Dirtbag Gourmet: The Joy of Cooking for Friends

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The annual trek to Vermont’s Kingdom Trails doesn’t happen annually. But eight of the last ten years, a handful of friends has managed the six-hour drive north to one of the best singletrack oases on earth. Kingdom features more than 100 miles of ridiculously manicured singletrack, all purpose-built for riding. On nearby Burke Mountain there’s more technical freeride terrain, too. Yes, the West has better scenery and there’s more gnar in B.C., but for day after day of old-school riding escapism, there’s nothing else in North America like Kingdom Trails.

But we don’t make this trip year in and year out just for the dirt. Oh, we did at first. But over time it turned out to be something else.

It’s the camping. The camping and the eating. The camping, the eating, and the cooking. We squat on the same chunk of beautiful land each year and live like kings in the woods. The first year, we lived on ramen cooked on dinky camp stoves and realized it was a punishment none of us deserved. Instead, we started living even larger than we did at home. We seemed to decide, without any discussion, that the menu and cooking well for each other would be the tribute that bound us to the ritual Kingdom retreat, even more than the miles on the trail.

This past trip I partnered with Mark and we made seared short ribs in a cast-iron pot on the fire. The ribs had marinated overnight in a bath of garlic, soy, vinegar and hot chile. There was over a pound of meat per man and we polished off every last dripping-fat shred. It was awesome to watch my friends gorge.

One morning we did thick-cut bacon and fry bread, the bread baked brown in the lard. It was stupendous.

Bacon usually is, of course.

A few years back our friend Joe made the trip with Mark and me — just a skeleton crew, really. But we had bacon, and vegetarian Joe was dying as he watched us eat the lovely pig mana. Slowly, his will evaporated. Joe is back to eating meat now, and I’m not sorry to say I can take some of the credit. That’s what friends do. In the Kingdom.

Photos by Michael Frank

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{ 7 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Mark

    “…we made seared short ribs in a cast-iron pot on the fire. The ribs had marinated overnight in a bath of garlic, soy, vinegar and hot chile. There was over a pound of meat per man…”

    I don’t know how to ask this without sounding shameless and pitiful, so I’ll just fling it quickly. Can I be your friend?

  • michael frank Post author

    Mark (the one who is the second, not the third commenter), the deal is that we’re all in this together, so sure, we can be friends, but considering the way we cook for each other, it really depends on whether you’ve got “game” or not!

  • matt

    even the grilled cheese sandwiches we (tom) made were gourmet. sublime, sublime, sublime.
    maybe we can get mark to eat campfire cooked duck confit next year……

  • Mark

    Understood, Michael.

    I think I’m pretty handy with food, and suspect I can win you gents over with my grilled jalapeños baptized in a cream cheese-bacon-and-spices spread. You’ll wash ‘em down with crafted margaritas with fine reposado and hand squeezed lime juice. They’re small, but punchy.

  • Chris

    ”…Instead, we started living even larger than we did at home.”

    I feel you! That’s exactly how I stepped up my camping game this season, Slowly cooking marinated ribsteak over red hot ember while the veggies are stuff along with a healthy dose of butter in aluminium foil in the same ember. Then having ham & cheese pancake or the sweet banana & nutella version for breakfast… I do live larger than I do at home too!
    Thanks for sharing your story, made me smile

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