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Our Readers Write

An Appetite for Summer

May 30, 2006

There's no mistaking the signs. Young Canada geese are swimming behind their parents in sheltered waters. Wood ducks are prospecting for nest holes, and loons are guarding their eggs. On the forest floor, the trilliums have already bloomed and faded, along with bloodroot and hepatica, while the aptly-named Canada mayflower is coming into its prime. And that's not all. Gas prices are up. Way up. Yep. There's no doubt about it. Summer's come to Canoe Country at last.

What a difference four months makes. When "Our Readers Write" last appeared in this space, spring was still a distant prospect in the borderlands of northern North America. Now it's history. Still, this isn't the time to mourn spring's passing. I'd rather look to the future. With summer's arrival, paddlers' horizons widen. Plans for Big Trips come together, while Weekend Adventures become frequent treats. And long or short, all these outings have one thing in common — the need to eat. Like armies, paddlers travel on their stomachs. So it comes as no surprise that letters about food dominate this month's "Readers Write." It's a subject dear to every canoeist's and kayaker's heart.

In fact, paddlers' appetites often seem to grow with eating. And always does its best to make sure that no paddler gets up from the table hungry. That's why there's now a regular food columnist at GuideLines. In the months to come, Anne Desjardins will be offering a growing menu of mouth-watering treats to fuel our engines, along with plenty of advice on matters pertaining to good nutrition and healthy eating. So there's no reason why any regular visitor to the Web's best paddling site should ever again be at a loss to answer the perennial question, "What's for dinner?" Of course, In the Same Boat readers have a lot of good ideas of their own on the subject. Just read on.

And speaking of reading on, we're sorry to say that we've once more fallen behind in answering our correspondence. Far behind. Our excuses? A new day job and a couple of book projects that have finally gotten traction — not to mention the irresistible pull of the soft summer air, the call of the open road, and the exhilaration of free-flowing water. But if you've been waiting for what seems like forever to hear back from us, please don't give up hope. We're going to knuckle down and clear our In-Trays. Soon. We promise.

Now it's time to serve up this month's "Readers Write." Bon appétit!

— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat

Keeping Food Fresher, Longer

Hi, Tamia!

I love your articles. I'm always learning something new that I can use the next time out. I just finished "One Pot Meals Made Easy" and the related piece on cheese, and a thought occurred to me. One great way to keep cheese, or anything else, for an extended period is by vacuum-sealing it. Do it before you leave home with a FoodSaver®. The smaller model isn't that expensive and will do a great job. In fact, you can seal each meal individually rather than just putting them in plastic bags. The bags are completely waterproof and will keep food from spoiling a lot longer.

Of course, if you really want to get fancy you can purchase FoodSaver® plastic containers (three different sizes) with a lid that hooks up to a vacuum line. That way it's easier to make up a stew or whatever and seal it with the liquid. Then all you have to do is dump the whole works in one of Farwell's "double-duty" Sigg pots and you can retain every bit of home-made flavor. Mmmm! (That's just a little joke. As my daughter would say, "Very little, Dad!")

Thanks for all the great ideas. Keep up the good work!

Larry LaPole

• • •

Tamia replies:

Sounds like a real "tripsaver" to me, Larry, with the important caveat that anaerobic bacteria, including the justly feared Clostridium botulinum, flourish in low-oxygen environments. If you exercise the same care in selecting and preparing foods for sealing that you would in canning, however, all should be well.

Thanks for the tip — and enjoy the summer!

Still More Greens to Go

Hello again, Tamia!

Just a few comments around "Salad Days — Greens (and More) to Go." Consider dehydrating shredded cabbage. I use prepackaged coleslaw mix. Start rehydrating it at lunch and by dinnertime it is ready and has all the crunch of fresh cabbage. We always add sunflower seeds and sometimes carry croutons. My favorite dressing is portion-control packets of Ranch, but we also make our own vinegar and oil on-site or repack store-bought dressing in 8-oz Nalgene® bottles. This salad option keeps forever in the field. Also, anyone who likes bread-and-butter pickles has to try dehydrating them. They rehydrate well and have the same crunch and flavor as right out of the jar.

Ron Brinning

• • •

Tamia replies:

What a toothsome suggestion, Ron. Thanks!

A Tasty Tour de France

Hi, Tamia!

I grew up with those big rounds of Cheddar you knew, too. If cheese dries out or hardens while stored in a cool place, it is great toasted over the fire on a long fork and plonked on a slice of toast. In France we ate it for alfresco lunches with bread and fruit, getting whatever the region was known for and listening to the recommendations of the salesclerks. Cheese has also gone with us on Sierra Club week-long trips, chosen from big-city specialty stores for lots of variety in degree of softness and flavor. Oddly, the Cheddar that I loved from childhood did not pique the taste buds of my companions, and I had a big chunk to take home. You were right about the keeping qualities, though. Early in the week we had soft brie, them moved on to blue cheese and Edam, and finally to the Cheddar and Parmesans. The array of breads, crackers, and crispbreads that appeared to complement these lunches was eye-opening as well. That might be an idea for another column.

Thanks for a "keeper" article.

Betsy Cutler

• • •

Tamia replies:

You're welcome, Betsy — and thank you, both for the tips and for your evocative trips down memory lane. Not only did you make my mouth water with the account of your Tour des Fromages, but I've never seen a better testament to the incredible versatility of cheese as a backcountry staple.

In Praise of the Simple Life

Dear Tamia,

I've never understood others' drive for food diversity on river trips. I just haven't ever gotten tired of cheese, dry sausage, and maybe peanut butter on heavy bread, mixed with a little river silt.

The combination of fat, salt, and majestic flavor (if you pay enough for the wedge of cheese, that is) seems to be perfect for tripping.


Fred Klingener

• • •

Tamia replies:

We're of a mind, Fred — mostly. While there are times when I "live large" in the backcountry, I'm happiest with simple fare. It's difficult to improve on good bread, good cheese and hard sausage — and Farwell probably couldn't survive without peanut butter. Come to think of it, maybe the secret is the silt.

In any case, the simple life has a lot going for it. In fact, I've just written a column on that very subject.

After the Meal — Burning Issues

Dear Tamia,

I was shocked to read your claim that burning garbage "is now discouraged." [See "Mopping-Up Operations" -ed.] Especially if you are in bear or raccoon or ant country (who is not?) and have established fire pits, incinerating all trash is the only safe way to go. Burning "tin" food cans removes all temptation to varmints to seek them and lick them. You can then pack out all smashed and burned (and now sterilized) metal containers.

I was also surprised to read that you recommend cast iron. I avoid cast iron when camping, unless all cooking will be from a car. Stainless steel and titanium pots are much lighter. I even have a thick cast-aluminum Dutch oven that is better than cast iron, because it is lighter.

Cal Lamoreaux
Middleville, Michigan

• • •

Tamia replies:

You make some very good points, Cal. In fact, both burying (which I advocate in my article, though with many qualifications and caveats) and burning run counter to the doctrines of "no-trace" camping, and for roughly the same reason: neither method can be relied upon to discourage foraging animals and eliminate environmental or health hazards. Buried food waste is often — some would say always, though this hasn't been my experience — discovered and dug up, and burning seldom if ever destroys all traces of food residue. Established fire pits present the greatest problem, unfortunately. They're often close to tent sites, for one thing, and not many campers understand how hot a fire it takes to "incinerate" garbage, nor do they realize that some trash (foil envelopes, for example) won't burn to ash at any temperature likely to be reached in a typical open fire. The result, at least in heavily used areas, is often little better than an open garbage pit — a noxious nuisance and a guarantor of sleepless nights.

By contrast, when and where burying food waste (never cans, of course!) is legal, it at least eliminates the fire risk associated with burning garbage, while placing any attractive nuisance at some distance from sleeping campers. As you suggest in your letter, however, the best solution — and the only one permitted by regulation in a growing number of parks and reserves — is probably to sequester food waste and other trash in airtight containers and pack it all out, along with all more-or-less solid human waste as well. The limitations of this approach are obvious, but I suppose it's the price we have to pay for the growing popularity of backcountry recreation. Our towns and cities are often hard-pressed to find cost-effective ways to dispose of garbage (and human waste, for that matter) safely. It's probably too much to hope that wilderness parks can do a better job.

You're right about cast iron, too: it certainly ain't light. But if I'm humping a 105-pound canoe over the portages — as I've been known to do from time to time — the extra five pounds of a cast-iron skillet don't add much to my total load. Of course, I don't always pack iron. I own both aluminum and stainless steel pots, a spun-aluminum dutch oven, and a gem of a light Sigg steel frying pan. These have also seen plenty of use over the years. Each trip is different. I take what I think I'll need, or what I fancy. Sometimes, though certainly not always, that's cast iron.

Thanks for writing. The subject of backcountry garbage disposal is a difficult one, rife with contradictions and ambiguities, and it certainly deserves more attention than it's gotten heretofore in "Our Readers Write." Your letter has helped to change that.

An Old Soldier Fades Away

Dear Tamia,

Some time ago one of your articles made mention of "wellies," or Wellingtons, to wear canoeing [see "In Wellington's Footsteps" -ed.]. From your description, these are not the leather slip-on boots that are normally referred to as Wellingtons. I've watched the English comedy series Last of the Summer Wine, and one of the characters wears wellies. They look similar to the high rubber boots many farmhands wear in our area of the country. I've had that kind of "farm" boots and wouldn't care to wear them canoeing — or farming for that matter. They are good waterproof boots, but they're heavy, awkward and not all that comfortable walking in.

From what you've described, real wellies are lighter, and portages on wet and slippery trails can be made easier. So I'm assuming that they have an adequate tread on them for good traction. For years I've worn a "farm and ranch" slip-on leather boot made by the Georgia Boot Company, both while working on a farm and while canoeing. I just treat them with SNO-SEAL®, and they are waterproof enough to stand in foot-deep water. They are also lightweight, and they breathe, so that my feet don't sweat in them. But they are lacking good tread for trail walking. I suppose I could replace the sole with a Vibram®-type lug sole, but I have been lax in doing so.

I've not been successful in finding a supplier on the Internet for the type of Wellingtons you described in your article. I would greatly appreciate any information you could provide as to where those boots might be available here in the States.


G.F. Kellor
Salem, Oregon

• • •

Tamia replies:

I hope you have better luck than I've had, G.F.. Wellies (as you rightly inferred, this is short for Wellingtons, though the historic connection with the Iron Duke isn't altogether obvious) are indeed knee-high rubber boots, but their resemblance to barn boots is only skin deep, despite the fact that they are often worn by British farmers. They're no heavier than most light hiking boots, they fit snugly around the ankle and calf — so snugly that getting them off over sweat-soaked socks can be a chore — and the uppers are quite flexible. They also have a lugged sole that gives a good purchase on most surfaces other than wet wood and algae-covered rocks. I've worn wellies walking survey lines from dawn to dusk without suffering a single blister, and they've kept my feet reasonably comfortable in temperatures from 95 degrees Fahrenheit right down to minus 10 or so. For best results, I recommend medium-heavy wool socks. And it's good to take your wellies off at noon to let your feet breathe for a while. A change of socks is mighty welcome when you put your boots back on, too.

Of course, not everyone likes the idea of wearing rubber boots for hours at a time, but they work for me. Or, more accurately, they worked for me. Past tense. Wellies were long my favorite canoeing wear for most anything except "serious" whitewater. But the problem now is finding a pair at a reasonable price. L.L. Bean seems to have dropped inexpensive wellies from its catalog for good, and real British wellies cost as much as many high-status running shoes. No well-dressed Brit wears anything else on the grouse moors, it seems, and they've also become part of the weekend uniform of the Landy (as in Land Rover) aristocracy, including most of the sportier members of the British royal family. Wellies' price now reflects the company they keep, I guess. In any case, they're priced well out of my reach. That's a problem. Having worn my last pair of cheap wellies to tatters, and having no wish to go into debt to buy a pair of rubber boots (even if there is a royal crest on the box), I've now come full circle, falling back on light nylon-and-leather hiking boots for most backcountry walking, paddling, and portaging. My feet get wet, obviously, but I've gotten used to it. Watching me pour water out of my shoes for the umpteenth time, however, Farwell was inspired to go one step further. He now wears river sandals from ice-out to freeze-up, both on and off the water, and adjusts to changes in temperature by changing his socks, progressing from neoprene to none as the mercury rises. He claims that the sandals are working out well, although he, too, misses his wellies.

The upshot? If wellies don't move down-market again, and soon, I may just give sandals a try myself.

A Passion for the Wild

Dear Tamia,

I returned from paddling around Cape Romano near Marco Island last November, and in September I completed a trip to Everglades City, my two favorite places in the world. I am an angler by passion, second only to my love of nature. On my trip to Romano, I saw peregrine falcons, bald eagles, manatees, tarpon, roseate spoonbills and lots of the regular birds. (And I caught 22 snook!) I've paddled small boats all my life, but I'm new to kayaking. I absolutely love it, and especially southwest Florida (as far away from civilization as I can get). Jet-skis were a menace around Marco Island, though.

I really enjoyed your article about the Everglades [see "The Joy of Swamps" -ed.]. Thank goodness everybody doesn't love it like we do, or we'd have to take a number.

Have you visited Corkscrew Swamp? It's a foot adventure. Go early for the best wildlife viewing and take a camera and a tripod, and you can get some wonderful photos. You'll have low light, but the critters are very cooperative and usually sit still for a slow shutter.

The nemesis of most of my adventures is having to wait for a ramp or park to "open" to be able to get going. I'm accustomed to starting long before dawn to get to where I want to be when the sun rises.

Best regards,

Ron Hickman
Marietta, Georgia

• • •

Tamia replies:

Glad you liked "The Joy of Swamps," Ron. A kayak is a wonderful tool for exploring the world's watery corners, and few of those corners are as rich or as fascinating as a swamp. But that's not news to you, is it?

And no, although I've spent time in Big Cypress Swamp, I've never visited the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Not yet. So it's something for me to look forward to. You better believe I'll get up early when I do!

Thanks for sharing your passion for wild places.

A passion for wild places and the creatures who call them home — that seems like a high note to end on, doesn't it? And let's hope that the day when we all have to take a number to visit our favorite places won't come anytime soon. As always, our heartfelt thanks to everyone who sent us their comments and questions, not to mention the many hints and tips. Keep it up. After all, it's "Our Readers Write."

Editors' note: As we mentioned last time, we assume that it's OK to reprint any letter we receive, unless the writer tells us otherwise. All letters are subject to editing before publication, and we reserve the right to add links to articles or other resources where appropriate. Please note that we receive more letters than we can reprint, and sometimes we get more than we can answer promptly. So if you've waited a while and you still haven't heard back from us, don't give up. Send us a heads-up, instead. We'd certainly appreciate the reminder.

Copyright 2006 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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