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Beaver Brook's Big Feast: A Weekend in the Woods

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All week, the folks of Beaver Brook, a stretch of rural woodland in upstate New York, are cooking up a Farmer's Market feast -- without electricity or running water.

Today: Cassie tells us what Beaver Brook -- and cooking at Beaver Brook -- is all about.

First the facts. Beaver Brook is a sprawling stretch of rural woodland in upstate New York that is regularly inhabited by a group of about five friends. The things that are here include a handful of cabins — pleasingly rustic and generally uninsulated — a fire pit, a woodshed, a wood-fired hot tub, a shower that is never used, and, cutting through it all, a brook: rocky, talkative, and the property's namesake. The things that are not here? Plumbing, electricity, or any kind of cell phone reception. We never miss them. 

On an ideal weekend, I'll arrive past sundown on a Friday, exhausted by the drive and ready to sleep early. (A good thing, because the following day's sun will be my inevitable alarm clock.) Brian and Grace, a couple who are building a studio on-site, will be waiting, with dinner ready and cocktails prepped. Then, since the nights are pitch black, we'll take turns guessing the level of the brook by the volume of its voice. Is it high enough to fill our favorite swimming hole? Low enough to cross by hopping from rock-to-rock? Both have their important advantages for Maximum Fun. 

This particular weekend, though, I work late and don't make it in until long past midnight. Brian and Grace are asleep, but they've left a head lamp in the main cabin, along with a friendly note and a thermos filled with cold, extra-strong Manhattans. I swipe open the top, take a drink straight from the mouth, prep a sleeping bag, and fall asleep almost immediately. 

The next day, it's Clyde who wakes me. Her excited barking is followed shortly by Brian, an early riser who I can easily identify by his comfortable morning sounds: a murmured hush to the dog, a kettle, grinding coffee, and the happy click of gathered dishes. Not long after, everybody else starts to appear, filing in from their various sleeping places, tousled, drowsy, and overjoyed to be in each other's company. As we pour coffee and swap stories from the week, we start to plan, figuring out who will be doing what and what we'll be needing. The range is wide. At any given time, Beaver Brook is home to a wealth of communal building projects, from a suspension bridge to a massive barn, but right now our focus is on Brian and Grace's nearly completed studio, plus standard chores like chopping wood, prepping the hot tub, and hauling water for dishes. And since trips into town can be time consuming, we're aiming to get everything we need in a single, coordinated run. After that, the name of the game, as per usual, will be "figure it out." 

Before you cry harsh, though, I should explain that to "figure it out" is half the joy of being at the Brook; learning how to hack things together from whatever's available. Our dishwasher is an old metal tin, filled with water from a five gallon container that we schlep back and forth from the brook. Our refrigerator is an old cooler, and it doubles as an extra bench. Our oven, often, is just a fire that's big enough. There are future plans to streamline most of this, but in the meantime, they're welcome rituals. 


This weekend, although the weather is warm, it remains resolutely cool beneath the trees. This is a good sign. Once the sun sets and the gathered heat of the day begins to dissipate, it will be the perfect temperature for hot tubbing — one of Beaver Brook's most decidedly cherished traditions. Tending to it is my first task of the day. We fill it with water from the brook, spend a sweaty hour chopping enough wood for fire, and get the blaze roaring. Moreso than most tasks, the hot tub requires constant attention. We'll still need to stop by frequently throughout the day, adding wood, checking the thermometer, and circulating water.

Afterward, we move onto the site of Brian and Grace's studio, where they're musing over the best way to lift and properly angle some 200 pounds of wooden plank. I pay close attention to the sketches they show me, and listen carefully to the talk of mathmatical degrees and notching techniques, but I still haven't the faintest idea what's going on. It doesn't matter. I do what they say, lift when they lift, and everything works out. But after two or three more rounds of this, something clicks, and I've got it. I see what they're doing and why, and I'm able to make helpful, proactive contributions to the process. It's a pretty standard learning curve here: figure it out by doing it. Then do it again. I love it. 

No matter how much time we spend working at Beaver Brook, though, play is a priority. This usually means an afternoon dip in the brook or, my favorite, an uphill hike to the property's fern patch. In peak months, these plants appear to glow, sweeping the hill in an ethereal wave of thick, uninterrupted green. I've deemed it the Unofficial Heart of the Land. Here, everything grows quiet and the air shivers with noticeable moisture. After just a few moments, you'll notice sweat beginning to bead on your upper lip. You'll also feel a sense of strange, total calm. It's undeniably magical — and it's just the beginning! Soon, we'll be off to the Farmer's Market to source fresh ingredients for dinner. 

Photos by Youngna Park

Le Creuset has generously offered to reward our Big Feasters for all their hard work, and as our fifth Big Feast, Cassie and the folks at Beaver Book will win, in the color of their choice (flame, cherry, cassis, fennel, Caribbean, dune, Dijon, or Marseille): an 11-Inch Iron Handle Skillet, a Square Skinny Grill Pan, and a 3-Quart Saucier Pan. Pitch us your Big Feast at [email protected] for a chance to win up to $500 in Le Creuset booty.

Iron Handle SkilletSquare Skinny Grill Pan Saucier Pan

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!