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

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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Apr 27 2013

The Fine Art of Foraging: Convenience Stores and the Hungry Cyclotourist

Life on the road has its ups and downs. That’s especially true in the lives of cyclotourists. I’m not talking mountain grades here, however. I’m talking food. The general store has all but disappeared from the rural landscape, and the few that remain are mostly—there’s no polite way to say this, I’m afraid—tourist traps, trading kitsch for cash. The locals all drive 40 miles to the nearest HyperMart to buy their groceries, leaving the general store to visitors willing to pay champagne prices for three-year-old maple syrup put up in tiny plastic dispensers shaped like log cabins.

But the picture isn’t quite as bleak as I’ve painted it. In some places, the void created by the demise of the general store has been filled. Sort of, at any rate. Many rural hamlets now boast convenience stores. These are the modern counterpart to the once ubiquitous ser-sta-gro, enterprises that formerly dispensed the two fluids without which life in rural America would be impossible: cheap gas and cut-price beer. The ser-sta-gros were usually mom-and-pop businesses, and they had an aesthetic all their own, one relying heavily on pinup calendars and flypaper. The toilet—if there was one—was often just a hole in a plank in a shack, located somewhere out back among piles of discarded tires and rusting engine blocks.

Today’s convenience stores, on the other hand, are tidy, corporate, and family-friendly. The pinups are gone, and artfully applied poisons now eliminate the need for flypaper. Gas and beer are still what brings in the trade, but convenience stores often have much more than this on offer. And that’s a good thing. Cyclotourists don’t need gas, and while we certainly drink beer, we don’t do much beer drinking on the road. Moreover, the 18-packs that form the bulk of the convenience stores’ stock aren’t exactly easy to fit in a pannier. But we need to eat and drink, and if we don’t fancy riding 40 miles out of the way to visit the HyperMart, we’re left with no alternative but to forage for what we need along the aisles of a convenience store.

At first glance, the prospects aren’t promising. Beer and Cheez Doodles do not a balanced diet make. But don’t give up. There’s a world of possibilities hidden behind the leaning towers of Pilsner. So let’s see what we can find:

Snacks and Beverages  Jerky. Cookies, including Fig Newtons. Gatorade. A variety of juice drinks, some of which actually contain fruit juice. And water, in bottles ranging in size from 12 ounces to a gallon or more. Better yet, there’s probably a reasonably clean bathroom somewhere on the premises, and you may be able to drink what comes out of the cold-water tap. (Ask, to be sure.) A hint: If you can’t squeeze your water bottles under the tap, use a cup to make the transfer. You can usually find paper cups near the coffee machine.

Breadstuffs  Sandwich white. Whole-grain wheat. Sub rolls and English muffins. (You might even get lucky and find some bagels.) Crackers.

Shelf-Stable Foods  All the essentials: Peanut butter. Grape jelly. Strawberry jam. Spaghetti, macaroni, egg noodles, and rice. Quick-cooking oatmeal. A colorful kaleidoscope of cold cereals. Powdered soup mixes, ramen noodle soups, and Hamburger Helper. Mac and cheese in a box. Packets of pasta and sauce. Dried potatoes. Flour, Bisquick, and pancake mix. Coffee (both ground and instant), tea bags, hot cocoa mix, and powdered lemonade.

More? Sure. Canned pastas, stews, tuna, soups, vegetables, and fruits. Tins of deviled ham and chicken. Retort packages of tuna and dried beef. Small plastic bottles of honey and maple syrup. (Some of them molded to look like log cabins!) Crisco and cooking oil. Salt and pepper. Soy sauce, Tabasco sauce.

Deli, Cooler, and Frozen Foods  Cold cuts and cheeses, sliced to order at the deli counter. And from the cooler? Fresh eggs. (Yes, these travel well if properly packed.) Butter and margarine,. Small bricks of cheese, including Cheddar, Monterey jack, and grated mozzarella. Half-pint bottles of whole and low-fat milk, plain or flavored (strawberry and chocolate, usually). These make great pick-me-ups, by the way. Sometimes you’ll find “meal kits” in the freezer, too. Pick one up for supper, but be sure to double-bag it before you stow it away in a pannier.

Fresh Food  Some convenience stores even offer a selection of fresh foods, a least during the summer tourist season. If you’re lucky, you’ll find ground beef, steak, and marinated chicken, along with heads of iceberg lettuce and bags of carrots, potatoes and onions, plus bell peppers, cucumbers, bananas, apples, and oranges. What did I tell you? There’s a world of good eating at the convenience store. But you have get past the leaning towers of Pilsner first.

My John Wayne

The moral of the story? The general store may be history, but convenience stores are stepping in to fill the gap. Their prices will be higher than you’ll find in the HyperMart, but you’ll still eat for less than the cost of a meal in a greasy spoon, and you won’t have to ride 40 miles out of your way to shop. Which is very good news at the end of a 100-mile day!

After publishing my article, Aaron Whaley wrote with a tip I hadn’t considered—shopping at Dollar General:

I have noticed (at least here in the Deep South) a huge influx of Dollar General stores into many of the small towns that had lost their general stores. They carry quite a few food items at very reasonable prices.

Thanks, Aaron!

 

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Jan 08 2013

Fast Food My Way: Homemade Vegetable Soup in Less Time Than It Takes to Shovel the Drive

Whatever your complaint—a bad cold, the flu, or just one dark winter day too many—soup is good for what ails you. But soup-making has now become a black art practiced only by a coterie of cognoscenti, something far beyond the reach of ordinary mortals. That’s what the Mad Men in marketing would like you to think, anyway.

To which I reply: Piffle. Making soup from scratch is no harder than shoveling the drive, and it won’t take any longer. So before you grab a can off the shelf, give this recipe a try. It will put a steaming pot of vegetable soup on your table in less than 30 minutes.

  • 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 32-ounce container of broth (vegetable, chicken, or beef—cook’s choice)
  • Medium-sized potato (any variety), diced small
  • Small onion diced fine, or a few green onions, sliced fine
  • 2 full-sized carrots or a handful of “baby” carrots, grated or chopped very thin
  • 1 large stick of celery or 2 smaller sticks, chopped thin
  • A small handful of chopped greens—spinach, chard, escarole, or parsley (optional)
  • 1 cup frozen peas, corn, baby lima beans, or mixed vegetables (mix and match)
  • Salt and ground pepper to taste

The most time-consuming part of the job is the prep work. Empty the tomatoes into a large pot, then rinse the can with cold water (about half a can’s worth) and add the rinsings to the pot. Now add the broth and place the pot on a burner with the heat turned up high. While the broth and tomatoes are heating, cut up the potatoes, onion, carrots, and celery, adding them to the pot as you go along. I don’t bother peeling the potato and carrot—the peel adds fiber and micronutrients—but you can do so if you want. In any case, don’t agonize over the slicing, dicing, and chopping. You’re not being graded on appearances, though thin slices and smaller dices will cook faster.

Once the pot begins to boil, cover (leaving the lid slightly ajar) and reduce the heat. Simmer for around 15 minutes, checking now and then to be sure the pot isn’t boiling over. When the vegetables are tender, turn off the heat, add the chopped greens (if you’re using them) and the frozen vegetables. (There’s no need to thaw the frozen veggies beforehand.) Now season to taste and serve.

This recipe will fill four large bowls to overflowing. If that’s more than you need, just store the leftover soup in an air-tight container in the fridge or freezer. Reheat when wanted.

 

Soup is good for whatever ails you. And homemade soup is better than store-bought. So what’s stopping you? You can be shouting “Soup’s on!” in just 30 minutes.

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Sep 11 2012

Apple of My Eye

TNO IMAGE

It’s apple time! Who doesn’t welcome a hot apple dessert on a cold day? Apple betty, apple cobbler (also known as apple slump or apple grunt), apple crisp (aka apple crunch)…. All these are variations on a well-loved theme. Each marries apples to bread or a crumb topping, and the union is almost always a happy one. Apple desserts are comforting, warming, and aromatic. They’re also delicious.

The upshot? There’s no better addition to any camp menu. Except for one thing — these apple dishes have to be baked. Of course, backcountry baking needn’t be Mission Impossible. All it takes is an oven, and there’s no shortage of choices. You’ll find Dutch ovens, reflector ovens, and stovetop ovens on most outfitters’ shelves. Or maybe you’re the do-it-yourself type. If so, you can make a “mud oven” right in camp. But none of these alternatives is wholly satisfactory, is it? Building a mud oven takes time, and such campsite engineering runs counter to leave-no-trace guidelines. It may well violate local regulations, too.

What about a reflector oven or Dutch oven, then, or one of the lightweight backpacker’s ovens? Well, no matter how cleverly designed and carefully fabricated, a portable oven is yet another thing to find room for in your pack (or under your deck), not to mention an extra burden to haul over each portage. Still, it’s sometimes worth the trouble. But not always. After all, not every paddler wants to become a backcountry baker. Even would-be pastry chefs may not have the inclination, especially when they come face to face with the limitations of a riverbank kitchen. At the end of the day, when you’re hungry and tired and anxious to set up camp before a storm breaks, enthusiasm and patience can both be in short supply.

But what if the craving for an apple dessert is as insistent as a horde of hungry mosquitoes? What then? How can you appease the inner man (or inner woman) without becoming either a pack animal or a chef? I wanted to find out, so I grabbed my apron and went into my test kitchen to tease apart the makings of an apple dessert… Read more…

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

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