Hobo Packs

IMG_1560It was a quiet night in the hills — a quiet different from the quiet we have in the apartment from time to time. In the city, quiet is five minutes without a siren or a slamming door two floors down — a precious five minutes, hopefully long enough for you to fall asleep and cling happily to dreams of real quiet. In the hills, quiet is like a blanket enfolding the entire landscape. Quiet is the sound of nothing but the whispering of wind among the dangling leaves of maples and oaks. Quiet is the sound of robins up past their bedtime, muttering on about tomorrow’s plans.

We chose to vacation in Hocking Hills because we wanted to get away from our everyday busyness and our everyday environment. The contrast was almost immediate, of course. And — since I’m not one for sudden changes — I found myself unable to sleep on that first evening in the cabin.

We’d spent most of the day on the road, driving down highways rather than interstates — it’s how you know you’re really getting away: no interstate can get you there. On highways, there’s at least evidence that small towns are still alive and well in America and still maintain at least some of their own personalities. On interstates, America seems an endless strip mall replete with mile after mile of big box stores, parking lots, and the same franchises over and over, but — on highways — you see that Mom & Pop are still in business, albeit in need of some attention from passersby. Highways go right through the hearts of downtown areas — where everyone shopped before sprawl dragged all the business to the outer reaches of town or out of town altogether.

It had been a nice ride and a beautiful day for traveling, but we were definitely tired by the time we made it to the cabin and unpacked. So, you can imagine my surprise when I put my head to the pillow, IMG_1555closed my eyes, and then my eyes popped back open. Undaunted, I closed them again. Pop! Blink-blink. Closed. Pop! And so it continued for most of the night and into the wee hours of the morning. It dawned on me — both the morning sun and the realization — that I was having difficulty sleeping without the din of the city that I’d grown so accustomed to over the past five years.

It’s so easy to think of noise as something that surrounds you, something nagging and gnawing on your senses day in and day out. But — like a pair of threadbare jeans — you can get used to noise to the point that you forget it’s there, maybe even find it comforting, at times. It took me a little while to get used to the equally palpable quiet of the hills. Though it was immediately more comfortable and soothing than noise, it had effectively ripped away those “threadbare jeans” and left me feeling quite naked!

On our second night in the cabin, Georgia arrived to spend the weekend with us. We’d decided, for dinner, that night, to have a campfire cookout/potluck sort of menu. As an appetizer and dessert, James thought we should make s’mores. He was surprised to learn that I’d never made s’mores before. It’s true! I’ve had s’more ice cream and other s’more-inspired things, but I’ve never had an actual s’more before.

So, James and Georgia went out to start a fire in the fire pit while I finished baking the Three-Cheese Macaroni and prepping the Hobo Packs for the grill. I stepped outside and watched as James stoked the fire, the flames sending sparks shooting higher and higher into the night sky.

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Such a beautiful smell and sound, the campfire and the crackling of embers. I remembered, briefly, those evenings in autumn when mom, my two brothers, and I would rake leaves and fallen tree limbs into a giant pile and burn it so that we could roast wieners and marshmallows over the flames. As I stared at the sparks racing upward and disappearing like fireflies in the night, I wondered why it never occurred to us to make s’mores back then?

IMG_1568The construction of a s’more is still a bit lost on me. Apparently you have to get the marshmallow as hot as fresh volcanic lava in order for it to adequately melt the chocolate to the point that both graham cracker pieces are melded together. Doing so also means you run the risk of setting the marshmallow aflame and burning it to a bitter cinder in a matter of seconds. We never quite made that happen, thankfully, but the marshmallow never got hot enough to do the melding thing, either. At any rate, the taste was awfully nice in spite of our shortcomings!

Also on our menu was Georgia’s Calico Beans. I’d heard so much about these beans from James that it was exciting to finally have them. They’re a colorful mix of several different varieties of bean with a sweet, tangy sauce and a little bit of ground hamburger. They certainly lived up to their reputation and went perfectly with our Hobo Packs — a simple and rustic recipe from Cook’s Country.

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The key to this recipe is in the two-part cooking technique. First, the potatoes are cut into uniform pieces and microwaved to partially cook them. Then, they’re combined with the other ingredients, sealed in foil packets, and cooked over open flame.

Hobo Packs
Adapted from Cook’s Country
Serves 4

    2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, washed and scrubbed
    6 ounces chorizo sausage, sliced thinly
    1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
    1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    4 large cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
    1 teaspoon smoked paprika
    1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    Cut each potato in half, crosswise, and then cut each half into four even pieces. Place the potato pieces into a large microwaveable bowl and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Microwave on high until the edges of potatoes are translucent. This should take 5-8 minutes, depending on your microwave. Shake the bowl halfway through the cooking time to stir the potatoes around and redistribute them for even cooking.

    Remove plastic, drain any liquid from the bowl. Add remaining ingredients (sausage through black pepper) and toss to evenly combine and coat potatoes.

    Using heavy duty foil or two layers of regular foil, cut four 14 x 10-inch sheets. Divide the potato mixture evenly over half of each foil sheet. Fold foil over potatoes and crimp edges tightly to seal.

    Grill packs, covered, over a hot fire or coals 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are completely tender. Flip the packets over halfway through cooking time. Cut open packets to serve.

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The smokiness of the paprika, the spiciness of the chorizo, the pungent garlic — they all steam their way deep into the potatoes as all the ingredients cook inside the foil packets. Since there was only three of us and four servings, James and I used the fourth packet as a breakfast side dish later in the week. Reheating it in the oven was a cinch.

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~ by Jason on November 5, 2010.

4 Responses to “Hobo Packs”

  1. YUMMY! Your writing is so descriptive, I can believe I was there. And the smells of the recipes, as well. Hugs, and love to you both.

  2. OK Jason. First I have to tell you how much I enjoy your writing. I keep telling James that you and he need to put all of these into a book and publish it. And the pictures are always perfect with your story.
    That said—I now have to give you a hard time. Being a “retired” Girl Scout, I have to say there are NO MICROWAVES in the woods. Camping and microwaves just don’t go together. Sometimes the potatoes get done and sometimes they don’t. But when your outdoors everything tastes so wonderful you just don’t care. And where is the recipe for the Three Cheese Macaroni? That looks yummy. Keep the stories coming.
    Margaret

    • Thank you, Margaret. 😀

      Actually, it is an excellent point that you raise — a microwave shouldn’t be involved in this recipe at all. Frankly, I couldn’t agree MORE with you, I happen to loathe microwaves for the way that they distance you from the cooking process — all that radioactive business going on in there and you’re outside watching and wondering. Incidentally — though I’d made this recipe once before and had followed the directions to the letter BOTH TIMES — our potatoes were slightly undercooked, on this particular occasion. I was beyond frustrated, but we ate slightly crunchy potatoes and I suppose it made us feel a little better about ourselves… as though were truly were roughing it, after all!

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