October 18, 2017

Campsite Cuisine…by Brendon Marks

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I think the smell of charcoal lighter fluid must produce some sort of chemical reaction in men’s brains that causes them to think it is necessary, or even that they are capable of cooking. Or it could be their fascination with open flame. This may explain the need to constantly poke and stir a fireplace, even if it has gas logs. For those men who don’t have a fireplace, this need may be satisfied by constant use of the TV remote control. I have it on good authority that the TV remote control was invented by a man who couldn’t find a stick long enough to reach his TV.

It’s too bad that a similar chemical reaction has not produced improvements in the design of campsite cooking equipment. Did you ever notice how incompatible a barbecue grill is with the food cooked on it? Unless your grill is a) less than three months old, and, b) resting on a laser-leveled concrete slab, there isn’t a hot dog made which won’t roll off when placed perpendicular to the wires of the grate. If you place them parallel, they nestle down in between, becoming impossible to turn.

They burn black on one side while remaining pale and uncooked on the other. I was briefly encouraged recently when I opened a fresh package of hot dogs and noticed the compression of the packaging had squeezed the hot dogs into having flat edges on at least two sides. But alas, as soon as they warmed up and returned to round, the chase was on. Repeated calls to hot dog manufacturers requesting permanently square hot dogs have not been returned.

Hamburgers are not much better. Any attempt at turning one will break pieces off the edge that fall through the grate. As soon as the fat which binds the meat bits together burns away in a violent conflagration usually resulting in missing eyebrows, what’s left bears a strong resemblance to charcoal fried rice. Eventually the hamburger becomes smaller and smaller until it is completely gone. The only solution is to wrap each one individually in aluminum foil before cooking. Remember to remove the foil before consuming. The aluminum flavoring is just a side benefit.

Even that early morning, fresh cup of coffee is not immune from environmental influences. That eye-opening blast of flavor produced from Columbia’s second largest export will pale in comparison to the flavor absorbed from whatever was burnt to heat the water, whether it be charcoal, oak, pine needles, or propane, and be forewarned, don’t spend too much time looking for a hazelnut or French vanilla tree.

It’s impossible to cook a balanced meal on a grill. All known vegetables, except corn on the cob, whole potatoes, and several in the squash family, will also fall through the grate, transforming into more charcoal or a black pasty mass.

Fortunately our tastes change with the situation. Take corned beef hash for example (which by the way is nearly impossible to cook on a grill without a pan). I have a friend who claims she can’t feed her family hash at home. It looks like dog food (they say), and they won’t eat it, not even the dog. But on a camping trip she mixes in a little fresh air, pine needles, and dirt, and they think it’s great. The dog still won’t eat it though, because the dog doesn’t know he’s camping. He has only two things on his mind: Why have these fools he lives with lost their house, and how is he going to handle all of these trees?

I have the perfect solution to campsite cuisine: A cheap motel right next door to an all-night restaurant. When they ask how I want my eggs, I tell them, “Camping style,” and they know just how to cook them: Burnt on the edges, runny in the middle, flecked with wood ashes, and cold.

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