Sunday, March 18, 2012

Wallowas Ski Trip Prep: Food Edition

One of the things that makes me anxious about backcountry trips is the food situation. While everyone else worries about being mauled by bears or facing natural disasters, I worry about getting enough calories into me. I also worry about whether anyone else will eat the food I bring, if I'm responsible for a meal or two.
A peek into the food stuff sack. Yes, those are Honey 
Stinger gels and chews. And a tube of Nuun.
Even on my hungriest days, I have a tendency to get bored with the flavors and textures of my food long before I'm full. This isn't a backcountry phenomenon, but it's not ideal when it happens in the backcountry because usually the only food option is sitting in my bowl at that moment. I once forced myself to eat mushy mediocre cous cous because it was either mushy mediocre cous cous or nothing. Blech.

So, it's important for backcountry meals to be tasty.

Also, weight matters, especially when you're my size. The general rule of backpacking is that the total weight of your pack shouldn't be more than some manageable percentage of your body weight.  Obviously, this is more challenging the less you weigh. Food can be heavy...on the flip side, commercial freeze-dried meals taste sort of "meh." It winds up being a balance.

On this trip, I'm responsible for one dinner and all of my breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. No pressure. I can do this. With these challenges – tasty and lightweight – in mind, I turned to the Backcountry Culinary Goddess
The Backcountry Culinary Goddess kicks back in 
amusement as I subject everyone to freeze-dried lasagna.
When we were hiking the Torres del Paine circuit, the Backcountry Culinary Goddess whipped up amazing meals on the camp stove while I subjected the group to freeze-dried meals, which are only a few steps up from MREs. What's her secret to yummy meals in the backcountry?

The Backcountry Culinary Goddess told me that she basically adapts tried and true home kitchen recipes into backcountry recipes by using as much dry product as possible, with the exception of aged cheese and avocados, which she just tosses into her pack and says is completely worth it. She directed me to a survivalist online website that sold powdered foods in bulk (#10 can of powdered eggs, anyone?). She also owns a food dehydrator, which made her options almost limitless. I, on the other hand, decided that because all I was responsible for was one dinner and a handful of other personal meals, I'd try to to this without buying crazy amounts of powdered anything or a food dehydrator.

I spent a day visiting grocery stores in DC – the Backcountry Culinary Goddess advised hitting the specialty stores in addition to the regular stores – and I returned with a pile of dried/shelf safe foods. My best find was almond butter packets and honey straws. It means that I won't have to go to a zillion diners around town to steal peanut butter and honey packets for my lunchtime nut butter & honey sandwiches/wraps. Woohoo!
Some of the finds...
As for the meals themselves, ever since I had the Backcountry Culinary Goddess's potato and corn chowder on the trail, I've wanted to recreate it. I picked up purchased a bag of creamy potato soup, hoping it would be a good starting point. Then I read the ingredients and saw that it contained MSG. Eek!
Next! 

Whole Foods came through for me. Really. I found a package of potato leek soup with all the herbs already in there, plus some instant mashed potatoes. To this, I added finds from the standard grocery store: shelf-safe crumbled cured bacon bits, grated Parmasean cheese, and – of all things – a juice box-sized package of shelf-safe whole milk. Add boiling water. And vegan bouillon cubes, which I know are negated by the bacon bits. Work with me here.

The beginnings of a creamy potato soup.
As for the rest of dinner, I'm thinking packets of teriyaki salmon on instant brown rice, with baby spinach. The baby spinach part may emerge to be the most genius part of my scheme – lightweight and compressable!

Breakfasts...so, even though I can't eat a ton of the same thing in one sitting, I have no problem eating the same thing every. single. day. My breakfast plan: quinoa porridge. I like slow-burning carbs for breakfast. I mixed quinoa flakes, shredded coconut, dried papaya and dried cherries, and added random nuts that I had laying around: macadamias, almonds, and peanuts. I topped this with cinnamon and a dash of salt.
Then I added boiling water. This cooks up in minutes, and after it cooled somewhat, I tasted it. A fresh fruit version of this is often my go-to breakfast at home, and the dried fruit version proved to be pretty tasty, too.
After fiddling around with the measurements, I packaged up the mix and double bagged everything. There's nothing worse than a dry foods blowout in the backpack.

I'm excited to see how this all works out. Bon appetit, happy campers!

 
Short of hiring your own cook to take care of this for you, what are your backcountry meal inspirations? Are there any foolproof recipes you always take into the backcountry?