Category Archives: Food Reviews

Builder’s Tea

teaWhen most Americans think of us Brits and our tea-drinking habits, visions spring to mind of a bunch of hoity-toity well-todo folks sitting around drinking fancy loose-leaf tea in finest bone china supplemented by crustless sandwiches and little pastries.

For those that have lived outside of the upper crusts of London, the reality is far from it. Good tea , comes in a little bag (without strings!) – and common brands like Tetley, PG Tips and Ty-phoo are the workhorse of the country. The trick is in the timing, how long it's steeped and the right amount of milk.

It's not uncommon to drink five or more cups of tea a day. It's a social thing, and a small-gesture thing too. Friend come over for a chat? I'll put the kettle on. Plumber comes over to fix a pipe? First thing after opening the door is to offer him a nice cup of tea.

Workmen swinging from scaffolding chipping away at bricks, always have a thermos-flask of hot tea on hand for frequent breaks during the day.

This is where Builder's Tea finds its roots: often made from cheap tea, it's steeped stronger that normal, piping hot, more milky than normal and usually with a couple of sugars to soften the blow.

There is quite possibly no better feeling in the world, than sitting on top of the peak of a mountain your just conquered, a little chill in the air, maybe some drizzle, the sound the the stove going off and sipping on a big mug of Builder's Tea.

I don't often go to the effort of breaking out the stove mid-day, but I've had some epic cups (Mt. Rainier, Pasayten etc)  of Builders Tea brewed by my friend Nigel that will have a spot in my memory for a lifetime.

Banana-Mango Chocolate Almond Wraps

With our Wonderland Trail start just five days away, it's time to start thinking about food. Breakfasts and dinner are always easy – but I always struggle for that perfect lunch. Salami, aged cheese and crackers is my staple – but I want something different some days.

So here we go with some more kitchen experiments

First lets meet the band

The rock star of this recipe is the good old dried banana.

This rather revolting slug-looking creature can be found in the bulk food section of Whole Foods. Despite its rotten appearance, they are exceptionally tasty little chaps.

Backing vocals are provided by the delicious Nutella hazelnut spread, easily found in most US grocery stores. QFC carries this in the Seattle area.

On base we have the mighty fine Almond Butter, also found at Whole Foods – in very convenient little 6g squeeze packs.

And finally, on percussion we have Harmony House Foods freeze dried Mango Slices.

So lets put it all together we take our dried banana and chop it into little chunks like so:

We then spread out the Nutella and Almond Butter onto a Tortilla.

Sprinkle the Bananas and mango on top.

Roll and devour.

Not bad. These suckers are going to make their debut somewhere on Day 3 – halfway between Sunrise and Indian Bar.

Freezer-bag Thai Green Curry

The quest for the perfect trail food begins and this is my first experiment with homemade freezer-bag style food. Inspired by Sarahs blog, I ordered the stuff I needed from Harmony House Foods.

All good Thai curries, start with an excellent paste. I'm too lazy to fry my own paste on the trail – so my plan was to pre-cook and then dehydrate the paste. I fried some paste in coconut cream in a similar way to my Massaman Curry post here (except using Green Curry Paste). Follow the Massaman Curry recipe up until the point I mention beating people back with a spoon.

Once I made the paste, I spread it out onto parchment paper and popped it in the convection oven for a few hours on very low (I don't have a dehydrator)

A few hours later, and it dried out nicely. Next I broken it up and ground it into a powder in a coffee grinder.

A few days later and I'm ready to make the concoction I'm a complete newbie at this, and so have no idea on the right ratios of stuff but I'm pretty fearless, so I just winged it 🙂

Here's the recipe I used:

– 1 cu Uncle Bens Instant Rice

– 3 Tbsp of Green Curry Paste Powder

– 1 2oz bag of Chaokoh Coconut Milk Powder

– 4 Tbsp Dried Diced Potatoes

– 3 Tbsp Dried chicken bits  (Soy product)

– 1 1/2 Dried Tbsp Onions

– 1 Tbsp Dried Peppers

– 1 tsp Lime Powder (Sour)

– 1 Tbsp Palm Sugar

– 1/2 tsp Sea Salt (My fish sauce substitute)

I simply threw all the dry stuff into a bowl, mixed it up and added to a zip lock. Final dry weight was 10.7 oz. Heavier than freeze dried fare – but a hearty meal for two.

To cook , I simply added 2 /12 cu of water. I think 2 1/4 might have been better – it was a little wet.

The taste? Outstanding, really outstanding – even if I do say so myself. Theresa tried it and wanted to eat it for dinner. The chicken bits were actually pretty decent and (IMHO) a good alternative for not carrying the weight of canned chicken. It was very spicy – as I used a lot of paste, so you might want to cut back on that if you try this at home kids.

Next time, I think I'd add fish sauce and sugar to the paste before drying it – to see how they survive, vs using salt.

And here are some photos documenting it, and the ingredients:

Olympic Granola Bars

I ordered a sample pack of Olympic Granola Bars and they arrived last week.

What's so special about these bars?

They weigh in at around 3oz each but pack a whopping 390 calories (Compare to a typical Powerbar at 2.4oz / 240cal) and oozing in a whopping 18grams of fat, and 9g of protein. (Compare with 3.5g fat, 6g protein for a Powerbar).

But aside from the energy qualities – they are made of natural, healthy ingredients.

The sample pack comes with the following eight flavours:

  • Almost Chocolate
  • Roasted Almond
  • Chocolate Peanut
  • Mocha Mint
  • Espresso Almond Chocolate
  • Turtle Mocha
  • Green Tea Zest
  • Lemon Chamomile

And I've been slowly munching my way thought them to see what I think. I've tried the Roasted Almond, the Chocolate Peanut and the Espresso Almond Chocolate so far. They are all very very tasty, albeit a little too sweet for my tastes.

They would be great on the trail – but the heavy density of nuts conflicts with my usual gorp/trail mix for on the go snacks. On a longer trip I think I'd get maxed out on nuts easily – but I certainly would take a few days of these bars – perhaps to compliment a cheese/salami day.

Olson Farms Beef Jerky

Theresa, Chester and I hit the University District Farmers Market in Seattle today.

The produce there is always spectacular and we enjoy our Saturday morning shopping trips there.

Today we bought some Olsen Farms Beef Jerky, and boy was it spectacular. Salty, garlicy and naturally raised beef. Makes me wonder if Oh Boy Oberto Jerky can ever hit my lips again 😉

This is now on my menu for our upcoming Wonderland hike next month. It tastes so good off the trail, I can only imagine how orgasmic it will be after a hard day in the mountains.

Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee

I decided to bite the bullet today and pony up $3 for a 3-pack of Starbucks VIA.

My best option for backpacking so far has been Medaglia D'Oro instant espresso – which isn't terrible.

So does Starbucks VIA live up to it's hype?

In its dry form, the instant coffee resembled very finely ground regular coffee, and doesn't at all look like the typical freeze-dried granules  of the revolting varieties like Nescafe and Folgers.

The taste test? I wouldn't go as far as to call it great  – but it's actually pretty decent. On the trail – I expect it will be fabulous. It has the grittiness and texture of real brewed black coffee, and almost tastes like the real thing.

I mixed it with less water than recommended to make it nice and strong, and noticed it left a concentration in the bottom that was very bitter where the grounds didn't completely dissolve.

Definitely coming on some trips with me this year

Dehydrated Red Wine

Without revealing my sources lets just say I had some dehydrated wine appear at my home one day last week. Sold in Europe and not FDA-approved in the USA this may be tricky to obtain – but – is it worth the effort?

Lets do the taste-test

First the goods – comes nicely packaged in a foil pouch. Weighing in a 2.1 oz – considerably less than your average 1 liter bottle, it's looking good so far


Emptying the powder into a bowl, it has a distinctive musty smell – kind of like old cork. Can't be bad, right? Perhaps it's a vintage year?

The directions call for mixing with 6 oz of cold water, and letting stand for 5 minutes.

I was rather hoping it would make more than this but I'm still hopeful maybe the powder/liquid ratio helps the alcohol content, and the taste will be more divine this way

After about 6-7 minutes of stirring – trying to get the powder to dissolve and get rid of the lumps, I finally give up and reach for the strainer.

Strained into a wine glass, the wine now has a delightful white scum layer floating on top ok I'm starting to get nervous

I try and overlook the rotting beetroot smell as I bring the glass to my lips for the taste test mind over matter, I really really want this to work out. It's dehydrated wine for heavens sake – cut it some slack.

A nice fruity bouquet, wonderful legs, earthy structure, revealing layers of ripe berries, currants and vanilla oak. 

These aren't the words I would use. I tried really hard – but the following is the BEST I could come up with.

Clumpy, musty odor, like drinking beetroot juice spiked with cheap vodka that has spoiled at the bottom of the ocean for three hundred years.

Needless to say this sucker won't be going in my pack on a trip anytime soon.

I wonder if I can sell the other two packets on ebay to recover my losses

Chia Seed for Backpacking


Chia Seeds. Yes, this is indeed what Chia Pets are made of. Not having grown up in America, I can't verify this first-hand, but those are the rumours.

"…and its relevance to ultralight backpacking" I hear you ask? Patience grasshopper, we'll get there…

First let me tell you the story of how I learned about Chia Seeds… In search of a better dried milk product for my breakfasts (with more fat content), I heard of a Nestle product called Nido that is common in Spain/Mexico. Unlike typical non-fat dried milk found in the likes of Whole Foods in the US, Nido is whole-milk. My search led me to a Latin Grocery shop in Pike Place Market.

Sadly they were out of stock of Nido, but while there I got chatting with the nice lady that owns the shop and quickly onto the topic of backpacking. Her eyes opened wide with excitement as I told her about traveling light weight. "Oh my", she said "You have to try Chia Seeds. They are a miracle and are perfect for what you talk of." … "Aztec warriors used to march for an entire day on just a handful of seeds.". (Now probably wasn't the time to mention that my recollection of Aztec history is that they died out due to hunger and Spaniards). She went on to tell me how long distance runners and STP cyclists come to her shop to buy these precious seeds.

I was admittedly quite intrigued. So what are the proclaimed benefits of Chia Seeds? According to

1. Nutritious. Full of omega-3, antioxidants, calcium, protein, fiber, and many other vitamins & minerals.

2. Energizing. Gives an energy that lasts, providing stamina and endurance.

3. Reduce Cravings. Because Chia Seeds absorb so much water and have high soluble fiber levels, they help release natural, unrefined carbohydrate energy slowly into the bloodstream.

So how do I prepare them? At breakfast – I simply fill a 2-cup pot with water… add a Tbsp or so of dried coconut milk (for flavor and fat-boost) and then dump in about 1-2 Tbsp of seeds. Wait 5-10 minutes and drink. Waiting is important – over time the seeds absorb the water and puff up into small balls almost like mini tapioca balls in Bubble Tea.

I've used them with much success on the West Coast Trail and also in our recent Pasayten hike. Both Nigel and I used them two out of three mornings on the Pasayten trip. We both experienced feeling a lot more hydrated in the mornings and also in need of less mid-morning food. Our breakfast sustained up well beyond lunch time with strenuous hiking.

Wine To Go!

Thankfully Germany is more evolved in some ways than America. Not least of which is with their more relaxed attitudes towards alcohol.

Katadyn makes dehydrated red wine powder for backpacking. Sounds too good to be true… take a a little glacier melt water, warm up to room temperature, stir and mix with the powder… and presto! You have a glass of red wine with 8.2% alcohol content.

No more lugging those heavy bottles in, Jeanne.

I'm bet it's no Leonetti, but I sure want to give it a try to see how bad it tastes.

Thanks to the FDA… only available for shipment in the EU.

Coconut Cream Powder Granola

Coconut Cream PowderLooking to spice up your no-cook trail breakfast?

Instead of boring old dried milk – which is usually non-fat (unless you use Nido), give this is try on your Granola. It vastly improves the flavor of the granola and packs a whopping thirteen extra grams of fat.

I suspect this will be a new staple for me at breakfast time.

Credit for this brilliant idea goes to Freezer Bag Cooking, where I read the tip.

I bought my Coconut Cream Powder from Import Food online.

Freezer Bag Cooking

In the world of software development The Mythical Man Month proposes the notion of a project triangle. Where the three points of the triangle are Quality, Time to Market and Features. You can pick (at most) any two you want and do them really well, but the other one suffers. Want lots of features, with high-quality – it's going to take a long time. Want something quick with lots of features? It's going to be buggy.

I think a similar triangle exists for backpacking food. The three points are – Lightweight, Tasty and Fast to Prepare.

Freezer Bag Cooking in an excellent site that appears to deliver on at least two of the key points: Fast to prepare and Tasty. However they don't appear to be lighter than store bought de-hydrated cardboard tasting goop.

Still, I really dig the site – the idea of home-made backpacking meals that very easy to prepare in the field and taste really good probably has it's place on shorter trips. I have not tried any of their recipes yet – but I intend to.

If only they would invent a Thai Curry freezer-bag recipe, then I would be in heaven.

A 3-Day Sample Menu

I've dug all over the Internet for sample backpacking menus that provide enough calories but don't cost a lot of weight. I have had little success finding good suggestions, so if you have any post-away.

Here's what we typically take on a 3-day trip to feed two of us. We love food, so splurge on a few luxury items on day 1 like apples that are heavy but consumed quickly.

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