Eating outdoors, a cabin story, and a recipe

What to eat in the wild and the great outdoors? Now that’s a formidable question! Should we forage? Hunt? Pack in prepared dried goods? Is this a front country campground, a backcountry trip, or a stay in a cabin? So many options… (and so many recipe blog posts…fear not, I’ll eke them out over time!) Does food taste better outdoors?

 Food tastes better – and looks better – outside! 

Strangely enough, I attribute at least part of my enthusiasm and pretence at being an almost outdoorsman to a cookbook. A number of years ago, Mrs PlaidCamper stopped for a break and gasoline. Browsing a stack of books, she found “The Outdoor Living Cookbook” published by Williams-Sonoma. We love cookbooks (over the years, I’ve worked in a few kitchens, faking it and earning a living), so Mrs PlaidCamper bought the book. As with plaid shirts, you can never have too many…

We drooled over lots of the recipes, but truthfully, the real draw was the photography – dozens of pictures of lakes, forests, rivers, and cabins taken in all four seasons in many North American locations. We couldn’t (OK, I couldn’t) get enough of the outdoorsy settings. 

A few months later, we visited Brother PlaidCamper, a sibling who’d moved to West Virginia some years earlier. For part of the trip, we stayed in a 1930s log cabin, and were so happy – our first cabin visit – and we brought The Outdoor Living Cookbook with us. We were in a cabin! In the wilderness! Just like the cookbook! And with the cookbook! I remember Brother PlaidCamper looking at us, the cabin, and the cookbook we’d brought with us all the way from England. He glanced at his wife – born in West Virginia, no stranger to cabins, in fact she can’t fathom our romantic views – and they shrugged and shook their heads, thinking, so sad…

  Idyllic West Virginian cabin (well, we thought so…)

Where’s the recipe PaidCamper? Right, I’m on it. Last summer, we had a lovely lunch at SoBo in Tofino BC. We’d heard great things about the restaurant and weren’t disappointed. We bought the cookbook by SoBo’s talented chef-owner, Lisa Ahier. It’s a beautiful book, full of wonderful recipes, stories and pictures, a delightful snapshot of Tofino and the surrounding area through all four seasons – if you enjoy Pacific NorthWest ingredients, cooking and scenery, I highly recommend the book. A recent favourite to cook out on a barbecue is cedar planked salmon, and our method was inspired by the recipe in the SoBo book (her recipe uses dry mustard, we prefer grainy):

  • Soak your cedar plank in water for four to six hours 
  • Heat your barbecue/grill to medium-high
  • For each fillet mix 2 tablespoons grainy mustard with 1 tablespoon brown sugar and a sprinkle of salt 
  • Rub a little olive oil on each side of the fillet 
  • Place skin down on the plank and spoon the mustard glaze on top
  • Put the plank on the grill, close the lid
  • Cook for 15-25 minutes depending on fillet thickness, preference and grill speed
  • Check every few minutes, keep a jug of water handy for flames!

 Cook it, might be good enough to eat…

We often serve this with rosemary potatoes – bite sized pieces of potato mixed with rosemary leaves, a crushed garlic clove, a little salt and olive oil, and all wrapped in a foil parcel to cook on the grill. Delicious! Most recently, to drink with the meal, we had a couple of bottles of Red Seal Ale from North Coast Brewing, Fort Bragg, CA – spicy, hoppy, but not too overpowering, and a perfect companion to the fish. Lovely outdoor eating and drinking (I’ll be truthful, we cooked outdoors but ate indoors, it being early spring in the Rockies!)

  Definitely good enough to drink!

I have to admit, for me, the favourite part about cooking this recipe is the soaking and handling of the cedar planks. It is a beautiful aroma – I’d probably be content with a damp piece of cedar, a bottle of beer, and forget the actual cooking. Is that strange? Although, when I think about it, the fragrantly heady smoke from the grill is pretty pleasant too…instantly transported to the West Coast!

Do you have a favourite outdoor recipe? Please feel free to share. Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

A monochrome Field day for PlaidCamper – and a tiny house obsession revealed…

That’s not a mistake! Field should be capitalized – just last week we went to Field BC, located in beautiful Yoho National Park. We had a few days off so headed out to stay in a cabin overlooking the village. Whenever we visit, we know the weather will likely be changeable, particularly in spring, but the setting is always spectacular. One black and white morning, we took a little hike around and about the town.

Towering mountains flank Field on each side, and even on an overcast day, make an impressive sight. So much so, I couldn’t stop taking pictures. (I’d have been in real financial trouble in the predigital days of buying and processing camera film!)

I love how being in mountain landscapes gives me a sense of perspective – our time on the planet is so short compared to geological time – any issues or troubles can seem trivial (or at least not so much a problem) in such vast settings. Our human accomplishments and failed flailings are all put into place. We can make our mark on nature, for good or ill, yet I believe that if they could, mountains would simply look down at us, shrug indifferently at our feeble concerns, and continue to weather the real passage of time long after we’re gone. I think there’s a certain comfort in that…

               The Kicking Horse River flows through the valley.

               Mount Stephen looms over the town, a dizzying 10 495 feet above sea level

             In just a few minutes, the mist would gather (above) and then clear (below)

            In addition to the lovely mountain vistas, there are smaller sights as well. Field has a number of beautiful old buildings, and they tell interesting stories about Field’s past. Below are pictures of a couple of them.

  The photo above is of the Park Superintendent’s house, completed in 1930. It is a delightful Arts and Craft style building – the original intent of the design was to impress upon viewers the importance and dignity of the Park Superintendent. Park officials were trying hard to gain recognition and respect from the hard working miners and railway men who dominated the town’s population in times past. My guess would be that then, as now, the interests of commerce, industry, and Parks conservation and management did not always align.

  The little building pictured above sits at the top of the town with a commanding view over the valley. It used to be the headquarters of Field’s RCMP detachment. The story goes that a prisoner’s cell door wouldn’t actually be locked in the event of a fire burning the building and a prisoner was in the cell. Those were simpler, more trusting times! These days the building provides a home for Park workers. Pretty nice accommodation.

  The final picture above, is also pretty nice accommodation – it’s where we stay when in Field! A lovely little cabin, sleeps two (very) comfortably, with amazing views out of all the windows. 

I am fascinated by tiny cabins and houses – my inner hippie is fully aware that unnecessarily large dwellings are unsustainable in the long term. As a not so closeted treehugger, my hope is that one day, sooner rather than later, we catch onto this and begin to build more modest and appropriate homes. The little cabin above is a delight. The owner tells me it is not quite 600 square feet, but I find it roomy, modern and in no way Spartan on the inside. I’d happily live in something similar full time if such places were more readily available. Maybe I should build one myself…that would be an adventure!

I hope you enjoyed this little black and white tour of Field. Just a tiny taster, barely scratching the surface of the history and beauty of this small community. We always enjoy visiting, secure in the knowledge that time in Field is special, with peace and quiet virtually guaranteed – Field’s population is less than 200 lucky souls sharing a wonderful mountain town. 

Have you visited Field and Yoho National Park? Do you have a favourite mountain destination? Please feel free to share your thoughts. Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Beautiful places and the contradictions of wilderness adventures – plus Chasing Clayoquot (an excellent read!)

I love being out in the wild – but is there a cost? A recent talk and a great book had me thinking about this…

The other day, I was fortunate to be able to attend a National Geographic presentation by David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes entitled “Coral, Fire and Ice”, about many of their recent adventures and assignments as marine photographers (discover more here). The stories they told, and photos and movie clips they shared, were absolutely spellbinding. From seal pups in northern Newfoundland to tiny lantern sharks lurking down in the depths, each tale and accompanying image entirely increased my sense of wonder at the diversity of aquatic life (and highlighted my enormous knowledge gap when it comes to the ocean). 

                An incredible creature – Long Beach, Vancouver Island

Hayes and Doubilet talked with passion and humour about their underwater experiences. Their delight, concern and compassion for this vast and largely undiscovered wilderness cannot be overstated. They were remarkably honest and clear eyed about a potential contradiction in what they do everyday. They have a sense of mission in bringing both beautiful and dark stories to the attention of as many people as possible. They witness how human activity is having a devastating impact on many marine species. In the past two hundred years, human-marine interactions have been increasingly detrimental to the underwater life forms Doubilet and Hayes are seeking to protect. The contradiction is knowing that simply by being in the water, they themselves, as well meaning documentarists, are causing a degree of distress to the very creatures they want to help – they are a disturbance.

My thought is that Doubilet and Hayes needn’t be too concerned about the impact they are having – the benefits outweigh any unintended discomfort or distress they may cause to a small number of sea creatures. We need them to be under the water, capturing amazing images of incredible creatures and educating the widest possible audience about this little known yet threatened wilderness. But it did get me thinking about my own presence in the great outdoors. 

              The great outdoors – Wild Pacific Trail, Ucluelet, Vancouver Island 

I don’t regard myself as unsympathetic to the plight of the planet – I even believe that my adventures outdoors show a sort of respect and understanding. As a teacher, I always encourage students to research and experience what they wish to know, and I apply the same expectation to myself. So, to appreciate our planet, and my particular current corner of it, requires that I get outside. But I sometimes wonder, as I asked earlier, at what cost? 

I must be having an impact on whatever wildlife resides there – think of the bear that needs to focus on 200 000 berries each day in late summer to get ready for hibernation. A human blundering by can only be disruptive, making it that much tougher to survive. Perhaps I’m being overly sensitive…the bear just thinks, oh, him in the plaid shirt again.

               Pristine sands, a beautiful pattern, Long Beach, Vancouver Island

I’m not a fan of being under the water, but I do enjoy being on it. We recently finalized plans for a trip to Clayoquot Sound this coming summer. It will be a return visit – we enjoyed a few days in and around Tofino last summer, and were so smitten by the landscapes that we couldn’t wait to visit again. 

I’ve been reading David Pitt-Brooke’s excellent book “Chasing Clayoquot”, in which he writes a chapter for each month devoted to an outdoor adventure in the Clayoquot region. He has an amazing grasp of the ecology, history and geology of Vancouver Island. His descriptions evoke the beauty and uniqueness of the Clayoquot biosphere, an incredibly beautiful yet threatened environment. He muses on the impact he has on his immediate surroundings – in one chapter, a short intertidal walk causes him to pause and ponder on how his presence disturbs the place he loves and appreciates. It is a conundrum, to visit and interact in a wilderness, and publicize the beauty of hidden places so that others can share that appreciation, yet avoid upsetting what makes these places so special.

            Sunset on Chestermans Beach, Vancouver Island

Pitt-Brooke makes the point that we only seem to love a species or place once it’s very existence has become threatened. Why can’t we value our natural treasures and resources – all of them essential to our wider ecosystem and overall survival – before they are on the brink of extinction?

There are no easy short term answers to how we manage our relationship with wild places. Still, it does no harm to stop and think about some of the questions, have an awareness of what we are doing – even as we move through these beautiful habitats.

Do you share some of these concerns? Feel free to write a response and share a thought! Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Canoes, Ray Mears again, and a slow start to paddling by PlaidCamper

With winter appearing to be over, my thoughts turn to spring as lakes slowly thaw and rivers start to flow. Canoes! Patience is required, at least here east of the Rockies, but as we wait, I ask myself, is a canoe the best transport ever? Yes! On northern waterways in particular. (There you are, question answered, and PlaidCamper’s shortest post ever).

Waiting for the waterways to open…

I love canoes. I wasn’t born in Canada, but my home is here, and there is so much about this country that is remarkable, especially for a late developing would be outdoorsman. If I had to make a top ten list of Canadian wonderfulness, canoes are near the top. (Oh no, will PlaidCamper be doing his Top Ten of Canada? Yup, sometime in the future. Man’s gotta blog, and I love lists too).

My first canoe experience took place in the UK, on the River Wye. A lovely river, it flows fairly serenely through beautiful border countryside between England and Wales. At the time, I was lucky enough to be living in Herefordshire, and we often took trips crisscrossing the border country, visiting crumbling castles, peaceful abbeys, pretty priories, and delightful inns and pubs. 

Just as well I’d taken in the countryside views previously, because, at the start of my first canoe voyage, I don’t recall seeing the scenery pass gently by. It was more me spinning the canoe around and around, my buddy in front getting steadily more irate at my inability to steer a steady course down the river. It didn’t help that we were a little flotilla of five, all close friends on a stag weekend, and there was a considerable competitive edge throughout. With each rotation, buddy in the front wasn’t happy watching the rest of the canoes disappear up ahead through the next river bend. (Earlier, I’d already proved to be hopeless at clay pigeon shooting, and let’s say I lacked speed when quad bike racing. Although when it counted, I was a clear leader in one event – sinking pints). Fortunately, we didn’t sink or overturn the canoe whilst performing a wobbly yet well choreographed swapping of places. I adopted a suitably heroic pose at the front, pretended to know what I was doing, my buddy let me paddle every now and again, and he steered us safely downriver to the pick up point. Another pub, if you were wondering.

                

Canoes on Moraine Lake, AB

So, not the best debut ever, but I didn’t let it get in the way, and I am happy about that, because every summer since being in Canada, we take out a canoe whenever we can. Is there a finer way of whiling away a few sunny hours? Spectacular scenery on a calm lake, or along a more challenging journey downriver, taking gentle to more strenuous exercise, and enjoying good company. I saw my first bald eagle from a canoe – what a feeling. I become completely Canadian just clutching a paddle, and I can’t wait for my buddy from above to come visit one summer – show him I can navigate safely and with confidence now!

For me, canoes are such a part of the Canadian identity, seemingly ever present in books, songs, movies and paintings. I can never resist taking a photo, always seeking to capture the essence or spirit of what canoes represent. The shape is beautiful, so elegant and purposeful, an absolute triumph of form and function. 

                

Lac Beauvert, Jasper, AB

Not only do I love canoes, I also love learning about them from Ray Mears. (Ray Mears is a role model for appreciating wilderness. And yup, there will be a future blog about him. He is a marvellous man). For an eloquent and boyishly enthusiastic video essay on the beauty, history, and total practicality of the canoe, I highly recommend watching Ray Mears learning to build and describing his love of birchbark canoes:

Ray Mears Bushcraft – Birchbark Canoes

A lengthy video, worth all the time, and really entertaining. Ray Mears’ bushcraft company Woodlore (RayMears.com) has occasionally offered courses related to birchbark canoes and canoeing. I think that one of these trips or courses really should be on my important things to do list. I hope Mrs PlaidCamper reads this and remembers it next time old PlaidCamper has a birthday. (Yes, I’m that unsubtle). If you’ve watched the video, you’ll be adding it to your own list too. Won’t you?

An evening view from a canoe – Bow River, AB

Have you ever stood in front of the canoes in an outdoor store, saying to your partner “but if we bought one and used it x times, it would be better than renting, in fact it practically pays for itself,”? Or is that just old PlaidCamper, every time he’s in MEC, trying to convince Mrs PlaidCamper it’s a good idea? One day, PlaidCamper, one day…

Be warned, canoes will likely feature over and over in this blog – and why not? Do you have a canoe story, or piece of water or stretch of river you’d like to share? Thank you for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.