Tuesday, November 11, 2008


That's my name for what you are going to see here.
It's, you know, my play on magic realism.

Everything preceeding this post, is no longer important.


not worth deleting either.

This is the transition.

This is the Utopianist Guide -about a woman on a journey.

Friday, August 1, 2008


Yeah, it's Lyme disease. Confirmed by blood tests.

Ohh, twas bad, but now it's better.

I wish I could write a cautionary tale on how to ward off your own Lyme experience, but like so many medical situations these days (HPV, HSV to name a couple), there's no certain cure, no definitive prevention, inaccurate tests, differing treatments and doctors ultimately just say, "ah well, by [insert date in relatively near future] we'll ALL have it."


Thanks much.

I'll be the last one standing.


My best friend Kate and I have often "joked" that most of our talents, most of our exercising, hell, even the 10 year stint we spent smoking cigarettes, are all adding up to make us rock-solid survivors of the apocalyptic future we're pretty certain we'll live to see.

See, since college when we were avid athletes with a hardcore 20 a day Marlborough habit, we were certain we had some mutant lung capacity capable of enduring whatever toxic future this world has coming to us. And learning camping, that's about living in a world where our comfy apartments become ransacked rubble hills. Solar power, that's for being off grid when the grid blows up!

I know, I know. It's like my ex boyfriend stockpiling Poland Springs and guns in his Rockaway Beach-house bomb shelter.

But it's not really.

I digress.

So, Ryan's better, jacked up on antibiotics and on his way from PA to FINALLY live in Brooklyn (albeit for 3 weeks). Mom's on her way right now too, but from JFK.

All this is really intended to present yet another excuse regarding the patchy posting of late. I did indeed generate 80 posts prior to launching Utopianist, then last week I had a pre-sleep epiphany that I needed to restructure EVERYTHING. So, I'm back to the drawing board.

Regardless, I shan't disappoint.

But I will be occupied with Mom and moving for a bit.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Competitive cyclists, Lyme disease and other stories.

Ryan and I were just in Vermont for the NORBA mountain biking national championships. He did extremely well, making podium for the cross country event and 6th for the short track. But, like me, he's uber competitive and wanted to do even better. No matter, he still rocked out, as did his teammates, all earning jerseys and or medals.

After a warm-up ride on Saturday, he took off his shoes, only to reveal a rather angry-looking patch of red on the top of one foot. Now, 4 days later, he's shivering with fever chills and is one eyebrow twitch away from catatonia.

I'm trying to play it cool, but even if they say a good dose of antibiotics, early on, will clear up the bacterial infection of Lyme disease, I've seen some bad things erupt from a tiny little tick bite.

For instance, a bunch of us have been renting a house upstate this summer. I can't quite recall how it came up, probably just a routine web search on the town, but after some minimal sleuthing it came to light that our summerhouse landlord was the centre of a rather significant Lyme disease debacle.

The short story is that her husband, already dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from an earlier incident, had unwittingly been infected with Lyme disease which was slowly turning him a bit doolally. It culminated in a 12-hour stand off with the cops where he shot at and missed a local officer with his antique rifle.

Ever since the incident, our landlord has been trying to fight for her husband to be committed to a psych ward, treated for the deleterious psychological effects of Lyme disease, and not packed away to prison for the next 8 years, as is currently his case.

Like I said, I'm trying to play it cool. Instead of going back to Brooklyn tomorrow, I'll be driving the invalid to Central, PA to see his family doctor.

I’ve got some bones to pick and I’m not talking about cooking anymore.

It’s already starting to sound a bit, well, pedestrian here. See, the Utopianist has a dark side. Though chirping with the birds is as important a pursuit to me, so is some good old-fashioned, pie in the sky, polemicizing.

As the good student I was raised to be, I’m doing my research: I’m reading Thomas More’s Utopia -I ought to know the source of my fantasy and alias, right? As the bad student I have always turned out to be, I’m reaching conclusions before I’ve even finished the first chapter.

Notes in the margin so far are showing that I indeed possess some qualities of a Utopian citizen. For those of you who don’t know, the main protagonist of More’s Utopia, and a citizen of its lauded lands, is Hythloday, which is Latin for The Peddler of Nonsense. He is exemplary of both the beauty and stupidity of Utopia.

Utopia isn’t a simple place; it’s not exactly good or bad. It’s open ended. It presents itself as a wonderful, egalitarian place, but also relies on a degree of absolutism for anything to actually work.

Like many of Hythloday’s irreconcilable maxims [giving examples is a little too term paper for me] a lot of my imaginings of a Utopian ideal really aren’t quite materialisable.

It’s like the blocks on our consciousness to grasp the expanse of the cosmos or time -we simply haven’t the capacity, the terms, the THINGS to really GET it. My Utopia doesn’t have a chance because not only does the language for it elude me, but the basis for it relies on a structure being in place that simple can’t be built here.

The trouble with Hythloday, and the trouble with me, is that we still believe in it.


On a less bonkers-sounding end of things, in other research-based discoveries, I’ve already buggered up a couple of points on this blog.


1. I wasn’t clear about the fact that taking DEAD branches from a tree is great for kindling, just be sure you’re not messing with LIVING branches –it does nature and your fire, no good. Dead ones are apparent from their spindly, dark, brittleness. They particularly easy to spot at the base of pine trees.

2. I meant to say LINT from your dryer is a great fire starter, not DRYER SHEETS, which are uber toxic [and you shouldn’t be using anyway].

(Which is leading me on an obsessive search to understand what to burn and what not to burn in terms of pollution and toxicity.)

My personal toxicity expert had this to say regarding the burning of lint:

"...it all depends on what kind of fibers are in it. if it includes all of those weird chemicals from dryer sheets that have been liquified by the water from the wet laundry and then dried, it might mean that it's no different than the dryer sheets themselves. in general, i guess if it's cotton, linen, or wool it's fine. looking around i did see a "recipe" for making lint firestarters by pouring wax into egg-cartons filled with lint, these could be tossed into fires. that's kinda cool."

Indeed it is -thanks Sarah!

3. Birch bark, is awesome kindling/starter. But I’m unclear on how cool it is to harvest it. I know that the oils in birch bark make it easy to light even when wet, so I’m going to say leave it alone on living trees, and pull it off of fallen trunks only…

Righty then…ironing out the wrinkles.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Moment of Green: Zoom

Up at the house by Ten Mile River, NY.

I'd also like to add that about a week later, from this very same window, a little closer to dusk, when the light was more blue and the grass looked less green, I saw a white something come into my peripheral vision. I took a moment to adjust, blinked like my eyes weren't working cuz it looked like a goat was in the garden where the deer usually are. I walked over to the windowsill, closer to the apparition and realised it was, in fact, an albino buck. And like with all mythical creatures, it eluded record -my camera was completely without battery. I ran downstairs, tiptoe style and told the housemates to look. We all watched for a long while, as it moseyed and ate it's way around the pond. Dreamy.

This is what I want camp cooking to feel like

Friday, July 18, 2008

See you in a bit

Ryan and I are hitting the road.

Off to Vermont -sadly not camping. So he can do this:

And hopefully get somewhere on this:

Back next week.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Building a campfire: The basics

For this entry, we'll focus on straightforward, best-case-scenario fire-making.

The main components of a good fire are:

The Firestarter.
The Kindling.
The Logs.
The Lighter.
The Axe.

With most aspects of camping if you do thorough pre-planning, once you're out there everything is quite well taken care of. So having certain elements in advance is really important.

The Fire Starter:
The easiest thing to do and a great re-use, is to collect your used drier sheets. They take up a modicum of space and ignite very quickly.

There are people who swear by oven-dried pine cones dipped in wax, which is cute, good-smelling, and would be a fun little project for kids.

You can also dredge cotton balls in petroleum jelly and keep them in a tin.

The Kindling:
I like a variety of collected twigs -fallen, never ripped off a living tree- and inch-thick chopped up logs (note my lovely assistant below, using a borrowed full-size axe from a kindly neigbour who was less than impressed with our small maul).

and the fruits of his labour (note our mini version of an axe):

And of course, there's always the sunday paper -which is what I'll be using.

The Logs:
Drier the better, that's key when picking up logs at local sellers. Some places are nice enough to sell little bundles with dried bark and twig kindling as well. Give the wood a squeeze and a sniff -damp wood will smell musty and you'll be able to feel the moisture, if so, move along, it's just too much of a bother to use wet wood.

Tip: I like to keep a spare rain fly in my tent pack to put over our log pile for when the inevitable rain shower comes along.

The Structure:

There are a variety of ways to shape the fire, I like an amalgam of two basics -the log cabin and the teepee as seen below.

Create a log cabin-like square base with 2 large logs and kindling sticks placed perpendicularly on top. The large logs raise the kindling sticks off the ground and allows air to circulate, which is crucial for the fire to thrive. In that raised area, wedge your fire starter.

The point is to have the quick burning fire starter create enough flame to get the next quickest burning items -the kindling- to ignite, which in turn, sustain enough heat to get the large logs to work up a good, red, burn.

Around the log cabin, I like to place twig kindling around in the teepee shape. It creates a good surround of fire in addition to the kindling and starter within

Then strike up an extra long match, and spark all the firestarters.

Keep a good pile of kindling handy, you'll be surprised at how quickly they'll burn up. Tend the fire, in the beginning stages, blow, if need be, fan, if you like, add a bit of kindling here and there, until you see that the fire is evenly caught and toasting the larger logs.

Once you have a good roar going, be sure to keep stoking it with large logs -you'll be set for the night!

P.S. I'll dedicate an upcoming post to axes and axe techniques and alternative fire lighters.

Happy toasting.

A green blog on CAR camping?

Well, yes, I struggled with this idea as well. But the truth is, there has been a steady decline in enthusiasm for camping since the heydays of Boy Scouts and Airstreams. Should this blog be one effort to reignite an interest in camping then that's one step toward finding:

1. Alternative access to parks and forests (some larger parks do already offer limited busing systems, but not many).

2. A segue to more primitive camping and backpacking that is more public transportation-friendly.

These days when people DO go to parks they spend a peculiarly short amount of time there, usually just cruising in to look at the main attraction, then cruising right out again. When I was in Joshua Tree last year, my guide said the average stay is 15 minutes! That's barely enough time to regain oxygenation after a stint in the porta-potty.

As it stands, I want to enliven and reinvigorate peoples' interest in camping, and car camping is a more convenient way of making camping happen as well as a great way to ease novices into the stunning experience of an extended stay in the outdoor life.

Don't, though, mistake this as an endorsement of RVs or campers. Sorry, I'm a bit of a snob about this. To some extent I cringe at even seeing a car in a forest but the newest, truest eyesore is the micro-city of campers filling campsites. Strings of Christmas lights adorning fluorescent awnings, the whir of generators, the hum of TV s, all of this is antithetical to the pared down, humbling experience of roughing it en plein air. Let alone the fact that I see these RV enthusiasts very rarely leaving the comfort of their propane-heated movable living rooms, I have to wonder to myself why they’re even there at all.

In any case, once you get to the campsite I encourage you to walk, run, stroll, hike, bike, and swim, but leave the car alone until you leave the park for good.

Oh, and here's a great source for keep your car well-maintained and as efficient as possible.

Righty, then.

P.S. I'm not saying you should actually sleep IN the car, but you can...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Recipes: Meatballs -It's all wrong, but it's all right.

Of course, I THOUGHT I'd keep all the recipes as fresh and as unprocessed as possible, but when a rather last minute camping trip to the Catskills popped up last week, I was, well, ill-prepared.

I believe in cook days, whether preparing for a week's eating at home or preparing for a camping trip but with this particular jaunt, no such time was available. Instead it was a pronto run to the super market, devising a menu in the aisles, and that was that.

Considering these ingredients aren't my favourite -I prefer to use my own breadcrumbs, good quality parmeggiano and homemade tomato sauce- I took this on as a taste comparison experiment. And frankly, it works in a pinch and just about every step of the way, we were in something of a pinch.

Above we have all the main ingredients:

1/2 red onion -chopped
1/4 lb lean ground beef
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 egg
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
3 cups vodka sauce
1/2 box penne
5 cups of water
olive oil
salt and pepper

Serves 2 with left overs.

In one bowl, combine the meat, egg, breadcrumbs, cheese, onion, salt and pepper. Use one hand and keep a paper towel, soap spray and a sport bottle of water handy to wash off.

Roll meat (still one handed) into golf ball sizes (smaller is cute too, but bigger is not so practical).

Pinch #2: I had to use our gas stove to cook the meat, because there was no grate on the fire pit and we hadn't brought one along...

Once the meatballs were browned on one side, I started to boil the 4 and 1/2 cups of water with some salt and oil. Italians would be mortified to see pasta cooked with such little water, and it's true that it doesn't do it justice, but with accurate timing (i.e. DON'T OVER COOK) you can still get good al dente pasta.

With the mutability of camp stoves and fires, taste testing is really the best way to go when cooking pasta. Using the package's time guide as a reference, test the pasta about 3 minutes sooner than the suggested cook time then you can judge how much more or less time is needed to follow.

Pinch # 3 presented itself with a dwindling gas stove. Luckily the meatballs were browned, but there wasn't enough burn to get the water boiling. With the little amount of gas left, I poured the 1/2 cup of water on the meatballs and covered the pan.

While that simmered, Ryan, wearing heavy leather gloves, transfered the pasta directly into the fire. Almost instantly it began to boil.

Once the water reduced from the meatballs, I poured over the tomato sauce, and in wondrous synchronised timing, the pasta and meatballs were ready.


Your moment of green

Viewed on a hike in the Brazos Bend State Park, Texas.