Sunday, July 1, 2007

3.0 Out of the Kitchen, Endlessly Rocking

Starring Erin & Mike
Guest Starring Jessica & Trent
Filmed on Location at Beautiful Timothy Lake

“Timothy Lake? How can you call yourselves “In the Sellwood Kitchen” when you didn’t even prepare the meal in a kitchen in Sellwood?” Listen, how do you know we EVER make the meal in the kitchen? We could just as easily be breading veal in the bathroom!

No, not really. But Erin and I did take the article on the road this time. Camping. Cooking over a barbecue pit. But this was gourmet camp cooking! In homage to the Food Network’s program Iron Chef America, we dubbed our site “Campground Stadium.” We watch a lot of television, and refer to it often.

Our focus meal, conceived by Erin and our friend Trent, is a barbecued kebab served over warm pita bread. But we ate other exciting dishes as well. Though we didn’t bring dishes, just paper plates.

Thursday evening. Music: “The Rain, the Park and Other Things” by the Cowsills. Arrived at 9:00pm, “starving” like every other spawn of the last half of the American century, and quickly set up the tent, a monstrous mesh edifice called the “Taj Mahal.” And a fire was started. And delicious, compact pockets of food called Hobo Meals were generated, masticated and digesticated. Then guitars, singing, and sleep. But not before it rained. Hard. And I left the firewood uncovered. What do I know? I’m from Long Island!

Friday morning. Music: “Theme from a Summer Place” by Percy Faith. Woke up to some beautifully vicious chirps of an osprey nesting atop a tree next to the Taj. Brewed a pot of coffee (Fair Trade, organic from QFC – we don’t skimp Campground Stadium). Trent and I put the boat in the lake to set the crawdad trap, baited with a can of organic cat food (from Sellwood Dog Supply). Crawdads love cat food, even when it contains a close relative, the lobster (I guess that’d be like us eating monkey). We return to the camp, following a wafting trail of breakfast aroma. Pancakes, center-cut crispy bacon, Como toast (Grand Central’s finest!). (Sure, we’re not in Sellwood, but we brought a good deal of it with us.) Later Jessica would dump a little extra pancake batter into the fire, resulting in Bisquick-scented smoke. “This Fire Brought to You by IHOP,” I announce. We decide to “vote her off the island” ala “Survivor.” (We would all be threatened with that fate throughout the trip for our own indiscretions (mine being abandoning the firewood to the rain).

Friday evening. Music: “Night Moves” by Bob Seger. Time for the big meal. The barbecued kebabs (“Greece Meets West,” says Jess). Erin begins with the side dish: Seasoned Sweet Potato Grill Fries. The sweet potato has unquestionably become our tuber of choice these last few months. Erin dices one large sweet potato, adding the cubes to a freezer bag filled with extra virgin olive oil, chipotle peppers & adobo, Cajun seasoning, Garlic Lover’s garlic, and salt & pepper. The bag is then what can be best described as fondled until the sweet potatoes are coated in the sauce. The contents are poured into a makeshift tinfoil basket, sealed, and placed on the grill, over a coal bath.

Jessica, Erin and I could not contain our disgust for the condition of the well-loved grill of the campground’s barbecue pit. “Food that touches that grill shall not touch my lips.” Trent tried to convince the heat of the coals would just burn off the gunk. Steadfast, we declined his assumption. Our annoying reticence triggered his invention-adept mind to develop a satisfactory strategy to avoid any contact between million-year-old sticky carbon and our precious kebabs. Two separate “coals baths” were prepared: One nearest the grill upon which the tinfoiled sweet potatoes would simmer, and another sizzling from the concrete edge of the barbecue to a large sandstone Trent deposited in the middle of the pit. The skewers of the kebab stretched from the edge to the sandstone, the ingredients suspended unobstructed from the coals.

But what was on those skewers? Steak and vegetables, of course! Since Jess didn’t want any meat, the cooks skewered the vegetables separately. The steak, marinated in Trent’s “I’m Just Wild About Saffron Sauce”, was set over the fire first, because, you know, it takes longer to cook meat than vegetables (I’m just the recorder who places the order – the only time I cook is when I’m writing, baby).

When all the most delicious ingredients were perfectly grilled, they were doled out onto toasted pita breads, with a little garlic sauce squeezed on for safety’s sake (don’t vampires live in the woods?).

Served on a paper plate with those sweet potatoes, the kebabs were truly gourmet camping dishes. Another triumph by Chefs Erin and Trent! Jessica and I declared our significant others Campground Stadium’s champions!

Saturday. Music: “The Outdoor Type” by the Lemonheads. Breakfast. Boating. Fishing. Walking. Lunch. Ospreys. Chipmunks. Staring at the campfire. Crawdad feed. S’mores. You know, Lewis and Clark kind of stuff!

The rest of the weekend featured fishing (I caught a trout!), traps full of crawdads (and a catfish – we caught a catfish with cat food!), a firewood-finding mission, beer, singing, osprey sightings (including an aerial fight between those birds and a bald eagle that showered its processed lunch onto my head and several limbs), singing, and more eating (specifically of the boiled crawdads). Oh, and mocking a campsite we dubbed “Tent City” that spent close to two hours setting up on Friday in the near-blinding light of their lamp – they were like floodlights at Attica. “The Orb of Ra, the Sun God” notched up the outdoor temperature about 25 degrees! They must’ve had four tents, a huge tarp attached on one corner to a truck, 17 shrieking children, and countless humorous outcries, short on irony, long on idiocy. Good fun all around!

Sunday morning. Music: “This Must Be the Place” by Talking Heads. As we folded up our bedding, Erin discovered a crawdad between the mats on which we slept. “Hey,” we yelled at a still-sleeping Trent and Jess, “Is this some kind of joke?” We were mistaken in thinking it was. The crawdad had apparently escaped the fate of his brethren, finding a safe haven under our sleeping bag. There he slept all night (though perhaps he spent those hours paralyzed with fear, breath held, pincers open). But survive, he did. And with a Stan Laurel delicacy, and accompanying whimpering, I tossed the lucky fellow back into the lake, lingering just long enough to see his scurry away from the soft waves of Timothy Lake. “Home is where I want to be / Pick me up and turn me around.”

And now, begob, the kebab:

THE KEBABECUE (aka “Greece Meets West”)

Cherry tomatoes
Sweet Vidalia onions (or your preferred choice of alliums)
White mushrooms
Peppers (red, yellow & green)
Top sirloin steak (cubed)

Marinade Ingredients:
Pint of plain yogurt
2 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. of fennel
1 tsp. of celery seed
1 tsp. coriander seed
1 tsp. fresh crushed pepper
Pinch of saffron
Sea salt for taste
(All whole seeds ground to medium powder)

Marinate steak for 24 hours. Cut up onions and peppers to a suitable size for skewering. And then start skewering (tomato, onion, mushroom, peppers – repeat. Impale on steak cubes on skewers. Place over hot coals. Soon after, place vegetable skewers over the fire as well. Grill to desired succulence. Serve with seasoned sweet potato grill fries. And Guinness.

The “In the Sellwood Kitchen” cast and crew can be contacted at: