Illustration by Michael Iver Jacobsen.
AAs much as I like bordering waters, when I feel untethered, aimless or uncertain, I know that a dose of those moving waters in the southeastern corner of Minnesota can always lead me to my best being and my original heart. I find no irony in the fact that one of those places, located so close to where four generations of my family have lived and worked, is the root river.
Several years ago, I hit my younger brother, Ben, and his best friend, Lew, to ask them if they were going on a canoe trip on the weekend of May. I was looking at the barrel of the patio season at the bistro in St. Paul, where I had recently become an executive chef and knew that spending some time in the woods and in the water would be a useful balm against the coming stress.
Ben and Lew had been partners in crime since elementary school and had gone to college together at Vermillion in Ely, Minnesota. Ben had become a wild fireman and was preparing for his second season deployed as part of a helitack unit stationed in the Pacific Northwest, quickly jumping out of helicopters with a small crew to put out fires before they became true conflagrations. in the waterfalls and beyond. Lew had long been the yin for Ben's yang, the Yoda for his Skywalker, arguing, encouraging, participating and, from time to time, landing it in canoes, desert camps and snowboard safaris for most of the North of North America. We decided the weekend before the start of the fishing for the timing so as not to have to run a glove of rods and mosquitoes, and we chose the root river for our trip, since it had easy access to the camp that probably would not be dragged by floods of spring. A couple of phone calls included summer sausages and cheese for lunch, a campfire stew for dinner, canned beer, a bottle of Irish whiskey and a variety of granola bars for breakfast as long as we weren't too hangover to consider the morning feed.
Our cousin Kurt had also been invited but, tied to his job over the weekend, he could only offer to drop us off and pick us up. After much discussion in the morning that Kurt arrived (three Fratzkes will easily give him five opinions), we discovered that he would pick us up somewhere in MN-16 between Whalan and Peterson. I would load my kayak and our equipment and return with Kurt. Ben was riding a shotgun with Lew, his father's 1974 Alumacraft astride his Subaru Outback. It goes without saying that our fourth companion downstream would be Darby, the golden retriever a little smaller than a pony, known for his smooth behavior, healthy and constant appetite and voracious desire to spend time in any moving vehicle or vessel. .
By noon, the canoe had once fallen into a hitch, soaking Ben, Lew, Darby and most of his team, each had taken restorative tips from the whiskey bottle for strength, and I had tied a magnificent pile from floating wood to the ropes. The stern deck of my kayak. It took a couple of breaks for a snack, some canned beers, an afternoon bath (volunteer this time) and some time for a restless Darby. I remember, even then, wanting to call up to date, with all its imperfections, idyllic.
Keep in mind that for most of my adult life I had been absent from our beloved Driftless Region. Not only did Ben and Lew literally have the map, but he was delighted, after years of leadership roles in the kitchens of Twin Cities, to follow and be Sergeant Gass for his Lewis and Clark. Then, of course, as the shadows grew longer and the sky became more gray than blue, I began to ask about the camp.
"Not too far", "A little further on" and "Just after these rapids and down a road" it became "Around this curve, I think", "Wasn't I on a high bench?" , "And" Did we pass it? "The answer to the last question was yes, but not far away, and when we lost the daylight, Lew had a fire in the pit of the camp, Darby had entered a flop of fresh cow, and Ben was trying to get him to play for in the whirlpool under our camp as an ad hoc method to bathe what could be a very unhealthy night.
I pulled out my blue enamel pot from the kayak and took it to the picnic table where I dumped its contents along with a packet of slightly icy Hillshire Farms breakfast sausages that Lew offered.
"I thought they would be great for breakfast, but they seem to be almost defrosted."
I turned on my headlamp and examined our inventory. With a meal in a pot in mind, I ventured, "Do you just want me to go for it?"
Ben chewed an apple and broke a beer. "Do it."
I gave the pot a quick rinse with my water bottle, put it on the grill at the stake and opened the sausage pack with my knife, sliding them into the pot with a couple of slices of cold butter. Cleaning one of the canoe's oars, I used it as a cutting board to cut an onion and half a dozen garlic cloves in julienne, adding them to the sausages when I heard the sizzle in our conversation. The onions were golden brown and I covered them with a few curry powder shakes, the misplaced aroma rose above the smoke of the forest like fireworks. Lew rose from his trunk near the fire to watch the progress.
"I didn't expect to try THAT tonight," he said dizzily. I reached for the PBR in his hand, took a sip, then poured a couple of ounces into the pot, broken down the onions that my wooden spoon had told me were beginning to stick. I returned the beer to Lew and opened a ½ pound package of vacuum-sealed gnocchi that I had hooked in the bistro's dry warehouse before leaving for the weekend. I waited for the beer to cook and dropped the gnocchi in the pot with two liters of water and a couple of tablespoons of dashi powder. I put the lid on, knowing that a faster boil would prevent the gnocchi from turning into pieces of glue. I took the last trick out of my bag, literally, and opened a can of Kuner's Refried Black Beans with Lime, mixing the contents in the slowly emerging boil.
"Is she ready?" Ben asked, his amber green eyes in the firelight.
"Ten minutes," I said, sliding another pair of death splints into the fire under the grate.
We settled in a laugh around the fire, a bottle pass, and the crack and puff of new beers opened for lunch. Ben looked in his Duluth Pack to get a Cool-Whip tub and a crochet Ziploc for Darby's dinner. I put a stack of camping bowls on the table and took out my ever present Gray Kunz spoon. (You can take the boy out of the bistro …)
"You—" I began, realizing that none of them had brought food tools.
"No," Lew said, "let's get out of the pot."
"Great mountain style," Ben added.
I brought the pot to the coldest edge of the grill and, using the wooden spoon, took out a gnocchi. Not soft, not al dente. Even in the hot and fresh bonfire, the curry got into my nose and made our pork and ad hoc beans taste like a dry and dusty sunset, warming us of what a cloudy day denied us. The dashi crawled enough to turn it into a umami bomb, something you want any campfire meal to be.
Pulling the same wooden spoon, we enter a kind of traveling-aspirant time machine. The centuries faded and the three of us and our dog could have been anyone in the last 50,000 years of human history, following a river to a campfire and a meal from a single pot, some stories and a good night's sleep.
"We are there, boys," I sipped.
STEW RÍO ROÍZ
A good campfire stew requires beans, spices, protein and circumstances. Tools are also important: spoons large enough to reach the bottom of your larger pot, tongs for flipping and handling grilled items, and a simple and indestructible spork-type combo for individual consumption is an advantage. I will always recommend wood or bamboo over plastic or composite. From sticks to tongs and spatulas, they are easily found in most supermarkets and, in life or death scenarios, can be used to start or maintain fires.
1 medium yellow onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, peeled, cut, crushed
12 ounces (1 package) of pork breakfast links, cut in half if desired
2 tablespoons cold butter
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 ounces lager beer, white wine or water
2 tablespoons Hon-Dashi granules
1 packet of 16 oz vacuum sealed gnocchi prepared
2 quarts of water
1 can of refried black beans
Turn on the heat or place the pot on a stove over medium heat. Add cold butter and sausages at the same time.
In a short time, the butter should melt and the sausages will begin to produce their fat. Keep stirring the pot until you see the sausages begin to turn dull and cook. When they start to brown a little add the onion and garlic.
Work the onions, garlic and sausage until the onions are translucent and the garlic and sausage begin to show a chocolate brown milk color. Sprinkle the curry and stir vigorously. This toasts the spices and awakens the flavor. Be careful not to let it go too long since the spices can burn quickly. When you can smell the curry strongly, go to the next step.
Add lager, white wine or water. If you use any of the first, stir constantly and be patient, allowing the alcohol to cook completely. This usually occurs when the liquid has been reduced by more than half and the liquid has visibly thickened.
Add the gnocchi until they are completely covered by the preparation in the pot. Add water and dashi, stir well and place on a slightly warmer place in the fire or increase the burner to medium-high heat.
When the pot is simmering, add the refried beans. Crush with a fork or whisk or use a spoon to crush against the side of the pot until it breaks. When the stew boils again, turn off the heat to reduce the heat a little more. Stir often for at least 10 minutes. Root River Stew is finished when the gnocchi are cooked to the desired consistency.
Squeeze fresh lemon or lime for a brighter taste. The hot sauce will always provide a desired punch, either Cry Baby Craig or a handful of packages taken from fast food. Just remember to pack them empty. Don't be a tool and burn them in the fire.
Source:https://growlermag.com/off-the-map-root-river-stew/Additional Tags for this post:
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