Posts Tagged ‘food’

Food: the plan and the reality

September 21st, 2011 5 comments

I had grand plans for what I would eat on this trip.  I would feast on local fruits and vegetables.  I would cook every night, not but from scratch.  I would start each day with a healthy breakfast, and I would stop to make myself a practical lunch every afternoon.

“Food, glorious food!”

— Oliver

Ha.  That lasted about two days.

The first night, I camped at a national forest in northern Minnesota.  I stir-fried some tofu, fresh broccoli, and fresh onions, and put it all over a bed of rice.  It was delicious.  It was something I’ve done a thousand times at home.  It was a huge pain to do it on the road.

First, I had only a very small cutting board, so I didn’t have much room on which to work.  Second, my stove was meant for backpacking use, so it was underpowered, which led to long cooking times, not to mention high fuel costs.  Third, to keep the perishable ingredients fresh, I had to use a cooler, but that was a problem unto itself.

The cooler required ice.  The melting ice got everything in the cooler wet, and the ice itself was expensive, especially in the more remote parts of Canada. I thought that it might be easier to use a smaller cooler, so I set aside my awesome Coleman 5-day Xtreme cooler in Fairbanks and got a smaller one.  Turns out that a small pain is still a pain.  By the middle of August, I had given up on coolers all together.  That smaller cooler now sits empty in Sam’s cargo area.

Breakfast and lunch had similarly lofty goals that were quickly crushed.

So what have I been eating? Fast food?  Pssh. Not in this life.  Maybe if I wanted to feel greasy and bloated.  (Okay, okay; maybe I’ve stopped at Taco Bell a couple of times for a quick burrito, and I’ll admit that I’ve eaten a few subs at Subway, but that’s it.)

Here’s what it’s come down to: bananas and beans.

Oh sure, there are some other foods, like tortillas, peanut butter, and Sriracha hot sauce, but bananas and beans are the core.  Bananas are fresh, keep for a few days without refrigeration, cheap to buy, and don’t require washing prior to consumption.  Beans are high in fiber, high in protein, cheap, taste good, and require no preparation when acquired in cans.  Similarly, those other foods are shelf-stable, inexpensive, and (with the exception of Sriracha) minimally processed.

In what can only be a bad thing for my teeth, kidneys, and body in general, I’ve also been drinking A LOT of coffee.  Many cups on a normal day.  Even more if I’m driving.  I prefer tea, it’s true, but coffee wins for the convenience and availability.  It’s hard to find good tea, but decent coffee is everywhere these days.

The best food, however, has come from the generosity of my friends and family with whom I’ve couch surfed and visited.  Thanks everybody!

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Lake Agnes Teahouse

July 29th, 2011 1 comment

The Irish Breakfast tea would have been good anywhere, there was no doubt about that, but what made it exceptional that sunny June day was the environment in which it was being consumed.  Was it the log construction of the building? The nearby ice-dotted lake?  The green expanse of pines falling away endlessly to the valley below? All were essential tones in the symphony of the moment.

I took another sip.  Delicious.

I was at the Lake Agnes teahouse in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.  There was only one way to get to the teahouse: a 2.5 mile hike up 1200 vertical feet from azure Lake Louise.

Canoes on Lake Louise

It wasn’t a particularly humbling ascent — many old people, overweight people, and old overweight people made it — but the measure of difficulty added immensely to the teahouse experience.  The tea became more than a beverage.  It transformed into a reward, a celebration of a climb conquered.

The Lake Agnes teahouse has been around in one form or another for about a century.  All of the supplies for the surprisingly extensive menu are hiked up by the staff or provisioned by an occasional helicopter drop.

Lake Agnes Teahouse

I picked up my cup and strolled inside the building. There, I found a kitchen and a small seating area. The sweet aroma of fresh cookies filled the interior; baking was done on-site.  The chipper staff of twentysomethings gave everything a lively air, and they were more than happy to dispense good hiking advice in addition to good eats.

Inside the Lake Agnes teahouse

It was a delightful change of pace from the resort environment of Lake Louise.

I returned outside to my table on the porch, the better to enjoy the view and the pleasant weather.  It was still early in the morning and the breeze slightly cool, making the warm rays of the sun welcome teammates to my hot beverage.

Tea and cookie at the Lake Agnes teahouse

The hordes of late-sleeping tourists had yet to attempt their ascents of the trail.  Just a dozen customers were leisurely soaking in the experience with me.  Smiles and relaxation ruled.

Ice-dotted Lake Agnes; a splendid alpine companion

As I munched on an oatmeal-raisin cookie and sipped on my tea (brewed from full-leaf loose leaves), I noticed my table neighbors paying with US currency, something then allowed by the teahouse at the generous rate of par.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“Minnesota” they said.

The couple turned out to be Erik Aus and his wife Sue.  Erik was the successful recently retired head coach of the Centennial High School boys hockey team, a tenure that included a state championship in the mid-aughts.  They hailed from Lino Lakes, just a few miles from Fridley, where I had begun my journey.

I chuckled at my luck of running into other Minnesotans in a remote part of Canada.  Another sip of tea was in order.  Delicious tea.

Food for the road

June 1st, 2011 7 comments

There are three basic needs: food, shelter, and clothing.  Of late, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to satisfy the first of those while on the road: what should I eat?

The easy path would find me going from fast-food joint to fast-food joint, never cooking for myself and swelling up like a beach ball.  That would be disgusting, not to mention expensive.  Instead, I have three requirements when it comes to supplying myself with metabolic fuel on the trip:

  1. Inexpensive
  2. Reasonably healthy
  3. Easily prepared

Inexpensive.  Eating nothing but restaurant food would quickly wipe out my budget.  When I can make a really nice sandwich for $1.00 that would cost me $6.00 in a place like Panera, the motivation to do it myself is very strong.  Sandwiches, stir-fry, eggs, cold cereal, burritos — these are all things that can be prepared on the cheap.

I’ll have to be careful about the costs of raw ingredients, since I won’t have the facilities to keep much fresh food from going bad.  The prevalence of supermarkets will help.

I will still stop at restaurants every now and then, particularly to search for the world’s best cinnamon roll, but I plan to limit such decadence to a handful of times per week.

Reasonably healthy.  I want to stay healthy on the trip, and an important part of that will be filling my belly with good foods.  That means minimally processed shelf-stable items and plenty of fresh foods.  I’ll have to be careful to time my purchases around my numerous transits of the US-Canada border, since bringing across most unprocessed foods is forbidden, but that’s an easily managed task.

It turns out that eggs, hard cheeses, and many fruits and vegetables don’t really require refrigeration, so as long as I don’t leave them in my car, they should all be good options.  Thus, a cooler may or may not make the cut.  If I bring one, I’ll have to deal with getting ice and emptying water, which I consider a hassle.  Those reusable cold packs won’t be an option since I won’t have a way to freeze them, and the common thermoelectric coolers don’t work very well.  The main reason I’d want a cooler would be for milk, which would otherwise spoil quickly, but it might end up being less of a headache to simply buy pints of milk for immediate consumption.

I’m going to try very hard to avoid eating in the car.  That shouldn’t be too difficult, since I almost never eat in the car anyway. (In fact, I can’t remember the last time I ate in a car.) By avoiding in-car consumption, I will be forced to interact more with my surroundings and minimize boredom eating — not to mentioning removing the source for irritating crumbs and stains.  Drinking in the car will be fine, but only water, coffee, or tea.

Easily prepared. I’ve learned to be reasonably competent around a kitchen over the past few years, so the prospect of preparing meals for myself is not only comfortable but also enjoyable.

Now, I will not have the kitchen sink for this journey.  What I will have is my MSR backpacking stove, my MSR Blacklite cookset, and my favorite chef’s knife.  Oh, and probably a polycarbonate storage container and a spatula. Compared to my normal cooking tools, that’s a minimalist set, but it should be sufficient.

I’ve been practicing cooking with these limitations for the past few weeks, and I think it will work.  The biggest change is the size of the pan in the cookset compared to my normal big, heavy saute pan.

All of this presumes that I’m in a place where I can cook, which will probably be a campground.  Most motels would frown upon the use of a backpacking stove indoors.

That about sums it up. Worth noting is that most of the above won’t apply when I’m putting together food for the backpacking legs of the trip.  For those, the main considerations are energy density, simplicity, and cost (in that order), which typically leads to highly processed sugary, salty, and fatty food-like substances.  But that’s a post for another time.