Getting the call from our daughter Rose came as a bit of a surprise. "I thought we should go tramping this summer for our family holiday. Where do you think we should go?" she asked excitedly. This, from someone who 10 years earlier had threatened to break a leg so that she could get heli vac'd out rather than endure another moment on the Milford Track and who, each morning would throw herself on to the ground about 100m from the hut, wailing, "I can't go on. This is cruel. I hate you!"
When we finally made it to the end — all in one piece — she swore black and blue that she would, "NEVER EVER DO ANYTHING LIKE THAT EVER AGAIN."
And so 10 summers later, off we all went to happily to walk the Heaphy Track. That's the magic of tramping. Once you have experienced the majesty of the bush, its cloak of green on green, the quiet, the birdsong and the views all get under your skin.
Before we embarked on the Heaphy trip, I decided to do some serious food planning. One of the reasons some of us had not enjoyed the Milford Track as much as we might have was we were carrying too much weight. I'd insisted on packing a very large pot, a heavy cast-iron paella pan and a lot of food. Salamis, cheeses, canned beans. For a tramping expedition this was sheer folly. This time I decided to travel lighter and be more organised.
I wrote a menu plan for each day and divided the ingredients into bags and old film canisters, labelling each with the meal name and the day. For a simple tuna puttanesca I popped anchovies, capers and olives in a bag, along with a couple of cloves of garlic, a sachet of tomato paste, a couple of sachets of tuna, a packet of spaghetti and another of shaved parmesan. For our vegetarian Moroccan chickpea couscous dinner, I froze two drained cans of chickpeas, packed a container of mixed Moroccan spices and a sachet of tomato paste, an eggplant and some couscous. The makeshift laksa used a mix of dried coconut milk, a little tub of green curry paste, a couple of kaffir lime leaves, a sachet of tomato paste, hard-boiled eggs, rice sticks, a bag of green beans and a little bag of crispy shallots.
We ate like kings. The other trampers in the huts along the way could not believe the meals we were preparing and would crowd around each night to see what we'd whip up next. Easy, tasty, quick and most of all, light to carry — that's my mantra for tramping fare.
These recipes are slightly more glamorous adaptations of our camping fare, designed to be perfect for camping or cooking at the bach.
Ready in 30 mins
1 cup couscous
2 zucchini, diced
Zest, finely grated, and juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp boutique extra virgin olive oil
100g feta, crumbled
About 12 cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup toasted pine nuts or almonds
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup finely chopped mint leaves
¼ cup chopped parsley or basil leaves
Prepare couscous according to packet instructions. Fluff with a fork to loosen. Put zucchini in a sieve, pour over 1 cup boiling water, then refresh under cold water and drain well. Add to couscous with lemon zest and juice and olive oil and stir to combine. Leave for 5 minutes then mix through feta, tomatoes, pine nuts or almonds, salt, pepper, mint and parsley or basil. Taste, adjust seasonings and serve.
Annabel says: Couscous is the perfect tramping and camping food — you just add an equal amount of boiling water with whatever flavours you fancy, give it a stir and leave for a few minutes to absorb. Vegetables like zucchinis travel well and there is little waste to dispose of. For a more substantial meal, stir in a small can or sachet of tuna. Couscous is the perfect tramping and camping food — you just add an equal amount of boiling water with whatever flavours you fancy, give it a stir and leave for a few minutes to absorb. Vegetables like zucchinis travel well and there is little waste to dispose of. For a more substantial meal, stir in a small can or sachet of tuna.
Prawn and Pumpkin Laksa
Ready in 30 mins
300g dried rice sticks
400g pumpkin, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
200g prawns or thinly sliced boneless chicken
150g beans, cut into 2cm lengths
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved lengthways
A handful of bean sprouts (optional)
2 Tbsp crispy shallots (optional)
Chopped spring onions, mint and/or coriander sprigs, to garnish
4-6 Tbsp laksa paste, depending on strength
400g can cherry tomatoes or chopped tomatoes in juice
400ml can coconut milk or 4 Tbsp coconut milk powder and 400ml water
1 chicken stock concentrate tub or cube
Zest of 1 lime or lemon, finely grated
2 double kaffir lime leaves (optional)
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
To make the laksa base, heat oil in a large pot. Fry laksa paste for about a minute until it smells aromatic. Add 2½ cups water, tomatoes, coconut milk (or powder and water), stock, zest if using and kaffir lime leaves. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 5 minutes. This base can be made ahead and stored in the fridge for 3-4 days or frozen. When ready to serve, cover rice sticks with plenty of boiling water and set aside to soften (about 10 minutes). Bring laksa base to a simmer, add pumpkin and cook until nearly tender (12-15 minutes). Add prawns or chicken along with beans and simmer until cooked through (2-3 minutes). Remove lime leaves, if using, and adjust seasonings. To serve, divide noodles between 4 bowls and top with laksa mixture, then egg, bean sprouts, if using, crispy shallots and herbs.
Annabel says: This is a good first day meal when camping. Make the laksa base at home and freeze it in a sealed container. Pack frozen chicken or prawns in a bag and store next to the frozen base to keep it cold for longer.
Sausage Sang Choy Bow
Ready in 30 mins
3 cooked pork sausages, very finely chopped
1 Tbsp each soy sauce, oyster sauce, mirin and thai sweet chilli sauce
2 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced, or ½ tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp coarsely grated fresh ginger or 1 tsp powdered ginger
125g mung bean or rice vermicelli noodles
3 Tbsp neutral oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
2 spring onions, very finely sliced
30 torn mint leaves or coriander sprigs or a squeeze of coriander pesto
About 20 small iceberg or cos lettuce leaves
1-2 limes, to serve (optional)
Mix soy sauce, oyster sauce, mirin, Thai sweet chilli sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, garlic and ginger. When ready to cook, mix this through the sliced sausages and set aside. Place noodles in a bowl, cover with boiling water and allow to cool.
Heat oil in a large, deep frying pan and cook onion until softened but not browned (5 minutes). Add the sausages in their sauce and simmer for 2-3 minutes to absorb the flavours. Remove from heat. Drain noodles, cut in several places for easy handling and add to the sauce with the carrot, spring onions and mint or coriander. Toss to combine. To serve, spoon into lettuce leaves, drizzle with lime juice and roll up.
Annabel says: Mix all the sauces with the ginger ahead of time and store in a sealed container. Pre-cook the sausages. If you don't want to pack a grater, you just finely chop the carrot.