As we planned our menu for an upcoming backpacking trip, Souzz reminded me that she “basically grew up on doughnuts”—which was a shocking revelation coming from somebody so fit. Apparently her hometown of Buffalo has a long (or round?) doughnut heritage–withFreddie’s, Paula’s, Tim Horton’s, and Zen’s (her family favorite as a kid). Doughnuts were (and are) such a part of the Buffalo scene that hometown hockey hero Jim Schoenfeldonce famously screamedat one of the lesser fit NHL referees to “have another doughnut!”
Freddie’s started in 1922
Paula’s is the new rage
The weekend’s destination was a quick overnight toKepler Overlook, in the Blue Ridge near Van Buren Furnace. Our good friend KB joined us for the first day.
Detailed trail map
Down low along Cedar Creek
KB and Souzz near the ridge
The hike started out along Cedar Creek before finishing on a long ridge, covering about five miles and 1000 feet of elevation. There were several great campsites up high, as well as a nice “improved” site on Cedar Creek with benches and a huge fire pit. We headed to one of the sites on the ridge, bringing a gallon and a half of water along with a bunch of good food (winter camping, even on a warmer weekend, should always be about food).
Souzz and KB near our campsite
KB and I shared our first adventure was in 1987. He looks the same.
cool clouds from the ridge
We shared the trail with a mountain biker
It was too bad KB couldn’t stick around for the evening, because dinner at our camp overlooking the Shenandoah Valley was fabulous. We started with an appetizer of local ham, smoked trout, and cheese, and then followed with beef tenderloin, gnocchi with tomatoes and garlic, red wine, and frybake chocolate chip cookies. We don’t lose weight on these trips.
Souzz gathering wood
ham, bread, cheese, smoked trout
that thermometer was handy!
ok, maybe we cooked it a little too long…but it was pretty good!
Gnocchi with tomatoes
Dinner at sunset, not bad!
The day’s mild temps eventually dipped into the high 30s, and then morning dawned warm and sunny….perfect doughnut weather, right? We learned soon enough that backcountry doughnuts really are pretty easy. We’d made the dough ahead of time using aBetty Crocker recipe, and we didn’t really need a lot of extra stuff on the trail–just an instant-read thermometer, a pair of tongs, vegetable oil, and cake doughnut toppings (chocolate, cinnamon, and powdered sugar).
Ingredients for the dough
dough and flour, pretty easy
While the oil was coming to temperature on our cook stove, we rolled out the dough and cut it into shape using the top of a Nalgene bottle and a cap from a Diet Coke. Then we dropped the dough into 375-degree oil for about two minutes a side. From there it was a quick dunk into the topping of choice and it was time for our Zens-like moment(s).
improvising is key
we could have ordered a doughnut hole cutter (they actually make those), but what’s the point?
raw doughnuts on a frisbee
Getting the oil to temp
Waiting for toppings
A “backcountry dozen”
With several miles of walking ahead of us after breakfast, it was pretty easy to justify a doughnut. There was less of a case for the next four.
When something is easy or effortless, it is sometimes called a “cakewalk.” Suzy was first introduced to the term at her high school fair, where she bought a ticket, walked in a circle, music played, a number was called, and someone handed her a cake. She had to carry it home on her bike…but come on, it’s basically a free cake. If that happened every day, life would be a cakewalk, and I would eat a TON of baked goods. Anyway, I digress.
This weekend’s cakewalk was a bit more involved–a six mile hike, twofrybakes, 34 pieces of charcoal, a snake, and a windstorm—but it was worth it. We’d never made cheesecake or lasagna in the backcountry before, so we decided to do both while enjoying the brilliant fall colors. Our trail of choice wasRacer Camp Hollow, near Great North Mountain on the Virginia-West Virginia line.
At the trailhead, we ran into a big group from theGeorgetown University Outdoor Club, which hit the trail just ahead of us. It’s great to see other kindred spirits out enjoying nature, especially the next generation.
As for the meal, we assembled the ingredients ahead of time and froze them in ziplock bags. We also carried charcoal, a spatula, and two extra plastic containers for mixing bowls. Lastly, we carried a foil pie tin, which weighed next to nothing and worked well for keeping things warm by the fire.
As we crested the first big hill on our hike, I stumbled onto a snake right in the middle of the trail. Once I came back to earth– and Suzy stopped laughing–I realized it was fake, left by someone in the outing club to entertain fellow club members. I’m relieved to know that higher education is still paying dividends in this country, and that camping pranks have elevated beyond sneaking rocks (or beer) into a friend’s backpack. We thanked the outing club for the laugh when we passed their camp later. (Oh, and a belated thanks to KB for that backcountry beer in 1993.)
In late afternoon, we found a nice camp well up the trail, set up our tent, collected some wood, and set our sites on dinner. Souzz took the lasagna, and I took the cake (so to speak). For the lasagna, we used no-bake noodles, sauce, ricotta/spinach/eggs, sausage, and mozzarella. We carried the eggs pre-scrambled in a small plasticNalgene bottleand added that in to the ricotta mixture at the last minute. Most of the rest was pre-mixed.
Prep was actually pretty easy, about 15 minutes, and the cooking took about an hour and fifteen minutes (18 coals split top/bottom). It’s trite to say it was worth the wait, but it’s also true. And we enjoyed a nice fire, garlic bread, and a few appetizers while we waited. I’d give this dish a full five sporks on the Souzzchef rating scale.
Cheesecake prep was similarly easy, maybe 15 minutes. We used a package of graham crackers and third of a cup of butter for the crust, and 12 ounces of sour cream, eight ounces of cream cheese, two eggs, a half cup of sugar, a dash of salt, a teaspoon of vanilla, and a half teaspoon of almond extract for the filling. For the crust, we melted the butter over the stove and stirred in the crushed crackers. We assembled the filling, poured it in, and baked for about an hour and 20 minutes (eight coals on top, eight coals on bottom, adding some coals from the fire at the very end). For this dish, we used a “deep alpine” frybake (3 inches deep, a prototype not yet for sale but likely to be on the market soon).
A wind break would have helped, as cook time was slowed down by a light breeze, but that at least helped cool the cake afterwards. We added cherry topping and we had ourselves a nice fall treat.
The only thing we’d change is to avoid freezing the sour cream ahead of time, as it lost its consistency during the freeze/thaw. As a result, the texture wasn’t even…so I’m only rating it four out of five sporks. There’s got to be a way to carry along some makeshift refrigeration, perhaps wrapping the sour cream with the other frozen ingredients. Still, the cake was very good.
With dinner done, it was time to sleep. Some years back, I took a mountaineering course and was told that I was sloppy with my gear–that one day something important was going to get blown away or covered in snow. So my custom now is to pack camp tight before heading to bed, with everything bolted down in case of a surprise storm, an aggressive raccoon, or both (and I would totally post photos if a raccoon ransacked camp in the middle of a storm, as that would be kind of cool).
Lo and behold, the wind picked up in the middle of the night, and several times we were woken up by 35 mph gusts. So many leaves were hitting the tent that I actually thought it was raining. We emerged in the morning to see that the wind had stripped the trees almost bare, and we had seemingly gone from fall to winter in a single night. Two hikers that passed us in the morning shared stories of holding onto their tent fly with both hands, exciting stuff.
We made coffee and a nice breakfast and marveled at how different things looked with all of the leaves gone. The weekend wasn’t easy or effortless, but it sure had turned into a fun trip. And then Suzy handed me a piece of leftover cheesecake. Did someone say cakewalk?