15 July 2016

Traveling meals

As a freelance musician, I spend a lot of time traveling when I should be sitting at the dining room table with a healthy meal. I have attempted to eat cold leftover spaghetti while driving through a snow storm (super, duper bad idea), I have been mid-swig of coffee while getting rear-ended by a teenage boy who can't drive and sneeze at the same time (still have the stain on my ceiling), and I have certainly succumbed many times to the gut bombs that are fast joints and, worse yet, gas station "delis".  I've decided that, upholstery and clothing stains not withstanding, packing my own food is best because a) classical music doesn't pay well and b) I often feel like I'm truly about to die for at least eight hours after eating a Whopper Jr. Oh, c) something about being healthy. But really, it's a) and b).

Normal people can also get friendlier with packing meals for the same reasons. Whether you want to stop eating out of vending machines at work, wish to avoid the outrageous prices for tasteless food at the airport, or are just looking for some new ideas for picnics (my favorite part of hiking), it's really easy to pack something delicious to reward you for putting on grown-up clothes and leaving the house. And this stuff will all keep unrefrigerated for a respectable amount of time.

The insipid "healthy choice" of the 90s really is a great idea for travel. I never liked them much, maybe because the only wheat wraps I could find at the store tasted like cardboard. But now I use sheets of nori (you know that stuff you bought when you were going to get all fancy and make sushi, then you realized making sushi sucks? That stuff.), rice paper wrappers (the stuff you make spring rolls out of), or big leaves of collards, Swiss chard, or whatever else is growing in the garden.  I actually love them.

I'll start by sharing this adorable video of a very capable but unenthusiastic young Brit making a wrap (Sweet Jesus, that's a lot of butter).

You don't even have to close the ends if your nori or greens won't cooperate. In fact, here's a nice little blog post on using nori. The only trick with rice paper is soaking it briefly--follow package directions. Now,  let's use some more interesting ingredients.

Spreads: Tuscan white bean dip, walnut-feta spread, and North African party dip all work great as a tasty glue in your wrap. So does guacamole, for that matter.  NOT BUTTER.

Grains: Use something sticky, like short-grain white or brown rice. Stir a little bit of vinegar into it if you want a flavor evocative of sushi.

Protein: Chopped hard boiled egg, mashed up beans (in place of a spread, above), cheese of any kind, or any leftover cooked meat will do. Try to stay away from those deli meats, though--they're nasty, and I care about you.

Vegetables: I try to avoid veggies with high water content if the wrap is going to sit around for obvious reasons, but otherwise, anything works.  Cut into spears for maximum efficiency when eating. 

Some favorite combinations: 
rice paper-sushi rice-finely chopped boiled egg, carrot sticks,gojuchang; 
collared green leaf-Tuscan white bean dip, chopped black olives, sun dried tomatoes, walnuts; 
nori-guacamole, brown rice, black beans, red onion, spinach

A leafy salad with a couple of cherry tomatoes is not going to get you through much of the day, so you need to get a little heavier. These are awkward to eat while driving, but I have always gotten them through airport security, and it's perfect for picnics.

Grains: farro, barley, bulgar, quinoa, short-grain rices (long grain gets too dry)

Pastas: any shape works great, but go for something whole wheat, multi grain, or otherwise fortified for extra nutritional oomph.

Veggies: consider roasting a big pan of mixed veg to toss into salads or eat as sides throughout the week.  They'll really keep things form getting boring. Then when you mix in some fresh chopped vegetables, you've got a lot more variety in textures and flavors going on.

Fresh Herbs: Seriously.  If you have any growing in your window or garden (or the neighbor's garden, which you harvest at 2am--I'm not here to judge), chop and stir some of that stuff in here. It's going to be delicious.

Dressing: Any salad dressing you have already made (here are some ideas if you're stuck) will be great here, too. Don't make it complicated.

Some favorites: 
Farro with Vinegar-Glazed Sweet Potato and Apples
Barley Bowl with Miso Dressing
Tomato and Garbanzo Salad
Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad
Quinoa and Roasted Vegetable Salad
Mediterranean Lentil Salad

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