Powdered peanut butter and other culinary disappointments

“Here — try some of this!” I urged.

My buddy Phil, half-starved after paddling nonstop for most of the day, probably would have gobbled down a rotten banana without bothering to peel the skin, but he still squinted dubiously at the jar I proffered.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Just try it!”

Phil shrugged, grabbed the jar and shook a generous helping into his mouth.

Half a second later: “Ack-ack-ack-ack-ack!”

“Maybe you’d better drink some water,” I suggested.

Phil glugged a quart or two.

“Ack-ack-ack-ack-ack!”

I contemplated removing Phil’s life jacket in preparation for administering the Heimlich maneuver.

“Ack-ack-ack-ack-ack!”

Finally, in an explosive spasm, he managed to exhale a cloud of powder.

“What are you trying to do? Kill me?” he sputtered.

Observing this spectacle with alarm, Jenna, another kayaker in our merry band, glared at me.

“Haven’t you ever heard about the cinnamon challenge?”

She was referring to an ill-considered game in which participants try to swallow powdered cinnamon, sometimes with disastrous consequences. It hadn’t occurred to me that powdered peanut butter might produce the same undesired effect.

This wholesome but potentially hazardous product stayed off Phil’s menu for the rest of our five-day expedition, though I was able to choke it down in small doses when I was in too much of a rush to mix in water beforehand.

If nothing else, powdered peanut butter provided comic relief because it inevitably wound up coating my face, shirt and various other nearby surfaces. When you’re famished on the river or on the trail, you don’t always have time to prepare a proper meal, much less adhere to Martha Stewart protocols.

Eating on a kayak voyage has advantages and disadvantages over dining during a hiking expedition. On the plus side, you can carry a lot more food (and gear) in a boat than you can in a backpack. On the down side, you have to use extra precautions to keep your provender dry.

My outdoor fare does not vary much whether I’m hiking or paddling, and I’m too much of a cheapskate to spring for expensive, freeze-dried packaged meals sold in outdoor supply stores.

When camping, I’ve found I can subsist inexpensively, reasonably nutritiously and suitably satisfying on supermarket grub: oatmeal, peanuts, raisins, flatbread, grated cheese, dried pea soup, lentils and couscous. The powdered peanut butter was an extravagant experiment ($8 a jar, compared to $3 for the regular variety, all to save a few ounces of weight). I haven’t quite decided whether it’s worth the added expense.

Phil, for the most part, is similarly frugal, though for dinner he indulged in foil-pouch meals similar to those consumed by astronauts and Navy SEALS — too rich for my blood.

We shared a stove and went through the same ritual every night. I’d boil hot water, pour half into an aluminum cup containing my powdered soup mix, and then waited while Phil reached into his food sack and pretended to deliberate.

“Hmmm. What’s on the menu tonight?” he would ask, rummaging through a heap of packages. “I know: chicken and rice!” All the packages were identical.

I also don’t feel compelled to vary my cuisine. While backpacking alone in the Swiss Alps some years ago, I subsisted for more than a week almost entirely on a basketball-sized loaf of walleser roggenbrot — a dense, dark, heavily crusted bread — along with a wheel of Swiss cheese and a jar of cherry preserves.

I often err in favor of packing too much, but when hiking Maine’s 100-mile Wilderness, the northernmost section of the Appalachian Trail, in which we had to backpack all our provisions for a week-long outing, I realized that in two short days I had eaten nearly two-thirds of my stores. I had no choice but to put myself on strict rations.

I did save one peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the last day of the hike. With a scant 14 miles to go atop Rainbow Ridge, I unwrapped the stale, cardboard-like sandwich and wolfed it down in two bites.

That was the best food I’ve ever tasted on the trail. In fact, it may be the best meal I’ve ever enjoyed anywhere.

Come to think about it, that sandwich was made with old-fashioned peanut butter, so I guess I’ve answered my own question about whether or not to substitute the powdered variety next time.

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