Stir Fried Campfire

It had been far too many months since I had found myself with a good day to build a small campfire in the backyard. But Saturdays, even chilly ones in mid-Spring, can sometimes avail themselves of enough freedom and opportunity to reignite something interesting, sometimes literally.

My plan to have winter fires outdoors this past cold season was met by a couple struggles with weather, timing and general distraction. I lit up the pit a few times while there was snow on the ground, but by choices of days were never ideal and I spent multiple hours outside in the dwindling light of dusk trying thaw the ice from the bottom and sides of my fire pit for long enough to sustain a flame of anything worthy of the name.

So with the snow consistently melted and the remaining autumn leaf litter cleared, I dusted off everything — pit, grill plates, benches and tools — late yesterday afternoon and burned a couple hours worth of wood to both get rid of the winter remains and kick-start another season of backyard cookouts.

I not only slow-grilled a pair of thick pork chops for nearly an hour, roasting them slowly over the coals and smoke, turning them into deliciously flavored hunks of savory meat, but I also attempted a simple stir fry: rice.

Basic white rice finds itself in our home cooked meal rotation often enough that we usually have a cup or two of day-old rice in the fridge. My wife was planning on simply microwaving our leftovers to accompany the chops, but I suggested instead that we fry up some rice over the already-to-cook fire.

Some scrambled egg, a few finely chopped veggies in butter, a heap of left-over cold rice, and some soy sauce, all step-wise added to my twelve inch cast iron pan, and sizzled up to a toasty brown with the smoke and the flame licking around the outside.

It was delicious and nutty and savoury, and the perfect side to go along with two caramel-toned smoked pork chops that followed the bowl of stir fried rice through the backdoor and to the kitchen table.

Sometimes I wonder what the neighbours must be thinking, but I guess if they could smell my outdoor cooking they’re probably mostly jealous.

Short: Friday Fires

Long work days, short cool evenings.

I had my phone in one hand and an axe in the other (metaphorically speaking, of course) as Friday’s quitting time slipped into view. The benefit of (still) working from home is that I can check the laptop for rogue, last-minute emails even while I heat up the backyard firepit for a cookout.

At five pm I cracked a beer and stoked the coals just right to grill up some juicy steaks and a foil packet of freshly dug garden spuds.

Not a terrible way to start the weekend. Not terrible at all.

Campfire Corn Roast

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.

Crispy Campfire

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.