Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Camper!

Dirty finger nails, starry nights, flickering camp fire, and S’mores… camping is a summer tradition and one I look forward to each year. Once the weather warms enough to venture into the high country for a bit of peace and quiet we pack up our tent, camp stove and sleeping bags for free and filthy fun.

The 4th of July weekend was our maiden voyage this year. We're staunch tent campers as it allows for the purest wilderness experience. The beauty of camping, for me, is connecting with nature. We set up camp at an impromptu spot in a national forest, beside a babbling brook, under quaking aspen trees and stately pines; away from the clamor of the city…it was blissful and restorative.   
Some of my favorite summer memories are from campsites- roughing it with nothing but a tent and a change of clothes…
1- Backpacking and camping in a tiny red tent throughout Europe.
My very favorite camping was while backpacking in Europe. My husband and I were there for three months with very little money. Rather than shortening our trip due to dwindling funds, we were frugal with our accommodation. We purchased a small red tent in Florence, Italy and stayed in our little casa throughout our continental travels. We scorched in Rome’s summer heat, froze amidst Amsterdam’s heavy rains and experienced everything in between.

While definitely not the most comfortable way to travel, we saw Europe and were able to stay for an entire summer. We met incredible people and had the freedom to roam without needing hotel reservations or plans of any kind.
Freezing in our tent in the Netherlands
No-frills accommodation
2- Camping Along the C&O Canal.
Several years ago we camped along the C&O Canal with a group of good friends. We hiked in a couple of miles, along a dusty trail and stayed along the banks of the canal in Maryland. We jumped in the cool waters and retreated from the muggy summer heat.  We floated carefree along with the currents for miles downriver. We hiked back to camp, made dinner together, shared stories late into the night, and made unforgettable memories.  
Camping is an activity best shared with good friends- especially hilarious, fun-loving, adventurer types. Thanks Chip and Jean!

Camp Site, C&O Canal
3- San Juan Whitewater River Rafting.
My most precious camping memory is with my husband and father-in-law while rafting the San Juan River, a tributary of the Colorado River. We started the eighty-four mile trip in Bluff and ended in Mexican Hat, Utah. Each day we rafted the meandering whitewater and lively currents along the most breathtaking scenery of the American Southwest. We paddled past rainbow colored rock and floated over glass-like polished limestone pools. A stray dog, that we affectionately named Juanita, followed us for four days as if even she knew what fun we were having. As we floated in our little yellow kayak ducky, the sound of our laughter reverberated off those high canyon walls. We laughed so hard that if you listen very closely it echoes even still, imprinted on those chasms forever. There’s a sense of permanence, unity, and everlasting happiness that I took from the time we all spent together on the San Juan. The trip was ephemeral but the memories will last my lifetime.

Aerial view of the San Juan River

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

As American as Apple Pie?

Barbeque is as American as Apple Pie or is it? While North Carolina, Texas, and Kansas City throw down as to whom has the juiciest, most flavorful, tender meat…we’re not the only ones who embrace cooking over smoke and fire- caveman style.

Recently I had the pleasure of travelling to the legendary Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City, considered by many to be the best barbeque in the United States. Founded in 1908, the unpretentious restaurant has, over the years, established the reputation for its full range of barbeque dishes and most specifically the burnt ends. These lovely, charred brisket tips are seasoned, sauced and served on a giant heaping sandwich.

Kansas City Burnt Ends
My experience at Arthur Bryant’s had me feeling pretty proud of us Americans. This was delicious, no-frills, real American cuisine. Every red blooded American is a BBQ aficionado- it’s in our genetic makeup. BBQ is synonymous with friends, summertime block parties, and beer.

True enough, BBQ is an important part of our national heritage and cuisine. However, Americans don’t have a monopoly on the concept.  People across the globe share a pride in their barbeque and as far as I’m concerned, the more the merrier.

Barbeque is a much disputed term. While both methods are performed over fire or smoke- experts differentiate by length of cooking time and temperature of the heat. Generally barbeque is defined as low and slow and grilling as high and fast.  For the sake of multicultural harmony let’s define barbeque as the social convention that brings carnivores together over the love of meat!

Argentina/Uruguay: BBQ in Argentina is called asado and cooked on a parilla, a grate that sits above burning coals. The legendary cuisine of once wide-ranging gauchos is just as popular today with ordinary folk. The typical asado meats include chorizos, ribs, beef, chicken, lamb, goatling.

Brazil: Churrasco is similar to the technique used in Argentina and Uruguay. A Churrascaria is a restaurant that specializes in Churrasco and offers all you can eat portions of meats such as chicken heart, sausages, flank steak, and top sirloin. While the meat is center stage don't miss pao de qeijo- cheese buns that often accompany churrasco. 
South Africa: Barbeque in South Africa, Braai, was introduced by Dutch immigrants has become a tradition that has crossed racial lines in South Africa. Like most BBQ traditions, Braai is a social event that brings people together. The types of meats barbequed demonstrate the amalgamation of cultural influences- sausages, kebabs, and steak are standard fare.

Australia: Ever heard the term ‘Barbie’? Aussies have coined the nickname and are enthusiastic about barbeque. Burgers and prawns are popular items cooked over Oz’s many grills. Burger on Bondi Beach anyone?

Shrimp on the Barbie
Korean: Unlike many of its counterparts, Korean barbeque is served almost exclusively in a restaurant setting. Guests surround a small grill that is placed atop the table and served raw meet to grill that hisses in the middle of the table. Garlic-soy marinated beef, pork and chicken is typical fare.
Korean BBQ
India: Tandori is a barbeque-like cuisine served in southern, western and central Asia but most popularly in India. A Tandoor is a cylindrical-shaped clay oven that contains charcoal or wood fire. Meat on skewers and flatbread stuck to the side is exposed to radiant heat which cooks it.

Caribbean: Jerk is Jamaica’s take on barbeque. Dry-rubbed pork, goat, chicken, lamb, beef, fish and shellfish are cooked in a steel drum jerk pan. The dry rub is generally very flavorful and typically contains Scotch Bonnet peppers, pimento, cayenne, cloves, cinnamon, scallions, nutmeg, thyme, garlic and salt.
Jamaican Jerk Chicken

-“Beam me up Scotty. There is no good barbecue on this planet.” – James T. Kirk 

Surely Captain Kirk couldn’t have been talking about Earth because as the world turns- grills, pits, tandoors and steel drums sizzle with delectable meat.  Go forth and enjoy the international offerings of meaty goodness.

Globe Grill by Inhabitat
Have you had outstanding barbeque stateside or abroad? I’d love to hear from you! Where to go and what to eat?