August 17, 2017

fat Tuesday, but it was a Monday

So this most recent issue cropped up on our last night in New Orleans.  This really has nothing to do with traveling with food, unless you consider it an indirect result of our budget travel system.

On our last night in New Orleans, we planned to eat out.  We aren't accustomed to dining in restaurants - not even fast food.  I've dedicated a good deal of my blog this last few weeks to describing the lengths we will go to in order to avoid eating in restaurants - particularly when we travel, and some of the pitfalls.  It bums the kids out that we aren't like 'other families' who enjoy eating out as part of vacation plans.

I'm guessing 'other families' don't have kids who feel it necessary to hide their toothbrushes out of fear that their siblings might use them.  Just saying. 

At any rate, our budget conscious system came back to bite us.  Big time.

When in New Orleans, eating beignets is a must!
With Irish dancing behind us, we set out to explore the city of New Orleans.  Our first stop included  beignets for breakfast, because everyone told us that eating beignets at Cafe Du Monde was a must.  I can't eat them thanks to my Celiac disease, but the rest of the family raved about them.

We had been given a gift card to a restaurant by a dancer who won it when she placed on the podium.  She left town before she could use it, so we stopped at this diner in the late afternoon for a snack.  It was a bit off the beaten path, but our family is incapable of turning down free food.  The kids and Coach feasted on a basket of fried shrimp and french fries.  Since most of the food in New Orleans appeared to be fried, I was patting myself on the back for bringing my food with me. 

For dinner we chose a restaurant recommended by the concierge at the hotel.  We wanted to try some of the authentic New Orleans food.  Reggie and Curly ordered fried chicken.  Tank ate catfish.  Coach ate some form of seafood too.  Mini enjoyed some grilled chicken.  Coach decided to introduce them to fried oysters.  I ordered myself a well-deserved fillet.  For dessert the kids feasted on banana foster bread pudding.  It looked heavenly.  

Reggie refused to finish his dessert.  He told us that he was too full.  Understandably.  Curly, on the other hand, was still going strong.  

Reg had to call it quit midway thru his banana foster bread pudding
I think it is important to note that Curly rarely is able to finish an entire meal.  I sometimes wonder if she has a tendency to graze more throughout the day than the other kids.  The portions I toss on her plate each night are smaller than anyone else's in the family.  She ate the same beignets,  fried shrimp, fried chicken, fried oysters, and banana foster pudding as Reggie.  The girl was holding her own, and for once wasn't pushing her plate aside insisting that she was done.

It was a great meal and we had a great time.  We all felt incredibly full as we practically rolled back to our hotel.  We all probably overdid it a bit.  I can't help but blame the rarity of our dining out habit on what happened next . . . 

August 15, 2017

delegating to my hero

One of my all time most frustrating traveling with food incidents just occurred when we were in New Orleans.  You'd think that after years of road trips with food stashed in coolers we'd have streamlined our process.  Think again.

The first night in the hotel we were only able to get a room with one king bed.  Coach and I slept with Reggie between us.  Tank, Mini, and Curly created a fire hazard on the floor at the foot of our bed on three air mattresses.  Cozy!

In order to secure a room in the hotel that was hosting Curly's dancing competition, I made our reservations the minute the block of rooms was opened back in early February.  It wasn't until months later that we finalized our travel plans.  We were stuck with a king room for that first night.

The food.  Oh no, the food.  It occurred to me before we left that we were going to have to pull everything out of our first room's mini-fridge in order to store it during the day until our two-queen  room was ready.  I spoke to the hotel and they agreed that they could store my cold items in a fridge until our next room was ready.  Dodged that bullet!

We let the kids sleep late in the king bed room because we hadn't checked in until after midnight the night before.  Oh how I wish I could sleep late, too.  We were heading to the meat locker - I mean the WWII museum with the crazy-cranked AC, so the minute my sleepy heads were up and moving, Coach and I packed up the room, and deflated the air mattresses.  That was fun.

We dragged everything to the lobby, waited in line, and requested that our stuff be put in storage.  I was a bit anxious that Ms. Hotel Employee would grasp our need for cold storage.  Ms. Hotel Worker Lady danced her fingers across her keyboard for a minute before announcing that our room with two queens was already ready.  She offered to let us check in right away, or put our stuff in storage and check in later.

Little tickets and dog tags to remember the WWII museum.
We WERE in a hurry to get to the torture chamber, and by that I mean the WWII museum.  At the same time, I knew that it made sense that we handle arranging our food in our mini-fridge as opposed to taking the chance that someone neglect to store our meals properly while we were gone.

If this picture had a sound bite, it would be:  'Kids sit on my lap, rub my arms, if you love me you will share your body warmth with me.  Now!'
Before departing for the day, we tossed our bags into our new room.  (By the way, carrying enough food to feed your family for a few days is back breaking.  This made juggling rooms a blast).  I knelt in front of the fridge to arrange our food.  I noted to Coach that the fridge smelled funny.  Moments later we were on our way (minus our very necessary parkas) to the WWII museum.

After thawing out after the museum, I prepared dinner for the gang in the microwave while Coach ran to the kind of gourmet food store that sells gluten free stuff.  He became my hero by purchasing a few single-serving, gluten-free oatmeal containers, which saved me from starvation.

I was busy trying to feed everyone simultaneously despite using a tiny microwave that may have been powered by two hamsters running around a little wheel for all I knew.  I asked hero aka Coach to check the fridge, because I just didn't feel like the temperature was very cold.  He opened the fridge and told me that there was no dial.
Really, I'm giving the WWII museum a bad rap, it was awesome.  Just frigid!

By delegating this fridge temperature adjustment task to him, I expected him to handle it.  After all, I had booked our flights, reserved our hotel rooms, prepared all of the food, packed all of the food, packed for everyone but him, cleaned the house in preparation for the sitter to hang with the big boys, debriefed our grad-student sitter on my concerns with the big boys, and stocked the fridge at home for the big boys and the sitter.

Delegating was a mistake.  The next morning I got the girls ready to go down to the dance room at 6:30 in the morning.  I gave them some cereal with milk.  Again, I was unimpressed with the chilliness of our food.  As I gathered up our dance bags like the Sherpa that I am, I told Coach that he needed to call the front desk and demand that someone come and take a closer look at our fridge.  With bags weighing down my shoulders, I poked around at the back of the fridge a bit where it jutted out of the furniture that housed it.

'Hey, there's some kind of dial on the back of the fridge.  Maybe you can play with this and see what happens,' I called to him as I was about to walk out the door.  Coach finally moved the furniture piece out a bit and crouched down to get a closer look.

He stood up with a sheepish expression and admitted, 'The fridge wasn't plugged in.'

Ah, the beauty of my kids learning something  . . . just before we tried to poison them with food that was not properly refrigerated. 
Moldy grapes, warm milk, questionable lunch meat, and declining dinners.  That was what my 'hero' left me with.  The space in the fridge was so tight and the food was cold when it was stuck in there, so it sort of worked to stay somewhat acceptable.

If I will lick yogurt from an aging cooler while waiting in line at Disney, then you better believe that I will feed my family not-so-cold food in a pinch.  But, I wondered if the food would've been better off being cared for by the hotel staff while we allowed our body temperature to drop at the WWII museum all day.  

August 13, 2017

a chance to make fun of Mommy

For our recent trip to New Orleans, I packed bits and pieces of our food over time.  I gathered piles on the dining room table.  Apparently one morning while I made my breakfast, I prepared for our trip by loading up a bag with the fixings that I drop into my oatmeal to make it taste less 'gluten free' each morning.  I was most likely unloading the dishwasher, on hold with a doctor's office, calling up the stairs to wake someone up, and racing the clock before I had to drop someone somewhere.

At any rate, in our New Orleans hotel I pulled the old, cracked bowl out of my bag.  I keep this bowl exclusively for traveling and heating up my oatmeal.  This pesky stuff tends to overflow in the microwave, so I require a deep bowl.  My cranberries, granola, raisins, and measuring cup were all packed properly.  The only item not present and accounted for was my Ziploc bag full of oatmeal. Shit! 

This is my travel bowl.  If I ever leave it behind or if it breaks, I will not shed a tear.  It does get the job done . . . when I remember to bring the damn oatmeal!
So, the tap water in the hotel didn't offer a 'cold' option despite the standard letter 'c' on the handle.  Insufficient water.  No oatmeal.  My decision to only pack cans of mandarin oranges, some apples, and some grapes in lieu of my daily REQUIRED whole grapefruit started to make my head spin.  Of course the fact that I replaced my huge, fresh, mandatory salad at lunch with trail mix (I don't recommend for meal replacement) for packing purposes, was exasperating my 'situation'.  What situation could that be you wonder?

Seriously, if you need me to spell it out for you c-o-n-s-t-i-p-a-t-i-o-n.

We had just returned from the World War II museum when I discovered my packing mess-up.  I hadn't taken the time to make my oatmeal that morning so I was the first one off of the elevator racing to the room to cook it up in my cracked bowl.
My usual collection of items I use to make my oatmeal.  Raisins, granola, cranberries, and the elusive oatmeal!

Another tidbit to consider it that we thoroughly enjoyed the WWII museum, but I felt like I was being tortured in a meat locker by cruel kidnappers.  The museum itself was incredibly well done and informative.  My wardrobe choice created my only real problem with this visit.  You see, it was as hot as could be in New Orleans that day.  I wore a sundress.  Coach laughed at Mini and I for contemplating packing a drawstring bag with sweaters.  I am always cold, but I decided that he was right.  I'm always right.  Coach rarely.  Why, oh why, did I listen to him?

Mini and I spent our time reading the displayed information at the museum while rubbing our arms against each other for warmth.  I wanted to cry.  Literally.  It was INSANELY COLD IN THERE.  It was like the museum's way to require guests to stay awake and attend to the exhibits better.  There are several buildings at this campus.  We stepped outside between buildings and opened our drawstring bag for lunch.  I doled out mandarin oranges, Ritz crackers that I spread with peanut butter, granola bars, and my main food source - trail mix.  When we were done eating, I cringed at the thought of returning to the frigid air conditioning.

On our taxi ride back to the hotel, I asked the driver to turn off the air conditioning.  Pretty confident that he doesn't get that request very often.  As the kids made plans to go to the hotel pool, I assured them I would do nothing until I had eaten my oatmeal.  Usually I need time before I am able to laugh at a situation like this, but Tank actually had all of us in stitches moments after my upsetting realization that I HAD NO OATMEAL.

In a high pitched voice with hands flailing dramatically, he mocked me:  his mother, who delivered him vaginally despite the fact that he weighed in at 10 lbs 3 oz. Yep, he did.  His impersonation. . . and it wasn't. 

went something like this:  'Oh no!  What am I going to do now?  You know if I eat my salad too late in the day, I'm going to be up all night.  If I don't have my oatmeal, how am I going to poop?!  If I don't get enough water, then I'm all messed up.  I won't be able to sleep tonight.  What am I going to do without my grapefruit?  I need to sleep, you guys, and I can't sleep if I don't poop.  It isn't funny!!!'  But it was, and it wasn't!

August 11, 2017

licking yogurt from anywhere

A few more of my rougher experiences taking meals on the go:

7.  SPILLS:  Last summer when I was in Orlando with the youngest four, I packed our breakfast and lunch up each morning and brought it with us to the park.  We feasted on a dinner from a restaurant, but until dinner all meals and snacks were produced from a drawstring bag and a small cooler bag a bit larger than your average lunch box.  My yogurt got squished and broke open in this cooler bag.  While we waited in line to visit Belle's Castle, I discovered the mishap.  Unwilling to stand in a long food line, or spend additional money on food at Disney, I scooped up the yogurt with my hand and ate it.  This was not pretty, and probably not sanitary since I'm not sure when the last time was that bag was cleaned properly.  I essentially turned the bag inside out and licked the yogurt out of the bag.  I don't necessarily recommend this approach.  Part of me wonders if I can be seen in the background of someone's Disney photos licking yogurt off my hands.  At times I might become a tad over committed to the 'I brought this food and I'm going to eat it damn it' mindset.  
I can only share this picture of my kids enjoying their breakfast while waiting for Disney gates to open.  I do not have a photo of my yogurt disaster.  Me desperately diving head first into my cooler in order to lick up my yogurt wasn't exactly a Kodak moment, or a moment I am proud of.

8.  MISCALCULATING:  It is sometimes tough to predict how hungry people will be after a day of hiking in the mountains, or touring Disney, or competing in a dancing competition.  I have been forced to ration out dinner portions if I fall short of anticipating their hunger, or I go to my fall back plan of offering applesauce as a filler.  On the other hand, it can be challenging to deal with leftovers (I do always travel with extra Ziplocs or a Tupperware container).  I am not ashamed to admit that I have suggested that my family eat more than their stomachs can hold in order to deal with extra food. 

I was elated that this little rustic cabin was available . . .
9.  CHANGE OF PLANS and CHANGE OF APPETITE:  Our plans to camp at Glacier last year changed abruptly.  I can't say I minded.  After spending the longest night of my life freezing my butt off (only a slight exaggeration- and I was in a tent inside a down sleeping bag), high winds forced us to abandon our second night at the campsite.  Damn.  We were able to bunk up in a nearby cabin.  The cabin was equipped with a microwave.  It sort of killed me that I wasted miles of aluminum foil to wrap up our dinner that was intended to be cooked on our campfire.  I knelt down in front of the microwave and extracted chicken, rice, and broccoli from each campfire-ready pouch, plopped it on a plate, and heated individual portions of it up until everyone was fed and of course ready for applesauce.

 . . . even if it meant my planned campfire food was warmed in a microwave!  We all grabbed a place to sit and eat in one of two cabins that we slept in for a few nights.  Oh, it was so toasty!
 Other issues that could crop up here would be a dinner invitation from someone you are traveling with - therefore causing you to neglect your packed meal.  The headache of catering to different taste buds might also be a pain.  In our family, everyone is expected to eat what is served.  That rule doesn't change when we hit the open road with a crockpot, a cooler, and a meal plan that I'm invested in 100%. That doesn't mean I get to avoid 'hearing about' the meals I've chosen to bring along. 

August 10, 2017

Boston or bust

Well, tomorrow is the day.  Coach and I drive the Great White (our 12-seater Chevy Express, white, former-airport-shuttle van) to Boston.  We plan to depart at 5 am.  It happens to be our 21st wedding anniversary.  How romantic.

Coach usually does most of the driving.  I do most, or ALL, of the packing . . . so that means I end up in a somewhat self-induced coma for the first several hours of most lengthy trips. It's a hard earned, well deserved nap.  No matter what nonsense goes on in the car, Mommy snoozes thru it.  Blood curdling screaming that threatens to wake the dead will bring me 'round, but God help the child that is responsible.  All members of the family know that sleep is the only thing that helps me cling to my remaining sanity, especially on a long road trip.

After 15 hours of driving, we intend to arrive in Boston.  A day of touring Lexington begins our adventure.  The next two days will be devoted to downtown Boston.  The freedom trail is calling our name.  We aren't baseball people, so I'm not sure we will hit Fenway Park.  On Monday, we will check out Boston College in case Eddie decides to apply there.  

Monday afternoon we log three more hours in the van as we drive to Laddie's college an hour north of New York City.  

Because we are dropping Lad at college, the van's storage space will mostly be devoted to bins of college gear.  Last time we spoke, Coach was toying with the idea of removing half of the bench of four seats -the last row, and the only row that reaches across the entire width of the van.  

It occurs to me that if the last row is reduced to a mere two seats, then two of our children will be forced to sit next to one another without an empty, 'buffer' seat between them.  There will be accidental touching, inevitable bumping, and potential leaning against one another.  This will undoubtedly lead to moaning and groaning.  For 15 hours, no less.  Sounds horrifying, right?  

What better way to celebrate 21 years of marital bliss?  Oh, and we will be feasting on whatever meals I have slaved away to prepare in advance.  Of course, the fact that this adventure ends with our oldest being unceremoniously deposited at the school he is transferring to makes it all worthwhile.  It's been a long summer chock full of opportunities for him to ignore our basic rules and regularly behave inconsiderately.   IT IS TIME, so I accept the unpleasantness that accompanies

our Boston or bust trip.  (these pictures were taken when we drove to Glacier last summer - note there was hardly anywhere for me to sit in the front seat - can't wait to do this with college gear too!)

August 9, 2017

the importance of shells & lost and found

Here's a few more food packing no-no's we've encountered:

4.  MOLD:  I chose to pack some grapes in a baggie for our trip to New Orleans.  I became somewhat desperate for fresh fruit.  Translation:  I swallowed a few more moldy grapes than I would care to admit.  Why were the grapes moldy, you ask?  Oh, I'll get to that.
Nothing screams 'we-experienced-a-food-packing-issue' like a bag of moldy grapes.  You won't believe what happened to jeopardize the freshness of our grapes.  Saving that gem of a story for one of the last in this little segment on traveling with food.

5.  MISPLACED ITEMS:  When I visited St. Louis for an Irish dancing competition back in February, I brought grapefruit.  I packed my favorite little knife that glides ever so nicely thru my grapefruit.  It was my constant companion on my mission to eat a grapefruit each morning.  In my haste to pack our stuff up and get on the road, I misplaced the knife.  Did I throw it out when I was eliminating our paper plates from lunch in the hotel room?  I initially believed that I stuffed it into some little zippered pouch on our cooler bag on wheels.  My search of the cooler bag, my purse, and my overnight bag has produced no awesome little knife.  Since February, I am stuck using dull kitchen knives to butcher my tasty fruit. I swear one day I will replace these pathetic knives and choose to live like an adult with a real set of knives.

I still chuckle when I think of the park ranger who came across my enormous cutting board in his welcome center in Gettysburg.  My dad and I took 10 kids to Gettysburg back in 2011.  I slid my huge, handy-dandy cutting board in the car between my cooler and the passenger seat.  Rather than stop for lunch, I whipped up sandwiches on my board while my dad drove.  At one point, I dragged my lunch fixing stuff into the welcome center.  We ate lunch in the cafeteria there where I used my board as prep space.  After lunch the kids lined up to secure their junior ranger badges.  Each kid posed for a photo with the park ranger.  In order to take the photos, I leaned my cutting board against the counter.  We drove off without it.  I'm guessing that my portable lunch counter was the first of its kind to be left behind.  I must've just been overly excited to witness 10 kids achieve greatness as junior rangers.  
My nephew posing with the ranger.  In order to capture a photo of each of the ten kids in our party, I stowed my cutting board in front of his desk.  In all the excitement of seeing the kids sworn in as junior rangers, I forgot to grab my cutting board. 

6.  PEELED EGGS:  Last May was a nutty time for us.  Reggie knocked Coach's front teeth out when a ball he was practicing pitching with took a bad bounce.  This was hours before Lad graduated from high school.  It was days before we were leaving for our family road trip to Glacier National Park.
The dentist had Coach pose for this shot before he jammed the tooth back in his mouth.  Then Coach met us at Lad's graduation.  Curly brought him a bag of ice to hold to his face during the ceremony. 
In an effort to pack healthy breakfast items for our big trip, I hard boiled dozens of eggs.  I mean DOZENS.  My kids like hard boiled eggs.  If we kept them in the cooler, I thought this would be a perfect protein to offer for breakfast.  I took my desire to simplify eating on the road one step further.  I PEELED dozens of eggs the night before we left.

We were planning to camp.  We also planned to drive around in the comfort of the family's 12 seater white van, the 'great white' before dawn to watch for wildlife.  I figured it was easier to peel eggs in advance in lieu of having kids peel their eggs in the car.  Besides, I always think peeling an egg with a splash of running water makes it easier.  There would be no running water in the car on those chilly mornings. 

I tossed huge gallon sized Ziploc bags stuffed with our eggs in the cooler.  We ate the eggs for the first few mornings out west.  Then one morning a kid complained that her egg tasted funny.  Initially I suspected that my kid was just complaining because she didn't want to eat food I packed in the backseat of a car.

Turns out those handy little shells are meant to keep the eggs fresh.  A hard boiled egg outside of its shell is just a hard boiled egg waiting to go bad and smell up your cooler and your car with the added bonus of possibly making your kids gag.

I get tired just looking at this photo of our kitchen the morning we were TRYING to depart for Glacier.  All that stuff had to go in our van.  Our awesome plumber is in the middle of the work area as he prepared to unclog the sink. 
Oh, and as a fun aside, I jammed all of the shells from our soon-to-be foul hard boiled eggs down the garbage disposal the night before we departed.  Not only was life before our trip made hectic by Coach's emergency visit to the dentist, and our garage door being pulled off the track when the little release cord from the opener got stuck inside the closed door of the great white the night, but we also got to invite our plumber over to unplug our kitchen sink because egg shells shouldn't go down the disposal - well, certainly not in mass quantities. 

August 7, 2017

traveling with food: a few of my mistakes

There is a GREAT amount of planning and prepping that goes into traveling with your own food supply, especially for a family of 8.  Running into glitches must be expected.  In case you ever decide to sacrifice your sanity to save a few bucks, I'm going to share the issues I've encountered.  I invite you to learn from my mistakes:

Exhibit A:  a flat Stanley style nutrigrain bar!
1.  OVER PACKING:  I have never actually counted the number of granola bars or snack items my kids eat on any given day.  Perhaps this is because Tank could drastically skew the results for any eating measurement guide, depending what full box of something he chose to ingest the day of the study.  This lack of information forces me to estimate.  When I travel, I grab LOTS of EVERYTHING that they munch on throughout the day.  As a result, we have abandoned a fair amount of cereal and other items in hotel rooms rather than bothering to cart it home.  Oh, the number of granola bars or Nutrigrain bars hat have been pressed into a paper thin form that no one in my family would ever eat.  As much as I love saving money on restaurants when traveling, I DETEST WASTING FOOD.  I've adjusted.  I now pack potentially squishy bars in a somewhat sturdy Tupperware container, so they don't get smashed.

2.  SHIPPING STUFF TO MYSELF:  A few times before traveling, I've shipped boxes that I've packed full of cereal, applesauce cups, goldfish crackers, granola bars, paper products, treats, etc.  I check with the hotel in advance to be sure that they will hold this box until I arrive.  Last summer when I took the four youngest to Orlando, I shipped two boxes to the hotel.  I hadn't counted on the fact that the 'package room' wouldn't be open on a Sunday, which was of course the day we arrived.  I kept calling the front desk asking about my loot.  At first I was just told to call back.  My hunger pains grew, as did my impatience.  After a few more calls, someone finally told me that I couldn't access the room that stored deliveries because it was a Sunday.  I described my health  dilemma (Celiac disease) and I pointed out that the hotel assured me that my genius food-in-a-box plan would not be a problem.  The next thing I knew I was driving in a hotel vehicle with the maintenance man to retrieve my boxes.   Just before I was forced to eat my young.

3.  FORGOTTEN ITEMS: I'm human, so a few times I have gone to a lot of trouble and forgotten something important.  Back when I took Laddie to look at two schools before he chose a college, I inadvertently left an entire cooler at home.  It was spring break, and I was bringing the other kids along with me to swim in the hotel pool and eat complimentary college cafeteria food (this is an exciting past time for them, especially if the school offers a serve-yourself frozen yogurt machine.  What can I say, they don't get out much).

Eddie decided at the last minute not to come.  I had given him the option of not attending in part because he wasn't planning to attend either of these colleges.  He was old enough to stay home during the day while Coach was at work.  This bummed me out though, because he tends to be my most helpful kid.  Coach was already at work when we were leaving.  It was tough trying to corral 5 kids and their stuff into the car on my own.  We had to meet a football coach at a specific time, so I was trying not to run late.  Speeding was out of the question.  Obviously.

If memory serves, and it usually does, I believe the car packing went kind of like this:  'Oh, that's cool, you guys just sit in the car and watch me bring EVERYTHING out - can I get you anything while I'm up, and sweating?'  This made for a grumpy start to the trip.  We still had the dry food that I had packed and the a fore mentioned meals on campus, so it wasn't a total disaster.

Typical amount of stuff I haul for a weekend away - and that's just the food!
Oh, but I'm just getting started.  I have many more lessons to share- some you might consider hair-brained.  In my next post I will describe Tank's imitation of me in a panic over another forgotten item.  Stay tuned . . .