Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Collards and Rutabagas: Southern Comfort Food for the Trail

A couple of years ago, my wife Susan introduced me to Paleo food.  I feel in love with the way of eating immediately since it was very close to the foods I ate growing up.  Meals at my boyhood home were mainly a meat and lots of vegetables.  My Dad raise a good portion of them in the family garden which we all had a hand in keeping it weed free and watered.
While we don’t grow our own vegetables we do buy a good number of them from Company Shops Food Coop in Burlington, NC.  I’ve also become a reader of labels.  It seems my wife and me to a lesser degree are sensitive to a number of food additives.  The worst of these sensitivities is corn.  I can’t believe how many ways the food industry has found to disguise corn in food.  The most deceptive I think is “natural flavors”.  
When we first started eating this way, I figured this would be fine at home.  However I just couldn’t imagine eating a high protein/low carb diet while hiking 20 + miles a day.  So for the first few trips I ate the usual pastas and rice dishes that I was accustomed to wolfing down at the end of a day on the trail.  The only problem is the sugars and grains in those foods are addictive.  Once I return home I’m craving M&M’s and tortellini.  
Over the past year I’ve been adapting a number of recipes to the trail.  While calorie dense is a high priority, it’s not the only consideration.  Protein is a big plus.  I have found that after a hard day protein helps get my muscles ready for the next day.  If a meal seems a little light, I can always add in a few tablespoons of olive oil and follow up the meal with a desert of almond butter.
So here is the first of several recipes that I have prepared for an upcoming trip.  Its collards and rutabagas.  While Mom cooked collards (and still does) she didn’t put rutabagas on the supper table.  My Uncle Earl introduced me to them in the back of his grocery store where I worked as a boy.  While they look a lot like a turnip, the taste is milder.  Cooked in with the collards they could easily be mistaken for a potato.

3-4 Strips of Uncured Bacon
1 Large Onion (sliced)
6 Cloves of Garlic (sliced)
2 cups of Chicken Broth
2 Medium Size Rutabagas (sliced 1/8” thick; about 3 cups)
1 lb. Collards (remove large stems and tear into small pieces)
1 TBS Trader Joe’s South African Smoke
1 TBS Red Pepper Flakes

1. Cook the bacon over low heat in a frying pan.  When done set aside and add the onions and garlic to the pan.  Cook until the onions are translucent.
2. Add to a large crock pot (set on high) the bacon, onions, garlic chicken broth, rutabagas and spices.  Once the chicken broth has started to steam, add the collards.
3. Stir as needed to keep the collards moist.  Turn the crock pot to low after about an hour.  
4. Collards are done when tender.
5. Drain off the liquid and spread the collards and rutabagas on two drying racks.  Set the dehydrator on 130 degrees and let dry overnight.   Collards will be brittle and the rutabagas will be hard when they are ready.
6. Package as one large meal or two smaller ones using a vacuum sealer.  Make a small slit on the side of the bag to make it easy to tear open later.  (On short hikes or the first few days of a longer one 1/2 this recipe is a decent meal.)

I store all my meals in a freezer to keep them fresh.  When I get the opportunity to go for a hike I pull out what I need and start walking.  In camp I open the packet of food and dump it into an MSR kettle.  I add enough water to cover the collards.  A couple of tablespoons (or more if you desire) of olive oil and about an ounce and a half of jerky also find their way into the pot.  I cook with esbit and I’ve found that a half tab in my chicken can stove is just the right amount time and heat to prepare my meal.  A couple of stirs later I’m sitting back with a pot full of southern comfort food.  The meal (the full recipe) will have about 550 calories and 32 grams of protein.  It is very filling but you may still want to top it off with a packet of almond butter or another high fat snack

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Morning Miles are the Best; Get Up and Hike

Several years ago, I was hiking with my Scout Troop over Walnut Mountain near Hot Springs, NC.  We decided to take a lunch break at the shelter.  One of the boys pulled out the journal and found a list titled “Truths of the Trail”.  My guess is a very clever hiker caught in a rain storm wrote it.  One of several “truths” that have stuck with me is “Morning miles are the best; Get up and hike",

To get a quick start, I never cook breakfast in camp.  During the summer months this let’s me take advantage of the cooler temperatures and in the winter moving helps warm me up.  My breakfast of choice is a homemade Paleo granola bar.  Its packed with about 970 calories to help fuel my morning.  I make these ahead of time and toss them in the freezer.  When I head out on the trail, I pack a bar for each morning.

adapted from a recipe by Aniki Poli 

½ cup Coconut Oil (melted)

4 TBS Vannilla Extract

1 tsp Almond Extract

¼ cup Honey

3 ½ cups Coconut Flakes

½ cup Sliced Almonds

½ cup peacans

½ cup Sunflower Seeds

½ cup Pumpkin Seeds

¼ cup Flax Seeds

½ tsp Cinnamon

½ tsp Nutmeg

Mix the liquid ingredients together in a measuring cup and mix the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and mix well.  Pour them into a pan and place in a 300 degree oven.  Stir every 10 minutes and continue to toast until the coconut turns golden.  It usually takes about 40 minutes to get the desired results.

Once the granola is made, its time to make the bars.


3 Boxes Chopped Dates (8oz. boxes)

7 cups Granola (recipe from above)

8 oz. Dried Berries (Blueberries, Crranberries, Cherries)

Place half of a package of dates, a cup of granola and a ¼ cup of berries in a food processor and pulse until the mixture looks like cookie crumbs.  Dump the mixture into a 9x13 glass caserole dish.  Repeat until all the ingredients are used.  Process the last cup of granola by itself and mix it into the other ingredients. Press down on the date mixture with a spatula then cover with parchment and press flat as possible with the bottom of a small jar. The thinner you press them, the better they will hold together. 

Cover the dish and place in the freezer to firm the bars. When they are hard enough, cut into 8 equal parts.  Package using a vacuum sealer and return to the freezer until needed. 

When out hiking I tuck my poles under one arm and eat until I find a great view to look at while I finish breakfast. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

61 and Hiking Long

Seems like people are always asking me how I keep hiking at the pace and distances I so much enjoy.  One of my brothers just thinks I'm crazy and another tells me I'm too old to be doing these trips.  Well luck for me a woman in Rochester, NY years ago shared the secret to being active at an older age.

I was in Rochester for a seminar.  It didn't have a thing to do with hiking or fittness.  It was on color lithographic printing.  After the day's class I went back to my hotel and decided to take a dip in the pool.  As I looked around the pool area I saw a woman swimming laps.  She had about as many years on me as I have gained sinced this occurred.  I was impressed with how easily she moved through the water.  So without a lot of thought I decided to see if I could keep up with her.  It only took a few laps to know I had miscalculated.  After stuggling awhile longer to keep up I retreated to the shallow end of the pool.  I watched with amazement as she continued with lap after lap.  Finally her session was complete and she stopped in the lane next to me.  She glanced over with a smile, letting me know that she saw me try to keep up and fail.  I just couldn't hold back and I asked her "how do you do that"?  She replied "everyday".  I clarified my question, "no, not how often, how do you do it'?  The answer was the same "everyday".  She went on to explain that she swam everyday and if she missed a day it was like starting over.

That's how I hike, everyday or at least most everyday.  And if I take more than a couple days off from hiking, like the lady in the pool, I start over.  To get ready for this up coming hike in Virginia I have a pack sitting by my front door.  It is full of old towels and bean bags and water bottles.  I've been adding weigth to it since the first of the year and it is just over 20 pounds.  Next month it will be 25 pounds.  My hike increases every couple of weeks but right now it is two laps through the woods behind my home.  Each lap starts with push-ups and sit-ups (pack on 20 each). I have a chin-up bar and crank out as many as I can (not many did 6 each lap yesterday).  Then I walk up and down hills and across streams for 2.3 miles.  I complete the lap with 20 squats and a series of stretches while standing on one leg and repeat on the other.  Standing on one leg helps improve the strength of my ankles.

When I hit the trail in a couple of months the distance will be longer but because I have hiked most everyday my legs will be ready.  Because I have carried a pack (heavier than I plan to have on the trip) my shoulders and back will be up for th challenge.  

Because a lady in Rochester, NY shared the secret of being active, I can do the things I love as I get older.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Virginia: Here I Come

In March of 2010, my son Martin (aka Trail Trash) talked me into hiking the Appalachian Trail end to end.  After I fully bought into the experience, I had a wonderful time living the life of a thru-hiker.  The only state out of the fourteen the trail passes through that I grew weary of hiking was Virginia.  On several occasion I openly expressed my dislike of Virginia and wanted to go home.  Even tripping over the rocks in Pennsylvania I still voted Virginia as my least favorite state on the trip.  I even got a flight back home to North Carolina by way of Detroit to avoid as much Virginia air space as possible.  Okay the real reason for Detroit was it was a cheaper flight.
Since I’ve been home I’ve taken a couple of trips to Virginia and spent a few days hiking on the trail.  Last year I took a group of Scouts up for a week hiking 100 miles on the trail south a Catawba.  So my heart is starting to soften to that quarter section of the AT.  Matter of fact when people ask about my next big hike I answer “Virginia”.  

Back in the fall I started planning the trip.  I even have recruited another hiker to go with me.  I’m not all together sure he is any saner than I am but the plan so far is to start in a couple of months. and hike the entire state in about a month.  We are going to check out a few side trails along the way and then to prove beyond a shadow of doubt about my sanity I plan (and hopefully my hiking partner will too) to attempt the Four State Challenge.  For some time I’ve been trying to convince myself distance is a matter of belief.  If I think I can hike it, it will happen.
So over the next few weeks as I get ready for this adventure, I’ll keep you posted on my preparation including foods and gear that I’ll be taking as well as physical and mental preparation.  As one of my captains at the fire department once told me “prior planning prevents poor performance”.