The plan was for a white Christmas in California's Sierra Nevada. But three days before our departure, my brother called from his downtown San Francisco office.

The plan was for a white Christmas in California's Sierra Nevada. But three days before our departure, my brother called from his downtown San Francisco office.

"Don't bother with your skis," he said. "There's no snow at the cabin, and unless something really major happens — and I mean soon — that's how it will remain."

A bleak forecast, that, threatening to melt our holiday vision of tramping through the powdery, white blanket of winter that ought to surround the family cabin. The pile of brand-new ski parkas and gloves, wrapped and nestled under the tree, now seemed to mock our hopes. But keeping thoughts positive was important, so the skis came along for the ride, just in case. Hey, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye lucked out, didn't they?

But there was no Hollywood-style reprieve in the cards that Christmas. That meant a cabin of eight adults, four teenagers, two adolescents and three very big dogs had to find an alternative form of winter recreation before we Trivial Pursuited ourselves to death. So we hiked.

We hiked a lot. With no hint of moisture in the atmosphere or on the ground, except for occasional icy patches in the shade, the air was reminiscent of a brisk spell in summer. The four-mile trail around the lake was clear and beautiful. There were plenty of sights to admire, and at several points dogs and children were lured to the lake's edge for wading and rock-skipping. But by the halfway point, our stomachs announced that lunchtime had been overlooked. A picnic would have been delightful.

Ironically, the next column I had planned was about trail food for snow enthusiasts. What a sorry joke, as Oregon had the same dearth of snow as California that year. In fact, it had been the driest winter in 50 years for the Pacific Northwest. Most ski resorts were closed. Even cross-country ski trails were bare. Indeed, there were a lot of grumpy skiers in town, all geared up with no place to go.

But sitting at Pinecrest Lake, with the brisk air of the great outdoors working on my appetite, none of that mattered as much as it had just hours before. The mountains are beautiful in winter — with or without snow. And there are plenty of trails to explore — with or without skis.

So in this luscious interval between Christmas and the frenetic activities you're about to launch in 2012, seize the moment to enjoy whatever conditions Mother Nature has decided to offer this season. Just don't get caught like we did without a portable feast.

The following hot sandwich fillings and soups are designed to be taken along in a thermos, so they can be consumed piping-hot on the trail. They're good, and they're filling. Call them Big Sandwiches and Soups for the Great Outdoors.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.