Two quick trail dinner recipes

042015 Salmon alfredo
Salmon with parmesan spinach pasta…three ingredients…590 calories…under $2.50
041215 Ingredients
Ingredients for a “Backcountry Thanksgiving” from thru-hikers The Dusty Camel
041215 Thanksgiving in a bowl
Yummy, yummy and super easy to make…three ingredients…525 calories…under $2.50

In retrospect, not much else could have been wrong, short of a wrecked boat or a drenching downpour.  Twilight was descending swiftly over the endless curves of the Dead River, the time measured in stabbing back pain with every paddle stroke. Somewhere ahead on river left lay one last campsite. Here were no sandy beaches or rocky fir-clad bluffs, just mud and grass and tired alders.

In the end, the site was not too hard to spot, marked as it was by the dilapidated remains of an ancient dock. Even now, four years later, there is no need to look back into my journal to recall the misery. A steep and slippery bank to climb, the unpleasant evidence of roadside access, a dirth of branches for hanging my food bag, and THE BUGS, a solid cloud of black flies that made a terror of the outdoors. Supper that night was peanut butter crackers with water.

Luckily, few evenings feature all of these negatives, but many will have at least some challenges…bugs, a late hour, exhaustion, and sometimes rain.  In planning food, these are the rule rather than the exception.   So my mission this spring is to discover economical, nutritious, yummy meals that are absolutely the easiest to prepare.

An idea that had escaped me until I started watching all those backpacking videos, was the simple concept of cooking in a pouch.  Sure, that’s what you do if you buy those expensive freeze-dried meals, but did you know that lots of thru-hikers are doing that with grocery store packages like the pasta in the photo above? The package may say cook for 7 minutes, but they are just dumping in boiling water and letting it sit for a while in a pot cozy. Super quick, with no dishes to wash.

My first experiment (other than successfully cooking instant oatmeal in its pouch) was salmon with parmesan spinach pasta.  For one person, use the entire 2-serving pasta package (480 cal), a scant 3 tablespoons of instant nonfat dried milk (40 cal), 1 3/4 cups boiling water, and 2.5 oz. pink salmon (70 cal).  I feel like this is a fairly nutritious combination, with the milk, salmon, and variety of vitamins from the spinach.  The result was almost chowder-like and delicious, although some of the pasta was clumped together and chewy. I need to work on how to mix it more thoroughly and perhaps create a pot cozy to hold in the heat while it is “cooking.”

Another recipe came from the January 2010 issue of Backpacker magazine, courtesy of thru-hikers Ian Mangiardi and Andy Laub.  For a one-person “Backcountry Thanksgiving,” combine half a package of stuffing mix (3 oz. dry and 330 cal), a 3.3 oz. can of chicken (70 cal), 1/3 cup of dried cranberries (125 cal), and 3/4 cup boiling water. Stir together, wait 5 minutes, and enjoy. (Both of these recipes could also include butter or olive oil to increase the calories and flavor, but they are fine without.  The directions call for 1 T. butter with the pasta and 2 T. butter with the stuffing, adding 100 calories to the pasta and 200 to the stuffing.)

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Lisa’s homemade granola

032415 homemade granola

Have I already confessed how many hours I am spending watching videos or reading articles about backpacking food? Which, of course, sometimes segues into watching other people’s adventures, instead of planning my own.

One of the videos I watched suggested mixing granola with dry milk at home, then simply adding water for breakfast on the trail. So I purchased some fresh (not four years old) dried (not fresh) milk and tried it out. The milk tasted great. The sogginess of the granola is not for me, though, so I guess I’ll enjoy mine dry.

Later that same week, my friend Lisa was making homemade granola with our students at school. She generously shared the recipe. This is actually my second batch and the recipe as it has evolved so far. Lisa’s original recipe called for more salt and the raisins (or chopped dried cherries) were optional.

Ingredients:  3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (900 cal), 1 cup sliced almonds (480 cal), 3/4 cup shredded coconut (210 cal), 1 cup golden raisins (436 cal), 1/4 cup brown sugar (209 cal), 1/4 cup maple syrup (210 cal), 1/4 cup vegetable oil (520 cal), 1/2 t. salt

Combine all ingredients except raisins in large bowl, mixing well. Spread on greased baking sheets and bake for 1 hour at 250 degrees, stirring every 15 minutes for even toasting. Cool on wire racks, then add raisins and store in airtight container or plastic bag. Lisa says it lasts quite a while.  So far I have eaten it too quickly to know! Total calories would be 2,975 or around 250 calories per 1/2 cup serving.

The best things come in small packages

My collection of small packages from the Richmond trip…and, yes, the hotel desk clerk did give me all of those tea bags when I asked for just one. Isn’t the True Lime cute? I discovered that minimus.biz also has crystallized honey in packets equivalent to one teaspoon.

Spring has arrived, at least by the calendar.  Yesterday’s new snow was just playful flurries, dusting the road and recording the passing of some deer.  The ice is still thick on the lakes, though, thick enough for the snowmobiles to go roaring by.  Last year, ice-out was April 12, so open water will soon be here.  Until I can paddle again, I am walking a lot and am ready to start some upper body strength-building now that I have dug out my hand weights from the barn.

On my Jet Blue flight home the other day, I ordered tomato juice, something healthy to balance out some poor but delicious weekend food choices.  (Like the supper of tater tots smothered in cheese and bacon, with cake for dessert…and nothing else, unless you count the beer).  Anyway, with my tomato juice came a tiny packet of True Lime, the equivalent of a lime wedge in crystallized form.  Now there’s a condiment I had never met!

Almost any backpacker or paddler will tell you that’s exciting!  I’m sure none of us have ever deliberately taken any extra jelly or mayo or those lovely little packs of honey, but sometimes they just load you up with extra condiments and it’s like heaven.

Although this collecting of condiments can still continue, there is another option, one I just discovered.  It’s http://www.minimus.biz and it is wonderful.  Here you can find an amazing assortment of tiny packages, priced individually, which even ship for free if your order totals $20. My shopping cart is getting full…so far with orange marmalade, apricot preserves, honey, sunflower butter, sweet relish and mayonnaise (for my tuna), hot sauce, and even first aid items like anti-fungal and anti-bacterial ointments.