Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Announcing a New Site

I am moving my blog activity to my new website at http://glennnilson.com on the blog page. I intend to keep the current theme of love of the outdoors, love of cooking, motorcycles and mysteries. I hope you will visit me at my new location and check it out. Thank you for sharing my enjoyment of cooking, camping and riding and that you'll continue to visit me on my website.
Glenn Nilson

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Last night I heard the coyotes howling. It's a sound I love. A form of night music.
When I was a kid, living in the hills of northern California, I heard coyotes often, however, it was different. A coyote would start up, then another some distance away would join in, and then others. They would continue, and the calls would get closer to each other, until the sounds were coming from the same location. Then they would stop.
I always assumed they were calling up the pack for an evening hunt. I've since heard the pack is pretty much family and stays together.
We often heard coyotes when we lived in New Mexico, and sometimes I would see one or two. They were business-like and fearless, and I was out walking my aging golden retriever. We would stop and eye each other, then go on about our separate business.
In Florida we live in cow country, inland from the coast. The coyotes howl when the evening train rumbles and roars past, sounding its whistle at the road crossings. The coyotes all sound close together, and they are definitely responding to the train, not calling up the pack for a hunt.
I have seldom heard coyotes when camping, but on occasion I have. It's always a magic moment. Oh, I know, I've heard concerns about coyotes being a threat to pets and livestock, and they can be. Urban deer can be a threat to garden plants too. For the most part, coyotes seem to do pretty well eating rodents, rabbits, and whatever. I still think they are magic, just as I do urban deer. When makes them seem magical is the idea these creatures can live so close to human development, and yet maintain enough discrete invisibility to survive. Of course, squirrels and songbirds do the same, but since they're smaller it's less surprising that they get away with it. But deer? And, coyotes?
Maybe they seem magical because they are so wild, even in close proximity to humans. They're not trying to move in, or become adopted. They're wild, living life as they would in the wilderness, accommodating our presence in whatever ways they can. But, they're still wild. Maybe I'm grateful they put me in touch with my love of the outdoors in ways other things don't, except campfires and cooking sourdough over a bed of hot coals.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Campfire Coffee

There's nothing like a good cup of coffee to go with a campfire. Of course, campfire coffee in my experience has usually been pretty strong, sometimes too strong, but always good. My son Jim and I were talking about coffee pots and coffee making systems the other day. He had discovered a system he felt offered advantages superior to using a French Press, and he claimed it made better coffee.

Our discussion got me to thinking about a coffee pot I had years ago. It was Swedish-made, and I bought it in Solvang, a Danish community in the hills near Santa Barbara. The pot was metal, coated with porcelain. It had a ring that sat on the top of the pot, and a cloth bag was fastened around the bottom of the ring. The ideas was that you put the coffee grinds in the cloth bag and suspended the bag inside the pot by placing the ring on top. Boiling water was poured over the grinds, which were then allowed to steep a minute or two. The coffee was excellent. I wish I still had that pot, it would be great for camping.

The pot I like to use camping now is a small, porcelain coffee pot, but without the brewing ring my old Swedish pot had. With this pot, I put the amount of coffee grinds in I think I'll need for the brew strength I want at the time, fill the pot with water less about a half cup than the amount of coffee I want to end up with, then set it on the fire to come to a boil. You have to keep an eye on the pot with this approach. It'll boil over if you don't, and boiling coffee isn't the way to make the best brew anyway. When the coffee just starts to bubble up, I set the pot off the heat and toss in that remaining half cup of cold water to settle the grinds. Like with my Swedish pot, the coffee is great, usually quite strong, and rich with flavor. Of course, it's a good idea to keep those grinds in the bottom of the pot in mind when you pour the remaining cups. In fact, it's likely you'll end up with a few grinds in the bottom of your cup no matter what. No problem, just toss the dregs on the campfire in true John Wayne style. Ever see a western movie when the cowboy actually drank the coffee?

I also use a little pot and camp stove system that boils water in two minutes. The stove uses propane, and it's a very handy outfit. But, to me it just doesn't have the romantic feel of my little porcelain enamel coffee pot. After all, it's not always just about utility, camping equipment should have the right feel to it. That's why you use a campfire in the first place. It's just part of the whole experience, like a great cup of coffee in the outdoors should be. Like reading a good book while sitting in front of a fire is.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Sacred Campfire

I understand and respect the need to protect our forests and open areas. It means the guttering flame of a small camp stove may become more symbolic of experiences for some than the smells of wood smoke and the glowing embers of a campfire. Hopefully, we will be able to enjoy campfires most places we take in on treks we take in the future.
I like to keep my campfires small. It's easier to find adequate wood for a small fire, uses less of it, and you can huddle over, or near, a small fire to cook or warm up. I think small fires are less likely to get away from a camper and ignite a forest fire. On many hikes and cross-country ski runs, I've built a small fire to heat water for tea or soup. With small, dead twigs, it's easy to build a quick fire, and just as easy to handle the remains when finished.
I understand fire was (and probably still is) considered a sacred gift to Native Americans. It's hard to think of a more valuable one. I've been camping in wet, snow-slushy weather trying to get damp wood to provide a campfire and down to one match. Not often-but it happened once. That fire was greatly appreciated when I achieved it. Which brings me to thoughts about fire-building materials.
I grew up using wooden matches that would ignite when struck on almost anything, including my jeans. I learned to dip the heads in my mother's clear fingernail polish to make the waterproof. The polish also the matchsticks a little extra zip. Now there are propane torches for lighting barbecues. I wonder how often they are also taken into the back country to start a fire? I have one of those survival bars you can scrape with a knife blade to produce a generous shower of sparks for starting fires. You can also use the knife to shave off bits of magnesium to use as tender. It works well. At the very least, it's a terrific backup.
You know what also works well for tender? The cotton wads you can find in medicine bottles ignites very readily with a spark. Cotton is certainly light and packs down easily. I think it's another must for backup fire-making material. If you are familiar with milkweed, the dried pods and fluff ignite extremely well from a spark. Of course, the cotton or milkweed pod is pretty much part of an ignition system. For the rest, you need slivers and small sticks of wood, of course, and if you're in an area with birch trees, the resinous bark of birches is fabulous as starting tender.
I love the smell of birch wood burning, but I love the smell of cedar even more. I have many memories of evenings cooking on a campfire, and hours spent staring into the glowing embers while talking with a companion. I look forward to my next campfire, and hope you share my love for them. Thanks for visiting my blog. I'm sorry not to have any photos to share. I have been have been unable to insert them into my blog for some reason.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sourdough English Muffins

I love English muffins, and I think they turn out best when made with sourdough. They are cooked on the stovetop in a skillet, so they can be made readily when camping as well as at home. However, they are best toasted, even though they smell wonderful when fresh cooked.

English muffins are easy to make. The first step is to prepare a sponge. For this, mix a half cup of starter with a cup of hot water, then add approximately a cup of flour and mix into a thick, doughy batter. I like to use the plastic containers my yogurt comes in to mix the dough and for rising. Let the sponge rise until double in bulk. Dump the sponge onto a floured surface, add a half teaspoon of salt and a quarter teaspoon of baking soda and the remaining flour and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Poke your finger into the dough and if it springs back it should be good to go.

Most recipes call for you to roll the dough out and cut the muffins with a muffin ring. I prefer a different approach so that I am not rolling the dough out and then re-rolling it to use up the excess dough once I have cut the muffins. The way I do it is to form the dough into a thick log, then cut it into sections/slices about half the size of the finished muffin I want. This way, I can cut the slices, or lumps, of dough evenly. Pat each slice into a disc about half to three quarters of an inch thick. Next, sprinkle the cornmeal over the bottom of the skillet and set the dough discs on top, being sure to leave room between them for the dough to expand. Cover and let rise until the dough has doubled in bulk.

When the dough has risen, put the skillet over a medium flame to heat up, then turn the flame down to low so the muffins will not burn. They should rise some more as they heat up, and the cornmeal should give off a wonderful aroma as it bakes. After about seven minutes, the muffins should be browned on the bottom and ready to turn over. Use a fork to turn them. (You can life them slightly with a fork to determine if they are brown) Cook then on the other side until the muffins are none and golden brown on both top and bottom. You may want to turn them a second time to insure they are done on the inside. They should feel light when you lift them with the fork, and they should cook about fifteen to twenty minutes. This may take a little experience, since cooking time will depend on the size of the muffins and how hot your skillet is.

Remove the muffins when done and let them cool on a wire rack. For the final stage, use a fork to separate the halves for toasting. You can also cut the muffins in half, but inserting a fork all the way around the muffin allows you to pull the halves apart with all these nooks and crannies to capture the melting butter and jam or honey you add to complete the delicious process. Don't forget the hot coffee or tea, and enjoy.

Ingredients for Sourdough English Muffins:
1/2 cup sourdough starter
1 cup hot water
1-2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cornmeal

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sourdough Rye Bread

Ham and cheese on rye, roast beef on rye, smoked salmon, the list goes on. Rye is a wonderful bread for sandwiches or as a sliced accompaniment to soups, salads, or other dishes calling for a slice of bread. How to make it even better. . .make it with sourdough. This is a method I use to make sourdough rye bread with caraway seeds. It’s fairly light, mild in flavor, and delicious. Hope you give it a try, even though the process is a bit lengthy. Start the day before you intend to bake the bread by making a rye sponge. To do this, take a half cup of starter and mix with one and a half cups of hot water. Next, add one and a half cups of rye flour a half cup at a time, mixing thoroughly. This mixture should be a very thick batter that clears the sides of the container when stirred. Cover and set in a warm place for a few hours until the sponge doubles in bulk. I usually set the sponge in the refrigerator at this point for an overnight stay to let the yeast develop without going too far. Next day, bring the sponge out of the fridge to warm up and allow the yeast to become active again. Meanwhile, prepare a second sponge using a half cup of starter, one and a half cups of hot water and one and a half cups of all-purpose flour. Again, the idea is to create a thick sponge that clears the sides of the container when stirred, but not so thick that it becomes too dry to work with. Let the sponge do its thing for a couple of hours until it doubles in bulk. Let the sponge have whatever time it takes for the yeast to develop. You don’t want to hurry this process. When the all-purpose flour sponge has doubled in bulk, turn it out onto a floured surface for kneading along with the rye sponge, using the remaining cup of all-purpose flour. Add a teaspoon of salt and a couple tablespoons of caraway seeds and knead the two sponges together to form a single ball of dough. When the dough has become smooth and elastic, and rebounds when poked with a finger, place the dough in a greased loaf pan. It’s a good idea to work the dough into the corners of the loaf pan, then turn the dough over and repeat the process so the dough is lightly oiled from contact with the pan, and so the dough fills the corners well. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise. I like the dough to fill the sides of the loaf pan half way when I put it to rise, then I let it rise to the top of the pan. When the dough has risen, bake it in a pre-heated oven at 350⁰ for an hour or until done. The bread loaf should pull away from the sides of the pan when done and be a nice brown on top. To test for doneness, use a couple of hot pads to remove the loaf from the pan and tap the bottom with your finger. It should sound hollow. Let the bread cool on a wire rack, slice and enjoy. I like to cut slices as I need them. That way, I can cut the bread thick or thin, depending on my intent. I prefer toast a little thicker than sliced bread for a sandwich, and yes, rye bread makes excellent toast. The best blade to use for slicing has a serrated edge, and bread slices easier when allowed to cool first. Good luck with your rye bread venture, and thanks for visiting my blog. Sourdough rye bread ingredients 1 cup sourdough starter 3 cups hot water 1 ½ cups rye flour 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon sea salt 2 tablespoons caraway seeds

Friday, January 3, 2014


I get the impression a lot of people are interested in healthful living upgrades. By that I mean they are looking at exercise programs and diet plans, or getting back to a lifestyle that got disrupted by holiday parties and overindulgences. I also get the impression a growing number of people are making lifestyle changes such as cooking with locally grown foods. I’m pleased to see many people also using sourdough. Maintaining sourdough starter is sort of like keeping your own chickens or rabbits. It’s not just a recipe, it’s part of a healthy, do-it-yourself lifestyle. With that in mind, I’d like to share my approach to making one version of this very basic and delicious bread.
This recipe is for a single loaf of bread, but can be adjusted for more if desired. The process begins with making a sponge, to which you will add flour and salt and knead into bread dough. I’m assuming you have a starter on hand, but I discuss how to make one in an earlier posting if you don’t. Take a half cup of starter, and add one and a half cups of very warm water. Mix thoroughly. Add about one and a half cups of whole wheat flour, mixing in two or three heaping tablespoons at a time.  Mix well and keep adding flour until you have a thick batter, but not so thick it clears the sides of the container when stirred. Cover and let stand in a warm place until it doubles in bulk, about one to two hours.

I mix my sponges in a see-through plastic container. This way, I can keep track of the progress. First, tiny bubble form, then the bubbles get bigger as the sponge rises. You can take the lid off and get a sniff of the yeast if you like, but keep it covered while rising. By using clear containers, I can mentally mark the point at which the sponge will have doubled in bulk, and even gauge how long to go before reaching that point when I check in to see how things are going.

When the sponge has doubled, it’s time to knead the remaining cup of flour into the dough. If you think the sponge is too loose to start kneading, stir in more flour until the mixture clears the side of the container as you stir. Next, I sprinkle a handful of flour onto my trusty pastry cloth and empty the sponge on top of it, and sprinkle more flour on top of that. Add a teaspoon of sea salt and begin kneading the dough, folding the far edge over on top and pushing against the dough with the heels of your hands. When the dough is ready, it should be smooth and elastic, and spring back if you poke your finger into it. Next, grease the sides and bottom of a bread pan and add the dough. Work the dough into the bottom, sides and corners of the pan, then turn it over and repeat the process. That way, the dough will be lightly covered in the oil or grease you used to coat the pan. Bake about an hour uncovered in a preheated oven at three hundred and fifty degrees until lightly browned and the loaf has pulled away from the sides of the pan. You can test for doneness by taking the loaf out and tapping it with a finger. The bread should have a nice, hollow sound. If you like, you can brush milk or melted butter over the top of the loaf for the last few minutes of cooking to ensure a softer crust and golden brown finish.

A loaf of fresh bread you truly made from scratch is like a salad from the greens you grew in your own garden, truly wonderful. By the way, keep that in mind this summer; the two really go well together. In the meantime, enjoy a slice of toast and homemade jam in front of a warm fire, and thanks for visiting my blog.

 Ingredients to make the sponge

½ cup sourdough starter
1 ½ cups warm water
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour

 Ingredients to make the dough

1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup whole wheat flour