Sunday, September 4, 2011

Camper's Couscous

Here we are again! Every month, I release an original recipe from a vintage cookbook, All Day Singin' And Dinner On The Ground, a junk store find, and we each update and remake it in our own creative ways. This time around, we embraced "Wild Rabbit With Vegetables". Our rotating crew is immensely talented and diverse, as you'll see in the links at the bottom of this page. Visit the swap page for bios of past and present swappers and please visit all of our blogs to let us all know what you think of our inventions!
This weekend, I hiked Mt. San Antonio, (Mt. Baldy to the skiers), about an hour east of the sprawl of Los Angeles. It is one of the four mountains in the area above 10,000 feet elevation, making it a great hill to practice how one handles the challenges of altitude sickness.

About halfway up one of the trails that lead to the summit, there's a wee ski hut, built in 1936 (for the second time, after a fire destroyed it.) Now maintained by members of the Sierra Club, if you plan in advance, you can reserve a bunk in the hut that sleeps about 12 for $20 a night. A fellow camper staying there told stories of his father who helped portage in 2x4s and steel sheets to build the roof. All morning and afternoon long on both days, hikers stopped in on their way to the summit, telling us their stories of stays at the hut, signing the register and grabbing water on the way out.
For a while now, I've swung back to the other side of the food blogging pendulum; previously focusing with precision on what is on the plate itself, how it tastes, how it is styled, how it represents itself to others. It has been a long time coming for me, but I'm slowly and steadily getting back in shape to prepare for a spectacular backpacking trip next year. Talking to all of the guys who overnighted in the ski hut on their way up to or down from Mt. Baldy brought this goal into perspective; everyone had thoughts, and everyone was encouraging my plan for a lengthy 50-mile back country trip that ends with the summit of Mt. Whitney next summer. With this increased training in my week comes an increased focus on food as a vehicle for accomplishing an energy-sustaining balance of fat, calories, carbohydrates, vitamins and amino acids. In some ways, this puts me at odds with the idea of food blogging as a luxurious flipbook of recipes for the developed palate, an idea which I think drives the whole of food blogging.
The more I'm out in the back country, the more food itself takes a back seat to the experiences and conversations had over eating it. The act of having my meals cooked on a wood-fired stove that someone hauled 3,000 feet up a mountain by hand, sitting at a rough-hewn table with wood that someone hauled the same distance for the act of doing exactly what we were doing was infinitely more important than the actual food on the table. We could have eaten a bag of chips at the table and we still would have had the experience of communing with strangers over a love of nature in an historic refuge in the forest.
My take on this swap's recipe is Camper's Couscous, and it was exactly what I hoped it would be; a solution to me buying pre-packaged cups of soup when I go out on these journeys. But it in no way was the focus of my interest this weekend. It seemed inappropriate to eat for one in a hut full of other hikers, even though we had pre-planned our contributions to family meals. When a fellow hiker asked me how the soup was, I merely said "It needs dried chives." It wasn't fun to eat a cup of soup by myself, then or ever. The breakfast made for ten, on the other hand, was a blast. We drank percolated coffee, black. Our hut host stoked the stove and we stood around laughing about torturing the morning's hikers with the smells of hot coffee, potatoes and bacon they couldn't have. Over this community breakfast, we had a time I am eager to bring back into my home, over my own table; communion with other loved ones using food as an expression of appreciation for one's presence. 
Sunrise at the San Antonio Ski Hut.
I am excited to have my own recipe for instant soup, and I'll definitely make it again for the trail, with some modifications to keep things interesting. I am thankful to have enough money to make food to my specifications and for having great health to be able to take that food to beautiful wilderness to enjoy it. But what I remember of the weekend is the spirit of the original recipe, Wild Rabbit With Vegetables, which was probably originally made in over-sized, banged up cookware like ours this morning, intended to feed a small army from a humble kitchen.

Camper's Couscous
Serves: One hungry camper
1/3 cup small grain couscous
1 T organic powdered chicken broth (use a smashed cube of bouillon if you can't find powdered)
2 T dried corn (I used the "Just Corn" variety found at Whole Foods)
1 T dried, crumbled shitake mushroom
1 T sundried tomatoes, (about two slices, chopped)
1 tsp dried chives (or fresh, if you can't find them)
1/2 tsp salt
A few fine-grind cracks black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic salt

Place all ingredients in a plastic baggie, and hike somewhere where you have access to hot water. When settled in to camp, place contents in a medium bowl, and pour about two cups boiling water over soup, cover and let steep for five minutes. Uncover, stir, eat and enjoy your surroundings.

View atop Mt. San Antonio, looking southeast.
For others' recipes:


  1. As you described the shift of food on this trip, it fell into a different realm for me reading about your experience. And when we got to the recipe I was interested but in a different way. What a fantastic post, wonderful experience and thank you for bringing us along. What you are endeavoring personally does put food in a very different context. Would love to know more about your upcoming trip next year! I'm sure planning food for that will be a completely different experience. Nice job (love the photos), thanks for sharing your life.

  2. The context of your trip reminds me a bit of Irene...or at least a couple of friends I know who have been through the rigors of her.

    One friend just got power again today and I'm anxious to talk to her about her experience. Though not quite 'roughing' it exactly, she was taken back many years into a totally different realm than what we are used to. No power, no phones, limited battery power so no computers either. She would trek into their small town where power was restored the middle of last week and wait her turn at a computer that was available for use at the library so that she could connect with clients and friends.

    I loved her spirit...and she will one day have quite the adventure to share with not just me but her children and eventually her grandchildren.

    You've taken us all back a bit; thinking of what it took to get that hut in place; how people prepared foods in more limited surroundings. What a nice respite...and thanks for allowing us to join you even if just for a bit.

  3. If I lived in Serbia, I would definitely be a member of our local hiking club, as many of my friends are - the kids are old enough to fend for themselves for a few days, and there is really nothing better than sharing the love of nature with friends (and other aficionados).
    You are so right in pointing out different POVs as far as food and blogging are concerned. I love to read blogs about luxurious ingredients and masterfully prepared meals, but my focus is a big pot of beans that I share with family and friends.
    I enjoyed reading about your escapades and this recipe will certainly come in handy.
    P.S. I posted a bit earlier, because I am 9 hours ahead, and the time tricked me:) I guess I should utilize the schedule publishing when I am done ahead (it happens so rarely - I usually panic to finish a post on time:)
    P.P.S. Would you mind adding my name among the members of the Recipe Swap in the first paragraph of this post, pretty please?

  4. What a great trip you had up Mt. Baldy! The view is spectacular and your couscous was definitely much better than a cup of soup! I bet the breakfast for 10 was a lot of fun, it's been so long since I had real perked coffee over a fire...sigh
    Thanks again for letting me participate in your recipe swap, I have truly enjoyed my time posting with your group!

  5. Christianna- what an amazing story. I so wanted to be there drinking the camp coffee with you and sharing your soup. Thanks so much for putting this together- you are an inspiration!

  6. As always, your writing is beautiful and insightful. Thanks for sharing the great camping recipe! I ususally go with packaged things like couscous when my husband and I go backpacking but it would be nice to make something "from scratch".
    You never set my up with the vintage recipe group!

  7. What a great idea to bring a homemade version of couscous. I am sure it tasted so good after a fully day of camping. This would be such a great idea for a plane ride too, and then just ask for the hot tea water, without the tea bag!

  8. Your're so fabulous in so many ways. I love your honesty and your determination. And, I like that your recipe is perfect for where you're at right now! So simple (and yet, seems like it would totally hit the spot when out camping). Great post, as usual.

  9. Amazing way to remind and remember the simple things in life that bring so much joy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts so brilliantly.

  10. What a beautiful post CM. I had to stay home to work this weekend instead of going camping as I had planned, and your post just gave me a little vacation anyway! Thanks! And what a great way to make a body-friendly, portable meal that is above and beyond what we'd think of as 'camping food'.

  11. What a beautiful post! Love the recipe- and the fact that it's camper style! Your story wants me to go camping just so that I can take my own pre-packaged food along!

  12. I loved everything about this post. I found you from Chef Dennis' blog and I will definitely be back. Have an absolutely lovely day!


Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Stay positive!