We've just come back from that little gathering in the desert called Burning Man.
It's a 7 day extravaganza of art, music & self expression held in the harsh evvirons of an alkaline desert called Black Rock, in Nevada, USA.
There are 10 main principals that make up Burning Man... See them in full here: 1o Burning Man Principles, but the 3 main ones that I need you to know about here are: Radical Self Reliance, Decommodification and Gifting.
Radical Self Reliance:: everyone is encouraged to rely on themselves. Everything (and I mean EVERYTHING, from water to drink and bathe in, to shelter to sunscreen, to any food you will need for the week) is brought in with you... We stayed with a camp so we shared resources.
Decommodification:: There is no money used at Burning Man. No corporations and nothing for sale except for Ice and Coffee. Which means you have to be fully prepared for a whole week of essential items, like- um... food! And Water for drinking & washing in...
Gifting:: Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
This was my first Burning Man, and although I was with some very , very experienced people, I was still a little underprepared, however, I really wanted to contribute to our camp, despite this. Which brings me to how & why I was cooking dinner for 12 or so people in the middle of the dusty playa. (NB- the desert is called Playa at Burning Man!)
I love cooking, I love making food that people will enjoy, and will nourish their bodies. This becomes tough when you have already been in desert conditions for 4 days, are running out of fresh food & there is dust everywhere. So, you have to get creative...
Fortunately for me, the alkaline conditions of the Black Rock Desert don't really allow many germs to survive. Otherwise we all might have ended up with really nasty tummys. As it is, it was a little less than hygenic, but nothing a good application of heat couldn't overcome.
So... how DO you cater for a ragtag group of Burners, with varying appetites, with minimal resources??
Here are my 50 steps to making a Playa Pepper Risotto Thing...
- Find all the utensils you need. Discover there are only bread knifes & 1 large pot sort of thing and someone is already using the only proper saucepan. Oh well, it will have to do...See the pic below for an idea....
- Dust them all off.
- Look in the cool box (Esky) to see what veggies have survived floating about in half melted ice....Discover only onions & red & green peppers.
- Realise that we forgot to buy kidney beans. Or any kind of beans for that matter
- Ask a camp mate if they have any beans.
- No.. but they have some lentils? Will that do? ( The answer is YES!!) Check in the box with dry food & realise we have risotto rice. Yay!
- Go back to your pots.
- Dust them all off again, with the only rag you can find. Get right in the corners.
- Realise the gas can is out of gas.
- Find a replacement & hope it doesn't blow you up as you connect it.
- Get a camp mate to test it for you (yes... sadly I was that nervous!)
- Use a bread knife as a kind of skewer & put the peppers directly over the gas to char their skins.
- Congratulate yourself on your ingenuity
- Suddenly realise that you might end up melting the plastic handle of the knives like this & remove the knives, balancing the peppers over the gas flames instead.
- Dust off the chopping board & chop onions & garlic.
- Dust off the pot (AGAIN)
- Start cooking the onions & garlic with some olive oil.
- Remember to turn the peppers before they become charcoal
- Tip in the entire pack of risotto rice, remember you have a baggy of white wine, sprint to the Yurt to get it...
- Realise there is no stock, Oh well- add triple the amount of wine you usually would...
- Why isn't the wine absorbing??
- Maybe becuase the gas has turned itself off...
- Check the gas connection. Turn it back on.
- Peel the peppers. Realise you're making a terrible, terrible,mess. (MOOP, Matter Out Of Place, is a serious issue at BM. See why here: )
- Go looking for the paper towels you think that were packed to clean up the mess.
- Oh Snap, they've all been used. Resort to using flimsy wet wipes
- Add water to the rice. And a bit of garlic/seasoning salt that your more experienced camp mate has brought along.
- Chop the peppers, trying not to MOOP too much
- Add more water
- Add the lentils your camp mate kindly gave you.
- Realise that they're not lentils at all but a quinoa & grain mix. Never Mind!!They'll taste good too!
- A camp mate offers to help. Ask them to chop up some veggie sausages & fry them. They will add texture & flavour.
- Another camp mate wanders by & says ' I have fresh parsley, would you like some?'
- Obviously the answer is 'YES PLEASE!'
- Add the Peppers & Taste the risotto thing.
- Realise it's still crunchy & not particularly flavoursome
- Add more water & stir.
- Remember you have lemons.
- Add the juice of half a lemon plus some more spicy flavour mixes that your *super organised* (Meika!!) camp mate has brought
- Add the parsley.
- The wind picks up & dust starts whipping around. Stir, then cover the pot.
- Add the Sausages, and a bit more lemon juice....
- Pronounce the food is READY!!!
- Feed everyone.. wonder why there is so much left...
- Go searching for more people to eat it...
- More Burners come & eat... YAY! And it tastes quite good. Double Yay!
- Even better... one of the happy Burners offers to somehow clean up the pan! Triple YAY!!!
And my main takeaways from this Playa culinary experiment??
Dust is a condiment 🙂
There is nothing better than seeing happy faces when they are eating a meal you have cooked.
I want to cook for EVERYONE at Burning Man next year.... !