Friday, July 17, 2015

Local Eating on the Road--Six Ways to Make it Work

Local Eating on the Road--Six Ways to Make it Work

Subtitle: How to Survive a Summer Vacation When You Have a CSA farm share

Regular readers will note that my posts have been a bit 'off' recently. I apologize. I tried to blog while on the road and without my ailing laptop. It did not work out swimmingly. The long miles on the open road have given me time to think about this post, though, so that's a plus. Rather than share my vacation slides interspersed with my rumination, I'll give you the BLUF [military acronym meaning Bottom Line Up Front] now. If you're interested in the epic family road trip dubbed Flora Fauna Americana, keep on scrolling.

  • Do your homework before you go. But be flexible!
  • Be willing to explore a bit off the interstate. Don't be afraid to call an audible.
  • Ask locals for recommendations.
  • Try local specialties--splurge, you can economize in other ways.
  • Raid your farm share for snacks on the road. And speaking of farm shares, 
  • Have a friend take over your farm share pickup while you are away.
Pay attention--don't make me turn this wagon around.
Before I get into the details of these suggestions, our vacation by the numbers:

3800 photos taken, mostly by my spouse
3600 miles on the rental car, mostly one way
17 National Forests, Grasslands, Historic sites, Memorials, Monuments and Parks
12 times we drove over the Continental divide
11 bighorn sheep
10 hotels, mostly Holiday Inn Express because of their pancake machine
9 De Laval cream separators in 3 museums
8 states (three of them start with I)
7 museums 
6 glaciers
5 geysers
4 ships inside buildings
3 time zones
2 dinosaur sites
1 cave
Finding my relative's signature on a church record on the Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, South Dakota:  PRICELESS

We saw bison, Columbian ground squirrels and 13 stripe chipmunks, prairie dogs and pronghorn antelope, elk and osprey and eagles, and cows, sheep, and goats.

We explored state sites, parks, and forests in Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota.

We enjoyed the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and Dugout site in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. The Ingalls Homestead and Museum in De Smet, South Dakota. The Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum in Decorah, Iowa. The Buffalo Bill Museum in LeClaire, Iowa. The National Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque, Iowa. The Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. The Miracle of America Museum in Polson, Montana. We did not miss the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota nor Al's Oasis and Wall Drug off Interstate 90 going across South Dakota.
Did you know Abraham Lincoln had his own BBQ sauce?

We ate at the Steer Inn in Indianapolis, Indiana, the St Olaf Tap in St Olaf, Iowa, Nick's Hamburger Shop in Brookings, South Dakota, Pauly's Pizza in Rapid City, South Dakota, the Wagon Box Inn in Story, Wyoming, and the Belton Chalet in West Glacier, Montana.
Spotted at Danebod in Tyler, Minnesota.

Do your homework before you go. But be flexible!

We [ok my spouse] got the Roadfood book (Amazon affiliate link) by Jane and Michael Stern. Check your local library, and there's even a Kindle edition. He printed out the pertinent pages--regions of the country we'd be passing through--and included them in our travel folder. Because of his efforts I sat on a shady deck in Story, Wyoming enjoying ripe avocado slices and crisp bacon tucked into a soft roll in a turkey bacon avocado sandwich at the Wagon Box Inn.

Things did not always go according to plan. We intended to eat lunch at the Mug 'n Bun while passing by Indianapolis, but a mix up in directions and the GPS sent us to the Steer Inn. I had a tasty Pizza Burger. We learned after we arrived that it was featured on Food Network--so check out the website before you go to see if there's something nearby you'd like to try (Food Network restaurant search link).

Be willing to explore a bit off the interstate. Don't be afraid to call an audible.

When we crossed the Mississippi river into Iowa we knew our end goal was north to Minnesota, but we had time and no need to stay on the interstate. Plenty of time to wander among the rolling hills of NE Iowa to St Olaf and a delicious pork tenderloin sandwich and frosty mug of root beer. Call an audible and explore the Buffalo Bill museum in LeClaire if you're in the area.

Ask locals for recommendations.

After a tour of Wind cave in Wind Cave National Park we asked the rangers for ideas for a place to grab a bite on our way to our next [Mammoth] site. They steered us to a lovely restaurant, Woolly's, for a bacon cheeseburger salad and Dorothy Lynch dressing.

While visiting family in Montana we ate at Belton Chalet. There were flowers on the food when it was served, people. Edible flowers--on bison meatloaf, grilled pork chops, mac and cheese, and these amazing porcini-filled pasta purses with shaved Brussels sprouts! That's so not my usual burger and fries. It was quite a treat. Such delicious meals can be found more easily by talking with the folks who live and eat nearby.

Try local specialties--splurge, you can economize in other ways.

Military families tend to spend vacation time heading home to spend time with family. While that is lovely, we welcomed the opportunity to see some of the rest of the country and just went for it. When we ate in national parks my spouse and I made it a point to try local specialties. I had Idaho trout for breakfast at Jackson Lake Lodge and smoked fish for lunch in Yellowstone National Park, as one example, and the couple dollars more over the other entrees was worth it. Sure, you could eat burgers every day [I believe my daughter did, if you include bison burgers] but why not branch out a bit? To economize, we mostly stayed in hotels that had breakfast included, we brought some snacks from home, and typically ate out once a day. [Had we not been flying home at the end of the trip we could have packed in more food, drinks, and a better cooler.]

Raid your farm share for snacks on the road.

The day before we left I sliced up all the carrots, radishes and celery left in the crisper [I put the tops & tips into Soup Packs in the freezer]. Kohlrabi, beets and banana peppers went into pickling brine. With some store-bought hummus in disposable containers we were set for the first few days of the trip. Long-storing Costco snacks and stops at grocery stores carried us the rest of the time.

Have a friend take over your farm share pickup while you are away.

Lots of folks want to try the idea of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm share, but a 20 week season can be a daunting commitment. Having a curious friend take over a week helps you out and could gain your farmers a new subscriber.

One more--throughout our time in Yellowstone I had terrible cell phone reception. I'm not complaining--I was on vacation and even if I felt weird being unreachable that's my problem. However, while walking on the boardwalks near Old Faithful my phone rang.  Of all the places for it to ring, and all the reasons for it to ring, here I am arranging a wheelchair fitting appointment for my son in the middle of rare geothermal features. I could only laugh.

Enjoy your vacation. Stay off the phone and the computer and make lots of memories.


  1. What a great vacation! It looks like you did a ton of sightseeing! We did a week trip to the Jersey shore with family, but I made garlic scape hummus and pesto and brought all my extra farm share veggies with us for grilling and salads. My mom in law even brought the grape leaves she's been collecting and we rolled grape leaves one night. We ate well! I think we only ate out one night. :) I gave my farm share to the same friend I give it to every year when we go away...she is always so happy to get it. There is a 3 year wait list on our CSA right now. :(

    1. Michelle,
      That's an impressive CSA, with such a large wait list! Stuffed Grape Leaves are one of my bucket list foods. I love them but have never tried to make them.

  2. These are such incredibly smart tips. I love Jane and Michael Stern's commentaries on Splendid Table and would love to try it some of the places they mention. When we go on shorter road trips, I always pack carrot and celery sticks, often with orange slices - much more appealing (not to mention healthier) than what you can get at most roadside stops for gas. As for giving your CSA away - our incredible CSA (Hungry Harvest in DC) lets us put our share on hold when we are away. I love that feature.

    1. Laura,
      The primary reason I chose our current CSA was convenience--we were not moving to Ohio until mid July, and they have a thing where you don't pay for what you don't sign up for. We signed the CSA contract before the house contract!
      I would like to be enough of a planner to know when summer vacations will happen when I sign up for the CSA back in March, but I'm just not. And that's OK--we found folks to enjoy the boxes!

  3. Great ideas!! I have a friend pick up our CSA while we're traveling, and I think most of them enjoy it. (Although, some of them have admitted to me that they don't know what to do with some of the "weirder" veggies.)

    Also... how cool is it that your relative's signature is in the record at the Ingalls! I would have completely geeked out. :)

    1. Beth,
      I thought it was kist wicked cool to see my relative's signature--had a moment in the middle of the chapel.

  4. So fun! Looks like a successful epic road trip!

    1. Allison.
      I'm grateful to my spouse for all the planning--having the vision really helps, you know?

  5. Several things: 1) edible flowers on food sounds pretty high falutin' to me. I'm glad you went for it, not that you had a choice considering that's how they served it. My mother does that sometimes. 2) I love the picture and caption at the beginning..."Don't make me turn this wagon around." It had me snorting with glee and it's only 5 in the morning. Pretty impressive. 3. I'm so glad you all had a fantastic time. Vacations are great for recharging.

    1. Meghan,
      Glad to make you snort at any time of day.