Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Bite Me, Quick!

Traveling light means traveling fast.

Traveling fast doesn't mean walking in a hurry or getting out of breath. And it doesn't mean running your trail life by a stopwatch. You don't even have to keep notes. You don't have to graph your performance when you get home and compare against last time.

But it's still fast.

Traveling light means less of everything, including complexity. If it's less complex it's easier to do, and faster too, so traveling light means traveling fast. Even if you're going slowly. Got that?


Now let's get back to my favorite unsolved problem. Which is food.

Face it, you have to eat. I do too.

I like eating. Most people do. It helps pass the time.

If I eat the right stuff I get a nice feeling in my mouth, and another one in my tum-tum, and for a while I'm not bored. Eating is the fun part, though getting hungry isn't. On the trail it just happens, but in town real, honest, hollowed out hunger is hard to come by.

Which is too bad, since hunger before a meal means that your body needs food to live. And boredom before a meal means only that your brain has too many idle cycles to use up. Eating while bored doesn't relieve the tum-tum pangs, it only makes Mr. Tum-Tum get bigger and wigglier. Without any beneficial effects.

For me, food is fuel. Or should be. Used to be.

When things work out right, food is fun to eat. When things don't work out right, I still eat food, even if it's anonymous and tasteless. Because it's still fuel.

Mostly. It used to be like that. All my life I've been slim and right on the edge of starvation. Each meal came at the right time and none too soon. Now that I'm older, slower, and hang out indoors even more, food is tending toward entertainment, but it's still necessary. Mr. Tum-Tum likes it even if he isn't hungry, because he gets bored really easily.

If I could do without things, I'd choose sleep first.

Long, long ago I saw an episode of Nova on public television. It was about sleep. It seems that there are some people who need only about four hours. And there are some who need less. Like two hours. And there was one man who needed only 15 or 20 minutes, once a day, and he could hardly stand to do it. He hated the time he lost daily to unconsciousness.

Yeah, so I need eight and a half hours, maybe nine, so that's out.

Second, if possible, I might give up food. Food can be fun, but if it's only fuel think how much a person could save not having to buy it or prepare it. Hike all day and never have to stop. And if you need no sleep, then hike all night too, or do something else. Have a cup of tea every now and then, or coffee, just for fun, and skip all that chewing and dishwashing.

Life would be different though. Without dreams, without lying in bed in the morning and listening to the early birds, without those aromas, without sizzle. So we sleep and eat because we have to, and in a way we eat because we are.

So food is still a problem. But I have a couple of new ideas.

Shortbread is new to me. It is not a food of my people. I first had it about a year ago, and it's taken that long to sink in.

Before this I've tried the traditional trail foods (I'm thinking more of breakfast here). You get up, thrash around, try to get organized, packed, washed up, get your day planned, check the maps and the weather, and then, and then, waste endless amounts of time heating some kind of glop, and waiting for it to cool, and eating it, and cleaning pots, and putting things away, and all that.

There are shortcuts, like adding hot water to a plastic bag of pre-mixed food, or taking along some dry stuff like crackers. But cooking on the one hand is...still cooking. And taking "some dry stuff", pre-made and pre-packaged, ends up being expensive, usually. And it's hard to manage the expense to calories to edibility to nutritional balance ratios. Take along some manufactured no-cook food and it's too easy to come up short.

So the shortbread thing.

This is basically flour, sugar, and butter. Sounds yummy already.

I was already on this track a few years back, when I made some stuff with flour, oil, powdered milk, peanut butter, raisins, dates, cinnamon, and so on. Then I tried adding some high octane peanut butter. Then adding lots of cocoa powder to make it into brownies.

They were both fantastic. Yummy. Edible. Lots of energy. Pretty well balanced with carbohydrates, proteins, fats, sugar, and tasty bits.

One problem though. The stuff was heavy.

I mixed it all, and baked it in flat pans, and then left it in the oven on low forever, and it never really dried out. There was always a minimum amount of water left in the stuff, except maybe around the edges, and that turned to concrete.

But mostly it stayed heavy and chewy. And since it was a little damp there was a chance it could go moldy on a longer trip.

So the shortbread thing.

I finally got smart and tried mixing ingredients without using water. I think I've got it. Whole wheat flour, brown sugar, butter, and powdered milk. Mix. Make sure there is lots of butter involved. Mix and slide into the oven for half an hour, and then crumble it or slice it into bars or whatever.

You have about as many calories as you can get into a given volume without converting it into pure neutronium first. Sure, it isn't a totally balanced diet, but there is lots of fat for energy, with sugar and flour balancing that out. (No need to sweeten it beyond your personal taste limits.) The powdered milk all by itself is a complete protein and complements whatever is in the flour.

Munge the basic recipe by adding peanut butter and cocoa powder to the mix and you have extra flavor and alternate sources of carbohydrate and protein. You're pretty well set to go.

Easy to eat for breakfast, especially the sweeter versions. Same for lunch, and it can do for supper too. Not the only food to take, but pretty handy.

Easy to make at home. About all you have to do is buy the ingredients, mix a little, and briefly brown it in the oven. Do this and you have a food with no water content, that you can carry in a bag and break into portions of any size and eat at any time of the day. About all you need is some water to help wash it down.

And it goes a long way.

On a trip this season I had some shortbread brownie mix for breakfast around 7:00 a.m., and didn't get a chance to stop for lunch until 2:00 p.m., after hiking strenuously uphill most of the day. And I wasn't particularly hungry at that point. I just happened to be near water and it was a "now or never" situation. So I cooked lunch.

So this stuff looks good. I'm going to be working with it some more to make sure it pans out, but so far it looks like a great option.

Cheap too.

Recipes and References:

Water-based trail food: An approximate recipe:
5 pounds whole wheat flour
4 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons salt
2 pounds Adams peanut butter (this stuff is just ground peanuts)
1 cup oil
6 tablespoons cinnamon
2 cups raisins
2 cups dates
2 cups powdered milk
5 cups water

Mix dry ingredients, then add water and knead briefly.
Bake at around 300 to 325 degrees until cooked through, with a good level of browning on top.

Plain shortbread (fortified):
1 cup butter (salted or unsalted, according to preferences)
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup milk powder

Mix ingredients with your hands.
Press into a flat pan.
Bake at 325 degrees for about a half hour or until golden brown.

Some recipes to use as a starting point. (Try leaving out eggs and any liquids. Use extra oil or butter instead.):

Nutty Brownies
Chocolate Brownie Recipes
Butterscotch Brownies
Mom's Blonde Brownies
Butterscotch Bars with Chocolate Chips
Index of Brownies and Bars
Classic Scottish Shortbread
Index of Shortbread Recipes
Shortbread at "Undiscovered Scotland: The Ultimate Online Guide"