Holiday Meals for Paddlers

I'll be honest with you: where I live, the six family kayaks are nestled all snug in their racks (under a blanket of snow for at least five months). So, I can only dream of organizing a paddling multi-day expedition that would be in the spirit of the Holiday Season and that would allow a brief escape from the craziness of the repeated trips to the mall trying to please everyone among friends and family at Christmas.

But many people, living in more balmy climes, can paddle through the "winter months". So while they float on turquoise waters in their comfy touring kayaks, I'll be floating too, but on a white blanket of snow thanks to a pair of snowshoes. But instead of wearing water booties and a wetsuit, I'll be wearing mittens and long johns. I will use my envious imagination to try to come up with a Holiday meal that could be prepared relatively easily on a camp stove or over a camp fire.

Diversity is the key

Of course, Holiday fare is as diverse as the place each of us calls home. With my French Canadian roots, for instance, no Christmas Eve dinner would be satisfying without a pork meat pie called tourtière, meatball stew, potatoes and homemade fruit ketchup. On December 25th, a traditional dinner would necessarily be a turkey feast with stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and green veggies. Add to this some leftovers from the previous meal of tourtière and ragout and you're in for a real treat. But I know that for my friend Janine who lives in North Carolina, nothing beats a gorgeous Virginia ham glazed with orange marmalade, roasted sweet potato wedges and Brussels sprouts to get into the Holiday Spirits; whereas my other friend, Jean-Luc, who is from France, craves oysters, foie gras and champagne for the 12 coups de minuit, on Christmas Eve.

Holiday potpie

In North America, in the days following Christmas many families love a meal made of chicken or turkey potpie or a luscious casserole of vegetables and turkey leftovers basted in a creamy sauce. Not to mention eggnog, fruit cake, Christmas cookies and the lovely aromas of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. For breakfast gatherings favorites will include pancakes, French toast or some homemade donuts, along with hot chocolate with some floating marshmallows or a lovely cappuccino sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.

So how could I capture some of this exquisite gourmand ambiance found around the Christmas dining table for paddlers eager to have their Holiday kayaking or canoeing trip and eat it too? Well, hopefully, with the help of some true and tested spices and traditional ingredients, we should achieve an interesting result. Of course, if you plan to leave for a short trip (two or three days) the easiest thing to do would be to prepare your first camp dinner at home and freeze it. This would allow for something truer and closer to your favorite Holiday traditions.

With a little help from the freezer

For instance, I could prepare my beloved tourtière in individual portions, cook it first and freeze it until I leave. Or it would also be very simple to cook my mom's recipe for pork meatballs in brown sauce, freeze it and bring it on board with a green veggie I'd feel like eating that day. I would then pack these dishes with some ice or icepacks in a cooler, and would complete this menu with instant mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and wine in a collapsible container, some festive candles and a cute decorative tablecloth. No doubt we'd be in for a real Holiday dinner in the peace and quiet of the wilderness! How romantic that would be?

For the following days, I could use the help of some canned goods to stay in that lovely zone filled with nice childhood memories of a happy Holiday Season: cheese fondue with stale bread and raw veggies, canned chicken, stuffing mix, dried cranberries and Christmas cookies, mulled wine or cider with spices, hot chocolate with marshmallows and a few spoonfuls of brandy. True, with this arrangement of preparing the main first night meal at home, you'd have to carry some heavy ice or icepacks and the cooler in order for the food to be kept at a perfectly safe temperature. But this waste of space and extra bulk would certainly be compensated by the memory of this wonderful Christmas dinner you had by the fire pit with your friends or loved ones. Isn't that the ideal scenario?

Enjoy your meal and the Holiday Season!

Recipes for Paddlers

Christmas mini tourtières  (4-6 portions)

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 pound extra-lean ground pork (or veal)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp clove
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp savory
  • 1/2 tsp sage
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tbsp instant mashed potatoes
  • 12 tart shells, pre-cooked at home

In a skillet, cook celery and onion in olive oil over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add garlic and pork, with cinnamon, clove, allspice, savory, sage, salt and pepper to taste and cook, over medium-high heat, for 10-15 minutes, or until pork is cooked through. Remove extra liquid, add instant mashed potatoes and mix well. Let sit for a few minutes and mix again.

Fill the pre-cooked tart shells with meat and freeze until you are ready to leave for your paddling trip.

To reheat: place tarts in a skillet, cover with aluminum foil and reheat over medium-low heat until hot. Serve with instant mashed potatoes, green vegetables and ketchup, or special fruit ketchup (also called chow-chow).

Meatballs in brown sauce
To prepare meatballs, use the same ingredients as for the meat pies (tourtières) from recipe above. Replace instant mashed potato with 1/2 cup bread crumbs and add 1 egg. For the sauce, use any ready-to-heat brown sauce (2 to 4 cups, to taste).

Mix all ingredients, except the brown sauce, and form into 2 inch meatballs. Saute over medium-high heat in a skillet with a bit of olive oil until browned on all sides. Let cool completely and freeze for your Holiday Season paddling trip. When ready to eat, simmer the meat balls in brown sauce for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with instant mashed potatoes, green beans or Brussel sprouts and cranberry sauce.

Southern Christmas Pot Pie
(4-6 portions)

  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 potato, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 zucchinis, finely chopped
  • 1 can corn kernels, drained
  • 1 can chicken, drained
  • 1 can cream of chicken
  • 1 can cream of mushroom
  • 1 cup water (or milk, to taste)
  • 1 package (8 oz) herb-seasoned stuffing
  • 1/2 cup butter (or margarine)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet, sauté first 3 vegetables in oil until soft (10 to 15 minutes). Add zucchini and cook 5 more minutes. Add corn, chicken, cream of chicken and cream of mushroom with water, season to taste and bring to a boil.

In the meantime, in another skillet, saute herb-seasoned stuffing with butter for 5 minutes. Remove half of the stuffing and arrange the rest evenly in the skillet and press gently. Pour the chicken mixture onto the stuffing, add remaining stuffing and cover with aluminum foil. Cook for 10 more minutes over medium-low heat and serve.

NOTE: If you can prepare this dish at home, use real cooked chicken or turkey breast for more flavor and add 1 cup frozen peas. Place in a small aluminum roasting pan, cover with aluminum foil and cook in a preheated oven at 350°F for 25 minutes. Remove aluminum foil and cook 20 more minutes. Let cool completely before freezing. To reheat, place the pan over a double burner stove (or on a grill over the hot coals of a camp fire) and cook for 20-25 minutes over medium-low heat or until heated through.

Christmas Cole Slaw

  • 1 small Chinese (Napa) cabbage, finely chopped
  • 1 red apple, finely diced
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 4 tbsp dry parsley
  • 6 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in a bowl. Toss gently and let sit 10-15 minutes to blend flavors. Serve with Christmas mini tourtières, meatballs in brown gravy or with pot pie.

Quick Christmas Cookies
(4-6 portions)

  • 16 to 24 ginger snaps
  • 1 cup chocolate spread (such as Nutella)
  • 2-4 tbsp brandy, Grand Marnier or Cointreau (optional)
  • 4 to 6 Christmas candy canes, finely crushed

Mix chocolate spread with alcohol (optional) until the mix is creamy. Spread chocolate mixture generously over ginger snaps. Sprinkle with crushed candy cane and serve.

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