How I wish there were a cookbook for the ingredientially challenged.
It’s that time of the year again: our coolers yawn emptily, save for the last forlorn piece of herbed goat cheese huddled in one corner. Our garden bounty is reduced to rubbery potatoes and whiskered carrots posing as fresh vegetables. Still, they are the closest we can hope to come to crunchiness and flavour, except for bean sprouts. It is a sorry sign when bean sprouts top the list of fresh taste, and indeed we’re boycotting them, preferring to suffer sproutlessly. They never were a favourite food item in our household.
It’s not like we’re starving and out of food, far from it. It’s just that we’re sick and tired of the same old flabby canned veggies and meat, day in, day out. Tomatoes, zucchinis, apples and bananas have long faded into memory now. Out in the snow lies the freeze-dried corpse of our bell pepper tree, its leaves as stiff and lifeless as my taste buds feel, reminding me daily of the luxury of cabin-grown red peppers. Way back when.
How many different meals can you whip up with the same number of ingredients? Always just three veggies to choose from: whiskered carrots, canned peas or green beans. Add to this the unsavoury news that the lining of tin cans contains BPA, the same plastics ingredient which has been banned from baby bottles – and the knowledge that the rather tasteless pulp which passes our lips is laced with chemicals forms another nutritional hurdle.
In desperation, I’ve started to dig into our supply of camping food. A bad thing, at least as far as the moose jerky is concerned: we won’t be able to make more until fall, provided we get a moose. But it’s something flavourful and chewy, one of the few things we have that doesn’t disintegrate into mush as soon as I press it against the roof of my mouth.
Hindsight being what it is, we should have made much more jerky, but it was an experiment. This time, we didn’t smoke it, and only half of it was brined. It’s the other half, the one I only rubbed with salt, pepper and chili powder, that’s the real winner – none of the sweetish brine flavour, and so far, it’s keeping just as well. Or it would, if I’d stop eating it.
Fall clings to the moose jerky, those early mornings with mist rising above the water, yellow and orange leaves splashed across the land like splinters of an exploding sun. Before the world turned white. As I chew, I saviour the aroma of the meat, the memory (sadness replaced by gratitude) of the moose we killed.
We had dangled the thin pieces of raw meat above the wood cookstove for drying, strung up on beading thread. Not exactly the recommended method, but it worked. The jerky flakes apart into brittle fibres in my mouth, its spices pinching my hibernating taste buds back into wakefulness.
Food cravings lurk at the back of my mind, kept at bay by vitamin pills that seem to take the edge of my body’s protest for nutrition. It’s a dull wish for primary colours and firm textures as I stand in the kitchen and stare at our cupboards, besieged by armies of cans. How about a chemically-enriched green bean salad? Hmm. Instead, I seek refuge in comfort foods, which lack the nutritional aspect entirely. Hot vanilla pudding and a cup of strong black coffee wash away the last moose meat fibres clinging to my teeth (or are my teeth hanging on to them, unwilling to let go?).
Soon, Sam will venture out for the first supply trip in months, the trip that reveals food for what it really is. Not an over-processed sustenance that fills the belly and leaves the body bewildered at how to turn this into energy and cell repairs, but something primal, its story of growing and ripening, of knowing the Earth written all over it. Little presents for our stomachs, teeth and eyes.
I put away the dishes and close the cupboards, shutting the door on this annual low point. We’ve almost made it through the food doldrums.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.