Souzz and I often spend New Year’s Eve in the backcountry or in a cabin, and we traditionally make risotto (along with some other fancy dish). The standard bearer of New Year’s absurdity was probably the year that we made risotto with lobster in a five burner kitchen while camping in the snow. We didn’t quite reach that level of absurdity this year, but we at least thought about it.
Anyway, with cold rain in the 2019 forecast, we decided to head to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s Dawson Cabin in Pennsylvania, about two hours drive from our home in Virginia. Dawson is one of the lesser visited cabins in the PATC system, maybe because the hike to the cabin is straight uphill. But the hike is short, and Dawson is a hidden gem that is worth the visit. The cabin is well appointed and very well maintained, and it has southern exposure and a beautiful view.
For our planned risotto and filet mignon feast, we hauled in a lot of cookware, as well as a five pound canister of propane and a two-burner camp stove. Utility wagons are a great tool for getting bulky gear into walk-in PATC cabins—but dragging them uphill through the mud and over tree roots while it’s raining might be an acquired taste.
When we reached the cabin, we learned that the camp stove and propane were basically flammable barbells. It turned out that there was a problem with the stove’s regulator that was beyond what I could field-repair, and fiddling with high-pressure gas connections is exciting in any circumstance—but especially so in a remote wood-framed structure. I’m also kind of fond of my eyebrows.
Well, at least we had some good appetizers…
With appetizers gone and still five hours to New Year’s, we had a new twist: how to make risotto without a modern camp stove. But there was a perfectly serviceable wood stove sitting right at our feet, so how hard could this be?
Tending a wood stove is always important in a PATC cabin in winter, although the goal is usually just heating the place. But now we had to figure out a way to keep the heat somewhat constant.
I get that wood stoves have been around for generations, and my friends in bush Alaska are probably rolling their eyes by now (well, at least Ruby is…but in my defense, I don’t remember seeing a lot of risotto on “Life Below Zero“).
It took a little fiddling to maintain the level of heat on the cooktop, and there were times when we had to cool things off by lifting the pan onto a hastily made wire trivet (using a piece from a broken dartboard that we found in the cabin).
But we figured it out, and the risotto was quite good. And the keys to good risotto are the same whether on a modern range or on a wood stove: using homemade stock (way less salty), heating the stock quite a bit before adding, and cooking the risotto at high heat (ideally enough heat to finish the job in less than 20 minutes). With too little heat, things take a long time and the risotto gets sticky.
Lastly, our stove challenge gave us the chance to puzzle over why we go to primitive cabins and then haul in hundreds of pounds of fancy gear. It seems about as logical as getting turbo in a Ford Fiesta. So maybe simplifying things should be our New Year’s Resolution? Well, that and preserving my eyebrows.