Ragu and Ragogu

Ragu to goHaving spent a couple years in southern Italy, and having a great-great-great-grandpa Antonio who immigrated here from Palermo in the late 1800s, I’m pretty much cosa nostra, and jarred sauce is an abomination in my sight. Only homemade, capice? My fave is the ragu, which works especially well as a camping or backpacking dinner over precooked ziti or rice.

A ragu is a meat and tomato based sauce, and the ingredients, including the type of meat, vary widely. I’ve had ragu alla Barese, made with horse, and Bolognese, with beef, chicken, and pork. If papa Corleone were to join us for dinner I’d prepare it as follows.

Ingredients

  • Some olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1 lb beef, ground or in small cubes
  • 1 large onion, some shade of white or yellow
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 bell pepper, any color
  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 28-oz can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 large chicken breast, whole
  • Some basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pep

Procedures

The amounts above are only estimates of what you should probably bring home from the store. Here are the sauce ratios by which I cook:

  1. Excluding tomato, 1 part meat to 1 part vegetable
  2. For the veggis, excluding tomato, 1 part each (err toward less onion)
  3. Overall, 1 part meat, 1 part veg, 1 part tomato (err toward more tomato)

Drop things into the pan, on medium heat, as you cut them. Once the beef is brown and the veg aren’t crunchy, add the tomatoes, chicken, and spices, and simma down. Simmer time depends on how much the tomatoes have already been processed, or precooked.

The tomato processing spectrum starts at the vine and ends in tomato paste. The more cook time you have, the lower on the spectrum you can go, and the better the sauce. Simmering all day, use fresh tomatoes when available, otherwise, canned whole or diced. For a last minute ragu, you might go with crushed or sauced. In the end, use paste and water to get the right consistency.

On the Go – Ragogu

Freeze it in baggies and they’ll thaw by the time you set up camp and heat the noodles. In an ice chest they’ll last another day. To reduce the carry weight and pack size, cook everything fully, excluding the chicken and tomato, then stir in a can of tomato paste. Reconstitute with water when you’re ready to eat. Bam!

Let me know what you think.

Half Dome by Night, With a Full Moon, Alone

This summer, unable to find a compadre, I decided to try half dome at dawn solo. Despite being nearly attacked by an imaginary mob of bears, it was the best nocturnal day hike ever.

I left the trail head at 1 AM and didn’t see another headlamp until the base of Nevada falls, an hour or so later. In that time I had convinced myself that all the black bears of the Yosemite valley, tired of twinkies and lunchables from the dumpster, were closing in around me. I gripped my pocket knife and planned all kinds of irrational, elaborate defense strategies and escape moves. Depending on my surroundings, these consisted of sprinting in the opposite direction, throwing large stones, and jumping off waterfalls.

Fortunately, I caught up to Jessica and Luise, two younger and slower hikers who were gracious enough to let me join them till I regained my composure and glimpsed the backside of half dome silhouetted against the moonlight. At that point I pressed on alone, inspired and determined to put at least two other people between me and the horde of bears. If they attacked from above, I would fight like a warlock dragon with tiger blood, and die honorably.

Half dome silhouette

Headlamps on half dome

Sunrise from half dome

Moonset from half dome

Sunrise from half dome

Half dome top cables

View from Nevada falls

Half dome

Planning for the Superior Hiking Trail

Superior lake from the SHTOne of the outdoor highlights of Minnesota is the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT), a 300 mile footpath connecting Duluth and Canada along the shore of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota.

The trail has superior accessibility – just off the highway (MN-61), with parking every 5 to 10 miles. In some sections it gets a little too accessible – you may hear a chainsaw or someone riding their quad to the fruit stand, and the vistas may be obstructed by a water tower or a guy in a straw hat chasing squirrels with his pitchfork. But these distractions are part of the rural northern Minnesota experience and they’re well worth the convenience of free parking and free camping.

The SHT doesn’t excel in distributing good information about itself on the web. The Superior Hiking Trail Association website has some basic maps, with descriptions of each section and campsite. Otherwise, you might talk to the guy with the pitchfork. If it’s your first time, I recommend the Silver Bay section, which passes through Tettegouche State Park.

Here are three things to do before you go:

  1. Get a map. For about $6 you can get a pocket-sized spiral-bound version, printed on waterproof paper. The SHT handbook costs around $16.
  2. Check conditions. Given that it’s maintained by volunteers who also have other things to do, like make granola and weave things out of hemp, some sections need a little TLC. Call (218-834-2700) or email (hike-at-shta.org) to check on trail conditions, especially in the winter and spring.
  3. Research your campsite. Given that it’s free, campsite quality depends a lot on location – elevation, vegetation, hydration, etc. Higher, dryer, and sunnier typically mean more firewood, fewer mosquitoes, and better views.