Mushroom Spaghetti (Vegitarian)

OK, so I broke our Vegan September by adding (excellent, imported) Parmesan, but this was a tasty backpacking meal and still vegetarian. I’d use fresh mushrooms and spices for guests at home, but this is a tasty, filling meal on the trail.

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This recipe is from Teresa Marrone’s The Backcountry Kitchen.

Mushroom spaghetti is not tomato spaghetti sauce with mushrooms. It is a mushroom sauce over pasta, in this case, spinach pasta.

For two people, I used six ounces of pasta, half the box. This is a pretty light meal, because the dried mushrooms are only an ounce. Add an ounce or so of parmesan and you are at nine ounces for two people. Because of the pasta box size (12 oz.), this is a slightly better meal scaled up to four people.

Because it is so light (about four ounces per person), it would be a great meal towards the end of a longer trek. Everyone is hungrier later in the the trek and this is a filling meal.

It does require two pots, one for the mushroom sauce and one for cooking the pasta. That is extra weight, but on a longer trip a second pot is handy, since you’ll be washing dishes every night. I hope you rinse them with boiling water, since I would hate for you to get the runs on the trail.

But back to the positive: tasty, light, and nutritious. Hint: if you are serving linguine, bring forks.

Tina was reading the first Longmire book, so I forgive her for reading during dinner. Also, that really is a kids cereal bowl with the alphabet all around. Lightweight and nearly indestructible, so a great choice for backpacking.

How I Pack

I feel more relaxed at the trailhead when I pack in a methodical fashion. I use our bed. The pack goes at the head, empty, and everything that will go into it is laid out in front of it.

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This gives me an overview of what I’m taking and lets me run through the whole checklist.

This is also the time for a last-minute weather forecast check, eyeballing the amount of food, and one more thought about the goals for the trip. Do I take the big camera? Are we teaching plant and animal identification.

Today’s overnighter includes a fancier meal than usual, so I need two pots. I chose my ancient Evernew set. It is soft aluminum, but it is a lot lighter than the Sigg cookset. It is plenty big enough to make mushroom spaghetti for two. I’m also packing the crew-sized first aid kit, which weighs two pounds. I need to make a smaller first aid kit.

This is my first trip with my Gossamer Gear Mariposa, and Tina is taking my old Six Moon Designs Starlite. It is also the first trip with the Big Agnes Slater UL2+.

I’m pretty happy with the pack weights. Including extra pots, the heavier tent, the bit first aid kit, and with all the food packed (no water), my pack is 20 pounds and Tina’s is 15.

Solo Stove Campfire

This looks really interesting as a patrol-sized wood-fueled backpacking stove. I have the smallest model, which is great for one or two people. This is sized for more people and should work great for a Boy Scout patrol (around eight).

The design is about 7″ in diameter and about 9″ tall. That is roughly the size of a squared-off gallon milk jug, if you make a cylinder around the outside edges. It weighs two pounds, which is substantial, but not bad for a stove to feed a patrol. Remember, no fuel weight, only firestarter material.

If the milk jug analogy doesn’t work for you, it is smaller and lighter than most bear canisters. It would almost certainly fit inside a BearVault BV500.

It is also smaller and lighter than any synthetic sleeping bag. For example, the Cat’s Meow from The North Face is 2 pounds 10 ounces, and packs down to 8″ in diameter and 17″ long. The Solo Stove Campfire is an inch smaller in diameter and half as long when the fire ring is inverted for packing.

This is a “wood gasification” stove, with air feeds at two levels to promote secondary combustion and efficient use of the wood. It can be a real blowtorch if you need that, or you can moderate the heat by limiting the fuel. You get it started, then keep feeding it small stuff. The shell and bottom stay cool because there is outside air drawn in at the bottom. No scorched fire rings, and just ashes to dump out after it is done.

The Solo Stove Campfire Kickstarter level to get a stove is $99. Very tempting. I’m guessing it will be about $120 once they get to full production.

Planning a Vegan Backpacking Menu

Tina and I are going vegan for September, and we have a backpacking outing planned for the last weekend of the month. Teresa Marrone’s The Back-Country Kitchen is, once again, looking like the best resource.

Breakfast and lunch are not a challenge. I often have a Lärabar for breakfast at home. Oatmeal, bars, dried apricots (only Blenheims), figs, cashews, whatever, will get us through until dinner. But dinner is a challenge.

I pulled out a few backpacking cookbooks and a stack of Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador cards for bookmarks.

My first resource was Glen McAllister’s Recipes for Adventure, especially because of Philip Werner’s glowing recommendation of his ratatouille.

Ratatouille is almost all vegetables, so it is easy to make vegan, but does not have a lot of calories for feeding hikers. I need to at least add rice. Plus, McAllister’s recipe uses fennel seeds, which my wife doesn’t like.

Red Beans and Rice from McAllister looked good, and since I grew up in Louisiana, it goes on my list of possible meals.

So, I went back to my go-to cookbook, Teresa Marrone’s The Back-Country Kitchen.

Lentil-Bulgur Chili from this book is fantastic, and trivial to vegan-ize (don’t top with cheese). But we might hike with another couple and I made this the last time the four of us went backpacking, so I’d like to make something else.

Teresa’s “Weetamoo” Stew looks good with rice, bulgur, onions, other veg, but the leek soup mix probably has milk. Dang.

Mushroom Spaghetti looks like a winner. Use a mix of tasty dried mushrooms with a tomato sauce over spinach noodles. We only need to omit the cheese. Maybe I’ll bring parmesan for our friends.

Ratatouille, hmm I like her recipe better. She sweats liquid from both the eggplant and the zucchini and uses a more traditional spice mix of parsley, basil, thyme, and oregano. Maybe I could use this as a veg with the mushroom spaghetti.

Risi e Bisi (Rice and Peas) looks good, too, and easy to adapt. Use olive oil instead of butter buds and vegetable bouillion. I don’t really need another starch, but I’ll keep this on my list.

Many Beans Salad from Packit Gourmet looks tasty, especially with some rice.

I’m leaning towards the Mushroom Spaghetti, maybe with Ratatouille on the side if I get fancy and want to carry the pots. Or I could repeat the Lentil-Bulgur Chili. Red Beans and Rice would be nice too—I could dehydrate some okra for that. The Packit Gourmet meal is good to have in my pocket if time gets tight. Nice to have choices, and I’m pleasantly surprised that I can find four nights of vegan dinners with only an hour of research in the cookbook library.

We’re Already There

In the summer of 1971, my dad and I headed out on our first wilderness backpacking trip in the Pecos Wilderness. The first person we met on the trail was from our home town, Baton Rouge! Of course, we asked him how far it was to our destination, Beatty’s Cabin. He told us, but he added a bit of wisdom. When he went backpacking in the wilderness, he didn’t worry too much about specific spots. His destination was the wilderness, and he was already there. I still remember that—as soon as I leave the trailhead, I’m already there.

This was our first stop on the trail that year, before the meeting. And yes, it was at Noisy Brook Creek, an odd name.

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And, if you are still thinking about destinations, this is our tent, a Gerry Year-Round, set up in the meadow at Beatty’s Cabin. I believe this area has been closed to camping due to overuse for a few decades now.

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I scanned these photos from my dad’s slides.

38 gram Selfie Kit

Feel the need for more trail selfies? Instead of a heavy tripod, support your iPhone for 38g (1.3 ounces) or your small camera for 30g (1 ounce). This kit goes on top of regular bottles like the 1 liter sparkling water bottle that is always in my pack.

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There are two basic parts: a water bottle camera mount and a tripod adaptor for an iPhone (or other phone). If you have a lightweight camera, you can skip the phone mount and save 8 grams.

Bottle cap mount: $10, 30g. This fits on the top of a regular small mouthed bottle. I carry a one liter sparkling water bottle (stronger than still water bottles), so I always have one of these. I wouldn’t support my DSLR with this, but it is fine for a light camera or phone camera. I got my bottle cap camera support from Photojojo.

Bottle cap tripod

Glif: $20, 8g. This is how an iPhone is mounted on a tripod screw. The Glif Original is sized for a bare iPhone 4/4s or 5/5s, depending on the size you order. Mine is for an iPhone 4/4s, but fits my thinner 5s with the Apple leather case (see the photo above). If you have a different phone or want an adjustable mount, get the New Glif for $30. I don’t know how much the New Glif weighs, but I expect it isn’t much heavier than the Glif Original.

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Here is the New Glif (adjustable).

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The final touch is a camera app that has a self timer, unlike the built-in Apple camera app. I use Camera Plus, which costs a whopping $1.99 and adds more features than you probably need, though it does have that essential selfie feature, the self timer.

How good is it? I took this selfie during a ham radio activation on Black Mountain. Looks good to me, good enough to put on my QSL card after I cropped it a bit.

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Hand Sanitizer is not Enough

I’m seeing more and more backcountry books that suggest using hand sanitizer by itself. That does not work. Soap and water is necessary, sanitizer is optional.

The Scouts Backpacking Cookbook is one of those with that bad advice. The BSA Handbook gets it right. Wash your hands with soap and water.

Clean hands are important in the backcountry. People who know, like Tod Schimelpfenig, Curriculum Director at the Wilderness Medicine Institute of the National Outdoor Leadership School, believe that dirty hands are a bigger health risk than dirty water.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say that hand sanitizer does not work on dirty hands. Natural oils and dirt on your hands create a barrier to the sanitizing action. The CDC procedure is to wash off visible dirt first, then sanitize. Here is a clear PDF handout about clean hands from the Connecticut Department of Public Health. This is a good thing to distribute to your troop.

How do you wash your hands well? Wash with soap and water, scrubbing for the time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song twice (20 seconds), then rinse. That’s it.

Soap is also lighter than hand sanitizer. An ounce of concentrated soap will last for a couple of years of backpacking. I carry a basin cut from the bottom of a milk carton (33g, 1 oz.) and a small bottle of biodegradable soap (25g, 1 oz.). Again, that is a lot of soap.

If you do want to follow up with hand sanitizer, there are a few options.

Alcohol hand sanitizer: This is the most common kind. It must be 60% alcohol or more to be effective. It can dry out your hands and increase the chance of skin cracks on a long trip. Bacteria hide in skin cracks.

There is enough alcohol in hand sanitizer to make it flammable. I haven’t seen boys figure this out yet, but they will. One could make a good argument that alcohol hand sanitizer is a chemical fuel and should be handled according to the Guide to Safe Scouting rules on chemical fuels. When I teach Introduction to Outdoor Leader Skills to Scoutmasters, I demonstrate alcohol hand sanitizer on toilet paper as an emergency fire starter.

Amk sanitizer mdBenzalkonium chloride (BAK): Non-alcohol sanitizers use BAK, the same thing used in Bactine (which also has lidocaine, an anesthetic). BAK is effective and also useful as part of a first aid kit. Adventure Medical makes a nice 0.5 ounce spray bottle of non-alcohol sanitizer. That is what I carry.

Herbal sanitizers: Or, ineffective hand sanitizers. Concoctions like lavender oil may kill some bacteria, but they are not a reliable sanitizer. They are also “smellables”, and go up in the bear or raccoon bag, along with anything they have been spread on. If you want to keep your Scouts in their tents rather than in the bear bag, stick with an alcohol or BAK hand sanitizer.

If you are up for a longer article on this, with references, read Ryan Jordan on hand sanitizers.