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Standard Issue Oatmeal

I go the boxing gym in the morning before work. When I wake up I throw down a small amount of yogurt and granola, but I need a second breakfast that I can easily prepare in the office after the gym. Oatmeal is a good solution. A couple years ago I started preparing my own oatmeal instead of using store-bought packets.

I started out with The Yummy Life’s Healthy Instant Oatmeal Packets recipe and tweaked it slightly to create my Standard Issue Oatmeal. At some point over the weekend I whip up a handful of servings in separate Ziploc bags that I bring in on Monday and store in my desk for the week. It only takes a few minutes to prepare the packets, and at work it is easy to dump the contents of a Ziploc into a mug, poor in hot water, stir a bit and enjoy.

I haven’t gotten tired of this recipe after eating it regularly for a couple years. The maple sugar is the key ingredient in that regard, I think. It’s easy to add in dried fruit or other garnish to mix it up occasionally.

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The Vagabond's Spatula

Cleaning my pot in the wilderness has always proved a challenge. I’m not hugely concerned with completely sanitizing it – that would not be realistic – but I do like to get all the food remnants out of the pot after every meal. A few extra ants in my ramen? No problem. Fungi and bacteria in the oatmeal? I’d rather avoid that.

Getting every last bit of food out of the pot with a spork doesn’t work. If I’m in a desert or on the beach, sand can be used to scrub the pot. The Equisetum family (Horsetails) are also good scrapers, due to their high silica content. But neither sand nor Horsetails are available frequently enough on my trips to make them realistic solutions. As well, cleaning the pot with those means that I’m dumping food remnants onto the ground, rather than into my belly. If I’ve humped it, I’d rather eat it.

I used to carry a piece of a green scouring pad. Those work great when the sun is available to dry them out after use. Here in Cascadia that means they work about 3 months of the year. The other 9 months – especially in winter – it proves a challenge and a hassle to dry them fully. I don’t like storing the pad with any moisture in it. Doing so would create the perfect incubator for bacteria.

Enter Crow. She had the excellent idea of using a spatula head to clean the pot. It’s a simple system:

  1. Eat dinner out of pot
  2. Clean pot with spatula, licking food remnants off of spatula as you go
  3. Boil water in pot
  4. Pour heated water from pot into bottle for tea

The pot is cleaned with the spatula. Afterward, boiling water in the pot helps to kill any nasties that might be hanging about.

I discovered this idea on Crow’s blog about a year ago. At first I took a small kitchen spatula and cut the handle off. It worked, but there was about 2” of the plastic handle inside of the head that couldn’t be removed, which translated to dead weight. Later I discovered that people actually sell spatulas with removable heads (to make them dishwasher safe, I think). I bought one of those online, but when it arrived the head was a little too small for my tastes. (In the wilderness I always treat my hands as dirty. If I’m licking the spatula, I want it to be big enough where I can hold it with my fingers near the top and lick near the bottom. I do not want to lick where my fingers are.)

About a month after I had started to use the sawed-off spatula, I discovered that GSI made exactly what I wanted: a compact scraper.

GSI Compact Scraper

At 16 grams (0.5 oz), it’s not the lightest possible solution. But it’s lighter than my first attempt, and the perfect size for my needs. The blue part is a soft rubber, like a normal spatula head. The white bit is hard plastic, meant for scraping burnt foods. (Burning your meal, I think, is a mistake you only make once. So far I’ve not actually used the white part to scrape the pot. It’s where I keep my fingers.)

My method of using the scraper differs slightly from Crow’s. I eat the meal with my spork, attempting to get as much of the food as possible. Afterward, there will still be plenty left in the pot.

Pot After Oatmeal

When the spork is of no more use, I pour some water into the pot, swish it around, and drink. (A habit I picked up in southern Idaho’s desert. Water was scarce, so if you used it to clean your pot, you still had to drink it afterward. The taste is not always entirely pleasant, but you get used to it, and are wasting no resource.) This takes care of some of the left over food, but with meals like oatmeal, there’s still gunk left over.

Pot After Water

After this precursory cleaning, I go to work with the scraper: scraping the pot clean, licking clean the spatula as I go (leave no calorie behind, I say). The pot will then be visibly clean.

Pot After Scraping

At this point, I may or may not boil water in the pot. If I have brought enough fuel for an after-meal drink, I’ll boil the water in the pot to finish cleaning it, then dump the water into an old Vitamin Water bottle for a drink. Most of the time I don’t plan on warm drinks. Either way, at the end of the process the pot will still have a little moisture in it. If I’ve just had dinner, the cleaning is complete: I’ll leave the pot till breakfast. On the other hand, if I’m moving again after the meal, I don’t like to pack my pot away wet, so I’ll wipe it down with a small piece of an absorbent camp towel.

The GSI Compact Scraper is now a permanent part of my kitchen. Since I started using it at the end of last year, it’s also the piece of gear that people request to borrow the most! (It goes in my mouth. I never lend it.) I’d recommend any wilderness traveler pick up some sort of cheap spatula or scraper.

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Dehydrated Bananas and Strawberries

My favorite food to toss in the dehydrator are bananas. The sugars caramelize as the slices heat up. I’ll leave them in for 7-8 hours if I want them to dehydrate fully, so that the final product is like a chip. But my preference is to leave them in for only 6-7 hours, so that they’re still a bit chewy, like candy. Starburst doesn’t have anything on these!

Dehydrated Bananas and Strawberries

On our recent trip, Kevin mentioned how much he liked the dehydrated strawberries that he recently had. I thought I’d give them a shot.

I cut them up in 1/4” slices, which is the same as I do for bananas, but they turned out too thin after coming out of the dehydrator. Mary Bell’s Complete Dehydrator Cookbook claims that strawberries are 90% water, whereas bananas are only 76%. So in retrospect it makes sense that the strawberry slices would shrink down a bit more.

No matter. They’re still tasty! But the bananas remain my favorite.

  • Dehydrated Strawberries
  • Dehydrated Bananas

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DIY Water Measuring Doohickey

When I purchased my Trail Designs Ti-Tri Titanium Stove System, I bought it with a 900mL pot from Titanium Goat. I like the pot, but it has one shortcoming: there are no measuring marks on it. I’m not comfortable just pouring a little water into a pot and saying “Well, that looks like 2 cups.” I prefer a slightly higher level of accuracy.

Originally I addressed this by scoring the handle of my spork to mark 1, 2, and 3 cups measured in the pot – an idea which I think originally came to me from somewhere on the BackpackingLight Forums. This method works ok – though making the marks deep enough to be visible on the titanium was a bit tough with my knife – but I’ve never felt that it is very accurate. It will tell me if I have roughly 1 cup of water in the pot, but I could really be anywhere between 3/4 of a cup to 1 1/4 cups. That’s the difference between nice, fluffy couscous and overly soggy (or dry and undercooked) couscous, you know.

Pot and Spork

As a more accurate replacement, I came up with the idea for the Water Measuring Doohicky: a piece of paper with marks on it. Ingenious, isn’t it?

For the paper, I chose a cut a piece out of a page in one of my Rite in the Rain notebooks. Then I put 1/2 cup of water into the pot, set in the paper, noted the water line, took out the paper and marked the water line. This was repeated at 1/2 cup increments up to 3 cups. (The pot holds 4 cups when filled to the rim, so 3 cups is the most I would ever want to cook with.) After I had all the marks determined, I cut an identical piece of paper and put marks at the same levels. Then I tossed the soggy paper and was left with a fresh, dry piece of waterproof paper with the appropriate marks.

Water Measuring Doohickey

As a poor-man’s lamination, I wrapped it with clear packing tape. Even though the Rite in the Rain paper is waterproof, it gets a little soggy when submerged and takes a while to dry out. Water doesn’t cling to the tape at all. I can give it a shake or two after taking it out of the pot and it is immediately dry. The tape also adds a little stiffness, which helps achieve more accurate measurements.

Water Measuring Doohickey

I made two of these doohickeys at the same time, but have been using only one since last Fall. It works great. I am somewhat embarrassed it took me almost a year to come up with the idea. Even though I only made marks at 1/2 cup increments, the grid on the paper allows me to easily measure with 1/4 cup accuracy. As opposed to the marks on the spork, this paper is one extra thing to carry, but when placed on my scale it doesn’t register. I don’t think it weighs me down any.

I had done the lamination before I thought of this, but next time around I think I will write common cooking ratios on the back: water to couscous, water to dehydrated brown rice, etc. Usually I write those ratios on the ziploc freezer bags that hold my food, but the bags get replaced and rotated fairly frequently. The Water Measuring Doohickey has proved that it will last for a longer period of time.

Water Measuring Doohickey

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Pretty Good Oatmeal

Every Saturday morning, the first thing I do upon waking is go for run. After coming back and showering, I break-fast with this oatmeal, which I find to be mighty tasty.

Ingredients

All ingredients I acquire from the bulk section of my local food co-op (except the honey, which comes from the farmer’s market). Everything, of course, is organic.

  • 4 oz. thick rolled oats
  • 1 - 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons raisins
  • 1 spoon full of honey
  • A pinch (or two) of sea salt

(For me, this makes one serving. Your mileage may vary.)

Directions

  1. Put the correct amounts of oats, sugar, and raisins in a container and set it aside.
  2. Place 1 cup of water in a pot and bring to a boil.
  3. Dump in the oats, sugar, and raisins.
  4. Add a pinch (or two) of sea salt.
  5. Mix it up, allow everything to return to a full boil, then lower the heat to something around medium.
  6. Watch it till the mixture becomes your preferred consistency, stirring occasionally. It usually takes 5-6 minutes for me.
  7. When it looks to be about done, turn off the heat and mix in one whopping, overflowing spoon full of honey.
  8. Let it cool for a minute or two, and enjoy!

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