Thursday, 27 July 2017

Surviving Your Stay When You're Far, Far Away

In my previous blog post I discussed some basic tips for traveling with allergies.  It's really all about preparation.  Depending on where you are going and what's available along the way, the level of preparation will be different with each trip.  This blog post discusses some of the preparations I made for my trip almost a year ago.

To the very end of the long dirt roads of northern Saskatchewan, a group of us planned to go.  All food up there is incredibly expensive, given the 12+ hour journey it has to make from main cities and truck routes.  As you can imagine, allergy-friendly options would not be available.  Plus, we had arranged to stay in a motel with nothing more than a mini-fridge and a microwave between the group.  I had to bring my own food, but how would I do that?  Many foods wouldn't even survive the journey in the hot van, nonetheless two weeks in a mini fridge.

After careful thought I figured out a solution: a Crock-Pot.  I already had one of the smallest sizes you generally find in stores, 4.5 quarts.  Really though, it's way too much for one person, which is why it was went unused at home.  A quick search on Amazon revealed a 2.5 quart option though, HURRAY!

But now, what to cook?  I took a chance on the cookbook Amazon recommended with the Crock-Pot, Vegan Slow Cooking.  It's meant for smaller servings and smaller slow-cookers.  I figured I'd get at least one or two recipes in it, which is a win if you're allergic to tomatoes, looking for Crock-Pot recipes.  When it arrived, I sat down and started flagging possible recipes and, BEHOLD!  18 separate recipes I was interested, and able, to try ranging from breakfast to dinner.  The recipe for Golden Veggie Bouillon Powder was genius and pretty much stable for the trip up.  I decided to dehydrate all the fresh produce I needed to save space, weight and freshness (because of lack of refrigeration).  A little extra liquid would be added to compensate.

For breakfasts I chose the Apple Chai Oat Groats and the Indian Carrot Halwa Oatmeal.  For lunches and dinners I used the Pear Chickpea Fall Stew, New Orleans Red Beans and Rice (paired with millet instead of rice) and Root Veggie Barley Risotto.  So far all the recipes I've made have tasted great!  Highly recommend it.

To add a bit of variety I also used some internet-searched recipes:

Pineapple Coconut Farro (I replaced the farro with barley with no issues) as a breakfast option.

Pumpkin Pie Steel Cut Oats...because, you know, I like my oats!

Slow Cooker Pumpkin, Chickpea and Red Lentil Curry was a clear favourite of mine from the start.  I added dried butternut squash to increase the nutrition of it even more.  FYI: the recipe fills the tiny Crock-Pot to the max, might want to half the recipe if your slow cooker is the same size as mine. 

Mushroom Barley Stew was terrific, but I did double the carrots and add celery.   I seem to like my vegetables.  If only I was more keen on them in my early years.  I even don't normally like mushrooms, but I chopped up the store-bought dried mushrooms tiny and they were indistinguishable from the barley.

There's NO Chili in my Chili was surprisingly good.  I had no idea what to think given the ingredients.  No tomato...but pumpkin? sauce?  This recipe bursts out of 2.5 quart slow-cooker, so consider halving it.  Well, at least it burst out of the Crock-pot after I added a ton of extra dried bell peppers and a little extra liquid. Keep in mind that tomato-free chili will naturally be different in texture, thickness and taste (just like my White Bean Chili), but it is no less delicious. 

In the weeks leading up to the trip I carefully dehydrated all the veggies and fruit that I could, bagging them by recipe with their spices and grains.  I carefully wrote out a list of what was still needed grocery-wise in Saskatoon before our long drive.  It was the most preparation I had ever put into a trip but I was incredibly thankful that I did because I had no need to worry while I was traveling.

I also packed a few food containers (because leftovers were the next day’s lunch and/or dinner), a strainer (for rinsing and dishwashing), cutlery and a utility knife with a small cutting board (I did buy a bag of fresh apples to eat with Sunbutter). A small vacuum-insulated food jar was also perfect because I would set the Crock-Pot on during most nights and then in the morning I got up, filled my food jar, and it stayed hot until lunch, wherever our travels took us. And of course a can opener, mine from Pampered Chef, to open all the cans of beans and coconut milk.

The Crock-Pot went into my carry-on along with a few other cooking items. We got the last of the groceries in Saskatoon when we arrived and after our long drive all I had to do was put the Crock-Pot on with the contents of one ziploc and some liquid.  A few hours later I was enjoying a hot meal! I would alternate between making breakfasts and lunches/dinners.  Even towards the end of the trip, I was still enjoying new, hot meals and my poor friends were still working on their flat of Chunky canned soup.  

 I'll admit that this particular trip was on the extreme end of the scale for trip-food preparation.  Some say that this would be good for emergency kits, what do you think?  My next blog post discusses some of the easier trips that followed, stay tuned!

Friday, 14 July 2017

Absent No More

Recently, one of my sweetest co-workers approached me out of the blue. She had stumbled upon this blog and enjoyed reading it so much that she was compelled to tell me. I was truly touched. She does not have allergies, but she really seemed to understand my struggles based on my posts. I never imagined this blog would have that effect on anyone, least of all someone without allergies, but it did. Now that things are kind of settling down in life it has spurred me to ‘pick up my pen’ and start writing again. Thanks Michelle for the encouragement. I’d like to think that you’ll be hearing a lot more from me in the future.

One of the reasons I’ve been absent from the blog is because I’ve been away from home so much. Traveling, for a person with so many allergies, can be exhausting and full of anxiety. Where will I eat? What will I eat? Will I have to eat the same thing every day? How much is my food there? If you have the same questions rolling around in your head as you prepare for a trip, I understand. Let me assure you that it is possible to travel AND eat well with allergies. A little preparation goes a long way.

Last fall took me across country for the better part of two months and a half months. Three separate trips occurred over that time period. Before the trips I was plagued with sleepless nights filled with food prep, list-making and general worrying. The latter was unfounded. All the advance work paid off. And for my most recent trip, I actually worried the least since finding out about my allergies.

Here are some of my general tips for traveling with food allergies:

Search the Internet for restaurants. This is a no-brainer. Most of us don’t want to cook on a vacation, so scour the internet for allergy-friendly restaurants at your destination. Is there a cuisine that normally works well for your allergies? Search the highest-rated restaurants in the city you will be visiting. Your food should be good AND allergy-friendly. Most restaurants have a website with a menu that you can check. If they don’t, you can often find a Facebook page. There’s usually contact information too and if I ever have questions or concerns about a menu item, I will email them. Some places won’t write you back, but the best ones who are interested in your business, will. If you do your homework, you can eat at the most amazing establishments and have the best meals of your life.

Search the Internet for grocery stores near your hotel or rental. Sometimes you can’t afford to eat out at every meal. Other times, it’s not worth going out for breakfast when all you want is an apple or a bowl of oatmeal. Or, you’re mostly a grazer. You can also tire of eating the same things over and over at different restaurants. Whatever the reason is, find out where the grocery stores are near you. Google maps is great for that. Search too ‘natural foods’ and larger chains. Whether you're picking up deli foods, produce or a safe snack, grocery stores are important when traveling.

Find out what’s not allowed. Most airport security checkpoints limit the amount of liquids and gels you can bring in your carry-on (ice packs often included). You can usually bring your own food, though! Which is great, because most airports have limited dining options and that newsstand will have a deplorable selection of allergy-friendly food. Within country you have more freedom, you can bring an apple and a sandwich with you. But when traveling out-of-country, there are more restrictions. I know travelling from Canada to the US means that often a lot of fresh produce is out of the question. Meats and seeds too. And it’s different with other countries. It’s easier to know before you go.

Bring some tools with you. Some trips require a little more than others. Reusable grocery bags are handy. Cutting boards and knives are great if you plan to buy produce and need to prep it a little before consuming it. Sometimes a small appliance is appropriate (more on that a little later). What you bring can be worth the weight and space in your luggage. Again though, especially if you’re flying, check and be sure what can go into your checked luggage and what can go in your carry-on.

I guess what I wanted to say to the nervous, allergy-suffering traveler is: don’t worry so much. Worrying adds nothing to your lifespan. Preparedness helps quash your fears and helps you enjoy your trip. So prepare, don’t worry and enjoy your trip.

Stay tuned for the next posts, where I’ll discuss some of my traveling survival strategies from my trips in the recent year.