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Alimentary, My Dear

Chill Out!
Cool Treats for Hot Days

By Tamia Nelson
tamia@paddling.net

July 17, 2007

The asphalt jungle swelters and steams in mid-summer. It's fight or flight time, and the heat's a formidable foe. A lot of folks simply don't have the stomach for a fight. But if you're one of the millions who opt to flee to the backcountry, there are no guarantees you'll escape. A sandy lakeshore at high noon offers precious little shade. And a portage trail that winds for miles through a spruce hell can be as airless and stifling as any locked car in a big-box parking lot. What's the remedy? That's easy. Chill out! After a scorching day on the water you've earned a cool treat. So leave your stove in your pack. Reach for your soft cooler instead. I admit I resisted the idea at first. After all, Nessmuk didn't take a cooler, did he? Finally, though, the heat wore me down. Now I've become a convert. Soft coolers just plain make sense for short trips. When they're empty, they fold flat and stow easily. Full, they fit into small boats better than their hard-shelled counterparts, and a couple of freezer blocks keep the contents cold for at least a day — longer, in most conditions. Weekend Adventurers, take note: relief from the heat is at hand. Add a thermos flask or two, and you're ready to do battle in the backcountry.

 

What about it? Hot enough for you? Then let's cool it, beginning with …

The Pause That Refreshes

Every paddler learns the importance of proper hydration sooner or later. The best rule of thumb? Drink early and often, before you feel thirsty. (Don't drink so often, or so much, that you wash the salts out of your blood, however. This isn't a problem for most of us, but if you're worried about it, talk to your doc.) Tepid water from a plastic bottle or hydration pack will do the job under way, but at day's end it's time to let yourself go. Kick back and relax with a tall cold one. Of course, if you want a cold drink in camp, you can't reach into the fridge. You've got to do a little prep work. Chill your tipple in the refrigerator at home, then decant it into a pre-chilled thermos flask on the morning of your departure and bury the thermos deep inside your pack. Or pour the precious liquid into plastic bottles and put the bottles in the freezer. (Don't overfill. Water expands when it freezes. Three-quarters full is about right.) When you're ready to leave, stuff your bottled treats in your cooler — quickly, before they get a chance to thaw. Recycled wine bladders work, too, and they're great for large groups. They even double as freezer blocks.

So much for method. But what are you going to put in your thermos, plastic bottle, or wine bladder? Anything you want, that's what. Here are a few suggestions:

Iced Tea  A perennial favorite, and for good reason. In summer, even java fiends appreciate the "cups …  that cheer but not inebriate." Cowper — William Cowper, the 18th-century poet who wrote those words — was right on the money. You can drink your fill of cold tea at lunch with no worries that you'll be too wobbly to stay clear of the rocks on the afternoon run. Make your tea from scratch at home, then chill it thoroughly or freeze as described above. Later, in camp, add sugar or lemon juice to taste. And if you want to be elegant, garnish your cold tea with mint leaves.

Iced Coffee and Cappuccino  Then again, some java junkies won't accept any substitutes. It's iced coffee or nothing. If this is your view, just brew up a pot at home, let it cool, and then follow the same procedure as with iced tea. Add milk and sugar in camp, if you want, or drink it straight. If the sun is low in the west and you're done paddling for the day, you might also want to pour in a tot of your favorite whisky, liqueur, or rum. Or how about a cold cappuccino? Easy! Brew coffee at home, stir in hot-cocoa mix to taste before cooling, then transport as with other chilled liquids. A last-minute, I-forgot-to-make-the-cappuccino alternative: squirt chocolate syrup into cold coffee in camp. (You did pack the chocolate syrup, didn't you?)

Watermelon Agua Fresca  Looking for a fruity drink, instead? Try watermelon agua fresca. At home, pulverize two to three cups of cubed watermelon in a blender or food processor. Strain the resulting puree into a large container to remove the seeds and most of the pulp, then stir in about a quarter-cup of granulated sugar or honey, along with the juice of half a small lime. Taste the sweetened puree and adjust flavorings to suit, but don't make it too dilute — the puree will be mixed with seltzer later. When you're happy with the result, chill it or freeze it, and chill a bottle of plain seltzer as well. (CAUTION! Don't freeze the seltzer. In fact, don't freeze any carbonated beverage.) In camp, blend equal parts of seltzer and watermelon puree. You're not a watermelon fan? No problem. You can use other fruit purees as well: melons, peaches, strawberries, mangoes, even apricot nectar (no need for a blender here). Let your imagination run riot.

Ginger Lemonade  Nothing's quite as refreshing as lemonade on a hot day, and ginger lemonade is a spicy twist on this old favorite. Pick up a little fresh ginger root from the Produce aisle of the HyperMart, take it home, and shave thin slices from a piece about an inch or so long. Next, place the sliced ginger in a saucepan with a cup of water. Bring to a rolling boil, then turn off the burner and let the water cool. Strain. Now thaw a container of lemonade concentrate and reconstitute it in a pitcher using your ginger extract to make up part of the water. Chill or freeze, then pack up and go.

 

What's that? Cold drinks are fine, you say, but there are times when you want something more substantial? Then listen up. You might hear a welcome shout from the cook …

Soup's On!

When the temperature soars, soup isn't the first thing on most folks' minds, but maybe it ought to be. The secret? Make it at home and chill it before you leave for the put-in. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Gazpacho  The beauty of gazpacho is its versatility. Most recipes call for a base of crushed tomatoes, so if you've got a bumper crop from your garden, you're in luck. And if not, there's always the HyperMart. You can skin and de-seed your tomatoes if you want, and you can use a blender to puree them. I don't bother with either step, however. I just place whole tomatoes in a bowl and crush them with my hands. (No tomatoes? Use V8® juice, instead.) Now chop any or all of the following ingredients: raw red onions, green onions (scallions), green or red bell peppers, radishes, carrots, celery, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash. Take half the chopped vegetables and puree them in a blender, then stir this puree into the crushed tomatoes before adding the remaining chopped vegetables. Next, crush a large clove of garlic, mince it, and add it to the soup, along with minced fresh parsley and cilantro. Drizzle in some extra virgin olive oil, add a dash of balsamic vinegar for flavor, and season to taste. That's all there is to it. Your soup's done! Chill thoroughly or freeze in a tightly closed plastic container.

Cold Mashed-Potato Soup  This soup is as easy to make as mashed potatoes, and for good reason: that's how you begin. Put quartered Yukon Gold potatoes in a saucepan and then pour in enough canned low-sodium chicken broth to cover them to a depth of one inch. Bring to a boil and simmer until the potatoes are tender. Allow to cool. Mash. (I use a hand masher, but you can whip them with a power mixer if you prefer a smoother, creamier texture.) Now add a little more chicken broth if needed — there's no need to heat it — along with chopped chives or green onions. Drizzle on a little olive oil, and don't forget the salt and pepper. Chill or freeze. That's it. Soup's on!

Cold Minted Fresh Pea Soup  You'll want a blender or food processor for this one. Thaw a pound of green peas, then puree the lot. Pour into a large bowl, and stir in enough canned low-sodium chicken broth to create a thick soup. Chop a large handful of fresh mint and stir it in, too. Add salt and pepper, along with chopped chives or green onions. (If you don't like onions, just leave them out.) Chill or freeze.

 

Soup can be a meal when you serve it with bread. If you don't mind firing up your stove, bruschetta is an obvious choice. Or would you rather have sandwiches? Nothing's easier. Make them ahead of time or build them in camp, whichever you prefer. But what about dessert? Well, why not? And there's no hot weather treat to equal …

Ice Cream

Yes, you can have ice cream in camp, at least on short trips. Real ice cream, that is. Not the chalky freeze-dried stuff. And the word is getting out. All the catalogs seem to be offering "ice cream balls" for sale this summer. It's an intriguing idea. You put milk or cream, sugar, and flavorings in the core of the plastic ball, pack ice and rock salt around it, and then "pass or roll the ball around your campsite." In half an hour or so, you've got ice cream.

Sounds good, doesn't it? But you don't need to buy a ball to have a ball. In fact, the only equipment you need to make ice cream in camp are two Ziploc® bags (or reasonable facsimiles thereof), one of them quart-sized and the other gallon-sized. You'll have to bring ice, of course — unless you're camping on the shoulder of a glacier or snowfield. But that's what soft coolers are for. Just double-bag your ice before putting it in the cooler, and bury the cooler deep in a pack. (Hint: A block of ice will last longer than ice cubes. Don't forget an ice-pick, though.)

You'll also need a few basic ingredients:

  • 1 cup cream or half-and-half (milk works, too — even one-percent)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup rock salt
  • 4 cups ice (cubes or chunks)

Combine cream, half-and-half, or milk with vanilla extract and sugar in the quart-sized bag, expel as much air as possible, and seal it up — carefully. Inspect for pin-holes and put the sealed bag inside the larger bag. Then add the ice and salt to the larger bag, expel the air, and seal. Now gently knead and roll the nested bags for five to ten minutes. You may want to wear gloves, even on a hot day. The bag will be cold. (No gloves? A towel or shirt will work fine.) You'll feel the ice cream gelling as you knead. When the ice has melted, the ice cream is ready. Don't expect it to be rock hard, by the way. If it's the consistency of the soft ice cream you buy from roadside stands, it's done. Just open the outer bag, carefully extract the inner, and rinse off the salty residue. Now unseal the inner bag and dish up the ice cream. That's all there is to it. Enjoy!

It sounds improbable, but it works. And much to my surprise, I found that I liked this home-brew ice cream (or ice milk) better than anything I could buy in the store. If it proves too plain-vanilla for your taste, however, you can easily play variations on the theme. Substitute your favorite liqueur for the vanilla extract. Or garnish your ice cream with shaved chocolate, chocolate chips, nuts, maple syrup, or berries before serving. Ring the changes. Seldom has experimentation been easier — or more satisfying!

Hot Enough for You?

Paddling under a searing sun or portaging through an airless tunnel of greenery can make even the hardiest paddler long for relief. Happily, it's easy to chill out on the trail, at least on short trips near home. All it takes is a soft cooler and a little forward planning. Cold drinks, cold soup, even ice cream — they're all on the menu. Or at least they can be. It almost makes you wish for a heat wave, doesn't it? Me, too. Stay cool!

Copyright 2007 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.
















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