Monday, March 12, 2012

confessions from a cereal backpacker

"What?" he said, giving me a befuddled look. Reading my mouth was out. It was brimming with a mixture of reconstituted oatmeal that I'd been shoveling in with reckless abandon. I swallowed the mush, then repeated, "I wonder if this would taste any better if we added dirt". He laughed and continued breaking camp.

For years, I've relied on instant oatmeal as a trusty and true backcountry breakfast. Filling and lightweight it takes the edge off of morning hunger rumbles. However, something is always missing- taste and texture. Learning lessons the hard way has always been my style and I've spent many a quiet trail morning gagging down flavors such as strawberries-n-cream, maple-n-brown sugar and apples-n-cinnamon, trying to convince my persnickety tongue that the label touting "natural flavors" wasn't lying. But after several trail days, the thought of dipping my long backpacking spoon into a baggie of drywall spackle-meets-bathroom spray was difficult to stomach. So, after experimenting with various breakfast options, I finally found a couple things that please my choosey chops and allow my gag reflex to rest.

Cold cereal to the rescue (Dun, duh, duh, DAH)! Probably the easiest way to create a lightweight backcountry breakfast is to get a small freezer baggie and pour in a hearty serving of your favorite, wholesome, cold cereal. Make it something that you enjoy or you'll make the same face you do at home, come time to eat in the backcountry. Add about 1/4 cup of dried milk (a little more if you prefer a milker flavor) and wah-la...breakfast is served. Of course, at camp, all you do is add about 1/2 cup of icy water to the baggie and your spoon will be doing the backstroke in a baggie of cereal goodness.

My personal favorite backpacking cereal is Kashi. It holds up nicely and doesn't resemble the bottom of a potato chip bag when tossed around day after day. It's tasty and *bonus*- good for you! Unlike most cereals, Kashi actually adds soy protein, so you have more energy and burn more calories (muffin-top's beware). And, if blueberries aren't ripe, you'll appreciate the extra fiber...(yipee ki yi yea get along little doggies). Of course, if you are traveling with kids or have an insatiable sweet tooth, Lucky Charms, Captain Crunch, and Honey Nut Cheerios also hold up nicely.

it's variety you crave. Toss some homemade hot cereal into the breakfast line up. Forget quick oats- leave those on the store shelf. Believe it or not, conventional oats, which are better for you, lower on the GI index and heartier, cook up just as nicely as the quick variety. Grab a big bowl, and start throwing in handfuls of grub.
  • conventional oats,
  • a touch of brown sugar, stevia, or raw sugar
  • dried fruit, such as, raisins craisins, dried blueberries, etc. (check out Trader Joes for a great selection)
  • cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, you name it
  • nuts such as almonds, pecans or walnuts
  • dried milk (1/3 cup of dried milk, constitutes 1 cup of liquid)
Once your hot-oat concoction is ready, grab some freezer baggies and separate them out for each morning when you'll be eating hot cereal during your trip. You choose your portion size, which is a beautiful thing! At camp, pour boiling water in to your freezer bag and stir. The freezer bag won't melt, just watch your hands and hold it from the top. Use less water than you think you need- you can always add more later. That mistake will have you eating sloppy gruel, and we go back to paragraph one. Let your oatmeal reconstitute for at least a minute and shovel with reckless abandon.

happy trails, hinterland hikers!

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