Sunday, July 1, 2012

Cabin Life: The Best Meal Ever, And The Worst

A cast-iron pan, a quart pot and a tea kettle.  It’s hard to believe that I spent six months pretty much just using those three utensils to make all of my meals.  And it’s not that I had been eating out a lot or eating unhealthy meals, but with only a little propane stove to cook on, I got by with the bare minimum of dishes.  Plus it was really hard to wash dishes with no running water.

Another writer told me to use spray bottles to do the dishes.  Put warm, soapy water in one and clean in the other to save on water, since I was filling a five-gallon jug every couple of days and hauling it to the cabin.  It was a great idea and definitely saved on water, but I found that using the spray bottle to rinse was just not effective.  The wash bottle was great, but I still just ran the spigot on the jug to rinse.

After reading Pete Nelson’s recent article on trail food, it reminded me of the best meal I have ever eaten.  I’m lucky to be in a family that likes to cook, and I’ve eaten at some amazing restaurants, but even though Aunt Jen’s crab cakes literally make my mouth water, they pale in comparison to the meal my buddy Derek and I made when we were hiking in college.

We set out from Gloversville very early one morning to do an overnight hike and knock out a few High Peaks.  After driving about three hours to get to Keene Valley, he and I started (with what I would now consider to be insanely heavy packs) along the trail.  After climbing Whale’s Tail, Wright, and Algonquin, we sat down on the leeward side of Boundary to make dinner before continuing on to Iroquois.

The wind was blowing and it took a while to get my little stove going, but we had our one little pot and enough water to cook.  Once the water got boiling, I dumped in the box of instant mac and cheese.  Then we added the pre-made “cheese” sauce and the coup de grace, a can of tuna.  I have never enjoyed a meal so much, and I know for a fact that it was the best meal I’ve ever had because it’s something like twelve years later and I still think about it.

There was one other time I made this same meal at home.  It was terrible.  I ate about half and then threw the rest away.  I couldn’t believe that something that had been so good and so rewarding at one time, could be so outright awful on another occasion.  Clearly, the mac and cheese with tuna was only good because of the exertion we had put in prior to eating it.  I don’t know if Derek remembers this particular dinner, but I do.  And I will never eat it again.

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Having grown up in the southern Adirondacks, Justin has always been at home in the mountains of New York. After graduating from Paul Smiths College, he began his career in the environmental field working for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. After a brief five year detour to Florida, Justin returned to the Adirondacks to live off the grid in a small cabin with no running water or electricity.

Justin continues to work and play in the outdoors, and maintains a blog about living off grid, hiking, and being outside in the Adirondacks called Middle of the Trail.

3 Responses

  1. Mark says:

    I remember you telling me about that meal! It’s funny how things taste better after you have put in a very long and hard day on the trails!

  2. Ellen says:

    That’s so funny: on the only backpacking trip I took with my husband, he made Lipton Noodles & Sauce and dumped in a can of crabmeat. It was fabulous, but I don’t think this meal would have had half as much appeal for me at home as it did after a day of hiking!

  3. RC says:

    Thanks for the story. I had a similar experience with a delicious (also quick and easy for pre-freeze dried) tuna noodle cassarole while camping one autumn near Hague. Can’t stand the stuff normally!