The Macrobiotic Traveler
Breaking your routine for a holiday vacation and maintaining balanced macrobiotic eating habits may seem like an oxymoron to the inexperienced practitioner. There are even people who define vacation as an escape from the kitchen.
Actually there are several options for vacation meals—you can cook; you can visit friends and relatives, or you can forget about it all in area restaurants and hope to regain your balance once you get home. Whatever you choose, macrobiotic practitioners may benefit from some out-of-the-kitchen guidance, whether it’s a day around town or a round-the-world jaunt.
Staying away for more than a meal or two requires some advance planning. To prepare three cooked meals in advance for dinner, breakfast and lunch without undue complication, plan your menus well, including snacks and desserts, then prepare it all.
A meal always consists of a grain, usually rice, and at least one vegetable. Here is a standard menu for three meals:
- Light grain
- Blanched vegetables
- Miso soup
- One long cooked vegetable
- Two short cooked vegetables
Note: We generally cook three short cooked vegetables in summer instead of one long cooked and two short cooked.
- Tofu, tempeh or seitan
- Two or three vegetable dishes
- I often like something sweet mid-afternoon, such as sweet vegetable drink, fruit compote, cooked chestnuts or amasake pudding. I generally avoid baked flour products, preferring more relaxing options.
- Sweet vegetable drink is a boon for moments of low blood sugar. We generally drink this, or bancha tea rather than water. In fact, we drink rarely, finding that we are seldom thirsty with good chewing and many vegetables.
- We often carry rice balls with us for a bite between meals, or in case our stay is extended unexpectedly. Other snacks can be rice cakes, roasted seeds, or spreads such as vegetable jams and butters.
Depending on your schedule, find a block of time to prepare all the food you will need for your outing. Soak a pot of rice the night before and cook it first thing in the morning; or soak in the morning for evening cooking. Do the same with hard beans such as aduki, chickpeas or black soy. As rice and beans don’t need much tending while they cook, it is possible to prepare other foods at the same time, including foods that don’t need a fire such as pressed and marinated salads.
Food cooked in the morning usually remains reasonably fresh until the following day. Using a food chest with ice packs to keep the food cool is usually a good idea. Long cooked vegetables generally keep overnight without spoiling. If you use sauces or dressings, store them separately in a closed container, as they will certainly spoil the food they are mixed with.
Grain lasts more than a day, especially rice balls that can be preserved without need of refrigeration for three or four days. Noodles with some seasoning or light sauce may be enjoyed sometimes instead of a more substantial grain. Beans can last for a second day if no vegetables were cooked with them. Tofu or tempeh will not spoil in a day, but it is desirable to store them in a cooler with an ice pack. A salad pressed with salt will last two days without a problem provided the salt is not washed out; salt acts as a preservative.
TWO TO THREE DAY OUTING
When we are staying out for more than two days, we prefer to cook fresh food rather than eat leftovers. We have found that the preparation necessary for a two to three day trip or several weeks isn’t that much different. We pack raw grains and beans to cook after we have eaten the prepared food we brought with us. We can carry fresh tofu or tempeh for one day, but beyond that it requires refrigeration. We often take fu and dried tofu with us for protein as they are not subject to spoilage.
- Cook lunch and supper and store them in lunch boxes. If we don’t have time to cook two different meals, we eat the same food for lunch and supper.
- Prepare rice balls; we generally make two for each of us.
- Prepare pressed salad for supper and/or the next day’s lunch.
- Cook one or two desserts.
- Roast seeds and/or nuts for snacks.
- Include other purchased snacks, if desired.
The following utensils, cooking ingredients and foods products are useful for a two to three day trip. Weight is a consideration for airplane travel but less so for packing the trunk of your car. We carry all our cooking ingredients in small plastic jars or condiment containers. Store bottled liquids in plastic bags against inevitable spillage.
- Two gas cooking burners. The luxury of a four burner stove is not really a necessity. A little more care needs to be used in planning your cooking, but the logistics are easy to manage. Several choices are available for burners: a double range Coleman propane stove, portable gas stoves with butane gas containers, or primus butane burners. The Coleman stove and portable gas stoves are excellent when weight or space is not a problem. They are stable and cooking feels like being at home. The primus burners are light weight and take up little space, but care must be taken not to tip over the pot since they are less stable. Butane or propane gas canisters should not be transported on airplanes; they are readily available for purchase in between airports.
- Cutting board--we use a small wooden cutting board for traveling.
- One cotton wash rag (for cleaning your knife and cutting board while cooking).
- Vegetable knife
- Metal bowl and strainer–collapsible rubber strainers are fine.
- Oil strainer for scooping cooked vegetables out of a pot.
- Plastic food storage boxes of different sizes - their size depends on how many people are traveling; small ones are suitable for two people.
- Suribachi and pestle
- Measuring cup; our drinking cups work well for this purpose.
- Metal grater
- Two medium sized pots and lids - use the larger pot as a sauté pan.
- Two hot pads
- Dish soap - best stored in small plastic dispenser.
- Dishwashing sponge soap, if desired.
- Two cotton hand towels
- Plates and cups. We use strong plastic unbreakable plates and cups; the cups can be used for drinking and for soups.
- Wooden spoons
- Chopsticks and cooking chopsticks
- Hand sanitizer (waterless soap)
- Tablecloth for the picnic table and as a base for cooking in the back seat of the car.
II. Dry Ingredients:
- Sweet brown rice vinegar
- Umeboshi paste or plums
- Wakame flakes or strips
- Sesame oil
- Sushi mat
- Instant miso soup
- Sea salt
- Barley miso
- Nori sheets
- Dried vegetables, such as daikon, lotus, tofu, burdock, etc.
III. Fresh Produce:
Pre-wash all vegetables at home if you will not have kitchen facilities available. Dry with a towel, and store in open plastic bags
When we travel for an extended time we bring a kitchen suitcase with us. We include a small pressure cooker for rice and beans in addition to the other pots and pans outlined above. We buy gas canisters for cooking as we need them, and shop at local health food stores. There is rarely a problem finding a good variety of organic vegetables. For three years from 2000 to 2003, we lived and traveled in a motor-home throughout the US; we needed to buy conventional vegetables only three times.
Ideally, we cook fresh rice each day to supply three meals, and beans for two days. We schedule these long cooked dishes so they don’t interfere with cooking the rest of the meal. We either put up the rice and beans first thing in the morning, or alternatively cook them after we finish preparing supper. If we are cooking rice in the evening, we soak it from the morning, and vice versa.
We have cooked many times in hotel rooms. Gas burners are not appreciated by the management, so we don’t draw attention to our activities. Smoke alarms have never gone off from the burners. We keep a window or door open for air circulation when we cook. Sometimes it takes a little room remodeling to set up a kitchen, such as moving the television onto the floor, for example. We wash our fruits and vegetables in the bathroom sink, but rely on bottled water for cooking. We are sure to put everything away after cooking, especially the burners, so they are not noticed by the cleaning staff. We post the “Do Not Disturb” sign on our door to minimize interference in our set-up. It is easy enough to change towels when the chambermaid’s cart is on the floor. We either eat in the room or on its porch to enjoy its quiet ambience and soft energy, or pack our food in containers and eat out during the day.
When we camp out we often cook out of the back of our car or on its hood. No matter what the car, there is always a large enough space for cooking. The glare of the sun off the hood sometimes makes it difficult to see the flame clearly and the wind could also be a problem. But it beats squatting on the ground!
Breakfast depends on whether we want to spend the time making miso soup, cereal and blanched vegetables as we usually do at home, or take a short cut such as wrapping a root vegetable like sweet potato, onion, carrot, turnip, or kohlrabi in aluminum paper and cooking it in the coals of our extinguished campfire before we go to sleep. In the morning it is incredibly sweet and delicious. We often make porridge out of leftover rice. For miso soup, we sometimes use the packaged instant miso soup with boiling water, but we usually prefer making the soup as we do at home with finely sliced vegetables. We usually cook in the evening for that day’s supper and the next day’s lunch. We place one meal on our plates and the second in carry-out containers for the following day.
One of the most challenging cooking experiences we faced was how to make a meal while waiting in a line of cars to board a ferry. Using our checkered table cloth as a base, the tarmac became our work space, and dinner was ready in no time!
Traveling in a motor home is like being at home. Though the space is limited, and we had only three burners, it was more than adequate. Our meals were as varied and delicious as always.
If you want to eat on the road as you do at home, and you love to travel, you can do it all with careful planning and a little inconvenience. When you get into it, however, the inconvenience can actually be fun and part of the pleasure of your trip. Just be easy about it without resorting to self pity about not being totally spontaneous, and you will have a great time.