Food

NORM'S PAGE OF GOOD EATS!

by Norm Miller

THREE BOOKS REGARDING WILDERNESS COOKING:

  1. WILDERNESS CUISINE: CAROLE LATIMER, WILDERNESS PRESS 1991"Howto prepare and Enjoy fine food on the trail and in Camp"
  2. NOLS COOKERY: NATIONAL OUTDOOR LEADERSHIP SCHOOL LANDERWYOMING
  3. THE HUNGRY HIKERS BOOK OF GOOD COOKING: GRETCHEN MCHUGH 1982 KNOPH PUBLISHING

When I decided to paddle 2000 miles solo for two months, I knew I would need a considerable amount of caloric intake per-day to maintain body weight. I purchased the above books to figure out how I would do that accurately. I didn't want to carry any extra weight of food if need not be, I was loaded with enough gear as it was.

The NOLS Cookery was a key book in figuring exact portions and caloric intake. I had figured that I personally would be expending 4500 calories/day/8weeks. Simple math tells you that I needed over 250,000 calories of food for the entire trip. I knew I would need a barge for all that food.

This is when the food dehydrator came to the rescue. By eliminating the water from everything I ate, I could easily carry enough food for 12 weeks in my solo canoe. Water takes up roughly 95% of food weight and size. So by eliminating this 95%, I thus gained 95% more of the food space in my canoe. Another problem solved! A word about food dehydrators. I recommend getting one with a fan blower to speed up the drying process. Such as the American Harverstor models. What ever you do, don't bother with the ones made by Ron Popeil and Ronco they take forever to dry!!!

When figuring out the menu for the trip, get a piece of paper and pen and square it off into day and weeks etc. Write in each day what you would like to eat. At the end of the planning, tally up each "LIKE" item such as pasta shells. For example: you add up 10 pasta meals, you know you can eat 2 cups (before cooked) of pasta shells. Simple math states you will need to buy 20 cups worth of shells (2cups x 10 meals).

Now figure this out with each item: Coffee? Rice? Pancake Batter? Etc Etc. and when you get a total make sure you multiply that particular item for EACH MEMBER OF THE GROUP. So if your traveling with 5 people, you would be needing 100 cups worth of pasta shells. An accurate account is very important if your going to fit it into your canoe or kayak. Its important to know the eating habits of the group too, as one big guy could probably eat 5 cups of pasta per meal.

I am often amazed at what I hear other will eat while camping out. So often I hear of the sticky mac & cheese, instant oatmeal with the token dried apple piece, or expensive processed backpacking foods which are never enough to feed a hungry person. It is critical to know the eating habits of every person that is going to be traveling with you. That was easy. I was solo and I eat like a horse.

There are so many new foods on the market, it is easy to create incredible meals while in the wilds. It helps if one lives near a city to purchase "bulk" foods and also the various ethnic markets that are out there now. You can easily prepare curries, gumbos, Thai, Asian, Mexican food anywhere in the wilds. What I did was come up with about 4-of my favorite meals and designed around it. I chose pasta, Mexican, Asian and created variations of them each evening. With the food dehydrator, I dehydrated fresh, carrots, broccoli, squash, mushrooms, onions, corn, peas, peppers, cauliflower, sun dried tomatoes, sweet potatoes, red potatoes. For fruits I dehydrated apples, nectarines, pears, and created "fruit roll ups' by putting strawberries, raspberries, peaches, plums, blackberries in a blender; making a puree out of it all and dehydrating it into sheets of dried fruit. I also dried, turkey and beef into jerky which was tasty the entire trip. Other items I was able to dehydrate but you are not limited too are home made salsa, spaghetti sauce, curry sauce, onion soup as an example.

As far as "bulk" items, I purchased pasta shells, rice, pancake mix, dried milk, and oatmeal, for example. I also carried a jar of peanut butter, honey, small containers of home made sun dried tomato pesto, and squeeze butter. All of which did not require refrigeration.

As far as coming up with a menu, I determined how many breakfasts, lunch and dinners I planned to eating. I then split up the menu as far as pasta one night, Mexican the next night, Asian the next, and each one I could vary with the different veggies and amount of spice. Breakfast consisted of multi-grain pancakes (don't buy the cheap plain stuff when you can have wheat germ, oats, cinnamon, almonds, sunflower seeds, blueberries and honey in your cakes. I also pre-made many cakes each morning to be used as "bread" during the day. They make great peanut butter and honey sandwiches. Oatmeal's/Granola was a staple in the morning, mixing, oats, grains, barley, date, cranberries, dried cherries, sunflower seeds, millet, coconut, walnuts, almonds, honey, raisins, raspberries to name some of the items. Mix with powdered milk for a great cereal.

My lunches were always "on the go". I had jerky, fruit roll ups, granola, pancake peanut butter/honey sandwiches. I also had humus ,tabouli ,and couscous which I purchased dried in bulk at Wild Oats Health Food Stores. I also made mini tortillas by adding water to masa (corn flour) and frying them up. They provided me with quick energy and were great with humus, peanut butter, honey or re-hydrated salsa.

Dinners consisted of pestos, spaghetti, mexi casserole with fresh dried salsa, home made tortillas, dried lentils and spicy black beans and rice. Asian Casseroles with rice layered with curry and assorted vegetables. All my dinners I added dried veggies of my liking. I mixed it up as not to always eat the same each night.

Other items to consider: coffee, teas, hot chocolate, gator-ade, hot jello for drink. Some other items I did not mention yet but were in almost every meal and they include: TVP (from bulk stores) Which is textured vegetable protein. It sounds uninviting but is a very good source of protein and adds a lot of bulk to your meals once it is re hydrated. It looks and has the consistency of hamburger or ground turkey and is a complete protein which is rare to find in foods.(This item is a must, and is carried on almost all major Polar and Mountaineering Expeditions in the world) It's cheap too!

Spices: These can be placed in small plastic bottles and stored in a separate container to prevent leaking. Spices I took included soy sauce, cooking oil, salt, pepper, chili powder, basil, cilantro, curry, onion flakes etc. You are not limited to these though!

Organizing meals:

a.. Buy lots of freezer zip lock bags and a black marker to write on the outside. I bought the large and small version of zip locks. In the first big zip lock I wrote "Week 1 Breakfast" and divided 7 breakfast's into smaller bags and placing into the one large bag. I continued this for each week. At the end I thus had 7 big zip locks with 7 breakfast inside each one.

b.. I continued this with lunch and dinners for the entire 7 weeks. Making sure I had a variety of meals each week to mix it up.

c.. When I packed my food for the trip, I placed all the meals in a large "DRYBAG" which is a waterproof bag made of thick plastic/rubber used for river trips. At the bottom of the drybag were the meals(in ziplocks) for later in the trip as I would not need them for quite sometime.

d.. In a smaller DRYBAG I put my meals for that particular week such as "WEEK 1" Breakfast and Dinner so I would not have to open the other bog bags with the food items. My "lunch" bags I kept out with me in the boat all day to snack on and replenish as needed before each morning.

e.. This process worked great and was well organized. I highly recommend having your meals labeled and in some order especially for groups of more than two. There is nothing more annoying than trying to prepare meals in the pouring rain with black flies crawling all over you when you cant find your dinners.

Another key factor in the preparing of my meals was the lack of cooking pots. I hate to "dirty" more than one dish. And since being solo, I did not want to have to spend my evenings cooking and washing dishes. With me I carried a 10'inch Dutch oven (D.O)type cast iron pot which had a handle and lid. The lid could be used as a frying pan as well. This seems heavy which it was, but proved very time saving and effective. With this Dutch oven (D.O) a person can have the meal cooking while they are doing "other" things such as setting up the tent. When I arrived at camp each evening, I would light a fire, get out the food bag from the canoe, prepare a meal in the D.O, set it in the fire, remove camping gear and set up the tent, change into fresh cloths, eat dinner, and clean up, ALL IN 1HOURS TIME! You can just toss everything into the D.O with extra water to rehydrate the sauces and veggies, set it in the fire and it will cook for you without you having to mess with it. By the time I had my camp set up dinner was always ready for me. Cleaning of cast iron is easy to clean , wipe the stuff out or use sand from the river. This saved so much time and clutter by not having 4 different pots going and watching over them so they don't boil over or burn. I also had a smaller stainless steel pot I used with a Whisper Lite Stove for rainy days.

There is plenty of dead and dried firewood the entire route I took to the sea. Even above tree line there was more wood than you could possibly imagine. The entire river system flushes all the debris out into the sea which eventually ends up on the beaches. I personally enjoy cooking over a fire. I find it more convenient and fun. You can even bake bread and bannock in a Dutch oven. I used my stove only during real rainy days, but one would probably find dry wood even after a deluge.

Other cook items I brought were a flat square fry-pan used to make flap jacks.( I could have used the lid on the D.O pot as it also was also a fry pan. Also small metal grate which I used rarely to put the pots over the fire with. However with the D.O you can just push it into the coals. I also brought a spatula, large spoon,2 forks, 2 spoons,several types of knives. As far as cleaning, I brought scrub sponges, bio degradable soap, a towel/pot holders etc. Like I mentioned earlier about the mentioned books. They will provide you better understanding in meal planning and contain hundreds of useful recipes and idea. It is important though to be organized, use light weight foods, tasty and nutritious meals. In the 7 weeks I was out, I planned my meals so accurately that I only had about 1 meal when I flew out. I did make sure I carried and stowed away a couple extra pre packaged meals just in case you are stranded. In reality I had plenty of food when I arrived at Tuk but spent the last 3 days there eating it all up.

The stores I stopped at along the way had items I replenished along the way but they were very expensive and of poor quality. Don't rely on the Northern Stores for anything. A small jar of peanut butter in Ft. Providence was almost $7.00 and ONE Kiwi Fruit was $4.19!!!

A word about BEARS! There are hundreds of black bear and barrenland grizzly in the Mackenzie Region. You may not encounter a single one. But the ones you do encounter will all be unpredictable. Some will run like hell and others will be real curious. Its safe to cook away from your sleeping area, avoid real smelly foods such as bacon, fish etc. And make sure you keep a clean and organized camp site. I kept all my food stored away inside my canoe each night. The food was all dried, triple ziplocked and placed inside a dry bag. The trees in the north are TOO small and scraggly for you to hang your food each night. Plus the fact that the tree would probably break with the amount of weight you will have. There are special "bear" containers which you can place food into and the bears cannot get to it. They do take up room, but they may prove needed should you encounter a hungry bear. I highly recommend changing into clean cloths from the ones you eat and cook in, because the smell will be in those cloths. I had one close bear encounter near Ft. Simpson on the Mackenzie in which a large black bear had come into my camp and would not leave. I tried scaring it off with whistles, yelling, screaming etc. I did not carry a rifle (MY CHOICE) only pepper spray which has been known to be very effective. The bear finally retreated only when I hit it with a rock. I did move camp far away an hour downstream cause I knew it would be back. I realized the potential serious mistake I had made which I can laugh at now. Prior to the bear's arrival I had been bathing and washing in the river using Biodegradable Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap. This soap has a powerful scent which obviously lured the bear into camp. I'm sure the bear thought he was going to be dinning on the worlds largest candy cane that evening. The point being, don't bring any unwanted scents with you that can attract bears. Also don't think bear can't swim. They are excellent swimmers , so when you are camping on an island, don't think they can't get to you. Although islands are nice to camp on and provide relief from the insects. Be careful with the mice and squirrels too, they can really ruin your food supply.

I hope these tips will help you in planning your trip to this great region. If you have any questions about my trip or my meal planning you can reach me at this site. And finally the most important not to forget item in wilderness travel........dental floss.

Happy Paddling

Norm Miller

Ft. McMurry Alberta to Tuktoyaktuk NWT

Summer 1998