Back to the Land: Catching Fire

photo 1-3I flew too close to the sun. I tried to run before I could walk. After consulting The Art of Manliness blog, I found I should be making foil packet meals. My mom used to make these foil meals for us even when we weren’t camping. My brother called them foul meals. Gourmet or not, I was not going to be defeated by hamburger.

Armed with several recipes, Nate and I headed off to the local family-run market. On the menu was lemon pepper chicken and hamburger patties with cream of mushroom soup, onions, potatoes, and carrots. Why 2 meals? I figured if I could get a fire going enough to cook one, I’d better strike while the iron was hot, quite literally. Also, it doubled my chances that at least one would be edible.

I decided the curious metal cylinder that I’d put aside yesterday as a grill accoutrement too advanced for my skill level could actually help me. I stacked wood in it vertically, and put kerosene soaked newspaper trails through the holes leading to its center. Like lighting the olympic fire, I placed the torch in the lighter fluid haze, and poof! Instant fire. I dumped the flaming wood out into the bowl of the grill and removed the cylinder.

As I let my fire mellow and settle in, I went to pre-soften my potatoes and carrots by boiling them.

I read that I should let the fire die down and put my packets directly on the glowing coals. Since again, I’m operating with wood, not charcoal, I curiously never got glowing coals. I got really hot ash, which I decided was just fine. Well, turns out that’s messy when you try to flip. Luckily I had triple-wrapped my packets, so we were safe from straight-lining carcinogens.

I decided to re-stoke the fire and put the packets on the grill instead, manliness be damned. I gave the hamburgers 30 minutes and the chicken an hour.

I checked them, and realized I never flipped the chicken. But both were cooked through, with one side exhibiting faint notes of char. I’m not sure if the foil pot roast burgers were good or not, but there is immense satisfaction in eating something you cooked over an open flame in the middle of nowhere with no help. Nate ate most of his, but he’ll eat anything and in large quantities.

I was giddy with success, and I still had both eyebrows. Nate grabbed the supplies, and I reinserted the cylinder to get my fire going again for s’mores. I still had a few small flames, but I thought I needed more. Well, I guess the cylinder works best as a starter, not a re-starter. I managed to set the wooden handle on fire. Why would the handle be wooden? Well, it’s not anymore.

Anyhow. Next we’ll try foil fish with dill and lemon. That whole adventure took about 3 hours from start to finish, not including the shopping. And I didn’t have to hunt or field dress any of it.

I’ll leave you with a couple of observations about living in a 750 square foot house

1. You can live in a lot less space than you think you can provided you have a lot of hooks.

2. You cannot lose your cell phone in 750 sq. feet because everything is literally within your field of vision at all times.

3. Temperature control is accomplished with either one small space heater on, or alternatively one window open.


Back to the Land Part 1: Barbara Make Fire

I know the title implies that I have, in fact, ever been to the land. I guess I have, if only technically. My parents used to take us “camping,” which involved our pop-up Volkswagen camper van with the stove and sink and green and yellow plaid upholstery futons. From those experiences, I have taken the following lessons:

1. Make and eat your ham and cheese sandwich before selecting and eating your bag of Cheetos to keep your white bread pristine.

2. Get up early for first pickings from the mini cereal variety pack; last one gets the Special K.

So, I saw these 3 weeks in the north woods of Michigan with my 8 year-old as an opportunity to test my inner grit and commune with nature. Or, at least as blog fodder.

Day 1 was hectic dropping Gus off at camp, getting supplies, and settling in. We had frozen pizza. It wasn’t coal-fired, so I consider that roughing it.

Day 2 was lovely, so we spent most of it at sailing camp and at the beach. We had spaghetti. But, because my son wanted corn on the cob, and I only have 1 large pot, I boiled the corn and the pasta at the same time. If that’s not enterprising pioneer spirit, I don’t know what is.

Today I felt emboldened. It was rainy this morning and with a high of about 55. It was a good day for a fire. I have a grill, matches, and lighter fluid, but my hippie landlady frowns on charcoal. She lived out here for years in a yurt. I can manage hamburgers and s’mores, over a wood-burning fire, surely.

After consulting a few YouTube videos, (yes, I have wifi – don’t judge, otherwise you wouldn’t be getting a blog) I was ready. The kindling outside had been soaked by last night’s rain, but there was a crate inside the door of 2×4 ends, twigs and wood bricks, as well as old newspaper.

I removed the grill, stacked the wood in a careful pyramid-ish shape, put the gloves on, doused the wood with lighter fluid and created a torch out of twisted up newspaper. Instant roaring goodness! Red hot success. I put the cover on to let my fire set and went in to make my patties.

When I came out, the fire was all but out. I repeated steps 1-5. Again, the fire died. I decided it wasn’t getting enough oxygen through the cover vents and left it off completely. I put the grate on and placed the patties lovingly atop. Everything seemed to be going ok until I went to flip them. Half of the patty stuck to the grill. It looked like my burger had been skinned alive. I was using 95% lean, after all. I tried the next. It was cooking too fast on the outside, but was completely raw inside. I had too much direct heat and was ending up with scorched nuggets of raw meat. I had char-tare bitlets – half jerky/half tartare. I had too much flame, but I couldn’t put the cover on for fear of losing the fire altogether.

In an effort to save the mission, I tried to picture the Burger King commercials. Isn’t this how they show it? A perfect patty gently tickled by fiery fingers? Mine were more like sun-scorched pieces of raccoon entrails after the vultures have moved on.

I moved to destroy-the-evidence mode lest anyone try to diagnose my failing and doubt my survivalist credibility. Though the Hybrid SUV in the driveway and the wetsuit on the clothesline might yet give me away.

I consulted Eric via phone, and he pointed out there are air vents in the bottom of the grill, which should also be open. I do know enough not to go out there and touch hot metal to open them now.  I also got impatient and probably didn’t let the fire die down to embers enough to create indirect heat. Got it.

Tomorrow, more hamburger meat and s’mores material and a bag of Cheetos just in case.