Squashed…

…but I don’t mean our spirits!

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The cloud will lift…
After recent political events, it would be easy (and understandable) to feel somewhat crushed, but that’s not going to help in the longer term. So my period of moping is now over, and it’s time to look up, be determined to focus on what is good and what is valuable all around us. An unpleasant event has come to pass, yet caring folks will continue to speak up and out against bigotry, and seek to find genuine solutions to real problems. I forget where I read it and who said it, but there was a commentary on recent events that said the answers are likely to be found in a series of small solutions instead of one giant fix. Well, the world does appear to be in one giant fix, that’s for sure, but good people will fight to produce the series of small solutions. After all, you have to hope…

– Yeah, alright, but why squashed, PlaidCamper?

Well, because my moping period found me back in the kitchen, a place I find great comfort in during the good times, and even greater comfort during the less good times. If this blog wasn’t OldPlaidCamper, it could have been OldFakeChefDude. I’m certainly an almost outdoorsman, and most definitely an almost chef. I’ve faked it and earned a (meagre) living in a few kitchens in the past. The stories I could tell (but won’t, because you probably enjoy eating in restaurants, and I don’t want to be arrested…)

– Yeah, alright, but why squashed, PlaidCamper?

img_20161103_170459I was cooking with squash! A comfort food if there ever was one, and one of my favourites. Roast it, steam it, mash it, sautée it, make soup from it, but eat it up, with all that vitamin goodness and colour on a plate. Mmm, squash. Acorn, butternut, crook neck, kabocha, pumpkin (least favourite), delicata, spaghetti, and more. Food list poetry? I think so.

There are so many ways to enjoy squash (my meatatarian brothers insist a squash is best enjoyed when left to rot atop a compost heap – food heathens! – although they always dig into the butternut and black bean chilli…) and here are two ways with squash that we’ve cooked recently:

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Camping! Only six months away…

PlaidCamper Parcels

(Really? Chef ego much? These kitchen primadonnas…)

This first one is great for if you’re camping. Get a good campfire going (glowing at the base) and keep it stoked.

Put diced squash, halved mushrooms, quartered shallots, whole almonds, broccoli florets, chilli flakes and a teaspoon of ground cumin onto a sheet of aluminum foil. Add a generous glug of good olive oil. Give it a mix and then fold up your foil into a parcel.

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Did I really take a picture of this? Yup!
You might want to double wrap it if the foil is the thin stuff cheapskates like me buy. False economy. Place on the hot metal plate or over the griddle. Turn the parcel from time to time to allow even cooking. Trust your sense of smell – you’ll know when it’s ready! Burn your fingers unwrapping the parcel (you won’t mind because it’ll taste so good) and enjoy the contents. Delicious campfire fare! dscf3791

The care and attention I’ve given to quantities and timings might be an indication as to why I’m not a chef any more. I can create and follow precision recipes, but mostly enjoy the slapdash approach. Closer to Jamie than Heston. To make up for the lack of detail in the first recipe – recipe?! – I’ll simply copy/paste the second (and add the link, because the other recipes on the page are also quite wonderful) from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall:

Pappardelle with squash and sage

Serves four.

About 750g squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into 2-3cm cubes
4-6 fat garlic cloves, skin on, lightly squashed 
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil 
75g walnuts, very roughly chopped (optional) not optional, Hugh, essential
250g pappardelle (or other pasta)
50g unsalted butter
15-20 sage leaves, cut into ribbons
Finely grated parmesan or hard goat’s cheese, to serve

Heat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Put the squash in a roasting tin, add the garlic and some salt and pepper, trickle over the oil and toss together. Roast for 45 minutes, stirring once or twice during cooking, until the squash is completely soft and starting to caramelise. Add the nuts for the last 10 minutes, taking care they don’t burn.

When the squash is about halfway cooked, bring a large pan of water to a boil, salt it well and add the pasta. Cook for the time suggested on the packet, then drain. While the pasta is cooking, heat the butter very gently in a small pan. When foaming, add the sage and cook over a low heat, without letting the butter brown, for three minutes. Turn off the heat.

Toss the sage butter, the hot squash and walnuts into the pasta – add any pan juices, too, as well as the garlic, provided it’s not too burned. Season to taste and transfer to warmed dishes. Finish with more pepper and serve with parmesan for people to help themselves.

A great one to try out over the coming winter at a cabin. Or at home. The recipe is from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall Squash Recipes – go on, follow the link, read the others, you’ll be glad you did.

Old Hugh has some amazing recipes. I first heard about him many years ago when a friend was telling me about roadkill pie. Retching noises. Personally, if I ran over a squash I’d be mortified, but it could be worse. Even back then, falling wildlife populations in the UK meant you’d most likely run over an unfortunate hedgehog. There are recipes for clay baked hedgehog, but you’d really rather not…right? Stick with the squash.

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Glass more than half full (an anti-moping technique and we all deserve it…)
Well, not a hugely outdoorsy post this week – thanks for your patience – but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sharing some anti-moping activity we’ve been engaged in.

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a recipe or anti-moping technique, and have a wonderful weekend!

As an extra treat for the curious-minded, here is a link to a fun article about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (and it mentions his connections to roadkill cuisine, but that really isn’t what he’s about!) More about Hugh FW

Winter weather, spring weather (and beer)

Are we heading towards spring now? A few weeks ago I wrote a post asking where had winter gone? Of course, mere minutes after I posted, winter came back! Then it left again, and then it returned once more. When will I learn that spring in the Rockies here in Western Canada simply means don’t pack away your winter wardrobe just yet. Wait until late April, or May, or even June…(Never mind what to wear in these messy seasons, how about what to drink? Is it becoming apparent I might be a bit of a beer geek?)

I’m slowly (it’s taken years) arriving at the realization that there are only two real seasons here on the edge of the Rockies. Mostly, it is winter. There’s a brief glimmer of what might be spring, but it’s just a warmer winter day, then a bit more winter, and finally – suddenly – summer. Summer is lovely, and in August you think there will be a lengthy and mild fall season. No, it gets cold, there’s some snow, and then even more snow. Winter has returned! 

  Ready for spring, covered by winter (shirtsleeves back in Calgary…)

Right now, we are enjoying springter, with lots of warm sunshine in the city, and, for the past three weekends, plenty of snow in the mountains – possibly the most this past ski/snowboard season. Last weekend, we left Calgary in shirtsleeves, arrived near Lake Louise two hours later, and needed winter jackets. Winter holds on tenaciously. Cold enough to fire up the wood stove, and seasonal enough to drink a dark beer:
  A delicious stout, perfectly suited to the conditions

The bright southern feel of the beer label belies the near black colour, strength and heaviness of the drink. I’d been looking forward to drinking this for a while. If you enjoy porters and stouts, try this one. It is inspired by black bean chilli and guacamole. Yup! A great recipe for a heavy beer – sounds terrible, tastes great. Mikeller Mexas Ranger! (And it reminds me, I have a couple of favourite chilli recipes – outdoor food, surely? A future post…)

We crossed the railway tracks and took a little hike along Baker Creek down to the Bow River. It was the first time we’d taken this route without snowshoes – there was really no need for them – and it was a real discovery seeing the landscape without a winter coat of snow.
  Looking south, downstream Baker Creek

The ice covering the creek had broken up revealing just how wide the not so little stream is. We hiked, slipping and scrambling far further from the creek side edge than in deep midwinter. There were lots of birds darting from tree to tree, always a few feet ahead as we stumbled down to the Bow. When we emerged onto the river bank, we were treated to wonderful views east and west. The sky started out full of snow, but it began to lessen and finally stopped when we paused to take in the scene. 
  
 West, upstream on the Bow

In the hour or so we lingered at the waterside, the clouds cleared, blue skies returned, and the temperature rose quickly. Boulders and rocks shrugged off the light snow cover and dried out swiftly.

  The river is higher. Is winter over?
 The rocks emerging, and the sky brightening – looking downstream, east on the Bow

 West again, just a few minutes later, and it is bright and sunny!

We made our way back up Baker Creek, enjoying the warm sun and well lit landscapes. The change from earlier was quite dramatic.

  Looking north, upstream Baker Creek

I often feel I mourn the end of winter – as much as I enjoy summer, I honestly love winter more. I get that I am fortunate to be able to appreciate winter as a leisure season. I know if I were alive in past times, winter would be far less enjoyable, and much more dangerous than we find it today. I romanticize winter, with the beautiful mountains, forests, and frozen lakes and rivers. I get a kick out of participating in winter activities, however clumsily, and pretend to misunderstand those people who don’t enjoy winter or share my enthusiasms.

So as I write this, I think it may really be time to say farewell to winter for a while…so sad.

Hold on PlaidCamper! We can’t leave it on that sad note. End of winter means almost summer. So, how did we celebrate at the end of our little Baker Creek hike, where we’d set out in winter yet returned in warm spring? Well, the winter stout was gone, so we just had to try a new IPA:

 No need to be sad at winter’s end – switch to lighter beers, like Boulevard Brewery Single Wide IPA!

Goodbye winter, and welcome spring – however fleeting you may be – and there’s a whole summer to come! Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Yoho in colour, a Dickens of a fish – and who was Dolly Varden?

Dolly Varden – what a name! But who was she? Or, who is she? A mystery, or mysterious unknown person, at least to me. For a naturalist, it must be great to be qualified and knowledgeable enough to be able to identify and name a new species. How does that happen?

A sunny spring hike in Yoho National Park a couple of weeks ago had me pondering this as I came across a name I’d never heard before. Naming a new species? Maybe you have to be the first person there. Or the first person to tell someone else. How are the actual new names chosen? Do you name it for yourself, or for a nearest and dearest? (Best be careful here, a loved one might not appreciate their name being used for a new species of insect or mollusc – just saying). The place it resides? Or whatever comes to mind? I’m pretty sure there is a sound scientific method these days. Dolly Varden…

We’d intended to go snowshoeing as snow had fallen later in the day and overnight after we’d taken our monochrome Field pictures (A Field Day). Instead, the Rockies played their usual weather tricks, and freezing winter one day gave way to an almost summer like sunny day the next, with temperatures reaching double digits in the high teens.

On the way to Emerald Lake we stopped and took in the views up and down the Kicking Horse River as it kicked on in the early thaw.

  Beautiful looking upstream…

  …and beautiful looking downstream!

When we arrived at Emerald Lake, you could see the remaining snow on hiking paths was packed and easy to walk on without snowshoes. Of course, with spring temperature fluctuations, it was now avalanche season in Yoho, and this determined where we could hike safely. 

  Couldn’t miss – or ignore – the warning!

Jackets had to be removed, and no need for hat and gloves. It was so warm that butterflies were out! Best of all, you could breathe in pine fragranced air and hear almost total quiet – hushed enough to enjoy the occasional knocking of a woodpecker, the call of distant songbirds and the rush of wings as ravens flew overhead. Aah, spring. The path wound through trees and descended to the edge of the lake.

  Tantalizing views through the trees close to the lakeshore!

  Across Emerald Lake

It was actually pleasant to be in the cool of the shade from time to time, although really it was even more pleasant to feel warm sun on your face!

  Easy hiking on packed snow

Is it time to get back to the question at the heading of this piece? Yes it is, PlaidCamper! 

At intervals along the edge of the frozen lakeshore there were wooden signs providing information about the geology, flora and fauna around Emerald Lake. The rock flour or silt that is found in the water provides the beautiful summertime colour the lake is named for. Silt prevents much light penetrating the water and consequently there is relatively little aquatic life. However, according to the information, one of the larger fish species found is the (drum roll) Dolly Varden char. 

I was so intrigued by what seemed a strange name for a fish that I looked it up later. It comes from a Dickens character in Barnaby Rudge, who wore muslin over petticoats – a fashion in the late 1800s –  and the fish colouring and patterning is reminiscent of this. So, Dolly is a fashionable and literary fish! Probably better than naming it after a potential future ex…

It was such a delightful hike around the lake. We’d hoped for a blast of winter and were rewarded instead with a beautiful spring day. That, and making Dolly Varden’s acquaintance, made for a different mountain adventure. 

  Get it down, make it watertight, and go fish for a Dolly…

Now, I wouldn’t mind betting there’s a great recipe out there for Dolly – I’m thinking lemon, rosemary, and a hint of garlic. Any ideas?! Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

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.