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Well, in true backpack fashion, I have decided to move to new digs after all of my firewood is in for the approaching winter, and after all my preparations are complete. My cabin and my woods and my gardens are preparing for the proverbial winter’s nap. My children are happily ensconced in their new schools; and in the face of the worst financial crisis in recent U.S. history my fiance and I are finally ready to make the big move. We have found a great little piece of bottom land and our financing is in place. The only holdup is the present owner’s finances. He is upside down in his mortgage, which means he will owe a bit even after the sale. We await the verdict of his bank. The lovely Kelly, my beautiful fiance, is soon to be my trophy wife. She is a reward I probably do not deserve. Even as we speak, she is hard at work making things happen. It can’t be too soon, as my children eagerly await, nay badger me incessantly, as to when we will all be a family together.

 

And I, I am preparing to leave my beloved mountain. It has been a sanctuary, a nursery, a recovery room, my shelter, my studio, my food and heat supplier, my personal energy supply, and in every deeper sense of the word, my home. I will miss it even as I embrace my new life.

 

I remember a bit of an ancient poem – perhaps Li Po (?):

 

“We sit together, the mountain and me,

until only the mountain remains”

 

I have made much of my life and much of my living by traveling and being at home wherever I find myself. But the operative word is home. I have always sought a proper home and even have believed I had found it a few times, but in every case I have been mistaken or for some reason I have had to move on. But even tumbleweeds need roots to live and to continue the cycle of life. It is time I really sink these roots deep into the earth that my family may flourish and grow. My children have begun to come into themselves as human beings, and I am afraid that much of their legacy remains to be created. This mountain I have always returned to as home, but it is time to leave this place on this mountain. I have been known as a ridge runner and as a hillbilly, and I’m too old a dog to change that. I never did before, even when I worked in cities or had to wear a tie. I will be bringing that to my new home, and it will better for it. It may not be “Galt’s Gulch” just yet, but please stay tuned because it is going to be great ride.

 

Foodies, survivalists, campers, and just plain folks looking to eat well and healthy on an ever tightening American budget – grab your backpack and get ready to UNITE!. In just a few weeks another adventure begins with a new focus, a new purpose and new approach to old fashioned American Ideals.

 

Thanks for your patience while I retool.

 

By the way, a special thanks for kind words and encouragement to “The Elementary”. Everyone should check out her blog “Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering” and be prepared to get warm and cozy. Just don’t forget to check back here!

 

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As I sit here in the dark, with just a faint glow lightening the east through the rain, I try to reflect. It is 6am, and I have one kid gone on the school bus and another to get moving shortly. We have a good hot breakfast each day and now I have to cook twice. I still have dishes to do before I leave for work. I can’t believe it has been so long since I have posted. I can’t believe I have strayed so far from my original mission in writing this blog, which was to share my experiences with the great food available locally and in season, hence less expensive and healthier for my, and hopefully your, family.

 

I am still passionate about that. So passionate that cooking for my family has been taking precedence over writing. Writing is a joy and a release, but with the frenetic activity of getting kids back to school, a new town job, and looking for new digs, I haven’t been able to allow myself that pleasure. We have had some exceptionally wonderful meals lately as the produce right now is killer, and the new ideas and experiences I am getting with Chef Dato continue to inspire.

 

I have lately been remembering what I love about the restaurant business. Even when I had left the business for a few years and worked in the corporate world, I found myself in the kitchen whenever a client lunch had us in some fine dining place. I was fortunate that my business partner and friend Tony was also a foodie, though he never understood how I could end up in the kitchen and leave him to entertain the clients.

 

A restaurant kitchen is a war zone, a dinner rush is a battle, the ultimate adrenaline burst. Pure testosterone. The pecking order essential to operations and etiquette be damned. The customer in front are almost superfluous as their orders and the perfection and timing of each dish a foe to be dispatched. I imagine the great medieval battle, with men rushing at each other in awful waves of humanity. Dealing with the immediate foe, the one in front of you, while simultaneously preparing for the ones in your peripheral vision. Your station, your duty reigns supreme. There are no friends during battle. A friend who impedes your progress or timing is the same as an enemy. Often I have seen hot pans deliberately thrust across the forearms of cooks who impeded another’s progress, razor sharp knives dangerously close to another’s fingers, airborne stockpots the size of cannonballs. A kitchen is full of hot objects, sharp objects, heavy object that can be thrown. More to the point, it is full of people that are serious about their mission and woe to anyone, even a friend who gets in the way. After the battle and after the cleanup and aftermath, when the dead have been buried and the weapons readied for another day, then is the time for camaraderie.

 

After closing many cooks gather in bars to decompress and to share war stories, to plan strategies for upcoming battles. Besides, who can sleep when the adrenaline is still coursing through your exhausted, aching body? With the long workdays, with hours that necessarily coincide with the rest of the world’s leisure time, cooks have no time for a “normal” social life. They generally associate with other cooks. Or not at all. I myself have always preferred more quiet reflection. I like to sit in the dark, alone, and lick my wounds. I swallow a couple of aspirins for my aches, then fall into bed, dead weight until morning, my last thoughts the promise of coffee.

 

I am drinking that coffee now, as I prepare to awaken my son for school. As I head out for another battle, thinking about my mise en place, my place in the world, I know it is a young man’s game and I am not young anymore.

 

 

 

 

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As often happens in life, we have suffered a series of setbacks here, and have been unable to post. Rampant development is rapidly destroying much of the rural countryside in western PA, and it seems we are the latest folks to be “developed out”. Without going to great detail, in the last short while we have seen clear cut logging next door, a newly senile landlord with no respect for personal privacy and who hates children and folks who have no practical knowledge of, say gravity, building a series of water control ditches which will catch little or no water and send said imaginary water into places where water is undesirable. (In fact the only place where there really might be water, it is going to be directed into my foundation.) My garden, my pasture, my house and my home are for all intents and purposes destroyed. Since I have been on a long term lease, (operative term lease) we are probably going to be removing to another site for our homesteading lifestyle. Until then I will blog when I can, and in the meantime, at least we will get back to the backpack style of cooking. Remember, my original premise was that anyone can cook a good meal for themselves and their family anywhere they happen to find themselves. New posts with this in mind soon, I promise.

 

In the meantime, I have taken a town job with a great local chef who still cooks real food rather than reheating pre-made meals from a factory. Check him out here www.chefdato.com/ or stop by if you are in the area. You won’t regret it, I promise.

 

Now if you will excuse me, I have to pack.

 

 

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Peach fruits Suomi: Persikan hedelmiä

Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I woke up dreaming of peaches. Again. My part of Pennsylvania is really only blessed with peaches, good peaches, only but rarely. since time immemorial we have spent the spring watching for and protecting against the frost that nearly always comes after it has been just warm enough to bring out the peach blossoms. By this time of the year especially at my elevation, we pine for that elusive perfect peach. We are fortunate, however, to be just to the west of a great fruit growing area.

 

Chambersburg Peaches have always been the standard for us, the peach we admired and wanted to grow. About this time every year, the highways around here begin to have makeshift signs advertising the local produce – but not local peaches. The signs brag about having brought back Chambersburg Peaches. Although technically within the 100 miles many of the Local Eating Challenges, these were for much of my childhood, considered almost an imported food. More accessible than the fabled Georgia peach, they were also in better shape having been picked riper and shipped from a shorter distance.

 

The area around Chambersburg is of a warmer climate, influenced by the not so distant Chesapeake Bay and sheltered from the cold winter winds by the very mountains I call home. Many of the old orchards seem to have gone now, but still the fame and legend of Chambersburg Peaches mean late summer to me.

 

Every year my family would buy a bushel basket of peaches, especially Chambersburg Peaches, and my Mother would prepare and can them in quart mason jars. These would line the shelves in the basement along with quarts of tomatoes from the garden, and pints of beets, green and yellow beans, pickles both sweet and dill, relishes, piccalilli, chow chow, various jams and jellies, and a lot of other things that escape my memory now and yet sustained us through bleak winter and reminded us of the need to garden in the spring as they slowly disappeared.

 

Those jars represented a form of security to us, although I admit I didn’t much think about it as a kid. In fact, I used to sneak the occasional jar to eat, though unless we were low on something mom never really cared as long as it wasn’t wasted. As I got older, I even came to use them as a form of currency.

 

It was a time when gas was cheap and country boys would get together to race whatever jalopies the had cobbled together. Often we would help some town kid with a better budget than ours, and we would secretly be reverse engineering the fancy parts they had so that we could go faster. Physics was second nature to us, as we couldn’t help but explore how and why things worked. Our homemade cars with their homemade parts were often the winners over the shinier models.

 

Still, machines break. Often an exuberant Friday evening would result in a Saturday morning engine change. In those day we could get a used engine from a junkyard, add all our “performance” parts, and stuff it into our cars. Now what does this have to do with peaches you are asking. Well hang in there.

 

Lifting a 500 pound engine requires either machinery or a hand full of good friends, a chain and a locust fence post. Even friends need motivation for that kind of work, especially early on a Saturday morning. To alleviate that, I would pass the word that I was making PEACH PIES for anyone who came to help. Early Saturday afternoons, my folks would come home to discover a gaggle of greasy farm boys each eating his very own peach pie made from peaches I had copped from Mom’s stash in the basement. I also discovered that rolling pie crust is a great way to get grease from under your fingernails.

 

Nowadays, I refuse to use the “all vegetable shortening” I used then since I have figured out some of that science (hint don’t eat anything hydrogenated, heck it just sounds scary). I now use an all butter pastry recipe, and although I am still experimenting with it, I give it here as it is at least decent. Give it a shot and let me know how it works or how you improved it. Hit the comments!

 

 

 

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juicy peach half

juicy peach half (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As dawn pushes the mist

I behold a golden orb.

A perfect peach, a blushing beauty,

Swollen with pride.

A gift from an unseen friend,

to break the fast of an early traveler.

The milk of human kindness runs golden down my shirt.

 

 

This recipe is so simple and it can be adapted and modified to your liking.Not only is it a great way to use up all the summer zukes (they epitomize the feast or famine cliché, don’t they?), it can be made with just a spoon and a couple of bowls and a box grater, so it is great for kids just learning to bake.

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 cups grated fresh zucchini
  • 2/3 cup melted unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour

 

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

 

In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, eggs, and vanilla.

 

Mix in the grated zucchini and then the melted butter. Sprinkle baking soda over the mixture and mix in.

 

Add the flour, a cup at a time.

 

Divide the batter equally between 2 buttered 5 by 9 inch loaf pans and bake for about an hour or until a wooden pick inserted in to the center comes out clean.

 

Cool in pans for 10 minutes or so , then flip onto wire racks and allow to cool thoroughly before cutting.

Makes 2 loaves.

 

  • A bit of cinnamon or nutmeg can be added when you add the flour.Also try chopped nuts, pumpkin seeds, raisins or other dried fruit.
  • You could use a food processor to speed grating the Zuke, that way you can make a bunch of them and freeze for the long winter ahead.
  • Mix any leftover grated Zucchini with a little flour and eqq maybe a little Parmesan and fry in a skillet till golden for nice breakfast or side dish treat

 

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Blackberry

Blackberry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This recipe really works for almost any soft, fresh or well drained canned fruit. It also can work with thawed and drained frozen fruit. Try it to use up those peaches going soft on the table or a can of pineapple for a treat in the deep winter too.

 

  • 1 Cup Self Rising Flour
  • 6 TBS Butter (about 3/4 stick if you are using store bought)
  • 3/4 cup Sugar
  • 3/4 cup cold milk
  • Vanilla (optional)
  • 1 – 2 cups Blackberries (or other drained fruit)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

 

Melt the butter and pour in to a 8 or 9 inch cake pan. Swirl the butter around the cake pan to cover the bottom, set aside, but keep warm.

 

Combine the flour, sugar and about half of the milk in a large mixing bowl, and stir until well combined. Then add the remaining milk and stir until smooth. Add the vanilla now if you want. It is not necessary, but does add a bit of a treat. Pour the batter into the center of the cake pan with the melted butter, but DO NOT stir or mix. The butter will be forced up and around the batter and some will even run over the top (yum).

 

Carefully place the berries on top of the batter, covering evenly, but DO NOT stir or mix.

 

Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until golden. (Do the toothpick test to see if it comes out clean).

The fruit will have been covered as the cake rose, and will have created a filling for this moist and buttery treat.

 

 

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Okay folks, sorry it has been a while since I have posted, but it has been so hectic around here. Without going into long detail, my family has been a bit under siege on just about every front lately. Yeah I know, poor pity us, you just filled up with gas and it looked a lot like your mortgage payment – if you are lucky enough not to have an adjustable…

 

Well anyway, as my son is crying about the frog he just volunteered to let loose in our creek and my daughter is lamenting the seeming destruction from a devastating septic tank and water purification project that has left virtually no part of our woods, yard, creeks, field, picnic area, and life untouched – even as I contemplate everything that has piled up – I suddenly realize…that’s life, man. I know it is a bit trite to say that I counted my blessings, but it is true. I have most of my health, good friends and more importantly my kids are still free to catch frogs and lightning bugs. I am still engaged to the single greatest woman in the world (really, I checked). We still have our raw milk and most of our foods is still local and seasonal at a time when most folks are paying a premium for those things if they can even afford the luxury (like the folks who are paying tens of dollars to have raw milk delivered, clandestinely, or travel many miles to get fresh berries that we can pick on the way up our lane). The woods and the yard will grow back. My friends and family will survive and thrive as long as I keep the will and, I suppose, the faith.

 

Everybody gets a little down sometimes, but I wouldn’t trade living in the country, in this country, close to the land and close to my family, for all the money we owe. I hope John Boy Walton is proud…

 

I promise more informative stuff soon, recipes, techniques and the all important backpack. No I haven’t forgotten it, I just want to make sure I get it right for you. Also, look for the book soon. “The Indigenous Gourmet and his BackPack Bistro Walk Through the Seasons” is due in ebook form soon. Print copies with beautiful color photos taken by the lovely Kelly, suitable for coffee tables and art houses everywhere, is not far behind!

 

 

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The character of the blackberries varied from area to area. When I had first started picking them, they had seemed rather uniform in size and shape. The only difference I noticed between them was the level of ripeness each berry had achieved.

As I picked all the ripe berries from each spot I moved to another. Gradually I noticed that some berries, while of similar size, were composed of more, but smaller, individual seeds while others were larger than average, but with fewer seeds. Others, even when ripe were small and hard. On tasting, I found these to be tart and strongly flavored. These grew in an area that was sunnier, and so, I surmised, drier. But then, just beside these, and in almost the same mini-climate, were blackberries that were longer and larger and composed of larger seeds. These literally fell off the bramble at the slightest touch. Often the act of picking one caused several to fall beyond reach into the depths of the brambles. When tasted, they were so juicy and sweet as to seem an almost different breed of berry altogether. I was tempted to risk the scratches and thorns to reach the fallen ones and not waste a single drop of the glorious nectar.

A few steps more and I discovered similar gorgeous berries. They were not as long, but rounder, with the seedpods just as full and heavy with juice. There were more of these ripe berries here, as if no one had dared to pick them. I hesitated a moment as if I were about to profane their virtue. Gently I reached and found resistance. I pulled harder, and again harder. Even the greatest tug could not free them as they would not give up their hold on the vine, but instead squashed into my fingers leaving only pulp and juice. Licking my fingers to clean them, I tasted what I felt must surely be ambrosia. I paused. Surely this was reserved for someone other than the mere mortal I was. I reached again. Greedily I began pulling at them as if milking tiny but succulent breasts. I sucked my stained fingers as the deep purple juice ran down his arms and chin. In a frenzy, I reached again and again, pulling and sucking, I continued until there were no more.

Standing there breathing heavily, my blood pounding in his ears, I felt at once a deep love along with the exhilaration of an intense lust. I had never felt so whole before, or more alive. I felt the heat of passion combined with the comfort and safety of the womb. I felt that for the first time I really understood everything, and yet could never express what I knew to anyone – a deep sadness tempered with the calm satisfaction of really belonging and perhaps really mattering to the universe. Seeing a patch of grass in the shade of a nearby grandfather oak, I collapsed and fell into a deep, profound sleep. Dreaming of the Blackberry Shortcake I would make with the berries I had found.

 

WARNING: The following post contains scenes of graphic (and hopefully humorous) violence. Further, it may contribute to the portrayal and perception of “Ugly Americans”, especially as related to rural living. Any views construed to be against animals are not the views of… OK, maybe they are…

 

Ok, so we don’t get a lot of company up here. Friends speak of the drive, or the weather, but perhaps there is another more subtle reason. Let’s talk about last evening.

 

My daughter had a town girlfriend up for a play date, and by coincidence another adult friend stopped up for a surprise visit and found me cleaning up tiny mouse droppings from behind the toaster. Since I was also in the middle of making supper while simultaneously preparing several dishes ahead for the freezer, I continued to work while the other adult played with the children and pretended not to notice.

 

My cabin is actually a series of additions to an original small cabin, and there are a few places where the occasional field mouse sneaks in for a small taste of whatever the children drop on our floor. I am not really a messy pig. No really. Seriously.

 

Anyhow, while I listened to the chatter and worked as quickly as I could, I raced around the kitchen rattling pans stirring pots and searching for ingredients. Upon discovering I needed an onion, I slipped on my work boots and ran out for it. Getting out there, I chased an errant jake turkey out of the garden, grabbed my onion and raced back inside.

 

A pot of chicken stock was boiling a bit too hard, so without removing my boots, I stirred down the boil and reduce the heat. I turned away for a moment to check on the kids, and when I turned back, a movement on the wall behind the stove caught my eye.

 

Now, in the interest of full disclaimer, I feel compelled to admit that, like Indiana Jones, one of my few irrational fears is snakes… Like the large, dark one that was now crawling from behind my stove and headed across the counter between my fancy vinegars and up behind my corner cupboard. Startled, I called for my friend to take the children and leave. Although neither she nor anyone else could see the snake, she shot me a look of irritated disbelief, rolled her eyes and went, taking everyone into the living room.

 

Using the chicken tongs, I grabbed the tail of the rapidly disappearing snake and pulled. The irritation of the snake manifested in a reversal and striking motion (rather than an eye roll), so I quickly (understatement) flipped the snake onto the kitchen floor.

 

Now at this point I need to add that most of what follows was related to me after the fact, as I have little or no direct recollection of many of these incidents. So as the snake tried to decide whether to strike at me again or to head underneath the freezer or the refrigerator, I made the decision for it and began to try to jump onto its head with the heel of my boots. The dance which ensued can best be described by the steady stream of obscenities that issued from my mouth as I alternately jumped up to avoid the snake’s parries and down in the attempt to catch its skull. At least once, it caught on my pant leg and was flung into the air only to turn, ready to strike again. Alarmed by the commotion, my friend came out to the doorway, and seeing the battle, shouted “Use your Knife!!”

 

Rather than explaining the foolishness of that suggestion, I – apparently – calmly, explained that I would if it weren’t trying to bite me, and continued to jump and lunge like a scene from Riverdance while she beat a hurried retreat back to the living room and began to hug herself and rock on the couch, with her feet well away from the floor I hasten to add.

 

All epic battles do eventually come to an end, and this was no exception. As I hurriedly picked up the still twitching carcass with my tongs and headed outside, I passed through the living room. The scene there is testimony to something, but as I have not yet finished analyzing it, I leave it to you to judge. The adult friend and the other town kid were huddled together on the couch, shaking, while my daughter sat calmly texting someone on a borrowed cell phone and my son was loudly complaining that he wanted to finish playing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

 

I cleaned up the mess and served dinner quickly, trying to distract. But our company seemed to have no appetite, and quickly left. Even though I noticed the mouse sized bulge in the belly of the snake, I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before we have company again. Good thing I love the solitude.

 

P.S.: For those who may be harboring thoughts that I may be “anti-reptilic”, or that I have commited a hate crime, I hasten to add that this morning I rescued a yellow box turtle from a blind curve on the road to town. In fact, some of my best friends are reptiles…

 

Does that help fix my Karma?

 

 

 

 

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