What To Cook Before A Vacation

The more frequently I travel, the more I stress about having enough time to prepare to be away from home for a week or two, and avoid coming home to a refrigerator full of rotten food or leaving a sink full of dishes. Through trial and error, I’ve discovered the best food to cook before a vacation is a simple roast chicken (sorry, vegetarians). The Department of Health suggests you can keep cooked chicken in the fridge 3-4 days, while I’d say you are good for up to a week, but you don’t want to take a chance on getting food poisoning before you leave on a trip. So let’s say four days to be safe. Now, how to minimize your cooking and cleaning time, and mix it up so you aren’t eating the same leftovers every night? Let’s say you are leaving on Friday: here’s your timeline.

Sunday – Roast a chicken
Buy your last groceries for the week and if you are feeling really pressed for time, pick up a supermarket rotisserie chicken, but it’s easy enough to bung a chicken in the oven with some seasonings in the early evening and feel like you’ve accomplished something. Serve with a hearty salad leaf like kale, and some good grains like buckwheat or wild rice.Monday – Strip the bird
Depending on your preferences, you can use the chicken to top a salad (use more of that kale!) or on some pasta with some store-bought sauce (put leftover sauce in a freezer container for later use). Try to strip the chicken of meat so you can wash out the roasting pan, but keep the carcass and bones.

Tuesday – Make broth and sandwiches
Take that leftover carcass and simmer in water to make broth. You won’t need it tonight, so you can do after work and refrigerate before you go to bed. Use up a loaf of bread and make sandwiches, maybe melt some cheese on them if you have anything open and are feeling fancy. Make kale chips with a little olive oil and salt (I like to use garlic salt); line the baking sheet with foil so you have less to wash.

Wednesday – Simmer soup
If you have a slow cooker, you could put it on in the morning set on low for the day, but you can throw together chicken soup at dinnertime too. Strain the broth you made last night, add the leftover chicken bits, and toss in any remaining vegetables (goodbye kale!) and grains from the first night. A can of beans is a good addition too; fiber is important before traveling! Any left? Put it in the freezer for an easy meal post-vacation.

Thursday – Get delivery
Sick of chicken (or don’t want to be sick from chicken)? Play it safe and order something in that doesn’t require many dishes, like pizza or noodles (sushi is always a gamble before a trip, but a good light option). Try to keep it a little healthy and make/order a side salad. Pack, take out your trash, and finish doing dishes.

Friday – Departure
Leave on your trip, feeling good that you didn’t waste any food, and you ate a heck of a lot of kale. Eat anything other than chicken.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Mark Turnauckas]

SkyMall Monday: Obol

There’s a time and a place for mushy foods. Not having to chew comes in handy when you’ve had your wisdom teeth pulled, your jaw wired shut or you’ve misplaced your dentures. Beyond that, the sensation of chewing is part of the enjoyment of eating. People want to feel something hearty and substantial in their mouths (that’s what she said). Here at SkyMall Monday headquarters, we start each day with a bowl of cereal. We typically opt for Cheerios or Raisin Bran, because we believe in the healing power of fiber. We used to eat a lot of Special K, but those flakes quickly turn into porridge after about 15 seconds submerged in milk. Thankfully, SkyMall has a way to keep cereal crunchy no matter how long we take to eat it. Forget everything you know about bowls, because from now on you’ll be eating out of the Obol.

Separate but equal isn’t appropriate when it comes to education. But sometimes, separating things makes sense. The Obol keeps your cereal dry and allows you to introduce small amounts of it into the milk only when you’re ready. Just like how sometimes you want to keep your hot side hot and your cool side cool, there are times when you want to keep your soup away from your crackers. Now, thanks to the Obol’s two sections, you can segregate all of your snacks. Plus, it’s design is intended to allow you to hold your bowl rather than just leaving it on the table. All the better for quickly shoveling food into your gullet.

Think that cereal doesn’t really get soggy that fast? Believe that your plates and bowls should stay on the table so that you’re not eating like an animal? Well, while you enjoy your gruel, we’ll be chewing on the product description:

Keep the crunch in your breakfast munch with the original Crispy Bowl. The patented Swoop n Scoop feature makes every bite crispy. Easy to hold, textured non-slip grip and rim makes it easy to eat anywhere — in bed or watching a movie.

There’s nothing better than starting your day listening to your partner keep the crunch in their breakfast munch while eating next to you in bed. Good morning, lover!

Lest you think that this is just a gimmick, these videos should prove that the Obol is as essential as a spoon.

Her Obol paid for itself in less than a month? I’ve had a spork on layaway for a year and a half!

Wait, why’d they leave their cereal in the kitchen? I thought the Obol was perfect for eating in bed.

I like any song that opens with, “Put it anywhere.”

The Obol would be way cooler if you could ride it.

The best origin story since Iron Man.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

South by Southeast: Eating in Saigon

Amniotic fluid tastes like chicken soup. At least, that is, the amniotic fluid that comes from Hot Vit Lon, a Vietnamese delicacy consisting of an duck egg with a half-formed baby chick nested inside. As I squatted on a flimsy plastic chair in one of Saigon’s labyrinth of steamy back-alleys, with a cracked-open Hot Vit Lon in one hand, sweaty bottle of Saigon beer in the other, I had to wonder – just what exactly was I about to put in my mouth? Like so many of the favored foods of this rapidly changing Vietnamese metropolis, it was a question with many answers. Saigon’s top notch food scene is much like the city itself – a range of conflicting identities shouting to be heard – a place where the traditional, the sensuous and the social merge as one.

Understanding Saigon in 2010 means juggling these different personalities. It’s a place that’s modernizing rapidly, a mish-mash of high-rises and wooden houseboats, Gucci stores and low-budget guesthouses. Cao Dai, a religious sect based near Saigon, counts Jesus, Buddha and Victor Hugo among its deities. Even the city’s official name, Ho Chi Minh City (adopted in 1975), is up for debate, often rejected in favor of the historic moniker “Saigon.” Yet somehow these conflicting traits manage to work together, particularly when it comes to the town’s legendary culinary diversity. Saigon eating is much discussed in food circles, not only for the quality of the ingredients but also for the mind-bending variety of cuisines on offer. Everything from Western Haute cuisine to street food can be sampled.

This past January, I visited Saigon in order to see for myself why everyone has been talking about Vietnamese cuisine. I found a world-class food city with many different facets, each more tantalizing and top-notch than the next. Curious to get a taste of Saigon eating? Keep reading below.

%Gallery-85632%The Traditional
For hundreds of years, the hallmark of Saigon food has been its simplicity and wealth of high quality ingredients. The city sits along the edge of the Mekong Delta, a fertile agricultural breadbasket that provides a fresh-from-the-garden array of produce, locally produced meats and a mouth-watering array of flavorings. Perhaps no dish better epitomizes this blending of simplicity and freshness than Pho, a simple noodle soup made with beef, bean sprouts and a farmers’ market-worth of fresh veggies and herbs.

I arrived in Saigon fresh off an arduous 10 hour bus ride, exhausted, hungry and looking for comfort. I found my salvation just blocks from my guesthouse at Pho Quyhn, one of Saigon’s many top-notch Pho restaurants. Soon a steaming bowl of broth was before me teasing my nostrils with its beefy aroma. Beside me a whole plate was piled high with fresh mint, cilantro and salad greens, ready to be added. It was a “hug from mom in a bowl” – warm, comforting and familiar.

The Sensuous
According to a traditional Vietnamese food proverb, “To eat you must first feast with your eyes.” It’s a statement that rings true for much of Saigon cuisine, says Vietnam food expert and “Indiana Jones of Gastronomy” Richard Sterling one day over lunch. Richard has volunteered his expertise to help me experience a totally different side of Saigon, one that will expose me to the riotous colors, textures and sounds that are just as important as taste to the enjoyment of Saigon cuisine.

We convene that night for a “seafood feed” at Quan Ba Chi, where we devour whole soft-shell crabs cooked in a sticky-sweet tamarind sauce. We grab at huge plates of pinkish-orange crustacean that yield their sweet meat with a satisfying CRACK and shower of juice. I’m overwhelmed by not just the delicious taste, but the sloppy tamarind goo and bits of crab shell that work their way between my fingers and onto my shirt. It’s a feast not only for my tastebuds, but for my eyes, ears and fingers as well.

The Social
Daily life in Saigon doesn’t happen at home. It’s best experienced out on the street. The neat line that divides public and private life in the West is blurred in Vietnam, a fact that is frequently on display here. Everything from shopping at food markets, to locksmiths carving keys, to barbers cutting hair happens on the pavement, open to view. It leads to an environment where a meal is something to be shared, discussed and displayed: eaten in the open at communal tables.

To get a taste of this communal atmosphere, I make my way towards Saigon’s District 3 to a Quan Nhau restaurant – open-air Vietnamese beer halls where locals gather each evening to trade gossip, drink beer and enjoy plenty of tasty treats. I sit down at a shared table at Lucky Quan, kick back a glass of Bia Hoi and some grilled mussels with garlic and within minutes I’m trading stories with the Saigon locals sitting next to me. In Saigon, food is clearly a conversation starter.

Traditional. Sensuous. Social. Saigon cuisine is all of these things and none of them. Ultimately in place that claims so many identities, travelers have an opportunity to pick what they want the city to be. Much like choosing from among the city’s dizzying range of delicious foods, it’s something you must experience and settle upon for yourself.

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.

How the Japanese drive around town without spilling their soup

OK, this is absolutely brilliant. Imagine having to speed through Tokyo on your Honda Super Cub scooter. That is hard enough without having to worry about carrying a tray filled with bowls of soup!

Of course, it takes Japanese ingenuity to design a simple and crude way to keep things from spilling.

I’m not really sure what to call it, so I’ll just name it the “scooter self stabilizing soup shelf”, or S5 for short. It’s not much more than a couple of bits of tubing, a piece of wood and some form of shock absorber.

Even a parked scooter will be no match for the S5, parked up against the curb, the shelf stays level, and you don’t lose a drop of whatever you are carrying. Apparently these things have been around for years, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen someone photograph them.

There are several more of these contraptions captured on film by Lee Chapman, the Brit in Tokyo behind Tokyotimes.org. His site is filled with fantastic articles and some pretty stunning photography, certainly worth checking out.

(Tokyo Times, via Wired gadget lab)

BooRah: New restaurant review database taps into dining scenes nationwide

Want to exercise that inner restaurant critic in you? There’s a new site out there called BooRah that is looking to tap into a lot of reader-generated content about the restaurant scene in your community.

BooRah is a restaurant aggregator that culls the best restaurant reviews from across the Web and puts them in a easy-to-search database, each entry described in terms of boos and rahs. You can search major metropolitan areas or you can search for a specific town. This site seems to be pretty deep in terms of picking up obscure communities. For a test, I searched Old Hickory, Tennessee (where my father grew up) and came up with reviews of Dairy Queen, Subway, Hardees and Sonic.

O.K., hardly great. That is kind of my problem with a lot of user-generated restaurant sites. I’m all for hearing what you have to say about a new Village eatery or the best place for Sushi in San Fran, but do we really need reviews of McDonald’s and Taco Bell? Also, sometimes these “reviews” can be frustratingly general, of the “I had a great steak here!” variety.

Still, I like this site, mostly because it seems pretty comprehensive and BooRah is growing and adding new cities regularly. I searched the Boston suburb I called home for five years and found one of my favorites — a little Italian gem called Tullios in Quincy — prominently listed, along with several other good local bets.

The site says it has 1.2 million restaurant reviews, 250,000 restaurants profiled, and 150,000 menus uploaded. Not bad.

Foodies might not find everything they want here, nor those acutely tuned in to their local dining scene (you’ll know the best places to go). But I can see BooRah being very helpful to the business traveler or road tripper who likes to eat well, even in Topeka or Spokane.

Anyway, check the site out and see what you can contribute.