So Kris, we’re back.
Two sunny weeks in a cabin on a lake, no electricity, no traffic, just loons, ravens, tree frogs, eagles, and my favorite kind of cooking: roughing it.
I know you’re a five-star hotel kind of girl, not a camper.
For me, cooking at the cabin is some of the happiest cooking I do all year.
Truth be told, I was even more entranced with cabin cooking when the stove was a two-burner Coleman, and the only fridge was the little one we now use for keeping drinks cold. It made whatever came out of the kitchen so much more a triumph of skill over circumstances.
Now, with a propane fridge and a four-burner propane stove with an oven, and this year – oh luxury – hot water on demand in the kitchen sink, it’s arguable how much roughing it is actually going on.
Still, we have to bring in anything we intend to eat, or else persuade one of our land partners who’s coming in from Quadra Island to replenish the milk, eggs and bread that always disappear fastest.
Sometimes the weather’s cold and I bake. This year we hit the sweet spot of summer, day after hot, sunny day, and there was no incentive to heat up the kitchen.
Some years we have blackberries in profusion; this year we were about a week early. I spent a lot of time clearing out the bracken fern, salal and salmonberries on the slope where the blackberries grow, but that was contemplative, not culinary.
Oddly enough, we were awash in avocados. We brought in 10 and found another five waiting in the fridge. Guacamole, cream cheese, avocado and tomato sandwiches, avocado and radish salad: it was a theme.
What delights me most is the time toward the end of the stay, when cooking dinner turns into a puzzle – how do we combine what we have left to make a meal? – with added points for using up anything that’s getting old in the cupboard.
This year’s creative triumph was a side-dish pasta sauce of sliced onion, sweated with one red and one orange bell pepper cut into narrow strips, seasoned with cumin, kalonji and black mustard seed, and, for bonus points, moistened with a small can of coconut milk dated 2006.
It was odd, but good.
Every year I rediscover the Joy of Cooking. Yes, I have it at home, but I have many other cookbooks too, and increasingly, the great Google cookbook.
At the cabin we have a couple of flour-company cookbooks from the ‘60s and a mid-70’s edition of the Joy. The substitutions table is, of course, particularly useful as supplies deplete.
I always make the chocolate pot de crème recipe, a simple, easy matter of cream, egg yolks and dark chocolate. And I almost always make the crepes for Crepes Suzette.
I love reading the story about the young chef Henri Charpentier, and how his kitchen accident turned into a triumph. I love even more the Rombauer-Becker’s precise, understated prose and high standards:
The crepes may be stacked, with foil or waxed paper in between, and reheated much later in sauce. Reheating and freezing are often suggested, and, while possible, the crepes are not improved.
One of the best things about cabin cooking is that I have all the time in the world, and no need at all for freezing and reheating.
I whisk up the batter before our afternoon swim, and let it sit in the fridge until after dinner.
This year I made them on the last night, intending to make a sauce out of the last orange, then found out I had two grapefruits left, not one orange and one grapefruit.
So it was a grapefruit sauce: a lump of butter, a tablespoon of sugar, the grapefruit cut up fairly small. I simmered it for a while, then added a good splash of Cointreau and let it reduce a bit more.
The crepes were somewhat crazy-shaped, owing to the slope on the stove, but we can fix that next year. Once they were folded you couldn’t really tell.
I melted the last of the bittersweet chocolate over hot water while I was cooking the crepes, put the crepes on plates, and added the hot sauce and the chocolate.
It was splendid – the unexpected grapefruit flavor with the fresh, warm crepes and the chocolate – and I’d never have discovered it if I hadn’t been cabin cooking.
Here's the crepe recipe, in case you don't have your own copy of The Joy of Cooking. Although the Joy says this will make four servings, I find it hard to be so delicate with the crepes. I'd say it's more like three servings of two crepes each.
- 3 eggs
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon milk
- pinch of salt
- Combine and stir until the ingredients are the consistency of thin cream.
- We recommend keeping this batter 3 hours to overnight, covered and refrigerated.
- Place in a skillet: Butter "as one joint of your thumb."
- When this bubbles, pour in enough paste to cover the bottom of the pan with a thin coating – "almost like the white of an egg."
- Keep the pan moving, for this is a delicate substance. A minute of cooking and the job is 3/4 done. Turn the cake. Now again and again and again until the cake is well browned. [Note: I've never turned them more than once.]
- Fold the cake twice. It will be triangular in shape "like a lady's handkerchief."
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