As I sit with my morning coffee, I am deep in the Adirondack mountains in upstate New York on an unseasonably warm, cloudless day. This is day three of The Great Adventure, in which my husband and I have quit our big city jobs in London to drive around the US for several months, hiking through national forests, visiting friends, cooking in the great outdoors, and sleeping in our car. In the winter.
This poses a slight dilemma in regards to this blog, because until sometime in 2011, I will only have access to a camp stove, a pot, a pan, a coffee percolator, and the few perishables we can safely store in a small cooler. Oh, and did I mention (or did I have to?) that being recently jobless, we are now on a shoestring?
You may by now have guessed that during this period of my life there will be distinctly fewer stories of me buying fresh sardines at Borough Market, for example, or showing up to parties with a plateful of profiteroles.
Never mind, we can still have fun with out food, right? We can still take a bite out of all life has to offer, can’t we?
Well yes, in a rustic sort of a way. Cooking outdoors is like being a 14 year old again, trying to navigate such complexities as baking a potato or making a plate of pasta. I’m no Hunter Angler Gardener Cook: I’ve lost all sense of comfort and ease with myself in the kitchen, and suddenly feel like exactly what I am: a city girl who can put on a mean dinner party with a fully equipped kitchen at her disposal, but who is reduced to fighting aggressive campsite squirrels for her beans on toast when she leaves the comforts of home behind.
I’m ok with that, I just have to start back at the beginning, with the basics. To that end, I’ve allowed myself one exciting new piece of equipment: the 10” Lodge Dutch Camp Oven. You know, the kind of cast iron lidded pot with little legs that hold it directly over the open fire? The kind that pioneer women and grisly old men named ‘cookie’ used to use all the time? I spent a few days keeping it clean and oiled in the hopes that it will last me for the rest of my life, and then decided to dig in and bake a loaf of bread in it.
I used my standard basic white loaf recipe (with a few tweaks due to my limited pantry), sat the mixing bowl on the car engine to keep it warm while it rose, and then got the fire going. Unfortunately there’s no gauge on the outside of the oven to let you know what temperature you’re working with. Nope, just me and a pot and a fire. I decided 20 minutes would do it, but checked the contents of the pot after 10 to find a finished loaf, slightly undercooked inside, and most definitely overcooked on the outside. The squirrels stood watching from the sidelines, laughing at my ineptitude…
Basic Camping Loaf
1/2 C warm water
1 sachet dried yeast
3T olive oil
300 g all purpose flour
big pinch salt
Mix water, oil, honey, and yeast together to dissolve, and then add the salt and flour. Knead until smooth and elastic, and then leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour. Punch the dough down and leave for another hour, then carefully transfer to the dutch oven, covering the lid with hot coals. Experiment until you determine the level of heat and the time it takes to make a good loaf—and then let me know how you did it!