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Wednesday Food: Two Wheels and a Full Pannier

I embarked on my first bike camping trip this weekend.  From Chicago we cycled 45 miles north to Illinois Beach State Park on a Friday night, returning Sunday afternoon.  I determined weeks ahead that I would make every effort not to rely on factory-made camping food and trail mixes.

Any adventuring sans-auto is going to require the lightest possible gear and provisions.  Whether you are cycling, backpacking, snowshoeing, or climbing, weight will always be a factor.  Single burner stoves are easy to rent and nesting cookware for two can be held in the palm of a hand.   But if you’re going to create meals that don’t begin dehydrated, an allotment of volume and weight is inevitable.  As this was a relatively short trip (though no S24O) and our gear was minimal, I indulged myself the entirety of one pannier for food, out of four, and planned a semi-elaborate list of meals.

Three cheers for:

  • ‘Emergency’ meals— initially, all instant food was cast aside but at the last moment I grabbed a dehydrated meal from a previous trip.  When we got into camp after midnight (due to a number of obstacles that tacked extra hours onto an already long bike ride) it was freezing, exhaustion had weakened both limb and spirit, and stomachs were empty.  A bowl of chili that required nothing but hot water turned the evening around.  My favorite brand.
  • My mini Gerber knife— a modest folding knife.  Though not intended for preparing food, it worked efficiently to peel potatoes, slice cheese, dice onion, and reassure me when biking through a bad neighborhood.
  • Powdered vegan bouillon–a quality product is made from actual vegetables, is nearly weightless, and can be used for soup, noodles, or just a mug of something hot and nourishing.
  • Improvisation— I had intended two thick portabello caps for soup but upon seeing that the camp site offered a fire pit with partial grill, barbecued them.  Layered with a few slices of sourdough, white cheddar, and leftover spinach and plunked back on the fire, the outcome was one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve had.
  • Fat Tire Amber Ale— for being present at a shitty liquor store in Northern Illinois when the next best beer options were malt liquor and Bud Light Lime.

A kick in the dirt to:

  • Long boil times— in the planning stages and upon consumption potato leek soup, mushroom barley soup, and zucchini cacao absorption pasta were fantastic ideas.  Add boil time for coffee and you’ve spent an entire canister of fuel.  Poor planning.
  • Campfire veggie dogs— there is simply not a high enough fat content for the inside to cook through without the outside charring to oblivion.  Edible nonetheless.
  • S’mores— were these always so damn sweet?  Was milk chocolate a mistake?  Ugh.  At least the vegan marshmallows held up nicely to a flame.

Dear readers, what culinary successes and disasters have you found in the backcountry?  Have you managed more than nuts and dehydrated foods?


May 4, 2011 - Posted by | Wednesday Food


  1. No backcountry cooking for me (I did go to Joshua Tree this past weekend, but didn’t camp, and subsisted on date shakes and other luxury items. I would like to take my solar cooker out there for my next longer trip).

    However! I was so happy to find that there is a new clay capsule duck place in Koreatown. Some years ago there was a restaurant in K-town where they served duck, stuffed with black rice, dates, gingko nuts and various other delicious things. They would put the stuffed duck in a clay capsule, seal it up, and cook it for several hours. The duck cooked to meltingness, and the rice absorbed all the duck fat, and it was unbelievable. You had to order a day in advance. It was incredibly delicious, but apparently a total money-loser (it was so time intensive, and they had to import the clay capsules from Korea, and although the restaurant was always packed, I think they just didn’t charge enough), and the place closed down after just a few months. Anyway, there’s now another restaurant that serves the same type of thing, and I went last night, and I am happy to report that it is similarly amazing. I’m wondering now if it might be replicable in the solar cooker. The results won’t be the same (the clay capsule works some special magic on the duck, I’m told), but I might try it anyway. I’ll report back.

    Comment by jms | May 5, 2011

  2. Couscous (a dehydrated food?) can be cooked in a plastic bag just by pouring boiling water into it and waiting. Makes for a very easy cleanup. And it’s very easy to bring along small quantities of spices for flavor. Also somewhat nice (albeit it messy) to have: ghee. Keeps well, tastes great, can be used for oatmeal in the morning and whatever you’re having in the evening.

    A notable failure: even though red lentils cook faster than other kinds, at high altitudes they take forever. (Actually it worked out fine in the end, but damn, it took a while.)

    I see that you have unaccountably brought heavy raw potatoes with you, and what appears to be a glass jar!

    Comment by ben | May 5, 2011

  3. jms– praytell the name of this establishment? Clay-baked, date-stuffed duck sounds like a dream. And my SoCal relocation is but 8 short weeks away.

    ben– you’re right about couscous, a better alternative to rice and pasta and even packs more compactly. I also bulked up the mushroom soup with green lentils which wasted time. And the potatoes I knew were a precarious choice but I had room so I figured, why not? The glass jar was for olive oil, as everything I had in plastic lacked a screw top or had previously contained soap. Definitely some amateur blunders.

    The other big winner I didn’t mention was this stove which you can rent for a few dollars a day. The best element was the reflective heat shield/ wind screen. We had 40 mph gusts which would have spent the fuel much faster without the snug fitting shield.

    Comment by ebolden | May 5, 2011

  4. And I linked to the wrong veg stock. I used the Gayelord Hauser brand.

    Comment by ebolden | May 5, 2011

  5. Weblog meetup at the clay duck place! It’s called Da Rae Ok, and it’s on Western off 11th (just across the street from El Cholo). You have to call in your order at least five hours in advance.

    Comment by jms | May 5, 2011

  6. I don’t eat duck, but Mrs. K-sky delights in it, so we’re in.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | May 5, 2011

  7. Huzzah! Ben, put your ass on a train.

    Comment by ebolden | May 5, 2011

  8. I confess that I’m moving to Santa Barbara for a year in August, which is more than five hours hence.

    Comment by ben | May 5, 2011

  9. Aww, my birthplace! No doubt you’ll enjoy all the obscenely wealthy folks and make instant friends with a clique of skaters.

    Comment by ebolden | May 5, 2011

  10. Doubtful!

    But, if your parents happen to own or rent property there that they don’t occupy which they would like to let me occupy, do let me know.

    Comment by ben | May 5, 2011

  11. Alas, all the Boldens have relocated. But I’ll keep an ear to the ground if any friends have something.

    Comment by ebolden | May 5, 2011

  12. I would never spoil a trip into the ‘backcountry’ with cooking on the site. Sandwiches (with refined ingredients) and – to add some ‘warmth'(if the weather isn’t hot) – some tea, or easy made (instant)soup would be the most ‘cooking efforts’ I would do on a bike trip. Ebolden, I admire your cooking enthusiasm under any circumstances – I would love to get into the backcountry by bike as your guest though…

    Comment by grrl | May 5, 2011

  13. I would never spoil a trip into the ‘backcountry’ with cooking on the site.


    You must not go on very long trips, then.

    Comment by ben | May 5, 2011

  14. We should have an open-invitational heteronomous backpacking trip. What a shit show of epic proportion that would be!

    Comment by ebolden | May 5, 2011

  15. 8. Well, give us at least five hours notice before you move. Or actually, you only need to give us three hours notice, since Santa Barbara is about two hours away.

    Comment by jms | May 5, 2011

  16. While I may have been on a grand total of exactly one actual backpacking trips, I yield to no one in my certainty that I know how to do shit right.

    Comment by ben | May 5, 2011

  17. Ben, if there was anything I could ever know about you, it is that you are not the yielding kind. It’s how I would tell the real you from the terminator doppelganger you.

    Comment by ebolden | May 5, 2011

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