Saturday, February 18, 2017

Pizza in a Hole in the Wild

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
-Henry David Thoreau

Who wants pizza?
-Merriwether

The empty wilds, trackless woods, and countless stars are the house and home of my soul...but that doesn't mean I can't eat well when out away from civilization. Another weekend was spent at the Busman's place felling 100' loblolly pines which will eventually become a home for him and his family. But for now the creature comforts are only what you can carry in a backpack. Okay, and in a truck capable of offroading. Last time I was there I built a stone oven in the side of a small hill and cooked biscuits, potatoes, and my feet (it got down to 21F that night). This time I had set my culinary sights much higher...pizza!

Success!
Camp Cooking

The process started with building a nice fire of seasoned oak inside the oven and feeding it for three hours to get the interior soaked with heat. Luckily this didn't need constant watching, just checking every 30-40 minutes and adding wood as necessary.

The oven.
Camp Cooking

Earlier that day I found some perfect greenbriar tips and a somewhat old but usable oyster mushroom. I've never had a greenbriar/wild oyster mushroom/pepperoni pizza before but it sounded like a great thing to make.

Greenbriar!
Greenbriar

Oyster mushroom! Younger would have been better. At this stage it was pretty chewy.
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Instant pizza dough is my go-to source of bread in the woods. All it needs added is some really warm water, a bit of kneading, a dash of oil, and some time to rise. Normally I use it for stick bread or cooking in my pie iron but this time it was actually used for pizza. I let the dough rise inside my truck which was quite warm inside due to the sun shining through the windows.

These go everywhere in the wild with me!
Camp Cooking

I thought one packet would give me enough to make a deep-dish pizza in my 12" cast iron pan but it only covered the pan's bottom. Next time I'll use two packages to have enough to go up the sides of the pan. To help prevent sticking I coated the bottom of the pan with a bit of the dry pizza dough mix held aside specifically for this. I par-baked this crust for ~6 minutes in the hillside oven and then lined the pan sides with giant tortillas. Deep-dish pizza save!

The pizza starts coming together.
Camp Cooking

Contadina makes pizza sauce in a squeeze bottle. What's nice about this is is doesn't need refrigeration. It has a pretty good flavor but a Papa John's spice packet gives it a little more pep.
Camp Cooking

Multiple layer's of sauce, pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, then topped with the oyster mushroom, sliced greenbriar, and a ring of pepperoni.
Camp Cooking

The hot coals were pushed to the back of the oven until there was room to put in the pan/pizza. It was in there about 12 minutes, being turned about a third of the way around at minute 4 and 8. The cement door is closed between turnings to keep the heat in the oven and to reflect back heat from the coals.

Into the oven!
Camp Cooking

Out of the oven!
Camp Cooking

There were only two of us and the pizza was THICK! The Busman has a fridge in his bus so leftover pizza for breakfast.
Camp Cooking

Some may say cooking like this takes away some of the bonding with nature that one goes into the woods for. They may be right but I also go into the woods to test myself and my ability to do stuff. I've read about earth ovens but I wanted to try it, not just read about it. As much as I admire Thoreau's, Aldo Leopold's, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's simple bonds with nature, I guess I'm too much of a scientist to follow directly in their shoes. To be isn't enough for me. To be more is my goal.

Adventure! Excitement! Pepperoni!

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Becoming Dunedain.

It's probably no surprise that A) playing Dungeons and Dragons was a large part of my childhood and B) even today I still play rangers almost exclusively...except for one half-Orc poacher named Bark that is just a big, ugly ranger. Of course my love of woods drive these choices, though multiple reading of Tolkien is also a big part. I've always wanted to be a Dunedain, one of Tolkien's Rangers of the North.

Well, today I got one step closer. While I've dabbled a bit with tracking I've never actually taken any formal training on it. Some of my friends have been able to attend Tom Brown Jr.'s tracking/wilderness school but that's always been out of my range. Luckily, Beau Harger, a Level 3 Certified Tracker, came to the Houston Arboretum and spent the morning quadrupling my knowledge of tracking.

Beau kneeling, explaining a track.
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Beau was an excellent teacher and he quickly had us understanding what aspects of the track should get the most attention and which aspects could accidentally mislead us. It turned out to be the same things needed to identify plants...and lead you to mis-identify plants! Primary observations are the key. Focusing in only on the definable, the measurable. Ratios of shapes are as important as the shapes themselves. Just as importantly, avoid assumptions.

The track here you probably can't see, we were able to identify this as a domestic (pet) dog track by the end of the class.
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Coyote track showing direct register (overlap of front and back footstep).
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Armadillo track.
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Here are the details of common animal tracks as described by Beau.

Raccoon
Front foot is symmetrical, rear foot is asymmetrical. Five toes on each foot. Nails/claws visible. Palm pad on same plane as toe pads. Low to on hind foot is inside. Found within 1/2 mile of water.

Domestic Dog
Somewhat circular and symmetrical but with a looseness. Four toes present. Prominent nail marks. Anterior (top) part of palm pad is uni-lobed. Palm pad is wider than tall. Negative space forms a star.

Coyote
More symmetrical than domestic dog and oval/aerodynamic. Four toes present. Nails very fine and may not register. Two center-toe nails are often very close together. Anterior (top) part of palm pad is uni-lobed. Palm pad height = width. Negative space forms an X. Coyotes are trotting hunters. Track direct register (hind foot steps in track of front foot). Scat is twisted, tapered at ends, and contains fur, seeds, etc. Often found in middle of trail junctions to mark territory.

Opossum
Front foot symmetrical with five toes, widely splayed. Rear foot asymmetrical with opposable thumb. Nails present. Palm pad very bulbous.

Domestic Cat
Overall shape is circular. Front foot asymmetrical, hind foot symmetrical. Four blocky, roundish toes. Nails not present. Anterior portion of palm pad is bi-lobed and major portion of track. Negative space forms a C. Tracks are direct registered.

Bobcat
Overall shape is circular. Front foot asymmetrical, hind foot symmetrical. Four teardrop-shaped toes. Nails not present. Anterior portion of palm pad is bi-lobed, posterior portion of palm pad is ti-lobed. Negative space forms a thicker C than domestic cat. Tracks are direct registered. Scat is smooth-surfaced, segmented, with blunt ends.

Squirrel
Both front and hind feet are slightly asymmetrical. Four toes on front foot, five toes on hind foot. Nails present. Front foot has a large, somewhat triangular palm pad and two small, round heel pads. Hind foot palm pad consists of four pads in an arc-shape.

Armadillo
Front foot has three long toes, splayed out but symmetrical. Longest toes on outside of foot. Hind foot has two long toes, mostly parallel. Nails present. No palm pads. Burrows are triangular-shape holes.

Cottontail Rabbit
Front foot asymmetrical with five toes. Hind foot symmetrical with four toes. Nails present. Palms don't register but sometimes hair does. Browed plants cut at 45-degree angle. Swamp rabbits leave scat on logs, cottontails do not.

Wild Hog
Symmetrical hooves with rounded anterior tips. Splayed somewhat outwards. Dewclaws register outside of hooves. Dirt clumps up at front of hoof. Scat is bulbous and clumpy, not scattered/splattered. Ground in area often rooted up.

Deer
Symmetrical hooves, pointed at anterior tip. Dewclaws in line with hooves but usually only register when deer is running. Blowout dirt knocked forward in direction deer is running. Tracks direct register when walking. Browse is frayed/torn. Tree scrapes are frayed at top and bottom from vertical rubbing. Earth scrape triangular with point at tree and low branch directly above. Scat is round, shiny pellets.

Adventure! Excitement! Aragorn!