Eating on the Road Again

We returned recently from a weeklong camping trip to three national parks. The availability of good quality, pre-packaged natural foods certainly makes living in a tent easier. So in the middle of Arches National Park — an 18-mile trip to the gate — we ate Pad Thai noodles and tasty soups from a box. Hot foods were essential since the temps dipped when the sun went down into the 30s and at Grand Canyon, the 20s, the week we were living outside.  

Baja-style tacos at Kip’s Grill

And on occasion, we ate inside a restaurant like Kip’s Grill in Pagosa Springs. (More below.)

I am not a rookie to camp life. Years ago I camped for months, visiting national and state parks in California and Arizona with my then-companion. We started in San Francisco, where a woman from India taught me how to make chapatis. I accompanied the woman, whose English skills were limited, as she searched for a job around the city. In exchange she showed me how to make chapatis. I kneaded wholewheat dough, rolled balls of it into thin, flat discs before I quickly heated both sides on a skillet. Then, I placed the chapatis on the grate of a lit camp stove (sometimes a fireplace) until they puffed. That became our staple on the road. 

I also cooked for our six kids on our summer camping trips but out of necessity — think huge quantities — everything was made from scratch. While I don’t recall the menus, I do the massive preparation and cleanups. There have been several occasions Hank and I have hit the road to tent and hike.

As I mentioned earlier, Hank and I did eat out a few times on our most recent trip. Salads when we could find them. Muffins and coffee if we were driving at breakfast time. Best muffin was at the Pagosa Baking Company in Southern Colorado. Worst was at Starbucks, where the muffins were more like cake.

At Grand Canyon we ate at  El Tovar Lodge, one of the former

Harvey House railroad hotels from the early 1900s. Charles Whittlesey was the architect for this Mission-style hotel, which is featured in Hank’s numerous books on the Arts and Crafts movement. 

(That’s him pondering the menu at the right.) The lodge, with its massive, dark interior and appropriate furnishings, was a delight. Unfortunately the lunch — salmon with rice and broccoli — wasn’t. I gather the chef wanted me to spread a big glob of citrus butter all over the dish to give it taste, which I didn’t.

The best meal eaten on the road was in Pagosa Springs, where we ended our trip to warm up in pools ranging from 93 to 109 degrees. We had Baja-style tacos at Kip’s Grill. Kip’s is a small place on the main drag with a cantina-like atmosphere. The clientele that

Kip’s Grill

Saturday night looked like mostly locals and a few people like us who wandered in off the road. We were lucky to get a table right away. I had spicy shrimp. Hank chose fish. For a buck more we got slices of avocado. The tacos were tasty and inexpensive. Plus there were bottles of great homemade hot sauces. Our waitress told us “Do whatever you have to do to get my attention.” Funny thing, we didn’t have to.  Here’s a link to their site


Food, Travel

Eating on the Road

Ah, my poor neglected food blog. Since April I’ve had great dining experiences on the road and each time, I vowed to write about them. But I’ve been too busy with writing and other stuff.  So here is a quick recap and a pledge to do better.

(By the way, my last post was about going vegan. Yes, that’s the way I still eat except when that’s not an option dining out or in somebody’s home. As I tell friends, I’m not a jerk — or worse — about it.)

In April, our daughter Emily and son-in-law Chris treated us to dinner at Blue Ginger, the restaurant owned by celebrity chef Ming Tsai in

Blue Ginger

Wellesley, Mass. I’ve seen Ming compete in such TV shows as Next Iron Chef and Iron Chef. He’s made appearances on others. (Yup, I like watching cooking shows.) He was even present the night we dined — visiting a table of, I am guessing, super regulars.

The menu features such dishes as Sake-Miso Mariate Sablefish and Pan-Seared Scallops with Carrot Top Pesto. I went for the Garlic-

Lobster at Blue Ginger

Black Pepper Lobster with Lemongrass Fried Rice. Tasty, but the best dish was an appetizer — the Wok-Stirred Mussels with Fermented Black Bean Broth. It was savory and I would have been happy if it were an entree.

I was back in Boston in July. This time Emily and Chris treated us to dinner at Steele & Rye in Milton, Mass. This restaurant will be featured on this season’s Top Chef, and it was here

Seafood at Steele & Rye

union workers protested the show. But that didn’t happen the night we ate. I had a well-prepared scallop dish with sweet pea puree.

Prickly Pear Margarita at Boudro’s

In early October, we were in San Antonio, Texas for a conference. On the River Walk we opted for Boudro’s — twice — for seafood. The second time, we had guacamole made table side. But the best part of the meal was the fabulously frozen Prickly Pear Margarita. 

The Friendly Spot Ice House

On our last day in San Antonio, we hit The Friendly Spot Ice House in Southtown. I liked the funky, outdoor setting — vintage patio furniture, a playground for the kids, dogs, and a super-sized screen to watch the Spurs. The veggie burger was so-so, but the beer selection was great and yes, it was a friendly place to spend a few hours.

And, now I promise not to wait so long to write about food again. Next topic: seaweed.

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Going Vegan

I was heading that way for many months, eating less meat, fish, chicken, and dairy, until I stopped. I feel better for it on many levels.

For decades I’ve been eating whole foods anyway— you know, grains, beans, vegetables, fruit with fish here and there. But during the past several years we expanded our diet, adding beef, chicken, and dairy from the local natural food store so it was the best quality. But meat is meat, I decided.
I saw the documentary, “Forks over Knives,” and read the companion book. Two ideas stayed with me. One is that if all the grain fed to fatten animals were used instead to feed people we would end world hunger. The other is that I want to eat a plant-based diet.
And, luckily I know how to cook tasty and satisfying meals from plants.
Do I care what other people eat? That’s their business. I am not a preacher. And, when I’m invited to eat at someone’s house, I accept without a fuss and eat with gratitude whatever is served. (I found many people don’t ask ahead of time if you have any foods you can’t or don’t want to eat.)
I admit it’s a bit of a challenge eating out. I study menus ahead of time online and seek those restaurants that offer a vegan dish, which admittedly are few, or ones who are happy to modify a recipe.  
So what do we eat at home? Grain, specifically, brown rice. Cooked and raw vegetables. Soy products such as miso, tempeh and tofu although not foods where soy is used to replicate animal food. Nuts and seeds. Fruit. Seaweed. They all make for good eating.

Terrible Tofu

Actually tofu isn’t terrible. But many people don’t give it much of a chance. My best guess is they think it will taste and act like cheese because it looks like cheese. Sorry, tofu does not have that power.

But tofu is a healthy food with possibilities. It is also high in protein and calcium. And it is vegan. 

I tend to use tofu two ways. I add cubes of it to miso soup. Then, there is stir fry. For that, I cut the tofu into squares and fry them in a skillet so their surface gets a nice crisp. I sauté the vegetables separately before I add the fried tofu. I serve the stir-fry with a splash of soy sauce or another tasty sauce. Sometimes I pan-fry squares of tofu before simmering them in a soy sauce-flavored broth. There are certainly plenty of recipes to be had on the zillion cooking sites found on the web.

Tofu is easy to come by. Most supermarkets carry it packaged. I prefer firm or extra-firm because it holds its shape well. Once the package is open, tofu should be stored in a plastic container with fresh water. Refrigerate.

Of course, tofu contains water. Let it drain on toweling before cooking it.

I have made my own tofu. We were living in a cabin with no electricity, phone, running water nor indoor plumbing. It was a phase in my life when I had a lot of time on my hands. I ground the soybeans by hand and used nigari, which is magnesium chloride. I recall the tofu was very tasty. I will have to try making it again.


Chopsticks Over Forks

A pair of chopsticks is my eating utensil of choice. I began using them when I lived in a group situation — think lots of hippy-types eating brown rice, miso soup, and vegetables. Having a pile of bamboo chopsticks was more affordable and practical than silverware.

The practice stuck with me. Yes, it is difficult to eat meat unless it’s

been sliced during the cooking process. But just about everything else is doable, especially now that I eat a plant-based diet again. 

Some people are intimidated about using chopsticks. But really one doesn’t have to be very skilled. The lower chopstick is held stationary by the third finger and the base of the thumb. The other chopstick is levered between the thumb and second finger. 

Our kids ate with chopsticks as soon as they could manage them. One son said during a month-long stay in Mongolia, the locals remarked on his fine chopsticks skills.

I’ve seen fancy chopsticks made of metal, porcelain, or exotic woods, but I prefer the humble bamboo. I am not fond of the coarse, cheap disposable ones that come in restaurants or with grocery store sushi but I am sure they are a practical alternative. 

Yes, there are rules to using chopsticks like not sticking them vertically into a bowl of rice, which apparently is a symbol of death. (We have wooden chopstick rests, which resemble outrigger canoes, when we want to take a break.) Other bad manners include spearing food with the end or crossing them on the table. You also aren’t supposed to point chopsticks at people. But then, again, I wouldn’t do that with a fork or knife either.