“What Are We Eating Tonight??”
Is this just an idle question, or a matter of life and death? Whichever way you look at it, this question often pops up during the later part of our day when we are out on an adventure (or sometimes just after breakfast).
In our early days of hiking together it was not really an issue that we pondered for too long. The shops were full of reasonably instant meals that required little more culinary skill than cutting the top off a packet and adding water. That all changed some 25 years ago with an adventure hiking the North Western Circuit on Stewart Island (the 3rd Island of New Zealand). We set off on this eleven day (muddy) odyssey with our packs absolutely bulging with NZ freeze-dried meals and those wonderful “just-add-water” pasta in a bag feeding solutions. After several days of re-hydrating these meals for our dinners, we quickly got tired of the numerous trips to the loo during the night to rid ourselves of the excess fluid that came with the meals. For some reason the water that we added to the meal seemed to separate from the solids instantaneously upon entry into our digestive systems) Needless to say, by the end of our eleven days we were a bit over freeze dried food. So much so our last freeze dried “Pork and Pineapple Curry Meal in a Bag” travelled with us for the next four years of hiking just in case emergency meal was required. Fortunately that emergency scenario never arose.
With that hike behind us, we realised that we really did like good food. All of our subsequent hikes in New Zealand were carried out with large volumes of fresh food filling our packs. There was one memorable night on the Rees-Dart track, where four days into the hike we pulled out a whole cauliflower, several carrots, a few spuds and other assorted goodies to make our evening meal. There were little giggles coming from our fellow hikers and quiet whispers of “They must be new to Tramping and not know about freeze dried”. There were also quite a few looks of envy when we finally sat down to a lovely meal of fresh vegetables with salami and cheese while they swilled down their freeze dried gruel.
In about 2011, our backs were given a reprieve from heavy loads forever with the discovery of the book Food to Go, written by Frank and Sue Wall and Deb Haskis. This little pearl of wisdom led us down the road to home cooked dehydrated meals. How liberating! For years we had played with our dehydrator to produce dried fruit and vegetable chips or fruit leather (Fruit Roll Ups for those culinary challenged out there) without a thought that we could be taking our favourite curry for a walk in the bush. Inspired by Food to Go we experimented with many different main meals. The beauty of these meals was that they could be fully prepared at home and then be re-hydrated and reheated on the trail. Nowadays when we are on a long hike it is not uncommon to have people slowly cruise past our campsite and look longingly into our billy full of curry and rice and ask “What brand of freeze dry is that? It smells wonderful”. Thank you Food To Go.
Planning to take nineteen or twenty nights to complete the Munda Biddi trail, we thought that we may need to have a little variety in our pantry. We finally settled on Spaghetti Bolognaise, Thai Red Chicken Curry, Tuna Risotto, Fettuccini Carbonara, Beef Curry and Chilli Chicken Tortillas for our mains on the trail. We prepared family sized meals that were then divided into portions that should feed two ravenous adventurers after a day of riding. These portions were dehydrated and vacuum bagged ready to travel. Each meal ended up about a third of the original prepared weight and took very little fuel to be prepared and ready to eat on the trail. We forwarded six meals to the Information Centres in Collie and Pemberton for collection when we passed through those towns.
Following a slight shopping mix up in who had bought what recently we had a potato glut in the house. So the culinary challenge was to create “Potato Cake To Go”. What better use could there be for a bit of excess spud than the humble potato cake (aka “Potato Cake To Go”).
There are many challenges in providing a mixed and varied menu for our breakfast and lunchtime meals, but they don’t seem anywhere near as daunting as the task of answering that fear-inducing question “What’s for Dinner?”
Now then, where is that “Food To Go” book? I’m sure I saw a recipe for Roast Chicken and Vegetables in there somewhere.