One Foot Outdoors: Tips, tricks and hints for cooking in the woods

I love hockey, and my favourite day on the hockey calendar is the first day of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Fifteen teams have already hit the golf course and another 16 who believe they have a legitimate shot at winning it all hit the ice to battle for the hardest trophy to win in sports. By the time the final series arrives, I’ve generally lost all interest – as well as any chance of winning the office pool. My camper is parked at the lake and, if I’m lucky, I’ll catch a few periods on the satellite radio to keep me up to speed on who is winning.

This year was no exception. Although I was happy to see St. Louis finally hoist the cup, I was even happier to be sitting around a campfire with good people, good food, and no cell signal.

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I heard on the radio today that Joe Thornton is turning 40 in a couple of weeks. That makes two things I have in common with Joe Thornton. We are both turning 40 in July and neither of us has won a Stanley Cup.

Turning 40. Boy, does that ever feel like I’m careening towards an unavoidable brick wall. Was it really 20 years ago that I started writing sports for The Reminder? I started writing freelance for the Gazette when I was a teen and got a job in the advertising department when I was 20.

I would work downstairs during the day and move upstairs with the reporters in the evening. I cut my teeth with reporter Shirley Siemens and editor Grant Elliot, may they both rest in peace. Turns out I was way better at writing than I was at selling advertising, and I put in six years as the sports editor before moving to Brandon.

Back then I was way more adventurous (see also: physically fit) than I am today. I used to enjoy writing columns based on personal experiences and I tried out a lot of new things because I thought it would make a good column. I went sailing in Denare Beach, took a bike ride down the Mink Rank Road and went paintballing for example.

Now, I feel like an old dog trying to learn new tricks. This summer, I backed up the camper by myself for the first time with a little directional help from my dad. In August, I’ll be officiating a wedding, which is pretty cool in itself, not to mention a huge honour to be asked to do such an important job.

But this is supposed to be an outdoors column, and I’ve strayed pretty far off that path. For those who read my column last summer, you already know that it isn’t about epic experiences I’ve had while venturing off the beaten path. It’s about trying new things and about the good times spent with friends around the campfire, no matter where you are.

Constant readers would also remember that food is one of the outdoor things I’m actually okay at.

Today, I want to write a little bit of a nod to those campfires; more notably the food we cook on them. I’d like to thank Lacey Nabe for introducing me to the delicacy that is campfire nachos. Everything tastes better cooked over a campfire, and since nachos are one of the most outstanding dishes going, the camp fire brings up the intensity level 10-fold. It was so good, my wife and I tried making it ourselves a week later. We haven’t quite perfected it, but if you want to try it yourself, here is what we did.

We used a deep cast iron frying pan and generously layered in three stacks of nachos, jalapenos, onions, beef and cheese. Cover the works with tinfoil and place over a roaring fire for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted all the way through. Serve with your choice of salsa, sour cream or guacamole.

Readers will also remember that bush pies are just about my favourite thing about camping, next to garlic sausage and hammocks.

Another game changer for me already this year was Chris Danis introducing me to pizza bush pies. I was pretty much strictly a sandwich meat, mustard-on-buttered bread kind of guy. Swapping out the mustard for pizza sauce is a completely new experience.

If you don’t own a bush pie maker, the cast iron ones are the best, but steel is acceptable too. Just don’t forget to butter the outside of the bread, and check on it often.

Tip of the week: This week I want to tell you how to make an upside-down fire. I know what you are thinking; “I already know how to build a fire.” Trust me, I thought I did, too, but since bushmaster Tony Cianflone showed me the upside-down fire, I have never looked back.

First, you need to forget everything you know about building a fire. If you are like me, you built some kind of a log cabin or teepee with smaller, easy to ignite stuff on the bottom, and used that to catch fire to the larger logs.

Here is what I want you to do: Take about eight split pieces of firewood, and place the largest four in a row, as close together as you can, from left to right. Try not to leave any space between the logs. Next, take the other four pieces and place a second row on top of the first row, from back to front.

Still with me? Then, grab some small branches from the bush, or small wood chips, whatever is the driest stuff you can find, and place that on top. Use kindling if you want, and grab some newspaper or other fire starter if you want to help it out, but the key is to put the smallest most flammable stuff on top, and cram as much of it in there as you can. When you light the stuff on top, it falls through the cracks and will light both layers of wood as it burns.

That stack of wood should burn good for a solid two hours or more before you have to add any logs. If you do it right, it should produce even heat that is perfect for cooking on.

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