What. A. Weekend.
This wasn’t the post I envisioned writing a week ago, but plans, being what they are, change, and all I can do is to roll with it.
After hanging out with my very outdoorsy friends in Madison, I realized that we don’t do enough to take advantage of the beautiful outdoors that California has to offer. So M and I set out to correct that by gearing ourselves up for a season of camping, beginning with the Memorial Day weekend, which unofficially marks the start of Summer. Due to a pessimistic weather forecast for conditions along the Mendocino coast, we abandoned our initial plans to camp in the Redwood forests of Humboldt and instead, joined Chez Us at the Stampede Reservoir, north of Lake Tahoe, unaware of the irony that lay ahead: we had swopped rain and fog in exchange for snow. All eight inches of it.
While camping in a winter wonderland is an adventure in itself, nothing beats trying to cook up a storm in the midst of a snowfall and dropping temperatures. Having heard of Chez Us’ legendary gourmet camp dinners, we had a full, three-day menu planned that included: Slow-cooked lamb shanks with white wine, leeks and carrots, Jerk Chicken with grilled asparagus and crème fraiche, a BLT with fresh pesto as well as lots of fresh peaches, strawberries and two pounds of pistachios to snack on.
The snow started to fall late on Saturday afternoon and continued till the wee hours of Sunday morning. It didn’t stop us from preparing dinner, after all, we had to eat!
After about 45 minutes, M finally got the charcoal grill going as the snowfall intensified and started to accumulate. As perfect as those lamb shanks would have been for this weather, there was no way we would be left standing to savor the fruits of our labor by the time the snow was done with us. So Jerk Chicken it was, together with thin, sweet stalks of fresh asparagus, supplemented by Denise’s Asian Coleslaw and a Potato Salad.
Needless to say, I was hardly focused on the task of photographing and cooking dinner while snow continued to descend around us. It was just surreal – so ridiculous it’s funny – to be huddled around a BBQ grill in late-May, trying to keep warm by staying close to the fire and downing glasses of red wine as each snowflake vanished with a tiny hiss on the grill.
As you can see from the photographs, our chicken pieces were a little, shall we say, caramelized on the outside and just tender on the inside (although judging by these images I guess our version looks pretty authentic). It could have spent a few more minutes on the grill, to be honest, but we were anxious about staying out for much longer and quickly packed up our dinner, heading for the warm confines of Denise’s sister’s RV. While I still don’t see the point of ‘camping’ with an RV, it sure is handy to have a proper shelter and ‘dining room’ of sorts when faced with bad weather!
After waking up to a freezing white landscape the next day, it was pretty clear that heading home would be the wise thing to do, although I was definitely game for staying another night. What would you have done in a similar situation?
Still unsatisfied with our abbreviated camp adventure, M and I headed north the next day to Tomales Bay for some freshly shucked oysters and a chin-dribbling pulled pork sandwich from The Marshall Store, before walking it all off at the Point Reyes National Seashore with its beautiful views of the Pacific and Drake’s Bay. Getting up close and personal with wild elk and rabbits, and wading barefoot through a mudpool on the trail completed an unexpectedly varied outdoorsy weekend that spanned the Sierras to the Pacific coast. I suppose the lesson in all this is to be careful what you wish for, and to take weather forecasts to heart for our next camping trip!
Serves 4, as part of a meal (adapted from Gourmet Traveller)
A style of cooking native to Jamaica, ‘Jerk’ refers both to the process of dry-rubbing or wet marinating pork or chicken with a spice mixture, as well as the mix of spices used. It’s perfect for grilling (and camping) because the marinade helps to preserve the meat and infuse it with flavor the longer it sits. Traditional jerk spice mixtures use Scotch Bonnet peppers for full-on heat but you can easily substitute it with Habanero peppers or dried chili flakes as I’ve done here. I also like to use dark meat when grilling as it stays moist, but you could also use breast meat if you prefer, just shorten the cooking time and keep an eye on the meat so that it doesn’t dry out. Serve with rice, grilled corn, baked potatoes or all three for a real feast!
- 2½ to 3 pounds chicken pieces (a mix of thighs and wings)
- ¼ cup white wine vinegar
- ¼ cup kecap manis or dark soya sauce
- ½ an onion, diced
- 6 to 8 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- 3 green onions, chopped
- 1 tablespoon muscovado sugar
- A 1-inch chunk of ginger, skinned and chopped
- 5 fresh sprigs of thyme, leaves picked (or 1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
- Juice of 1 lime
- Process all the ingredients (except chicken pieces) in a food processor until you get a thick, smooth marinade. Rub marinade all over chicken then refrigerate overnight in a non-reactive container.
- When ready to cook, preheat your grill and cook the chicken pieces over medium heat for about 30 to 45 minutes (20 minutes for chicken breasts), basting occasionally with the marinade. Check for doneness by cutting into a drumstick. If the juices run clear, then your chicken is ready.
- Leave to rest for about 5 minutes before serving.