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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.

PickingWildGarlic

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

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

Ideal Foods To Carry On A Bike Tour

Posted March 24th, 2012

Bike Touring In Denmark You’re on a bike tour so you want to eat well, but how do you keep food fresh without a refrigerator? That’s what one of our readers recently asked.

How do you manage to keep your food fresh? If you buy some meat or eggs, for example, how do you keep them cool? Maybe you buy fresh things just before you cook? -Denise

The short answer is that most things will keep much longer outside of a fridge than you probably think. Unless it’s a blazing hot summer day, there’s little (aside from fresh meat and milk) that won’t keep for 6-8 hours in your panniers.

Most vegetables will last at least 2 days in your panniers and many hardy fruits, vegetables, dried and cured foods will easily withstand several days of travel – especially if you pack them deep inside the bags, far from direct sunlight.

Keep reading about Carrying Fresh Food On A Bike Tour.

Posted in Food

Carrying Fresh Food On A Bike Tour

Posted January 28th, 2012

Bike Touring In Denmark You’re on a bike tour so you want to eat well, but how do you keep food fresh without a refrigerator? That’s what one of our readers recently asked.

How do you manage to keep your food fresh? If you buy some meat or eggs, for example, how do you keep them cool? Maybe you buy fresh things just before you cook? -Denise

The short answer is that most things will keep much longer outside of a fridge than you probably think. Unless it’s a blazing hot summer day, there’s little (aside from fresh meat and milk) that won’t keep for 6-8 hours in your panniers. You certainly don’t need to resort to expensive, freeze-dried meals for bike touring.

Most vegetables will last at least 2 days in your panniers and many hardy fruits, vegetables, dried and cured foods will easily withstand several days of travel – especially if you pack them deep inside the bags, far from direct sunlight.

Foods that travel well include:

  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Cabbage
  • Onions
  • Kale
  • Pumpkin
  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Peanut butter
  • Powdered milk
  • Dried fruits
  • Cured meats (salami, chorizo)
  • Tinned fish
  • Salami
  • Hard cheeses (cheddar, parmesan)

Some things may surprise you by how well they keep outside of a fridge in normal temperatures. This Mango & Avocado salsa, for example, is made from ingredients that would easily travel well for 2-3 days.

P1020842

Eggs are another example. They’re sold refrigerated in North America, leading many of us to believe that they must be kept cool. In Europe and many other places worldwide, however, eggs are routinely kept on normal shelves at room temperature (here’s why). We’ve also found that salted butter keeps just fine for 5-7 days, even in hotter climates. We do keep it in a screw-top jar to prevent spills (in case it melts a bit during the day).

Other tips for storing food on a bike tour include:

  • Buy produce that is almost (but not quite) ripe. By the time it bounces around on your bike for a day or two, it’ll be perfect.
  • Don’t wash or prepare the food until you’re ready to eat it. This speeds up spoilage.
  • Use paper bags or mesh fabric bags to store fresh food, rather than plastic. Produce needs to be able to breathe.
  • Store delicate food like tomatoes and bananas inside a pot or other hard container, to prevent bruising.
  • If you really want fresh meat and you’re worried about it going bad before the end of the day, buy something frozen as well, such as a small bag of frozen peas. Then you can use the peas as an ‘ice pack’ to keep the meat cool.
  • Carry a small insulated bag to keep fresh things cooler for longer.

Want more food inspiration? See some of our favourite bike touring recipes.

Recipe: Chorizo & Spinach Pasta

Posted January 10th, 2012

Ah, pasta. Where would a bike tourist be without it? And yet, we can eat it so often after a long day of cycling that pasta quickly gets boring.

The good news is that it’s easy to dress pasta up with many different ingredients. Chorizo & Spinach Pasta is one of our favourite recipes for on-the-road mealtimes.

Pasta with Cabbage and Chorizo

Here’s our ingredient list. Serves 2 hungry cyclists.

Ingredients:

250g pasta
125g chorizo, sliced (or any other meat you fancy: bacon, ground beef…)
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 green pepper, chopped
250g kale, spinach or cavolo nero cabbage
3 tsp spices (we use a mix of paprika, dried hot chiles and basil)
oil or butter for frying
250ml chopped tomatoes
200ml cream (optional)

Keep reading the recipe for Pasta With Chorizo & Spinach

Posted in Food