Beach Camping by the Belius Sea

I remember back in my college days, the apartment I lived in was always in a state of flux. Someone was moving in or out on any given day and the halls were at all times filled with the sound of physical exertion, visitors knocking on the wrong doors, introductions and farewells being made in front of the coin-op washing machines in the basement.

The activity and the knowledge that every day might bring you new neighbors to invite around for a study group or a party carried its own particular sort of human energy that I had forgotten about after graduating and settling into homes where people took lease terms seriously. And I had not realized that I missed it until this past week at Outpost 3.

Ames and I, being on two different career tracks and only assigned a cabin together aboard the Sagittarius by random lottery, quickly lost each other. We promised to keep in touch and grab breakfast weekly, of course, but it’s just been so busy! I feel as though I’ve met more new people in the past week than I have in my entire life up to this point.

And not just from the Sag, either! A group of warm and rowdy folks came all the way down from Outpost 2 to give us a warm welcome. They even brought a few bottles of something approximating ale that they’ve been making with the local plants.

It’s funky, like a fruity sour ale, with a vibrancy to it from the local yeast. They claim that this counts as important biological research and were delighted to present us with the first alien ale. I can’t say I like it as much as a pint of something from Earth, but I could see it grow on me. Especially once everyone here runs out of their stashes of treats from back home.

Anyway, once I found my assigned apartment unit, I went around and met some of my neighbors just like back in those old college days. I won’t use their full names here to protect their privacy, so let’s just call them Vee, Sam, Pele, and Joy, and Joy’s little girl who we’ll call Bex.

Vee is a botanist and they could not get enough of Outpost 2’s wild Ocasta ale. They’re a wonderful neighbor, if a little distracted at times by their research. When Vee announced they were going off on a foraging hike to see if they could find any edible plants, I fell all over myself to ask if I could come along and Vee agreed without any hesitation. We found some little green shoots that turned out to be very similar to green onions back home (more on how we used those later on down the post!) and some bushes that Vee thinks might produce berries of some sort in the right season.

Sam and Pele are a couple from Canada, which I only mention specifically because we all thought the Canadians were going to stick with their own colony ships and everyone’s surprised to see two of them on an international colony mission.

When I asked them about it, Sam said he and Pele had seen enough of Canada in their lives as it was and had no interest in building New Ontario on a whole new planet thank you very much. Sam is an engineer and Pele was a male model back on Earth. Here at Outpost 3 he’s been assigned to building crew and said if he’d known you could get paid to workout instead of the other way around he would have signed up for construction jobs a lot sooner.

Joy works as a detective on the Outpost 3 security team. When she found out I was an investigative reporter, we warily circled each other over a few glasses of Earth whiskey and in the end decided the other was a) on the up-and-up and b) pretty good drinking company.

Her daughter, Bex, is the most precocious little tyke I’ve ever met (not that I have a lot of experience around kids) and in the week that I have known her has declared herself a pastry chef, future head surgeon, a wild game tracker, and absolutely and without question the next Queen of Outpost 3. I should note, we have no current sovereign roles nor do I think there are plans to. 🙂

Once we all had a few days to get our apartments set up (this took me maybe two hours; I didn’t bring much from Earth and I was eager to get back to exploring the outpost), Sam came around and suggested all of us in our apartment complex take a day trip out to the coast to get to know our region as well as each other. I was sold before he could finish talking.

The thing you should know about the Balius Sea is that all along the rocky, fog-shrouded, coniferous forest coast, the water sparkles a deep, luminous purple where it meets the land. It has been a popular destination, as you might imagine, and in order to keep the whole outpost from being deserted before it can be built, the powers-that-be have decided that we all need special exploration passes to leave town for a day at the beach.

Joy had some words with her boss and managed to get all of us an overnight camping pass! Yeah, I went wild at that, too! Reader, it was the most beautiful camping trip of my life. We walked along the shore, stuck our toes into that (icy cold!) glowing water, explored tide pools, and then huddled up together around a crackling fire, sharing hot tea and cookies and hopes for our new lives.

Word had already gotten around that I love to cook, and I happily took on breakfast duty the next morning, watching strange seabirds wheel high above in the mist. I wanted to make a meal that was homey and comforting while also being easy to cook at a campsite, so I settled on steak and cheesy eggs with a sweet skillet corn cake topped with spicy jalapeño butter.

After we confirmed that the little shoots we found in the forest were safe for human consumption, I threw those in to the corn cake for an herbal flavor to connect us to our new home.

Digging in to hot plates of food and fresh mugs of coffee at the edge of the Wardenswood by this strange sea, I looked at my new friends and neighbors gathered around me and thought: How quickly and naturally the six of us have formed a new family, our own little unit of warmth and care.

The others must have been feeling similarly, because just as I thought it, Vee stood up with their coffee mug in hand and said: “A week ago, I thought I was never going to see my home again. This morning looking at all of you I’m realizing, this is the first time I’ve ever been home. Here’s to the dawn of our brilliant new lives, and to the family we make along the way.”

Some notes on the food and timing: This recipe for steak and cheesy eggs with a skillet corn cake serves a crowd, but it scales easily if you’re making it for only a few. I’ve listed each component of the meal in the order that I make them in. The butter can be made well in advance, the steak does best with an overnight marinade, and the corn cake has a 30-minute resting time before you can start cooking it.

It’s fairly versatile with regards to seasoning, too. If you don’t like cheddar in your eggs, swap with your favorite melty goodness or leave it out entirely. I’ve finished the steak with a nice, dark coffee rub after taking it out of the marinade more than once and I highly recommend it if you have the inclination.

Steak and Cheesy Eggs with Skillet Corn Cake and Jalapeño Butter

Steak and Cheesy Eggs with Skillet Corn Cake and Jalapeño Butter
Makes 6-10 servings | Adapted from Hello! My Name Is Tasty

For the Jalapeño Butter

  • 3 whole jalapeños
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Generous pinch of salt
  1. On the stovetop or grill, char the jalapeños until they collapse. Place them in a bowl and tightly cover with plastic wrap for several minutes, allowing them to sweat and steam. With gloves hands, skin and deseed the peppers and then mince the flesh.
  2. Put the butter in a small bowl and fold in the jalapeños, honey, and salt until fully incorporated. Set aside until ready to use or store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

For the Corn Cake
Note: You can make the batter in advance and store it in the refrigerator for up to two days ahead of time to save on time when assembling this breakfast. The goal is to have the corn cake into your oven right when you’re ready to begin cooking the steak, so that they are resting at the same time.

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons masa harina corn flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup finely diced sweet onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (for the skillet)
  1. In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the onion and scallions to the bowl and stir well. Drizzle with the melted butter and stir well until fully incorporated.
  2. Make a hollow in the center of the mixture, pour in the milk, and stir well, making sure there are no lumps. This batter will be runny at first and you need to set it aside for half an hour so that the butter and milk have a chance to be absorbed and fully melded.
  3. While your batter is resting, preheat the oven to 350 F
  4. Heat a 10 or 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium high heat and add the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter. Just as the butter begins to bubble (but before it browns), pour the batter over it to cover the bottom of the skillet. Once the batter begins to bubble up along the sides, transfer the skillet to your oven.
  5. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, but start checking for doneness at around 20 minutes. To test, stick a fork in the middle; if the fork comes out dry, your cake is done.
  6. Let your corn cake rest in the skillet for 5 minutes before serving.

For the Steak

  • 3-4 pounds cleaned and trimmed hangar steak
  • 1/2 cup minced sweet onions
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons ground paprika
  • Oil for grilling
  1. Trim the steak as needed. Cut steak into 1-inch cubes and put in a large bowl.
  2. Combine the onion, vinegar, honey, and paprika in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour the marinade over the steak and mix together well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
  3. When you’re ready to grill the steak, oil your grill and preheat it to medium-high.
  4. Thread 4-5 pieces of the steak onto each skewer, not leaving any space between the pieces. Pour the excess marinade over the meat.
  5. Grill the steak, turning the skewers regularly so that each side is fully cooked, about 8-10 minutes or until medium.
  6. Pull the steak off the grill once it reaches 125 F and let it rest at room temperature for 5 minutes before serving.

For the Cheesy Eggs
The last step, I promise! Start these when you’re ready to put the whole meal together (when the corn cake and steak are resting)

  • 12 large eggs
  • 6 tablespoons sour cream
  • 3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Generous dash of smoked paprika
  • Salt & fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs together with the sour cream until they are completely homogeneous and smooth. Season with paprika, salt, and pepper.
  2. In a large nonstick saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Once hot, add the eggs and cook, whisking occasionally until big ribbons form. Take your time with this! They are best when cooked slowly.
  3. When the eggs are still just a little bit wet, turn off your burner and fold in the cheddar. Let the residual heat finish cooking the eggs.

To serve: Slice the corn cake and put 1 slice on each plate. Top each cake with a knob of the room-temperature spicy butter. Divide the scrambled eggs evenly among the plates and sprinkle eggs generously with more of your fresh scallions. Put 1 steak skewer on each plate and enjoy.

Surface-bound, Or, Hurry Up and Wait

You know that point after a long air flight when the captain has already landed the plane but for one reason or another you’re still taxiing the runway for minutes that stretch like hours? Everyone is clutching their bags, their handhelds, bodies clenched and poised to jump out of their seats the minute the doors open, but the doors never open? That’s the state of the crew aboard the Sagittarius right now. We’re all so clenched.

It was exciting to watch the planet grow bigger and point out interesting-looking clouds or geographical features. When we reached the same orbit around the planet as Ocasta’s innermost moon, they announced over the PA that the landers would be deploying shortly. We were to kindly all return to our cabins for the remainder of our time on board until we were called to report to a deployment bay. We all gave each other excited thumbs-ups and said “See you on Ocasta!”

Each cabin is equipped with a twenty-four inch monitor that can display vital ship stats and camera views of both the ship itself and the space around it from multiple angles. I didn’t conduct a poll or anything, but I’m fairly certain that once we were sent back to our cabins everyone’s monitor was set to Camera One to watch the landers deployed one by one.
You could hear the muffled cheers from each cabin echoing down the halls of every deck each time the information ticker at the bottom of the monitor confirmed another successful pod landing. Still, it was a slow and lengthy process. Each pod can only hold sixteen people, and they had to drop our infrastructure supplies first. By the time we civilians got down to the surface, the framework of our outpost would already be laid out in a crescent-shaped grid around a central urban hub.

Ames and I watched in anticipatory silence for a while, but that eventually gave way to shifting impatience. We played a few rounds of Four Masks on our handhelds but he won every time and both of us soon grew bored. I’m not great at card games, but the looming thought that any minute our cabin might be called made it harder to focus than usual. Our eyes began flicking over to the monitor by habit.

Finally, Ames put his handheld away and said, “Do you know what I could go for right now? A big plate of French toast.”

“Do you ever wonder why we still call it that, after all these years? The French didn’t even invent it; the ancient Romans were serving it up centuries before.”

“I bet we’ll still be calling it French toast here on Ocasta for centuries to come.”

I love French toast, reader, and Ames was brilliant for mentioning it at that moment. It took my mind completely away from when are we getting off this boat? to visions of sweetly fragrant, thick-slices of bread crispy and buttery on the outside, creamy and rich on the inside with warm maple syrup drizzling over the edges.

He was kind enough to share his family recipe with me, and I shared my strategies for the perfect French toast griddle. By the time we had our exchange of notes shared to our respective handhelds, well… we still had not been called to a landing pod. That came eight hours later, but we’re finally on our way! I’m strapped in to a seat on the lander and as soon as the last few get their go-bags stowed, we’ll be on our way to the surface.

Some tips for great French toast: You can use any bread you like, but I prefer a loaf of day-old French bread, cut lengthwise in half and then cut into thick half-moon strips. They’re thicker than French toast sticks but not as unwieldy as whole slices of bread on a plate. They also cook a little faster and you get more outside surface area to crisp up.

You don’t have to use the rum called for in this recipe, either. Ames promises me that he’s made it many times with orange liqueur, bourbon, or no alcohol at all, but that a healthy glug of dark rum will send this recipe over the moon, to speak, as far as flavor goes. I’m inclined to believe him!

Ames’ French Toast Recipe

  • 1 cup milk
  • A pinch of salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 generous glug of dark rum
  • 8 1/2-inch thick slices of day-old French bread (this would = 16 slices if you cut each round in half like I do)

Directions:

  • Whisk milk, salt, eggs, spices, vanilla, brown sugar, and rum together in a shallow dish, like a large pie plate.
  • Heat a griddle over medium heat & oil with salty butter.
  • Soak bread slices in the mixture on each side for a few minutes.
  • Cook bread on each side for about four to five minutes or until rich, golden brown on each side.
  • Serve with maple syrup or powdered sugar. Whipped cream and strawberries also works well.

On Approach To a New World

Well, we did it! After ten hyperspace jumps and six months of mandatory survival training, career-path workshops, cafeteria meals, and more karaoke than I ever care to participate in again, we’ve arrived at our new home in the Charys system.

I suppose an introduction is in order before I go much further. My name is Harper Luna, freelance investigative reporter and volunteer whiskey taster. For the record, I did try keeping a diary of the journey itself, but I basically summed it up for you in the opening paragraph. Turns out space travel is not that interesting when it goes according to plan.
From my window seat in the ship’s Starbucks Lounge I can see the planet Ocasta clearly enough to make out deep blue oceans marbled with impossibly vast expanses of green forests, patches of red desert, and frosty white ice caps at each pole. Our ship, The Sagittarius, is headed for a stretch of temperate forest near the Balius Sea known as Wardenswood.

Full disclosure: I’ve never been off Earth before, so expect a lot of excited you’ll never guess what I just saw! posts from me in the months to come. Most folks aboard the Sag have never been so far, I guess. But we’ve all been taught what to expect and had several training sessions about the psychological complications that may arise from both an extended trip through space and stepping foot onto an entirely alien world. Still, I imagine there are bound to be surprises and situations no training course can account for.

We six hundred and thirty some-odd souls make up the fourth colony ship to make it to Ocasta. Soon, we’ll set up the perimeter lights that will mark the boundary of Outpost Three. For now, though, we’re just a bunch of jittery people packing up our things and getting ready to get the hell off this boat.

Back on Earth I was a stress baker. Times got tough, I’d be in the kitchen throwing whatever I could get my hands on into an oven. Usually it turned out edible. Usually. I’m learning that the habit hasn’t been diminished with the distance and time away from my old home world. Ever since we entered the solar system, I’ve been itching to get my hands on a mixing bowl and make something comforting and delicious and today I got that chance.

My bunkmate, Ames, works in the cafeteria. When he found out I knew my way around a kitchen, he let me join him late last night for a little midnight baking party.

I wanted to make something celebratory and vibrant, yet wholesome and nourishing. Something we could share with our friends this morning as we watched Ocasta get bigger and bigger on all the viewscreens.

So, I made scones. Big, fluffy, buttery carb chonks filled with sparkling bits of freeze-dried berries like edible confetti, drizzled with a lemon-gin icing that I whipped up using a splash of the gin we were also drinking to celebrate our successful journey.

They were a big hit! I’ve adjusted the cooking temperature and bake times for standard Earth altitude, if anyone back home decides to try making these (I hope you do). They go just as well with a cup of hot coffee as they do with a glass of sparkling wine—I prefer recipes that are versatile like that.

Be sure to keep the butter extra-cold for maximum flakiness in your scones, and don’t be shy about changing up the mix-ins. Nuts, chocolate chips, apple bits, coconut, go wild.
Okay, I’m being told that outside food “isn’t allowed” in the Starbucks Lounge, so I’m signing off for now to go enjoy my victory scone in peace up in the garden observation deck. Until next time, friends.

Landfall Raspberry Buttermilk Scones with Lemon-Gin Glaze
Adapted from Tartine. Makes 12-16 scones

For the scones:

  • 680 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 100 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest
  • 9 ounces cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 12 ounces buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup roughly crushed freeze-dried raspberries
  • 1 1/2 cups mixed fresh berries of your liking

For the glaze:

  • 2 tablespoons gin
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Pinch of salt

Instructions:

  • Preheat your oven to 400ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt, and lemon zest.
  • Scatter your cold, cubed butter over the flour mixture and use a pastry cutter, the back of a fork, two knives, or whatever else you have on hand to cut the butter in to the dry ingredients. If you want to dirty a food processor, you can give it a couple pulses in there to get the job done quick. The butter should be evenly dispersed into pea-sized lumps.
  • Add the buttermilk and fresh berries all at once and mix gently until the dough holds together. If it seems too dry, add a little more buttermilk.
  • Sprinkle your freeze-dried berries over the dough and gently fold it in with your hands or the back of a wooden spoon.
  • Turn out the dough onto a flour-dusted work area and pat it into a rectangle at least 1 1/2 inches thick. If you want decadent chonky bois, go for 2 inches or a little over.
  • Brush the top of the dough with melted butter, then use a circular biscuit cutter to cut out disks (or you can use a knife or pastry cutter to make rectangles if you feel like it).
  • Transfer the dough disks to your prepared baking sheet and bake until the tops of the scones are rich, golden brown, about 30-35 minutes.
  • While the scones bake, whisk together your gin, lemon juice, pinch of salt, and confectioners’ sugar. Tip: sift the sugar first before adding the liquid to avoid any undissolved sugar clumps.
  • When the scones are done, let them cool for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack and drizzling with glaze.