Recipe: Food for walks

Eliana Gray shares a few trail-tested tramping recipes.

We started the Rakiura Coast Track fresh off the morning ferry, by turns elated and nauseous from the late September strait. Beginning the morning wide-legged and wind-whipped on the deck, keeping pace with the gulls and pretending to be old-timey sailors fresh with adventure, we were ready to sacrifice our energy to the bush.

Rounding what felt like the first corner, I remarked that the wide bay we kept catching sweeps of through the trees looked an awful lot like Māori Beach. “Surely not!”, “No way! We’ve only been walking for a minute!”.

Turns out, catching the singular Rakiura taxi to the start of the track had shaved our four hours walk down to one. We were a little disappointed. How would we prove ourselves in the crucible of nature if we had already reached the first campsite?

Luckily, there’s nothing that can’t be fixed by screaming, naked, full-tilt into the ocean at a mercifully empty beach the size of the universe. We remembered there’s nothing to prove in the bush. We remembered that worthiness through struggle is a puritanical farce. We remembered that now we had all day to mince around the tidemark and watch a single stream of water snuffle its way through the sand to join the sea.

Time, as it does, lapsed silently and all of a sudden it was evening and we were as tired as we would have been had the day gone as originally planned. We considered our dinner options. Risotto? Takes too long and we were hungry now. Packet curry and rice? No one really felt like something that thick, or like washing multiple pots. Luckily, I had packed us my secret weapon. A one-pot soup that comes together in three minutes once the water’s boiled.

The Quickest Soup

Makes 1 serving (scale up accordingly for subsequent portions)

1 heaping tbsp yellow curry paste

3 tbsp coconut cream powder

Salt to taste

1 handful green beans, broken in half

50g rice vermicelli

2c water (or as much water as you would like soup)

80g preserved tofu/ vegetarian beefsteak* (comes pre-cut)

Fry curry paste for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add coconut cream powder, salt, water and bring to the boil. Add green beans, tofu and boil for one minute, add vermicelli and boil 30 seconds to 1 minute more, until noodles are softened. 

If you’re committed, you can bring lemon juice (just enough, in a tiny screw top plastic container) and chilli flakes to add.

* I find it best to use a spicy flavour of preserved tofu/ vegetarian beefsteak for this recipe. My favourite brands are: Wu Xian Zhai and Suniupai, but I have found suitable alternatives at most Asian grocers. You just need to get a brand that isn’t too sweet, as it will throw the flavouring off.

The next morning was as chilly as you’d expect, being close to the sub-Antarctic during the last days of September. There had been a deluge while we slept and everything was wet. Aeropress located, we began the leisurely work of taking down our tents and draping them over the bushy kānuka scattered about the campsite.

Today would be longer than the first (not difficult), with some elevation gain. We were ready to go deeper. An encounter with a curious tokoeka wandering into our campsite the night before had left us filled with an appropriate sense of awe, and anticipation of the birds to come. We went for another round of swims while we waited for the sun to burn the droplets off our tents. It was time for breakfast.

I’m capable of little in the mornings and even less in the bush, my attention consumed with noticing lichens and the light on the water (it’s constantly changing, there’s no time for anything else). My previous reliance on fruit and CLIF Bars for a morning meal would leave me shaking from too much sugar.

This time, I’d packed a breakfast that requires as little attention as possible, while maximising both flavour and the necessary amounts of protein, fats and complex carbohydrates for a satisfying day of walking and carrying all your belongings on your back.

Even Better Porridge

Makes 1 serving

Mix together at home:

½ c quick cook oats

3 tbsp powdered peanut butter*

2 tbsp coconut cream powder**

1 tsp cinnamon (or to taste)

1 tsp brown sugar (or to taste)

2 tsp dried blueberries

Small pinch of salt

Prepare at camp:

1/2c to 3/4c boiling water, depending on desired thickness

To make:

Put Even Better Porridge mix into a heat resistant container/cup. Pour boiling water (1/2c if you like it thick enough to stand a spoon up in, 3/4c for a looser thickness) over the mix and let it stand, covered, for 2-3 minutes. Stir. 

Suggested flavour combos (to replace the cinnamon and blueberries):

  • Dried apricot pieces and powdered ginger
  • Cacao and dried cranberries (add extra tsp sugar)
  • Dried currants and nutmeg
  • Freeze dried boysenberries and cardamon

* I found powdered peanut butter at a bodybuilding store, it is also available online.

** Coconut cream powder is available in most supermarkets and Asian grocers.

We were up to the tops of our gaiters in mud by the middle of the day. Tītitipounamu, miromiro and pīwakawaka keeping us company, along with a truly holy array of moss. No one wanted to stop for lunch, but the needs of the body subsume the spirit.

Tramping lunches have often been a bugbear for me. I resent the idea of carrying too much, or paying attention to anything other than the animals and plants. Too often I’ve made the mistake of eating a hearty amount and getting a stitch partway into the next leg.

This time, my aim was to be nourished without being leaden, to only have my eyes on my food for as long as it took to shove it in my mouth. Carrots, an apple and these homemade protein cookies (never again, CLIF Bars) allowed me to keep my eyes on the prize (moss).

Too Easy Protein Cookies

Makes 9 cookies

1 egg

1 medium banana

½ c tahini/ nut butter 

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp milk of choice

¼ c hemp flour

½ c buckwheat flour

¼ c chocolate protein powder

2 tbsp coconut flour

3 tbsp ground flaxseed

½ tsp baking soda

½  tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

½ c mix-ins such as: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chocolate chips, flaked almonds

Blend or mash together wet ingredients until completely combined. Mix in dry ingredients until combined, then stir through mix-ins. Divide into 9 equal sized balls and squish flat until 1cm (finger-width) in height. Bake on a baking paper lined tray in an oven preheated to 180C for 12 minutes until browned on the bottom and slightly cracked. Cool on a wire rack.

These are pretty substantial. I have three cookies for lunch, with an apple and some carrots. Each cookie has approx 7g of protein if using tahini and whey-based protein powder, you can up the protein content to 8.3g per cookie if you use peanut butter instead.

Trail finished, we mushed into Oban as the rain turned to sleet. We were staying at the backpackers on Ayr Street, an early morning trip to Ulva Island planned before heading home the next day. As we hung tents and peeled off ripening socks, the sleet turned to snow and a formerly timid southerly picked up speed. It became apparent our options for getting off the island were starting to limit themselves. Making executive decisions was like milking the stones that had replaced our brains, sleep deprived from the chilly night in our tents at the top elevation of last night’s track.

A few soothing rounds of Bananagrams and a joint on the beach later, we had four tickets on the morning ferry back to Motupōhue. We watched the horizon thicken with snow.

A dawn walk to the wharf the next morning and we steeled ourselves for the swell the wind was ensuring we would encounter. Heads turned towards the ocean, promising the birds on Ulva Island that we would, definitely, be back. The pink faded and a dark lump on the beach before the terminal revealed itself to be a leopard seal. Our ending was off to an auspicious start. A lack of vomit was achieved by planting my feet wide and hands gripped to the deck rail, even as the snow and splashback drove the rest of the passengers inside for the remainder of the crossing. Turns out we had made excellent life choices.

Driving back to Ōtepoti, the flakes came fast and pillowed the roadside, obscuring our vision in a manner that made us thank fuck we didn’t do this any later. The only thing left to do was get some hot chips.

Eliana Gray