Back in the fall, a friend and I went portaging for 4 days and 3 nights up north in one of Canada’s national parks: Algonquin Provincial Park. For those unfamiliar with portaging (like we were of the act prior to going), the term refers to the practice of traveling from campsite to campsite by canoe in the water, and by foot over land, with your home, food and clothing all on your back. Canoeing was smooth sailing, but portaging a 45-pound canoe over your head with all your belongings strapped to various parts of each of your bodies is much harder than it looks, needless to say. At least we had had years of experience canoeing and just camping out in the dead stark wilderness prior, right Chloe? Not really… Anyways, we decided to wing it, both being pretty practical and low-maintenance, plus we were dying to “connect with the wilderness” (or whatever that means) after both spending 4 months of the summer indoors working full-time office jobs. Office emails to each other are great, but nothing beats the art of silent communication when you are ravenous (nod head, blink twice while stuffing your face with warm carrot sticks), wildlife-spotting (gesture wildly with paddle and almost get thrown out of the rocking canoe), or just plain tired (stare blankly at person + the fifty or more knots you still have to tie to make sure your entire livelihood doesn’t float away or get attacked by bears in the middle of the night). Ah yes, the joys of portaging. At the bottom of it though, is a love for doing-it-yourself and spending a relaxing 4 days in good company and breathtaking scenery. It was an amazing experience and wholly satisfying. Don’t forget your film camera for the ultimate antediluvian experience.
So of course, in preparing for this trip, meal-planning was a natural part of the process. A couple of tips to take from here:
One, meal-planning for the general week does not have to be a painful experience. Meal planning reduces food wastage by encouraging meaningful purchases, and can up the nutritional value of your meals by helping you consider loosely what you will be putting into your body for dinners the upcoming week. Always have on hand dried grains, and legumes that you can soak the night before and cook effortlessly in bulk batches, in a rice or pressure cooker that first day; keep condiments and spices well-stocked as the occasion arises; and use the weekly grocery shop for staple base items such as your regular vegetables, fruits, yogurts, fish and so forth and vary the weeks with top-line fresh items that you don’t often buy, i.e. an entire squash, head of cabbage etc.
Two, let it be known that I have a personal vendetta against most breakfast cereals. Highly processed, coated in white sugar or high-fructose corn syrup and synthetic vitamins + minerals, many mass-market cereals are not the right way to start your day. It has been drilled into our heads that breakfast is an integral part of our morning because it helps balance our blood sugar levels and provides energy to start the day. Most breakfast cereals currently on the market do not contain nearly enough bioavailable dietary fibre to properly balance blood sugar levels, and the inclusion of sugar wreaks only greater havoc on our endocrine and hormone systems. You are much better off skipping the colourful cardboard box and vitamin supplement aisles in the grocery store for the bulk packages of unadorned plain oats. As one of my friends termed it when she switched from one of the popular cereals to steel cut oats: she actually felt full after breakfast and experience any further feelings of light-headedness.
Recipes such as this one for homemade granola are power-packed with important vitamins, minerals and omega-threes from the hemp, flax and chia seed combination, protein and complex carbohydrates, that together provide a steady, slow-release of energy throughout the morning and up until lunch. On the go, or in a bowl of almond milk, both make great breakfast options. Also consider cooking plain oatmeal or buckwheat porridge in the morning and dressing it up with the same ingredients below: fruit, spices, coconut oil, maple syrup and seeds. You can make big batches of the oatmeal for the next 3-4 days, keep it sealed in tupperware in the fridge, and it takes only 5 minutes in the morning to heat up your portion on the stovetop with a little bit of water added to keep it from sticking to the pot.
simple almond granola
makes 5 cups
3 cups rolled oats (not quick-cook)
1 cup almonds (or pecans)
1 cup buckwheat (hulled)
1/2 cup hemp seeds
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
5 tbsp chia seeds
3 tbsp flax seeds (ground)
1 tsp vanilla extract
generous pinch sea salt
optional: cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, dried fruit
1. Mix coconut oil, maple syrup, vanilla, sea salt and hemp, flax and chia seeds in a stand mixer until smooth.
2. In a large oven-proof baking dish, combine the oats, buckwheat and chopped almonds. Spread the wet ingredients evenly over the dry.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F and when ready, bake for 30-40 minutes, until the oats and almonds have turned a light golden brown colour. Stir occasionally while the granola is baking to ensure everything is evenly coated.
After it has cooled completely, the granola will keep for up to a week in an airtight container, and also makes great autumn gifts when dressed up in glass containers + ribbon.
Feel free to experiment with flavours by adding in up to 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg and/or 1/2 tsp cardamom to the wet ingredients prior to baking. I used all three spices and additionally stirred in 2/3 cup of raisins after baking. If gluten-free is important to you, ensure that the oats you buy are certified GF and you will be good to go.