Food for Thought? More Like Food for Adventure!

By: Jack Messerly, Assistant Director and Lifelong Foodie

After my third and final summer of leading for Apogee in the summer of 2014, and before fellow Assistant Director Izzy Janzen and I began working in the Apogee office, we decided to pursue our passion for food by heading to northern California to work on a farm.

Izzy and I at the farm in California – it’s worth noting that I’ve since received a haircut.

We spent six months living and working on a small, organic farm – running the farmer’s market, milking goats, harvesting and weeding vegetables – and generally living an exciting, low-budget, post-grad life. In the spring of 2015, we made our way back to Maine, and that fall we started working part time at Crystal Springs Farm here in Brunswick. Coincidentally, Crystal Springs Farm is the same farm where I volunteered with my very first New England Mountains & Coast trip in 2012, and where Apogee trips still volunteer! This past winter, Izzy and I took our love of food to the next level and “published” a cookbook (produced for friends and family only, so unfortunately you won’t find it in any bookstores – yet….).

Yes, this is me, circa 2013, and yes, it appears that I chose to make a peanut butter, jelly, lettuce, cheese, and hot sauce wrap.

Food and cooking has become a real passion of mine over the last few years, and it’s one of the things I’m most excited about bringing to the Apogee table (pun intended). After all, meals are a huge part of an Apogee trip, and good or bad food can make or break an experience – which is why we work so hard to provide simple, tasty, nutritious, and plentiful meals – everyday.

The focus on meals during an Apogee trips starts at our Staff Training, when we dedicate more than a day of our precious training time to all things food: nutrition, dietary restrictions and allergies, shopping, packability, recipes, cooking on camp equipment, sanitation, kitchen safety… the list goes on! Not to mention the lessons, practice, and ideas that come out of every meal during training. I also can’t mention food during Leader Training without referencing our famous and highly competitive Iron Chef cooking competition (of which I was runner up in 2012, no big deal).

To prevent this blog post from becoming a short novel, I’ll summarize two of the most important aspects of Apogee meals that we cover during Leader Training:


  • The not-so-easy-to-remember acronym that is now an essential component of the Apogee leader vocabulary. If you look closely, I’ve already referenced it in this post, as SITANUP stands for the four pillars of every Apogee meal: simple, tasty, nutritious, and plentiful. We’re cooking primarily with camping equipment, so the meals can’t be too complicated – sorry, no soufflés this summer. But just because they’re simple doesn’t mean they can’t be delicious; we get creative with spices, fresh ingredients, local flare, and new recipes. Though some teenagers may find this hard to believe, simple, delicious meals can also be healthy. Everyday, we make sure to include the basics essential to keeping our bodies fueled: starches, carbohydrates, protein, and vegetables – and we steer clear of junk food. Finally, we make sure we always have plenty to eat – nobody goes hungry on an Apogee trip! While we always do our best to minimize food waste, we err on the side of “too much” vs “too little” when it comes to food. Our leaders will tell you that every day consists of not three, but six meals – breakfast, a hearty snack, lunch, another substantial snack, dinner, and dessert.



Dietary restrictions, allergies, and food preferences

  • Over the course of our 15 seasons running trips, we’ve become very familiar with a wide array of food allergies and restrictions: gluten intolerance and Celiac disease, nut allergies, and vegetarian diets to mention some of the more common ones – and we’re happy to accommodate to the best of our abilities. We have great gluten-free (GF) substitutes for our usual Apogee staples, whether that’s GF oatmeal for breakfast, rice cakes instead of wraps for lunch, and quinoa for dinner. Depending on the severity of the allergy, we can run completely nut-free trips, and every meal will have vegetarian options. For our carnivores out there, we have meat options whenever possible, too!
Our staff hitting the meal line hard during Staff Training.

Once our leaders are trained and practiced in the art of Apogee meals, they head into the field with an extensive list of recipes, a bag full of cooking equipment, and, most importantly, a positive attitude (insert two thumbs up and a cheesy smile here). In addition to being able to provide SITANUP meals on trip, we also want our students to take ownership of the trip, which includes meal planning and preparation. Each day, a different group of students will compose the Cook Crew, who, under the supervision of the leaders, plan, shop for and prepare the day’s meals. Not only is this a great opportunity to learn a new skill, but it also empowers the students and instills a sense of responsibility.

Kyle and Rosa push the peppers in their Iron Chef Competition entry

Once the Cook Crew has presented their meal to the entire group (often using superfluous adjectives in French accents) and everyone has been served, an important and long-standing Apogee tradition is the only thing standing between the ravenous group of teenagers and their steaming burrito bowls. Before every meal – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – all of our trips will complete what we refer to as a “Quaker Countdown.” To be honest, the origins of the name may be lost to the mists of time, but what’s important is the concept behind it; once everyone has a plate full of food but before anyone can eat, everyone will hold up their index finger and become completely silent. Then, one-by-one, fingers will fold into fists around the circle, but if anyone speaks or puts their finger down out of order, the whole group must restart. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, try it with a bunch of 14 year-olds who just biked 40 miles and have a delicious plate of food under their noses. The point of the Quaker Countown is to slow down – appreciate our food, appreciate our company, and appreciate our beautiful surroundings. At Apogee, mealtime is family time, and that’s really important to us.

Quaker Countdown on a Pacific Coast trip last summer

Okay, enough of this conceptual stuff, let’s get to the real-life, tried-and-true examples of food on trip. Without further adieu, here are a few examples of my favorite Apogee meals, stories, and general food-related shenanigans:

  1. The famous Alpine Apple: Leaders Dave and Isa, who led California Mountains & Coast last summer, were lucky enough to stumble upon a very rare Alpine Apple this past summer, deep in the backcountry of Yosemite National Park. After referring to this “Alpine Apple” throughout the trip, Dave and Isa sneakily packed a pineapple before backpacking into Yosemite. One morning before everyone awoke, Dave buried the pineapple so that only the “crown” was above ground. After another student conveniently noticed it and corralled the group to dig it up – an Alpine Apple, what a find! What better backcountry treat than a fresh pineapple?
  2. Funfetti Orange Cake: One of Apogee’s most creative and interactive desserts! Step 1: cut the top off of an orange and hollow it out with a spoon (eating the delicious pulp, of course!) Step 2: Fill the intact orange peel with Funfetti cake batter (mixed with water), replace the top of the orange, and wrap completely in tin foil. Step 3: Cook the orange over the campfire until it “bakes” into a personal, delicious, orange Funfetti cake. Step 4: The easiest step of all – enjoy!
  3. Biking with bungees: A collection of comical food items that have been bungee’d to a bike rack that beat the odds and have made it to camp: watermelon, birthday cake, eggs, seven (7!) pizzas, roughly a dozen French baguettes….
French baguettes – in France! – on our Europe Coast to Coast trip
This use of bungee cords is not recommended for amateurs!

Our passion, creativity, and general love of food (and sizable appetites!) here at Apogee provide us all of the motivation we need to make food a memorable, delicious part of every Apogee experience. Sharing my love of food with the Apogee world is one of my favorite parts of the summer, and if it wasn’t already abundantly clear, I could probably talk about it all day (this post may have originally been four pages pre-edits…). Please give us a call if you ever have food-related questions, concerns, or great stories from you trip!

That’s all for now – it’s just about dinner time. Happy eating, everyone!

P.S. What’s next, a food-related Apogee trip? You never know…