Dining Al Fresco
When I was invited on a three-mile hike in Malibu with my girls’ scout troop, I agreed to go without hesitation—not because I’m a hiker, but because it meant getting to spend quality time outside with my daughters, Sarah, 11, and Nina, 9.
As a food enthusiast, I obsessed over what we would pack for lunches more than I thought about actually training for the hike. As a mom and full-time pastry chef, I wanted to combine delicious with fresh and healthy options to make the hike memorable.
So I knew there was no way I could simply hit the trail without challenging myself to create some upgraded hiking food to enjoy along the way.
PB&J sandwiches, chips and juice box would not do.
I took great care in planning the meal. I prepared traditional mufaletta sandwiches—a New Orleans favorite with spicy Italian meats, peppers and an olive tapenade—and paired them with a marinated chickpea salad, chopped fruit and a clever twist on trail mix with farmers’ market raisins, pistachios, toasted pepitas and chocolate-covered sunflower seeds instead of the traditional plain M&M’s. I am not a fan of cheap chocolate but the toasty-ness of the seeds made it seem like a good balance.
The hike into the Malibu Hills was super challenging for my beginner status, but the views were beautiful, including the ocean on the horizon. Of course, the best part of the day was my daughters’ company. We laughed on the flat parts, cried on the inclines and persevered through the whole thing. I worked up a sweat and the payoff was knowing I had a superhero lunch for us stashed in my pack.
That first lunch was quite tasty after such a workout. But my chef tendencies kicked in and I couldn’t help thinking about how I could improve the meal. I learned a few lessons about appropriate ingredients and packing from this first hike.
One of the best aha moments was realizing that hiking food can be restaurant worthy. When packed properly and with a few modifications, even Scotch eggs can be hiking fare. (I used turkey sausage and heavy panko breading.) Cored apples filled with a date and ginger compote and crispy prosciutto is a divine dessert.
Store-bought snack bars tend to be more like cookies than healthful treats, so I created one that has less sugar and more protein. They’re moist and my daughters love them.
Even traditional frosted carrot cake became hiking food, as carrot cake squares with cream cheese baked in the middle.
Developing hiking recipes has become as much fun as exploring our area’s miles and miles of hiking trails. I’m always on the lookout for standard lunch recipes, hand-held snacks and salads that can be turned into something that will travel well and be delicious. And, of course, create minimal trash. (We want to leave the area at least as clean as we found it, so carrying our trash back to the nearest can is a must.)
You can still find me hiking on any given day, all over Ventura County. One of our favorites is the Hill Canyon Trail that starts in Camarillo. It is a continually challenging sport that has kept my interest in several ways, my favorite being the obsession with the clever food stashed away in my pack.