Thursday, April 16, 2015

Road food is one thing; but how do you eat if the "road" is a river?

Nothing beats cooking - and eating - in the outdoors.
The name of my blog pretty much gives away the fact I'm passionate about parrots and about paddling (if not, I've really goofed!).

But if not truly passionate, I'm certainly very close to being passionate about food, as well.

So...if you take a foodie who's also a canoehead, it can sometimes be a bit of a challenge to create an acceptable menu when I'm on a multi-day paddling trip.

I will say I've had some marvellous eating experiences while travelling by canoe and kayak. There've been a few disappointments, too.

While every trip has its highlights, and I've never really had a bad paddling trip, how and what you eat can often influence your impressions and memories of the trip.

Obviously, while you're on a canoe or kayak trip, you are "on the road". However, unlike driving on a highway, there's no place to pull over and order a burger and fries (although those always seem to be my first go-to meal after finishing any paddling trip.)

That means you have to plan and cook it yourself, if you're on a self-guided trip; if you're booked with an outfitter, they look after the meal planning and most of the prep for you.

I've done plenty of both; and in both instances, I've experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly (even when there's no spaghetti involved.)

I have created some incredible meals myself, as well as been a party to some bad ones (usually in the form of freeze-dried foods.)

Although it may not qualify as gourmet fare, I remember the very first dish I ate, cooked over a campfire in the outdoors.

A nice heaping plate of Richildaca Stew.
I was eight years old, and I was a camper at Richildaca Day Camp, near Kettleby, Ontario, in the rural area just west of the Newmarket-Aurora area in southern Ontario, about 40 km north of Toronto. It was "cookout day." I was excited when I saw them open the ground beef. Then I saw cans of mushroom and vegetable soup. I HATED mushrooms and anything to do with them! And I wasn't keen about veggie soup, either, back then. But, it was eat that or starve. So I ate. And I ate it. And I ate it.

Yeah, I loved it.

So much that I've always tried to feature it on all my camping menus. Of course, it has changed over the years, as I've tweaked it a bit. And it wasn't called "Richildaca Stew" back then. But it's still easy, hearty, and every bite still brings back memories.

If you want to see a real-life demonstration on how to make Richildaca Stew, you can watch the entire process on one of my YouTube videos.

Then there are the bacon and eggs and hashbrowns that always taste so good cooked outdoors over a camp stove or an open fire. They always taste better than the ones cooked at home.

Breakfast is a sizzlin'...

Of course, not all my paddling recipes turn out well. Although I once impressed a young lady with my "canned goods shiskabob" (canned potatoes and spam, cooked on a stick over a fire - another Richildaca innovation), there have been some unpleasant memories involved with camp food. The most unpleasant involved two people sleeping in a small dome tent after gorging on freeze-dried bean-tortilla dinner.

It was w-a-y worse than normal beans. Even the porcupines that hung around that campsite in numbers just up and disappeared.
Some go-to books for planning paddling meals.

Scratch that one off the list.

If you want to plan your own trips and meals, there are several good books to help you. Two of my favourites are The Wanapitei Canoe Trippers Cookbook and The Paddling Chef

Outfitters have prepared some amazing meals on trips over the years. My first sea kayaking excursion in Belize, our guides prepared an amazing and simple rum punch, a delicious conch stew, and wonderful fresh-caught fish. Mind you, I wasn't crazy about the vegetarian chilli and vegetarian spaghetti sauce foisted upon us later in that EcoSummer trip by an overzealous "naturist" guide. But you take the good with the bad.

The best chow I've had on a paddling trip?

Two come to mind immediately: an Adventure-Life five-day kayak trip I took in the jungles of Ecuador and some great grub enjoyed with Okefenokee Adventures on a three-day canoe trip in the Georgia swamp.

In the Amazon, we had three-course meals, with everything prepared by the guides. Each meal featured soup, salad, entree, dessert and wine. All eaten at a table, sitting on chairs underneath a forest canopy filled with parrots, toucans, and the occasional harpy eagle.

In the Okefenokee, I remember eating some incredible jambalaya and equally good spaghetti with meat sauce.

Of course, everyone who knows me, knows how I love my coffee, in or out of camp. And without a good mug of brew (or two), you really cannot start the day properly - especially on a paddling trip.

Paddler and singer-songwriter Jerry Vandiver knows this better than anyone - which is why he wrote a great song about camp coffee. I'll leave it here, with you. Maybe it'll inspire you to plan your next paddling trip - or even a trip menu. Or if nothing else, to go get another cup of coffee to sip while you enjoy it.

Want to see more of Jerry's videos? Check out his YouTube page.

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