It may be noted, at least from time to time, that we do like to get away from it all here at this blog. To pack up a modicum of supplies, and strike off for the distant bush lands of Minnesota’s northern most tier. A locale rich in quietude, and resplendent in its sky-tinted waters and vast elbow room for the soul. Canoe country. A million acre outdoor theater where the lonesome wail of the Loon echoes with impunity through the forest primeval. Where the whispering breezes murmur sweetly amid the lofty, Norway Pines; those magnificent wooden spires that which thrust high into a wild, blue sky. Canoe country. Where the slap of a beaver tail on still waters is heard over a quarter-mile span. Where a nap in the hammock whilst the pine-scented breeze whistles through your toe pits is at last your loftiest ambition for the day. Well you can see why we like it up here. And why it is we very occasionally aspire to get away from it all.
Feeding one’s belly is one of our favorite activities whence in the hither lands. And how you go about it, and what you get out of it is solely up to you. Somethings spoil fast with out the advantages of refrigeration, and those things you probably ought to ingest the first day out, or not bother to bring along at all. Chocolate, for example, melts like a cheap nuclear reactor, and bread flattens finer than an Iowan interstate. After a few trips afield, you learn rather well what works and what doesn’t.
In between naps in the hammock, we partook in a little culinary tinkering courtesy of the Joy for Cooking – the namesake of a little back woods chuck box spawned from many a camping trip spent on my haunches, cooking on the ground. There comes a time in Bushman’s career where the notion of a kitchen counter top is a highly appealing affair, and one worth pursuing if not for any other reason than because he can. So I did. You do not realize how good you have it at home until first you go with out. So I came up with this little creation years ago, for to better and more effectively cultivate my joy for cooking whilst encamped in wilder places. It has been a treat indeed.
Camp cooking is always an interesting summit to scale. It’s like a back pack, in that you only get out of it what you put into it. So if you didn’t bring a certain ingredient, then you don’t have it. And there is no running to the grocer either, this side of paradise. Well you could, I suppose, but by the time you get back it would be the next day, and your dinner aspirations would fall way of the dodo bird. So you work with what you’ve got. And usually that ain’t much. But in the same breath, that’s what makes camp cooking kind of fun; getting the most you can from a scant simple grub bag. Here we did up a plate of buttermilk biscuits/bannock, fried potatoes and onion, and a nice ration of sautéed summer sausage to round out the proteins. A hodge-podge conglomerate, if you will, of the better things I could rummage up from the recesses of the food bag. And let me tell you, after paddling the day long, with an appetite stoked from the freshened air, living a simple but deliberate life, this was a plate fit for a king. Under the circumstances even, I couldn’t think of any place better to eat. Nope, I had arrived. As any realtor knows, it’s all about location.
What a pleasure it is to round off a weekend in the wilderness, with a belly well fed. To lean against an old Cedar tree, hot cup of tea in hand, left leg crossed over right, and gander westward over still waters to a setting sun. To hear the loons softly sing through a land so silent, and to smell the air sweetly tinted in pine. It’s been said that time spent camping is not deducted from your lifespan. Well, I don’t know know if it’s true or not, but even so, it would explain why we so often go afield, and why even now, at this cluttered desk back in the city, why mine heart hastens to be back there once again. Amen.
A hard rain drummed over the tent fly, and the tempest howled through the pines. Rain, and a good amount of it, beat over the land in a relentless onslaught, like pitch forks and hammer handles, and then, after reconsidering, up and went side-ways for a while, courtesy of the gales. My camping crony and I were held up in the tent, as if we had anyplace else to cower at such times, trapped deep in the wilderness. The lightning cracked through the heavens, and exploded like warheads all around us. And the thunder rattled the very earth upon which we hunkered. It was getting a little sporty out there. Just another day camping in Minnesota’s Canoe Country. It wasn’t always like this though. Why, in point of fact, just a few minutes ago, we were enjoying a rather lovely supper over a crackling, jack pine, fire. It was pretty good too, by camp fire standards. So grab yourself a manly beverage, get comfy, and let me tell you about it.
It started as a simple respite, fire-side, frying up a pound of Jimmy Deans Italian Sausage. You can do it in a frying pan, or even wrap it in foil, and place it in the coals to cook. Whilst the sausage was arriving on the gastronomic front, we started up the biscuits over the campfire. It’s real easy to do too. As any camp fire gourmet knows, you do not need an oven to bake a biscuit. For reasons of simplicity, and patron to the lazy-camping arts, we procured one of them cans of biscuit dough from town. You know the kind. The kind that you peel open a bit, waiting for it to suddenly pop into submission. And we packed the frying pan full of them, and put it over direct heat. Mean while on the camp stove, we set on two cups of water to boil. I looked up from the fire pit, and the lake reached like glass for the furthest shores. A pair of loons floated serenely out there, and wailed a lonesome, eerie song, which echoed through the forest prime evil, not to mention the very chambers of our souls. This was living. This day, this camp fire, this lake in the woods – pristine, and untouched by the wages of man. Glory!
Time to flip the biscuits. All of which were done with a flip of the wrist, like a fine French chef, sending all six biscuits up into the air simultaneously, rotating in amber shafts of sunlight, and remarkably all landing as they ought to, back in the frying pan. My eye brow raised. I was expecting one or two maybe to exile for the ground, and roll happy-go-lucky through the forest duff, and topple on down into the lake, but every once in a while, we are mistaken for food ninjas. And we keep our mouths shut when we are, and nonchalance is at once or closest ally.
Sunbeams suddenly faded, like the turn of a dimmer switch on the dining room wall. Like the man upstairs was standing at the light board of life, pulling the sliders down, and raising some others, queuing the thickening clouds. A wisp of wind curled through the campfire. Thunder bellowed in the West. The water on the camp stove was boiling now. Time to add the gravy mix. The easy kind of gravy you get from a packet. One cup of water per packet. Nothing fancy in the hinter regions today, leastwise when a brooding storm gathers in the distance. Why must it always happen at supper time. Anyways, in short order, it all came together well enough. The sausage, the biscuits, and the gravy. And here is the trick to save on washing some dishes. Forego the plates and forks altogether, and instead, split a biscuit, lay some Italian sausage in there, and spoon in a couple globs of savory gravy, just because. A sandwich fit for a hobo. Or a king.
Glory be, but they were tasty! We gobbled them all down, like hungry lions to a fallen wildebeest. Each sandwich inhaled progressively swifter, as the rain drops began tapping like Beethoven over the land and the lake. A hot-white lightning bolt suddenly splits the sky in two, and the rain increased, dousing our cooking fire, mercifully after the deed was done. We dash for cover of the tent, tucked into the forest hollow. And the tempest commences. But we are content. Well, as content as two fellows caught in severe weather in a little tent in the middle of the woods can be I guess. For our bellies are at least full, having done that which we fiercely love. And if we were going to perish by lightening bolt today, we figured, at least we would be well fed.
The storm eventually passed, like all storms do. We emerged from our little tent like two, unassuming ground hogs to assess our world. And it was beautiful. Washed clean, and renewed. The lake was like glass again, with a deep reflection of its wild shores. Rain drops tenderly cling from fragrant pine needles, and the loons serenade again, from across the bay. I wanted to mutter something profound, but that would only spoil the tranquility.
Biscuits and Gravy Sandwiches, made over the open fire, under wild skies, patron to paradise. Man! The simple life, people. And how I long to be there once again. Amen.