Travel with me Thursday is a little different this week. I wanted to talk about food! When I am planning and plotting the next big trip (as I currently am) there’s sooooo much of it that is based around what and where and when to eat. I start by researching the local flavors and cultural influences – what can’t I get anywhere else (or get anywhere else any better than where I am headed). Then I make a list and look for well-reviewed restaurants that serve those things and then plot those on a map in relationship to where I am staying. Then I decide which of those makes sense to reserve ahead versus leaving to the whim of the day.
It sounds complicated, but I have been burned by too little research – and sometimes too much planning as well! On my last trip to Europe I was SO excited about the food – I booked 3 Michelin star restaurants for a 10 day trip, plus a Food Tour. Were they each delicious? Of course! But did the third meal feel a bit “been there done that” after the first and the second? Maybe a little. That isn’t to say I didn’t appreciate the meals and the work that went into them, or the presentation or the creativity on a plate. I absolutely did. And I am grateful that I was able to have these experiences. But what it taught me was that you can kind of have too much of a good thing. And maybe it’s better to be a little less over the top and a little more “go with the flow” on the next trip.
And then…I planned the next trip. And I might have done the exact same thing to myself! Yikes!
Ok, so in my defense, I am heading to London (first stop) for 5 days and here’s what I determined: 1) I still want to do a food tour because they’re lovely and tasty and fun and 2) there are several regional dishes that I just HAD to book in advance, like High Tea and a really well rated Indian Restaurant (because, yes, I know I can get Indian street food and I know it will probably be amazing, but I want guaranteed amazing because my one experience with Indian food in the UK was in Bury St Edmunds and it wasn’t good. In fact, it was kind of terrible. So finding good Indian food was a must). Be sure to check back after my trip and I’ll fill you in on how it went!
But I did listen to my own advice when it came to the rest of the journey and only made ONE other reservation for food for the follow on 10 days and it will be in the castle (yes, really) where I will be spending the night in Scotland near the end of the trip. The rest will be left up to whatever pub I fancy that serves fish and chips, sticky toffee pudding and bangers and mash.
While I am preparing for the food I will encounter, I am also always being mindful of the food I will be leaving behind. I have always been environmentally conscious. Back when I was in grade school I wanted to save the Rainforest and frequently contributed money to various causes that touted doing just that. In the various places I have lived, I used to grow my own vegetables and fruit and compost (before I moved to the desert and started traveling so much that it didn’t make sense to keep a garden). But buying socially and environmentally responsible foods, and really really really paying attention to food and water waste are two things I am pretty serious about.
I recently read an article in Delta’s Sky Magazine called “Waste Not, Want Not” by Elisa Parhard. She cited some pretty staggering statistics, like “40% of food in the United States never makes it to our mouths” and “50% of fresh produce goes to waste” and “every one of America’s 42 million food-insecure residents could be fed three times over with the country’s food waste.” She goes on to talk about not just what we buy and don’t use, but what we don’t buy that doesn’t get sold at local stores. It’s pretty ridiculous when you think about it. And so I do think about it, and I have some practical tips that I engage in to at least reduce my own food waste (warning, you will need a freezer to participate).
When you’re preparing for a longer trip, here is what I recommend for handling food and food waste in your home:
- If there’s meat in your fridge that is already cooked but only has been there a few days, consider cutting it up into pieces and putting it in a freezer safe bag and outing it in the freezer. Cooked chicken, steak and pork all work, as does shrimp. When I am in a hurry, I toss frozen or raw veggies together with this meat straight from the freezer and turn it into a quick stir fry. I don’t keep meat long in the freezer, though, because I find it can get to tasting weird and have a strange texture, so I would use it within the month.
- If you have raw veggies in the fridge that you won’t be using, first ask friends if they have chickens who need to be fed (yes, really). I have a few friends who will feed their chickens lots of cut up raw veggies. If they aren’t interested, you can treat raw veggies the same way as the meat above. Dice the veggies up and put in freezer safe bags and store separately. Pull them out but don’t defrost – just toss them from freezer to hot pan for a stir fry or sautéed veggie meal. You can also use them straight from the freezer for home made soup, stew and chili. Some vegetables don’t freeze well and may turn to mush, but my favorites to chop and freeze are peppers, celery, onions, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower (which I leave whole but in florets) and tomatoes which I have frozen both diced and whole (cherry tomatoes) and then tossed into chili instead of using canned tomatoes. I don’t recommend doing this with herbs or leafy greens but I do have an herb tip next!
- For leftover fresh herbs, dice them up and add tablespoons of the diced herbs to ice cube trays (one tablespoon per ice cube). Cover the herbs with olive oil or avocado and freeze. Then you can add the herb ice cubes to any dish you’re cooking that calls for the herbs.
- You can freeze butter (according to my favorite butter Land-o-Lakes!), and apparently many other dairy products in general (cream cheese, sour cream, hard cheeses)
Here is a weblink to a site that has some great frozen food preservation tips!, but I personally am more of a purist with these things. I tend to leave these things in the fridge and let them be until I can use them when I return as they tend to have longer shelf lives, but if I did need to freeze dairy products, I’d likely use them only in recipes where they would be cooked through vs defrosting and eating them. Though I have not myself tried these, the Incredible Edible Egg has some tips for freezing eggs here!
- For prepared dishes that I just made but don’t have the time to eat, I also freeze them in individual portions that I can just reheat. Mashed cauliflower freezes really well in plastic bags pressed flat, mashed potatoes too (though they can get watery on defrost). Meatloaf, meatballs, lasagna and pre-made stir-fry’s all freeze and reheat great. Soup broths and tomato sauce also freeze well.
- Fruit can be harder to work with, but if you are into smoothies, freezing washed berries and then just adding them to your smoothie works really well. You can also puree all the berries together and freeze the puree for the same purpose though you’d have to defrost the puree unless you used ice cube trays like for the herbs above. I will put whole bananas in the freezer and then use them to make banana bread!
- In terms of vegetables, if you don’t have freezer space to chop and store all those leftover veggies, consider literally throwing almost any vegetable into a soup pot, adding some bouillon, salt and pepper and letting it reduce to make your own vegetable stock. Then freeze the stock for future soups.
- Nuts also tend to spoil readily in the desert’s dry air, so I have taken to always keeping nuts and dried fruits in the freezer and then tossing them from freezer into salads, or toasting the nuts in the toaster oven or oven before putting on salads. I add nuts straight from the freezer to recipes when I am baking as well.
- I do not own a Food Saver but this also would be a fantastic way to keep food longer in the freezer!
- Most importantly, though, I start thinking ahead to shopping with my trip in mind. I know the amount of food that I eat, mostly, and I really try to buy only what I think I will make and eat before I leave. This means thinking about buying less or purchasing things with longer expiration dates or buying and cooking once or twice within 5 days of the trip and just eating leftovers creatively until it’s time to walk out the door. And as for the wine, well, there’s usually never any left over but if there happened to be, I’d phone a friend.
What are some of your food-saving tips?