“If people are well fed they are happy.” That’s a quote from the author of the National Outdoor Leadership School’s (NOLS) Cookery Book. The NOLS philosophy is that people are more likely to enjoy the outdoors if they get plenty to eat–and really enjoy the food they are eating. Biking hundreds of miles each week, dealing with the elements, and sleeping outdoors most nights can be exhausting. Good meals really keep our spirits and energy levels up. Often, we camp in areas where we can’t go out to eat, so we cook most of our meals on our camp stove.
Cooking our own food helps us save money and eat healthier too. Here are a few tips and lessons we’ve learned so far if you are considering a long distance bike tour:
Assemble a Spice/Baking Kit:
Before we left Seattle, I put together a spice kit with small bags of our favorite spices: cinnamon, Italian seasonings, curry, chipotle powder, a paprika/onion mix, salt, and pepper.
We have two small canteens filled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We also make sure to have a head of garlic with us at all times. We try to eat vegetables every night at dinner–and olive oil, garlic, and some sea salt can make almost any vegetable taste good. The oil and vinegar inspire us to stop for salad greens and make salads. We snack on dried cranberries and sunflower seeds during the day when we are riding and those can often be great additions to salads too.
I also packed a small bag with white and brown sugar, condensed milk, and yeast for some of our baking needs. We always have a bag of flour with us.
Bring Sourdough Starter:
We need a lot of carbs and so we make fresh sourdough bread almost every day. This is not as hard as it sounds–and having warm bread is such a treat.
We’re using a process that seemed to be popular about 100 years ago. Last winter Sean and I were listening to My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir. Muir talks about making sourdough bread in the back country. The benefit to sourdough is that you don’t need to keep adding commercial yeast; sourdough creates it’s own “wild yeast.” Back when we were in Seattle, we made a sourdough starter and a few loaves of sourdough bread in the comfort of our kitchen. We talked about bringing the sourdough starter with us, but weren’t sure how to carry it or manage it on the road.
Internet searches for “backcountry sourdough” didn’t result in any guidance. The top result was actually chef Ron Zimmerman’s bio. Zimmerman is the founder of the Herbfarm, a very celebrated restaurant just outside of Seattle. His bio said that “he regularly carried sourdough starter on his backpacking trips and made bread in camp using a folding, aluminum reflector oven.”
On a whim, I e-mailed him to ask for advice and his response inspired us to bring the sourdough along:
Sound like an exciting adventure you are about to undertake. I used to make sourdough bread while in the mountains. You realize that it can take several hours or more for a bread to rise and proof, no? The best way to keep sourdough is just to use it every day or two. If you are on a bicycle, I’d actually put together the bread in the morning and let it rise while you ride. Save about a third of the dough every day to start the next loaf.
Hope this isn’t too vague for you. But I assure you, bread is quite forgiving and can be made under many circumstances. Indeed, in a pinch, you can even wind a strand of dough around a stick and cook it near an open fire.
Have a great trip!
Ron’s advice was spot on. The yeast is really happy in a warm pannier. On hot days the dough rises a lot. We store it in a 2 cup measuring cup and put it in a Ziplock. When we are ready to make the bread, we take out about two-thirds of the dough, knead it on a floured surface, make a few rolls, and “fry-bake” it on our camp stove (be sure to coat the pan with some olive oil).
Then we add more water and flour to the original dough in the measuring cup (don’t worry about measuring, just make sure the dough isn’t soupy), put the Ziplock back on, and let it do it’s thing for another 24 to 48 hours.
One of our favorite meals on the road is calzone–it’s a really nice treat after a long day of riding. We use commercial yeast to make pizza dough. Here is the recipe from NOLS. Once you learn how to make the dough you can easily make other treats like apple turnovers using the same dough recipe.
We’re having fun cooking–and eating. You can check out a log of all the meals we’ve had here.