Thursday, September 3, 2015

Cooking Around the World: Mississippi River

"2,832 miles, 23 cups of coffee, 7 states, and 8 days later I have returned from the best solo adventure I've ever embarked on. It's amazing the places your driveway will take you. 'When you walk, bicycle, or motorcycle...and then camp, you participate in the world immediately around you in a unique way. These methods of living separate you from a house with its locks, windows, and furniture. When you engage the world with only the intermediation of your clothing and the fabric of your tent, you learn stuff. You cannot lock a tent or perfectly shut out bad weather if you are living outdoors. Travel this way becomes a more transformational experience' - from the book Unsupported Motorcycle Travel for Terminal Cases.'" - from the adventures of my friend, Keegan Peckham.

When people mention they've taken road-trips, or backpacked across a continent, the first thing I ask is: "Well, what did you eat?" Food tells a story about where people find themselves in the world. While travelling Italy, I feasted on regional, home-cooked Italian food prepared by distant relatives. But, while hostle-hopping in Southeast Asia, there were times I survived on 15 Baht ($1 USD) bowls of soup. I wish I had more travelling stories to share - as discovering new regions and their cuisines is easily my favourite (albeit expensive) hobby - but I am locked into finishing my university degree in Waterloo, Ontario. Hearing stories from travelling friends inspired me to start a new feature on this site: Cooking Around the World. Ever wonder what a dude eats when he packs up his motorcycle and heads North on the Mississippi River for a week? I sure did. These monthly features will work as such: friends travelling around the world are asked if they would like to be written about on my blog. If so, they submit a few photos with some descriptions and stories. We chat about it on Skype or phone, and voila... everyone gets to read about it. You can see older travel posts here, whereas new stories will appear on the main page. So, without further adieu, the first feature.

I met Keegan at the Royal Military College and we were instantly good friends. Old souls think alike! As an exchange student from the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA), our time together in Canada was brief, but enough to cultivate the shared commitment to stay in touch. I think it's safe to say, we deserve a gold medal as pen-pals. After finishing his qualification on the C-130J at Little Rock's AFB, Keegan had a gap of time before heading to Moody AFB, in Valdosta, Georgia. There, he will fly the combat search and rescue version, HC-130J. You'd think with a few weeks vacation that a 1st Leuitenant pilot would fly down to the tropics for some R&R - but not Keegan. All of his friends-to-the-North call him an honorary Canadian. While most of us born here take our nation's stunning landscape, friendly people, and overall culture for granted, Keegan is in a constant state of appreciation. To this, we say: "You better think aboot gettin' a cottage here one day, eh?"

When he dedicated his vacation time to friend-hopping between cities in Quebec and Ontario, him and I had the chance to catch-up in person. We talked a lot about travelling and food. Keegan is amazingly open minded, and has a stellar appetite for unexplored flavors. He'll try anything once...and fix your air-conditioner while you cook it! Being such a handyman, an all-inclusive trip to Punta Cana doesn't have the same appeal. After returning home to the States, he shocked us all by hopping on his motorcycle for yet another adventure! "But where are you going?" I asked. "I dunno, North. I packed a tent" he said. Cool. So what did Keegan eat for 8 days? The requirements were as follows: easy to pack, non-perishable, and simply enough prepared at the end of long bike rides. The solution, as you'll see in the photos below, was a lot of dried grains and legumes, tough vegetables, and spice powders; while fresher/perishable ingredients were purchased on-the-go at markets. Fruit stands were a welcomed reason to pull over, while mom n' pop restaurants filled in the gaps. Highlights of the trip included scoring some fresh ingredients as a market closed shop for the day, transient but quality conversations with folks he met along the way, and a few near-death experiences in torrential downpour (with no city in site for miles).

"Riding a motorcycle is a physical activity, kind of like hiking, as your body is constantly fighting the wind and the road. So, finding quick dense calories during the trip helped." Trail mix, tortillas, oats, nut butter, and honey sustained him throughout the day, and so setting up camp and cooking more complex food at night became a welcomed routine. He made dinners of rice and lentils, or egg noodles. At a farmers' markets he would buy zucchini to fry up, as well. He was cooking with portable burners and one spoon, so transferring things from one pot to another was tricky. This forced him to really consider the order in which ingredients would be cooked. He mentioned: "Trying to saute anything on a camp stove is difficult. They are meant to do one thing: boil water fast. So to fry things (like lemon & pepper salmon, or vegetables) I had to hold the pot a couple of inches off the stove and constantly move the ingredients around to keep them from burning...even on the lowest heat setting." As for flavouring his travel-food: "A little olive oil and some all-purpose seasoning were awesome additions to my camp kitchen." What's one unexpected ingredient that surprised Keegan?  "Wasabi peas added texture, flavour, and took up hardly any weight or space."

"I was passing through a small town in Iowa at around 6pm, and there was a farmers' market on the front lawn of a courthouse. (Classic small town America that reminded me of home in Atwood, KS). I stopped and the lady asked what I was looking for. I said nothing in particular. She replied: 'Well, in that case, take everything. I don’t want it to go to waste.' Unfortunately, I was on my bike and only had the appetite for one that night so I just took 2 tomatoes and 2 squash. Not bad for free... I sauteed the squash in olive oil and all-purpose seasoning again, and paired it with some lentils and quinoa." In conclusion, what are Keegan's top foody items recommended for anyone taking a similar trip? "A jetboil stove, dried grains and legumes, seasonings (like all-purpose and curry powder), and wasabi peas." 

If you want to follow Keegan's future adventures, his Instagram account is linked here.

A pot of dinner with previously mentioned wasabi peas 
Tortilla, PB, honey, & dried fruit = quick roadside snack
Free scores at a farmers market, closing shop for the day

A typical breakfast of oatmeal, fruit/nut mix, and coffee

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