Monday, September 26, 2016

157: Sometimes a calorie is just a calorie

My nephew asked a question a little while ago about what we eat on the road - how we find and prepare our meals. So if you've been curious about that, here's a little bit of information about finding food on the road.
A rare "fancy drink" cocktail

Beer and a burger always works

We post a lot of photos on Facebook of lovely meals, beer, PIE! and ice cream stops but that's only part of the story. Many days, what we find to eat is not exactly gourmet grade or even particularly nutritious. If you can believe the calculations that are done by the Garmin computer on my bike, we're generally burning somewhere between 2000 and 4000 calories a day while we ride - in addition to what our normal calorie intake would be - so it's often just a case of trying to replace calories. Not all of those calories are going to be Grade A, if you know what I mean.

Oatmeal was a staple of our camp mornings. However, we were not camping that often, and had begun to adopt a 'camp close to food' approach, so we sent our stove and cookware home. That means that we now must find a restaurant close to a camping location, if we want to eat when we are sleeping out of doors.

Typical "free breakfast" from the hotel - YUMMY!
If we are staying in a home, or a hotel, we probably will get something more substantial to eat before we ride out. Many of the motor lodges in the mid range offer some kind of breakfast for guests, and we will take advantage of these if they are available. They are typically good for some assortment of the following: bagel, instant oatmeal, yogurt, maybe eggs, bacon or sausage, those do-it-yourself waffles, and in the south - biscuits and gravy! (Ay yi yi - how they love their biscuits and gravy!)  If they have the packets of instant oatmeal, I always go for one or two of those, plus a waffle or cereal if there is no protein available. We don't love this stuff, but it will keep us going for a couple of hours.

Second breakfast

Country ham, eggs, grits - yahoo! for Southern fare
By 10 o'clock in the morning, we are ready for 'second breakfast.' So whether we started at a camp or elsewhere we usually need to pause at that point. I will say this for many parts of the country, they can offer great deals on breakfast. It's been a very long time in California since I have seen a complete breakfast for under $10, but they are commonplace in the smaller towns around the country. We've enjoyed eggs, bacon and toast for as little as $3.00. There was a point in our trip, somewhere before we hit our turn-around point in Vermont, when I just got so tired of eating breakfast like this that I thought I was going to go crazy. I was just so tired of it. But you have to eat. We will run out of energy otherwise, and when that happens, it's not pretty!  If we are hoping for a quick stop, we'll look for a McDonald's.  I'm not a fan of McDonald's generally, but we stop in for a sausage biscuit or egg McMuffin and use the Wifi and their coffee is actually not bad . . . 
Ate a few of these . . .

Often times people will say, 'food just tastes so good when you're out of doors.' And that might be part of why we feel that we've had some of the best fruit and vegetables of our lives while we've been on this trip. If we are able to stop at a market on our way to camp we'll pick up some vegetables or fruit to add to our meal. Or we will stop at a farm stand and consume some fresh fruit on the spot. One day we got some broccoli and a couple of avocados from a little Mexican grocery store.  I think we ate those rehydrated backpacker's meals that night, supplemented by the fresh veggies, and as we stood there having them we said 'this is the best broccoli we've ever eaten!' Maybe true, maybe not - but it felt that way at that point. 
Roger's birthday in Sandpoint - that was a very good meal!

We have enjoyed some really great meals along the way. This is a vacation, after all - not a death march - so we are not adverse to treating ourselves. But once we hit eastern Washington, our opportunities for fine dining went way down. In much of the great middle of our nation, we found the food options very limited. Through eastern Montana, South Dakota, even in Minnesota and Wisconsin's small towns, the choices in the diners or lounge/grill (sometimes the only option for eating) were extremely limited. We could not get any fresh vegetables. They just are not available - there's no store and the lounge doesn't serve them. When we stopped in at a bar or grill, we could always get a hamburger. Sometimes grilled cheese or egg salad would be on the menu. "Salad" consisted of chopped iceberg lettuce, with some grated cheese on top - if it was even on the menu.  Sometimes we asked the waitress if she could make us a salad, since they had lettuce and tomato for the burgers, and when they would do so, they didn't know what to charge us! Even at the "family restaurant" end of the scale, we couldn't find fresh vegetables.
Notice the choice of side dishes

So we ate like the plains states people eat:  Meat (mostly beef) and potatoes. Fish and kitchen were on offer, usually "broasted" - fried under pressure. (The cooking technique is not much employed in my home state of California, but it does result in a moist, not at all greasy taste to the fish or chicken, which is encased in a crunchy breading of some type before being put in the fryer.) There were LOTS of potatoes. At some places, the list of available side dishes was, and I kid you not:  baked potato, mashed potato, smashed potatoes (mashed covered with onions and cheese), french fries, curly fries, waffle fries, tater tots, or onion rings. One place offered french fries, onion rings, fried mushrooms, or fried cauliflower!  So - you could get a vegetable, I guess - as long as it was white and fried!  
A lovely B and B breakfast

And this is while we are riding past miles and miles of wheat, corn and soybeans. America produces tons and tons of these agricultural products, but they are not for us for eat. They will go into our cars, our cows, our corn syrup. Meanwhile, the farmers producing them are living in a vast food desert. When we reached Appleton, Wisconsin - a relatively large metro area at 150,000 - we rejoiced at having a salad with mixed greens, carrots and cabbage and some fresh grilled salmon on top, What a treat! And it had been literally weeks since we'd seen anything like that on a menu. 

The convenience stores have kept us alive, as terrible as that sounds. In the plains states, the Cenex stations typically had a little grill, and that's where we got a passable breakfast, either freshly prepared (bacon and eggs) or in the form of a breakfast sandwich. Sometimes we had the slice of pizza sitting under the warming light for lunch. A couple of times, we got a frozen burrito from the case and warmed it in the microwave before taking it back to our hotel room. I remember eating one of those while sitting on the floor of the store. It seems hard to believe if you are living in a city and have access to a car, but if you are staying the night in a ten-room motel off the back road somewhere, you may truly not have access to anything else within walking (or even cycling) distance.  
It'll keep you alive . . .

O Lord, please, NO!

I had the worst plate of spaghetti of my life in one of those places!  Oh, well. On that particular night, I told myself, "it's not cuisine - it's just calories!"  Thank goodness Domino's pizza delivers!  (By the way, if you are starved for vegetables, a pizza joint with a salad bar is not a bad option.  We would put together a nice plate with garbanzos, green peas, beets, carrots, celery, broccoli and cauliflower, sesame seeds - whether or not you get any lettuce you still can have something that has fiber and flavor!)

And, when we see a drive-in in the afternoon, particularly if it's hot, we love to stop for a shake or a float. 

I love my root beer floats

Beer is one of our favorite beverages, and it's so important to stay hydrated!  So being able to have a beer with dinner is a real plus. While we were traveling through Tennessee and Mississippi, we ran into a string of dry counties, which was a bummer. If not for the B and B hostess who thoughtfully left a couple of beers sitting in the hallway for us, we'd have gone a full week without a beer.  

Roger ponders

He had some great peaches!

Will stop for pie!
We look for pie when we stop, but it's just not all that common on dessert menus these days. Those of you who are following our Facebook posts probably have seen every pie we've eaten, but sadly, there are weeks that pass without pie.

BBQ chicken from the grocer for a picnic
When we cannot bear the thought of selecting one of the deep-fried goodies on offer at the convenience store, we hit the grocery store, and can usually find something like this picnic we made from the prepared BBQ chicken, baked beans and potato salad in Tishomingo. That was sort of a sad situation:  the campground was four miles from town, the first convenience store we passed was shuttered, the restaurant was closed, so it was grocery store or nothing. It turned out to be just fine. We had our picnic in the town park, then carried a few things back to camp to eat first thing in the morning before riding out in search of something more substantial.
Great meal at Glacier Nat Park
We have enjoyed some really fine meals. One of them was at the lodge in Glacier National Park. That was a feast. We also had great food at the B and B in Canada (I forget which port city it was, but I did include it already in the blog.) The larger cities all have fine restaurants, and so we treat ourselves with dinner and wine when we get there. Salud!

And from the sublime to the ridiculous - we have, on occasion, literally made sandwiches from our dehydrated peanut butter and eaten them while sitting on the side of the road.

We also enjoy carrying fresh fruit and eating it while we ride. I have it hanging from the handlebars, and pass a snack up to Roger as we roll along.  We've enjoyed cherrries, blackberries, tomatoes, plums and strawberries this way - all purchased from farm stands or picked along the way.

Peanut butter and crackers on the side of the road

Cherries in Michigan - eaten as we ride

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