Ever been hiking along on a beautiful winter wonderland afternoon and pulled out your energy bar or your candy bar, only to find that it's frozen rock solid? Ever tried to eat it anyway, discovering that your tooth is more likely to break in half than the bar?
Winter adds a whole new dimension to trailside snacking and meal preparation. But food is as important as your hat and boots on any outdoor adventure, especially anything longer than just a few hours. Whether snowshoeing, skiing, hiking, snowmobiling, hut tripping or winter camping, at some point you gotta eat.
After many frozen energy bars, half frozen and slushy pieces of fruit, too many nuts and endless amounts of Ramen on late season camping trips, I knew I had to get more adventurous with food or forever limit my outings to just a few hours. But my actual breaking point came one cold and sunny afternoon in Horsethief Park. It was triggered by a simple baggie of homemade trail mix, which contained peanuts, raisins, M&Ms and carob chunks. M&Ms may melt in your mouth, but not when frozen solid. Same with raisins and carob chips.
Again, the first thing to keep in mind is that food freezes. The easiest thing to do with smaller items is keep them as close to your body as possible. I know people who have gone as far as sewing chest or stomach pockets onto their long underwear shirts and stashing susceptible items there. If you are handy enough with a needle and thread and motivated to do so, it's not a bad idea. But for the rest of us simpletons, keeping the stuff strategically tucked into our long johns, or as close to the body as possible, also works.
A friend of mine who is a former NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) instructor and a damn good cook has offered some invaluable advice over the years, much of which has been the base of my experimentation. Listed below are some very easy snack recipes that have evolved as a result. They are a bit of a departure from the norm of trailmix and granola, but most importantly, they are really fun to make and eat on the trail.
Trailside fudge: This is very simple, requires minimal ingredients and utensils and uses the winter temperatures to its advantage. All you need is brownie mix, sugar, vanilla, powdered milk, some water, a spoon or stick for stirring and a flat baking pan or tin (pie tins work well as does a fry pan if you are camping).
Mix together about 1/2 pound of brownie mix, 2 1/2 tablespoons of sugar and powdered milk. Add 2 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla. Continue mixing, slowly adding drops of water until you have your desired fudge-like consistency. Press it into the tin pan and chill. For variation, you can also stir in, with the initial three ingredients, 4 to 5 tablespoons of peanut butter. This whole process takes less than 10 minutes.
Snow Ice Cream: Another recipe, good for on the trail snacking or dessert at a campsite or even a hut, is snow ice cream. Simply, fill your mug or cup with fresh snow. Stir in a few tablespoons of powdered milk, about half as much brown sugar and about 6 to 8 drops of vanilla. Mix until creamy. A few tablespoons of hot chocolate mix can be substituted for brown sugar for chocolate ice cream.
For more of a hot treat, nothing warms the insides like hot chocolate. A good insulated thermos can keep a beverage warm upwards of eight hours. A nice twist to the basic hot cocoa, if you bring out a thermos, is a few dashes of cinnamon and about 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla.
For an even richer, warmer melt-your-insides drink, you can also add some brown sugar or honey and about a tablespoon of margarine (again, watch the freeze factor with margarine if you are carrying it with you). Butter will work too, though margarine can travel better. A lump of butter in your drink may sound unappealing, but my friend swears by it for providing more warmth. And it is very tasty. You can also make your hot chocolate with coffee instead of water, adding the illusion of a cafe mocha.
Spending time and exerting energy in the winter outdoors means that you'll be burning calories like an old steam engine burns coal. In the realm of the outdoors, hard work and hunger are synonymous. And just because there is snow on the ground does not mean that good snacks and a lunch break must be sacrificed.