Camper's Couscous

Camper’s Couscous

This past weekend, I hiked Mt. San Antonio, (Mt. Baldy to the skiers), about an hour east of the sprawl of Los Angeles. It is one of the four mountains in the area above 10,000 feet elevation, making it a great hill to practice how one handles the challenges of altitude sickness.

About halfway up one of the trails that lead to the summit, there’s a wee ski hut, built in 1936 (for the second time, after a fire destroyed it.) Now maintained by members of the Sierra Club, if you plan in advance, you can reserve a bunk in the hut that sleeps about 12 for $20 a night. A fellow camper staying there told stories of his father who helped portage in 2x4s and steel sheets to build the roof. All morning and afternoon long on both days, hikers stopped in on their way to the summit, telling us their stories of stays at the hut, signing the register and grabbing water on the way out.

For a while now, I’ve swung back to the other side of the food blogging pendulum; previously focusing with precision on what is on the plate itself, how it tastes, how it is styled, how it represents itself to others. It has been a long time coming for me, but I’m slowly and steadily getting back in shape to prepare for a spectacular backpacking trip next year. Talking to all of the guys who overnighted in the ski hut on their way up to or down from Mt. Baldy brought this goal into perspective; everyone had thoughts, and everyone was encouraging my plan for a lengthy 50-mile back country trip that ends with the summit of Mt. Whitney next summer. With this increased training in my week comes an increased focus on food as a vehicle for accomplishing an energy-sustaining balance of fat, calories, carbohydrates, vitamins and amino acids. In some ways, this puts me at odds with the idea of food blogging as a luxurious flipbook of recipes for the developed palate, an idea which I think drives the whole of food blogging.

The more I’m out in the back country, the more food itself takes a back seat to the experiences and conversations had over eating it. The act of having my meals cooked on a wood-fired stove that someone hauled 3,000 feet up a mountain by hand, sitting at a rough-hewn table with wood that someone hauled the same distance for the act of doing exactly what we were doing was infinitely more important than the actual food on the table. We could have eaten a bag of chips at the table and we still would have had the experience of communing with strangers over a love of nature in an historic refuge in the forest.

My take on this swap’s recipe is Camper’s Couscous, and it was exactly what I hoped it would be; a solution to me buying pre-packaged cups of soup when I go out on these journeys. But it in no way was the focus of my interest this weekend. It seemed inappropriate to eat for one in a hut full of other hikers, even though we had pre-planned our contributions to family meals. When a fellow hiker asked me how the soup was, I merely said “It needs dried chives.” It wasn’t fun to eat a cup of soup by myself, then or ever. The breakfast made for ten, on the other hand, was a blast. We drank percolated coffee, black. Our hut host stoked the stove and we stood around laughing about torturing the morning’s hikers with the smells of hot coffee, potatoes and bacon they couldn’t have. Over this community breakfast, we had a time I am eager to bring back into my home, over my own table; communion with other loved ones using food as an expression of appreciation for one’s presence.

Sunrise at the San Antonio Ski Hut.

I am excited to have my own recipe for instant soup, and I’ll definitely make it again for the trail, with some modifications to keep things interesting. I am thankful to have enough money to make food to my specifications and for having great health to be able to take that food to beautiful wilderness to enjoy it. But what I remember of the weekend is the spirit of the original recipe, Wild Rabbit With Vegetables, which was probably originally made in over-sized, banged up cookware like ours this morning, intended to feed a small army from a humble kitchen.

Camper’s Couscous
Serves: One hungry camper

1/3 cup small grain couscous
1 T organic powdered chicken broth (use a smashed cube of bouillon if you can’t find powdered)
2 T dried corn (I used the “Just Corn” variety found at Whole Foods)
1 T dried, crumbled shitake mushroom
1 T sundried tomatoes, (about two slices, chopped)
1 tsp dried chives (or fresh, if you can’t find them)
1/2 tsp salt
A few fine-grind cracks black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic salt

Place all ingredients in a plastic baggie, and hike somewhere where you have access to hot water. When settled in to camp, place contents in a medium bowl, and pour about two cups boiling water over soup, cover and let steep for five minutes. Uncover, stir, eat and enjoy your surroundings.

View atop Mt. San Antonio, looking southeast.

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