The Sassy Dietician's Guide to Real Food Living

Off the Beaten Trail Mix

By Laura Ligos | August 31, 2016
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Nature can be healing, spiritual and the best therapy you do not need to pay for.

The mountains are calling and I must go.” —John Muir

Nature has never been my strong suit. I grew up play- ing and swimming in a pool and going to the beach for vacation. That was the extent of my nature. Sure, I would play in the backyard, but mud baths and bugs were just not my thing. That was, of course, until I moved to upstate New York with my husband. The mountains called and I turned a page. So much so, that for our honeymoon I agreed to go hiking in Yosemite and Lake Tahoe. It is crazy how nature can get under your skin and turn you into a believer.

When you have the Adirondacks in your backyard as well as Lake George, Indian Ladder and the Catskills just a stone’s throw away, it is really hard to ignore nature and dismiss hiking. When I moved here, my husband could not wait to take me out to explore all that upstate had to offer. I went along and allowed him to take me on my first two High Peaks without knowing what I was getting myself into. Much to my surprise, the workout leggings and sneakers I had on were not nearly enough to combat the snow that lay atop the mountain, how was I to know? It was warm and sunny when we started, how deceiving and unpredictable nature can be.

Nature can be healing, spiritual and the best therapy you do not need to pay for. Sure, it can be scary, daunting and challenging, but nature is where you can grow and learn not only about yourself but also about your relationships. On the mountain trails, you are forced to be disconnected from technology, your Facebook feed and even texting with friends and family. It might cause anxiety at first, but it is where I go to escape the anxiety and get in touch with my adventurous and imaginative side.

Upstate New York is known for its Adirondack High Peaks, 46 peaks that all originally towered above 4,000 feet in the Adirondacks when first measured. These peaks are a goal for many aspiring hikers and are quite the rite of passage in the upstate community. Work your way up to these and start chipping away not just to brag that you have done all 46 but also to experience all that nature has to offer you. Take the fresh air in and let it heal you. After all, your health is far more than just what you put into your body.

Not sure if hiking is right for you? Start with a beginner trail and bring someone with you who has gone hiking before. Always check out the map and weather conditions before you go and make sure to either take pictures to store on your phone or bring the map with you, do not rely on technology to lead you in nature. Inform friends and family where and when you will be hiking and tell them approximate time of your return so they can send help.

Since I mentioned I was not originally into nature, have no fear, even the beginner can find health in nature. Wonder which trails I like most? Check out my favorite beginner, intermediate and advanced hikes and get out there! 

Of course, I could not leave you with just a list. I wanted to give you some homemade snacks to either bring with you or just enjoy when- ever you need a healthy real-food snack. All of these can be packed in bags and placed in your backpack. I personally like to eat the eggs in the car before we start a hike to give me a kick start, alongside coffee of course.

In the words of John Muir: “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” So go out there and enjoy nature. Commit to turning off your phones, laptops and tablets and turning on your sense of adventure and imagination. It is amazing what real food in nature can do for the body, mind and soul.

Enjoy and be safe! 

Beginner Hike:

John Boyd Thacher Park and Indian Ladder Trail

Length: 3.5 miles out and back (up to 13+ miles if you take the Long Trail)

Duration: < 2 hours

This is my favorite hike to bring all out-of-towners to.
It is a simple and mostly flat trail. It is family-and dog-friendly and has some of the best views of Albany. On a good visibility day you’ll be able to see into Vermont. Try and spot University of Albany and the Egg from atop the Overlook. 

Intermediate Hike

Sleeping Beauty on Lake George

Length: 7.0 miles out and back

Duration: 4+ hours

I found this hike with my husband back when I was just starting to get into hiking. You have the option (if the dirt road is open and you have a good AWD vehicle) to park close and eliminate the long walk in, but I personally like the winding walk leading up to the base of Sleeping Beauty. Bring a camera and a lunch and enjoy the views of Lake George and beyond while up on top. It is named Sleeping Beauty because of its shape when looking at it from down below across the lake. 

Advanced Hike
Adirondack High Peaks Wright, Algonquin and Iroquois

Length: 11.5+ miles out and back

Duration: 7+ hours

I recommend doing this hike in the middle of summer if you have never done the High Peaks before. More sunlight means more time to get up and down the mountain and no headlamps needed. There are a few waterfalls along the way, and you get to scramble up the top of each mountain. Make sure you have comfortable shoes, as this is sure to test your fitness.

Now that you know where to go, it is important to be prepared by planning ahead and packing the right equipment, food and drink. Nature has a mind of its own and you never know when you might find yourself turned around or off the beaten path. Besides packing an extra pair of socks, many breathable layers and light food, check out my packing list and snack ideas below and be prepared. 

Packing List

Always plan ahead, check the weather, know the path/trail and let family and friends know where you will be and when you should be back.

  • Backpack with supportive straps
  • Hiking boots
  • Water bladder and bottles filled with enough water for your trip
  • Waterproof clothes and extra clothing layers (it is always colder at the top and on your trip down!)
  • Extra socks (in case your other pair gets wet) Gloves/hats
  • First aid kit/medications
  • Map/GPS/compass
  • Whistle Flashlight/headlamps Food (see below) 

Snack Ideas

Find a small soft cooler that fits inside of your backpack and pack more than you anticipate needing just in case the trip becomes longer than you planned.

  • Fresh cut veggies (carrots, celery, snap peas, peppers) and hummus
  • Fresh fruit, such as avocados, apples, bananas, oranges
  • Eggs: hard-boiled or muffin cups (see recipe on next page)
  • Nut/seed butter packs
  • Jerky/meat sticks (see recipe on next page)
  • Granola/trail mix (see recipe at right) Energy/protein bars
  • Canned fish
  • Water, water and more water

Note: Never try something for the first time on a hike or trip. Try it while you are home and able to see if your body tolerates it well. 

Mountain Munch Granola

I love switching up the add-ins at the end. Find dried fruit, chocolate and other nuts and seeds to add in to switch up the flavor. Make sure to store in an airtight container once granola has cooled.

Yield: 3 cups

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup flaked unsweetened coconut 1⁄4 cup chia seeds
1 tablespoon 100% cocoa powder 1⁄3 cup maple syrup
1⁄3 cup coconut oil, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon turmeric
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 cup dark chocolate chunks
1⁄2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 275°. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl toss oats, coconut, chia seeds, cocoa powder, maple syrup, coconut oil, vanilla extract, cinnamon, turmeric and salt until evenly coated. Spread out oat mixture on lined baking sheet in one layer, place in oven and bake for 30 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes until golden brown.

Allow to cool for 30 minutes, toss in chocolate chunks, dried cran- berries and other add-ins, store in airtight container.

Egg Muffin Cups

Not a fan of a runny yolk? Try scrambling the eggs and toss in your favorite cooked meat or vegetables to make scrambled egg muffin cups.

Yield: 6 Muffins

6 eggs
6 strips of pasture-raised bacon 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 350° and grease or line a muffin tin.

Line each muffin cup with one slice of bacon, place in oven for 10 minutes until bacon starts to shrivel.

Crack one egg into each muffin cup, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Return muffin tin to oven and bake for 20 minutes or until egg white is cooked through.

Easy Homemade Beef Jerky

When slicing meat, I prefer to put it in the freezer for about an hour beforehand to make it firmer for slicing into nice thin jerky pieces. If you have a dehydrator, feel free to follow directions and dry meat in that man- ner, I have one and love it for hiking snacks!

Yield: about 10 servings

1 pound flank steak, trimmed of fat and sliced thin 1⁄2 cup gluten-free soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder
1⁄2 teaspoon chili powder
1⁄4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1⁄4 teaspoon ground black pepper Pinch of salt

Place all ingredients in a large plastic bag or glass baking dish and coat evenly. Refrigerate overnight or at least for 2 hours.

Remove meat from bag/dish and discard excess liquid. Preheat oven to 175° as you prepare the baking sheets by lining them with tin foil. Place a cooling rack on top, then place jerky on top of cooling racks to allow for airflow around jerky.

Place baking sheets with jerky in oven and bake until completely dry, about 2 to 3 hours, turning once halfway through. Check oven tem- perature often to ensure it remains at an even 175°.

When you think it’s done, remove jerky from oven and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container until ready to eat. The jerky can last for a few months if completely dried. 

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