Ancient stands of redwood trees loom majestically, lords of the forest. Clinging to great swaths of land along California’s northern coast, they foster an astonishing density of life – birds, animals, mosses, shrubs, and wildflowers. On entering the forest, you feel exhilarated and at the same time very small. Once you have been to the Redwoods, you never lose that humble feeling.
Beneath one giant tree, long dangling branches whickered softly as I set my tent. Low evening sun threw dappled light that played on moss-covered picnic tables, tree duff, railings, sign-posts. Everything at ground level was covered in bits of tree debris or damp with the moist atmosphere.
Out of the rains of Seattle, I had driven through sun-drenched Oregon to take the Redwood Highway south. Del Norte Coastal Redwoods State Park was an ideal stopping point for the night, as far as I could make it in a long day’s drive. And it put me within range of my fellow woodfired fanatic Bill down in Arcata.
So what’s not to love about camping in the Redwoods? I was self-contained, with tent, sleeping bag, Coleman stove, a few pots and pans, and enough food for a small army stashed in the cooler and in the nooks and crannies of my car’s trunk. It felt so good to be out in the woods that I even came to overlook the steep price that California’s state parks were charging for camping. It was all part of paying down the state deficit, I decided.
Now just because you’re camping, that doesn’t mean you can’t eat well. With a small amount of forward thinking, you can bring along all of the ingredients for one of my favorite camping dinners: Clam Spaghetti, with garlic, carrot, celery and onion sautéed in olive oil. So good, and so easy to make, even on a Coleman stove. Here’s how to do it.
Camping Clam Spaghetti
Makes two servings
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
½ onion, chopped
½ teaspoon of dried thyme
A 6-ounce can whole clams with broth
½ pound thin spaghetti
Water to boil
Parmesan cheese (optional)
Cook the pasta: When boiling water on a Coleman stove, use the burner closest to the gas supply for best results, and make sure all fittings are turned tightly.
In a small pot with a tightly fitted lid, bring one quart of water to a boil over highest heat. When the water is boiling, add the pasta and, stirring every minute or two, cook the pasta for 1 minute less than package directions.
(When camping, we often use much less water than the pasta directions require. If you’re not going to use the cooked pasta right away, drain it and put it back in the pot with cold water to cover. You can reheat the pasta in the sauce.)
Sauté the veggies: Chop the veggies. When camping, we carry a small cutting board, but friends swear by the roll-up plastic cutting boards. For a knife, we use a folding Opinel knife, which is ideal.
Put the oil into an 8” frying pan and bring to medium heat, about 2 minutes. Add the veggies and sauté for 5-7 minutes, until they soften in color and texture but are still crunchy. Sprinkle on the thyme and toss to distribute.
Finish the dish: When noodles are nearly cooked, drain the water from them. Add the noodles, the clams and the clam broth to the veggies and sauté together for a further 3 or 4 minutes until heated thoroughly. Divide into two and serve piping hot with crusty bread for dipping.
Note: This recipe is based on cooking for two people, so you need only a small pot for water and an 8” frying pan. If you’re cooking for a larger crowd, you will need larger pots and pans or more than one Coleman stove. In the case of larger pots and pans, it will take considerably more time to boil water, so be forewarned. At higher altitudes the time becomes even longer.
In the morning, I penetrated the thick brush of the Charles W. and Mamie A. Knights Memorial Grove, to stand in awe as the sunshine revived the forest. With a half dozen centuries old trees holding court around me, my senses were on overload and my neck hurt from looking up. With regret, I walked away from those magnificent trees.
But I’ll be back.