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Alimentary, My Dear

What's for Breakfast?

By Tamia Nelson

October 22, 2002

Breakfast. Breaking the fast. The first meal of the day. Some like it cold. Some like it hot. And some don't eat it at all. Once on the water, though, even life members of the "Just Give Me a Cuppa Black Coffee" Club join the crowd around the stove or fire. Paddling is hard work, after all, and no engine can run on empty for very long.

Even picky eaters frequently crave a hearty breakfast under way. That can be a problem. Morning's a busy time in camp. The weather's often uncertain, and if you've got a lot of miles to go before supper, you need to pack your gear and load your boat pronto. On days like this, you've already got one eye on your watch and the other on the sky. The last thing you want to do is cook a meal.

OK. In the perfect world of outfitters' catalogs and paddling videos, fresh fish sizzles in the skillet every morning. And sometimes, happily, life emulates art. But sometimes it doesn't. The fish may have made other plans, for one thing, and even if they're biting, there's always the second hand of your watch, sweeping relentlessly round and round the dial. Your next camp's fifteen miles away and the wind is picking up—a head wind, of course. It's no time to play the Paddling Gourmet. You need fuel. Now. So you reach into your pack…

And hope you find something. If you've planned ahead, you will. Outfitters' shelves are full of tempting breakfasts-in-a-bag. How about blueberry pancakes? Or a western omelette? You can have either one, or both, at a price. You get something for your money, of course. Convenience (usually). Good food (sometimes). But I'm the do-it-yourself type. I mostly provision at the local supermarket.

Let's look at some of the possibilities.

How about stewed fruit? You'll find a wide range of dried fruits in the baking aisle and produce section of the HyperMart. Stewed fruit is a tasty addition to any meal, and it makes an easy and delicious breakfast in its own right. Raisins. Dates. Apricots. Pick whatever tickles your fancy. Want to add fat and protein? Then sprinkle wheat germ, granola or nuts over the fruit. Fuel never tasted so good!

Can't face breakfast without breadstuffs? English muffins and bagels are easy to pack, and they won't go stale on weekend trips. Dense "black" bread—pumpernickel is the standard—resists crushing, too. It also keeps well for up to a week. On longer trips, however, you're on your own. Consider making your own bread in camp. Nut butters (I like cashew, but peanut butter is easier to find and cheaper), jams, jellies, honey, and margarine all make good toppings. If you camp during the "shoulder seasons" you can even bring butter along on short trips. Canned butter used to be available, but I haven't seen any for sale in years.

Something to drink? Coffee and tea are the norm, and for good reason. I drink coffee at home, but I like tea better in the backcountry. It's easier to prepare and just as invigorating. Confirmed java junkies needn't turn tea-drinker, though. They don't even have to drink instant or make do with bitter, boiled coffee. Small French presses and drip cones that fit over the mouths of thermos-flasks make it easy for anyone to brew up a first-rate cup, even in the back of beyond.

And what about juice? On weekend trips, take some oranges along. There's always Tang® and its numberless imitators, too. Let your taste be your guide. But be sure to get vitamin C somehow or other, particularly on long expeditions. Scurvy is one wilderness experience that nobody will enjoy.

Is that all? No. On lazy lay-over days, the sky's the limit. If you're a fisherman, or if you're traveling with one, you may get lucky. If not, how about hotcakes? Pancake mixes abound on store shelves. Read the instructions carefully, though—some call for eggs. Still, you can ignore the directions and leave the eggs out. The worst that will happen is that your pancakes won't rise very high. Or you can carry fresh eggs, at least on short trips. (Pack them carefully! The compartmentalized egg-carriers are best, but make sure your eggs fit your carrier. Not all do. And protect them from freezing.) Or see if you can find dried, powdered eggs. They're not a supermarket item, but a commercial baker may be able to help you locate a source of supply.

Dried whole eggs can also be reconstituted and scrambled. They're an acquired taste, however, even when doctored with herbs and spices. The pre-cooked freeze-dried alternatives are much better, but they're pricey.

And what are eggs without bacon? Safer, for one thing. Supermarket bacon doesn't keep well without refrigeration, and canned bacon seems to be a thing of the past. Whatever form it takes, however, you won't find better bear bait anywhere. So unless you like entertaining hirsute nocturnal visitors with large appetites and short tempers, don't prepare or store bacon in or near your tent. If you just want the flavor of bacon without the fuss, you can get by with pre-cooked bacon bits—look in the salad section of the supermarket—or flavored TVP (Texturized Vegetable Protein, a soy product). Again, unless you're looking forward to a midnight teddy-bears' picnic, pack bacon bits in an air-tight container and store them well away from your tent.

What's that? You don't want to risk having a bear mistake you for part of his breakfast menu? Then leave the bacon at home and have hot cereal, instead. You'll find an almost endless variety in the supermarket. Look for "instant" or "quick-cooking" varieties. Season with cinnamon, garnish with raisins or dates, and sweeten with brown sugar or honey. Just don't forget the dried milk! (And be sure to purify the water you use to reconstitute it. Or else.)

Cold cereal's even quicker and easier, but leave the flakes and puffs on the supermarket shelves. You need something dense and substantial. Granola or muesli are what you want. Dried fruit, nuts, sugar, and whole-grain cereal. Filling, nutritious, and flavorful. Breakfast in a cup. (Use a BIG cup.) Buy it ready-made or make your own at home before you head out. It's easy. Here's how:

Tamia's Tasty Granola
(makes a tad more than 4 cups, or about 8 smallish servings)

NB This recipe can easily be doubled by using twice the quantity of each ingredient. Unless you have a large oven, though, you'll need to batch-process it in order to properly toast and cool it.

3 cups rolled oats ("Old Fashioned" only, NOT "Quick-Cooking")
3/4 cup wheat bran*
1/4 cup wheat germ*
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts
2 tablespoons raw, unsalted, husked sunflower seeds
    (often called "sunflower kernels")

1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup chopped dried dates (aka date pieces)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. While you're waiting for it to get up to temperature, blend the oats, wheat bran, wheat germ, brown sugar, hazelnuts, and sunflower seeds in a large bowl. Then spread the mix evenly over two cookie-sheets with sides at least 1/4" high. If you don't have cookie sheets, use pizza or lasagna pans.

As soon as the oven's ready, pop the cookie sheets in and "bake" the granola for 20-25 minutes. Check often. Better yet, remove the pans from the oven every 5-10 minutes—use pot-holders!—and stir the granola with a spoon, being sure to redistribute it evenly. Then put the pans back into the oven for another 5-10 minutes. Don't allow the granola to burn!

Once the nuts and oats are crunchy and have a pleasant toasted flavor, you're almost done. Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and place them on wire racks to cool. When the granola has come back down to room temperature, return it to the large bowl and mix in the raisins, dried apricots, and dried dates.

That's all there is to it. Store your granola in a tightly closed plastic bag in a dark place until you're ready to go camping. (Thoroughly washed and dried Mylar bladders from boxed wines make good storage containers.) But don't wait too long! Your granola will be at its best for just a month. For longer trips or longer storage, substitute 1/4 cup of wheat bran for the wheat germ.

You can also vary this recipe to suit your own tastes, substituting different nuts and dried fruits. Do you have a sweet tooth? Then add more dried fruit, increase the amount of brown sugar, or drizzle honey over the cereal when you're ready to eat it.

* Wheat bran can be purchased in health-food stores or food co-ops, and in some supermarkets, as well. If you can't buy it where you live, just substitute 1 additional cup of rolled oats. Wheat germ is sold in supermarkets. It should be refrigerated after opening.

Breakfast. It's not often the most leisurely meal of the day, but to my mind it's always the most important, and that's especially true in the backcountry. Eat hearty!

A Note to the Reader

Are you a foodie? Or are you happy to chow down on whatever comes out of a can? No matter. Whether you live to eat or only eat to live, you'll want to check out the other articles in Alimentary, My Dear.

Copyright 2002 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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