Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Big Woods

I took my first-ever solo camping trip last weekend. I didn't tell myself, I want to go camping alone, but I planned it by myself, and though I invited my housemate along (he couldn't go), I was ready to be all alone in the Big Woods.

Yes, those Big Woods, Laura Ingalls' Big Woods. There's a certain Minnesota State Park which claims to preserve what's left of them--so strange and disconcerting that in fact, though many stories tall, the trees, maple, elm, ironwood, basswood, were barely larger in diameter than me. This patch of southern Minnesota deciduous forest was saved by being broken up into 200 woodlots in the late 19th century, so not all of it was clearcut, and most was only partially cut, or grazed, until the 1940s, when some conservation-minded folks got the legislation through. It's also home to the dwarf trout lily, an endangered species that grows only in three Minnesota counties. I was too late for it, and too early for the fall colors, but I picked a cool and cloudy weekend that kept the other campers away and kept the park for me.

Of course, before I left, since it was a Saturday, I had to visit the farmers' market, and I picked up rosemary bread from Brett and Mary, apples from Denny (Sweet 16s!) and his last plums of the season, cheese and corn. My pack was mostly full of apples as I hiked through the Big Woods, and I stopped for a bread and cheese and apple and plum lunch over Prarie Creek. When I stood to continue my hike, I saw deer loping through the forest. I hiked to Hidden Falls, up a few small hills, and through most of the park's trail system, cool woods smelling of autumn.

I had brought as my only reading material Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and was more attuned than usual to wild edibles: I munched red clover from the sides of the trail, speculated on the mushrooms (but declined), and found a wild apple tree, with small white apples, almost sweet enough to hide the tannins that made my lips sting. So few humans walked by, and they all walked past the apple tree, not even noticing the windfalls on the path.

Retiring to camp, I made a smoky pine fire not without some setbacks (everything was damp) and commenced to cook my amazing campfire meal. I had marinated seitan and bell peppers and onions in a sesame dressing and skewered them as I waited for the coals to heat. The corn went in the firepit to roast, and the apples sat on the grate and roasted too. I also brought a bottle of wine with me, wine I had brought back from a trip to drink with the Deep Fryer (see previous post; henceforth, DF), because the wine was sweet, and so was she. I wished I could share this whole experience with her. The bottle had been sitting in my cabinet for months, and I decided it was time to drink it, if not with her than on my own. And I was on my own, in the woods, in my remote rustic campsite, with the fire and the trees and the moon.

Everything was delicious, though the onions never quite cooked through. And the apples! Hot and carmelized, the fire only intensified their spicy wild cherry taste (Sweet 16 apples! Thank you Minnesota!), and the skin was sweet and crisp from the grate marks and peeled smoothly off the soft apple flesh.

I watched the fire for a long time. I threw the half-cooked onions in the fire and watched (and smelled) them burn.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Deep Fried Broken Heart

Sure, that's a rather unappetizing post title, but I'm hoping my own deep fryer will be 100% heart-free. I have decided to buy one of my very own, since, as my visiting friend M. says, my deep fryer broke up with me. So it's solitary doughnut making for me now--but at least I can put eggs in them.

Here are a few things I might fry this fall:
apple dumplings
funnel cake

My housemate J. wants me to make deep fried cookies, her State Fair discovery this year. Seems pretty simple--take a stiff cookie dough and throw balls of it in the fryer. I'll update you as the experiment progresses.

But no crying over the fryer! That's no way to douse a grease fire.