Monthly Archives: October 2009

Dates, Quinoa & Chia: Backpacking Sweet?

Last night Mr. Jack & I ran 8 miles, a record for both of us, but not quite the 13 miles we’ll be running in December for our share of the California International Marathon relay. Our first real chance, however, to try out a running snack. The fresh dates I’d gotten from the Davis international store were an obvious choice:

“Muslims around the world … usually break their Ramadan fast with dates. The reason that they are so beneficial is that their natural sugar travels quickly to the liver, and is converted more quickly than any other nutrient into energy that the fasting body soaks up like a sponge. This is the healthiest way of breaking the fast as it eases the body into digesting. Dates contain protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, vitamin A, and natural sodium. They also contain a high amount of dietary fiber, which makes them a good digestive aid.”

I decided that chia seeds would be a good addition to balance the sugar (so as not to shock the body). I just discovered chia seeds* as a food last year. After some personal experimentation, I reworked our supper standard, Pease Porridge, to incorporate these tiny fat-stable seeds & we ate them every night on the John Muir Trail. So I knew our bodies would respond well. Story is that chia seeds were used by ancient cultures such as the Mayan as mega-energy food, especially for their running messengers. Hard to argue with that kind of tradition!

But the date-chia mash was too sticky & we haven’t yet bought the little gel refill squirt bottles I crave (for just this reason!).

Rummaging through the refrigerator, I found some quinoa flakes left over from a backpack recipe & stirred in enough to stiffen up the mixture , made some little balls (about the size of a malted milk ball) & rolled ’em more quinoa flakes.


Perfect! I tucked 2 into a snack-sized baggy for me & 2 for Mr. Jack’s baggie. Into our pockets & out the door, into the lovely cool evening with a half moon rising to light the darkening route.

An hour in, we popped the sticky, gooey, sweet & slightly crunchy treats. Our bodies were happy. Looks like this is going to be our nourishment for long runs.

Trail sweets? Now I am wondering if these little energy balls would be a good backpack food. Probably still too mushy & I don’t know how they would keep on the trail, but if a workable mixture could be developed, it would certainly be a saner choice than the marshmallows, m&ms, or snickers bars I saw folks consuming on the John Muir this summer. I’m going to experiment. It was certainly easy to eat! (Nancy, this could be the snack for you!)

*MORE ON THAT: I buy chia by the 5-lb bag from Nuts on Line & happily recommend them.

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Food you can eat! (probably)

After freezing 4-plus gallon of pomegranate nibs, and eating more than a few, I suddenly had the inspiration to dehydrate some. What a great addition to my backpacking menu! The tangy, sweet, crunchy red little jewels would certainly add some zest and–oh yes–antioxidants to the usual trail food. Dried pomegranate nibs are used in Indian cooking,* I’d heard, so obviously they dried well. Right? Right!


I had a quart of freshly shelled pips that I spread on paper circles on the 5 dehydrator trays in the early afternoon. Before going to bed that night, I re-stacked the trays since the bottom one was looking pretty close to done. By morning, before tea, everything was dry. Sticky, but dry. Yum! A quart had reduced to just over a cup. Not as red, but just as sweet, tangy & crunchy and certainly more appropriate for hiking food.


Aside: As usual, the whole fruit is better for you than the juice alone. Pomegranate seeds provide most of the antioxidents and the fiber. But don’t feel compelled to eat the rind!

Honestly, I don’t have any idea how I’m going to incorporate these delicious dried nibs into backpacking food, but I did make a scrumptious at-home treat by mixing a few tablespoons into some raw almond butter & honey. Candy! Just as good as the “fudge” I’d made a few days earlier with raw pumpkin seed butter, Dagoba cocoa and backyard honey. I’m thinking that recipe might work for backpacking, especially if I put it in one of those squeeze tubes. (Those 2 weeks ranting about sugar must have activated my sweet tooth. Hmm.)


For backpackers who have hot breakfast cereal, dried pom nibs would be great in oatmeal, cream of wheat or rice porridge, I bet. Maybe I’ll just drop a spoonful into my morning tea and eat ’em with a spoon once I get to the bottom. Or make some kind of savory pom cracker …

I did try a zucchini nut cracker on the dehydrator, too, but it had too much fat, even for me, and didn’t seem sturdy enough to go backpacking. I’m going to experiment with it and report back. In the meantime, if you’d like to try the original recipe, you can visit The Sunny Raw Kitchen I like to browse the raw food recipes for easy dehydrator foods. Sometimes they are good for backpacking & sometimes not.

Next time, I promise: the pease porridge recipe for which everyone is awaiting so eagerly. It’s just not as pretty as pomegranates!

*More About That: Anardana powder (ground, dried pomegranate seeds) is used as a spice in Indian cooking to add a sweet/sour flavor. It is also a thickener, I’ve heard. The blog Life Begins @ 30 provides a recipe for using anardana in a potato dish! Too bad I don’t eat potatoes …

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Sugar & Your DNA

Sunday afternoon, Mr. Jack hosted a mini backpacking show-n-tell in our backyard. Five guys & their gear. Tents filled the grass, sleeping pads & bags, stoves, filters — you get the idea. Since a non-backpacking girlfriend had dropped in for a spontaneous tea & pomegranate party, I missed most of the convention, but I did mingle a bit at the end to chat about backpacking food & find out what folks had carried/planned to carry in their bear cannisters.

And I heard the classic backpack defense of pop-tarts (fill in your own favorite sugary backpack treat): “Oh, it doesn’t matter, I burn it all off.”

But it does matter:

Researchers in Melbourne found that a human tissue cell, when given a one-off sugar hit, will carry a related chemical marker for weeks.

“We now know that [sugar] can have very acute effects, and those effects continue for up to two weeks later,” says Associate Professor Sam El-Osta, of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.

“These changes continue beyond the meal itself, and have the ability to alter natural metabolic responses to diet.”

On a personal note, after last week’s sugar rant, I amused myself by taking inventory of the sweeteners in my pantry:

  • 2 qts of honey from the backyard hive
  • pint of maple syrup
  • cuppa brown sugar that I bought for last year’s holiday baking & is now hard as a brick
  • 1/4 lb of xylitol
  • 5-gal sack of processed white sugar Mr. Jack uses in his humming bird feeders
  • 1 cp of apricot jam from a neighbor last Christmas
  • qt of black strap molasses

Very few of these sweeteners ever make it to the trail. Just the honey, in the food bars.

As Rob was leaving the gear convention Sunday, he asked when I would put the pease porridge recipe up on the blog & I promised next week.

That’s an amazingly simple & versatile hot dish that we ate & enjoyed for 24 days’ supper on the John Muir Trail. You’ll like it, too.
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Sugar is Not Your Friend


Hi, Kids. Sorry about the delay in posting the sugar rant. The music festival in Golden Gate Park last weekend absorbed the entire weekend, including Monday. And now I feel like I’m coming down with something feverish …

Please take this opportunity to visit Dr. Mercola’s list of 76 ways sugar is bad for you & then pop over to an article on the American Heart Association’s first-ever sugar recommendations:

Surveys have also found that the average American consumes around 22.2 teaspoons of added sugar every day. According to the new guidelines, we should really be eating a fraction of that amount. The recommended sugar intake for adult women is 5 teaspoons (20 grams) of sugar per day, for adult men, it’s 9 teaspoons (36 grams) daily, and for children, it’s 3 teaspoons (12 grams) a day.

The list at the end, of the added sugars in foods, is especially helpful.

One more thing before I take my aching body to bed: I bought an oatmeal raisin walnut Clif Bar today at the grocery; you know Clif Bar, “nutrition for sustained energy?” This 68g bar has 240 calories, 45 of which come from fat. It also has 20g of sugar that provide 75 calories, just over 30% of the calories in the entire bar. That’s a lot of sugar, yes? Of course some of that sugar is inherent in raisins, which are listed 4th in the ingredient list. But a certain amount comes from these ingredients (the number that follows lists their position in the ingredients)

  • organic brown rice syrup (1)
  • organic evaporated cane juice (5)
  • molasses powder (9)

And whether this is interesting to you or not, what about the fact that you could eat 100g of raisins to get 20g of sugar? That’s over half a cup of raisins! Or you could have an apple …

The short story here is that although our bodies do need sugar, and in fact, run on nothing but sugar, sugar in its free, or anarchic state — released from the released from the natural, protective whole-food state that includes the complexity of fiber, minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals — is not at all wholesome.

Even if you don’t suffer from cavities, sleeplessness, migraines, weight gain or diabetes 2, this negative-nutritional substance is working secretly to ruin your health

Added sugar, in its free (or anarchic) state is known to … reduce the ability of white blood cells to kill germs by forty percent. The immune-suppressing effect of sugar starts less than thirty minutes after ingestion and may last for five hours. In contrast, the ingestion of complex carbohydrates, or starches, has no effect on the immune system.

In short, there is no nutritional value in anarchic sugars, and only danger and ill-health can result from eating too much sugar, whether white, brown, honey-ed or molassesed. Have some fruit instead.

Next blog, I’ll tell you the story of the man who climbed Mt. Shasta on foiled-wrapped, semi-solid, brand name sugar. Not for the faint-hearted.

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