When I checked out of work for the week at the end of the day today, the sun was still high enough in the sky for it to be considered daylight.
It’s been cold for most of the week, that deep, chilling cold that makes it difficult to do much besides curl up on the couch and watch bad television. We tried taking the dog for a walk mid-week and turned around because between the icy sidewalks and the brutally cold wind it was simply stupid and dangerous to be outside.
So, that it was merely a few degrees below freezing after work and still light out, I decided to light a fire.
I mean, I literally had to shovel the fire pit out of a knee deep snow drift in our backyard, and trudge a path to the firewood at the back of the yard.
It took nearly an hour to warm up the bowl enough that it would burn longer than a few minutes without going out, but after a while I got a nice flame going and was able to sit for a half an hour and sip a drink while I fought off the evening cold with the dim flames.
It felt good.
I mean, there is something grounding about sitting beside a fire after spending the week staring at screens, something that is tough to explain but ultimately results in a bit of respite for one’s mental health and general peace of mind.
I may need to hit up the grocery store for something interesting to cook over a fire this weekend, now that (after all that work shoveling and melting) I’ve primed my pit up properly for winter.
My foray in to roasting vegetables over the fire veered into more traditional territory this afternoon after picking up a few ears of fresh corn from the grocery store.
Step one was to remove the silk while leaving the husk as intact as possible. This is done by carefully peeling back each fibrous layer one at a time without breaking them off. When the final layer of husk has been pulled back, the hair-like strands of silk can be pulled away easily… tho getting those last few is a meticulous process. Then reversing the husk peel, each layer is folded back up around covering the kernels again.
Step two involves a long soak. I’ve read online that some people soak their corn for hours or even overnight. Time was pressing so mine got a deluxe ninety minute bath in ten centimeters of cold tap water in my kitchen sink. The point of this is to introduce a lot of moisture to the ears helping to (a) slow burning and (b) induce steaming.
With nearly an hour left in my soak I got to work chopping wood for step three which was, as the title of this post implies, building a roaring fire to create a bed of hot, crackling embers over which the corn could be roasted. I suppose if one wanted to settle for a charcoal barbecue or even a gas grill I would not object. After all, corn over a flame, whatever flame, is always better than a simple cob dropped in a pot of boiling water.
Step four was that point in the corn-fire relationship where the two really got to know each other. Wet corn sizzled and crackled over the glowing red coals at the base of my fire pit. I started the cook with a lot of careful clock-watching, letting the ears cook for a solid five minutes before turning them (even if it was tempting to intervene on the blackening, charring results.) After each five minutes per side, the black bits that had been rotated away from the flame flaked away exposing more unburnt husk, which in turn cooked and burned and shed. As I neared the end of the cook, the tips of the ears had burn away and the kernels at the tip charred a bit.
The whole family helped with step five which as one might guess involved some butter, salt and pepper and a whole lot of sweet, fire-roasted corn. Delicious.
As much as I’ve been spending time fine-tuning my campfire cooking skills, I’ve been thinking about all the small ways that effort has translated into a bit of backyard humour, too.
Having a teenage daughter helps. She often and candidly points out all my shortcomings. Free of charge. “I’m embarrassed for you, dad.”
Or more recently, “The ribs are burnt, dad. I can’t eat this.”
They we’re not burnt. They were crispy.
So it goes that in episode two of Gaige and Crick I tried to do what I always do when I write up a script for a new comic: take a dash of real life and salt it heavily with a bit of exaggeration.
Perhaps you too have spent some time cooking over a hot flame recently. Watching the professionals barbecue juicy meats over sizzling coals looks like knowledge that should be baked into our genes, locked into the primal ancient skillset possessed by every human on the planet. If I need to grill a hunk of flesh over a fire, darn it, that is my legacy as a participant in the human race. Right?
The hot grease that dripped from my slow-cooked ribs was hardly the ignition source for a mushroom cloud, but it sure felt that way when my meticulously prepared coals and carefully laid plans turned into a small inferno a few seconds into the grilling process.
Gaige is in over his head, it often seems. He so desperately wants to be a professional. He so eagerly wants to build himself up as a something he is not. Luckily Crick’s head is a little closer to the ground.
What do you get if you cross a campfire cooking enthusiast with a suburban Canadian stuck at home during a pandemic craving some southern-spiced fare?
Maybe …you get an experimental campfire taco recipe.
After grilling up the vegetable platter that would become a fire-roasted homemade salsa, I kept the fire stoked for some marinated flank steak that served for some makeshift pseudo-barbacoa filling for my Saturday supper plans.
1 little lime juiced
1 medium lemon juiced
6 glugs of olive oil
1 dollop of salt
1 nudge of ground chipotle chiles
I mixed all that together in a bowl, emulsifying the oils with the citrus, and poured it over the steak to marinate.
The meat and marinade rested for a ninety minutes before I got down to the business of cooking it low and slow over a bed of campfire coals.
The result was delicious.
The meat was seasoned enough as to not overpower the flavours of the salsa or roasted peppers I’d added, but held its own sliced thin and wrapped into toasted shells.
Next time I may go with a thinner cut of meat as bringing up the internal temperature over the hot campfire coals left a bit of a drier, chewier crust to form on the outside.
And folks who like spicy food will definitely want to amp up the pepper or chili quantity in their own version.
All ’round, not a bad Mexican-style substitute for a Canadian backyard lockdown, and a taco recipe I will be building on and from as the summer rolls on.