Thursday, March 24, 2016

Principles versus practicality (PCT d - 55)

With 15 days to go until my overnight hiking trip to Bear Trap Canyon (near Norris, MT), I'm focusing on making my own "just add water" dehydrated meals that are suitable for the backpacking trail. When Birdie (my daughter) came over for a visit on Tuesday evening, we tried out a Knorr Pasta Sides dish (Parmesan flavor) and a Mountain House Chili Mac with Beef meal (Spicy sauce with macaroni, beef and beans). The former was okay, but the real surprise was just how good the Mountain House product was. It was very easy to make, still piping hot after 13 minutes of waiting, visually appealing, smelled good and was very tasty. Definitely rated 5 out of 5 stars (*****).

Homemade all-in-one meal
Using an ordinary domestic dehydrating machine, I had previously dried out some cooked ground meat and some vegetables (butternut squash, diced carrots and cauliflower). I bought some Safeway-brand stuffing mix, some Idahoan mashed potatoes (Loaded Baked® flavor), some Safeway gravy mix, and I cheated slightly by adding some 'real' butter.

The store-bought dry ingredients were carefully weighed and split up into 2-serving portions. The potatoes serve 4, so I split those into two. The gravy was the same. The stuffing mix serves 6, so I split it into 3 equal portions. Then I added a cup of my dehydrated mixed vegetables and a cup of ground meat. Normally, I might split the resulting recipe between two ziptop bags, and each person could add their own 1¼ cups of boiling water but, for testing purposes, I used 2½ cups of boiling water. The resulting mix was left to stand (rehydrate) for 10 minutes.

After dividing it into two equal portions, the result: it was certainly enough, volume-wise, for one person for one meal. The second half will be taken to work tomorrow for my lunch. The taste was actually pretty good. The squash was still a bit hard, but the carrots and cauliflower were good. The potato and stuffing mix were a nice consistency and the meat was good. Overall, a successful 4 out of 5 stars (****). The nice thing about it, too, was that there was zero added salt, unlike the freeze dried stuff which ends up having 1,500 mg of sodium per real serving.

Birdie said that she liked the squash as it was, a crunchy snack, without rehydrating. I didn't try it.

Normally, when I'm grocery shopping, I avoid the center aisles, which have all the pre-packaged "convenience" foods. My friends who know me well also know that I try to avoid products made or sold by Kraft Foods and Nestlé. The trouble is, so many foods that backpackers might take with them are made by these companies. Thinking about dry whole milk, for example (versus that nasty non-fat stuff), Nestlé's Nido brand is really popular, but I refuse to buy it or use it. A couple of alternatives: Augason Farms is stocked by a local store (Vans) in Helena, and Thrive sells freeze dried products through their MLM home distributor network. I'll be trying both of those in the coming weeks.

As well as avoiding Kraft and Nestlé products, I'm also torn between wanting to stick to my low carb diet, which has worked so well for nine months, and wanting to field-test my provisions for future backpacking and hiking trips, but they inevitably contain lots of carbs.

On our trip to Crater Lake in May, I know we'll have to carry an average of 1.5 lbs of food per person per day, which means 10.5 lbs each for the seven days that we'll be hiking (unless we mail some food to ourselves at Mazama Village, and pick it up at the end of day 4). With 5 lbs of water, and 25 lbs worth of other gear, we'll be toting 40 lbs on our hips for 100 miles. If "convenience" foods offer a way to reduce that weight, that may be the lesser of two evils (but there's almost nothing more evil than Kraft and Nestlé).

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