Backpacking, Made (Vegan) Easy

I have so much vegan amazingness to bring you today! We just returned from a 3-day backpacking trip and I have lots to share, so hang in there with me, ok?

I recently picked up Another Fork in the Trail: Vegetarian & Vegan Recipes for the Backcountry by Laurie Ann March and I was anxious to give some of the recipes a try for the trip. You will need a food dehydrator for most of the recipes (which I don’t have yet) so I went with a few recipes that didn’t require one. I’ll be bringing you 3 recipes from the book:

  • Blueberry Hazelnut Quinoa (pg. 42)
  • Roasted Nut and Mango Energy Bars (pg. 137)
  • Lime and Black Pepper Roasted Chickpeas (pg. 132)

We also picked up organic, vegan freeze-dried meals from MaryJane’s Farm Outpost, so I’m including pictures and reviews of their products as well. The Husband also tried a new Backpacker’s Pantry vegan variety as well . . . the Katmandu Curry.

When we go hiking for the day, when all I have to lug is a bottle of water, I’m off. The Husband complains that I leave him and the Seventh Grader in the dust, but I can’t help it. Once I get going, I let the momentum carry me. The sure-fire way to slow me down is strap a 35-40 lbs pack on me . . . and give me a camera. I took almost 200 pictures. (Don’t worry, I won’t post them all here). But I do have to show you one of my favorite parts of the trail. A mile into the 4 mile hike, the trail meanders through a forest of aspen trees; it’s absolutely gorgeous.

My dad first brought me to this area in 2003. This was his favorite place to backpack, so it has a lot of special meaning to me. He passed away nearly five years ago, but we continue his legacy by returning here once or twice a year. The Seventh Grader got to experience it for the first time.

We arrived at camp around two in the afternoon and got things set up. As we took shelter from a brief rainstorm, we thoroughly enjoyed the (no bake) Roasted Nut and Mango Energy Bars I made the day before.

These were delicious and so easy to make. The recipe makes 10 bars, but I don’t recommend packing all of them–at least not one person packing them in, as they are kind of heavy. Individually, they’re fine.

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 C raw almonds and peanuts, coarsely chopped

1/3 C agave

1/4 C brown sugar

1/4 C peanut butter or almond butter (I used PB)

2 C strong cereal flakes, crushed (I used Special K with sliced almonds)

1/4 C dried mango, finely chopped

1/4 C carob chips (I used Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet chocolate chips–they’re vegan!)

DIRECTIONS:

Make sure you have all your ingredients chopped and ready to go before starting.

In a small skillet, dry toast the almonds and peanuts until fragrant and browned. Let them cool. In a medium to large saucepan, heat the agave and brown sugar and let simmer for 1 minute–just don’t boil it. Remove from the heat and add the peanut butter; stir with a whisk until smooth. Add the crushed cereal, nuts, mango and chocolate chips; combine well.

Coat the bottom and sides of an 8″ baking dish with vegetable oil. Scoop the mixture into the pan and press down so that it is even.

Place in the freezer for 30 minutes. The recipe then says to transfer the pan contents to a cutting board. Well good luck getting those contents out of the pan right away. I had to let it thaw on the counter for about 20-30 minutes, before loosening the edges with a knife and using a metal spatula on one side to get it out. No big deal, just don’t expect the bars to pop right out.

Cut into 10 bars:

Wrap each one in waxed paper and store in a ziplock bag. They’ll also keep in the freezer for up to 3 months. Source: Another Fork in the Trail

Yes, that’s snow. This lake is about 8500 feet in elevation, so there are lots of places where there is snow year round. And you may be wondering why the trees are gray. That’s not a usual Colorado thing. Unfortunately, that’s the result of the pine beetle. They’re killing lodgepole pines throughout the United States and Canada. It’s incredibly sad to see.

But there’s still much beauty to be had:

That’s Mount Ethel. Ain’t she a beaut at nearly 12,000 feet?

MaryJane’s Farm Outpost Organic Freeze-Dried Meals

(note…the Red Pesto Pasta is vegetarian, not vegan)

For the first night, I chose the Ginger Sesame Pasta ($8) The Husband had had this one before on a earlier trip, so he recommended it.  Unlike most freeze-dried meals, this one serves one, not two. So, tear off the top of the package . . .

 . . . and pour in 1 cup of boiling water. Stir it really, really well. I noticed I didn’t do a very good job because later, there was some unmixed seasonings on the bottom of the bag. Fold down the top and let sit for 8-10 minutes.

It really tasted great. I’m not a huge fan of black beans, but I didn’t mind them at all in this. It was also just the right amount of food for one person. You’d never know this meal was freeze-dried. After a long day of hiking, this was ideal.

Ingredients: Organic Instant Durum Semolina Pasta, Organic Black Bean Flakes, Organic Powdered Soybean Miso, Organic Red Bell Peppers, Organic Sucanat® (dehydrated cane juice), Organic Sesame Seeds, Organic Orange Peel and Organic Herbs & Spices.

For the second night, I had the Wild Forest Mushroom Couscous ($8.75) This was even more delicious than the sesame pasta. LOVED it!!

Add 1-1/2 cups of boiling water, stir really well, then seal it up. Let sit for 5 minutes, then stir again.

Ingredients: Organic Couscous, Organic Powdered Soybean Miso, Organic Pine Nuts, Organic Oyster Mushrooms, Shiitake Mushrooms, Organic Garlic and Lovage.

For the first night, the hegans went vegetarian with Mountain House Pasta Primavera ($6.50). Each pouch serves two, but they’re guys and they eat a lot; no need to split one. The second night, The Husband went with Backpacker’s Pantry Katmandu Curry ($6).

This one definitely serves two–he couldn’t finish it all. Plus, it had a bit of kick, so beware if you’re not into spicy food. It also took longer than most–about 20 minutes. It also requires 2-3/4 cups of boiling water. He thought it was very good, but we’ll just have to keep in mind that it easily serves two people.

Ingredients: lentils, precooked parboiled long grain brown rice, potatoes, carrots, peas, sauce (salt, garlic, turmeric, coriander seed, cumin seed, ginger, nutmeg, pepper, cayenne pepper, parsley, bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, dill weed, fennel seed).

Enjoying their freeze-dried delicacies

During some hikes the second day, we discovered this amazing waterfall and another small lake at the base of it.

It was so incredible! The day was gorgeous and I spent much of it exploring and carrying around my portable, fold-up seat, a notebook, pencil and a book.

The book that I wanted to bring, The Ledge, is a hardback–not a good choice for backpacking–but an excellent read! One of the authors, Jim Davidson, is a fellow NCW member and his story is amazing. I settled for The Red Tent.

So far, it’s all right. The first 60-some pages are pretty much all about childbirth and it got old. Fortunately, it’s picking up . . .but I plan on finishing The Ledge first. I also have to show off my New Belgium coin purse, made pf recycled bicycle tubes:

It’s perfect for stashing my ID, ipod and of course money. (You never know where a Starbucks will pop up next–could be at mile 3)

For a snack, I made some Lime and Black Pepper Roasted Chickpeas the day before we left.

These were great to snack on and had lots of flavor. I had always wanted to roast chickpeas, but never found the time. I also doubled the recipe.

INGREDIENTS:

4 C canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained

4 tsp olive oil

1/2 – 1 tsp black pepper

3 Tbs lime juice

2 tsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped

1 tsp salt

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 425. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, pepper, lime juice, and cilantro. The recipe says to line the pan with the chickpeas (removing any loose skins from them) and pour the sauce over them. I opted instead to pour the chickpeas into the bowl with the sauce and combine them that way.

I then poured them onto the pan. Bake for 35-50 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

They should come out crispy and dried through. Sprinkle with the salt. These were light enough to pack and offer some much-needed carbs after all of the hiking.

Source: Another Fork in the Trail

Breakfast

When I saw this recipe in Another Fork in the Trail, I knew I needed to make it for this trip. It calls for hazelnuts, but the store (a major grocery chain) apparently only carries them during the holidays and I didn’t have time to hit another store, so I went with pecans. No problem. This easy to make, light-weight cereal was one of my favorites meals. Loaded with protein, it kept me going all morning.

INGREDIENTS: (doubled)

1 C quinoa

1/4 tsp salt

2 Tbs sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 C dried blueberries

1/4 C hazelnuts (or pecans)

Brown sugar, to taste

Powdered soy milk (enough to make 1-1/2 cups)

DIRECTIONS:

At home, rinse the quinoa under cold water for at least 3 minutes. Drain and toast in a dry nonstick skillet until the quinoa begins to pop. Let it cool and place it in a large ziplock bag. Add the salt, sugar, cinnamon, and blueberries. Toast the pecans until browned and fragrant. Place the cooled nuts and brown sugar in a snack-sized ziplock bag. Place it into the larger bag and in another small bag, add the powdered soy milk. At camp, I placed about a 1-1/2 cups of the quinoa mixture in the pot with about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water. Let it simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring often.

In a small cup, I mixed some soy milk powder with water and served with quinoa with the milk, and topped it off with the brown sugar and nuts. Outstanding. I would make this at home, not just when we’re camping. It’s quite good. Source: Another Fork in the Trail

For lunches, I found these heat and serve options that also happen to be vegan:

Bombay Potatoes from Tasty Bite. One bag made 4 small servings. Just pour into a pan and heat. Tasty, indeed! If you’re going for ultra light backpacking, these are a bit on the heavy side, but for a quick lunch at home or camping, they’re ideal.

Again, this heat and serve product is great for camping and backpacking. Eat with a tortilla or by itself—a great protein and carb option while backpacking.

One day, we even went with good old Ramen. Because the spice packets aren’t vegan, we just used the noodles and seasoned them with salt and pepper.

You may be sick of Ramen from your college days, but they’re incredibly lightweight and cheap, making them ideal for backpacking. Besides, everything tastes good when you’re camping.

When we go camping/backpacking we always stock up on Larabars. They’re vegan, gluten-free and have 3-9 ingredients.

Wow . . . am I finally done? Thanks for sticking with me on this journey—I know it was a lot!

Product Review: Backpacker’s Pantry Freeze-Dried Meals

Camping . . . Vegan Style

We decided to head out to the great wide open and finally get a camping trip in this summer. We escaped the brutal city heat, much to the delight of millions of vicious mosquitoes. Nothing two full cans of bug spray couldn’t handle. Aside from just good old-fashioned family fun, it gave us a chance to test out some vegan freeze-dried meals for our upcoming backpacking trip in August, where there will be about 4 miles between us and the car—not 500 yards or so like this trip.

You can car camp and still get away from other campers, as well as be close to a lake or river—in this case, the Laramie River, just below the Continental Divide. The first night, we fired up some veggie burgers, topped them with avocado slices, and sandwiched them between two toasted buns. (Obviously we were too hungry to stop and snap a pic)! They were perfect camp food.

We of course made s’mores—the Sixth Grader putting away two of them and me, quite possibly having my first one ever. That’s right. . .I can’t remember ever making them before. It was a monumental occasion, not to mention delicious.

The next morning, we enjoyed some Starbucks coffee. Tucked in the remote wilderness was a Starbucks, run by none other than. . . bigfoot. Ok, so no, but we enjoyed their VIA Ready Brew Italian Roast packets:

For breakfast, we fried up some diced onion, potatoes, and green and red bell peppers for the best damn breakfast burritos ever.

Topped with vegan cheddar and salsa, they tasted phenomenal. Maybe everything tastes great while camping—either way, we weren’t complaining.

It was a relaxing morning with some sun, coffee, breakfast, and Neil Young, via the iphone. (We decided that a solar-powered iphone charger would be a wise investment).

While the boys fished, I took advantage of the quietness to write, work on my current project, Folsom’s 93, and finish reading Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, an enjoyable, quick read by Dai Sijie.

So on to the review. . .

We were pretty excited to see that we could find vegan freeze-dried meals since we try to do a couple backpacking trips each summer. Backpacker’s Pantry, out of Boulder, has a few varieties and we chose two of them: Pad Thai and Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce with Veggies, each for $5.95. All freeze-dried meals require boiling water and a utensil to eat with. And since they’re so light, they are ideal for backpacking. Before going vegan, we used to buy freeze-dried meals from Mountain House and have always been very happy with those, but they don’t seem to have vegan ones. Plus, they are a couple of dollars more than Backpacker’s Pantry. Each package is 2 servings and they really would easily feed two people–there’s a lot there.

The Pad Thai comes with a packet of chopped peanuts and a peanutbutter packet. Take those out, add 2-1/4 cups of boiling water, stir it up, and let it sit about 15-20 minutes (which is pretty standard for freeze-dried meals).

The Spicy Peanut Sauce and Veggies came with a spice packet and 2 packets of peanutbutter that you have to mix in a separate bowl with a 1/4 cup of boiling water. I wasn’t crazy about the inconvenience of dirtying a bowl, but I later found that it was worth it.

Then you add 1-1/2 cups to the bag, stir it up, let it sit for 13 minutes, then stir in the sauce.

The Spicy Peanut Sauce and Veggies was outstanding. It was a little soupy and I would have liked larger veggies, but overall, it was so delicious. The consensus was that the Pad Thai was not quite as good. It too, is on the soupy side with rice noodles and it certainly wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t as tasty as the other one.

They come with a high calorie count. But when you’re backpacking, you’re needing to replace your calories and it’s pretty easy to burn them off. Each serving of the Pad Thai is 460 calories, and 490 for the Spicy Peanut Sauce.

The Husband wanted to try the Garlic Herb Mashed Potatoes for just a $1.90 which had 2-9 ounce servings. There was quite a bit. I didn’t try them since they contained milk (he says he’s 99% vegan since he’ll still eat a little cheese–I’m working on nixing that ;)  However, I can’t complain since he’s made it this far)! Anyway, we didn’t bring up any salt, so he said they were pretty bland.

So there’s the low down on the freeze-dried meals. We will certainly be buying those for our backpacking trip coming up.

Laramie River, a few yards from the campsite

All and all, it was a fantastic trip. The second (and last) morning, we woke up to having a deer staring at us from a safe distance and once he took off, we toasted some blueberry bagels and drizzled them with agave. They were great with our Starbucks. :)

I’ve been known to have a grumpy side when I have been roughing it too long, especially if coldness and/or rain are involved. Somehow, I managed to keep things civil between me and the elements, even with the carnivorous mosquitoes. The kid was happy to constantly poke at the fire, whittle, and partake in some pine cone sling-shotting. The Husband caught quite a bit of fish and the three of us had a wonderful time laying by the fire, solving all the world’s problems.

The Cache La Poudre River