moister than a standard bread dough, so if it's just a bit sticky, that's ok. Set the kneaded dough in a floured pot, cover it and let it rise in a warm place till doubled in bulk, about 20 minutes. If you've got the time, punch it down with a floured fist and let it rise again. If not, proceed with the next step.

Remove the risen dough from the pot and place on a floured plate. Knead it gently for a few minutes. Then press it into a flat disk and begin working it with the fingers into a larger round disk, turning it over several times as you work it. The idea is to get it large enough and thin enough to cover the fry pan on its bottom and sides. When the disk of dough is big enough to drape over your fists, do just that, and then continue to expand the dough by using your knuckles gently to stretch the dough. At this point you can begin tossing the dough in the air in a circular motion, like those guys in the pizzeria. Theoretically this expands the circle of dough and reduces its bulk; in practice it's just a way of showing off. Remove the dough from that overhanging branch and try again. It doesn't matter if you fail and it falls. Just pick it up, brush off the pebbles and pine needles, and keep on truckin'. Fit the dough into the fry pan, pressing it up against the sides. Let it rest as you make the final adjustments to the ingredients.

Fill the dough with rehydrated sauce, veggies, sliced cheese, and spices. To bake, see below. When baking is finished, observe a minute of silence in honor of Uncle Julie and tuck in.

Serves 4.

Dispelling Some Myths
Pizza requires a tomato sauce. False. Many pizzas use no sauce at all.
 Pizza requires tomatoes. False. They weren't even known when pizza was invented.
 Pizza requires cheese. Nope. Sicilian pizza, for one, doesn't use cheese.
 Uncle Julie is a real person. Un-unh. Check out Rick's family tree.

Pizza Toppings: The Works
½ Sierra cup rehydrated tomato sauce
1 ½ Sierra cup rehydrated veggies (onions, mushrooms, beans, etc.), squeezed dry
1 Sierra cup sliced cheese (several varieties ok)
2 cloves fresh garlic, sliced thin (more to taste)
salt and pepper to taste
sprinkling of oregano
olive oil to drip over filled pizza

Spread the sauce on the dough first, then follow with all the other ingredients in the order listed. The olive oil should be dripped in small amounts over the filling.

To Bake: Cover the fry pan with a tin plate. Cover plate with aluminum foil. Set pan on ground, not on coals. Surround pan with hot coals. With two sticks pick up several coals and place on top. Baking time varies. Check dough after about 15 minutes. For illustrations, see Leave-No-Crumbs, page 217.

The day's not quite done. It's dark, the cooking utensils and ingredients have been cleaned and stowed, the fire's now for warmth. The boys are burping and bloated, signs of a day well fressed. As they sit around the fire sipping hot chocolate laced with you know what, they mull over the fates. Will anyone, they wonder, ever read their book and make them rich, famous, and overweight? Nah. The fun was in the brewing. They settle back to watch the night sky, pass the ginger snaps and wonder what they'll have for breakfast.

Rick Greenspan and Hal Kahn, the authors of two previous outdoor books, have fressed (eaten like gourmands) in the wilderness for more than 60 combined years and have sought all that time to convert the world to good eating in backcountry. In their spare time, they give cooking demonstrations and judge cooking contests in California where they both live.

For a chance to win a copy of The Leave-No-Crumbs Camping Cookbook, share your favorite camping recipe in the comments below (and please don't be shy if it doesn't involve more steps than "open can and pour into pan.")


Mattenylou said...

Your recipes sound great! Can't wait to try them! We were car camping over the weekend and made a dessert with some blueberries we picked up on the way... I've also made this in the past using 3 or 4 apples, or a can of peaches, or blackberries that we picked while out for a walk. I use Bisquick, because it is convenient, and we usually pack it for our Sunday morning pancakes. I use one of those big red plastic cold drink cups for "measuring" and mixing. I bake it in an 8x8 old metal pan, using our camping oven on the Coleman stove. We have made this over an open fire, balanced on a rock, and tented in foil... whatever works!

Blueberry Dessert

Butter- almost a stick
milk or orange juice

In the metal pan, gently heat berries with a tad of water and a chunk of butter, until they pop. Add 3 or 4 spoonfuls of sugar ...simmer about 3 or 4 minutes, adding more water if needed. This should look like melted blueberry preserves at this point. (this is a great topping for tomorrow's pancakes, if you make extra)

While berries are cooking and someone else is watching them,
-in a plastic bag - add 3/4 red cup of bisquick and a half stick of butter... mix with your fingers until the butter is mixed in well. Add just enough milk or OJ to make a thick biscuit type, dry batter. It's ok if there is still a bit of dry mix in the bag.

Spoon 'blops' of batter over blueberries, and shake in any remaining bits from the plastic bag.

Topping - in a clean red cup, mix together some more bisquick, cinnamon, sugar and a few chunks of butter with the back of a spoon, to make a crumbly topping. Sprinkle evenly over the top. "Bake" until the biscuit batter is done when tested with a fork.

May be eaten hot or cold, spoon some of the berries and juice from the bottom of the pan over each serving..... yummy!

Kathleen C. said...

My husband goes whitewater canoe/camping with his friends (is in fact out there right now!), and though I have never envied him the cold water or the hard bumpy ground I do sigh with jealousy over his descriptions of their meals...

Steak au Poivre with reduced onion sauce and shitake mushrooms; farm fresh eggs scrambled with veggies and a side of homemade sausage patties; couscous with veggies and grilled salmon with a honey-paprika glaze (store bought fish, as they have about the same luck fishing as Hal).
They come back with the boats laden lighter, and themselves a little heavier...

skahn said...

charming, hilarious, delicious, inspiring as always!!
yay team!

Melanie Jolicoeur said...

Mattenylou, thanks, that sounds delicious. I'd like to send you a copy of the cookbook but am not sure how to get in touch with you. If you're checking in send an email to me at Thanks!