The Love Letter: What’s For Dinner

"What's for dinner?" A simple question that proves difficult when you’re backpacking for six weeks and cooking everything over a small stove. Finding the perfect of algorithm of weight, calories and cost is challenging. Backpacker-esque meals would meet two criteria, but it might also break the bank. People have dehydrated for centuries – it’s one of the oldest forms of preservation. Surely, I could make a few dinners for The Love Letter expedition, right?

I asked for a dehydrator for my birthday, and started working. I googled – most of what I found necessitated dehydrating ingredients separately, then combining with some fresh ones. Awesome for home, not so for the trail. I checked out books from the library. Wonderful books for creating a pantry full of bounty time goodies, but not for this trip. Then I stumbled upon Rachel and Scott’s Adventure blog and the pieces fell into place. They’d hiked the PCT and prepped 10 recipes for their trip. Bingo!

In July, I returned to Seattle after spending the spring counting birds in Eastern Washington, with a list of recipes to try and less than six weeks to make 84 servings. I needed a strategy. Food had to be in the dehydrator every day and night I was home. In the evenings, I’d eat a light summery dinner, then settle into cooking comfort foods that would pack nutrition and flavor. Beans simmered, rice steamed, pasta boiled, fruit sliced. Any vegetable from our weekly farmer’s market box that seemed worthy was chopped and laid on the dehydrator trays. Pots and pans piled in the sink. I’d prep and cook and wash dishes until midnight or 1 am. Sometimes later.

After cooking and eating my creations on the trail, I learned some handy tips.

1. Spice intensifies. Well, maybe just the hot spices. I don’t know if we were more sensitive because we were constantly eating dehydrated foods, but the Red Beans and Rice I thought would be so yummy in my kitchen, was spicy spicy hot. We were able to cut it with other rice, which helped, but wow. You’ve been warned.

2. Starch is essential. Rice, quinoa, pasta… Something to make sure the beans stick to your ribs. They are most effective there.

3. Dried fruit + fruit leathers = Amazing. We coveted the few kiwi pieces that came in each resupply box. Nectarines were sweet summer reminders. Applesauce makes fruit leather easy and can be combined with any fruit – blueberry-raspberry, anyone?

4. Stick to flavors you know. Probably not the best time to experiment wildly with tastes. There is a reason why cinnamon is tasty day after day in breakfast and cloves are not. I thought I’d want different flavors. Instead I longed for the simplicity of cinnamon.

5. Salt, salt, salt. Cook with it. Throw an extra dash in. Bring some with you. You’ll want and need it. Plus, when mixed with honey it is makes a great emergency electrolyte boost.

6. Supplement. Dehydrating meat frightened me. With no time to experiment, I didn’t want my novice skills to make us sick. I bought packaged tuna, salami, and beef jerky; indispensable protein and fat that we craved. We had some misses, others that I would tweak, but every night we were satiated. We horded our favorites for nights when we thought we’d need an extra dose of comfort. Thai Red Curry was our favorite. The dried coconut milk added richness and much needed fat. The vegetables (zucchini, broccoli, and shitake mushrooms) plumped up beautifully. It was a bit more complex to prepare, but this added to the “home cooked” comfort. I’m already scheming new recipes for our next trip. Whether it’s 3 days or weeks long, the ease and deliciousness of DIY dehydrated meals makes up for those late nights of cooking.

The Love Letter Dinner Menu:

  • Thai Red Curry
  • Potato Pea Curry
  • Burritos (recipe from Rachel and Scott’s blog)
  • Pasta with cream sauce
  • Red Beans and Rice
  • Phad Thai
  • Quinoa with Red Beans
  • Black Bean Chili with TVP (textured vegetable protein)