Posts Tagged ‘travel


food for bike camping

adjusting the flame
More pictures through the link.

Favorite new toy: Our Jet Boil camp stove. It looks like an oversized insulated coffee cup; that’s the cooking vessel. Packed inside are fuel, stove with igniter, plastic cup, and French press attachment. Efficient and terribly clever.

Lesson learned: Beans, especially in the form of instant bean soups, really foam. Turn off the heat before you add them to the water, lest you have to reach through a boiling cascade to turn it off after. J-P is very brave.

Comparative instant dinners: Casbah’s lemon & spinach couscous is merely all right. Definitely enhanced by the addition of real lemon juice, salt, and chorizo. The instant black bean soup from the Rainbow bulk bin, on the other hand, is delicious. Salt and chorizo still didn’t hurt.

Unexpected standout: Concentrated Concord grape juice. We spiked two bike bottles with it while preparing post-hike dinner the second night. They were the best possible thing right then.

Lifesaver: Foil packet of peanut butter with honey, consumed somewhere on the Wolf Ridge Trail, when chickpeas just weren’t delivering the goods fast enough anymore. (Wildlife bonus: a hummingbird settled onto a nearby branch while I had my hummingbird moment. Spirit animal much?)

Admission: Especially in the chilly damp, I did miss the eggs, bacon, and potatoes of my family’s car camping days. Just a little. Luckily, we have friends who will go car camping with us. In the short term, we had brunch at Boogaloos when we got back to SF.


we’re going camping

So I am preparing chickpeas and hard-cooked eggs. (It’s less tragic if the eggs crack once they’re cooked.) We’re also taking pre-packaged lemon-spinach couscous (if there ever were a time for flavored convenience foods, this seems to be it), instant black bean soup, Spanish chorizo, saltines, granola, dried fruit, nuts, food bars, chocolate-covered coconut, blueberries, foil packets of nut butters, grape juice concentrate, some apples, a lemon, some salt, and ground coffee. I insisted that corn tortillas and nopales would be great additions to our stash, but saltines won out over the tortillas for some reason, and J-P inexplicably naysaid the nopales. (They’re flat, lightweight…) We’re only out for two nights, and we’ll be near Sausalito, but we’re still being very careful to cater to my tendency toward metabolic collapse.

This will be the first time we’ve camped since Labor Day weekend 2003, when we went to a star party in the Berkshires, where a bunch of astronomers had gathered to view Mars at perigee. It’s Labor Day weekend, we thought. How cold can it get? The answer was 34 degrees Farenheit. We had a tent but no sleeping bags, just blankets. By nightfall we were wearing every scrap of clothing we’d taken with us, and the Boy Scouts made a lot of money selling us hot chocolate and coffee all night long. When we finally decided to try sleeping, we kept each other half awake with our attempts to burrow under the other for warmth. At daylight, we emerged from the tent to run up and down the hill we were on in the sunshine.

We swore never to do that again until we were properly prepared for it, and now is the time. A little over a week ago, we went to REI for sleeping bags, a bigger tent, headlamps, and a camp stove (Jet Boil, a technological marvel with a French press attachment). This weekend, we explored Rainbow Grocery’s selection of dehydrated and instant foods. This afternoon, we bike to Bicentennial Campground in the Golden Gate National Recreational Area.


American and English mid-range restaurants

Pubs, cafes, bistros, diners. Fifteen years ago, food in American mid-range eateries was bad; on my first visit to England, it was worse. I’ve eaten in many such places in America in the meantime, and I’ve watched the food get much better. So it was pleasant but not surprising to discover that similar improvements had been made across the Atlantic. (I made one trip in the interim, but my budget only permitted bread, fruit, cheese, and crisps.)

What was surprising was how divergent the menus are. In the US, I know what to expect. There will be toasted sandwiches, french fries, simple soups, meal-sized salads, often a brunch menu. Particularly fancy places will have some French touches (I do love duck confit), and the most common variation on the sandwich theme is the wrap or burrito.

There are obvious points of overlap. Part of our improvement was to realize that fish and chips and bangers and mash weren’t half bad, and put them on our menus. Sandwiches, salads, soups are all recognizable, but there’s notably more mushrooms, peas, and Shropshire blue cheese. The proportion of beef seems to be higher. Instead of burritos or wraps, you’ll find a plethora of savory things baked in pastries: steak and kidney puddings, various meat Wellingtons. Foreign influences, instead of being Mexican and French, are South Asian and Italian. Our hotel featured a chicken balti pasty one day, and lasagna was everywhere.


three summer salad recipes

July in San Francisco is cool and foggy, but I have been hearing cries of “too hot to cook!” from friends on the east coast. (The Texans, one presumes, are blithely air-conditioned.) These minimal-heat recipes might help; they’re even useful to San Francisco summer chefs, since we have all of this glorious fresh produce to use up.

Carrot and blueberry salad: Grate three medium carrots. Add a handful of blueberries. If you can stand the heat, toast a half teaspoon of cumin seeds and then a handful of slivered almonds and add these to the salad. (If not, omit the toasting.) Chop the leaves from a dozen or so sprigs of parsley and add them, too. Zest half a small lemon, add the zest to the salad. Put some salt in a glass or jar, then juice the lemon over it. Stir to dissolve the salt, then add extra virgin olive oil to make a dressing. Mix the salad and dressing and let sit a while. You can add a dollop of strained yogurt to this when it’s time to eat. Yield: my lunch yesterday. Good for two as a side salad.

Watermelon and cherry tomato salad: Cube a small watermelon. Halve a pint of cherry tomatoes. Add slivers of red onion, crumbles of feta, and a good handful of spearmint, chopped. Season with coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper. J-P and I gorged ourselves on this last night; you could probably serve it as a side salad at a dinner for 4-6 people.

Green salad with cheese, mint, and honey: I had a version of this at the Fountain Inn on the Isle of Wight. Combine mixed greens, cubes of cheese (they used Wensleydale; I’m going to try it with feta tonight), and cherry tomatoes. Add a generous helping of chopped spearmint and some sweet fruit (they used grapes; I’m trying nectarine tonight), and dress the whole thing with just a little honey. Season with salt and black pepper.

In other news, we tried Montezuma’s milk chocolate with nutmeg last night. With five flavors tried, this is the first that we haven’t absolutely loved. It’s not bad at all–it’s just a good but unremarkable milk chocolate with the tiniest hint of nutmeg. We wished the nutmeg was bolder.

As to what makes good versus bad milk chocolate: Montezuma’s ingredients list implies that, although sugar is the dominant ingredient by weight, it can’t make up more than about 42% of their milk chocolate bar. Cocoa solids are 34%, and milk solids clock in at 22.5%. For comparison, Hershey’s milk chocolate is 53.5% sugar, leaving the cocoa matter and milk solids to fight it out for most of the remaining 46.5%. Hershey’s ingredients list indicates that there’s more milk in Hershey’s than either cocoa butter or “chocolate” alone, but whether the latter two combined make up more weight than the milk is an open question. The short answer seems to be that good milk chocolate has a higher percentage of cocoa matter and a lower percentage of sugar than bad milk chocolate.

Pictures from our trip to England and Finland here and here.


Montezuma’s chocolates: the best English junk food

Before you protest that chocolate transcends junk food and is therefore equally good across cultures, I would like to say this to you: apple-flavored gummies covered in milk chocolate.

Maybe it’s your thing, but those convinced me that at least the Japanese can do chocolate terribly wrong.

The English, on the other hand, get chocolate surprisingly right:

We first had Monty’s chocolates when Ginny brought some to us as a thank-you gift for putting her up during a visit to Boston. She brought three: dark chocolate with chile, dark chocolate with orange and geranium, and milk chocolate with peppermint and vanilla. The orange and geranium was easily my favorite, and the chile chocolate was perfectly respectable. J-P and I are both wary of milk chocolates, but Montezuma’s milk with peppermint and vanilla blew us away. Not too sweet, not too minty, but very flavorful and super creamy.

You can’t get them to ship their chocolates to the States, so we had to wait a couple of years to get more. J-P went to a conference in London last year with strict orders to return with more Montezuma’s, or not at all. So it was tense when his carry-on got pulled for a search before his return flight. The guards said that they thought the chocolates might be explosives, and that even though they were clearly chocolates, they would have to take one bar for “testing.” J-P asked that they take the milk chocolate, and they did. Its loss was sorely felt back home.

All of this gave me one goal for English souvenirs: more Montezuma’s. I spied a Montezuma’s store as we traipsed through a glass-ceilinged arcade of shops, and I dragged J-P (who hadn’t yet noticed it) there by the hand, chanting
“chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.” It was a tough decision which ones to get, but we settled on the Radical Stack. It had the three we had tried before, plus intriguing new flavors.

So far we’ve eaten the milk chocolate, chile, and lime. Super creamy, just like the other milk variety we’ve tried, with the barest hint of chile but terrific sweet lime flavor. We’re looking forward to trying the rest, and working hard not to eat them all at once.


Fentiman’s sodas

We tried three of Fentiman’s Botanically Brewed Beverages while in England.

The first, Dandelion and Burdock, while lunching at Burroughs market in London. (J-P and Ginny had well-done beef burgers, and Ian had a chicken version, while I felt I got the best deal with a Malaysian yellow coconut curry from a steel vat, ladled out by an Afro-Caribbean Londoner.) The soda was not unpleasant, but a little earthy. It lead to remarks about how much two of our non-American friends hate root beer and birch beer, saying they taste like medicine, or at best, toothpaste. We had a similar reaction to dandelion and burdock soda, though I don’t have any bad associations with any of the flavors. I could probably learn to like it. I do like beets because they’re earthy, after all.

Fentiman’s the second: Curiosity Cola. We had this at an inn in Shorwell on the Isle of Wight, mid-bike ride. It starts off as RC Cola, though kind of flat, then veers off to some place neither of us had ever been before, and that neither of us could identify, not even by reading the ingredients list.

Third: Lemonade, with ginger. Post-bike ride in Cowes, this should have been manna from heaven. It wasn’t, quite. A little too bitter (it seemed like it was the ginger’s fault, not the lemon), a little too astringent. It reminded me of some of our less successful household experiments making yeast-carbonated ginger beer.

J-P believes that junk food varies more across cultures than real food does. He figures it’s because junk food isn’t actually food to begin with. Vegetables and fish and whatnot are identifiable as food, even if you don’t appreciate particular preparations, but confections and decoctions of sugar, cornstarch, and artificial flavorings…?


comparative breakfast

In Helsinki, the Klaus K laid out a very satisfying breakfast for its guests. I gorged on salmon, trout salad, cheese, ham, brown bread with salty butter, mixed fruit, and coffee. Besides that, pullas and other sweet breads, fresh fruit juices, soft-boiled eggs, roast beef, muesli, yogurt, oatmeal, and tea were available. I ate what seemed like a lot, especially compared to the daily bagel that J-P and I have at home, but it wasn’t just gluttony; it was an experiment. The results? With a brick of protein sitting in my stomach, the need for second breakfast doesn’t overwhelm me at 10, and lunch by 11:30 isn’t a necessity. In fact, I didn’t have much appetite for lunch, at least not compared to normal. I was prepared to skip it the first day, although Patty caught me up in her search for a midday meal around 2:30. The second day, despite a late-morning run, I was content at nearly 1 with small helpings of stewed reindeer (psst: it tastes like venison), mashed potatoes, green salad, and stuffed cabbage leaf.

On the day we returned to England, I breakfasted on a so-called protein shake, a banana, and a pastry. The sugar crash returned with a vengeance. I found myself sweating and shaking in a byway between Heathrow’s Terminal 3 and its bus terminal, letting J-P choose a vending machine snack for me while I chugged desperately at a Coca-Cola. It was more or less empty calories all the way to dinner on the Isle of Wight, and I felt more gluttonous than I ever did in Helsinki. So I imagine the two approaches at least balance out, calorie-wise, and certainly the big-breakfast approach feels better all around.

The Isle of Wight also did well by breakfast. There was a buffet (meager by comparison) of cereals, yogurt, fruit, pastries, and juices, and guests could also order a hot meal with toast and caffeine. I particularly enjoyed the English breakfast plate with beans, a sausage, two slices of bacon, an egg, a grilled tomato half, and a grilled portobello.

Of course, eating half my weight in salmon or pork every morning is by no means sustainable, no matter how much I might enjoy it. But the smoked trout that Klaus K offered is better, at least for now, and so are sardines.

Further experimentation so far supports my hypothesis that my stomach can handle soft-cooked farm-fresh eggs with little complaint. Beans are also an option, whether English/Boston-style or Guatemalan/Mexican-style. And an inadvertent experiment at Ginny’s hands seems to show that whole-wheat pancakes, accompanied by maple syrup and a little yogurt, are worlds less disruptive to my metabolism than white-flour ones. (She fluffs them up by beating the egg whites frothy, and they’re great.) Mark Bittman also has suggestions for hearty but meat-light breakfasts, and I might have to try my hand at kedgeree, a fish-and-rice breakfast popular in Victorian England.

Speaking of Victorian England, my vacation reading (The Smell of the Continent: The British Discover Europe) informed me that differences in expected meal times and content were a point of contention between traveling Brits and their Continental hosts as modern tourism developed during the long nineteenth century. Tour organizers, travel agents, and eventually large hotels were sure to advertise “meat breakfasts,” but even late in the century, satisfying the British desire for a large early meal could be still difficult once off the beaten path. In southeastern France, one traveler complained, “A bowl of black coffee and a piece of bread is the only breakfast that one can expect in a rural auberge. To ask for butter would be looked upon as a sign of eccentric gluttony, but to demand bacon and eggs at seven in the morning would be to openly confess oneself capable of any crime.”

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