When Road Food Makes the Trip
A mix of packing and snacking makes the miles fly by
My first road trips go back to the days of powder blue Continentals with coach doors. I’ve always favored rest-stop picnics over drive-thrus. And my wilderness junkets have spanned the range between under-the-stars sleepouts — complete with a dorm room bedroll and a six-pack pillow — and grown-up glamping. I’ve been on two road trips this year.
I’m hoping these bona fides are enough to kick off a chat about ideas for taking good food along for the ride. Whether you like to camp, rent a cabin, or visit friends you’ve still got a few weeks of car trekking left in the summer. And maybe you’ll even sneak a long weekend or two into fall or winter. It’s better than flying right now, right?
Here’s how I packed the cooler for a two-day drive to meet a friend at her cabin. The smoked salmon was for her and the cold steamed vegetables and snacks were for the ride. Extra water, canned seltzer, and wine for the hotel room underneath; ice in between. In the back seat were a couple of canvas bags with pantry items for the house like dried beans, mushrooms, and grains and a wee bit of candy. It was super-hot on the road so no food rode in the trunk.
To minimize scratch cooking at the beach, cabin, or campsite I pack frozen containers of prepared meals. Since they behave like ice packs — without taking up extra space — you can nestle refrigerated foods in between. Just make sure that once the food thaws you keep it cold on ice and eat it within a few days.
A little advance research unearthed a gem of a lunch stop around where I had to gas up. Amazing crisp fried tofu taco, tempeh chorizo taco, a bowl of gorgeous guac, and bracing salsas fortified me for the long stretch to the hotel.
Since my dinner on the fly wasn’t a standout — and honestly I was more tired than hungry when I got to my overnight stop — I was glad to skip the continental breakfast in favor of a nuked breakfast bowl of millet, purple cauliflower, soy sauce and chile crisp I assembled in a ceramic bowl brought from home. Sometimes a little extra effort is a huge payoff on road trips and since I had plenty of room in the car, why not?
All my plans went out the window the next day when I missed the farmers market window in the gas-up city. So much for bringing fresh produce to the cabin but fortunately I caught my friend who was able to make an excellent detour on her way up. Clueless and looking for a more traditional repeat of lunch from the day before, instead of working off my location from an online map, I searched for “best tacos near me” when I stopped. Lucked out that this wildly popular place was just one strip mall away and was amazing. Sadly my photos came out looking way too glarpy so let’s let this paint the picture.
We both had brought some vegetables with us for the cabin so that first night we made a quick braise we could graze on all week. And indeed we did.
Since I had brought the long-keeping basic whole wheat loaf from Bittman Bread, one morning demanded French toast.
We also got a lot of mileage out of giant lima beans simmered with a ham hock and several jars of pickles. With our minimal advance planning we ate fresh produce at all meals; depended on batch cooking to free us for lots of hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, and swimming; and only needed one stop to the local market in town. You can bet I was packing up leftovers for the drive home.
Did you use a 12-volt DC powered cooler? There are a lot of nice ones to choose from these days, including some that are both refrigerator+freezer combined. Use very little power from your car's cigarette lighter socket. Really a road trip/camping game changer nowadays.
Including frozen prep items that also function as ice packs is absolutely brilliant. Thanks for that tip!