Last time I checked in with the Skratch Labs blog, I had suffered a minor meltdown in Las Vegas on my way to Redlands, and vowed to never again be subjected to the disaster known as the “average American meal” as I traveled from race to race. After I got back home, Allen decided I needed a few more key pieces in addition to the rice cooker, so we went to procure supplies for the Skratch Labs Mini Kitchen.
The Mini Kitchen is the result of a paradigm shift in the way athletes care for their nutrition needs. It has always amazed me that people will spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on equipment, only to shovel garbage down their throats right before a race or skimp on the quality of the food they eat. Skratch Labs and The Feedzone Cookbook are both founded on the premise that conventional wisdom isn’t very wise, and that simple solutions are often better than their pseudoscientific counterparts. In the same way that there is no advanced technology behind an ice-sock on a hot day, or that the ingredients in a rice cake are far fewer than almost any energy bar, the marginal gains to be had by bringing a rice cooker (and few other bits) to a race are easy to take and low tech. It’s a cheap and simple insurance policy that means you will have familiar food at competitions.
The Mini Kitchen is also contagious; after the upgrade to the equipment, I started cooking for my team at races. It became a way for me to relax; I could both control what we were eating, and it took my mind off the race by giving me a task to complete. What I didn’t really expect was for my personal paradigm shift to start affecting the other riders on the team; I thought I was the picky, weird guy on the team who would always shut down restaurant options, but I started to notice the others catching on. When I showed up to Tour of the Battenkill, I found that one teammate had brought his own rice cooker in case I hadn’t brought mine. As we coordinated to drive to Tour of the Gila, the only question he asked me was whether he needed to bring his cooker or if mine was enough. The early riser on the team learned how I make oatmeal in the cooker so that he could start a massive batch for the team each day. I’m currently guest riding for a team at Tour de Beauce, and I expected raised eyebrows when I said I brought a rice cooker, but after I gave a few guys honey and almond butter rice cakes, they all thought it was great.
So what are the essentials? My crucial tools are pretty limited, but most of my races have host housing, so that makes things considerably easier. In addition to a 6 cup rice cooker (3 cups is ok for one or two people, but a team needs the grown-up version), I always have a rice spatula, a small, lightweight brownie pan for forming rice cakes, a roll of foil or Martha Wrap, a knife, a bag of rice, a bag of oats, some nut butter, honey, and dried fruit. Those things will get you through, but if you need more heat and variety, an electric wok/frying pan or a small George Foreman grill will make just about anything you need to compete. It all can stack inside itself in your suitcase, and doesn’t really add that much to your traveling weight, but it makes a huge difference in your confidence and comfort.
The Mini Kitchen has already paid itself off in the first two days of Beauce. No lunch after the race? No problem. Only gels to eat? Not now, I have rice cakes. Again, I expected to be the strange foreign guy on the team, but everyone seems to agree with the value I put on these tools. Now if only teams will get with the program! - Julian Kyer
Julian Kyer wanted to see what all the Feedzone Cookbook fuss was really about. So armed with the cookbook and new rice cooker he set off for the traditional opener to the National Racing Calendar – The Redlands Classic:
After a nauseating breakfast in a Vegas casino, a more or less mandatory break on my drive to the Redlands Bicycle Classic, I cracked. I’d picked at ten dollars worth of grease-soaked omelette, cardboard-like toast, and out-of-season fruit for no apparent reason. While I was being served the exact things that are known contributors to western lifestyle disease, sitting in a pleather booth, drinking terrible coffee and breathing any cigarette smoke with the temerity to sneak past the “non-smoking section” plaque and velvet rope, my brand new rice cooker was sitting in the hotel room, next to my race-ready breakfast box. Oats, rice, raisins, fresh organic fruit, almond and coconut butters, honey and almond milk were sitting in my room, two cups of water away from my ideal breakfast. I started thinking about Allen Lim’s fried rice, the congee for breakfast at last year’s Tour of Taiwan, my daily bowl of oats, and I realized the vast majority of what I needed as a bike racer could be churned out of the little six cup rice cooker and its steaming tray. As we sped out of Las Vegas towards Redlands, I texted Allen Lim with a challenge: to see if every meal I prepared during the week could be churned out of the rice cooker. Here are some favorites from the week:
My twist on Biju’s recipe. I start every
morning this way, and I never get tired of it.
I even wake up excited that I get to eat oatmeal and drink coffee. This is a curious thing to admit but it turns
out a lot of people feel this way too.
Here’s how I make it with the rice cooker: one part oats, one part
coconut or almond milk, one part water.
Shake in some cinnamon, toss in some fruit (I like raisins and chopped
apple), whack the lid on and press the cook switch. When it’s done cooking, I stir in some honey
and either almond or coconut butter.
and Eggs- Lunches and dinners can be a little more stressful to get right. This is a new staple of mine; it’s
low-maintenance and you can throw it together quickly after a ride or race, and
let it get cooking while you shower or collapse on the couch in a stupor. Start cooking some rice while you slice some
veggies to put in the cooker’s steam basket (if you don’t have a steam basket,
leave them raw or toss them on top of the eggs after you add them). Things like bok choy, bell peppers and
spinach work well. Start the veggies
steaming, and as the rice is just a few minutes away from being done, crack
your eggs right on top of the rice-the steam will poach them in a few
minutes. Once they’re done to your
liking, scoop the rice and eggs into a bowl, put the steamed veggies on top and
serve with a drizzle of sesame oil, Bragg’s Liquid Aminos and some Thai chili
Things like The Feedzone Cookbook’s rice porridge, soups or even scrambled eggs can be done in the rice cooker; I’ve even seen recipes for bread in the rice cooker, so your imagination is really the limit. Even though I had the full use of a well-stocked kitchen during Redlands, I wanted to show that good food is mostly about thought and care, that being stuck in a hotel room with no kitchen doesn’t mean eating at chains is your only option, a point I have happily proven to myself. I’m already excited for the cooker’s next trip.