Tag Archives: fast food

Eat This Vacation

Vacationing with six stomachs can be a distraction. I’m on the road with the family, seeing the country. And eating out, and eating through a car payment every day. While everyone is oooing and ahing at the waterfall, I’m seeing the gushing hole in my wallet. And trying to come up with ways to plug it.

Yeah, it’s the end of summer. For three weeks the family has been straining like olympic runners at the starting blocks to bolt the house and have a real trip. Maps drawn, reservations made. Special clothes, with colors and cuts that insure they will never be worn again, have been bought. Neighbors have promised one last time to keep plants and pets alive. And finally one fine bright sun-filled early morning all bags are packed, and we’re loaded and off, an excited, happy crew.

To the drive-through for breakfast. It’s the first stop on our vacation.

And we’re not the only ones. The place is packed with families like ours. Scampering kids doing laps around a long line of WalMart shorts sorting out who-wants-what?, while the happy meal crew behind the counter efficiently relieve us of some excess cash before we hit the road. Something starts nagging at the back of my mind.

And by about a third of the way through our trip, I’ve figured it out. The natural and man-made wonders of America have become bait in a spiders-web of eateries of every imaginable variety. Freeway exits are clogged with them, and they’re lined up miles deep before you actually get to see your destination. And small wonder. All that fresh air and vacation spirit makes for some big and frequent appetites. And expensive tabs by the end of the day.

Now, I’m all for the pleasures of eating out on vacation. Which is part of the problem, of course. So, it took some doing to come up with ways to still make food fun without breaking the bank or waistline. Here’s some ideas I tested that worked just fine, and with a little effort and looking, made for a good time as well.

1. Farm Fresh It’s easy to forget that food doesn’t come from a semi truck or fluorescent lit shelf.  All across America there are folks who actually grow and raise food. And many are more than happy to share some bounty directly with us. Farm stands, farm stores, and tours are not only great stops, but you can often load up on delicious and inexpensive eats you won’t find anywhere else. Some communities have farm trail maps, showing dairy, fruit, vegetable and other specialty growers. Otherwise, consult local papers or the internet. You’ll be shocked how many you’ll find, from cheese makers to fruit pies. You’ll never again think what you got in the supermarket was the way food should taste.

2. Farmer’s Markets These days even cities often have excellent farmers markets, one or more days a week. Discover one and you’ll find aisles of local fresh food, as well as a variety of cooking or prepared foods to take with you. It’s fun to wander, eat and shop, and discover tasty and unusual treats  to munch or carry away. Stock up on things like local jams, fruits, baked goods, snack type foods, and other items that will carry well, and make a great between meal feast or picnic.

3. U Pick If you’ve never helped your kids pull ripe berries or apples off a laden branch, or rake new potatoes out of the ground with their fingers, you’re depriving them of a lifelong memory. It may take a little scouting to find, but u-pick – for pick-it-yourself – farms are worth the hunt.  There’s the field or orchard, here’s a bucket or basket, and you’re in charge of harvest. What you’ll find varies by season and farm, so it’s worth calling ahead to see what’s ripe and ready. Be prepared to have to pull the kids away. You can load up to take home, or just pick enough for an afternoon. Prices are usually market or much better. And the best part is, you can select the ripest, freshest, best fruit or veggies yourself.

4. Mom and Pops Before the plastic arches,  every town and crossroads had at least one or more cafes or small restaurants serving food the local folks liked to eat, and many still do. It’s hard to compete with two dollar value meals these days, but some local eateries still serve working man portions, and good food for the value, with pride and a local twist or recipe. Again, the internet can be your friend to find one, but look for the places that are busy at meal time, and smell good when you walk through the door. Avoid the temptation to order what you always do. Instead, ask the waitress what’s popular.

5. Ethnic Eats American towns and metropolises are populated with people with ancestors from around the globe, and many still prepare all the good and wonderful menus they enjoyed in their native countries. You can explore for authentic wursts and sausages, dim sum, or tapas with the family and not only expand some horizons, but eat well and often inexpensively to boot. And why would you want to drive a hundred miles to eat the same thing you can get a mile from home anyway? Here’s a tip on how to pick a good one: eat at a place filled with people of the same nationality or ethnicity as the food.

6. Ice Chest You’ve probably got one, but are you using it? If you’ve stopped at any or all of the above suggestions, you could probably fill one or more with all kinds of goodies or leftovers, and skip having to make a restaurant stop every few hours. Bring condiments or such things from home, pick up food from the store to make meals and snacks, and you’ll save a bundle. Plus, you’ll avoid a lot of whining and driving around looking for someplace everybody wants to eat.

7. BBQue If you don’t want to haul your Weber or hibachi, nearly every park has a pit or grill you can use, and besides the fun of eating outdoors, you keep the tip. If you’re equipped for tailgates already, bring the gear. Otherwise, travel light, just pick up a stainless grill and some charcoal, and use rocks, or park cookouts. Just don’t torch the forest.

Near the end of our vacation, we were having as much fun looking for new and interesting places for food experiences as we were our planned attractions, and not only saved some money, but ate better than we’d ever imagined.  And, personally, it felt like a small victory, to sail by the chain joints, with nobody missing them a bit, and share a bit of what regular American folk do for food.

Dad’s Diet Crises

Dad's cure for snack food dietQue sera, quesadilla.

It’s swimsuit weather, the kids are all summering, and I learned I’ve been letting the family down in the diet department.  The children lined up to bring this to my attention.  Apparently, there is NO FOOD in the house.  They are united on this point, and vocal, and the neighbors are now convinced we are starving them on purpose.

This comes as something of a surprise.  Our grocery bills haven’t gone down, and you have to put a shoulder to the door of the fridge to get it shut.  True, I haven’t got round to cleaning it out recently.  It’s on my list.  After ‘learn power napping’, and ‘schedule in-home insurance check-up’  I think.

But anyway, I quickly discover the problem.  Dad has NO CLUE what EVERYBODY knows, namely, what ALL OTHER children ALL get to eat ALL THE TIME, except at OUR house.

They take me to the kitchen to look into it.

And what I discover is, our home has become dangerously low on a whole cornucopia of sweet, salty, fat filled, factory processed munch that is essential to the development of modern preteens and adolescents.

The pantry has no frosted or creme filled anything.  Apart from a packet of stale ginger crisps, cookie stockpiles have gone to zero.  One half bag of white corn tortilla chips sits alone, as if potato chips had never been invented. And there’s no sign of any kind of ” -itos” whatsoever.  No candies, no frozen pops, chocolate, sweet rolls, toaster whatsits, mini cakes, sodas, or bags of sugar coated anything. It’s a crises.  We need to get to the bottom of this.

I blame my wife.

‘The house is full of food’, she says when I call.  Eggs, she tells me, and I repeat it to the kids.  They shake their heads.  Salad, rice cakes, popcorn, cheese, turkey, tuna, tortillas, carrots, tomatoes, avocado, fruits, whole wheat crackers, chicken, nuts.

‘Nuts!?’ they shout.

I try to reason with their mother.  ‘They’re not buying it’, I say.

‘There’s plenty of food’, she says, ‘and when they really get hungry they’ll eat it.  They just figure you’re a pushover and will go buy them junk.’

‘Your mother thinks you’re fat’, I tell them.  Not the thing to say to three girls, but I realize it a split second too late.  My son’s so skinny he knows I’m just blowing smoke.

‘You have to go to the store, NOW!’   They’re starting to get that wide-eyed ‘remember the time you left the sliding door open and Herby the hamster got out, permanently’ look.

‘I tell you what’, I say. ‘I’ll make you all a quesadilla’.

‘OK,’ they say, like maybe that was really the plan all along.

I fry up some onion til it’s just starting to get transparent, still crunchy. Then I melt a little butter in a pan, coat one side of a wide flour tortilla, and set it aside on a plate.  A little more butter, low medium heat, melted and the second tortilla goes in.  Spread on a layer of cheese, some chopped tomato, the onion, a little shake of cumin spice, some chopped up chicken, and the second tortilla goes on top, fast as I can.  I put a lid on, and lift it every minute or two to check the underside of the bottom tortilla. It needs to get light brown and flaky crisp, which it does just shy of four minutes. Then,  big spatula, hand on top, flip the whole thing in one smooth motion, cook the other side til it’s light brown, flaky crisp.  Hot and melted inside, done.

It takes two, but they polish them off and are gone.

Later I check again whether there’s any missed sweets,  behind the vases in the top cupboard.  Just to be sure.  Nada.  Well, that spared me having to get rid of them.  For the good of the kids, of course.

Top 10 Reasons Men Won’t Cook

Dinner is a tad overdone tonightWomen wonder why guys stay away from the stove, and leave them to do all the heavy kitchen lifting.  And after my last post, my wife hinted I should take a look. Why won’t men cook?  Well, what she said was more like, why don’t take your own advice and help out more in the kitchen and put out the garbage while you’re at it.  So, I took the suggestion to head over to the laptop and come up with this list.  Throw in your own ideas.

1.  Taking Directions I can count on one hand the number of men on the planet who like being told what to do, and how to do it.  We put up with it at work or home when we have to.  But the natural tendency when facing a list of steps that need to be followed in some order, is to ignore the directions and try and figure it out on our own, or, skip as many steps as possible.

2.  Learning Curve The average guy believes that cooking is basically magic, and he’s the audience.  Cow parts go in, beef stroganoff comes out.  Bulbs and leaves are transformed into flavors.  Pastry.  I mean, tell me that pastry isn’t magic.  So, when the magician pulls us from the audience and says we need to fill in for the evening performance, that blank look isn’t faked.

3.  Epic Fail Nothing motivates a man less than the opportunity to publicly jump a motorcycle just about half way across the Grand Canyon.  Or spend mealtime trying to explain how dinner was supposed to have turned out. And tasted.

4.  Cleanup Most modern recipes will tell you right up front how long it will take to prepare a dish.  And keep absolutely silent about the time you’ll need to clean up the mess you just made.  The fact is, after all the trouble to make something, you’re only halfway done in the kitchen.  And men love kitchen cleaning the same way we love periodontal cleaning.  Any surprise that Teflon was invented by a guy?

5.  Getting Out of Trouble There’s a certain confidence men have, that we can get out of most trouble we get into.  But when a cooking expedition starts to go bad, it’s a lot like doing the black diamond ski run backwards.  This thing is only headed one direction, stopping is not an option, and you are just along for the ride.  Yeah, let’s do this every night.

6.  Payoffs Somewhere along the line women get that domestic activities, like cooking and caring for kids, go on day after day, in an endless cycle of repetition.  Guys, more tuned to crossing a finish line, catching something, or earning an atta-boy, are disoriented and mystified by having to cook again as a daily reward for doing it yesterday.  It takes years of hard and dedicated monastic training to accept that the doing IS the payoff.

7. King of the Hill Who set up the cupboards and drawers in your kitchen? And decides what goes where?  What would happen if you had a mind to re-arrange things the way you think is best?  If you’re sharing a kitchen, odds are you’re sharing her kitchen. With her.  And while you may have guest privileges, when it comes to what’s on the menu, what’s in the fridge, and what’s healthy or not, chances are you’re still on probation for the number two slot.

8.  Patience Many of the finest tasting foods take time to cook, and get better from all that cooking time.  Waiting while food cooks takes patience.  Knowing this, men have invented TV dinners (Gerry Thomas), the microwave oven (Percy L. Spencer), Hot Pockets (the Merage brothers, Paul and David), and fast food (1921, Walter A. Anderson and cook Edgar Waldo “Billy” Ingram, White Castle).  Any questions?

9.  Mom Face it, we learned early that food came from her.  For at least a decade and a half we were conditioned to expect she would make food appear whenever we got hungry.  We’re hungry now.  And last time we checked in the mirror, we didn’t look anything like mom.

10.  Just Too Feminine Probably thanks to number 9, it’s impossible to shake the deep-set notion that the kitchen is a female clubhouse, and what we’d look like in a pink apron.  Men who want to cook have to go open a restaurant business, or call themselves Iron Chefs, to compensate.  Doesn’t everybody pause just a moment to wonder why George Foreman hung up the gloves and made a kitchen appliance?

I have to ask myself, writing this, when it comes right down to it, are any of these good reasons? Maybe all the reasons men won’t cook are really just excuses, or fears to overcome.  You’ve probably got your own list, so feel free to share, here or at the forum on my companion, how-to site, Dad’s In the Kitchen!.