Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hiking the Appalachian Trail

The Falls at White Oak Canyon
I am going to go hiking on the Appalachian Trail this weekend.  Don't jump to any conclusions.  Unlike former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, I'm not planning a tryst with my Argentinian lover.  Remember that this is a boring suburban cooking blog.  I'm getting together with a couple of girlfriends and we're heading out to a place called White Oak Canyon in the Shenandoah National Park.  Technically, this canyon is NOT on the Appalachian Trail.  The "AT," to those in the know, is a trail from Maine to Georgia that follows the ridge line of the Appalachian Mountains.  Because this is a canyon, it isn't on the ridge, and hence, it's not exactly on the Trail.  Ah, purists-sort of the same mentality that hates jarred spaghetti sauce.  Ridge, smidge.  The way I see it, if I'm closer to West Virginia than to a Nordstrom's, then I'm on the Appalachian Trail.

OK, OK; poison ivy concerns me too.
  Candidly, this is my first ever real hike.  I'm a big walker, but that's about as rigorous as my exercise gets.  I'm told that hiking is different.  I suppose I should be buzzing about pulling together trail maps, a compass, water purification tablets, and studying Native American plant species, but I'm not.  The National Park Service states that this is a four-hour hike, safe for those between the ages of 6 to 60.  Hence, I don't think survival equipment is really required, and unless I'm eating them, I could care less about plants.  No; there's really only one thing that concerns me.  Lunch.

I figure that we'll arrive at the Park around 10 in the morning.  It's a four-hour hike, and unless we carry our lunch with us, we won't be able to eat until two o'clock.  Given that at heart I'm a namby-pamby, it might even be closer to three o'clock, what with all the multiple water breaks and rest stops.  I can do a lot of things, but waiting until two or three in the afternoon to eat lunch is not among them   Carry it in it is.  So here's the dilemma:  a really good picnic lunch is going to be heavy, what with the plates, utensils, and tupperware--not to mention the food itself.  I suppose we could opt for a utilitarian meal of power bars and raisins, but let's be honest: power bars are disgusting, and so are raisins--unless they are in an oatmeal cookie.  The obvious alternative is sandwiches, but they'll be a smushed up mess after being jostled in a backpack for two hours.   What to do?  What to do? 

I have an idea.  A muffaletta.  A muffaletta is sort of an antipasto salad wrapped up in a thick hunk of Italian bread.  The beauty of it is that you typically make a muffaletta the night before you eat it, and some recipes even call for you to to let it sit overnight under a heavy can or two in order to compress all the flavors.  Ah--you see where I'm going here.  All that backpack jostling will actually make my muffaletta taste better--part of the recipe as it were.  Ultimately, it's really just a sandwich, so it should be pretty light.  Add a couple of apples or oranges that carry pretty well, some canned chips, and a delightful lunch--worthy of an inaugural hike on the Appalachian Trail--might just be in our future.


1.   Go buy a really high-quality whole loaf of Italian bread.  DO NOT BUY IT SLICED.

2.  Cut the loaf in half horizontally.  Place it on a large piece of tinfoil--sufficient to entirely wrap the loaf once it is fully stuffed.  Depending on how much you intend to stuff it, you may want to pull out some of the breading on the inside of the loaf.  Take the removed breading and immediately shove it into your mouth.  It's really really good. 

3.  Mix vigorously in a small bowl:  two Tbs of olive oil and one Tb of good-quality balsamic vinegar.  Drizzle this dressing on the interior of each side of the loaf.

4.  Generously spread each side of the load with any or all of the following:  chopped olives (green or black or both), thinly sliced red onion, slices of roasted red peppers, pesto, basil leaves, tomatoes, or chopped artichokes.

5.  Line the loaf with several ounces of your favorite deli meat:  ham, salami, turkey, roast beef, mortadella, or any combination thereof.

6.   Layer in a few ounces of your favorite cheese:  provolone, asiago, and/or mozarella.

7.  Reassemble both sides of the loaf to make one giant honkering sandwich.  Wrap it really tightly in the tinfoil. 

8.  Wrap it up again with another piece of tinfoil; put it in a large ziplock freezer bag and then put it in your backpack--on top of the water bottles, apples, and anything else that's heavy.  No need to take unnecessary chances with the smushing.  You want the flavors pressed in, but too much jostling and you run the real risk of turning it into a soggy mess.

9.  Drive out to White Oak Canyon.  Hike about 2 miles into the canyon with good friends and enjoy both your lunch and the magic of the moment.  Or at least that's the vision; I'll let you know how it turns out.

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