According to the National DayCalendar website, Sunday, April 19 is National Garlic Day. In honor of this upcoming holiday celebrating the aromatic member of the lily family, today I will sing the praises of fresh garlic.
I grew to love fresh garlic in my 20s. I put it in nearly every savory dish I cooked. When I heard of its medicinal properties (antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal, according to the article “7 Raw Garlic Benefits for Fighting Disease” by Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DMN, CNS ), I began to eat it raw and drink it in a sort of tea. If I began feeling rundown or the least bit sick, I’d add freshly minced garlic to hot water with a dash of cayenne and maybe a splash of honey. I’d swallow the bits of garlic down and wait for it to do its healing magic. I traveled with my garlic press and fists of Allium sativum , and I took on its aroma.
(FYI: Garlic breath isn’t because of what’s happening in one’s mouth. According to the Web MD article “Why Garlic Is the Bad Breath King” by Andrea M. Braslavsky, garlic breath begins in the gut. In summary, “the gas [from the garlic] was going into the blood, circulating around the body, and being excreted in the breath and urine.” That’s why you can brush your teeth and still have garlic breath.)
After I became homeless, there was no time for fresh
produce, and I fell out of the garlic habit. Once I got a van, I experimented
with the garlic that comes minced in jars. That stuff was quite convenient (if
a little pricey), and was great until I ran out of ice in my cooler and the
garlic got warm. Even if it tasted ok, the garlic that came to room temperature
after the jar was opened left my tummy feeling unhappy.
When The Man and I started traveling together, he wanted
garlic, so we experimented with the minced garlic in the jar. This time The Man
was the one with the unhappy tummy, and by “unhappy,” I mean sick. The garlic
from the jar—once we ran out of ice in the cooler and it got warm—was tearing
After we gave up on minced garlic in the jar, I used garlic powder sometimes, but it always seemed lacking. When I saw dried garlic flakes in the store, I decided to give them a try. The garlic flakes were tastier than garlic powder, and we were satisfied whenever we sprinkled them on a dish. The problem occurred when I couldn’t find them in the grocery store. It seemed like even small grocery stores carried onion flakes, but garlic flakes were few and far between.
One day at the end of 2018, we ran out of garlic flakes, and
I couldn’t’ find any in the grocery store in the small Arizona town where we
were staying. I didn’t want to spend money on garlic powder I knew would leave
me feeling dissatisfied, so I broke down and bought two fists of garlic.
You may wonder why I never got back into the habit of
cooking with fresh garlic. I had a van and then a fifth wheel. I don’t have any
good reasons. I no longer had a garlic press and chopping up a couple of cloves
of garlic every evening seemed inconvenient. Fresh garlic is somewhat sticky
and it seemed to take too much water to clean the knife and my hands and the
cutting board. I guess the main problem is that I am basically lazy and
typically take the path of least resistance. I wanted something totally
convenient that would taste as good as fresh garlic.
I guess I’d forgotten how tasty fresh garlic is. When The
Man and I ate the first dish I added the fresh garlic to, we were blown away.
We could taste the garlic, and it added a depth of flavor no amount of garlic
flakes could compare to.
I’d been on the fresh garlic bandwagon for several months
without a garlic press. Every night I’d chop chop chop several cloves of garlic
to add to our meal. It was a bit more work than sprinkling garlic . powder, but
the extra effort was worth it because the fresh garlic tasted so much better.
I got lucky one day when I stopped in at my local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Each ReStore is different, and the one I go to carries a lot of kitchenware: plates, bowls, eating and cooking utensils, mugs, glasses, pots and pans. I always look on both sides of the kitchen aisle, hoping for a good deal on something I can use in meal preparation. On this particular day I was looking for a garlic press and I found one! It’s Chefmate brand and very heavy duty. This garlic press is likely to last for years. The best part? The price. The man working the cash register only charged me $1 for the garlic press and two forks. Hell yes, I’ll take a good quality garlic press for only 33⅓ cents!
Th press really helps me keep up with my love affair with garlic without a lot of muss or fuss. Yippie for my garlic press and most of all, yippie for fresh garlic.
People left weird things in the fuel center where I worked for a couple of months in the summer of 2019. While I never found a baby in a trashcan, I did find a big box of candy and a bag of prescription drugs.
I found the candy first.
It was a busy Sunday afternoon, overcast all day with a drizzle in the afternoon. If you think a Sunday afternoon was a tranquil time at the fuel center, think again. All the tourists who’d spent the weekend in town were fueling up before leaving for home. All the locals preparing for the workweek ahead were getting their fuel before their Monday rush. The only fuel center day busier than Sunday was Friday, when people were getting ready for weekend adventures.
About half an hour before my replacement was scheduled to arrive, I looked across the fuel center and saw a large cardboard box on top of an empty merchandiser. My first thought was that someone wanted to dump an empty box, but hadn’t taken the time to break it down and put it in a trashcan. I sighed and headed outside to dispose of the box.
Thankfully I looked in it before I tried to snatch it off the merchandiser
because the box was full (and I mean full) of candy. There were half a dozen boxes of Cracker Jacks, lollipops. Smarties, and several other varieties of yummies. It was a jackpot for someone with a sweet tooth like mine.
Alas, the candy did not belong to me.
It was quite a dilemma for a trash picking, ground scoring scavenger like me. I was pretty sure the box had been deserted, not forgotten–pretty sure but not certain. If I had been simply a customer, I might have justified loading the box into my vehicle. After all, there was no one near the box. On the other hand, I was on the clock, and I was confident the company I worked for would frown upon an employee scavenging on company property during work hours.
My next thought was, What if it’s poisoned?
Let me say, I’ve eaten food from the trash many, many times. I once lived in a college town where dumpster diving at the end of each semester was my favorite sport. During the same period, my friends and I regularly scavenged from the dumpster of a local grocery store. I never limited my food acquisitions to sealed packages, and I never worried about being poisoned. But a box full of candy? It was too good to be true! What better way to terrorize a small town than to leave poisoned candy in a busy place where ti was sure to be found and eaten? Did I really want to be done in by the deadly sin of gluttony?
I hauled the box into the kiosk and called the CSM (Customer Service Manager) on duty.
I found a big box of candy outside, I explained. It wasn’t in the trash. I might have been forgotten.
The CSM told me to bring the candy into the supermarket. She was clearly over me and my fuel center problems.
She looked a bit surprised when she saw the size of the box, but she quickly handed responsibility over to one of the assistant store managers who was bagging groceries for a customer. The assistant manager looked perplexed, but after finding the name of a local day camp written on the side of the box, she said she’d get the candy back to the organization it seemed to belong to. I was glad I no longer had to think about the abandoned treats.
It was about a week later that I found the drugs.
When I started my shift, I saw a white paper bag with the logo of the pharmacy owned by the company I worked for. The bag was on the ground near pump 3, and I figured it was empty and left behind by someone who had no qualms about littering. Once I got signed in on the POS (point-of-sale) system and updated by the coworker I was replacing, I went outside to condition the merchandise and pick up trash. I made a beeline for the pharmacy bag.
When I grabbed the bag, I was shocked to find it was heavy and rattled when it moved. I looked inside and saw four prescription bottles, each full of pills. Whoa! What was I going to do with this!
I brought the bag into the kiosk immediately so I could examine the bottles. While the bag had the logo of the company I worked for on it, the bottles were clearly from the corporate pharmacy down the street. The bottles also showed the name of the man to whom the drugs had been prescribed. Each bottle had a name of a drug on the label, but I didn’t recognize any of them.
I wondered what was going on here. Had the drugs been forgotten? Had they been dumped? if they’d been forgotten, why had they been taken out of a car and put on the ground? If they’d been dumped, why had they been left on the ground and not deposited in one of the trash cans?
I called the CSM on duty, a different one than the one I’d alerted about the box of candy. After I explained the situation, the CSM consulted with the same assistant manager who again happened to be standing right there.
The assistant manager asked if the prescriptions had been filled by our pharmacy.
I said no, the bag was from our pharmacy, but the bottles had lables from our competitor.
Throw them in the trash, she instructed.
It seemed so wrong to me. The patient had probably paid a lot of money for that medicine, and the guy was obviously sick if he needed four bottles of pills. Wasn’t there something we could do?
I knew the assistant manager had made up her mind, so I didn’t argue. I put the bag of drugs on top of the trash can in the kiosk. I figured the owner of the bag would come by in the next five hours while I was working and ask about it. When he identified himself, I could grab the bag from the top of the trash and hand it over.
I waited in vain. No one asked about a forgotten bag of prescription medication. No one skulked around the fuel center looking for a lost item. The drugs stayed in my trash can until I brought the day’s load of garbage into the store and over to the baler in the stockroom.
I hate an unsolved mystery. I’ll spend the rest of my life wondering about
those candies and drugs. Where did they come from? Who left them? Were they left on purpose or accidentally? If leaving the items was an accident, what did the person who’d left them think when the loss was discovered? How did the guy do without his medication? If the items were left on purpose, why weren’t they put in the trash can?
Like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.
Last week I wrote about activities to engage in when the weather is too bad to be outside. But what are van or car dwellers to do when they can’t cook outside like normal due to inclement weather? What are van or car dwellers to do if they just don’t feel like cooking? Sure, if you’re in the city, you could rely on restaurants for your meals, but doing so could get quite expensive. Of course, if you’re off boondocking in the wilderness, you probably won’t find a restaurant for miles in any direction, and you’ll have to figure out some way to feed yourself. Today I’ll give you some ideas of what to eat when bad weather (or anything else) keeps you away from your stove.
Be prepared for those times you can’t get outdoors to cook
or you just want to have a quick and easy meal by keeping nonperishables on
hand. When I lived in my van, I tried to always have crackers, rice cakes, nuts
and/or nut butter, Nutella, corn chips, dry cereal, corn or flour tortillas, canned
fish, raisins or other dried fruit, canned fruit, and shelf-stable milk in my
pantry so I’d be able to eat if I was stuck in a place where I couldn’t cook.
Usually with these staples and what I had in my cooler, I could feed myself for
a couple of days. Nonperishable foods also came in handy if I got hungry while
I was stealth parking.
If you know bad weather is coming or you will be too busy to cook for a few
days and you have eggs on hand, boil enough to get your through until you can cook again. It’s easy to get enough carbs when you can’t cook, but you’ll be glad for the protein and fat you can get from eggs. Store the boiled eggs in their shell in your cooler until you are ready to eat them.
Another food you can cook in advance of bad weather is pancakes. I’ve found pancakes stay good
for several days without refrigeration, and I find them as tasty at room
temperature as just off the griddle. If you don’t have any sliced bread on
hand, you can substitute pancakes when making nut butter sandwiches. You can
also munch on pancakes plain or with a touch of honey or maple syrup.
I can eat happily for several days on dry cereal and milk. If you don’t have milk in your cooler, use shelf-stable milk from your pantry. Fancy up your meal with fresh, dried, or canned fruit. If you don’t do dairy, plant-based milks are typically easy to find in most large supermarkets.
Yogurt with fruit and
granola makes a quick, tasty meal or snack. For a slightly different riff
on the cereal and dairy theme, sprinkle dry cereal other than granola over your
When you can’t cook, nutbutters (peanut, almond, and cashew butter, as well as sunflower seed butter and tahini) can be your best friends. Like boiled eggs, nut butters will give you the protein and fat your body will probably be craving. Also, nut butters don’t spoil as quickly as animal products like eggs and milk or yogurt from cows and goats. Some ways to eat nut butters: on bread with bananas, with crackers, spread on apple or pear slices, plopped into the hollow of a stalk of celery and dotted with raisins, spread on pancakes or rice cakes. For a little extra yum, add some hazelnut/coco spread (Nutella or a store brand version) to your nut butter concoctions. Of course, if you have jam or jelly in your cooler, you can have an old-fashioned PB&J or a more modern AB&J (almond butter) or CB&J (cashew butter).
If you eat fish, canned fish on crackers or with chips will give you a protein boost too. In a pinch, I’ve been known to eat canned tuna, oysters, salmon, or sardines on crackers with a squirt of hot sauce. A little cheese (especially, I think, cream cheese) if you have it in your cooler added to any of these combos makes the meal extra tasty.
Of course, any canned,
fully cooked food you have on hand can be eaten at room temperature if you
can stomach it. The thought of room temperature beans eaten straight out of the
can does not appeal to me, but I’ve seen The Man eat them that way with no ill
effects on several occasions. Folks who already eat beans, Vienna sausage,
potted meat, or other canned goods without the benefit of heat can continue to
eat this way when the weather is awful or there’s no time to cook.
If you have cheese in your cooler, slice some up, lay it down on crackers,
and pretend you’re at a fancy party eating cheese and cracker hors d’oeuvres If you’re a wine drinker, having some now will add to your fancy party fantasy.
Chips, rice cakes, or
crackers with dip may not be the height of nutrition, but such fare can get
you through when the weather is so bad you can’t even think of leaving your
rig. Salsa is probably your most nutritious option, but bean dip is probably
relatively healthy too. Ranch dip, French onion dip, and queso may not be
exceptionally healthy, but they may offer morale boosting comfort when you’re
stuck inside. You may want to keep at least one jar of shelf stable comfort dip
in your pantry for hard times.
Another great dip is guacamole. If you know ahead of time that bad weather is going to banish you to the rig, grab a premade tub from the produce section of most supermarkets. Guacamole requires no cooking, so you can certainly mix up a batch while sheltering in your rig. Cut open an avocado or two, remove the seed(s), and scoop the soft green middle into a bowl. Mash the avocado and squeeze a little lemon or lime juice into the bowl. Mince some garlic (one or two cloves, depending on your preference and the size of the cloves), and throw that in. Sprinkle on some salt and chili powder, then mash it all up to your desired consistency. Yippee: guacamole! You can eat it with chips or crackers or spread it on a flour or corn tortilla. If you have any leftover, store it in your cooler for later.
Hummus is also a delicious dip you can buy premade ahead of time or easily make in your rig. Open and drain a can of garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), then dump them into a bowl. (If you can save some of the water the garbanzos are packed in, you may use it later to thin the mashed bean paste.) Mince some garlic and throw that in on top of the garbanzos, then add tahini, olive oil, and salt to taste. Mash it all up as smooth as you can, and add some of the juice from the can if you need to thin the paste. Be warned that this dip will probably be thick and chunky since you probably only have your own arm muscles and (at best) a potato masher to do a job usually done by a food processor. Once your hummus is prepared, you can eat it on chips; crackers; pretzels; veggies (carrot slices, celery, bell pepper chunks); rice cakes; or bread.
If you have cheese, cold cuts (traditional or vegetarian), veggies, and bread,
you can always slap together a sandwich. Add a piece of fruit or some chips and call it a meal.
If you can stand to be outside long enough to boil water,
there a few quick and easy warm meals you can prepare.
Add boiling water to instant
refried beans, stir, then let them sit (covered) for five minutes or so.
Add chips and cheese (and salsa and/or chopped avocado or guacamole if you’ve
got them) to the warm beans for an easy meal. You can also add warm beans and
any of the fixin’s mentioned above to a flour or corn tortilla and fold or
Boiling water can also be added to packaged ramen noodle soups. After sitting
(covered) for 5-10 minutes, the boiling water should have made the noodles
plump and tender. I never use the flavor packets that come with the noodles,
but you can (of course!) if you want to. I just add some soy sauce or Bragg’s
Liquid Aminos and nutritional yeast. If you have a boiled egg or canned fish on
hand, either would be a good addition to ramen.
You can also add boiling water to oatmeal—instant, quick cooking, even old-fashioned. (This is not a technique I recommend for cooking steel cut oats.) Add enough boiling water to cover the oats, stir, cover the bowl, and let sit for 5-10 minutes (less time if you’re preparing instant oats). When the cover is removed, the water should be absorbed. Old-fashioned oats may be a bit chewy, but should not be crunchy. You can fancy up oatmeal with fresh or dried chopped fruit (added before the boiling water), nut butter, hazelnut spread, raisins or craisins, honey, maple syrup, or nuts.
If you have extra boiling water, you can have a cup of hot
tea, cocoa, or instant coffee now, or store the hot water in a thermos to use
If you’re able to stay outside long enough to boil water,
you may be outside long enough to scramble an egg, heat a can of beans, warm a
couple of tortillas, or make some toast. Even a brief break in rain or sleet or
snow may give you the opportunity to prepare warm food. Eat warm food when you
can get it, and save cold or room-temperature food for later when you might not
be able to get outside at all.
You’ve got to eat, no matter what the weather or even if you’re too busy to cook. A little planning and a stocked pantry can get you through when you’re stuck in your van or can’t get to your stove for whatever reason.
The family came into the Mercantile late on a Sunday afternoon.
The short fuzz of the tall fellow’s hair was mostly grey. The woman had short hair too, stylishly cut, but in need of a trim. The child was maybe three and appeared to be a boy. From the conversation I overheard between the adults, I determined the child was their kid, not their grandchild as I might have guessed.
The adults let the kid run around. He wasn’t destroying things, but he was touching everything and moving things around. He certainly wasn’t being told to look with your eyes, not with your hands or the Spanish equivalent, no toca. The parents didn’t demand the kid hold an adult hand or stay by an adult side. Basically, they were letting him do what he wanted with minimum parental supervision or intervention.
The adults were busy picking up items they wanted to buy and piling them on the counter. I guess their shopping was interfering with their parental duties. I got the feeling most things they did interfered with their parental duties. In any case, it looked like it was going to be a big sale, so the employees of the Mercantile silently tolerated the child’s behavior.
The Big Boss Man was in the Mercantile too, using his phone to utilize the internet. He conversed with the adults as they shopped. I stood tired and mostly silent behind the cash register waiting to ring up the sale.
One of the adults mentioned their reservation had been for this night and the previous night, but they’d only just arrived. It seemed they hadn’t been able to get things together to arrive on time. They were thinking of staying the next night too, since they’d missed the first night of their reservation.
I don’t know if The Big Boss man was just feeling generous in general or if he was inspired by the growing pile of merchandise on the counter, but he told the couple they could have their site for free the next night if they decided to stay. Of course, The Big Boss Man lost nothing by making this offer. The couple had paid for a night they hadn’t used and since Mondays are typically slow, the site would probably sit empty if the couple decided not to stay. The Big Boss Man is good at being generous in ways that don’t cost the company money. He’s all about generating goodwill when he can do it for free.
I rang up the family’s purchases. They spent more than $100, which definitely stimulated The Big Boss Man’s feelings of goodwill. I packed their purchases into a large shopping bag and sent them on their way with wishes to have a good night!
The other clerk left for the day, but The Big Boss Man lingered. Sometimes he does that. Sometimes I’m hoping for a quiet last half hour of the day alone in the Mercantile, but The Big Boss man hangs around until closing time. It looked like this was going to be one of those afternoons.
The father of the rambunctious child came back into the Mercantile. I want to give you these, he said. He handed me and The Big Boss Man each a large, green, perfect avocado. He tended about 200 avocado trees back home, he said. These were from his trees.
I thanked him profusely and energetically. I love avocados and to receive one as a gift is high on my list of wonderfulness. The Man and I ate the avocado that night. It was perfectly ripe. Sometimes niceness pays off in delicious ways.
Nevada Day was originally observed on October 31 each year. Since 2000, it is observed on the last Friday in October.
On this holiday all state, county and city government offices are closed, along with most schools and libraries…
In 2000, the Nevada Legislature decided to celebrate the holiday on a Friday, hoping that a three-day weekend would generate more interest. Nevada Day is now observed on the last Friday in October.
Last year on Nevada Day, I was in Las Vegas visiting The Poet and The Activist. I think The Poet mentioned Nevada Day as we were planning our activities during my stay. As far as I was concerned, the best perk of Nevada Day was free admission to the Nevada State Museum in Springs Preserve. (Normal admission for adults who do not reside in Nevada is $19.95!)
We talked about visiting the State Museum on Nevada Day. We thought it might be a fun way to spend a few hours, and we were pleased admission would cost us nothing.
The Poet told me her favorite features of the State Museum were the penny postcards in the gift shop and the onsite café with heaping plates of potato tots that cost only $3. Both features sounded great to me. I love both postcards and potato tots, and I love bargains most of all.
I’d hoped we’d get to the State Museum early (I’m generally an early bird), but we didn’t. I don’t remember what held us up. I just know it was mid-afternoon before we arrived at the museum.
The Activist dropped me and The Poet off near the Divine Café, the restaurant that serves Springs Preserve. While he parked, we slowly climbed the stairs up up up while The Poet talked about the big plates of delicious, hot, greasy, salty, crispy potato tots we’d soon be enjoying.
When we reached the café, we realized we weren’t the only people who were hungry. The place was packed. School kids sat at nearly eavery table. School kids ran around in the spaces between tables. Adult chaperones looked tired and at the end of their collective rope. Then an employee walked down the line, letting us know the kitchen was very busy (no surprise there), and after we ordered, there would be a half an hour wait for our food. Maybe we should not have planned to eat at the State Museum on Nevada Day, but the thought of potato tots was so enticing, we did not get out of line.
The Activist met us in line after parking the car. He shrugged when we told him about the 30 minute wait, asked The Poet to get him a soda, and wandered off to find a table for us.
While standing in line, The Poet and I saw a beauty queen. She wore a long white gown that shimmered and a tiara atop her yellow hair. The tiara gave her away as royalty, as did the satin sash slung across her chest. She was sitting with a man dressed like a cowboy. He didn’t seem to be wearing a cowboy costume; the tight jeans and the pointy boots fit him like everyday clothes.
I joked about approaching the beauty queen and acting as if I recognized her fame and asking to have my photo taken with her. I spun out an entire story about meeting the beauty queen, and I made The Poet laugh, but unsurprisingly, I chickened out and never approached the woman at all.
When I saw the beauty queen from a distance, I assumed she was very young. In my (limited) experience, beauty queens are very young, so I assumed this woman was too. She was quite thin too, an attribute I associate with youth. When I got closer and saw the wrinkles on her tan face, I had a better idea of her true age. The wrinkles were evidence she was living her middle years. I understood her situation better when I was able to read the words on her sash. She wasn’t Miss Nevada, as I’d originally assumed, but Mrs. Nevada. At one point, she caught me looking, we made eye contact, and she gave me a big, beautiful beauty queen smile. I could see that whatever her age, Mrs. Nevada had the skills of a pagent winner.
Finally it was our turn at the counter. The Poet placed our order, then we carried our number to the table where The Activist was waiting. While the company was great, the wait was excruciating. Would the tots ever come? Finally, they did.
The plate placed in front of me was heaping with hot tots. They were perfectly crispy, perfectly salty, perfectly greasy, perfectly delicious. For once in my life, I had enough tots on my plate to satisfy all of my potato desires.
After we finished our snack, we headed to the gift shop. It was a huge room filled with all the items one would expect to find in a museum store: mugs, jewelry, educational toys, and tasteful t-shirts, among other things. However, we couldn’t find the penny postcards.
I went up to the counter and asked the young man working there where the postcards were. He showed me to a rack we’d already looked at; the cards displayed there cost plenty more than a penny. When I asked him specifically about the penny postcards, he seemed confused, then said those postcards had sold out quite a while back. I guess The Poet hadn’t been to the museum gift store in a while.
We went into the museum to see the exhibits.
The first gallery was filled with displays related to the natural history of the state–lots of ancient bones and fossils.
We skipped that area and went directly to a room with a temporary exhibit of photographs of a ranching family. I learned on the State Museum website that the exhibit was called Ranching in the High Desert – Five Generations, One Family. The photography on display was by Jeff Scheid, and the family in the photos were “Nye County’s Fallini clan.” I enjoyed looking at the photos; I typically enjoy photography.
A multiple Emmy-Award-winning costume designer, Pete Menefee is famed for his inimitable work with musical superstars, variety productions, and Nevada’s costume-spectacular stage shows. The Artistry of Pete Menefee, Costume Design for the Nevada Stage interprets the significance of Menefee’s work through photographs, stage costumes, and the original costume design renderings from Hello Hollywood Hello, Jubilee, and Splash.
Maybe the display would have been more exciting to me if I were interested in fashion, or theater, or costume design, but that’s just not me.
The part of the museum I did enjoy was the one dedicated to the cultural history of the Nevada, especially the interactive displays. One little nook was dedicated to the history of atomic testing in the state. There was a replica of a covered wagon on display; I considered the possibility of living in it and decided it was big enough for me. A large display told about mining in the state. My favorite lessons came from photographs of Native American on a wall. When visitors pushed a button, the people in the photos came to life and told of their experiences. The talking photos were highly informative and a little spooky.
Overall, I enjoyed the museum. It was clean and the interactive displays worked. The lighting was low enough to be soothing, but bright enough to see by. I would visit the Nevada State Museum again, on Nevada Day or any time free admission is offered. If I’m in the area, I’ll certainly pop in for potato tots.
Later in the summer, I would work in the Mercantile as a clerk. That was the job I’d been hired for. In the meantime, The Man and I were getting campgrounds ready for the season. Now it was Saturday, and I’d told The Big Boss Man I’d work at the parking lot collecting access fees and answering questions.
The people with the big white dog parked to my left. They got out of their car and headed to the trail. I noticed them because their dog was not only beautiful, but also very vocal.
When they returned to the parking lot, they spread out a blanket next to their car for the dog to lie on. The dog was a rescue, the woman told me. She hadn’t had the dog very long. He was great with people, but too aggressive when he introduced himself to other dogs. I’m working with him, the woman said to me.
While the dog reclined on his blanket, the humans had one of those picnics that consists of standing at the car’s open hatchback and snacking on chips and fruit.
Maybe I looked hungry, or maybe she just appreciated me listening to her talk about her dog, but the result was the same. Do you want a brownie? she called out to me.
You know I do! I answered excitedly. Brownies just happen to be my favorite food group.
She had a big plastic storage bag half full of homemade brownies. She offered the bag to me, but I said I didn’t want to contaminate the whole bag with my dirty hands. She laughed, handed me a napkin, then pulled out not one, but two brownies for me.
It’s like you know me! I joked.
I gobbled down one of the delicious chocolate squares and wrapped the other in the napkin and tucked it into my backpack’s small front pocket. I would give that one to The Man when I saw him later.
Any day including a gift of brownies is a good day for me. What a yummy way to start my work season!
I was in Flagstaff, Arizona, and money was tight. I decided to visit the food bank to help me get by until I received my first paycheck.
I’ve been to food banks across the country, and some are better than others. It’s disheartening to fill out a bunch of paperwork, answer a lot of personal questions, and wait in line for a long time to receive not much more than a can of green beans and another of store-brand beef stew. Don’t get me wrong—I’m always grateful, but sometimes I’m more grateful than others.
I’d heard the food bank in Flagstaff was generous, so I had high hopes when I decided to pay it a visit.
I called ahead. My license didn’t list Flagstaff as my address, and some food banks only want to give food to residents. I didn’t want to stand in line only to be turned away. The nice woman on the phone said I didn’t need to be a resident of Flagstaff to get food, but I would need to show my ID. No problem.
I arrived early. The food bank was set to open at 9am, but I was ahead of the game and had the van parked before 8am. People tend to show up early for free food, and I wanted to be one of the first in line.
I was writing and not really paying attention to the time when I looked at my watch again. It was 8:30. The parking lot was no fuller than it had been when I pulled in. I was parked on the side of the building, so I thought people must be lined up in front. I grabbed my reusable shopping bags and went looking for the line.
When I walked around the corner of the building, I didn’t see a single person standing in line. I did see orange cones arranged in front of the building to make a lane and cars lined up in the lane. Could this really be a drive-thru food bank?
I hurried back to the van, got in the driver’s seat, turned the key in the ignition, and backed out of my parking space. I exited the parking lot and took my place in the queue which now stretched out of the parking lot and onto the side of the wide, lightly trafficked street. It was probably ten minutes to nine.
Just minutes after nine, the vehicles in front of me started moving. I was soon close enough to the front to see the proceedings. A woman with a clipboard approached a car, and there seemed to be some conversation. The clipboard was handed to the driver; soon the driver handed the clipboard back to the woman running the show. The car pulled up to a predetermined spot and people I presumed to be volunteers unloaded food from a full shopping cart into the car’s open trunk. In a few minutes, the car was on its way.
When my turn came, things went down just as I’d observed. The woman handed me the clipboard and asked me to write my name and address on adjacent lines; she never did ask for my ID. She did ask me where I wanted the food to go, and I pointed to the passenger side of my van. I pulled up to the designated spot and kind young people loaded in two small boxes of nonperishable food, one large box filled with pounds of fresh produce (tomatoes; Brussels sprouts; yellow squash, and red, orange, yellow, and green bell peppers), a case of 12 bottles of Pure Leaf organic black tea, and three dozen eggs. Wow! This food would certainly help get me through until my first payday.
I drove off, marveling not only at the quantity and quality of the food I’d just been given but at the fact that I hadn’t even had to get out of my van. I was very grateful indeed.
I know I’ve been sharing a lot about food and cooking lately, but it’s such an important topic to all humans and especially to people who aren’t sure how they will stay healthy while living a nomadic life. I promise next Wednesday I’ll offer a blog post for rubber tramps that is not related to food, but today I’d like to offer some tips for eating healthy when you’re on the road and you don’t have time to cook.
It’s happened to most of us without a built-in kitchen. We’re traveling in our van or car and can’t find a park or rest area where we can stop and pull out the stove and food and pots and pans and cook ourselves a healthy meal. Maybe we’re traveling in an RV and we could stop anywhere and cook, but we’re on a deadline and can’t take the time to prepare a meal. What’s a nomad trying to eat healthy to do? Today I’ll share ten tips on how to eat well when you’re on the road and don’t have time to cook.
#1 Have healthy foods available for snacking or a picnic lunch. You can eat nuts, an apple, carrot sticks, or a LÄRABAR while driving. If you have a few minutes to stop at a gas station or rest area, spread the nut butter of your choice on whole grain bread or have hummus and crackers with carrots or grapes.
#2 If you’re not prepared for a picnic, stop at a supermarket en route. Most big supermarkets have hummus in the cold case, organic fruit and veggies in the produce section, and healthy (or at least healthier) snacks on their own special aisle. If you can find a big supermarket, you should be able to eat well on the fly.
#3 Cook while you’re driving with 12-volt appliances. Truckers have known about 12-volt cookers for years, but now vandwellers and other rubber tramps can use the technology too. The Global Trucker internet store shows a 12-volt slow cooker, a 12-volt sandwich maker, a 12-volt frying pan, a 12-volt “Stove To Go,” and several 12-volt grills. While you probably shouldn’t be grilling veggies or frying tofu while you’re driving, you could be cooking beans in a slow cooker while you’re literally on the road. What could be better than pulling into a rest area and having a hot meal ready for your eating pleasure?
#4 If you have a kitchen in your rig that allows you to cook anywhere, but sometimes find yourself without the time you need to prepare a meal, how about trying a pressure cooker? While I do own a pressure cooker, I just use it as a regular pot. A friend of mine has a pressure cooker that she uses as the manufacturer intended and she loves it. She can cook dried beans in a mere fraction of their usual cooking time.
#5 If you’re stopping at a gas station anyway, grab some super hot water from the spout near the coffee pots and add it to instant oatmeal, noodles, or soup. Most large gas stations have coffee systems which include hot water dispensers. If you’re not sure you can have water for free, offer to pay for it when you step up to the cash register. Instead of bringing my food into the gas station, I carry a travel mug with lid or even a heavy plastic bottle in, collect some hot water, and take it back to my rig with me.
Instant noodles and soups may be quick, but mainstream brands aren’t always good for us. The Food Revolution Network website says ramen noodles are
[amazon template=image&asin=B000GZUFCM]I like healthier instant options like Thai Kitchen, and Dr. McDougall’s. I haven’t tried Edward and Sons miso cup instant soups, but they do seem convenient and healthier than conventional instant soup options. Of course, you are probably not going to find any of these brands in a truck stop or gas station, so plan ahead and have some of these instant options stashed in your rig.
If restaurant food is absolutely your only choice, try to do some damage control.
#6 Taco Bell serves bean burritos, which you can order with no cheese if you’re eschewing animal products. Of course, the burritos are made with flower tortillas, which many think are less than healthy. Taco Bell also offers the Pintos N Cheese side dish. Again, ask for no cheese if you’ve gone vegan. Eat the pintos with some nutritious blue corn chips you already have in your van. For other tips on eating vegan at Taco Bell, see the Green Plate article on the topic. Also, Taco Bell lets customers order nearly everything on the menu “Fresco style.” The restaurant’s website says,
Almost any menu item can be customized “Fresco style”, which replaces mayo-based sauces, cheeses, reduced-fat sour cream and guacamole on almost any menu item with freshly-prepared pico de gallo. By removing these ingredients and ordering your menu item “Fresco style”, you can reduce fat by up to 25%.
If the exit you just took only offers a Del Taco, similar substitutions and omissions can help you eat fast and (relatively) healthy. An article on the PETA website offers a guide to vegan options at that restaurant.
#7 This tip was supposed to be about the veggie burger at Burger King, but a July 2016 article on the PETA2 website says the veggie patty is not vegan. (To find out what is vegan at the King, click on the link above.) The Burger King website says the “meat” of the burger is a ” MorningStar Farms® Garden Veggie Patty.” Also, a standard condiment on the veggie burger is mayonnaise, which definitely contains eggs. Perhaps if Burger King is your only dining option, the veggie burger might be better for you than other items on the menu. Maybe.
a plain baked potato, the garden side salad with red Italian dressing, or French fries. You can also ask for a veggie sandwich, which has everything that would normally be included on the burger except the meat—there’s even a button for it on the cash register.
#8 As of 2016, there were almost 27,000 Subway restaurant across the United States, meaning you have a pretty good chance of running across one in your travels. PETA2 offers a guide to vegan eating at Subway. The article tells you what bread and condiment options at the restaurant contain no animal products. Once you know that information, you can stuff any veggies you want into your sandwich, or skip the bread altogether and get a salad.
If you can get to a Quiznos more easily than a Subway, the aforementioned PETA guide to vegan options at fast food and chain restaurants says,
Quiznos offers a veggie sub that’s filled with guacamole, black olives, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and mushrooms—just be sure to order it without the cheese and ask for the balsamic vinaigrette…The vegan bread options include white or wheat, and there’s also an herb wrap.
#9 If you’re popping into a coffee shop for a cup of joe, both Starbucks and Panera offer vegan food.
I hardly ever go into Starbucks, and I don’t think I’ve ever ordered food there. However, PETA offers an entire guide about how to order vegan at Starbucks. In addition to telling you how to get your drinks made without animal products, the guide lists all the vegan food products the chain offers, including the
lentils & vegetable protein bowl with brown rice; avocado spread; classic and blueberry oatmeal; dried fruit; fruit salad; mixed nuts; Overnight Grains; roasted almonds; and plain, sprouted grain, cinnamon raisin, and multigrain bagels.
I love, love, love Panera and go there every chance I get. The bakery chain offers more than just coffee and bagels and is known for its commitment to healthy eating. Panera’s own website includes a list of vegan offerings, as well as what customizations can be made to remove animal products from one’s plate. Some of the always-vegan fare include,
plain, blueberry, cranberry walnut, poppyseed, and sesame bagels; black pepper focaccia; sea salt focaccia; country, rye, sesame semolina, and sourdough breads; French baguette; hoagie roll; peach & blueberry smoothie with almond milk; vegan lentil quinoa bowl, and soba noodle broth bowl with edamame blend.
#10 In the case of a real vegan emergency, an article on the Spoon University website shares “What You Can (Probably) Eat at McDonald’s if You’re Vegan.” Of the four items on the list, one is “Draaanks,” which is not food. What else is on the list? Hint: not fries! If I were a strict vegan, I would only stop at a McDonald’s to use the restroom. However, the Very Vegan Recipes website outlines how to mix and match vegan items from the fast food giant’s vegan options to make a custom vegan menu item.
I hope these tips give you ideas and inspiration for eating the healthiest food possible when you’re on the road and simply can’t cook.
Blaize Sun is not telling you what to do. Blaize Sun is merely making suggestions. Do what works best for your body, your health, and your life. You know yourself better than Blaize Sun ever will, so eat accordingly.
If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’ve been writing a lot about food lately. From tips for stretching your food dollar to ideas for healthy eating to telling you my methods for cooking on the road, I’ve been sharing with you how I cook and eat as a rubber tramp. As promised, today I’m giving you examples of actual meals without animal products that I’ve prepared and eaten regularly over my almost six years on the road.
#1 We’ll keep it totally simple to start off. Have some whole grain cereal with soy, nut, hemp or coconut milk. Grape Nuts (or a store brand equivalent) is my favorite because it tends to be cheaper per ounce than most other whole grain cereals. I try to add fruit, berries, and/or nuts to my cereal to jazz it up and boost the nutrition I’m starting my day with. If the healthy cereal is a little dry and bland for you, try adding a little sweetness with a drizzle of agave nectar, coconut nectar, maple syrup, molasses, barley malt syrup, or brown rice syrup. (List of vegan honey alternatives courtesy of Your Daily Vegan website.)
#2 If you have a little more time to prepare breakfast, try quick or rolled oats. This breakfast option is quite inexpensive if bought in bulk. I use a really quick method to prepare my oats. I put the oats in a bowl, and boil enough water to cover the oats. (Use more or less water depending on how thick or thin you like your porridge.) When the water is boiling vigorously, I dump it onto the oats in my bowl. I stir it all up and give the oats a few minutes to soak up the water. I like to add nut butters, vegan alternatives to Nutella, dried fruit, nuts, mashed banana, and/or chopped apples to my oatmeal.
#3 If you don’t have to be anywhere early in the morning and can take your time with breakfast, may I suggest a tofu scramble? You can buy tofu scramble seasoning packets, but I don’t think you really need them. I start out sautéeing an onion and green/red/orange/yellow peppers (one color or a combination, depending on what I have on hand), along with minced fresh garlic or garlic flakes. Once the veggies are getting soft, I add in tofu (soft or firm, [amazon template=image&asin=B004TB5IX0]fresh or previously frozen, again, depending on what I have on hand), and mash it up, mixing the tofu and veggies. After the tofu cooks a bit, I add nutritional yeast and vegetarian broth powder and stir the powders into the other ingredients. Finally, I add Bragg liquid aminos to taste. I like to eat this tofu dish on whole wheat tortillas, whole grain bread, or healthy corn chips.
Lunch & Dinner
#1 My go-to meal is whole beans and rice. I use brown rice for extra nutrition and canned beans so I can get the meal together quickly. If organic is important, it’s typically easy to find organic beans at larger supermarket. I usually use black beans or chili beans in this dish, but plain pintos work too. I sauté an onion and green, red, yellow, or orange peppers if I have them, and toss in fresh garlic or garlic flakes. If I have zucchini or yellow squash, I chop some up and toss it in when the onion and peppers are beginning to get soft. Around this time, I season everything with cumin and chili powder. Canned tomatoes can be tossed into the pan around the same time the beans go in, or fresh tomato can be used as a garnish. Other good garnishes for this dish are salsa and avocado. Sprinkle nutritional yeast on top for extra yum.
[amazon template=image&asin=B01MPWBQWR]#2 Quinoa cooks up as quickly as white rice but is more nutritious, so I like quinoa and garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas). I’ve learned recently that the key to tasty quinoa is rinsing well, so don’t skip that step. While the quinoa is cooking (one cup grain to two cups liquid), I sauté my onion and cook up whatever other veggies I’ll be serving. Green cabbage is inexpensive and works well with this dish. After the veggies are cooked, I add my garbanzo beans. Once the beans and veggies are thoroughly heated, I serve them over the quinoa and garnish with sesame oil, nutritional yeast, and Bragg liquid aminos.
#3 Nothing is quicker than refried bean dip over healthy corn chips. I sauté my onion and peppers (if I’m using them). I also like well-cooked zucchini and/or yellow squash in this dish. Once the veggies are cooked, I add canned refried beans and diced or stewed tomatoes from a can. (Fresh tomatoes would work fine too.) The juice from the tomatoes thins down the beans, but use water if necessary to get them to a consistancy you like. Once the beans are heated and as thick or as thin as you like, spoon them over your corn chips and top with un-cheese sauce, salsa, and/or avocados. (I also like a thick version of this bean dip on whole wheat tortillas.)
#4 Pasta doesn’t have to be topped with a meat sauce to be delicious; I really like my pasta topped with veggies. I might use a healthy sauce from a jar if I find some on sale, but usually I just cook down some canned tomotoes (diced, stewed, or whatever). Of course, first I sauté an onion (see a pattern here?) and bell peppers of whatever color I have, then add in garlic, canned mushrooms, olives, zucchini, yellow squash, or any other veggies I have on hand. (I also think tofu is delicious in this dish. If I were adding tofu to this meal, I would throw it in the pan after the onions.) Once the vegetables are cooked, I add in the tomatos or sauce, then sprinkle everything with plenty of Italian seasoning. I serve the sauce over whole wheat pasta, then sprinkle nutritional yeast liberally on top.
#5 Although not as quick to prepare as opening a can of beans, I do enjoy red lentils over brown rice. Red lentils cook faster and taste better (to me) than green lentils. Lentils.org says to use
3 cups of liquid (water, stock, etc) to 1 cup of dry lentils. Be sure to use a large enough saucepan as the lentils will double or triple in size. Bring to a boil, cover tightly, reduce heat and simmer until they are tender.
I add salt, curry, and/or tumeric to taste during cooking. If you want to be really decadant, use coconut milk as part of the cooking liquid.
#6 If you have time to let sweet potatoes cook, I recommend sweet potato and garbanzo bean stew. First I chop my onion and get it sautéeing. While the onion is cooking, I cut a couple of sweet potatoes into chunks and put them in a large pot. When the onions are soft, I add them to the pot with the sweet potatoes. Next I add in a can of coconut milk, then use enough water so the sweet potatoes are covered. I add curry and/or tumeric to taste and let everything in the pot boil until the sweet potatoes are soft. Once the sweet potatoes are soft, I add one or two cans of garbanzo beans, depending on how much stew I want to make. Add water until the stew is the desired consistancy. The stew can be served alone or over brown rice or quinoa.
#7 Need one more sweet potato recipe? How about black bean and sweet potato burritos? Cook sweet potatoes by whatever method works best for you. Add canned black beans and a sautéd onion to the potatoes. Season with chili powder and/or cumin. Eat with salsa on whole wheat tortillas.
I hope these ideas will get you thinking about healthy and delicious meals you can cook quickly while on the road or in a sticks-n-bricks.
Blaize Sun has been cooking and eating on the road for almost six year. These methods work for her. They may not work for you. Do what works best for your body, your health, and your life. You know yourself better than Blaize Sun ever will, so cook and eat accordingly.
Auntie M suggested I tell you how I cook on the road before I tell you what I cook on the road. She thinks it’s impressive, but it’s simply second nature to me. I’ll share my cooking techniques today, in the event they might help someone else.
I’ve used a variety of stoves while living on the road–one burner, two burner, propane, butane. My current setup is a basic Coleman two-burner stove connected to a 15 pound propane tank. For many years I used the one pound propane canisters, but The Man finally convinced me to upgrade to the larger, refillable tank. As I said in a past post about saving money on the road, it costs a lot less to refill the tank than it does to buy a comparable number of small canisters. I also produce a lot less waste by refilling the large tank.
This is the cast iron pan I usually use when cooking just for myself.
When The Man and I are cooking for the two of us, we use his big (12 inch?) cast iron skillet. When I’m cooking just for myself, I use a smaller cast iron skillet. (I have a second, even smaller cast iron skillet I also use sometimes if I need to cook two things seperately, but at the same time. The second burner on my stove is sometimes quite handy.) We use a cast iron pan to cook the main part of our meal, which usually consists of vegetables and whole beans or tofu. It’s super convenient to cook everything but our grains in one pan. It’s quicker cooking that way, and we save cleanup time and water by not having to wash several pots and pans.
To cook grains, I use either a large or a small stainless steel pot. The large one is actually a pressure cooker I was given years ago when a friend of a friend moved. The small one was left behind by camp hosts at the end of the season last year.
To prepare the main part of our meal, I first pour a generous amount of olive oil in the cast iron pan, then light the burner under the pan. While the oil is heating, I chop an onion. (If the onion is huge, I might only use half of it.) When the onion is chopped, I makde sure the oil is distributed across the bottom of the pan, then I throw in the onion, spread it out evenly, and put the lid on the pan. Then I chop the other veggies that need a longish time to cook (bell peppers, carrots, and/or potatoes) and add them to the pan. If I’m using tofu or tempeh or seitan, I’ll add it in early in the cooking process. Vegetables that need the shortest time to cook (like broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and yellow squash) are thrown into the pan last. I stir the veggies enough to keep them from burning, and I adjust the flame as necessary.
Once all the veggies are tender, I add any canned ingredients like diced or stewed tomatoes, whole beans, or refried beans. Then I throw in spices appropriate to the dish I’m cooking. Once all ingredients are in the pan, I make sure everything is heated thoroughly. I should probably let the food simmer longer in order to “marry” the flavors, but we’re usually pretty hungry so we just eat.
Cooking grains ws a hassle when I used small propane canisters and butane because grains take so long to cook. I always felt like cooking grains took up too much fuel, so I either bought precooked brown rice (expensive!) or cooked the grains in a way that used less fuel. Now that I spend less money to fill a large propane tank, I don’t worry so much about how much fuel it takes to cook grains, but I do use parboiled brown rice and quinoa a lot because they cook faster.
[amazon template=image&asin=1934620084]You may be wondering how I cooked grains in a way that used less fuel. I first learned of cooking with insulation in one of the Dwelling Portably books by Bert and Holly Davis. The concept is simple: food is partially cooked, then the pot of food is insulated to hold heat in so the cooking process can continue without flame. The insulation can be as simple as wrapping the pot in blankets and letting it sit for several hours or as complicated as building and insulating a box for the pot to sit in. The technique is old, with evidence of hay boxes dating to the 1800s.
I made my own insulated box from a square foam cooler left behind by folks who stayed in the campground where I was the camp host. I lined the cooker with flexible, reflective material from a foldable solar cooker kit The Lady of the House had lying around in her laundry room. Because I used materials that were unwanted by others, I didn’t have to spend any money on my insulated box.
When I was ready to cook a pot of grains, I measured the appropriate amount of water and grain into my large stainless steel pot. I brought the mixture of water and grain to a rolling boil, then let it boil vigorously for ten minutes. After ten minutes of boiling, I’d close the pot tightly, which was easy because it is actually a pressure cooker with a latch and seal. (I would not go out and buy a brand new pressure cooker to use in an insulated box, but the one I already had is quite suited to this method.) I then put the pot in the insulated box, covered it with a couple of dish towels, and put the lid of the box on tightly. (I often put something heavy–like a jug of water–on top of the lid to hold it down and seal the box as tightly as possible.) If I boiled regular, not parboiled, brown rice and got it into the insulated box by 10 am, it was fully cooked and ready to eat by 4pm.
Alas, when The Man and his dog and all of their wordly possessions moved into my van, the insulated cooker box was a casualty. We had a lot of stuff, and lots of things had to go. The cooker box was nice, but nonessential. The Man made a sort of bag for the pot by taping together pieces of the flexible, reflective solar oven material, but it never worked as well as the box.
Now that The Man has his own rig and I have room in my van again, I’m on the lookout for materials to make a new insulated box. A foam cooler should be fairly easy to find since people discard them frequently. I probably won’t find a foldable solar oven again, but I could line the cooler with newspaper, cardboard, or even old towels. The goal is to fill in as much space in the cooler as possible so the heat can’t escape. Lots of easily found, cheap or free materials can do the job.
I hope you can use some of these ideas to save time and money while you’re living and traveling in your van. You have to eat, so you might as well eat healthy and delicious food. I’m proof that a rubber tramp can eat yummy meals that are nutrituous and don’t cost a fortune.
Blaize Sun has been cooking and eating on the road for almost six year. These methods work for her. They may not work for you. Do what works best for your body, your health, and your life. You know yourself better than Blaize Sun ever will, so cook and eat accordingly.
I took the photo of the cast iron skillet. The image of the book is an Amazon affiliates link. If you click on the links, then do your regular Amazon shopping, I will get a small advertising fee at no cost to you.