AAA Says Labor Day Weekend Travel Will Be Highest In Five Years

AAA
Eric Polk

A report by the American Automobile Association shows a bright spot in the nation’s economic news.

The AAA predicts that 34.1 million people are planning to take a trip of more than 50 miles from home this Labor Day weekend, up from 32.7 million last year and the highest in five years.

The rise is due to increased consumer confidence, with one poll saying it’s at a six-year high. A slight dip in fuel prices may also be a contributing factor.

The AAA says the average trip will cover 594 miles and travelers will spend $804.

Are you planning on going anywhere this Labor Day weekend? Are you feeling more or less confident about the economy and is this affecting your travel plans? Tell us about it in the comments section.

Five (almost) labor-free recipes for Labor Day

labor day recipesI love to cook. Just not for myself. What I truly enjoy is feeding family and friends, but indoors or out the last thing I want to deal with is a labor-intensive meal–especially when it’s hot. So, in honor of the upcoming holiday weekend, I’m sharing five of my favorite, late summer recipes. They feature easy-to-find ingredients, regardless of where you live, but if you can purchase the produce and meat at your local farmer’s market or from another sustainable source, so much the better. In my opinion, the key to great food (especially where home cooks are concerned) lies in the quality of the ingredients. Even if you’re visiting friends, local ingredients can be adapted or found for these travel-friendly dishes.

The following require little in the way of skill, prep and clean-up, leaving you more time to enjoy the final days of summer with the ones you love (or want to impress). All of the following serve two, and can be easily increased to serve a large dinner party or barbecue.

1. Pancetta-wrapped pears (or peaches) with blue cheese
Allow one piece of fruit per person, and be sure to use ripe, but not mushy, produce–softer pear varieties such as Bosc, French Butter, or Warren are ideal. Halve each piece of fruit, and core or remove pit. Brush cut surfaces lightly with olive oil, and wrap each half in a piece of good-quality bacon, pancetta, or prosciutto (you may want to use a wooden skewer or toothpick to secure it during cooking). Grill over medium-hot coals (start with one half of fruit; if it’s taking too long, wait until coals are hot) until bacon or prosciutto is crisp, and fruit is slightly caramelized. Serve with lightly dressed bitter greens, and garnish with a creamy, non-assertive blue cheese such as Original Blue, Blue d’Auvergne, or Bleu d’Basque.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Pink Thistle]labor day recipes2. Panzanella
I can’t claim credit for this Tuscan classic, but it should be in every cook’s repertoire. Tear a loaf of day-old, country-style bread into 1-inch pieces, drizzle with olive oil, and toast until golden brown. While bread cools, halve one pint of miniature tomatoes, and cut 2 to 4 medium-size tomatoes (I prefer to use a mixture of heirloom varieties for the best color and flavor) into chunks. Place bread in large bowl, and add tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and one tablespoon of good Balsamic or Sherry vinegar. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss with hands until ingredients are combined. Just before serving, tear basil leaves into small pieces and toss into salad.

3. Fingerling potato and haricot vert salad
Scrub 1-1/2 pounds of fingerling or new potatoes, halve or quarter them, and place them in a large saucepan or stockpot of cold water. Boil until tender, and drain. Pinch stems from 1/2-pound of haricot vert, blanch until tender (the younger and thinner they are, the better they’ll taste), and drain. Finely mince one medium shallot, and one clove garlic. Add shallots and garlic to small saucepan with 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil and heat on low until the the shallots and garlic are lightly sizzling (they shouldn’t brown) and the oil is fragrant. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of Champagne or white wine vinegar, and add a tablespoon of Dijon mustard (optional). Coarsely chop one large handful of Italian parsley. Place the potatoes and haricot vert in a serving bowl, and add enough of the shallot vinaigrette to coat potatoes without making the salad soggy. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, add parsley, and toss to combine.
labor day recipes
4. Grilled ribeyes with mustard-herb butter
Heat grill until coals are hot. While grill is heating, take a 1/2-stick of room temperature, unsalted butter, and place in small bowl. Add 1-2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard (or as needed), finely minced herbs such as chives, parsley, or chervil, teaspoon minched shallot or garlic and a pinch of salt. Mash ingredients together with a fork until desired flavor is reached.

Lay a sheet of plastic wrap on counter, and place butter at one end of the plastic wrap, shaping it into a log. Roll the butter up (be sure not to roll the plastic into it) to form a tube, and twist the ends of the plastic. Chill until ready to use. Pat steaks dry and generously season both sides with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and grill until medium rare. Arrange a small mound of bitter greens in the center of each plate, add a steak, and top each with an ounce of butter. Serve immediately.

5. Grilled peaches with raspberries and ricotta
Heat grill until coals are hot. Halve peaches, and brush cut surfaces very lightly with olive oil to prevent sticking. Grill until the cut side of the fruit is soft and caramelized. Serve in a shallow dish or bowl with raspberries and a large dollop of good-quality ricotta, Greek yogurt, unsweetened whipped cream, or fromage blanc. Garnish with chopped, toasted pistachios.

All recipes except panzanella copyright The Sustainable Kitchen®

[Photo credits: tomatoes, Flickr user wayneandwax; greens, Flickr user burntfat]

Quickie Tips - Safety

How to get out of work and make the most of your Labor Day weekend

Back in June, maybe getting away for Labor Day weekend just didn’t seem possible. Maybe there were too many looming commitments or perhaps money seemed too tight. But now your time has been freed up and you’re seeing all the low-priced flights and deals available for Labor Day. You’re ready to get out of town and three days just isn’t enough. But the odds of your boss granting you an extra day off this late in the game are slim. How can you weasel out of work and make the most of your Labor Day weekend?

Step 1: Assess the situation
Determine how likely your boss is to grant you the time off. think about what matters most to your boss and how they treat time off. This will determine your strategy. Is your boss a sucker for a sad story? Can you pull on his or her heartstrings to score the time off? How heavy is your workload, and will going missing a day put any of your co-workers in a bad position? Is your boss understanding when you are ill or does he or she expect you to come in anyways?

Step 2: Know the company policy
Some offices have a policy that if you call in sick on a day immediately before or after a holiday, you don’t get paid for the time, or you may need to provide a doctor’s note. Others limit the number of staff that can take vacation on the same day. Knowing what rules your company has will also help you form your strategy.

Step 3: Form a plan
If you think there’s a good chance your boss will give you the day off, it’s best to just come right out and ask. But, the way you ask can determine the answer. Asking for time off to go on a last-minute fun-filled vacation may sound frivolous to a hard-working boss. Taking the day to volunteer or get in some much-needed medical appointments might go over better. A more sympathetic boss might be swayed if you say that some cherished relatives you haven’t seen in years are coming into town just for the day, or that it’s “family day” at the assisted-living home where your dear, aging grandparents live and you’ll be so disappointed to miss it. Be sure to stress how important the day off is to you, and reassure your boss that you won’t get behind on your work by missing another day. If you think it’s highly unlikely the boss will give you the time off, a better strategy might be to just plan on calling in sick or having a “family emergency” come up.

Step 4: Lay the Groundwork
Now is the time to start building the base of your excuse. If you plan on asking directly, just do it. But if you’ll be getting sick, start working up a gentle cough, sniffling occasionally, and talk about how run-down you feel. Let your personal appearance get a little ragged, keep a bottle of cough medicine on your desk, and mention that at your spouse’s/roommate’s office, the flu is going around. Or explain that you have a mild toothache (which will then require an emergency root canal on your chosen day off) or that your car has been making weird noises lately (which is a prelude to it breaking down so you can’t get to work).

Step 5: Enjoy your day off. . . but be careful
If you’ve asked for and been granted the day off, good for you. If not, and you are going with the dishonest option, make sure you don’t return to work with the unmistakable look of someone who has just been on vacation. A deep tan is a sure giveaway. If you opted to be “sick”, you should appear to recover over the course of a few days. If your car “broke down”, mention the costly repairs and be sure to not park your perfectly fine car in the same lot as the boss’!

If a full day off isn’t what you’re after, you can still make the most of the three-day weekend by extending your travel time a little. Take off right from work on Friday, leaving a few hours early if you can. If you are flying to your destination, try to book the first flight back on Tuesday morning. You’ll get a few extra hours of vacation by not coming back Monday night, and you won’t have to miss more than an hour or two of work. you can keep your boss happy, and squeeze just a bit more time into your three-day weekend.

How to host a multi-cultural Labor Day barbecue

Labor Day is a quintessential American holiday. It’s a day to honor the workers, spend time with friends and family, and traditionally, to enjoy one last blow-out backyard barbecue before the cold weather sets in. Burgers, beers, and the all-American apple pie may be the staples, but since America is such a melting pot, why not honor that with a more international array of food and drink? Whether your ancestors arrived in America hundreds of years ago, or just within the last decade, showcase your heritage and the cultures of your closest friends by serving up some traditional cuisines from around the world. It doesn’t have to be a big hassle, you can make it as simple or complex as you like. Here are a few ideas for an international-themed Labor Day barbecue.

Host an International Happy Hour
Spicing up your drink offerings is the easiest way to add more international variety to your party. Nearly every country brews its own beer and, aside from the obvious Dos Equis from Mexico and Heineken from The Netherlands, it’s easy to find Pilsner Urquell (Czech Republic), Quilmes (Argentina) and even Tsingtao (China) beer at most local stores. Wine is an easy option too. We all know the major players like Italy and France, but Hungary, Chile, South Africa, Croatia, and many other countries also produce wine. If you plan on serving liquor, set up a signature drinks station. Allow guests to mix their own Brazilian Caipirinhas, Peruvian Pisco Sours, or Italian Spritzs.

Dress Up Your Burgers and Hot Dogs
If you wouldn’t dare not serve burgers at your barbecue, you can still fancy them up with some toppings that reflect international cuisines. Add guacamole or cotija cheese to Mexican burgers, Brie cheese and fried shallots for French flair, or Feta cheese and spinach on Greek lamb burgers. You can also swap hot dogs for meats from various regions – go with spicy Spanish chorizo, German bratwurst with sauerkraut or Turkish doner in pita with yogurt sauce. Kebabs also work well. Try pork glazed with Chinese hoisin, or chicken in an Indian tikka masala sauce, skewered with appropriate veggies. Apply the same rules to your side dishes. Share the workload with friends by asking them to bring dishes that represent their heritage to serve on the side.

Don’t Forget Dessert
Dessert is another area where it’s easy to get creative while still offering a delicious end to the meal. It’s also okay to “cheat” a bit here, and buy some of the ingredients pre-made from the grocery store. Bake (or buy) some Greek baklava, serve French crepes topped with ice cream, Italian tiramisu, or Mexican tres leches cake.

Obviously, these are just a few of the options available. Check websites like All Recipes, consult with family or friends, or make your favorite handed-down-through-generations recipe. And if you have a great recipe you’re willing to share, please post it in the comments.

Airlines roll out last-minute sales for Labor Day

There are just two weeks left until Labor Day, but it’s not too late to plan a getaway for the holiday weekend. In fact, waiting until now to book your trip might even save you money with some of the great last-minute deals that are available.

American Airlines Flights
American Airlines has several destinations on sale for Labor Day. Buy your tickets to Belize by August 28th and travel Monday through Thursday, starting September 1st, for as low as $217 each way. Book a trip to Jamaica by August 24th for travel any day of the week after September 1st, and prices will start at $84 each way. Tickets to Cancun, booked by August 25th for Saturday and Tuesday travel after September 1st, start at $88 each way.

United Airlines Flights
If you can stretch your weekend until Tuesday (departing on Saturday), book tickets to destinations within the United States on United Airlines by August 25th to save. Prices vary by departure and destination cities, but sample fares include Chicago to New Orleans for $89 each way, Atlanta to Denver for $109 each way, and Miami to Washington Dulles for $69 each way.

Spirit Airlines Flights
Spirit is well known for its near-constant sales to destinations within the United States, Central America and the Caribbean. It’s like the Gap of airlines – never pay retail because, just as the Gap will knock 50% off those jeans in two weeks, chances are that Spirit will soon offer a better deal for the flight you want. Their current sale ends tomorrow, August 25th, and discounts some of their more popular routes to as low as $33.90 each way. As with all of their sales, $9 Fare Club members and those in hub cities like Fort Lauderdale and Detroit save the most and have the most options. But even the rest of us can still get some good deals for Labor Day. For example, New York to Medellin, Colombia is $138.90 each way, Boston to Myrtle Beach is $68.90 each way, and Atlanta to San Jose, Costa Rica is $128.90 each way.

Expedia.com Deals
Beyond flights, Expedia has deals on just about everything else – hotels, cars, cruises, package deals – for your Labor Day travels. Deals vary widely by location, but some of the highlights include discounts of up to 50% off hotels in Las Vegas, Orlando and Chicago (among other cities) and 3-night Royal Caribbean Bahamas cruises for as low as $262 per person for an inside cabin.

If these deals don’t work for you, there’s still plenty of time to plan your perfect Labor Day vacation at a great price. Check out Hotwire’s Travel Ticker, peruse the sale list on Travelzoo and follow your favorite airlines on Twitter. JetBlue and Southwest regularly post their top deals on twitter, so you’ll be the first to know about great fares.