Here’s one of life’s best gifts you shouldn’t miss out on—cooking outdoors. So aim to be less busy to enjoy this adventure. Make it a hobby. It’s so exciting it will kick stress out of your life, especially if you do it against the backdrop of the wilds.
As boy scouts when I was in grade school, we often spent overnight camping at school. The school premise was ideal because back then it had a small patch of jungle along the creek which bounded the school grounds. There were wild trees, tall grass, saba banana trees and bamboo clusters. Aside from sleeping in the woods and building your own tent, the exciting part was building a fire and cooking meals on it.
Firewood Makes It Taste Better
Almost each weekend we had this overnight camping, something we looked forward to on Mondays. We sometimes experimented on sardines and some vegetables, but our all-time favorite was mixing different canned goods in the pan—canned sardines, sausages, squid, square meat, pork and beans, and corned beef, to name a few. Sometimes we added eggs. We became experts at cooking rice on an open fire. We also discovered that cooking food like rice on electric or gas stoves in kitchens was far different from cooking outdoors. Everything tasted so much better when cooked on burning firewood or charcoals.
My mom had some heart problems so that she often looked sad and lacked appetite. But one time our family had an overnight stay in a resort in Pangil, Laguna and the next day at lunch time I and my brother-in-law cooked marinated fish and pork chops and some veggies like eggplants and okra on burning charcoals. I acted as chef. We never saw mom with as good an appetite as then. She really “devoured” her lunch, especially liking the vegetable ensalada we prepared—grilled eggplant and okra with chopped raw tomatoes, onions and garlic sprinkled with a little vinegar. And she looked energetic after, talking and laughing at my silly jokes. She lived to be 88.
Cooking Out at the Office Yard and in Cavite
I had a working stint at an agency of the Department of Agrarian Reform in Teachers’ Village in Diliman in 1982, and each lunch time we grilled our food and cooked our rice with firewood in the backyard of the office. It was all my idea, actually. So, each lunchtime you smelled the sweet scent of food cooking on firewood. Soon, our bosses joined us. We became like family. But they never contributed for the food. We spent and they were always our “guests.”
I brought the habit to Indang, Cavite. One time in 1989, Eddie invited me to a 3-day stay at their ancestral home there. Instead of having lunch and dinner cooked formally in their kitchen and eating in their elegant dining area, I suggested we grilled them instead. “Where?” he asked. I pointed to a corner of their backyard. “Right there,” I said. His eyes became excited and he looked at me as if saying, why hadn’t I thought of that before?
So we had grilled tahong (shellfish) and ate right there where we grilled it. We had so much fun and Eddie never felt more comfy telling weird and secret stories of his teenage love affairs. You never saw him like that before this adventure of cooking outdoors. There’s something in burning firewood out in the open that turns food into a truth extractor.
Cooking in the Rice Fields
Recently, we have been going to a remote town in Nueva Ecija to spend overnights in the farm of my wife’s late dad. We checked how rice was planted, and months after, harvested. I always thought of ideas how I and Willy, the caretaker, could cook food on firewood outdoors. All he did was pick up dry fallen tree branches in the mango grove and burned that up. It was economical, cooked food better and was more exciting. We chatted as we watched food cooked over fire or sometimes listened to music or drama on his antiquated radio.
Above is the actual picture of our broken earthen stove with burning firewood. We used a rice cooker container for the rice and placed a roof scrap as cover against the wind. Another iron pot beside contained the pork we had to tenderize. As I was taking this picture, Willy wondered what I was up to, probably asking himself what was so special about that scene.
Cooking out using firewood so relaxed us and made us want to talk about the simple and good things in life. Best of all, it made us realize how a simple life is the best life of all. Going back to the basics and to Mother nature. Going back to the things of the Creator. If you haven’t tried cooking outdoors and eating there with your bare hands, you better do so now. Start planning for it. It doesn’t have to be grand or expensive. Do it right now in your own backyard.
But you have to be less busy first and kick stress out of your life.