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Bike. Camp. Cook: An Interview With A Bike-Touring, Food-Loving Author

Posted May 12th, 2015

During our bike touring adventures, two of the people we communicated most with were Tara and Tyler – another couple also going around the world at roughly the same time.

We’ve yet to meet them in person but always kept in touch and helped each other out with information as we travelled. One of the things that impressed us most about their trip was the inventive and delicious food that Tara would cook on tour, so we weren’t at all surprised when she published a bike touring cookbook after arriving home.cover

Bike. Camp. Cook. is a gem of a book – full of easy, inspiring recipes, clear instructions and beautiful photographs. If you like to cook and are embarking on a bike tour, we highly recommend it.

Recently we caught up with Tara and asked her to tell us more about her love of cooking and cycling.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you come to write this cookbook? What inspired it?

I am a writer and photographer living on fledgling homestead in the Green Mountain National Forest of Vermont.

A few years ago, my partner Tyler and I embarked on a two-year, mostly-bicycle-powered tour across Europe, parts of Northern Africa, and Asia. Prior to this adventure, I’d camped only a handful of times, and had never ridden a bike more than a few miles.

I was, however, an accomplished cook, baker, and avid foodie. While we were on the road, I prepared real meals for us nearly every day. For me, cooking was a way of connecting with the places we traveled: we frequently stopped at local markets, and I tried to use local, seasonal ingredients in all of my dishes.

The idea for the cookbook came early on. A few months into the trip, I’d finally gotten the hang of cooking on the road, and it seemed like the people we met were impressed by it. What I considered to be normal activities—whipping up dumplings for homemade soup, or making jam with foraged fruit, for instance—were actually fairly unusual.

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Tara picking wild garlic.

Since I was not a cyclist, camper, or outdoorswoman when we left, I didn’t really have a sense of how other people ate on tour. I didn’t realize that folks subsisted on oatmeal, peanut butter, bananas, and bread. I knew nothing of those just-add-water packets either!

So, bolstered by folks’ interest in my culinary adventures, and inspired to share all the tricks and techniques I’d learned, I began writing the cookbook in earnest after finishing our trip.

2. You say the book is the “hungry cycle tourist’s guide to slowing down, eating well, and savouring life on the open road”. Why is it so important to slow down and eat well? Plenty of bike tourists cover 100km a day and survive on peanut butter sandwiches.

I know that many people feel a deep sense of accomplishment when riding long distances on tour. There is nothing bad or wrong with this, but do I think it is important to recognise the tradeoffs that follow this style of travel.

You captured my objection right in your question, saying, “Plenty of bike tourists cover 100km a day and survive on peanut butter sandwiches.” The key word there is ‘survive’. For me, the idea of bare survival on tour is not appealing.

I love riding, but you will never find me pushing to go further for the sake of mileage—that’s the antithesis of everything I love about bike touring. If I couldn’t stop regularly to interact with the people and landscape I’m passing through, I wouldn’t bother going at all.

Tara exploring local markets during a bike tour.

Tara exploring local markets during a bike tour.

I know some find their passion in the riding itself, but I do not. I believe something very special is lost when we go too quickly and don’t take time to really be in a place.

To go on a little tangent, I think the most rewarding thing about writing this book has been receiving emails from folks who’ve used it on tour. Often, they’re single guys who rack up a TON of kilometers, and have, historically, eaten really poorly. They proudly send me pictures of their latest adventures with my recipes, and I beam with pride. My secret wish is to convert all the bread-and-banana-eating-speed-demons into slow-pedaling gourmands. Ha!

3. Were you always a good cook, or does this book represent an evolution in your culinary skills? Could anyone cook the recipes in this book, even if they’re not a natural chef?

I’ve been cooking as long as I can remember, and have worked at a handful of bakeries. So no, this book does not represent an evolution in my culinary skills. That being said, this book is wonderful for those who don’t consider themselves to be natural cooks, or even those who don’t know how to cook at all!

When I was writing the book, my husband Tyler would edit it and do the recipe testing, pretending like he didn’t know a thing about cooking. He is actually great in the kitchen, but he’d force me to address issues I’d taken for granted. “What is a “roux”?” he’d ask. “How do you cut an avocado?”

He’d question everything to the point where I would get exasperated and say, “But EVERYONE knows how to cut an avocado!!” And of course, Tyler’s point was that not everyone knows about food. So, I’d re-write the recipe and make it more accessible for folks who have never cooked before.

Tara wild camping and rolling out dough for dinner.

Tara wild camping and rolling out dough for dinner.

4. You highlight many foods, spices and tools in the book. If you could narrow it down to a list of Top 5 things you couldn’t do without, what would those be?

  1. The spice bag. I carry an ample number of spices along with me, each in their own little baggie, then stored in a larger plastic bag. With my spice bag at hand, I’m able to transform any strange ingredient I find into something palatable. I’m also able to add local spices to my collection as we travel.
  2. A non-stick pot & pan. I use them for everything, and they make cleaning a breeze. I once tried switching to stainless steel for a month or two, and washing dishes suddenly became a horrible nightmare. To make cooking on the road a worthwhile adventure, you really need to use non-stick.
  3. My camp stove. I cook everything over the rugged MSR Whisperlite. It gets crazy hot and it sure is noisy, but it’s the main workhorse in my camping kit.
  4. Collapsible dishes. Sea to Summit makes a great set of collapsible silicone dishes. What I love about them is that the bottom of the bowl or plate doubles as a cutting board. Since I don’t generally have any kind of flat surface in my camp kitchen (no counter, picnic table, etc.), I rely on the hard surface for food preparation.
  5. A wooden spoon. I used to have a fancy set of camp cooking utensils, but they melted in the pan the first time I tried to use them with oil. You cannot go wrong with a simple wooden spoon! I bought mine at a grocery store years ago, and it’s still as sturdy as ever.

5. Can you share a favourite recipe with us?

Absolutely! Here’s my recipe for a simple but super-tasty granola you can make on the road:

This crunchy, caramelised, camp-friendly granola is extremely tasty, and far more exciting than its humble list of ingredients would seem to indicate. For more substance, add four tablespoons of nuts along with the oats and raisins. If you want to make more granola than the recipe calls for, make it in separate batches.

Cinnamon Raisin Granola (prep & cook time: 10 minutes; makes 1 cup)

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
A pinch of salt
12 tablespoons (3⁄4 cup) rolled oats
4 tablespoons (1⁄4 cup) raisins

First, get your ingredients ready: measure the butter, sugar, cinnamon, and salt into your large cooking pot.

-Measure the oats and raisins into a bowl and set aside.

-Now, get cooking: prime and light your stove, turning it to a low setting. Holding your pot an inch or two above the flame, stir the mixture together for a minute, or until it is completely melted and very bubbly.

-Dump in the oats and raisins, and stir continuously for about two minutes, or until the oats smell very toasted.

-Remove the pan from the heat—the granola will still look a bit damp at this point, but it will get crispier as it cools.

-Once cool, enjoy the granola with or without milk, or store it in a container to snack on later.

Tara’s Bike. Camp. Cook. cookbook is available from her website.

Posted in Cycling Trips, Food

Making Time For Family Adventures

Posted May 3rd, 2015

“It’s not about having time, it’s about making time.”

When people ask us what the hardest part of cycling around the world was, it seems they expect us to tell a story about some great hardship suffered underway. Troubles with people. Getting lost. Poor food. But our answer is simply this: the hardest part was making the decision to go.

Deciding to take the plunge is often the hardest part of any adventure, big or small.

Deciding to take the plunge is often the hardest part of any adventure, big or small.

Once out of the driveway, the rest was, frankly, relatively straightforward. The issues we encountered en route were usually easily solved, or at least seemed to matter a lot less than they did when we were sitting at home and imagining all the worst-case scenarios that could or might happen.

Now, six years on from the end of our world tour, our days of cycling the world for months on end are behind us (at least for now). We focus instead on weekend and summer trips. But the ‘trouble’ with bike touring remains, surprisingly, the same.

Getting out the door — actually making the decision to go cycling for a weekend — is difficult when you’re also trying to balance the demands of kids, full-time jobs, a full social calendar and (in our case) a new house that still needs painting and fixing up. Not to mention Baby #2 due in about 6 weeks…

This weekend however, when stress levels hit the roof, we made a snap decision to go. On Friday afternoon we hastily threw gear into panniers and headed out for our secret getaway — a tranquil forest campground just 1/2 hour by bike from our home. The following 24 hours were glorious.

Bike Overnights

We were away from home for just 18 hours but had enough fun to keep us smiling for days.

Within minutes of pedalling away from our home, we stopped worrying. We didn’t think about the messy house or the pressures of the office or the million and one things that needed to be done (aren’t there always more things on the to-do list than you ever have time for?) — instead, we focused on campfires and marshmallows and the simple joy of sleeping in the tent.

Campfire. Marshmallows. Tent. What more do you need?

Campfire. Marshmallows. Tent. What more do you need?

“It’s so quiet. I love camping!” said Luke, over and over. Why, we asked ourselves, don’t we do this more often?

Our brief getaway wasn’t extravagant or adventurous by most people’s measure. We cycled about 15km in total and spent just €20 including camping fees, coffees and cake. It was, however, rich in more important ways. When we returned home, just 18 hours later, we were full of energy and high spirited. Stress levels had plummeted, from approximately +1,000 at Friday lunchtime to -1,000,000 on Saturday afternoon.

We admit that doing more such trips won’t be easy over the course of the summer, since we’ll soon have to fit a newborn baby into the equation. But this trip was a good reminder that we just need to go. Even when it seems impossible, just go. Once out the door the rest is easy and the return you get on an investment of just a few hours away from it all and together as a family is immeasurable.

15 Tips For Happy Bike Tours With A Toddler

Posted January 4th, 2015

In May 2014, we spent 3 weeks cycling around Switzerland.

Since we were with Luke (2 years old), our pace was quite slow. We had no fixed destinations and rarely covered more than 40km a day, leaving plenty of time for playground stops, flower picking and other distractions.

Now, some 7 months later, we’ve finally found time to put together a little film of our trip: 15 Ways To Entertain A Toddler On A Bike Tour.

1,600km Across Europe on $50 Bicycles (And A Cookbook)

Posted November 27th, 2014

Last week, we stumbled across the website of Leah Bostwick. In the summer of 2013, she and a couple friends cycled 1,600km across Europe on bicycles that cost just $50 U.S.

As Leah writes on her site, The Vegetarian Traveller:

A wise man once said to me, ‘All you need to cycle is a bicycle and the desire to do it’.  He was right.  It may have been easier if we had trained, bought expensive bicycles, planned a route, or spent the night sleeping in comfy hotels, but we didn’t.  And we made it.  You can, too, if you want to.

On their budget adventure, they dumpster dived for food (and even found free beer!), and cooked on a Beer Can stove.

The-Beer-Can-Cookbook-Cover“Because my road buddies and I were always free camping in farmers’ fields, hiding in sand dunes, slipping into an overgrown thicket of trees, or submitting to a bus stop, my friends and I didn’t have the option to build a full-on fire. The beer can stove was our culinary saving grace.”

After the trip was over, Leah wrote the Beer Can Cookbook — a relatively short but nevertheless useful little guide to cooking cheap, hearty meals on the road with a stove you can make yourself. It includes about 20 recipes and tips for what to put in your bicycle pantry.

Get it from Amazon, or download a copy (PDF or Kindle) from her website. Don’t forget to drop Leah a couple bucks via Paypal to say thanks.

Oh, and there’s also this video that sums up their summer adventure. Take 5 minutes and enjoy the show.

Posted in Books, Food

Decathlon Quickhiker Ultralight 4: Our New, Cheap Tent

Posted October 27th, 2014

For years now, our trusty tent for bike touring and camping has been Hilleberg’s Nallo 3GT but this summer we retired our Nallo 3GT in favour of something bigger: the Decathlon Quickhiker Ultralight 4 tent.

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Why the switch? The Nallo 3GT was simply too small for our growing family. We needed more space for the extra trailer and gear we’re carrying around. We also wanted a roomier porch, where mum and dad could hang out on rainy or cold evenings while Luke snoozed in the sleeping compartment.

Deciding that we wanted a new tent was easy. Figuring out which tent to buy proved a bit trickier.

We generally believe that investing in high-quality gear pays off, so at the start of our hunt we looked at reasonably expensive tents (eg. the Nallo 4GT, the Safir tipi tent and the MSR Papa Hubba). Ultimately, however, we decided that these tents were too expensive for what we needed.

Unlike in the past, we are not currently planning any long-distance, extreme bike trips. We don’t plan to take this tent through rain, snow, hail and sleet.

Instead, we’re aiming mainly at spring and summer touring through Europe, with perhaps a trip to South Korea or Japan next year. If the weather gets really bad, we’ll take a hotel and that means our tent doesn’t have to live up to expedition-quality standards.

The Quickhiker Ultralight 4 met all of our needs:

  • Affordable. It costs €269.95 in Europe.
  • Lightweight. The tent weighs 3.9kg (not including the groundsheet). That’s just 300g more than Hilleberg’s Nallo 4GT (which would have been a logical upgrade for us from the 3GT).
  • Roomy. It’s 15cm higher than the Nallo 3GT and nearly a meter wider.
  • Guaranteed. It comes with a 2-year guarantee.

So far, we’ve used it about 20 times. Are we pleased? Absolutely.

The space inside is as valuable as gold for our growing family. We can sit up easily anywhere in the tent (in our Hilleberg, we could only sit straight up in the middle of the tent) and we can fit our 3 sleeping mats side by side without being squeezed up against the walls of the tent.

There’s even room left over for toys, clothes and random treasures like sticks which Luke regularly picks up, and plenty of gear pockets to keep things organised inside the tent.

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The large back, mesh window of the tent is another favourite of ours. Since we’re doing more summer camping now, the nights can be warm and with this tent you can open up the back of the tent entirely for excellent airflow.

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Of course, as you’d expect with a relatively cheap tent, this one isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s missing a few thoughtful details that made our Hilleberg such a delight to camp in. The two main problems we have with the tent are:

  • No tensioners on the pole sleeves. This makes setting up the tent a bit of a struggle. It’s a tight fit to get the poles into the sleeves and seated in the grommets. We find it easiest to lay the tent on the ground, put the poles in while the tent is flat and then stake it out and erect it. Over the winter, we may try to add our own tensioners.
  • Door to the sleeping compartment can’t be totally closed off. Once inside the porch, there’s a second door that leads to the sleeping compartment. The top half of this door is made of mesh, so on cooler nights it’s impossible to entirely seal yourself in (in order to keep the temperature higher). That’s one reason why this is not a good 3-season tent.

Overall, however, we’re very pleased. When you consider the price, this tent is good value and perfectly suitable for summer bike tours. If you want a family tent without blowing the budget, we’d recommend this one.

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