Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Camping and Noodles
Ever since I was in the tenth grade, and my best-friend to be brought in an article about the old growth forests in North Bay -- the Temagami red and white pine old growth forests -- and our science teacher made our class debate the pros and cons of logging in that community, I've been aching and yearning to see these forests for myself. For my 19th birthday, my sister bought me a poster that featured the huge trunk of a pine tree in the Temagami. Sometimes, I'd stare at the poster, then close my eyes and pretend that I was standing in the middle of that forest and soaking up the stillness of the oldest red and white pine forest in the world.
In my second year of university, I was sent an email that went out over a list-serve inviting people to join a group that would be taking a bus up to the Temagami for a protest over a recent decision made by the government to continue logging. I was very very close to going, but no one would go with me, and my parents would give their heads disapproving shakes every time I'd mention it. Needless to say, I missed the opportunity. It just wasn't my time.
After I started teaching and I had my summers totally free, I started thinking about making the trek up to the forests (were by now, partly logged) with my partner. But once I started researching and looking up prices, my spirits sank again. Train and even bus tickets up there were so expensive. I kept saying to myself that I'd save up and then one summer, we'd do it. But plans to buy a place for myself got in the way -- how could I think about vacations when I was supposed to be saving for a loft? When I finally made that purchase of a lifetime, I kissed my dream of seeing the Temagami good-bye. There was no way that I, now a home-owner and slave to a mortgage, was going to make it up there anytime soon.
Enter: my sister, my camping sister, my camping sister who has a drivers license. When she suggested that the four of us go camping this summer, I agreed and didn't think anything of it. Then, she called and said very casually "I've booked our camp site. It's in the Temagami. I thought it would be cool since you've always wanted to see it." I almost jumped through the ceiling, I was so excited. Hiking on Temagami island was a magical, jaw-dropping experience. Although we were not in oldest stands that exist in the area, the sheer height of some of the trees made me stop and gaze with amazement. The canopy overhead held a sudden rain at bay long enough for us to don our ponchos and keep going. And did I mention a lake? The crystal clear, warm-watered beautiful Lake Temagami that we just had to stop and swim in. My 13 year old dream to visit this magical place had come true. It was bliss.
And just like any regular camping adventure, there was lots of camping food. S'mores, kick-the-can ice cream (made with fresh local blueberries bought at a stand on the way), lots of camp fire-grilled goodies ... and instant kimchi noodles. I'm no stranger to instant noodles; it was a childhood staple that I've since grown out of. But not my big sister. She's a total noodle head and started each day with these noodles. When she offered me a bite, I thought it would be like any other instant noodle -- addictively salty and neutral in flavour. But no ... this new-found kimchi flavoured noodle had a little something extra . Needless to say, I went back for a second and third bite.
Upon arriving home, I wasn't about to re-live my preteen-instant-noodle-eating days, but I wanted to recapture that salty, spicy, definitively Asian flavour of those noodles. A quick poke in a chinatown grocery store, $2.99 later, and I had a little container of kimchi, waiting to be used. For those of you who aren't familiar with kimchi, it's a Korean pickled vegetable condiment that consists of nappa cabbage marinated in a chili-based sauce. My sister usually just snacks on it as is, but I've had it in a stew with tofu and it was incredible. Remaking the stew crossed my mind for just a second before it settle back to the noodles. And although my version isn't quite instant, it's tasty, satisfying and quick to make. I added rainbow chard, which dyed everything a beautiful deep pink, and a good dose of ginger to complete the experience. I packed some up and took it to my sister, who gave it a satisfying slurp of approval. If you've never tried kimchi, this is a good way to have a first experience. Don't be scared and don't get turned off by the strong smell. Cook it in a little broth and your whole dish becomes magic ... just like the Temagami.
Kimchi Noodles with Rainbow Chard
1 serving of noodles (I used a carrot-infused Chinese wheat noodle, but pasta would be great)
1 teaspoon of ginger, minced
4 stalks of rainbow chard, stems diced up and leaves cut into ribbons
as much kimchi as you can muster (I used about 6-7 pieces), cut up into strips
1/2 cup of vegetable stock
a squirt of soy sauce
a little dash of toasted sesame oil
1. Cook your noodles according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, saute the ginger in a saucepan until it gets fragrant but hasn't turned brown. Add chard stems and a splash of stock and cook for 2 minutes or so, until they soften up a bit.
3. Add your chard leaves, kimchi and the rest of the stock. Give it a good stir and cook until chard leaves have wilted and are almost tender. Add the noodles, soy sauce and sesame oil and toss until everything is well combined. Cook for another minute or so until most of the liquid has absorbed.
4. Anoint with more kimchi if desired or just dig in and pretend that there's a morning camp fire in front of you and you're counting the birds on the trees overhead.