Thursday, August 14, 2014

How to manage a special diet on a long road trip

Conversely, this post could be titled "How to enjoy a week at the cottage without having to cook".

Answer:  Consider incorporating the following simple equation into your vacation food management strategy.
A diet that is largely freezer-based (see this humorous post and this other post) PLUS a Yeti Tundra cooler to keep items frozen over an unprecedentedly-long duration of time EQUALS a whole lot less hassle for the traveler, especially if the traveler happens to be their family's chief cook and bottle-washer.  
As we found out during a recent 3,000-mile (one way!!) car trip, the Yeti is a game-changer for consumers.
That is one loaded-down minivan, but stuff-dragging is inevitable if you're driving your family cross-country.  Retrospectively we realized that we should have put our Yeti 50 (at upper left) squarely above the rear axle, because it was very heavy.  In this photo we had it pushed too far toward the rear of the van.  
In our case, it wasn't a special diet per se that prompted me to try this food management approach, but rather the following two considerations:
  1. We were rendezvousing with other family members for the proverbial cottage-by-the-sea vacation, and I wanted everyone to be able to sample some of the home-grown goodies that I harvest from my gardens here in Houston.
  2. More importantly, I was looking for some relief from my aforementioned chief cook and bottle-washer status.  Does this ever happen to you?? -- You travel to some lovely cottage in an idyllic remote location only to spend half your "vacation" time mired in the logistics of how to feed everybody.  Typically, 'idyllic remote' means two things:  not many services to start with, and those few that are available are extremely expensive.  So it is with our annual cottage destination, which largely caters to the resort crowd rather than to middle-class travelers.  Your options in that scenario are as follows:
  • Pay sky-high prices daily for nutritionally-unbalanced restaurant meals (unacceptable)
  • Admit defeat and eat chicken nuggets and french fries most of the time (unacceptable)
  • Take your own home-made food along for the ride (ideal if you can find a way to preserve it long enough)
We had heard about the Yeti's superior cold-retention capability but we'd had no previous experience with it, and Yeti itself hedges its bets where longevity guarantees are concerned.  Here is how we tackled our food transport challenge, and the results:
  • A few days prior to our trip, we bumped our freezer temperature down to the lowest it would go, which was minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • About 12 hours prior to the trip, we packed the Yeti with ice to "pre-cool" it because we had read somewhere that this would help with cold retention.
  • On the morning of departure, we dumped out the pre-cooling ice (which had partially melted), quickly loaded the cooler with our food, and then carefully packed new ice (cooled to below freezing) into the void spaces.  
Here is an ice-free view.  Most coolers are elongated, but I chose the Yeti 50 because it is closer to being cube-shaped - maximum volume for minimum surface area.  As I described in this previous post, I only use Pyrex ware for food storage, and by this time we own approximately 120 Pyrex pieces of various sizes.  The Yeti 50 can hold about 12 to 16 one-quart Pyrex containers and perhaps 4 to 6 of the 2-cup size, depending on your desired ice-to-food ratio.  That's a whole lot of food!  

  • We continued to monitor the ice throughout our long journey.  Here's the kicker - we weren't going directly to the cottage.  We spent 9 sight-seeing days on the road before we even got to our final destination.  By Day 7, some of the ice had begun to melt and the frozen food was beginning to thaw, but we re-packed any void spaces with new ice daily to keep the temperature as low as achievable (properly refrigerated frozen food generally has a shelf life of 7 to 10 days after initial thawing).  Then, as soon as we arrived at the cottage, I cranked down the refrigerator to its lowest possible temperature in order to maintain the thawed food as long as possible.

And the strategy worked very well, indeed.
Mexican pork and squash stew (recipe here) and Cuban black beans (recipe here) three thousand miles from the point of preparation and ten days after having been removed from our freezer.  Served with brown rice.  
OMG - I WENT ON VACATION TO A COTTAGE AND FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY HALF-CENTURY LIFE, I DID NOT HAVE TO COOK!!!  All I had to do for each day's main meal was to prepare fresh rice or pasta, warm up my home-made food, and set the various dishes on the table to be served.  In this way, I fed 5 adults wonderful meals for 7 consecutive days with almost no effort.

And here's the added bonus that I neglected to consider at the outset:  What would the corresponding price of 35 high-quality restaurant dinners have been in an expensive area?  Or conversely, cooking 35 person-meals from scratch by buying ingredients at substantially inflated local pricing (not to mention the incredible amount of time and energy that would have sucked out of my vacation time)?  Yeti coolers are not for the financially faint of heart - our Yeti 50 cost almost $400.  But if you do the math on this scenario, what you'll conclude is that the money saved by bringing food 3,000 miles substantially offset the purchase price of the cooler.  Effectively, the thing almost paid for itself in one trip.

Marvelous, I tell you.  I had no idea at the outset whether this scheme would work, but it was successful beyond all my expectations.  And I have never enjoyed my own cooking more than after a succession of absolutely grueling, miles-long mountain hikes.  It tasted twice as good as it normally does.

The additional possibilities are substantial:  Gluten allergy?  Medical condition?  Losing weight and don't want to experience the type of inevitable set-back experienced from being forced to eat whatever crappy food is typically available while traveling?  Try a Yeti - it might work for your situation.

As always, this is a noncommercial post expressing personal opinions only.  I receive no compensation from any referenced source.  In those cases where cited manufacturers have felt compelled to furnish me with products, I donate them to charity.
An average rating of 4.9 out of 5 on more than four hundred reviews?!  That kind of phenomenon almost never occurs in the consumer universe, but I can see why it did with this product.  Five stars, indeed.

Screengrabbed from this Academy website.    

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