Culinary Inspiration on the Allagash

A month or so ago, two friends asked if I would be interested in canoeing the Allagash River in northern Maine. I immediately said yes, which was likely a result of a few glasses of mead. Leading up to the trip, I put most of my thoughts on what needed to be done on the land before I leave, somehow forgetting that I would soon be traveling 100 miles by canoe. But, I figured if I could run 100 miles in under 24 hours, I could certainly paddle 100 miles in a week. 

Our departure date quickly arrived and my spirits where high to spend a week offline, free from emails, social networking, and the like. We spent over 8 hours in vehicles before finally getting dropped off in Johnson Pond, the start of our big adventure. 

For the next 6 days, myself and 3 friends would dive deep into the Maine woods, discussing the logging history, watching moose feed, checking out new plants, and identifying the copious amounts of birds that lived in this part of the state. Night paddles on the lake to hear the loons offered a beautiful, up close & personal concert that would send me back to my tent ready for a good night's sleep.

We opted out of using backpacking stoves so all our meals would be cooked over open fire which at times was tricky due to heavy rains that would come and go throughout the week. But with a good amount of experience on our hands, we were able to get a fire going, no matter what the conditions were like. 

Since the snowmelt and watching episode 3 of Chef's Table, I have been very inspired to become a better open fire cook. Our unofficial guide Nate has years of experience on the river and cooking for groups and would handle most of the breakfast meals for us which included rice porridge, bacon, scrambled + fried eggs, and plenty of coffee with cream! I handled most dinners during the trip and cooked up risotto with buckwheat, tikka masala with seaweed infused rice, various squashes, and possibly our most enjoyed meal of Allagash River Gumbo. 

Nate once again blew my mind when he cooked up some Dutch Oven style desserts of apple spice cake and chocolate chip brownies all without using recipes. This technique was completely new to me and I was amazed to see a dessert cook over and under open flames yet without burning.

Although we brought enough food to feed a small army, we ate well and didn't have to have the backpackers mindset of lightweight, dried food meals consumed over and over again. In the end, I was actually a bit shocked that I was able to eat so well, but traveling by canoe allows for extra gear which is fine by me!

We finished up the trip on Sunday and slowly worked our way home, tired, but grateful for the experience. A few days of rest now has me prepping for a busy 3 day weekend of events circling around the Waldo County Open Space Festival. When the weekend is over, I plan to continue my spark of inspiration and get more meals cooked outside on the grill.