Robert and I just returned from a fantastic backpacking trip to Toleak Point, located on Washington’s beautiful Olympic Coast. My family used to backpack at Toleak Point every year when I was little, and it was always my favorite place to go. Unlike most modern coastal areas, which are typically lined with hotels and tourist traps, the Olympic Coast is made up of natural, protected wilderness. Rocky headlands, dense forest, rugged beaches, tidepools and creepy off shore sea stacks are the name of the game here. Hiking on the Olympic Coast usually means scrambling up steep, unstable cliffs and over giant, slippery rocks in order to get where you are going. A tide chart is a necessity in order to avoid getting trapped between impassable headlands. But, once you arrive at your destination, you are rewarded with some of the most beautiful, pristine wilderness in the United States.

Although the coastline is always changing, everything at Toleak Point was basically the same as I remembered. In a way, I felt like I had been there just yesterday (20 years can really fly by!) We saw plenty of wildlife including seals, bunnies, starfish, sea anemones, blue herons, bald eagles and a family of river otters who would come out to play in the ocean twice a day (the river otters were there when I was a kid too, so I was glad to see that they were still around.) The weather was very kind to us – no rain! A huge heatwave hit Washington State during our trip so, even though it was pretty sweltering out at the coast, it was still a much better place to be than in the city. We were lucky to have a giant ocean to cool off in. Mostly, we spent our time sitting in the sand reading our books or staring out at the water. I may love my computer and TV, but you really can’t beat the Pacific Ocean for entertainment. Robert’s well-crafted campfires provided lots of entertainment as well.

As for the food? Well, my kitchen experiments last month really paid off because our dinners were all excellent! Of course, food always tastes so much better when your have dirt on your face and sand between your toes. Breakfasts and lunches were pretty standard fare: logan bread and oatmeal for breakfast and peanut butter, crackers, dried fruit and snacks for lunch. The dinners were the real highlight. The first night, I made frito pie, Robert’s favorite. It was just as good as it was during our last backpacking trip, if not better. At this point, I don’t know if I’ll be able to go on a backpacking trip without bringing along frito pie fixings. It is perfect camping food – spicy, filling and lightweight! My tuna & broccoli pasta was good, although, out of fear of starvation, I added more pasta than my own recipe called for, and we had a really hard time finishing it. I suppose being too full is better than going hungry, however. My final dinner was the result of another kitchen experiment: Vegetable Jambalaya. This dish was just OK when I tested it at home, but I doctored the recipe a bit and it ended up being completely delicious out at the beach. I combined instant rice with corn, okra, green beans and red bell pepper (that I dehydrated at home in my oven.) Green chilies, sun-dried tomatoes and spices add flavor.

Click here to see photos from the trip >>

Vegetable Jambalaya

1 cup green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 small red bell pepper, peeled and sliced
1 to 1-1/2 cups frozen okra, thawed
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
2 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 to 4 sun-dried tomatoes, minced (you may need to use kitchen shears for this)
2 tablespoons dehydrated green chili flakes*
1 tablespoon broth powder
1/2 teaspoon dried cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups instant rice
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to between 140 and 150 degrees. Blanch the green beans in a pot of boiling water until just tender. Drain thoroughly. Wrap a piece of cheesecloth around a couple of cooling racks and secure the ends using safety pins (or use a mesh screen). Spread the green beans, bell pepper, okra, corn and garlic out on the cheesecloth arranging them in a single, uncrowded layer. Open the oven door a few inches to create airflow, making sure that the temperature remains between 140 and 150 degrees. Dry the vegetables in the oven, checking every hour or so, until completely dried and brittle (2 to 3 hours for the corn and 4 to 5 hours for the rest). Remove from the oven and let cool. Mince up the dehydrated garlic and break the bell pepper slices into smaller pieces.

Mix the dehydrated vegetables and all of the spices into a zippered plastic baggie. Put the instant rice in another plastic baggie. Place all of this into a larger baggie along with the olive oil (in a small bottle) and printed cooking instructions. Now, it is ready to be taken on any backpacking trip!

To prepare the meal, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add the vegetables & seasonings and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the rice, return to a simmer and then turn off the heat. Let rest for 5 minutes or according to the instructions on the package of instant rice. Stir in the olive oil and enjoy!

*I used dehydrated green chilies from New Mexico because I had them already. If you can’t find dehydrated chilies, you can simply add more chili powder or you can make your own dehydrated chilies. Using fresh green chilies, follow the instructions for dehydrating red bell pepper.

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