I cook better than I write

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

6 Aspects of Outdoor Cuisine


Depending on the mode of transportation weight can be a very important when choosing your food and assembling the menu. Fresh and canned food tends to be heavy; on the opposite side are dehydrated, freeze-dried, and powdered dishes.
I usually bring some fresh fruits/vegetables that can last for a while and be used in several meals. When assembling menu I try to use the heaviest items during first couple of days (you are still full of energy and those extra pounds in your back-pack do not seem as heavy as they would towards the middle of the trip).
Looking for the commonly used ingredients in powdered form and substituting fresh produce with dry alternatives could not only significantly decreases the weigh of the “meal” but extend the lifetime of the ingredient. Ex. powdered milk and orange juice instead of the fresh ones, powdered mash potatoes instead of the fresh ones.
Removing the original packaging and repackaging portions insures that you don’t carry any extra food or useless cardboard.

Fuel (cooking) consumption

is directly linked to the weight you carry. If your light food takes hours of simmering you’ll end up carrying extra pounds of fuel. Fuel consumtion is also linked to time spend cooking. Personally, I can cook for hours, be it at home or outdoors, but some people see camping food as an escape from a routine of everyday meal preparation. “Instant” mixes are perfect for camping because they tend to be light and do not require too much fuel and cooking time.
When choosing any type of pre-packaged food pay attention to the cooking time indicated on the package. If the basmati rice included in the Asian Stir-Fry mix requires 10 minutes of boiling time – substitute for some instant rice.
Keep in mind that simmering takes less fuel then cooking on maximum power.

Time spend cooking at home and at the camp

One of the way to decrease the time spend cooking at the camp-site is to precook and dehydrate full dishes or some components of the meal at home. If you don’t want to spend any time next to your stove when camping, try the Freezer Bag Cooking. Ingredients are cooked at home, dehydrated, and then combined into different meals. I am yet to try FBC so I can’t give any comments about the taste of those meals, however I usually don’t have too much time pre-cooking dishes before the trip, and I do not yet have access to a dehydrator.
I try to use pre-packaged dry mixes combined with the variety of dehydrated vegetables to assemble the dishes. I also vary the time-consuming meals with more straightforward ones since spending hours next to the stove is not an option when you get to your locations late at night, or when camping in someone’s backyard.


Even though any food tastes better outdoors, a variety of different tastes is always good. One simple way of making your food “tastier” is by using spices. Dried herbs work perfectly for camping because they don’t weight much and a little bit goes long way. Bring the basic kit of your favorite spices: basil, oregano, cumin, chili powder, cinnamon, garlic salt….. My little secret is the spice mixes that I prepare at home so that I don’t have to look for each particular spice in the bottom of my food-bag.
When preparing the menu for camping, rely on what you like to eat at home. One advice that I’ve found recently is NOT to try the camping food at home, because the meal you might not love in the comfort of your home on Friday night would taste much better outdoors when you are hungry after the day of hiking/kayaking/mountaineering.

Shelf life

Don’t bring anything that might go bad fast. When bringing fresh fruits/vegetables choose those types that can withstand the heat and do not get damaged easily. If going for long trips plan to use most of the fresh produce during the first 2-3 days.
Dehydration substantially increases the shelf life of products.


Unless the trashcans are available in the camping area, you would have to bring all the packages and garbage with you. Re-package the food at home (see 10 tips for food preparation before leaving) and avoid “messy” meals. All the ingredients should transport easy without leaving stains or leaking in your backpack.

Another fact that should be kept in mind is that dehydrated fruits/vegetables loose some of the vitamins and nutrients as opposed to the freeze-dried meals (commercial packages available in most outdoor stores and on-line). This might not be an issue for a weekend trip, but is important for long expeditions.
Update: the reason why dehydrated food looses some of its nutritional value is the fact that it is usually consumed before being fully rehydrated. It also "survives" cooking and bits of it pass through the digestion system right to the bowels where it gets fully rehydrated and ferments. For more information about cooking visit this site (tons of interesting and useful information)

Outdoor cooking is about finding the balance between these aspects and your cooking abilities. Just like with home cooking, don’t be afraid to experiment and try new stuff. Sooner or later you would have a collection of your favorite fool-proof recipes and even if camping cooking won’t become your passion, it won’t be a dreadful experience.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Urban Hiking

Before starting the story of our next adventure I have to tell you about my baby. I saw her couple of years ago. Was it a love at the first sight? Most probably. I remember looking at these pictures

and being amazed by her wonderful frame and her elegant beauty.

I dreamed about the baby for a year, holding it every time I was in the store, imagining our adventures together……. But all this time I was waiting for some sort of sign, saying that “it’s time to get it!” The sign did not come, and I was ready to day-dream for another winter, when one day I went to “Atmosphere” to get my new sexy shoes. With the shoe-box under my arm we (Eric and me) went to the tent department. The end-of-the-season sale was on and all the tents were 20% off (on top of already the lowest price for the baby in Montreal!!!). However no babies were seen in the store - just a picture in the catalog. Eric took a chance to ask a sale-girl if they still carry this model of the tent…… and…… it turned out that the last baby is waiting for my in the Angrignon mall!!!! If that wasn’t a sign, then what was it?

Now I am a happy owner of the wonderful “Hubba” tent (which is referred to as “baby” from now on) by MSR. It’s a 1-person 3-season most beautiful tent there is!!! And our next adventure is the first adventure of my little baby.

Urban Hiking.

For the Labor Day week-end we decided to go hiking. Instead of driving to the park, getting a camp-ground and hike during the day we took the train to Dorion in hope of squatting down somewhere next to the river. The train stopped in the nice area full of pretty houses:

We made our way to the nearest depanneur, bought a map of the area, and started the adventure. We decided to walk along the coast line which would be up (North) on the Chemin Des Chenaux, following the coast of the Vaudreuil Bay. With water on one side and nice houses on the other (I am a sucker for pretty old houses and can’t help but peek in the windows once in a while) the walk was super cool for a Saturday afternoon. Walking and talking for couple of hours we started to think about the place to rest. Sure we can ask one of the house owners to stay in their backyard (or rather front yard with the water view) but that would be a bit too urban for our liking so we kept walking until we got to …… the highway! The magnificent 40 was crossing our path.

Sleeping under the highway has some advantages (no rain) but also has a disadvantage of noise and some possible guests so we decided to keep this option as a last resort and continue walking along the highway to the end of the little peninsula. The Tourtes Island looked somewhat promising, but we did not have any equipment for crossing the water. After walking for half-an-hour we realized that the only place where we could stay on the Southern part of the highway would be a huge hotel (Palace the Vaudreuil, if I am not mistaken). We entertained the idea of pitching our tents on top of the king-size bed in one of the suites and finally decided to cross the highway and check out the Northern side.

After more walking along the highway we found a very interesting spot next to the water. A couple that was fishing there told us that half of the grass patch belongs to Hydro Quebec (could it be that they are getting some gas there???) but as long as we don’t try to climb the fence or set anything on fire we should be good. The spot looked pretty nice: grass, flat surface, woods right next to it, water right in front, the magnificent 40 close enough to remind us that we are not in the wilderness ;) who can ask for more? We took off the bags and started setting up the camp.
I opened my bag and carefully took out my baby. It would be the first time I would pitch it, the first time I would be sleeping inside it (I don’t count the week of sleeping inside it in my room – yeah yeah I pitched the tent in my bedroom and slept inside it with the door zipped! Crazy? Don’t think so. So I’ll let the pictures show the excitement and the sanctity of the moment:

The baby was out, pitched, guyed, and ready for the night. Now it was time for ….. cooking! I found a spot closer to the water and worked on the classical Pasta with Red Sauce.

After supper I realized that I was very tired so I got into the tent and started the usual routine:

No, I am not praying – I am hanging the lantern to warm up the place.

Eric was quite unhappy about the 2 tents camping scenario….

Day two was the day of adventure. We carefully studied the map and picked Cadieux Island as the final destination. Good old Chemin Des Chenaux should eventually lead us to the little bridge that would bring us to the island. We drank the coffee, ate the porridge, packed up the tents, and hit the road.
After an hour of walking we’ve noticed that the houses around us were changing; instead of the older ones we were surrounded by newly build boxes that all looked the same. Each new street looked exactly like the previous one: grey asphalt, grayish houses with new cars in the drive-ways, carefully trimmed grass lawns with no trees…… it was the new part of the town that was not fully developed, yet. The real adventure started when the streets that according to the map were parallel started to intersect in reality! Could it be that we’ve reached that wonderful place in the infinity where all the parallel lines meet??? The answer was far less exciting - it turned out that the map was rather old and the part of the city was rather new and this whole region was only projected on the map.

Eric was ready to abandon the idea of visiting the island but I was full of adventurousness and after yet another careful look at the map we found the detour that would lead us to the island. Unfortunately this detour involved walking along the 40 in the industrial area. Nevertheless after couple of hours of walking we stepped on the little bridge and crossed to the island.

Cadieux Island is narrow and long. It seems like originally there was nothing but a forest on it. Today it has one main road with houses on each side of it and the “free” places are full of trees. I fell in love with the place right away despite the fact that most of the houses are humongous and have up to 5 cars (BMW, Audi, and other shi-shi-poo-poo models) on their driveways. The island still carries the feeling of wilderness and calmness.
The main road led us to the tip of the island, which was blocked by the fence. On the right side of it there was an empty space possibly the remains of an old federal/municipal building. It had a dock with the flag pole, small abandoned cabin, and the leftovers of the base of the building. Tall grass grew all over and the place and looked just perfect for an overnight squatting.

That day was the first real testing of my baby. I had to set up the tent in very windy conditions. The baby passed the test with distinction. But the wind was testing not only my tent’s strength but my cooking abilities. I had to find the spot where all the dehydrated ingredients would not be blown away in the river. Here is the result and the picture of a wonderful “Tousqui” (tout ce qu’il rest) soup we had for the supper.

Despite the emptiness and abandonees of the place it did not have any spooky or scary feel to it. Soon we’ve realized that we are surrounded by others…… mostly slugs. The tall grass was there preferred habitat and everything left on the ground for longer than an hour became their play-ground.
Apart from leaches we had some daddy-long-legs and caterpillars.

Our last day started with the breakfast on the dock. The wind died off over the night, the water was calm, and although the sky was grey the sun was trying to burn its way through the clouds. Eric was enjoying the view from the doc and I was busy snapping the auto portraits.

Then I saw the POLE! I have recently read in the newspaper about the new exercise technique that combines useful (exercising) with fun (pole-dancing). It seems to be the latest hype among the stars in the Hollywood. Even in Canada we have some courses and females or rather their boyfriends/husbands are very happy with the results.
I like dancing, I am in need for exercises, and the pole is right there…. What am I waiting for?

After the pole-dancing and more goofing around it was time to pack and go.

Back on the road of the Cadieux island I was peeking at the houses and taking the pictures of pretty mail-boxes.

We made our way to Dorion and still had several hours before the train. I decided to be a real tourist and take pictures of all the cool stuff, like these wonderful duckies in the window of the boutique (you can see us in the reflection – hey!!!!)

The analogue thermometer on the corner of the street – we have only digital ones in Montreal

And the cool “statue” (?) of the bird

Sight-seeing made us hungry so it was time for lunch. We had a choice between: rotisserie, pizzeria, Tim Hortons, bar, and Asian Restaurant (alas, nothing vegan). Asian place, our first choice, was closed so we went to “the best pizza in town” place. I have to give them credit their pizza was very good and cheeeeeeeeeesy.

Eric had a poutine with 2 slices of pizza. He felt guilty for eating so much and fell into deep thoughts about not only his eating habits and purpose of this trip, but the meaning of his life in general. Meanwhile I was taking some pictures of him.

But hey, I want some serious pictures of myself too. I can’t show my parents only the pole-dancing, right? So I posed:

And posed (I am trying really hard not to burst with laughter)

And posed some more:

Our train was leaving in an hour so we made our way to the station. The darkness was falling over the city, lights were turning on in the houses, and streets were getting empty. The first urban hiking experience was really cool ….who knows we might do it again – time to think of the dew destination.