Dodging dietary bullets while outdoors

Hiking and camping require a person to rethink how they make food. Especially when you have heart disease. This post is part of a larger series chronicling my journey to the Olympic Mountains coming up at the end of this summer… and the misadventures, fun, and campfires along the way.

Cooking outdoors is very different than at home. Unless you are of the mindset where you bring an ice box, large format gas stove or equipment to cook over an open fire. I won’t want to carry that much in September up a 6000 ft incline, so I opted for the Jet Boil system last year. Granted, there are even more minimalist cook systems out available. This one just appealed to me because it’s pretty, well, “me” proof.

To prepare good dehydrated meals all you really need is hot water and a freezer bag full of your mix. You combine the two, place it in some sort of insulated cozy and let it steep for 20 to 30 minutes. That’s the formula for most hot meals and proof that you don’t have to buy a Jet Boil if you don’t want too.

Meal planning with heart disease really complicates things. I’m talking about the 80% of the time that I eat clean. Not the 20% where I treat myself to something that elicits memories from the smell, texture and flavor experience. Pulled chicken sandwiches for example which remind me of living back home with my parents when I was a kid.

While I am nowhere near dietician status here, the guidance I have gotten, and rules I follow, are somewhere between Mediterranean, AHA Guidelines and lots and lots of fruits and vegetables with wine at dinner. You don’t have a lot of those options while on the trail however. In my 8 months of hiking research via You Tube I found myself caught between the Ramen Noodle, Jerky, cheese and bacon camp. And I celebrate the folks who don’t have to worry about that stuff, unfortunately for me, these opions have wildly too much sodium, fat, and sugar.

Last year I started experimenting with Mountain House dehydrated foods, saw it on some You Tube videos of young guys losing their marbles on how good that stuff is. And they are really good. But, of course, every meal that appealed to me had the same problem as Ramen noodles or too much fat to for my mind to allow myself to splurge on. From there I moved to several other companies until I found three that I really love. Good To Go, Packit Gourmet and one that my buddy Doug hooked me up with called Outdoor Herbivore (the last being a vegetarian and vegan company which totally fit the 80%).

So I’ve been out the past two weekends doing some testing of hammock gear and one night in my single man tent to try out my lightweight Big Agnes inflatable mattress. Sleeping in a hammock is, by far, my favorite style to date and the subject of a future post soon. During these two overnight trips, I had a chance to try Good To Go Marinara with Penne and the Outdoor Herbivore Summer Tomato sauce with gnocchi, which I incidentally had the pleasure to share with an environmental author, meditation practitioner Buddhist, and activist, J.M. Seligman. That made for a great conversation starter lasting late into the evening. Yeah, Outdoor Herbivore was that good.

The Good To Go Marinara with Pene was fantastic. I boiled a little over a cup of water, removed the dry packet from the bag, added the water, sealed the bag, stuffed the bag gently into the still warm Jet Boil chamber. I left that to cook for about 30 minutes covered, “stirring” occasionally by removing the bag and massaging the contents gently because it was pretty hot. When it came time to test it, the flavors, aromas and pasta texture were perfect. I would highly recommend this dish to anyone who wants a little quick Italian style meal while outdoors. The bonus is that it only has 300 g of sodium and 1g saturated fat. Now for dehydrated food, that’s pretty damn impressive. Plus… no animal products as it’s vegan is made from whole ingredients.

This past weekend I tried a packet of sauce that my buddy from Portland brought to me on his recent trip to visit his family here in Ohio. That and his idea of using Gnocchi on the trail as a quick alternative to completely dehydrated food. I cooked the sauce by boiling 2 cups of water, adding the contents after turning off the flame, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes and boom! Right there in my canister was an aromatic perfect tomato sauce with onions and vegetables that were still damn crisp. Out of this world. Now my Gnocchi experience was a little underwhelming. I used the sauce to cook that in over 20 minutes, which worked but created a mess and the cooking was inconsistent as it was hotter at the bottom of the chamber than the top. Next time I do this I will probably be using a separate boil pot and strainer for the Gnocchi and then portion that out into individual serving bags for more than one person. All in all, though it was a pretty tasty meal with a great health profile (low salt, low fat, vegan).

To conclude, this is all part of the research I am doing right now to get ready for the Olympic Mountain hike that I am going on with my buddy from Portland in September. We both like food. Have various diet restrictions based on healthy living, and love to be outdoors. The point of all this is that you can, in fact, eat healthy while outdoors and not have to go the bacon, cheese, jerky or salami route that a lot of folks can happily enjoy without consequence. So this is part of the fun. Trying new things, meeting new people, midnight swims and drying off, buck naked, around the campfire. Why wasn’t college calculus like this?!

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