Thursday, August 1, 2013

August: Packing Light

A wilderness canoe trip is one of the most relaxing activities available to us.  Oh, it’s not relaxing in the “put your feet up and do nothing” way, but it’s one of the only ways to escape the stresses that are part of everyday life and decompress in the quiet and beauty of natural surroundings.  This is especially true for people who are surgically attached to their Blackberries and other devices that allow them to take their work and other stressors with them wherever they go.  Smart phones don’t work in the bush; there are no radios, televisions, video games, or computers.  
               Valerie and I just got back from a magical ten days in the interior of Algonquin Park, where we saw an average of about three people a day  (and those usually at a distance across a lake), and were completely out of touch with anything electronic.  The weather cooperated magnificently for the entire trip, and we paddled across calm lakes, set up camp on isolated islands, swam whenever we got warm, saw moose and loons with their new offspring, and even fished a bit.
               Whenever we talk about our canoe trips with friends who don’t venture into the wilderness, we are asked about food.  Ten days or two weeks without a refrigerator can present a challenge to people who love their food, but over the years we have developed a few tricks and techniques that enable us to enjoy good camp meals… maybe not strictly according to Slow Food principles, but nonetheless, good compromises.  Remember, we are carrying our food with us, so not only does it have to be able to go without refrigeration, but it ought to be light, compact, and easy to prepare since we use either a campfire or single burner camp stove as our only heat source.
               The first couple of days into the trip, we enjoy pre-prepared and frozen meals, kept cool in a collapsible, soft sided cooler bag that can be compressed and stowed when it’s empty.  Chili, stew, curry, smoked chicken, ribs all are available to us during this period and we’ll typically take corn on the cob for the first evening meal.
               Once the cooler is empty, we rely on packaged or dried foods for the most part.  Pasta is an important staple, and we will use our home-made pesto or a packaged sauce with it.  Gourmet Mac and Cheese is easy to carry, light, nourishing, and tasty for dinner.  Oriental and Indian cuisine figures largely in our menu, since the ingredients are often dried or packaged in such a way that makes for easy rehydration and light cooking.  The only down side of these packaged meals is the amount of sodium they contain, so we try to alternate packaged with non-packaged meals.
               One treat we always look forward to is Valerie’s Mexican Fiesta.  We take dried refried beans, salsa, nacho cheese sauce in a pouch, tortillas (we have even experimented with making our own from corn flour), and taco seasonings which we combine to produce a very tasty and filling taco feast.  Instead of salad greens to top the tacos (since salad would long ago have rotted) we sprout our own seeds in a plastic tube.  Soaking the seeds a couple of times a day causes them to germinate and grow into fresh and delicious sprouts… our camp salad content.
               By the end of a long trip, we resort to freeze-dried meals.  These are specially prepared for campers, canoeists, cyclists, and hikers and typically are compactly packaged meals in a pouch that can be prepared very simply by rehydrating and cooking for a few minutes… or in some cases, just by adding boiling water.  As unappetizing as these sound, some of them are actually really good, especially near the end of an extended trip in the bush.  How about chicken and dumplings, or Hawaiian pineapple chicken, or Cuban coconut black beans and rice, followed with freeze dried crème brulé or mint chocolate chip ice cream? (Really!) 
Camp meals are certainly not the same as you might expect at home or in a restaurant, but if they allow us to experience a glorious couple of weeks in the lakes and rivers of Algonquin or Quetico or Killarney, then, Slow Food or not, they are gourmet fare.