Snacks on a Plane: Tips for Eating Like a Civilized Traveler

Earlier this week blog friend Alan Brouilette discussed how to get through airport security with grace and ease. That got me thinking about food, because, well, everything gets me thinking about food. But really, my own biggest concern with airports and plane travel is getting hungry.

It’s a good idea to bring a meal, or at the very least, a snack, on every flight. Because, even for short flights, you might end up spending more time stuck far away from food than you anticipated.

Here are some tips to be a neat, considerate, and well-fed traveler.

  1. Don’t bring smelly things from the food court, because everyone will hate you. People on planes are already time bombs waiting to go off. Don’t push any buttons by stinking up the place with your spicy Szechuan chicken.
  2. Speaking of spicy, maybe consider avoiding those foods that could lead to…  certain bathroom needs. Consuming spicy foods and/or greasy foods at high altitudes can lead to digestive tumult. And as someone who tries avoiding airplane bathrooms in the best of circumstances, I highly recommend avoiding any prolonged dirty business.
  3. Avoid crumbly, sloppy, and overly saucy foods. It’s hard to eat while strapped into an uncomfortable seat, leaning over a tray table. Probably you will drip, dribble, or drop something on your lap. And won’t you be sad if you have to sit in your own food filth for the next several hours?
  4. Ideally, you’ll pack a compact meal, such as a sandwich or a wrap (leave off the tomato), into a plastic take-out container that you can hold close to your body to catch crumbs and then ditch in the flight attendant’s trash bag. Don’t forget a napkin.
  5. Here are some other specific snack ideas from Budget Travel. I’m a fan of Clif Bars, personally, because they are pretty delicious as well as filling.

The Best Sweet Treats in Chicago

It’s 9:30 in the morning, and I’m asking myself if it’s too early to have ice cream. I’m opting for blueberries instead of the Jeni’s Splendid in my freezer, but allow the question to demonstrate my obsession with sweets. I am an expert, and Chicago has no shortage of choices when it comes to indulging in a treat.

Thus, my list of the best places for sweets in and around Chicago. Enjoy!

Ice Cream
Technically I’m not recommending ice cream, but rather frozen custard and gelato, and I can’t pick just one. Scooter’s Frozen Custard at 1658 W. Belmont serves up creamy, dense custard made fresh daily. The crowd gathered inside and out all summer says it all. And so does this picture.

Paciugo (Pa-choo-go) Gelato has three locations in Chicago and an awful lot of flavors. I mean a lot. Started by Italians who grew up in Italy and learned to make gelato in Turin, this is pretty authentic stuff. But if you want something exclusively Chicago, then try Black Dog Gelato at 859 N Damen Ave. But for me, Paciugo wins for freshness, flavor, and atmosphere.

Pie
Chicago has a serious shortage of pie shops. But thankfully, we have Hoosier Mama Pie Company (1618 W Chicago Ave), which is doing a fine job creating the most delicious pies in their tiny but adorable shop that looks like a mid-century country kitchen. With just two or three tables, you might end up taking your pie to go. Located a ways off the CTA blue line, it’s not the easiest place to get to, which might be a good thing, because otherwise I’d be eating a scary amount of pie.

Doughnuts
I’ll admit it, I haven’t been to all the new doughnut shops that have popped up in the last few years. That’s because once I tried Do-Rite Donuts at 50 W. Randolph, my need to try any other kind of doughnut died right there, on the spot. I’m not  a fan of doughnuts, generally speaking, but these doughnuts transcend the typical fried dough and become something completely different, and utterly amazing. Try the Cinnamon Crunch and the Old-Fashioned Buttermilk.

Cupcakes
There are a lot of cupcake shops in Chicago, and you really can’t go wrong at any of them. But my favorites are Sugar Bliss at 115 N. Wabash and Sweet Mandy B’s at 1208 W. Webster Avenue. Sugar Bliss wins for overall deliciousness, with a substantial cake texture that holds up to the creamy frosting. But Sweet Mandy B’s wins for their irresistible, buttery frosting. Yum!

Chocolate
National Geographic called Chicago-based Vosges one of the ten best chocolates in the world, and we’re lucky enough to have storefronts on Michigan Avenue and in Lincoln Park, as well as O’Hare. If you can’t get to one of the “boutiques,” you can find Vosges chocolate bars and their less-expensive but equally delicious Wild Ophelia brand all over town—just check the website. My favorite is the New Orleans Chili dark chocolate bar, which has a crazy chili flavor that just shouldn’t work in a chocolate bar but really, really does.

Kitchen Vacation: Gumbo Z’herbes

In but a few short months, it will be spring in Chicago (no I am not kidding with that). Time to start thinking about how big your ass has gotten over the winter and maybe dream about a place that is actually warm at this time of year. So we’re going to New Orleans for some gumbo. I know, gumbo doesn’t normally strike one as being healthy, but despite the butter this one comes in at around 300 calories a serving. And it’s delicious.

I put chicken thighs in pretty much everything I cook, so if you want the original, vegetarian recipe, head over to Chow. Also I have issues with green peppers so I use red, but you can pick your own poison there. A nice scoop of rice on top is heavenly but completely optional.

Gumbo Z’herbes

  • 1/3 cup butter

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1 medium onion, chopped

  • 1 red peppers, chopped

  • 3 ribs celery, chopped

  • 3 cloves garlic

  • 1 lb chicken thighs

  • 1 large bunch of kale, chopped

  • 1 package frozen spinach (10 oz)

  • 1.5 tablespoons Cajun seasoning, OR

    • .5 tablespoon paprika

    • .5 teaspoons black pepper

    • .5 teaspoons white pepper

    • .75 teaspoons garlic powder

    • .75 teaspoons onion powder

    • pinch teaspoon thyme

    • cayenne to taste

  1. Melt butter in a thick-bottomed pot and add flour to form a roux. Stir until darkened, about the color of peanut butter. Don’t leave this unattended or you will be sorry.

  2. Add the onions, peppers, and celery. Cook until vegetables begin to soften. Add garlic and spices and cook an additional few minutes. I usually give the onions a head start because I cannot abide the slightest bit of crunch in an onion.

  3. Add chicken and 2 cups water. Add the kale a handful at a time, waiting until the last handful wilts down to add more. Depending on how cooked you want your kale to be, cook the chicken for an hour before adding the kale.

  4. Simmer until the chicken starts to fall apart, about 2 hours. Stir spinach in before serving. Add salt to taste (premixed Cajun seasoning will contain salt).

Serves 4-5, appox. 300 calories per serving.

Adapted from Chow, also seen on Vintage Kitchen.

Kitchen Vacation: Norwegian Cloud Cake

[This is no April Fools’ joke. Mom in chief Julie Podulka has returned to tell you about a different–tastier–kind of souvenir.]

Souvenirs do not have to be hung on a wall or stashed in a curio cabinet. One of my favorite souvenirs lies quietly within a plastic pocket protector snuggled in the dark recesses of my recipe binder. The Norwegians call it “The World’s Best Cake,” but that name always struck me as rather pedestrian for something born in this otherworldly place. So I renamed it “Norwegian Cloud Cake.” Here is the story.

One evening while in Balestrand, Norway, on the shores of the Sognefjord, my husband and I wandered into a little family restaurant and bakery off the dock.

We had a traditional Norwegian meal of potatoes, carrots, and gravy smothered meatballs.  But I had spotted something on the dessert menu called “The World’s Best Cake.” Well, I mean! Who could resist something with a name like that? So, we ordered a piece, ate it, and yup. They weren’t kidding. It was the world’s best cake. So I chatted with the baker, and when I got home I jumped online just to check ingredients and measurements, and voila! The recipe for this unusual meringue, cake, and pastry cream dessert is now mine for the making. And when I take that first forkful of moist and creamy crunchy goodness and close my eyes, there I am, back on the dock looking out at the dolphins flashing in and out of the still, dark water of the fjord, soaking in the golden twilight that will never really turn to night this far north. Yes, a little piece of cake can indeed be a treasured travel touchstone.

Kvaefjord Cake or World’s Best Cake or (according to Julie) Norwegian Cloud Cake

Step 1 – First layer of base

5½ ounces butter
¾ cup sugar
6 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder

Whisk the sugar and butter until smooth and pale. Fold in the other ingredients. Mix well. Spread on a 14 x 17 inch baking pan lined with baking/greaseproof paper.

Step 2 – Second layer of base (meringue)
6 egg whites
1 cup sugar

4 oz. sliced almonds

½ tsp. cream of tartar

1 tsp. cornstarch

Make sure eggs are fresh and eggs and bowl are at room temperature. Whisk egg whites and slowly add sugar over 2 minutes, adding cream of tartar and cornstarch until stiff peaks form (meringue). Spread evenly over base made in step 1. Sprinkle 4 ounces sliced almonds on top of the meringue. Bake the two layers together at 350 degrees Fahrenheit in lower part of the oven, for 25-30 minutes.

Step 3 – Filling
1 package instant vanilla pudding mix
1 cup heavy cream

To make filling, whip the cream and make the vanilla pudding separately. Then mix the cream and vanilla pudding gently together, and refrigerate until cold and firm.

Let the cake cool down after removing it from the oven. Cut it in half. Flip half of the cake meringue side down on a serving plate and spread the filling on top of one half, and cover with the other half of the cake. (Begin meringue side down and end meringue side up). Serve immediately upon constructing otherwise the pastry cream just gets sucked up by the cake and the meringue begins to deflate.

Kitchen Vacation: Ottoman Chicken

As I explained yesterday, one of the things I brought back from Istanbul was a baggie of Ottoman spice. I don’t know precisely what’s in it, but my guess is: cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic, and thyme. Heavier on cumin and paprika, lighter on the rest. That’s about as precise as the rest of this recipe is going to be.

Ottoman spice in its natural habitat

Ottoman spice in its natural habitat

Ottoman chicken was a recipe I invented to make for a rather gourmet camping trip I took with a few friends last summer. I made the marinade and kept it in a tupperware, and I packed the chicken separately, still frozen, and then I let the chicken thaw, cut it up, and combined it with the marinade on the second day of our trip. No one died of salmonella, but I can’t guarantee you’ll get the same results, so maybe you want to make this in your home kitchen, with access to a refrigerator, and not over a campfire.

I have no idea about measurements for this recipe. When not baking, I tend to eyeball everything. Make enough marinade to cover the amount of chicken you want to serve.

Ottoman Chicken

  • Boneless chicken breast (although I’m sure this would be delicious on thighs as well), cubed
  • Ottoman spice (as above)
  • Lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Skewers (if grilling)
  1. If you don’t have pre-mixed Ottoman spice, mix up a batch.
  2. Combine olive oil and lemon in approximately 2:1 ratio.
  3. Mix in enough Ottoman spice to make it look orangey and taste zingy. (That’s scientific, right?)
  4. Add the cubed chicken to the marinade, cover, and let it sit in a refrigerator (or in a cooler in the back of someone’s car if you’re camping) for several hours.
  5. If you’re campfire-ing it: skewer the chicken and grill until nicely browned and cooked through. If you’re doing it on a stovetop, saute until similarly browned and safe.

We ate these on pita with some hummus and grilled veggies alongside. Worked pretty nicely. It didn’t exactly taste like anything I ate in Istanbul, but it did taste pretty darn good.

Dear Santa, Please Bring Me Apple Bananas for Christmas.

My last few posts discussed things that are unique to a particular destination. There’s one item in particular I can’t stop thinking about. I haven’t really stopped since May. It deserves an entire post.

The apple banana.

“What’s an apple banana?” I asked the young girl manning the fruit stand on the side of the Road to Hana. She had offered me a sample of the squat fruit while I browsed the tropical fruits, baked goods, and homemade jams.

Roadside fruit stands are a staple in Hawaii. Many of them are run on the honor system. Shove a buck in the lock box and choose a mango or some bananas from the unattended bushel at the curb. The fruit at these stands come from the trees in people’s yards. Everyone in Hawaii is a farmer, it seems.

Stopping at a fruit stand to buy banana bread was a thing not to be missed, according to the destination experts on TripAdvisor. I, ever obedient to their sage council, obliged, shrieking “Pull over!” as we rounded one of the 520 curves on the Road to Hana and an open fruit stand popped suddenly into view. I bought a loaf from this young girl and accepted a fresh slice of apple banana from the blade of her knife, as well.

An apple banana, it turns out, is what a banana ought to be. It’s a dream. It has a lighter, airier texture. It’s not chalky or tough, as bananas in America can tend to be. It’s also sweeter, like an apple, hence the name. They grow all over in Hawaii, on farms and in backyards. They are abundant and cheap. I bought them in volume at many a Hawaiian farmer’s market for a buck a bunch. Farmer's market bounty

I returned to the car with my loaf of banana bread and a plastic knife, which allowed me to appear somewhat civilized as I devoured the loaf a slice at a time instead of mawing it out of the palms of my hands a la Cookie Monster.

Banana bread made with apple bananas is superior to banana bread made with regular old bananas. Better ingredients yields better results. That’s just logic. On this, day two of our eleven day trip, I vowed to eat as many apple bananas and as much banana bread as I could. And I did. (In fact, if you recall my obsession with Tropical Dreams Banana Split Ice Cream, you would be correct to assume that it was made with apple bananas.)

Apple bananas are nowhere to be found in Chicagoland. And they don’t get to come home with you on an airplane either. I’ve found “baby bananas.” I’ve been lured by “manzano bananas.” But they are false idols. There is only one true apple banana. And they are far, far away.

They can, like most things, be ordered online—at $40 a bunch. Tough to swallow after handing a buck to an old lady for a bunch she grew in her backyard.

I took a photo of the ingredients list of a loaf of banana bread made by Sarah, who lives on a goat farm on Kauai and bakes all day (I hate her). It is my life goal to replicate this most wonderful item in my own kitchen, but it cannot be done without apple bananas.ingredients list

Since I’m too cheap to order online and not rich enough to fly to Hawaii every year for a fix, I’m counting on Santa to leave a bunch under the tree for me.