Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Dish of the day

While I sit here waiting for storms to stop raking the Hardangervidda so I can begin my trip I thought I'd share with you my 7-day backpacking menu.

Breakfast - It's good to get yer oats in the morning and this is exactly what I'll be doing. My oat breakfast is easy to make, delicious, healthy and cheap:

  • 3/4 cup mixed oats
  • 2 tablespoons 'muesli mix' (mixed chopped nuts & seeds)
  • handful of raisins
  • 1 tablespoon dried milk
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar

All placed in a 1litre 'ziploc' freezer bag to which I simply add water, a little at a time, give the contents a good stir and squeeze then wait a few minutes before adding any more water as necessary. This kind of breakfast can be enjoyed with hot water or cold which is a bonus in cases of weather extremes or sudden time constraints due to transport connections.

Snacks - nothing revolutionary here, just a selection of muesli bars, candy bars (marzipan wrapped in dark chocolate being my favourite), small bags of nuts and dried fruit, crushed Pringles and 'energy bars'. The key here is variety. It's well known that even your most favourite snack begins to lose it's appeal after eating it for days at a time. Everything not in it's own wrapper is packaged into small, single serving, plastic bags. I'll pack three snacks per day, one for mid-morning, one for the afternoon and one for dessert/bed-time to stoke up my metabolism before bed and keep me warm at night.

Lunch - On the Nordic Lightpacking trip to Sweden earlier this year I was surprised to find myself the only member who doesn't normally stop for a warm 'lunch'. On that trip it was a case of 'when in Rome' and I 'brewed up' like everyone else but my usual style is simply a pitta pocket or fajita wrap with a selection of shelf-life sausage, long-life cheese, individually wrapped foil pots of fish or chocolate nut spread.

Dinner - There are times when I will buy and eat commercially produced freeze dried meals, the best in my experience are the Real Turmat range by Drytech. In winter I find their convenience and strangely-warming 'stodginess' very welcoming but the rest of the year I like to save myself money and weight (the packaging on the Real Turmat meals is heavy) and increase flavour by knocking up my own freezer bag meals. Freezer bag meals are prepared in the bag and require only water to be boiled in your cooking pot. No washing up necessary. This reduces mess (no trying to scrape burnt cheese sauce from the inside of a titanium pot Gustav!), weight (less equipment and detergent required) and flavour cross-contamination ("Hmmmm, a nice hint of coffee in my macaroni cheese tonight!"). On shorter trips I'll wash out and re-use the ziploc bags.

Based on easy to re-hydrate carbohydrates like couscous, dried potato flakes and small macaroni pasta I play around with other dried or shelf-stable ingredients until I find palatable meals that I'll enjoy and will go some way to refuelling me after a hard day's hiking. On the Hardanger trip I'll be taking:

  • 2 x couscous with an Italian tomato & basil flavouring, sun dried tomatoes & pine nuts
  • 2 x dried potato flakes with onions, garlic and parmesan cheese
  • 2 x macaroni with cheese sauce

To cook these meals I just add hot water to the contents of the freezer bag, stir and squeeze and leave to re-hydrate for a few minutes. At this time of year I find 'cozys' unnecessary. Always add less water than you think to prevent your meal turning into gloopy slop. Volume markings on your cooking pot and writing the correct amount of water required on the outside of the freezer bag helps with this. I'll add tuna (in lightweight foil tubs) or dried spicy chorizo to these meals to bump up the fat, protein and flavour. I also carry a small bottle of olive oil which really helps to add richness and calories to the meals.

Drinks - 'Coffee is god' says the fridge door magnet in our kitchen and I can't argue with that. While I enjoy a really good cup of coffee at home (Ethiopian is my favourite) I'm no snob when it comes to an outdoor cuppa. I just need a jolt of caffeine to wake me up and I've been pleasantly surprised by the flavour and convenience of Starbuck's Via sachets (thanks to Phil for acting as my Pablo Escobar of caffeine). Forgive my inclusion of a sachet of brown sugar, that's just how I like my first brew in the morning.

In the evening I like to sip a warming kuksa of hot chocolate (sometimes with a wee nip in it) and will be packing single-serving sachets that provide enough creamy, choccy goodness for two kuksas worth. During the day I'm happy just drinking the clear, refreshing Norwegian stream water but I have experimented with 'isotonic' powders in the past. They're ok but seem expensive on longer trips. Nuun tablets were my favourite for their convenience and less sickly-sweet taste than the others I tried.

So there you have it, my 7-day menu. Enough calories to keep me going but with a slight deficit that will mean I'll probably lose a couple of pounds, which I can afford at the moment. Enough variety and flavour to stop me getting bored and keep me looking forward to every meal/snack. Enough dried ingredients to keep the weight down so my food bag for the 7 days weighs just under 6.5kgs.

Just enough so when I get back to civilisation I can gorge myself guiltlessly on raspeballer. Nom nom nom!

Useful articles/web sites:


Anonymous said...

wots the weight of you "1 week ration"??

Martin Rye said...

I am getting positively creative Joe with food. Freeze dried breakfast and evening meal with dessert. 100g dark (Green and Blacks) chocolate a day and 100g roasted cashew nuts plus a pasta (pre cooked) pot meal. You must appreciated the effort I have put into that fine menu :) I like the food ideas Joe. Jorgen wrote some good stuff on food as well recently. I am determined to make muffins next trip. That and be a bit more imaginative in meal planning. I also need to trawl the BPL archive to find some helpful stuff.

harttj said...

Excellent post on food. My personal food interests tend to the spicy side of things. Cayenne pepper, soya/fish sauce, lime flavor, sugar all round out Thai like flavors. Like you I find freezer bag meals easy and fast. It is truly amazing what kind of meals you can put together with a little imagination.

Joe Newton said...

Anonymous - my day rations weigh on average around 900g so it adds up to around 6.3kg for the week.

Martin - I don't mind freeze dried meals that much, especially the Real Turmat ones, but I've found I can produce my own that are lighter, tastier and a damn sight cheaper! :-) The steam baked muffins are fantastic and something I usually make on shorter trips and definitely when I'm taking other people backpacking. It's a neat, quick little 'comfort' treat on a cool morning. Always raises a smile.

harttj - I took spicier Thai-flavoured couscous on the Sweden trip and loved it. It's getting easier to find ready-mixed 'flavours' next to the spices in supermarkets.

Maz said...

It's odd isn't it - you'll be carrying 6.3kg at the start, which will of course diminish as you eat it, and you'll become more comfortable with your pack each day as your body adjusts - by days 5, 6 and 7 you'll be floating on air! We found this when we walked Hadrian's Wall last year - by the end of it, day 5, we were in Newcastle and could hardly feel the packs at all...

Nice post on food. Did you find when you first got to Norway, as I do each time we go to DK, that you see stuff you recognise from home but in different packaging, differently prepared but oddly familiar? Mackerel, for example, as I see from your post. And then you fall in love with odd titbits that you can only get in Norway? Strange stuff that seems utterly alien but you just have an inexplicable hankering for? For me, it's DK herring, and also frugtpålaeg.

Jörgen Johansson said...

It is both interesting and amusing to see how food habits vary, like on our Vålådalen hike that you mention. Even within nations. In Swedish 'middag' (dinner) literally means 'the middle of the day'. Same as in German 'Mittagessen'. In the traditional farming community the main meal of the day there was always eaten in the middle of the day. The logic presumably being that it was the time when you most needed it in order to keep on working for the rest of the day. At night you had something lighter, not always a hot meal, usually consisting of sandwiches in differen forms. My theory is that as industrialization crept in you did not have access to the comforts of home in the middle of the day, so you moved the main meal to the end of the day, but still called it 'middag'. I do not know if this theory has any truth in it.
To me sitting down for an hour the the 'half-time' of the day and cooking a substantial meal is one of the highlights of the day. Probably because I come from a part of Sweden where this tradition survived longer than in other parts. But you'll find lots of Swedes with completely different habits.
As with most things concerning backpacking there are different ways of achieving the same goal; to enjoy the outdoors and so enrichen your life.

Joe Newton said...

Maz - My food bag at the start, will account for more than 50% of the weight I'm carrying and it will indeed be a joy to start eroding into that day by day.

The food in Norway was something I got accustomed to very quickly. The family I lived with for the first few months I was here were very keen for me to experience traditional, local delicacies and took genuine delight as I polished off plate after plate of raspeballer, lutefisk, gammeldags gaffelbit and brun ost. The only thing I really miss from England is Marmite. It's probably available somewhere but I haven't found it in any shops yet!

Jorgen - You make a great, logical point that 'dinner' or 'middag' used to be taken at midday when our ancestors were working much harder than us and it required much more energy to push a plough than a computer mouse! In fact, recently I have changed my own eating habits at home and no longer eat a large meal in the evening, cutting carbohydrates out altogether after lunch. On my Hardanger trip however I will be burning plenty of calories and will really need to refuel in the evening.

While I do stop for a break at lunchtime I tend not to stop for too long. I'm not sure why. My own upbringing/tradition maybe? I think in adverse weather conditions I like to keep moving as much as possible to retain the warmth in my body. However, there are times when a lengthy break during the day is necessary, especially if I need to dry my sleeping bag. But then this will be dictated not by meal times but by the availability of some rare sunshine!