Travel survival

airportfoodMy husband recently travelled to the United States, a trip that usually takes about 30 hours. Unfortunately, flight delays meant that his journey took about 44 hours instead. That’s nearly two days of airport and airplane food. Ugh!

It got me thinking about the ways we manage to eat well on those long-haul trips. Here are a few tips from our own experience and others:

  1. Whether you are vegetarian or not, consider choosing the vegetarian option when booking your flight—it’s often a more flavourful meal, and because it is brought to you individually, it’s always hot. (or you can choose another of the special options if you prefer)
  2. Resist the ease of junk food snacks. A package of cookies or a candy bar might be easy and quick, but in the end it will just make you feel bad. If you have the time, find the shop selling fresh fruit and salads, or bring healthy snacks with you (but make sure you declare any leftover food or dispose of it as required when you arrive, if you’re headed overseas).
  3. If you’re stuck in the airport for a meal, don’t be tempted to buy cheap, premade sandwiches which are invariably old and nasty. It’s worth the time and expense to sit down for a meal at an airport restaurant. Not only is the freshly prepared food better, the more civilized atmosphere of the restaurant helps dispel airport fatigue.
  4. Judiciously employ alcohol. You certainly don’t want to drink a lot when you travel, but when you’re stuck waiting for a delayed flight, or your layover seems interminable, a beer or glass of wine can make the wait more pleasant. I also find that a glass of wine on a long-haul flight helps me sleep on the plane.
  5. Drink plenty of water. Airports and airplanes are dry environments. Keep well hydrated or you’ll wilt like a potted plant, and end up cranky and with a headache.
  6. Avoid the dependable mediocrity of chain restaurants, and enjoy the local cuisine, even in the airport.
  7. A small package of mints is a life saver when you need a little pick-me-up or can’t brush your teeth.

Java Cat

drinkingcatIt’s another Throwback Thursday…

I ran across this photo of our cat, back when he was still cute, having a little taste from my coffee cup.

I don’t think he liked what he tasted; nowadays, he sniffs tentatively from a few inches away, then turns away in disgust. It’s what he does to most of our food. How a family of vegetarians ended up with a strictly carnivorous pet, I don’t know, but the positive result is that the cat rarely jumps onto the kitchen counters or tries snatch food from unattended plates. His only kitchen crime is sitting on the dining table in order to look out the window.

That does not mean he is well-behaved–oh, no–the Malevolent Beast from Hell has many evil habits, but at least stealing food isn’t one of them.

Diverse cultures, diverse food

Three unnamed ducks. Photo: Eric Weiss

Three unnamed ducks. Photo: Eric Weiss

I was delighted by this post on the Peace Corps Facebook page. The post and the hundreds of responses showcase the wonderful diversity of the human diet.

Food in Panama is generally not so…leggy as it is in many places around the world, but cow brains and chicken feet were regular menu items in our village.

Our landlord, Julián, loved to tease us about our vegetarian diet by introducing us to the carnivorous aspects of Panamanian cuisine.

One day he walked carefully down the path between our houses with a plate in his hands and a wicked smile on his face. As he grew close, we could see that, on the plate was the head and neck of a large duck, plucked and cooked, but expertly posed, as though it was casually resting on the plate while the remainder of its body went for a nice swim.

Julián explained that stuffed duck head was prepared for pregnant women near their due date. The dish was supposed to facilitate an easy delivery.

When Julián had returned home with his duck head, my husband and I turned to each other in horror, exclaiming in unison, “That was Dave!” Dave was a drake who frequented the drainage ditch by our porch. He had an unmistakably gnarled face.

We never named another duck again.

Oh, what a taste!

Beer, anyone?

Beer, anyone?

You would think that, taste being such a fundamental part of human culture and survival, we would know all about it.

Not so!

When I was a child, we were taught that there were four tastes: sweet, salt, bitter, and sour. Later, scientists discovered the taste, umami—the taste of glutamates, inosinate and guanylate–found in many foods, including meat, vegetables and dairy products, and often added to Asian foods in the form of MSG.

Now, scientists have discovered a sixth taste—oleogustus, or fat. Like bitter, fat is a flavour that, by itself, is disgusting. It is only in mixing with other flavours that fat becomes palatable (think chocolate—by itself, it is almost inedibly bitter, but add sugar and it’s delicious).

This sixth taste makes sense to me. The best foods combine all the flavours, and I’ve always maintained that a little fat goes a long way to making food taste good. Vegetable soup made by simply boiling the vegetables is flat. But sauté the onions first, adding a little fat, and suddenly the soup tastes rich.

The best foods include all the tastes. Think about the worldwide popularity of tomato sauces. Tomatoes are themselves an incredible mixture of sweet, sour and umami. Add to them some sautéed onions for a little fat, a handful of bitter herbs like oregano and rosemary, and a little salt, and you’ve got a sauce that excites all the senses. Serve it with a grating of Parmesan cheese (with fat, salt, and umami), and it doesn’t get much better.

And, of course, it explains why a beer begs for peanuts and pretzels alongside it—the sour and bitter of the beer need the fat, salt, sweet and umami in the peanuts and pretzels to join them!

Dad’s Decadent Submarine Sandwich

subsandwichsmI will admit, I give little consideration to lunch. I’m usually quite ready to eat by midday, but am loathe to stop whatever it is I’m doing. During the week, I usually eat at my desk. On the weekend, of course, there are others to consider—the whole family sits down to lunch together. I still try to hurry things along; I’ll pull out bread and cheese, pickles, and carrot sticks, and call it lunch.

My husband is more relaxed about lunch, and often more willing to invest time in its preparation. One of his signature lunches is Dad’s Decadent Submarine Sandwich.

The ingredients of one of these sandwiches varies, depending upon what’s in the refrigerator at the time. Yesterday’s included cheese, sauerkraut, dill pickles, tofu luncheon, jalapeño rings, mustard, and black olives.

He generously piles all these ingredients into one of his wonderful baguettes and pops it under the broiler for a few minutes to melt the cheese.


Word Famous Pancake Recipe

100_3505 copyFew of my recipes are made beyond my own kitchen, but one has gained a certain amount of recognition. Okay, maybe it’s not world famous, but thousands of people have eaten “my” pancakes over the past 17 years.

I used to work at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, and one year I was put in charge of pancake production for the annual Maple Harvest Festival. I figured we could save some money and have better tasting pancakes if we made them from scratch instead of from a boxed mix as they’d always done before.

I used my own recipe (multiplied 10 times for each batch!), and spent the day flipping pancakes for hundreds of visitors to the festival. Within an hour or two, I had scribbled the recipe on scraps of paper for several people. For the second day of the festival, I printed up a stack of recipes to hand out.

We certainly ate better tasting pancakes, but whether we saved money, I’m not sure—the pancakes were so good, the average visitor ate almost twice as many as they had in previous years!

That was around 1998, and my recipe has been used for Maple Harvest Festival ever since. The festival has grown, and now attracts more than 2,000 people annually. That’s a lot of pancakes!

Here’s the recipe. I double this for breakfast for four.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup cornmeal

1 tsp salt

3 Tbsp sugar

1 ¾ tsp baking powder

2 eggs

3 Tbsp melted butter

1- 1 ¼ cups milk

Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk eggs, butter and milk together in a large bowl. Combine wet and dry ingredients with a few swift strokes. Bake on a hot griddle, lightly greased with butter, flipping to brown on both sides.


Rosemary1 smIn Minnesota, I grew rosemary in pots and brought it indoors for the winter, lest it be killed by the cold. Here in New Zealand, I grow my rosemary in the garden, and have to hack it back twice a year to keep it from growing taller than I am.

Rosemary is one of my favourite herbs, whether in dinner, in the garden, or in a flower arrangement. It is decorative as well as delicious.

Rosemary was named by Pliny in the first century. Ros (foam) mare (sea)—meaning that it grew so close to the sea that the foam sprayed on it. The Greek gods supposedly valued a rosemary wreath more highly than one made of gold (think how much I could make selling my biennial rosemary trimmings to Zeus!).

Rosemary was first used medicinally and culturally. It entered the kitchen in the Middle ages as a way to disguise the saltiness of salt-preserved meat. I’m told it goes well with lamb, pork, and game. As a vegetarian, I like rosemary with potatoes, pumpkin, and in Italian tomato sauces. And I love to brush the bushes with my hands as I walk past, so I can bring that lovely smell with me wherever I go!