Every year I make a pilgrimage to the same place. It changes, like a nebula, gaining limbs (friends) and losing others (uh, also referring to friends here), but the change is slow, organic, natural and altogether comfortable. In the woods, time passes in it’s own microcosm, and the city just… doesn’t matter. Ceases to factor in.
It’s the kind of environment you might expect me to leave my kitchen tools behind in, while I’m on the train of liberty, right? But, I dunno. It’s in my animal nature to dice things and boil water, and make something from nothing, from maligned vegetables and extra time and waking up refreshed from 10+ hours sleep and the clacking of trees and birds and drumming.
Some context: Many years running, my friends have thrown a kind of intimate woods festival, with a generator to make christmas lights and music, an exceptionally well equipped and beautiful kitchen, a classy kaibo (read: outhouse with tarps instead of walls), absolutely no running water, and enough calm vibes to soothe even the most frazzled entrant upon making it through the big green gate. It’s a little slice of paradise, and I’m lucky enough to be given some freedom in the kitchen there, turning the daily donations of fresh fruit and veg into stuff that’s more akin to dinner than the usual camper rations of dried crackery things.
Some years we even make sushi! Okay, maybe, every year we make sushi. It’s kind of a tradition at this point. I was grateful I didn’t have to spearhead that operation this year, and it’s a good thing it was up to two of the other incredibly talented cooks working in the kitchen. I don’t know how they did it, but was the nicest sushi rice I’ve tasted in like, a year. Seriously.
If you’ve never organized a festival kitchen (and I never really have, I’ve only stuck my hand in to help for a few days, and observed a bit along the way), there are a few things to keep in mind. First: Keep It Simple. For everyone’s sanity, and your enjoyment, and frankly, as a favour to the food. It’s not the time to try and reinvent the wheel or get all mission impossible about things. Work with what you’ve got and cook it well. Have eggplants and tahini? Salt those, wring them, fry them and drizzle with sesame goodness, lemon and mint – faboo. Have too much stale bread and old bananas? Vegan french toast, my friends. Coleslaw is easy, colourful, keeps well, and there’s always big hard grate-able veggies around – notwithstanding that I think it’s important to aways have a good crunchy salad out there on the front table to counteract the effects of partying all night and day. No wimpy lettuce. Tell your friends not to bring lettuce. Cut up plenty of fruit for people. Figure out how to A: boil (sanitize) water, B: make coffee, and C: keep the dish-pit supplied with said sanitized water. Do some dishes when no one’s around. Other things.
And so, when it rained on the last day, like a biblical 6AM head-bucket of lake-sized proportions, turning my tent (without fly, without tarp) into a swimming pool in about eight seconds, I turned to the campstove for warmth and made morale-chili while everyone was asleep. And, later when I had to finally take my toes from the soft ground and force them back into socks and sneakers and turn them towards the loud distilled air of the city, I was cool with it (I guess). Because it won’t be for long, really. I’m going to the maritimes in a week, and I’m bringing my campstove, my metal dishes, and a few select spices with me. ;)
Coconut Chai Rice Pudding with Crunchy Lemon Coconut
- 1 cup brown rice
- two 400ml cans of coconut
- 1 litre carton of rice milk
- 2 chai tea bags
- 1/2 cup raw organic sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 vanilla bean, split
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- pinch of cloves
- 1/2 cup dried fruit (raisins, apricots or mango would be nice)
- maple syrup (optional)
Add all ingredients except the dried fruit to a large sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and gently simmer, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t burn, for at least 60 minutes or until the rice is very soft and thick. Stir in the fruit.
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1/3 cup coarse organic sugar
- juice of 1 lemon
Toast the coconut in a heavy skillet over medium heat until golden brown. Add the coarse sugar and lemon juice and toss until the coconut is well coated in crystals. Let cool, and serve sprinkled on the pudding.