Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Traveling Gluten-free Vegan

The Grand Canyon on our Recent Trip

We just returned from a great road trip with the family to see the sights in Southern California, Arizona, and Utah. Gone are the days of throwing in some clothes and a sleeping bag and hitting the road, eating whatever is available. I have to think carefully about what I am going to eat. I don't trust many restaurants. There is no way I want some accidental gluten exposure when I am out trying to keep up with my growing kids in a hike. Three days of low energy and brain fog would ruin the trip. I have to plan and take food along.

So you are wondering, what did we eat? Good food, I tell you! What we ate might not work for you, but it might give you some ideas.

Three times on the road I typed "Wendy's" into the GPS, and we went and bought plain baked potatoes to go. These we took to the car where we drizzled on some tahini that I keep in the ice chest. We seasoned them with onion powder, garlic powder, and salt that I keep in small sprinkle containers in a quart ziplock bag, in the back window of the car. Then we added pinto beans, black beans or garbonzo beans from a freshly opened can, pulled out of the trunk. A child got to choose the variety. Salsa was available in the ice chest if someone want some of that. Second course was salad. Pull out some pre-chopped, washed lettuce, a cucumber, grape tomatoes, and what ever else you want on your salad. Put some lettuce in your now empty potato container, and slice on some cucumber, add tomatoes, etc. For dressing you cut a lime in half, and squeeze on the juice. For fat you drizzle on some more tahini, and some of that onion powder, garlic powder and salt. Basil or dill is nice too if you have them. Mix it around and enjoy. Finish off with an apple or orange or banana from the grocery store along the way. It is a great meal!

Before we left home I made a large batch of granola with gluten free oats, lots of nuts and seeds, and sulfite-free dried fruit cut into little pieces, along with raisins. (I adapted the recipe on my blog, didn't include the rice flakes, and just used more gluten free oats, and raw buckwheat instead. ) I take along boxes of rice milk or my favorite, hazelnut milk. This makes such an easy breakfast (or supper) when you don't have much time. Scoop out some granola into cereal bowls you keep in the trunk. Get a plastic box that kids keep school supplies in, and load it up with some miss-matched silverware, serving spoons, paring knives, peeler, garlic press, etc. Then keep it in your camping supplies all the time. Take along a small dish pan. In the dish pan you will keep a ziplock containing a sponge, a tiny bottle of dish soap, and a metal scrubber. (I also keep in the dishpan, any crushable fruit or tomatoes, and bottles that might leak, such as olive oil.) When you get dirty dishes, just slip them in the dish pan until you are at a spot you can wash dishes. In a larger plastic box I keep a thin plastic cutting board, a large chef's knife, long handled stirring spoon, tongs for grabbing spaghetti or salad, a hot pad, real plates, paper plates, the bowls, a fire lighter, a few more bags of various sizes, and anything else I think I'll need kitchen wise for the trip.

About paper versus real plates. We rarely use paper plates in our normal life, because we find them to be a waste of resources, and have learned that it really doesn't take long to wash real plates. That is, if you have water. We carry a two gallon water jug with us, and 8 - 1 litter bottles inside the car with us. That is a good amount of water for 1 - 2 days, if you aren't doing much cooking or dish washing. But if you are camping in the desert along the way, without a water spigot available, you can run out really fast. I've learned to cut corners with water when I have to. Such as cutting the salad directly onto each person's plate, rather then into a serving bowl, and mixing the sauce and a can of green beans directly into the boiled and drained spaghetti noodles, and thus using only one cooking pot. There are usually some dishes to wash at every meal. But when we don't have much water available, I use paper plates, to cut back on what we need to wash. If I am careful, we may only have to wash silverware, and one cooking pot, in addition to the silverware we put in the dishpan earlier in the day as we traveled. I have tried using plastic silverware, but decided that the little water need to clean real silverware was worth more then breaking plastic forks. I find paper bowls are pretty expensive, and sometimes they are too small. I take larger sized, real, plastic cereal bowls with high sides to use for granola, or other meals that work well in bowls.

I take a pressure cooker for my large cooking pot. I can cook up rice and lentils, or potato soup pretty fast in it. I take a large sauce pan for a secondary pot. And a take a non-stick fry pan for making stir fry, or pancakes. I take a 2 burner propane camp stove that serves all our cooking needs. I have used it on the ground on the side of the road, out the door of our hotel room, on picnic tables, on flat rocks and in a snowstorms. If I have my camp stove, we can eat well, no matter where we are.

A Pot of Potato Soup in a Snowstorm on this Trip
Soup in the big pressure cooker, and water heating in the smaller one to be ready for washing dishes.

About pancakes. We used the recipe on my blog for Corn Cakes, which are pancakes made with cornmeal. We put the dry ingredients in a bag, put the white powders that you add later, wrapped up in a piece of plastic wrap, inside the first bag. On the outside the bag, with a permanent marker, write a few simple reminder directions. They make great pancakes for camping. We ate pancakes 3 times in 10 days.

If I have time the day before the trip we make up some extra batches of gluten free waffles to take along for the first couple days of the trip. You can put nut butter on them, or spread on some hummus and sprouts or lettuce and you have a great sandwich. Or you can just eat them plain while you are driving down the road. The waffles soften really quickly, so after they are all cooked, it is nice to put them in the oven for a while on maybe 250 degrees and toast them a bit more. Let them cool before you put them in bags to take with you.

For general eating in the car, we have no candy or junk food. We have dried fruit, raw nuts, fresh fruit, and sometimes corn chips.

At our store we can buy a product called "Corn Thins". They are puffed corn, shaped like rice cakes, but thinner and crisper. In the car I can take one of those, spoon on a heaping teaspoon of refried beans, right out of a can, smooth it around, and top it with a couple ripe green olives, also right of a can of olives. I pass these little treats around the car and they are eaten with gusto, until we are out of beans. The remaining olives are divided evenly between the number of people in the car, right down to the quarter olive. If you can't find Corn Thins, you can use rice cakes instead.

At least once in every trip I make Tailgate bean salad. Pull a variety of canned beans out of the trunk, including some green beans and wax beans, garbonzos, kidney beans, and more. Adjust the number of cans to the number of people eating, and the number of kids in a growth spurt. Open cans, drain them, and put the beans in a large plastic bowl, or your medium sized cooking pot. Add some grape tomatoes, cut in half, dice up a cucumber if you have one (peel it and you don't have wash it). Squeeze in 1 - 2 limes, according to how sour you like it, and how big your salad is. Season with salt, onion powder and garlic powder. Add a little olive oil if necessary. Divide it evenly among the salad bowls or paper plates. It feeds hungry people quickly with out much mess, water, or even a picnic table.

In every trip I usually make at least one pot of soup with diced potatoes, onions, garlic, cabbage, carrots, canned tomatos, beans, and whatever else I have. Pressure it for 10 minutes, and it is cooked. An easy, warm nutritious meal.

One of my secret gourmet meals for camping, that brings neighboring campers in sniffing, is homemade Butternut Squash Curry. I make this only when we are in camp, with water and time, but it is always a loved meal. I thrown in the trunk a butternut squash, and some potatoes, a jar of my favorite curry paste, and other seasonings, and some coconut milk. I pre-measure some brown rice into a bag and bring it along, so it is ready to go. The first thing I do is start the rice cooking in the large sauce pan I bring along, as it takes around 45 minutes once the water is boiling. When you have it boiling, make sure the lid is on, and turn down the flame to barely on, and note the time on your watch. Then get peeling and cutting of the onion and the squash and potatoes. (Straight potato curry also tastes good too. Use the veggies you have, even if they are completely different then what I listed.) When that is all ready. Get your pressure cooker out, and put some coconut milk in the bottom, maybe 1/4 or 1/3 of the thick stuff in the can. Start it heating, then spoon in an adequate amount of curry paste, and other seasonings. I often add some garam masala, whole cumin, and mustard seeds, and a little more cayenne to spice things up, and make the curry a cross between Thai and Indian curry. Make yours to fit your personal taste. Once the coconut milk and curry paste are bubbling good and smelling even better, add in the chopped veggies and stir them around. Add the rest of the can of the coconut milk, and more water and or coconut milk if needed, according to the amount of veggies you have. I usually make plenty so there is leftovers in the morning for breakfast before we leave. Even though I have this in the pressure cooker, I don't pressure it. I put the lid on it, but don't close the lid on in the way that you would if you wanted to build up the pressure. Cook until the veggies are almost soft. Add cubed tofu, if you have some. When everything is all soft and ready to eat. Add chopped cilantro, if you have some, or some frozen/thawed green peas from the ice chest, or frozen/thawed broccoli. About this time the rice should be finished. Get ready to sit back and have the best meal in the campground!

About the frozen/thawed peas or broccoli. We stop at a store every couple of days on a road trip. I then pick up new ice for the ice chest, fresh produce, and sometimes a bag of something out of the frozen section. It will thaw, but stay good in the ice chest for a couple of days at least. If you are planning ahead, it is an easy way to get more veggies into you meals, without having to spend time washing and chopping produce. At home I buy fresh most of the time, but it is one of my time and water saving tricks of a happy, gluten free, dairy free family on the road.

I didn't do it this trip, but have done it on many other trips. Brown rice and lentils make a nice meal, alone or topped with salad. Use your pressure cooker to cut the time way back. Brown the brown rice in the bottom of the dry pressure cooker for a few minutes. Add the lentils, and adaquate water. (You probably want twice as many lentils as rice. And 2 - 3 times as much water.) Cover with the lid and seal it down and wait for the pressure to come up. Put on the little pressure regulator gadget. Then set the time for 7 - 9 minutes. The last I did it I think closer to 7 minutes worked good, but I also used the tiny brown Pardina lentils. If you have the full sized green-brown colored lentils, you might need closer to 9 minutes. I used short brown rice.

An obvious easy meal is gluten free spaghetti and sauce. Bring your favorite gluten free noodles, and dairy free sauce. Cook the noodles, carefully hold the lid on and tip the pan slowly to drain them. It is a little risky, but I've practiced at home over a clean sink and have mastered the trick, most of the time. Put the sauce in your drained noodles, and then if you have some of those frozen veggies, or a can of green beans, mix them in, and them heat them back up. Add salad if you have some and you have a great meal. It is quick, unless you are at high elevation, in which case you will stand there a long time waiting for everything to come to a boil. But after that you can cook it for the amount of time listed on the package, or until it is soft.

I think that is among the best of my tricks for road trips as a Gluten-free person eating a plant based diet. Hope some of them work for you. If you have some more tips, be sure to include them in the comments, or post them on your blog, and come back here and put the URL in a comment for us to go look at.


  1. I am learning gluten free on the road...has not been an easy transition for me. I don't eat the way the rest of the family eats, and so have to fix for me...and for the rest. a little more challenging. Unfortunately, I don't have any suggestions...I gathered them from you instead! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Great ideas! You have made the challenge of traveling gluten free so tasty and delicious! It sounds like you had a great vacation!


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