Meals on two wheels with Cycling Cindy
Cycling Cindy is not only a tremendously interesting solo female cyclist and world explorer she is also a great outdoor chef and a very good photographer.
Cindy and I became friends about 3 years ago through Facebook and we talk frequently about the ups and downs of a solo life on the road.
Cindy, someone who has cooked as many one pot meals as you did must have a lot of tricks to share!
1. At first I would like to know your current cooking gear. I assume you tried several cooking systems over the years and now, finally you carry what suits you best.
My kitchen takes up one front pannier, food is stowed in the other front pannier, and some on the back.
- Stove Optimus Nova, not my initial choice of stove but probably one of the best
- Primus 1 liter fuel bottle/ Optimus 0.3 liter bottle
- Self-made funnel with baby-sock filter to pour gasoline into the stove bottle
- Primus Eta Power pan 1.1 liter
- MSR Frying pan
- Self-made storage bag to keep the pans, plate and stove in
- MSR Seagull cup, a gift and super happy with it
- Sea to Summit plate used as cutting board and lid for the frying pan
- Ordinary spoon, fork and knife, bomba (for drinking yerba mate), matches, lighters and 2 pan handles which I keep in a plastic container
- Foldable aluminum wind screen
- Small aluminum cup for preparing bread
- Kitchen cloth, and 3 protecting cloths to lay in between the pans and plate to sooth the rattling.
The food I usually carry with me is stored in several Zip-Loc or ordinary supermarket bags and plastic containers.
- Zip-Loc bags with tea, milk powder, flour and Nescafe
- Plastic containers with butter and soaking beans
- 6 eggs in their original cardboard box
- Olive oil, tuna fish, tomato paste
- Zip-Loc bag with all the spices
- 3 small Nalgene salt bottles
- Granulated cheese and dry yeast
2. How do you spice up your meals and what are the little ingredients that you make sure you never run short of? Can you always find those things when you are remote?
My meals are always spiced up by garlic and onions. I buy them, but if I find them along the road I pick them up. When I am in some agricultural surroundings with a lot of active farming around, the tractors and trucks lose some of their products. I pick these up and use them.
I hardly ever run out of ground chili pepper, dried oregano and salt. I am addicted to an array of Indian spices for masala chai, but have run out and I cannot find them in South America. Now, I have asked my dad to buy them and send them to Buenos Aires, along with Rohloff oil. These spices are mixed, fried dry and grind by myself.
3. Most cyclists are starving after a long day in the saddle and only want to get something to fill up their belly, no matter what. Preparing a proper meal takes some time. How do you speed up the process?
I speed up the process by slowing the appetite down. I simply don’t get the chance to get ‚hungry‘, because I stop long enough before that happens. Besides, I think that cycling is just another way of life, and my approach is healthy: I don’t do what I wouldn’t do back home.
Besides, food pleases the brains, so I will not allow myself to skip a meal, to get a huge appetite or to cycle some extra just for the sake of more kilometers. As soon as I am in camp I drink a milky coffee and this usually prevents an early flaring up appetite.
I have a long-term habit of hardly ever feeling an appetite, as I try to eat regularly, usually fat and (olive) oily, and almost always at the exact moments. Though my digestive system is strong as a brick, and my hygienic level in the camping kitchen very stretchy, there is one thing which has my equilibrium totally out of balance: skipping a meal.
4. You are baking bread. How do you do it and how do you make sure not to waste too much energy to not run out of fuel if you are remote?
Making bread is easy, cheap, convenient, and it takes only 7 minutes to mix the dough. I never run out of ingredients, as a kilo flour makes bread for about a week. Nor do I run out of fuel as both these items depend only on a little orderliness. To make bread I use dry yeast, salt, water, flour and, preferable, olive oil.
Mix yeast with flour, set aside for some time. Then add salt and water and with a spoon start making a doughy mass. When the spoon becomes insufficient, I use my hands to form a dry ball of dough. When done I put it in a plastic bag and let it rise until the next morning. When it is cold I wrap it in clothes, because I have noticed dough does not rise when it is cold, so wrapping it in clothes seems to be beneficial for the rising process.
In the morning, after the bread has risen in the night, I divide it in 4 even parts. I roll them into balls with my hands, and flatten them before I place them in the pan. Heating olive oil in the frying pan, I place the 4-flattened dough into it. I flip the loaves about every 3 minutes and pour more oil if needed.
I start flipping only after the crust has started to form, otherwise they’ll stick to the pan. The best result is to fry them on deep glowing coil from a wood fire. On a stove, it gets a bit risky so I need to be very careful not to burn them. The slower they are fried, the fluffier, yet firm, the inside gets and the outside will be deliciously crispy.
On a stove, it takes about 7 minutes, on a perfect wood fire about 15 minutes. I am very attentive while frying the bread because it is a precise and sensitive process to get it right and especially not to burn it. When the dough is too cold for example.
But usually I enjoy fresh bread every day! I eat two loaves in the morning, combined with 2 scrambled eggs, full fat butter and some cheese.
This will have me energized for at least 4 hours with medium cycling-exertion. In the afternoon, I eat the other 2 bread, combined with cheese.
I have tried several types of breakfast: porridge doesn’t fill me up for long. Bread from the supermarket has sugar in it and it’s an empty carbohydrates.
5. How do you save fuel in general? I have seen you cooking beans, lentils and other grain. Usually they need a long time to cook. I am sure you know how to shorten the process to save fuel.
I don’t save fuel. I may increase the lifetime of my stove by having pasta only 2 x 1 minute on the flame, as it continues to cook off the flame. But for a meal I use what it needs. If there is wood, it is usual in abundance. I carry a liter bottle of fuel, and I’ve never run out.
When I cook lentils or beans I use fire, as it needs to be on the pit for at least an hour. Needless to say, I prepare lentils or beans only when I have plenty of water and wood-fire. Nevertheless, the process of cooking beans is quickened by soaking them on the back of my bicycle for a day, or more.
6. It is often difficult to find small amounts of ingredients. Salt comes in 1 kg same as flour. Other items can be packed in 2kg bags, like milk powder for instance. How are you dealing with this?
I try to buy salt in a kilo, which is cheaper than fancy little bottles, and take what I need (3 little Nalgene bottles). The rest I give away, or place somewhere visible for someone else to take. Sometimes I may ask for a refill of my tiny bottle. Along the road is salt too, thrown from a bus.
Standard I carry a kilogram of wheat flour, 400 gram of milk powder, 500 gram of pasta, a few tins of tuna-fish; the good news is, after one day in the saddle the weight already decreases. This partly explains why I am slow, my bicycle weighs a lot extra because of the food I carry. But I try not to buy potatoes and rice since they are even more heavy.
7. You told me once you don’t eat sweets. What are your snacks during the day?
I do not snack during the day, except when I find dates and dried figs. Which hardly happens. I love snacking on dried fruits (banana, ginger, mango) but it’s hard to find, or way too expensive, in South America. Depending on the country its locally made, artisan specialties, I will take them right before dinner and breakfast. Usually breakfast leads me to lunch which has me filled up till dinner. In the morning I bake bread, enough for breakfast and lunch, so I only have to cook twice a day.
Aside from unintentional sugar intake, I may take natural sugar such as honey, bananas or raisins. Typically, I crave for chocolate when my periods appear but 70% pure chocolate is hard to find. Instead I started the occasional habit to snack on chocolate-taste cookies before breakfast and dinner. This arises from a poor assortment of food supplies in Chile during the Atacama desert ride. In Argentina they give sweets as a change instead of money, so those I do take 😉
8. Fresh vegetables are heavy and bulky for the little space a cyclist has in its panniers. When you are many days away from civilization, how do you still eat properly? What is mainly in your bags when you are far out?
Onions and garlic are standard. I try to carry tomatoes and bell peppers when I get the chance. Aubergine and fresh cilantro are bought when I see them, and are not heavy at all. Then, when I leave civilization for a while I am usually no further away than 5 days from the next place to buy, often very simple, food products. I cannot carry veggies this long, and I am depending on rather tasteless food. To make things a bit nutritious I try to carry olives, granulated cheese and canned tuna fish.
Over the course of 4 years, mostly, on the road I have had different experiences to food intake and nutritious values. In India I ate very healthy, full vegetarian food which was naturally according to the Ayurvedic concept.
In Africa it was often fresh fish but the further south it became more starchy and I ate lots of fried dough. Now in South America distances are often huge and never have I cooked this much each day, never so boring either, as much of the food I make originates from wheat flour, though I try to be real creative.
Pasta is really an empty carbohydrate, which doesn’t do much for the energetic body, and veggies don’t fill the stomach either. Perhaps Heike, I should start another diet altogether?
Anyway, food is not about being festive or the highlight of the day, but neither should be a dread to eat. It must be nutritious, healthy and avoiding constipation. My breakfasts and lunches are fine, now I am experimenting with dinners, as I want to be content each evening. Nothing such an antidote as eating with aversion. In comparison to other cyclists, I have noticed, my meals are actually festive and incredible important: solely rice and lentils won’t do for me.
9. Water is not everywhere to be found and most often the most important item while pedaling in remote places. Concerning cooking pasta, doing dishes and washing vegetables before eating, how do you save water?
I’ve started to find water just about everywhere. Sorting transparent bottles filled with pee, thrown out of trucks, from those without pee. Little memorial places have water for the dead. Prayer sites for safe travel have water bottles in abundance. Truck drivers often lose their bottle when they’re parked and open their cabs. Wandering people forget their bottles too.
Though I attracted quite often bacterial bowel infections and hosted a few parasites, I do use water from nearly every tap and from rivers. If all fails, I halt a truck driver or car. Before I crossed the Atacama Desert I would enter houses to ask for water, if no one was around I would help myself. Lately I have been given a water filter, so I can now safely drink the water I before distrusted, even that out of cattle pools.
10. Besides bears in bear countries where it might get dangerous to have food in your tent or close to you, how about the issues with little creatures like ants and mice, raccoons and monkeys?
They are mainly attracted to smell. Did you ever have problems that gnawers chewed a hole in your panniers or your tent? How do you make sure not to get in trouble with insects running around all over?
Mice have bitten rather big holes in my kitchen pannier, and believe it or not, they were Dutch and German mice only!
In the woods of Germany I was once surrounded by a herd of wild boars and this scared the hell out of me, luckily the person I was with screamed hard, and they ran off.
In West Africa I have seen plenty of wild animals but all poached. From East Europe to India, through the Gulf there were no animals, I knew off, to be careful with, except for the elephants and tigers in a national park.
It started in Brazil and North West Paraguay, where real dangerous predators are still roaming the forests and semi dry deserts. Apart from White-lipped peccaries and huge boars, the puma was a threat. And I would seek protection within the fenced properties of people.
Ants seem to have their strict routes, I watch out not to be near their walkways. Cows or bulls may stumble through my camp, but only for grass. Foxes may come close, they never get into the panniers. Lizards do, but instead of biting holes, they slip in the pannier and take what they like.
Mice rather pick left overs in the vestibule but in case they are determined, I have left one big hole open, so that rodents have easier access. Perhaps it helps that I mark my territory, and I do so very near my tent ; )
When in countries with tarantula’s, I stuff something in the opening where the zippers of the tent come together, as I keep food (rising bread) in my tent. I usually make a little alarm bell at my tent too, in case animals come close to the food they smell in my panniers. It is a cup tight to the guy line of the tent, dangling against a karabiner. Making harsh sounds with pots and cutlery stored in the vestibule scares animals coming too near too.
The only animals to be a bit wary of are stray dogs, they are hungry and walk off with either my spongy or trash bag.
11. I am sure there are more tricks in your gimmickry! What else would you like to share and teach others on how to cook a great meal while far away from civilization?
A tip to keep food cool in hot weather is to place it in the pannier where the sun won’t shine right on it. To place everything closely together keeps it edible enough for a few days. I may wrap things in a wet cloth and place it underneath the elastic netting on the back of my bicycle, the wind will work as a cooler.
Pasta doesn’t need to be all covered with water to steam. And when it comes to a boil, I take it off the fire, only to place it back some time later, for a minute again. Pasta will steam by the heat in the pan. The little left over water I use to clean pots and pans. But sand will clean good as well.
When in need for quark, hang a thin shirt, wrapped in such a way so it can hold the yogurt, from a tree. The next morning it is quark.
Note: when working on this interview I started to rethink my diet: bread and pasta are merely carbohydrates. I need more than that. Bread fried in olive oil fills me up really well, but only because I take it with 2 eggs, cheese and full fat butter. But each evening pasta makes me tired! I am going to try soaking beans while cycling, mixed with veggies, cheese and… fatty meat.
Works wonders! This is the result and it fills me up way better. I do feel bad about eating cows but I quit myself in believing that in Argentina the cows couldn’t have a better life.
Check out Cindy’s recipes if you fell for her style….
Her photography can be found on her instagram page.
I did another interview of Cindy about 3 years ago, a very interesting read.
If you have any questions to Cindy feel free to leave a comment.