"It’s Alimentary: Provisioning, Food, and Cooking" Archives

Jun 09 2015

Cyclotouring Menus: Extra Weight or Empty Belly? It’s Your Call

In planning a cyclotouring menu, I’m often guided by my experience on mountaineering and paddling trips. But there are certain obvious differences.

In planning a cyclotouring menu, I’m often guided by my experience on mountaineering and paddling trips. But there are certain obvious differences. Did you forget to bring any coffee? That’s bad news in the mountains. You can’t pop into a convenience store when you’re halfway across a snow field, after all. But it’s no problem if you’re on the road.

Of course, the gulf separating the two realms is really much wider than that. On most backcountry trips, you can’t eat what you didn’t put in your pack. On most bike tours, your menu is limited only by the contents of your wallet, not by what you can cram into your panniers. Which is a very good thing. The food packs—yes, I said packs—for two paddlers on a typical three- to four-week-long paddling trip can easily top 100 pounds. Even 150 pounds isn’t impossible. Unless you’re a much stronger rider than I am, that’s not a load you’ll want to haul many miles on your bike. And some bike tours last for months, not weeks. Forget panniers! If you were planning to haul all the food you’d eat on a trip like that, you’d need a trailer the size of a Class A motorhome.

Which you’re not going to have, right? Fortunately, you don’t need one. Menu planning for cyclotours is delightfully simple. Pack enough food for a couple-three days. Say four to six pounds, tops. Then decide on the next day’s menu each evening. Do your shopping when you hit the road again. What’s that? You want to know why I bother carrying any food—other than a few staples like tea and coffee and some snacks to eat in the saddle, that is?

OK. Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. If your route takes you through small towns in the States, you’ll find a lot of boarded-up storefronts these days. Mom-and-pop general stores don’t last long when a HyperMart goes in on the state highway. And even when you find a convenience store that’s managed to keep its doors open, you may discover that it charges hefty tourist prices. (The locals don’t care. They all shop at the HyperMart now. But you don’t have the luxury of riding 20 miles out of your way to buy dinner, do you? Gotcha!) Or maybe you woke up to the sound of driving rain mingled with the crash of thunder, and you wisely decided to stay put till the front passes through. If so, it’s a lot easier to bear the enforced idleness if you don’t miss a meal into the bargain.

The upshot? It pays to heed the wisdom of Baden-Powell: Be prepared. And where your commissary is concerned, this means packing the makings of at least a couple of days’ meals. The alternative? Well, let’s just say that it’s always a high-risk strategy to assume everything will always break your way. Assume, as some wag once said, makes an ass out of u and me. And who wants to be an ass, particularly a hungry one? Nobody I know.

Not convinced? Well, consider this. It’s an old joke, but I think it makes an important point:

Three men are shipwrecked on a desert island. One is an engineer. The second, an archaeologist. And the third is an economist. Just as their hunger pangs are becoming unbearable, however, the forlorn castaways find a restaurant-size can of corned beef among the tide wrack on the beach. It’s a little rusty, but it looks to be intact. The castaways rejoice. But their joy turns to despair almost immediately. They don’t have a can opener.

The engineer is the first to react, grabbing the can and climbing to the top of a towering palm. From this lofty perch he drops his burden, hoping to smash it open. But the sand beneath the palm is soft and deep, and when his companions rush up to enjoy their first meal in many days, their disappointment knows no bounds. The can isn’t even dented. The same can’t be said for the engineer, unfortunately. In climbing down, he falls from the palm and sprains his ankle.

Now it’s the archaeologist’s turn. He digs frantically in the scrubland surrounding an abandoned native hut, certain he’ll find a discarded knife or other sharp tool to use in lieu of a can opener. But after half an hour of digging in the sweltering sun, he has only the blisters on his fingers to show for his trouble. The natives took their tools with them when they moved on.

That’s when the economist gets up from the shady waterhole where he’d been lounging while the archaeologist scrabbled fruitlessly in ancient fire pits and moldy midden heaps. The economist smiles a carefree smile and clears his throat. His companions wait for him to speak, but he doesn’t seem to be in any hurry. The tension grows greater by the minute.

“I have the solution,” the economist announces at last, breaking the silence. His tone is confident, and the engineer’s and archaeologist’s spirits immediately soar, the pain of their injuries momentarily forgotten.

Then the economist continues, choosing his words with great care. “First,” he says, “let’s assume we have a can opener…”

My John Wayne

The moral of this little story is obvious: Notwithstanding the assurances of eminent economists, you can’t open a tin with an imaginary can opener. Nor can you chow down on food you don’t have. So even when touring on a bike, it pays to keep a little something to eat in your panniers. The extra weight is never welcome, of course. But a missed meal is even more of a burden. No one is as hungry as a cyclist, and you should never assume that there’s an open store just down the road. Unless you can live on air, that is.

Oh, yes. One more thing: Be sure you bring a can opener!

Heading Out

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Jun 24 2014

A DIY Recovery Drink: Can You Say Naturally Refreshing?

I’m not a bike racer, and I don’t train to race, but hauling a load of groceries the 12 hilly miles back from town can still be a workout. So can long amphibious jaunts in the mountains, especially when the humidity keeps pace with the temperature. I snack and drink regularly while I’m on the road, but it’s not unusual for me to lose a few pounds in the course of a long day, a pretty sure indication that I’m a bit dehydrated. And when my sweat doesn’t taste salty, I know my intake of electrolytes (salts) has also been sub-par. I try to put this right ASAP. Most of the time this means drinking more water and eating some fresh fruit, or even having a light meal. But when time presses, I have another solution: I make a recovery drink.

That’s “make” and not “buy.” Yes, the local HyperMart has plenty of candidates on its shelves. But I’m a DIY type. And just as I prefer my homebrew Newt Nectar to commercial energy ‘ades, I find I like my DIY recovery drink better than any store-bought variety. I know exactly what goes into it, for one thing, and I can usually save a few pennies in the process. Want to give my Second Wind a try? All you need is a banana that’s a little past its prime and a splash of low-fat or skim milk, just to thin the drink a bit and to add some protein to the banana’s natural sugars and vitamins. A quick whirl in a food processor is all it takes.

Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t experiment with a few variations on the theme. Second Wind has many faces. In addition to the banana, I often include one or more of the following:

  • Cherries (pitted, of course)
  • Peach or Nectarine (I leave on the peel)
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Marmalade
  • Raspberry Jam
  • Pinch of Salt
  • Plain Yogurt
  • Low Fat or Skimmed Milk

Here’s a for-instance to get you started: Break one overripe banana into pieces and put them in a blender or small food processor. Add any of the additional ingredients that appeal to you (chop up larger fruit first), then toss in a splash of milk or a tablespoon or two of yogurt to thin the mash and blend until you have a thick drink. Add a couple of tablespoons of crushed ice if you want to cool things down, and give it another whirl in the blender. Then drink up! You’ll get your Second Wind in no time.

If I’m down to my last banana—with no other fruit in the house and only a few tablespoons of milk or yogurt left in the fridge, I throw in some jam or marmalade to add sweetness. Simple and good. Just what your body needs after a hard, hot day. Give it a try!

This article was originally published in a slightly different form on July 24, 2010.

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Aug 27 2013

Road Food for Cyclotourists: No-Cook Black Bean Wraps

If you don’t want to bother cooking a meal on the road—and I often don’t—you needn’t head straight for the Last Chance Café, let alone settle for a Bacillus Burger with a side-order of Fubar Fries. You have other options, and here’s one you may not have considered: the no-cook, black bean wrap. The basic wrap couldn’t be much easier to prepare. (Provided you didn’t forget to bring a can-opener!) Here are the essential ingredients:

  • One 15-ounce can of black beans (or substitute), drained
  • A little grated cheese
  • A few tortillas or “dippers”

All HyperMarts have canned black beans on their shelves, but if you’re dependent on the uncertain bounty of a rural convenience store, take heart. Kidney and pinto beans work just as well as black beans. Refried beans are OK, too. Tortillas are so versatile and so easy to pack that I consider them a staple food, and I almost always have some in my panniers. But they, too, are easy to find on the road. If you’re having a bad day, however, you can always make do with tacos. Still no luck? Grab some of your favorite chips, such as tortilla, potato, or corn. Any one will do.

Got your ingredients? Then drain the fluid from the can, empty the beans out onto your tortillas, and garnish with the grated cheese. Now wrap everything up and ring the dinner gong. Simple, yes? But if you’ve got a little time and a modicum of culinary ambition, you can do even better. Just add fresh vegetables and season to taste. A few suggestions:

  • A chopped half bell pepper, green or red
  • Chopped onions
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Canned or (thawed!) frozen kernel corn
  • Salsa
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Ground cumin
  • Dried oregano
  • Chili powder
  • Tabasco sauce
  • Shredded lettuce or spinach
  • A drizzle of plain yogurt or sour cream

Mix and match at will, using one of your cooking pots as a mixing bowl. Eat as is or—if it’s a chilly day and you’re not wedded to the no-cook concept—heat up the mix on your stove. And the result? See for yourself:

Black Bean Filling

What more is there to say? It’s a wrap!

Black Bean Wrap

Hungry? But you don’t want to cook and you don’t fancy taking a chance at the Last Chance Café? Then give a no-cook, black bean wrap a try. It’s a delicious way to put fuel in your tank. (The subsequent jet-assisted takeoffs are a bonus, too.)

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Aug 13 2013

A Sports Drink You Can Make at Home: Newt Nectar

Newt NectarStrenuous exertion can take a lot out of you. Literally. You sweat, and in doing so you lose both water and salt. You also burn calories. And over the long run, you need to offset these losses. Enter “sports drinks.” You know the stuff I’m talking about. HyperMarket shelves groan under the weight of thousands of bottles in dozens of shapes. And the contents come in every flavor of the rainbow, from berry red to very violet. Basically, though, each and every one does the same two jobs: they replace the water (and trace amounts of salt) lost in sweat, and they replenish calories. What they don’t always do is taste good. OK. Maybe that’s too harsh. Let’s just say that they’re an acquired taste, and I’ve yet to acquire it. Now, however, I make my own. That makes all the difference. I call my home-brew sports drink Newt Nectar. Why? Well, as it happens, the spring-fed cistern from which we used to haul our water boasted a thriving population of newts. They always seemed plenty lively, and I like to think that Newt Nectar will give me some of the same get-up-and-go. Only the name’s original, however. The Nectar itself is just a variation on the “oral rehydration drink” described in Where There Is No Doctor, one of the Hesperian Health Guides.

Why might you want to make your own sports drink? Two reasons — cost and flavor. A twenty-ounce (600-mL) bottle of Very Violet (or Berry Red) can set you back nearly a buck at the local HyperMart. On the other hand, 20 ounces of my homemade Nectar costs only pennies. And my Nectar gets its flavor from real fruit juice. Want to imbibe the Nectar of the Newt yourself? It’s easy. Here’s how…

Tamia’s Newt Nectar

NB Makes 1 US quart, but you can scale it up if you want

  • 1/8–1/4 teaspoon ordinary table salt
  • 8 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 cup fruit juice (or the equivalent in juice powder)
  • Enough clean water to make up a quart

You’ll also need a bottle that will hold one quart (or one liter—the difference is negligible). Put the salt and the sugar in the bottom of the empty bottle (but see WARNING below first). Then pour in the fruit juice. I prefer orange juice, but you can use whatever you like: grape, apple, mango, apricot, or anything else that takes your fancy. Now fill the bottle with clean water, stopper tightly, and shake. That’s it! You’re done. At home, I mix up Newt Nectar in advance and store it in the fridge till I’m ready to go. It keeps about as long as any other refrigerated juice. Be sure to shake it up again before you pour it out into your bike’s water bottle, though. Sugar and salt dissolve, but real fruit juice has solids that settle out over time.

Want to ring the changes? Feel free. Experiment. Adjust Newt Nectar to your own taste, altering the amounts of salt, sugar, and juice as needed. You can also use an equivalent amount of powdered drink mix instead of fresh juice. (But watch out for added sugar and salt.) The flavor will likely suffer, but it’s at least as good as Berry Red or Very Violet.

WARNING! Salt (sodium chloride) is essential for life, but too much can kill you. And just how much is too much? That depends. The 1/8–1/4 teaspoon in my Newt Nectar works for me, but it may not work for you. If you have any doubts — and maybe even if you don’t — ask your doctor. This is especially important if you have, or think you might have, hypertension or heart disease. Diabetics also need to watch their sugar intake carefully. Sport drinks like Newt Nectar probably aren’t a good bet for them. Questions? Once again, ask your doctor.

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