Recipe: Cast Iron Breakfast Hashbrowns

I’ve eaten breakfast in many places around the world, and its fair to say that anywhere you wake up to a meal that place probaby has it’s own style of morning eats that defines it as a culture.

At home, I tend to spread a little jam on some toasted slices of sourdough bread and munch on that while I sip my fresh brewed coffee.

But I wouldn’t exactly call my toast a ”Canadian Style” breakfast.

I’ve long had an affinity for breakfast as a meal. In my previous job my boss liked to host Friday morning meetings at the local greasy spoon diner with a plate of runny-yolk eggs. Our running crew is affectionately named the “Breakfast Run Club” because we often meet outside a breakfast place for a run followed by a morning meal. I’ll be the first to wake while camping specifically to get a start on a hearty skillet-fried breakfast. And lacking a better option for another meal of the day, I’m happy to repeat breakfast for lunch, dinner, supper, or even an evening snack.

But what defines a ”Canadian Breakfast” is tough to say.

The local fast food chain A&W, famous for their root beer and hamburgers, jumped with both feet into the breakfast market about a decade or so ago and differentiated themselves from the ‘egg on a muffin’ chains by serving a fresh, plated, ”Canadian” breakfast, probably based off of any of those greasy spoon places I mentioned previously. I’ve indulged more times than I care to admit, and it’s probably as close as I can come to appropriately pinning down a breakfast that defines the country culturally.

What’s on that plate?

A pair of eggs (any style), two slices of toast, some crispy bacon strips, a duo of breakfast sausages, a pair of fresh tomato slices, and a patty of hashbrown.

Any of those items listed are foods I’d claim a confident level of skill to make… except one.

The hashbrown, as much as it’s just fried potato is finicky to get right at 7am.

the ingredients

1 or 2 medium potatoes, grated
half a small onion, chopped or grated
1 egg
15ml vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste

the make

The grated potato needs to be washed (to rinse out a lot of the starch) in cold water and then patted dry on a towel. The egg and oil need to be beaten lightly together. Then all the ingredients can be mixed in a bowl until a thick and even potato slurry of a sort is ready to cook.

On a hot cast iron grill, I like to use my large flat top plancha, spread the mixture into a large flat slab, no thicker than a pancake.

When the edges of the beast start to brown and crisp, you can portion it into more managable chunks with the edge of your metal spatula, then flip and grill the other side until both sides are crisp and the interior is cooked to your desired doneness.

The result is kind of fried mat of potato. It’s not much of anything like the industrially shaped discs of deep fried starch madness that one would get at a local fast food place, but it’s very much like the hash served at some of my favourite greasy spoons.

Tho as much as I can cook eggs to nearly any style and have master techniques for near-perfect bacon (and shouldn’t even need to mention the almost flawless sourdough loaves I’ve been baking lately) the perfect hashbrown is still not quite on my list of confident culinary skills. I suppose if I want to be a Canadian breakfast master, I’d better fix that.

On Visual Storytelling

As the summer draws nearer, I’ve got it into my head to make some movies.

Well… filmmaking. Video production. Out in the wilds with a camera and an idea, at least.

I initially set up a Youtube channel for this blog over a year ago with dual intentions.

First, I needed a place to upload little video clips to accompany my posts. My cheap little hosting setup is pretty flexible, but streaming video directly from a discount blog host doesn’t make much sense when there are free services like Youtube.

Second, I had this crazy idea of trying to make some short films. Not a vlog. Not ranting into a camera lens. Not just reading my posts either. But putting together a little script, gathering A-roll and B-roll and mixing it all into a little short film about a very particular topic.

There are plenty of examples of this already on Youtube and my subscription list provides me plenty of inspiration.

So…

I’m finally jumping in with both feet and I’m going to make it happen.

I’m working on the first two films right now, gathering footage and writing the scripts, and this morning I finished editing and recording a short introduction and trailer for my new project:

To be clear, there’s not going to be any regularity, routine or schedule to this new thing.

It’s just a thing for now. It’s sporadic … and an effort I’ll pick away at until I can make that thing at a quality I’m happy with. Uploading as I find time and inspiration to make more of those things.

But stay tuned.

Oh, and I’m supposed to say something like “please like and subscribe” right?

Hiking: Mountain Bunkers

Back in March of this year, 2022, we made yet another long weekend into a family adventure getaway to the mountains. With few plans besides a booked hotel suite and our hiking gear, we landed in the town of Canmore after a four hour spring drive.

A year earlier we had zipped off to the same general area (but a different side of the mountain and a different set of plans) and had done some fun, easy hikes but then had a crazy winter drive back home at the end of it all.

While the forecast turned out to be more cooperative this trip, we were a lot less prepared for what to do with our relatively pleasant weather. So when I suggested a short hike to try and find the mysterious nuclear fallout bunker on the side of a nearby mountain, there were few objections.

for whatever one photo is worth:

If you stand at the mouth of the Heart Creek Bunker and look North (and down) you can easily see the Trans-Canada Highway snaking by in the valley below, rounding the corner of Lac des Arcs and disappearing around the far end of the same mountain upon which you are standing.

The bunker is not difficult to find, though the route is not clearly marked as to what you will see when you embark on the short two kilometer trail part way up the side of a cliff face.

In fact, if it wasn’t for various social media and independent hiking guide sites I doubt many people beside the locals who live in nearby Canmore would know about this odd little gem.

As the story goes, the bunker was started (but never finished) in the late 1960s as “part of a Cold War-era plan to keep important government records safe in the event of a disaster, up to and including a nuclear bomb.”

But it leaked, water dripping through the porous rock, and then too political tides changed and I’m sure the whole endeavor became financially unfeasible so… now there is a cave dug out a couple hundred meters into the side of a mountain, and a narrow, unmarked trail through the forest leading to its entrance.

There were three other hiking parties there when we arrived in the mid-morning, and also about a half dozen other dogs. We chatted and let the dogs play and took each other’s photos at the mouth of the cave.

Then we went in.

It was pitch black inside save for the lights we carried with us.

I took as many pictures as I could in the dim light and recorded some video:

The walls were marked with graffiti and messages from past visitors as the site is apparently popular with locals for parties and late night fun and light painting and boondocking.

The dog was spooked by the whole experience and she needed to be carried out after less than ten minutes in the pitch black and eerily quiet cave.

And then … we turned our back and returned down the mountain path to our car. On the ride home, spotty mountain internet service stretched to the limit, my wife who is usually a planning and research guru for our travels took the chance to finally look up the weird history of the strange mountain bunker we’d just visited. Even our server at dinner later that evening perked his ears and seemed curious that a trio of tourists had made their way up to the secret Canmore bunker.

Off-the-beaten path sights are not necessarily rare, but they are always weird and magical and mysterious when you find them… especially if you didn’t even plan on looking in the first place.

Stewards of the Trails

While volunteering as a course marshal at a local trail race yesterday, I stood in the same spot in the woods for nearly three and a half hours. Much of that time was spent clapping and cheering and directing racers away from a detour where the path had naturally washed out near the river bank. But a lot of the rest of that time was me incidentally and casually investigating the condition of the local trails.

The Inspiration

A few weeks ago I watched a mini-documentary video by Beau Miles called Run the Rock, wherein the filmmaker stepped out his front door in his running kit, loaded his wheelbarrow up with tools, and ran about ten klicks out to a remote trail to dig up a rock. The story is told much more thoroughly by Miles in the video but the short version is simply that after a friend tripped over an obstacle on their running path it only seemed right that someone go remove the obstacle.

He did just that.

The nine minute video runs the viewer through the story and motivation behind what turns out to be a kind of drive towards the moral stewardship of the spaces we share.

Miles ran the equivalent of a half marathon, out and back to where a small boulder was protruding from the path, and on the return trip he not only lugged the same boulder clear of the woods but did so knowing that he had done a bit of work to make the trail a safer place for himself, his friends and anyone who used it.

The Parallel

Standing in the woods for three and a half hours yesterday, minding a curve in the path where the intersection of five distinct trails (one of which had been part of the race course until it was washed out by rain last season) gave me a lot of opportunity to inspect the place thoroughly.

In roughly six square meters of trail intersection there was:

… an official survey brass marker the circumference of a tennis ball protruding nearly ten centimeters from the dirt in the middle of one of the paths

… the shards and remains of at least two broken bottles, crunched to bits the size resembling loose change scattered into the dust

… a pothole at the edge of, but still on, one of the paths large enough to place a car tire inside and clearly awkward enough to trip anyone who wasn’t paying attention as they strolled by

The park itself is a bit of reclaimed semi-industrial land that now lies fairly embedded in the southwest suburbs of the city. Remnants of strip mining that ended at least fifty years ago are shrouded like ancient ruins in young tree cover and meandering paths that sometimes lead past chunks of concrete footings. The area is now an off-leash dog park, boat launch, and recreation area snaked through with bike paths, hiking trails and open spaces (great for hosting trail races.)

It’s also well-used and only lightly serviced.

All of which means that if one stops to stare at one’s feet for any length of time it’s going to become obvious that the trail conditions in some of the highest traffic areas are lagging.

The Solution

The answer, if there actually is one, is probably something to do with personal responsibility.

To be fair to the overall condition of the park, the spot where I was stood for the better part of my morning was not only a convergence of many trails and a highly travelled part of the deep trails of the park, but a particularly nice lookout and vantage point high up on the banks of the river looking north. In other words, a lot of people go this way and stop here for a rest or a photo.

Yet, that seems all the more reason that such a spot should be made safer.

Dogs could cut their paws on the broken glass.

Anyone could stumble in the pothole.

A cyclist who hit the protruding survey marker could easily find themselves ass over tea kettle and tumbling down a steep riverbank.

If only someone could find, say, a Friday afternoon later this week when he had the day off work to wander out there with a pair of gloves, a trash bag and maybe even a shovel.

I may need to check the weather forecast to see if that someone is me.