On a recent road trip to the west coast of Florida we awoke in Naples, the first leg of our journey, to brilliant sunshine. The pull of the weather and a desire for exercise drew us to the beach. An early morning jog up and down the Gulf beach left us feeling pretty hungry, but the beauty of our location was so perfect, we decided that we needed to find some food and return. While there are dozens, possibly hundreds of restaurants in Naples that could have offered us the kind of food we love, the Gulf beckoned. Given the choice between sitting down to lunch indoors or lunching in our comfy beach chairs on a powdery white sand beach, the choice was clear. Our search for picnic style fare brought back happy memories of a similar quest in Sonoma, California. After a full day of winery hopping, my husband and I stumbled upon a charming local grocery store directly across the street from where we were staying. Since we were exhausted from the day’s adventures and wanted nothing more than to retire to our little hotel in Petaluma, we purchased “take-out” e.g., my own personal version of road food.Unlike many others of my generation, I was not brought up on fast food or TV dinners. Despite the fact that my mother worked full-time, she still cooked dinner every night except Saturday which was date night for she and my dad. Okay, yes. So maybe that was the rare occasion we were subjected to those horrifying TV dinners! So gross! Somehow, the memory of those Styrofoam brownies still lingers! Anyway, as a result of all of those homemade meals, I was never a fan of fast food and even today have a hard time eating it. This makes me just as unpopular on family road trips as it did back when I was a teenager and refused to agree to MacDonald’s when all my friends were craving Big Macs!
Fortunately, times have changed, and simple but tasty food is much easier to find. As we shopped in Petaluma that day, we came across a brand of goat cheese I had been unable to locate in south Florida; truly, California has everything! As I searched for something to go with it, I added some smoked salmon to my basket, a fragrant baguette and a nice spinach salad for two. What a wonderful meal that was. This simple food was somehow infinitely more satisfying than a hundred dollar meal at a finer establishment, especially when eaten in the comfort of our hotel room and paired with a nice little white burgundy we had purchased earlier in the day. Satiated, we immediately fell into bed afterward to recharge our wine seeking batteries in preparation for the next day.
I guess I should credit my picnic-packing, road food finesse to my dad. Before 9/11 and the changes the airlines were forced to implement for the sake of security, my dad was the master of road food in air travel form. After forty years of traveling, bad air service and even worse airline food, he simply refused to tolerate it when traveling recreationally. Instead, he opted for a nice bottle of wine, cleverly disguised in a plastic water or soda bottle, some nice cheese like a brie or gouda, crusty bread, crackers, grapes and some perfect sweet like cheesecake or something similarly unexpected and pleasing. All of this contraband was packed neatly into a small inconspicuous cooler, which much to the disgust of our fellow travelers, we proceeded to unpack and consume with great gusto and pleasure while they were in the midst of some exceedingly less appealing meal.
The memory of our Petaluma food adventure gave me an idea as we shopped in Naples. Baskets over our arms, poised and ready as any soldier on a mission, we entered the market. My husband headed west toward the prepared hot foods while I charted a course due east for the deli and specialty foods. A very few minutes later, we departed victorious with a couple of Brie, apple and turkey wraps, a six pack of blood oranges, and a sampling of sweets: mocha almonds with turbinado sugar, chocolate covered toffee with a dusting of powdered sugar and dark chocolate nonpareils, for dessert. Pinot Grigio safely transferred into a non-breakable container completed this simple but perfect beach meal. We returned to our earlier spot, set up “camp” and spent the afternoon overdosing on food, sun, sand, and beauty. You might understand why, now that this ten day trip is over, we decreed this, of all days, to be our favorite.
So, in the future, while on the road or in a new city, think steamed shrimp, prosciutto, cheese, fresh bread or pita instead of hamburgers, nitrite loaded deli sandwiches or chicken nuggets. Think outdoor dining instead of in and think fruit and dark chocolate instead of fries. Opt for your own tasty and healthy snacks and sandwiches rather than calling for expensive room service. Today’s markets might surprise you with the wide variety of available options. Should you be setting out for a long road trip, it doesn’t take much to prepare for easy meals on the move. A small amount of effort provides many creature comforts while on the road as well as saving a great deal of money!
- Cheese (usually Muenster, cheddar and boursin)
- A four pack of Stonyfield Farm Yogurt smoothies (A smoothie and fruit work for breakfast)
- Sandwiches for the road like peanut butter on hearty whole grain bread, prosciutto, cheese and apple wrap, or chicken salad pita.
- Organic chocolate milk (Answers the call of my 10:00p.m. sweet tooth!)
- Cream (Can’t deal with that nasty powder stuff even when traveling!)
- Apples and oranges or other fruit that travels well
- Whole grain chips (the salt minimizes my number of pit stops )
- Pretzel Crisps or rice crackers for the cheese
- Plastic cutlery (packets that come with take-out work quite nicely so save ‘em!)
- Sharp knife
- Dark chocolate
- Peanuts (Husband’s favorite munchy)
- Plastic Ziplocs-all sizes (You would be amazed how handy these are!)
Plenty of water is always on board as a roll of paper towels . . . or two!