Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wallowas Backcountry Ski Recap: Food Edition

I've started training building a base for my spring races. Really. But before I get to that, in true "eking out what I can from the 2011-2012 ski season" form, I'm writing one last more post about the Wallowas backcountry skiing trip

You may remember that about a month ago, I was in the midst of prepping meals and food for the trip and nervous about it. I'm not a confident backcountry cook, and I didn't know two of the people in the group, which made it even trickier. What if they were gourmet cooks?? I was banking on everyone burning a lot of calories the day that I was assigned to dinner and being so famished that they'd eat anything.

So of course it rained for 28 hours straight, making the avalanche risk super high. We stayed at camp. All. Day.  No one burned a significant amount of energy.

I know you're dying to find out how my communal meal went. Let's get to it.

Despite the lack of calories burned during the day and my bias, I think my meal turned out yummy. It faced stiff competition, though, as the couple that brought in a sled actually brought in all fresh food, including: Brussels sprouts, asparagus, capers, lemons, and  2 pounds of fresh salmon (and a half gallon of milk, raw eggs in shell, raw sausage, bell peppers, and new potatoes...suffice to say that not all backcountry trips are created equal.). On the other hand, the sled was a fiasco.
Quarter mile in and already having sled issues.
Being a mean 100 lbs and schlepping everything on my back (squashed in a 35L pack!) meant that my meals needed to be light and compact. There was virtually no on-site prep required for my recipes, unless you count "boiling water" as prep. Also, they're "one-pot" friendly.
Slaving away.
The Dinner Menu
Snack: [something crispy] and guacamole
Appetizer: potato leek soup
Entree: teriyaki salmon with brown rice and spinach

Guacamole:
  • 1 packet guacamole mix
  • avocado
  • lime
Follow instructions on packet, which are more or less "mash avocados, add mix, and mash some more." The lime was my special secret ingredient.

This one is a no-brainer. I brought in Simply Organic guacamole mix and an avocado. My guru, the Backcountry Culinary Goddess gushes about the virtues of bringing an avocado or two into the backcountry, so I did. Then I found two more in one of the camp's two coolers. The prior hut group had also left a lime. Score!

I later (like two weeks ago) found crystallized lime packets that will substitute for fresh lime when weight is an issue, as it is in most backcountry situations. 
True Lime, where were you when I needed you??
This "recipe" is definitely coming with me the next time I head out into the woods. The challenging part is figuring out what to dip into the guac. It needs to be something I can squish into my pack. I'm open to suggestions...

Potato Leek Soup:
  • 1 package of potato leek soup mix
  • 1 cups of potato flakes from instant mashed potatoes
  • 6.5 cups water
  • 3 bouillon cubes
  • 1/2 cup cured bacon bits
  • some amount of shelf-safe grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shelf-safe whole milk (or powdered equivalent) 
Bring water to boil and add bouillon cubes to create broth. Add soup mix and potato flakes and simmer ~30 minutes. Add milk. Top with cheese and bacon bits. Serve.
Soup mixes are abundant. I've also seen some in the bulk food aisle (in Seattle).
There are also several options for instant mashed potatoes.
The Backcountry Culinary Goddess told me that a block of aged cheese almost always makes it into her pack. I sought a lighter weight alternative: grated Parm. As for the milk, 2% or whole fat is better than non-fat for this recipe. For the life of me, I could not find powdered milk with fat in this town. So in a departure from my goals of reducing volume and weight, I actually brought in shelf-safe whole milk. 
Not sure which is more creepy: shelf-safe milk
or cow drinking milk from a straw.
A benefit of being assigned to prepare a menu for the last night of a backcountry trip when your group includes members petrified of running out of food is that you can often scrounge some ingredients. So I scrounged an obscene amount of fresh cheddar cheese, which someone else had brought in but didn't want to carry out, to add to the soup. I also grabbed some cheese that the prior group had left behind. Don't worry, I tested it on a guy with an iron stomach before adding it to the soup. 

This soup would have been ideal if we had actually burned more than a few hundred calories the day my menu was up for dinner. Instead, my meal made it seem like I was fattening up my pals for slaughter. Maybe I was.

Teriyaki Salmon with Brown Rice and Spinach
  • The amount of teriyaki salmon packets that will feed your crew. I used 3 pouches of BUMBLE BEE® Prime Fillet® Pink Salmon Steaks for 5 people, although I had brought in 4 pouches.
  • The amount of instant brown rice that will feed your crew. I brought 3 cups and cooked it all.
  • Fresh spinach (large bag)
  • Nori Fumi Furikake rice seasoning (optional, available in Whole Foods and Asian grocery stores)
Prepare rice according to instant rice directions, add spinach after rice is cooked. Let spinach wilt. Break salmon into chunks and heat through. Season to taste with Nori Fumi Furikake rice seasoning. Serve.

This recipe shouldn't even be called a recipe because it's ridiculously easy. My most genius move was bringing the rice seasoning in an empty Nuun tube (I also brought a tube actually filled with Nuun).  Even though the rice seasoning already comes in a small container, I still repackaged it in an even smaller container. 

Lunches...
Except for the day that we were stuck at camp, when I ate leftovers from dinner the night before, I ate Kind Bars, Honey Stinger chews and gels, and almond butter and honey-filled tortillas. I completely forgot that bars "froze" when cold. And using separate almond butter and honey packets for the tortillas was an unnecessary inconvenience. The raw almond butter was somewhat difficult to spread, and again, it wasn't until a few weeks after I got back to DC that I saw pre-mixed almond butter and honey packets. The latter turned out to be waaaay easier to spread on bread products. In my defense, they were on the highest shelf at the grocery store, so I didn't seem them earlier. Right.
Honey almond butter packets (right) are the way to go.
When it came to actually preparing the honey almond butter-filled tortillas, it was more effective to cut the tortilla first and then spread the honey almond butter onto each half before rolling them up. I previously had spread the honey and almond butter onto the middle of a whole tortilla, rolled it up, and then cut that down the mid-line. It resulted in a gooey mess. Gooey mess in the backcountry = not ideal. 

Breakfasts...
Again, these were the easiest for me, and I described my quinoa  flake porridge in my food prep post. They did the trick.

Parting thoughts, keeping in mind that my focus is on weight...
  • Repackage the amounts you'll need for your meals, and bring in only what you need, with a little more just in case. This saves on the waste you'll most likely have to carry out. On the other hand, I personally wouldn't repackage meat/fish because it probably comes in a seal-tight packet that I can't recreate.

  • Measure and combine ingredients in ZipLoc bags prior to the trip so that all you need to do on your trip is open and pour. Again, this also saves on waste that needs to come back out. Although, if something is already pre-prepared/mixed (ie, soup), there's no need to open and repackage it, unless you are consolidating multiple packets. 

  • If you're bringing in fresh food/veggies, continue to think in terms of weight. I brought spinach and not, say, broccoli (or a head of lettuce), and it's not because I dislike broccoli. Spinach is light and can be compressed. Period. 

The next post is back to running. I promise.

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