Friday, November 24, 2006

VW - Baja Firewood Kit & Cooking Instructions

A Baja Firewood Kit consists of a pair of heavy leather gloves. Heavy as in thick -- the kind used to handle hot steel. Plus a piece of light line eight to ten feet long.

Make the length of line into a loop and fasten the ends with a square knot. This is what you carry your firewood in.

Go looking for firewood. It will be laying on the ground. Most of it isn't much larger than twigs. It will have thorns -- hence the gloves. As you collect each piece, tap it on the ground -- gets rid of hitch-hikers. When you've collected a handful, put it into your rope sling, passing the loop through itself and grasping it where it draws up on the bundle.

Keep looking. When your bundle is about two feet in diameter, head back toward camp, still looking.

When you have a bundle about three feet in diameter you'll run out of rope -- you're all done.

This sort of firewood is often called 'squaw wood' meaning stuff anyone can pick up -- no ax needed. The stuff burns up fast. To learn to live with this kind of fuel-source you have to break the bon-fire habit -- keep your fire no bigger than a frying pan. The usual routine is to dig a little trench, curb it with a couple of rocks to hold your grill or pan, keep the fire -- a small one -- in the trench. This is a cooking fire, not a TV-Boyscout-Who's got the weanies kind of fire. Move it away from the camp. There won't be any coals to speak of. You have to tend this kind of fire constantly, feeding it a twig at a time. If you plan on keeping yourself fed, learn to use a Dutch oven. Dutch oven got legs and the lid has an inverted rim. You stand it over your fire-pit then shovel coals on top of it. If you don't have any coals you build a second small fire on top of the oven. You can cook up rabbit, quail, snake and so on in about half an hour --- and use up nearly all of a three-foot bundle of brush.

On the Pacific beaches you can usually find driftwood but you'll still need twigs and small stuff for kindling. A bow-saw is generally handier than an ax when it comes to collecting real firewood. (An ax is mostly for splitting or notching. Saws are for felling and cutting-up.)

You generally do your cooking while it's still daylight. You can't prepare a proper meal without proper light but the desert comes alive at night. A light bright enough to cook by will attract everything from bugs to bandits and that isn't a joke.

You can cook beans and stews in stages -- use up your morning firewood, insulate the Dutch oven and carry it with you -- continue cooking it that evening. So long as it's still hot, it's still cooking. Ironing board covers make handy insulators. You want a real thick pad to sit the thing on plus a sort of cap like a tea cozy, big enough to completely cover your Dutch oven or other lided kettle -- with the lid fastened down. You can sew the cozy with fiberglas thread or even safety-wire -- it doesn't have to be pretty to work.

People often overlook beans as camping fare because they take so long to cook. Fact is, beans don't take as long to cook as people think. The secret is to not cook too many at one time, and to soak them good -- right up to the point of sprouting -- before cooking.

While it's best to do your cooking during daylight, once it's cooked you can heat it up after dark -- just wait for it to start smoking. ("What's that funny smell?" "Supper.")

And if all this sounds ridiculously labor-intensive, it is. Get yourself a Coleman or Primus. Do your cooking standing up.

Stuff grows all year 'round down in Baja, especially down near the cape. (They've got some huge organic farms south of Todos Santos to keep the hotels supplied with everything from strawberries to coconuts.) Get up early, so as to catch the local market, you can usually find some roasting ears. Fresh corn goes great with fresh fish.


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