Book: Handbook of the Canadian Rockies

I don’t buy many paper books these days, so I caught even myself off guard when I dropped fifty bucks on this doorstop-grade loaf while on vacation over the summer, and in a souvenir store no less.

We had spent the day in the wilderness and flipping through the pages it caught the dangling threads of my vacationing soul and pried open my wallet.

I had woken that same morning and gone for an eight kilometer trail run up the side of a small mountain to an overlook of the town where we were staying. I’d met a friend (who had moved out to there a few years back for career reasons) and she’d led me on a 7am (and two degrees Celsius in July!) run along a quiet road and up towards the trailhead of a short day hike path that was still quiet of all human life save us. We ascended a few hundred meters of elevation into the early morning crisp air and stood on a smooth boulder with a vista view spanning what seemed fifty kilometers in multiple directions, and I couldn’t help but feel a pang of envy that she could go up there any time she wanted and I was due to drive back to the city the next day.

Flipping through the display copy of Handbook of the Canadian Rockies by Ben Gadd that evening evoked some overlapping emotions I’d been feeling from that whole week-long excursion into the National Parks, but in particular tugged at my heart in the same sort of way that standing atop a small mountain did at the dawn of that day.

A few minutes later I was standing at a cash register, tapping my debit card on the kiosk and watching my own copy being handed back to me with a crisp little receipt bookmark protruding from the edge.

When I was a lot younger I was fascinated by the kinds of books that were stuffed with bounties of information, the kind of books like encyclopedias or almanacs that could surprise you with any visit. Those kinds of books you pry open to a random page and are greeted with a sub-sub-heading of some curious topic and you just read.

This is that kind of book.

I opened the book three times at random as I started to write this paragraph and on those three visits I was greeted with a page filled with information about local lichen species, then a page detailing the dietary habits of the mule deer, and finally a two-page spread timeline of the major geological events of the area dating back a few billions of years.

If that kind of thing isn’t your style, you’re probably also not the kind of person to feel pangs of wonder at the beauty of a particular rock formation or pause in the middle of a long hike to contemplate a small copse carpeted by lush green moss.

A month later I’ve consistently kept this book on my nightstand and made something of a habit of opening the book at random (if not every day) a few times per week and reading a few pages here or there about the history, flora, fauna, and geology of my nearby mountain escape…

…and then pining to be back there.

If that isn’t an endorsement for a book, I don’t know what is.

a’la plancha

It’s Friday afternoon and it turns out that you really can learn something new every day. For example, while I was reading a new e-book that I had downloaded I also learned a new cast iron word.

In fact, last night I was sitting in the truck waiting for my daughter to finish her dancing class for the night and was skimming through a PDF of The Backyard Fire Cookbook by Linda Ly (which you can pick up for a few bucks in this month’s Humble Bundle by the way… tho only if you’re reading this in May 2021. No affiliation.)

The author’s introduction noted that (in her opinion) cooking over a campfire required three foundational pieces of cast iron: a dutch oven, a big pan, and a plancha.

Pause.

I’ll admit. That was a new word for me: plancha.

So, of course, I temporarily closed the PDF, swiped open a browser window, and Google’d it.

… to which a confusing selection of advertisements for griddles appeared on my screen.

Um.

As it turns out the English translation for what turns out to be the Spanish word plancha is iron.

More specifically, and digging through more sites helped me discover this, the word plancha in reference to a cooking tool is a flat, iron griddle with shallow sides.

Or, a big flat hunk of cast iron… and what I would have up until last night called a griddle.

Even Google knew better.

Not that griddle is a great word. I have a round griddle. I also have reversible griddle with grooves on one side and a flat smooth pancake-friendly surface on the other. I’ve a got a small griddle I put in my barbecue. And I even have an electric griddle (which I will mention as little as possible going forward.) Lots of griddles that have multiple different meanings even in my own kitchen.

Plancha may be a new word for me, but it suits the specificity of the kind of griddle-like pan I tend to prefer: an oblong, squarish piece of flat iron that has a bit of a lip to keep the food from slipping off but is otherwise a big broad cooking surface.

So. Friday afternoon and I have a new word to help me talk about one of my favourite topics. How’s your week going?

Book: Campfire Cuisine

For Thursdays I was thinking about starting a regular feature called Tuck & Tech that would let me muse about gear, books, recipes, and other kit. I’m neither sponsored nor provided any of these things. I just find them interesting or useful.

A curious recipe book showed up in my stocking this past Christmas: Campfire Cuisine by Robin Donovan seems to be a hearty collection of tasty dishes that meet a couple basic criteria around food transportation and storage as well as ease of preparation over a hot campfire.

A lot could be said about the fact that the wife and I have already conversed about trying some of the collection of marinades, breakfasts, sandwiches, and main courses at home first. There is nothing necessitating a campout cook style for many of the dishes … which, I guess, means that the collection is a solid book of hearty dishes that also happens to be amenable to cooking and eating in the great outdoors.

It’s the middle of deep winter as I write this, and I did have a short campfire in the chilly backyard for New Year’s Eve, but we used it to symbolically torch the 2020 calendar and I wasn’t comfortable cooking on those flames afterwards. Our simple go-to would likely have been pulling out the marshmallows to make s’mores, after a round of grilled hot dogs.

Yet this book definitely seems to be more than one-dish meals or meats-on-sticks.

I re-read the introduction this morning again and it lit a feeling of kinship between myself and the author. There was a symmetry of philosophy in those words, even as I set off (it’s still my first week) to write a daily blog checking boxes that Donovan checked long before me, and in print to boot.

Living to eat well.

Travelling to taste and experience.

Savouring experiences.

I’ve yet to try any of the recipes, and definitely not over a firepit, but for that synergy alone I’ll be pouring over the hundred-ish recipes in the book now (and as warmer tent camping weather approaches) to construct the menu for our next outbound excursion.