Thursday, September 13, 2012

Road Trip!

Road trips are fun! You get to go somewhere new, see new sights, get out of the house. But when it comes to eating healthy while on the road, well...lets just say it can get a little difficult. Every time you stop for gas there's the rack of candy bars waiting at the register and when your tummy starts rumbling suddenly the jerky and nuts you packed for snacks don't hold a candle to "two-all-beef-patties-special sauce-lettuce-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun (sing it with me!)". Sure, you could stop and grab that Big Mac, toss the bun and get at least get some form of protein (cooked in soy oil and packed with fillers) down the gullet but with a little bit of preparation its easy to stay on track and satisfied even on the road.


Dry foods:

Dried Fruit
While dried fruit has a lot of natural sugar its a sweet treat that isn't too messy. Dried fruit makes a good replacement for cookies and other sweets, just keep it in moderation.


Nuts
A good replacement for chips, nuts come in all varieties and some even have flavoring (watch those labels!). Roast nuts are easy to make at home.

Trail Mix
Mix dried fruit with roasted nuts and ta-da! You have trail mix. You can mix together whatever your heart desires: apples and pecans, cherries and almonds, heck mix them all together and make up your own flavor!

Homemade Larabars
These super sweet treats (only eat as a special treat or to alleviate starvation) are usually made by pulsing dates with nuts in a food processor to make a dough that is rolled out and cut into servings. The dates really up the sweetness (and sugar) factor but for an emergency food that doesn't need to be kept cold these are good to have on hand. They are VERY sweet though (so take precautions-it is easy to inhale the whole batch without realizing it).

Jerky
It goes without saying that for us Paleo/Primal peeps jerky is the number one snacky food. Just remember to check the labels or make your own.

Pemmican
An offshoot of jerky is pemmican which is just ground jerky mixed with fat (and sometimes dried fruit). Protien + fat. Yep, you can live on this stuff.

SeaSnax
Roasted seaweed that is tasty and healthy. Kinda like chips only healthy for you!

Canned Goodies
Most items that have to be kept in the cooler can also be found canned. Canned protein, veggies, and fruits can replace the fresher items but keep in mind that it may be hard to find sugar-free or low-sodium items. Your best bet is canned protein though Munchkin swears by canned olives.Remember to pack a can opener!


In the Cooler:
Wait, you have a cooler right? The cooler is the key. Opt for a medium to large one so you have plenty of room (nothing's worse than having a ton of goodies piled on the counter and only a quarter fit).

Meat
I like to grill a roast, sliced it thin, and piled the slices in a container but any cooked meat will work. Heck, throw a whole baked chicken in (and add lots of napkins and wet wipes for afterwards). Meat, meat, meat, pack the cooler with meat! Sliced chicken breast, deli meats (watch the labels), already cooked bacon, you get the idea. The only things to worry about are A)Will you eat this meat cold? Some cuts can have an icky mouth feel when chilled; and B) Making it user friendly. Please don't scare the other drivers by burying your face into a chicken carcass while doing 90mph down the freeway. Pull over, take a break and enjoy your meal.

Note-make sure all meat is cooked and properly cooled and stored.

Bacon Wrapped...Anything
Bacon wrapped dates, bacon wrapped jalapenos, bacon wrapped chicken slices, bacon wrapped mushrooms...wrapping something in bacon helps hold it together and giving it lots of flavor. It does make for greasy fingers but that's why you have the extra-large baby wipe container propped against the ash tray, right?

Hard-Boiled Eggs
Quick protein, hardly messy, what can be better? Follow Nom Nom Paleo's instructions and get perfect hard boiled eggs every time. Pack some salt and pepper and you're set.

Smoked Fish
Stinky but full of protein and fats. Your passengers might not thank you (unless they are snacking along with you) but who cares!

Fresh Fruits/Veggies
Apples slices are my fav since they aren't quite as messy as, say, peaches but pack what you like. Fresh or frozen berries, baby carrots, celery sticks, cucumber slices, snow peas, cherry tomatoes-all make for good snacks on the go. What is your fav raw veggie? Prep it, pack it up, and away you go. I know one person who packs a bag of baby spinach and eats the leaves like chips as he drives.

Salads
Salads made at home can be a great addition to the cooler. They make an easy one-dish meal and can be very tasty. Tuna, chicken, or egg salad with celery sticks for spoons, or even a green salad already washed and tossed (hold back the "wet" items like sliced tomatoes until ready to eat) can help round out a roadside picnic.

Roasted/Grilled Veggies
I like to make a big stack of sweet potato fries, drain them well and serve them cold on the road. Salty and sweet they aren't too messy and taste great cold. Munchkin can even snack on them in the car seat without making a mess. What veggies do you prefer cooked and cool? Load'em up.

Side Stuff (Aka Things That Make Other Things Taste Better)
Almond butter for those apple slices, homemade ranch dressing or pizza sauce for dipping meatballs in, maybe a creamy dip for the snow peas-you get the idea. While these items may make the car a mess if it helps keep you away from greasy Burger King fries throw them in.

Liquids
Remember to pack lots of water. Driving long distances can be boring and sipping can keep you from nibbling. If water is too dull make iced tea, iced coffee, even smoothies and keep them cold in the cooler. Pack some of your fav tea bags to save space and make tea as you need it (most rest stops, at least in my area, have coffee/hot water available).



But what happens when the cooler is empty? (Panic!! Chaos!!)

Find a Grocery Store
There's always a town on the horizon and most towns have at least one grocery store. True, it might not be Whole Foods but lets face it, when you're hungry the local mom n' pop place will have what you need. Stock up on fresh veggies, grab a rotisserie chicken and you've got a meal. Add some fresh fruit for dessert, snag some jerky and nuts for snacking, and you're back on the road.

Scope Out the Territory
Before you leave see what restaurants will be available on your route. Check out the menus and figure out what places would be Paleo-friendly. Didn't plan ahead? Adapt. Pick a place that looks tasty (and fairly safe, lets face it, Wendy's and Carl's Jr are probably out), ask for an allergy listing and order something without soy, gluten, sugar, etc. If you have to, tell your server you're allergic, many places are willing to make an item with different ingredients to suit a customer's needs.


---
Since we are leaving tomorrow to visit my folks (a 10 hours drive...with a toddler...oy vey) Munchkin and I spent the day doing chores and preparing for the trip. With her soy allergies and our Paleo lifestyle it is much easier to take our own food on the road rather than trusting what we can find along the way. We dried apple slices in the oven and grilled a tri-tip roast. Hubby picked up some baby carrots and mushrooms on his way home from work and I sauteed the 'shrooms and wrapped them in thin slices of the roast to make "sandwiches". The carrots were washed and stored in a container along with cherry tomatoes and grapes. A package of deli meat plus some tangy mustard rounded out the cooler supplies (oh, and Hubby's cheese slices. Yes, we eat dairy occasionally). Add the apple rings, some smoked almonds, and a few "sugar cookie" larabars, plus a case of bottled water, and we are ready to roll!

Happy trails y'all! See you next week.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Canning

As summer winds down the push to preserve all its delicious bounty for the dreary winter months becomes more pressing. Here in the Pacific Northwest there is still a chance for a second harvest of greens that will last into November but most of the fruits (with the exception of some apple and pear varieties) will be ending soon. Our favorite U-Pick farm has run out of blueberries and raspberries but thankfully peaches, nectarines, and plums are still available.

Peaches are a favorite of mine and I've passed it on to Munchkin. While Hubby can take it or leave it a nice ripe peach can have me drooling worse than Pavlov's puppies. Just a hint of that peachy scent will have me careening through the grocery store to the produce section, knocking over displays with the cart and making Munchkin yell "wheeeeeeee" till I screech to a halt in front of a mound of rock hard tasteless fuzzballs. Honestly, other than the smell they aren't real peaches but most years I'll give in a buy a pound or two and then grumble when the best part of the fruit is the smell. Usually I stuff myself with fresh picked local peaches till I can't stand the sight of them (as if this aversion will somehow carry over into, say, January). I've tried freezing in the past and didn't care much for the change in texture (though they made great smoothies) so this year I decided to stop being scared of Ball jars and to give canning a try.

As a kid I used to help my grandma and mom can all summer long. We'd spend a weekend picking fruit and then all week would be washing, peeling, chopping, and hauling. And the whole time us kids would be washing and peeling and pitting we'd be told to stay far away from the pressure cooker, how it could explode and kill us all if we messed with it. Needless to say we never messed with it-in fact, we'd be ordered out of the kitchen when it came time to load or unload the cooker. Fast forward 20 years and I'm still terrified of pressure cookers! But while wandering the internet I discovered another form of preserving: water bath canning. Basically you fill your jars with yummies, drop them in a pot of boiling water, cover it, and let it cook for a prescribed amount of time. Remove the jars and wait for the lids to pop. Hmmmm....sounded easy.

I snagged a 20 pound box of Elberta peaches from the farm and got ready to make a mess. The Elberta variety is a good canning peach (per the farm owners) and is a cling-free, which means the fruit won't cling to the pit-the flesh just pops off the pit with a little pressure. It is much easier to prep the fruit when you don't have the dig the pit out. To prep the peaches I removed the skins by dropping them into a boiling pot for a few seconds, then plunging them into an ice bath. The skins just slide off-no peeling for this girl!

To make a sugar-free syrup I threw 3 of the ripest, peeled peaches into a pot of water, mushed them up with a potato masher and then simmered until the water had reduced into a thin syrup. It wasn't as sweet as traditional sugar syrups but it was very peachy. I added cinnamon, ground allspice, and ground cloves to give it some spice and then set it aside. I cut the peeled peaches in half and filled my quart jars, leaving a two inch gap at the top. Next I filled the jars with the syrup, leaving a 1" air gap. Then I wiped the jars down, put on the lids, and eased them into a pot of boiling water and covered it. Once the water came back to a boil I set the timer for 30 minutes and started cleaning up the kitchen.

Thirty minutes later I removed the jars and let them cool on the counter. After about an hour the lids started popping, confirming that the jars were sealed. I let the jars cool overnight before moving them, checking that the lids were sealed and didn't pop up and down when I pressed on them.

Here they are! Six quarts of spiced peaches all jarred up (with another 3 already in the pantry). Aren't they pretty?

My peaches were pretty ripe and they smooshed a bunch going in the jar (notice how they don't really look like peach halves *sigh*). Wide-mouth jars might have helped. Next I am going to try tomato sauce, wish me luck!

Helpful links:

Pick Your Own's Water Bath Canning Directions
Pick Your Own Canning Without Sugar

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fall Is In The Air

The first fall rain fell last night and I awoke to gloomy skies and fresh, clean air. The gardens are full of green veggies struggling to ripen in the cooling nights and the flower beds are beginning to fade. Gathering the mail I noticed a few brown leaves doing cartwheels down the street though neither the oaks nor the maples around the house have started to turn color. In another week or two the early trees will start to glow and pretty soon all the summer colors will be up in the leaves rather than down in the beds, just another reminder I need to get outside as much as possible before the monsoons begin.




Sunday, September 2, 2012

Is Summer Gone?

Yesterday we stocked up on groceries ( the freezer is now full of meaty goodness) and started doing some cleanup around the house. It has been so cool during the days lately that we haven't been swimming so we decided to drain the pool and put it up for the year. It doesn't feel like we used it much this summer, in fact, it doesn't feel like summer ever actually came. It makes me sad, as if I missed a good opportunity to do something, not sure what, but something important. Part of it comes from taking summer classes-all my free time was devoted to study and now that they are over I finally have that "free" feeling most kids experienced back in June. I can't believe in 23 days I will be back in the classroom...a degree is worth it, right?

We got a new couch and some wickedly cool Halloween decorative pillows. I started to get out the rest of the fall stuff but stopped. Summer can't really be over this early, can it? I hardly got a tan, or went hiking, never went to the beach or fishing. There was so much I had planned to do and I didn't get any of it done except for schoolwork. I'm half-tempted to tell Hubby to fill the pool back up, as if that would magically turn back the clock and make it hot and summery again. Honestly I just feel utterly depressed at the thought summer is gone even though fall is my favorite time of year. The blues has really gotten a hold of me today.

My garden is doing pretty cruddy, the tomatoes are finally starting to set fruit but with the cold nights and cooler days I'm not sure how many vine-riped ones we will get. The corn is puny and the spaghetti squash has one small fruit that is trying to grow up big before it gets too cold. The broccoli is doing well and I expect the Swiss chard will suddenly go wild again since they both like the cooler temperatures. I need to get the second planting of lettuce and spinach in, as well as start hauling in manure to compost for next season.

The flower beds are looking a little ragged though there is still a lot of color. We are going to hit the nursery today to pick up a couple more dahlias to fill in some gaps from plants that didn't make it through the summer (and the neighbor cats incessant digging) as well as stop by the U-Pick farm and load up. I plan to get a ton of green beans (since the gophers destroyed my plants-honestly, some days I feel like sowing poison everywhere and just killing all the vermin that destroy my pretties), peaches for canning, blueberries for freezing, zucchini, and goodness knows what else. By the time I'm done this house will be so packed with food we won't have to go shopping for weeks, maybe even months!