Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Kosher Traveler: Woe is Me!

The view on my way out of New Jersey on Monday.
South Carolina: It's south of the "border," and the kosher options are slim to none in most places. I anticipated this, of course. I did my research, scouring the internet for some semblance of hope for my four-day adventure, and what I came back with was that there were a few kosher digs in Myrtle Beach, so I immediately told my brother that we'd be going there, no excuses. His response was to ask a really amusing question, drawn out over nearly a minute, "So, sis, if you, you know, if you come down, and, we, you know, go to a kosher restaurant, can you, you know, pay for it?" 

Here's a guy who has no idea that kosher restaurants are more expensive than hitting up Wendy's, but who has been living on very little this summer. Amused, I agreed, and thus it was settled -- there would be at least one kosher meal on my adventure. But what about the other meals? I decided that I wanted to cook for the brother and his girlfriend, assuming that they've been eating a lot of canned chili and things like that. I packed my cooler with Empire Kosher Chicken, a bag of mixed potatoes (red, purple, white), a jar of olive oil, a mixture of thyme and other herbs, and a jar of my Celestial Seasonings 7 Pepper Spice, with the intention of making some yummy spicy chicken and herb-roasted potatoes. Set. That's two meals. (And the latter went over super well with the kids; they inhaled it!)

Now what?

I packed dried fruit, a can of cashews, a loaf of the Katz Gluten Free Bread, Marshmallow Fluff, peanut butter, and some cottage cheese. Oh! And some Gluten-Free Cinnamon Chex. I planned to get by on cereal and sandwiches, but after one created sandwich, I was ready to throw the bread away. I had good luck with the Katz Gluten Free Challah (sliced) Bread, but this whole grain version was ... well ... disgusting, grainy, and gross. So I noshed some nuts and dried fruit on the way down, bought some chips, and by the time I got to South Carolina (two large coffees and that food later), I felt disgusting. I had such a horrible stomach ache and I was up half the night with tummy pains. Sigh.

Tuesday we went to Myrtle Beach, and I was so excited to actually eat something, so at Cafe M I ordered a big ole' flounder with some fries and Israeli salad, and the meal didn't disappoint. In fact, I ate far too much food because I knew I wasn't getting a real meal again until the next night when I was making dinner. The rest of the day consisted of some Ben and Jerry's Coffee Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz at Broadway at the Beach, and lots and lots of water. When we left around 10:30 to head back to Columbia, the kids were famished and very softly asked me if it was okay if we stopped at Wendy's for them to get dinner. Listen, they're not kosher, and if they need me to deliver them to Wendy's to grab some burgers and fries, then so be it. So we went, they ordered, they ate, I drove, finishing off the rest of my cashews and water. Woe, be me. I was hungry.

Back at the apartment, I opted to just go to bed on an empty stomach than suffer through some chips or cereal again.

Here we are, the two of us. He's so tall now!
The next day, I awoke to eat two large bowls of cereal -- I was famished. Luckily, the first night I was there I picked up a big carton of Lactaid and made it work. The cereal, thank G-d, kept me full until dinnertime around 7, which, of course, was the dinner I prepared and the kids inhaled. All it took was some throw-away pans, lots of foil, and bam, easy kosher dinner in a non-kosher kitchen. It can be done. It can!

I started Thursday morning at 6 a.m., downing a bowl of cereal and hitting the road as hard I as could. I stopped in Raleigh for coffee with one of my BFFs of nearly 10 years who I'd had yet to meet. It was an awesome and surreal experience to sit down with a friend over coffee after so many years. Two cups of coffee later, I was back on the road. My plan was to drive all the way through to Baltimore and stop there for some kosher eats, and the plan was going along swell up until the point that I got on the beltway amid torrential rain and horrible traffic ... two hours I sat there in the traffic, intermittently noshing tortilla chips and dried fruit. The payoff? A burger and fries from Kosher Bite, which I inhaled so quickly I barely tasted it.

Was it really that rough that I had to inhale all the kosher eats I could get? Should I have planned better and brought more food?

Yes, it was really that rough. Being kosher and gluten free presents the challenge wherein I can't even go to the store and buy a loaf of bread. The cooler didn't work like it was supposed to, and my milk went bad pretty quick on the ride back home. Chips and snacks aren't a way to live, and a salad isn't practical to eat on the road. So planning better wouldn't have done much for me. I eat a lot of yogurt, cottage cheese, salad, and other cold-necessary items. I could have gone to the store, I suppose, but it would have been buying items that I wouldn't have been able to finish in the few days I was there and wouldn't have survived the trip back. The problem of eating was compounded by the fact that my little bro and his girlfriend have a very wacky and casual eating schedule, so I wasn't exactly sure when and where and how to eat.

This led to my little brother quipping, "Are you not hungry? You haven't eaten like anything on your trip?"

I was hungry, believe me. It reminds me of my trip to SXSW back in March and how difficult it was for me to plan my food and not be starved. I existed on powerbars and coffee most of the trip, which wasn't ideal, but I wasn't really prepared for the meals either. Now, I'm gluten free and making a sandwich isn't as easy as it once was. I want to avoid the pre-packaged self-heating meals and things like that because they're bad, bad, bad for you, and fruits and vegetables are delicate and can easily be smushed or go bad in the wrong environment.

Overall? It was a rough kosher experience. I got one really good meal out of it at Cafe M in Myrtle Beach, and the meal I prepared really hit my tastebuds out of the park. But inhaling both of these meals because it was the only real meal eaten both days wasn't smart. That's no way to go about my business. Luckily, there are no long-distance roadtrips in my future because this one destroyed my knees, my back, and my shoulders. My body is seriously beat down, but I managed to get home Thursday night after the two-hour traffic delay and a weird incident on the highway with a traffic closure and a cop's wacky driving style. Friday I woke up and cooked a meal for champions for my four Shabbat guests, and it all came together better than I could have planned. The result, however, is that I'm even more sore than when I arrived home Thursday.

Tomorrow is the Jewish Social Media Schmooze event in NYC at which I'll be a moderator, which means another day where I won't be able to rest and relax (listen, Shabbat is supposed to be relaxing, but those of you who entertain know how not true that is). So this week is my week. I'm going to hopefully get a massage, take lots of baths, and chill. This body needs a break.

So here's my query to you, the reader: How do you travel kosher? How do you travel kosher and gluten free? Or, better yet, do you have any recommendations for how I can travel kosher and gluten free? 

(Luckily, I won't be travelling long-distance again until November/December and that's to Israel, so no kosher concerns there!)